A lot of the thoughtful writers I know have systems. They have set places they go to write, set things they like to drink or eat while doing that, ways of developing their inspiration in the form of listening to songs or browsing through photos, some of them even keep spreadsheets... it's not usually a concrete kind of thing, but there is at least a thing. The spark that gets them started has to come from somewhere, right? It has to be fostered and grown and remembered, and this is how they go about it. Not me.
This isn't to say there's no method to my madness once I get going, but the initial inspiration for the story itself? That can come from absolutely anything, out of the blue, a strike of lightning, or the slow culmination of months and months of truncated thoughts on the same subject. There is no consistency. There just is.
For my story "Dangerous Territory" in the Storm Moon Press anthology Forgotten Menagerie, the inspiration for my novel shifter character came while I was watching The Princess Bride. I confess, as ridiculous and cheesy as they are, I love the ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size), and while I watched everyone's favorite Dread Pirate Roberts rolling around on the ground with one of them, well... ideas happened. But I don't care for rats, and since I was setting my story in an alternate-history American west, I decided the animal to use instead was a mongoose.
Yeah, I know they're not indigenous to the Americas, I know the above makes no sense if you think about it... you see? What creative process? I draw connections between things that cheerfully ignore history, biology, and zoology, and a whole bunch of other sciences that I profess to love and yet abuse constantly—I'm SORRY, okay?! Physics still isn't speaking to me, and let's not even get into poor religious studies. Anyway, I then use those connections to create entirely new paradigms for the worlds in which I set my stories.
All illogic aside, I do take my world building very seriously, and while the pickiest of nitpickers might take umbrage with my continuity issues, I think most of us are willing to roll with discrepancies for the sake of a stronger narrative. "Dangerous Territory" was a wonderful story to write, the first time I've ever use the West—as in the Wild Wild West, not the American West of the present day—as a setting, and even though I've taken plenty of liberties with it (so many liberties, oh, how I <3 freedom) I love the rustic, hard-scrabble foundation that many of us know so well. There are cowboys and cattle and cowboys and gunslinging and cowboys and giant snakes, and did I mention cowboys? Because you can't have a western without them, or I'm just not expansive enough to create a new paradigm that excludes them.
Why? Because cowboys are hot! Add in tribes of shifters that are strong enough to keep the United States from ever becoming united, a Louisiana that still pays homage to the French crown, and an independent nation of Texas (just what they've always wanted), and it's a brave new world.
I think that was what appealed to me most about the idea of doing a story dealing with atypical shifters. There were almost no expectations attached to it, nothing about packs or alphas that I had to adhere to for the sake of reader expectation. I understand reader expectation; I have it myself when I read about certain subjects. When the story is expressly meant to be outside the norm, though, it's rather freeing.
I hope readers enjoy what I've put together in "Dangerous Territory", as well as the rest of the Forgotten Menagerie anthology, on sale now at Storm Moon Press. With every story I write, I think I get a little braver.
"This is a new country we're building up. There's no room in for weaklings—men or women!" --The Virginian
Cari Z is a Colorado girl who loves snow and sunshine. She just got back from two years of living in West Africa and is still delighted by the magic of hot running water and the glory that is Wi-Fi. Check her blog for info on new releases, upcoming projects, and works in progress.