Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Ideas


“Where do you get your book ideas?”

This is one of the most common questions asked an author. The response is usually that the author writes what she knows. One of my books is called “The Substitute that wouldn’t Die.” And I’m writing what I know.
I started my seventeenth year as a substitute teacher this month. Thirteen of those years have been spent at the high school level. I work a lot. Some years I’m more full- time than the regular teachers. I’ve been working at Cass High School longer than the majority of the staff. This year is the first year in a number of years that I didn’t go to work on the first day of school. But I did work the third day.
Though the years I’ve written down snippets that have happened both happy and sad.. The title for my book comes from the time a student came into class, saw me and asked, “Weren’t you my kindergarten substitute?” I had been. He didn’t look happy to see me again, bless his heart.
I’ve written a group of short stories about the characters (students) that have passed though my classes. One of these is about a boy that had me every day for six long weeks, got a two week reprieve, and had me in a different subject for six more weeks. We got to know each other well and are still great friends. Another is about the girl that asked me to check on the number of her excused absents, and I discovered she forged some of her doctor’s notes. No, she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. She got ISS for a week. I also have stories of when I arrived at school to find out one of the students had died the night before in an auto accident and I had to deal with the emotions in the classroom. My stories go on and on – enough to fill a book.
Going back to school this year has already added new stories to my list. By the end of the year I should have many more.
Even my romance heart can see a story in two teachers coming together to help a student in need…
What kind of stories can you build from your everyday life?

21 comments:

Sandy Elzie said...

When I worked for the State of California, the stories abounded. An assistant who was losing a teenage son to a dreadful disease, to weddings, babies, grandchildren and one who was in to an alternative lifestyle in San Francisco on weekends...she was a slave and she had a master...complete with a steel collar (including the ring for a leash) that was welded on.
I'm not sure I'd want to build a story for my heroine with that last one, but I agree with you that storis are all around us in our daily lives.

Thanks for a very interesting and thought-provoking piece.

Sandy

Debbie Kaufman said...

Well, I haven't used them yet, but there's the drug dealers who wanted their airport back - the one that we ran, the trips to China, the home renovations, and a childhood that might have pieces show up in a YA.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

I think a corollary to your insightful post is that people seem happy to give you suggestions once they find out you write. I constantly hear "You should write a book about. . ." and I can fill that with the staff at the Borders where I worked, countless stories from being a teacher, life in my Footloose town, and the odd assortment of characters who lived next door to our first apartment. And if that doesn't work, you can always visit another city or delve into history. Ideas abound.

Thanks,Susan!

Anna Steffl said...

The sub teacher does make a great story. People identify with stories about school -- most of us have been to one -- and there are so many different angles to take on it. Too bad I've only had the tolerance to teach Sunday school a few times. Grin.

Tammy Schubert said...

Thank you for your thought provoking post. A collection of short stories about your teaching experiences is a great idea.

Dianna Love said...

I can see where you'd have a lot of stories from teaching. I always wished my MIL had just kept a journal of what her first graders 'said' - some of the funniest & thought provoking things come out of their mouths.

I get ideas from the smallest things in life. Mary and I started brainstorming an idea one night from a comment I made about the GPS in the car when we were driving in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure what the kind of stories I write say about my life - LOL.

CiCi Barnes said...

Stories abound from my teaching days and my childhood in a small town. I also use snippets from my travels with hubby and his work. Some of my neatest stories come from my dreams. I've developed several parallel worlds fromt things I've dreamed.

Scary.

CiCi

J Perry Stone said...

You bring up an interesting point, Susan. I ALWAYS want to bring my personal life into my writing, but I wonder what kind of trouble I'll get into once published, with my thinly veiled characters that everyone from my high school will be able to recognize in an instant.

Even more, I want to write about my kids, but I'm not sure I want anyone save my close and personals knowing so much about me. Maybe I'm a little paranoid, but I have such terrible verbal diarrhea, I'm afraid I'm one day going to get myself in trouble.

Marilyn Baron said...

I always include snippets of things that either happen to me or that I overhear out in public.

One of my most interesting jobs has never made it into a book. For a year I was an Information Specialist at the Florida State Prison system, writing news releases, magazine articles, dealing with the media, editing the departmental newsletter, etc. I traveled to most of the prisons (including Death Row) and my newsletter was printed at one of the correctional facilities. I had to deal with the pressmen, who were inmates, and the superintendant always said, I can't carry a gun inside the prison so if someone pulls out a knife, start running, I can't protect you. That's how I learned to deal with printers "on the outside." My first day on the job there was an escape from the women's prison. So that was my trial by fire. One day, I might write about it.

I also went to school in Italy for six months and have written a little about that but might include that in a future book.
I enjoyed your post.


Marilyn Baron

J Perry Stone said...

Oooo, Marilyn, those are great stories.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I don't write about what I know. "Woman avoids housework and longs for vacation" stories are a dime a dozen. My life (and thankfully my work life) are boring in a good way. A lot of nothing happens in both my life and my fiction, so maybe I do write what I know!

Tammy Schubert said...

Marilyn, definitely include your prison work experiences into a story. It's a perspective not everyone can provide.

Maxine Davis said...

Susan,

I know you must have some great stories! So many times I wished I had written down 'episodes' that were halarious or made me cry.

Some teachers' stories need to be told.

And yes, I use things I hear/heard all the time in my writing. It always makes me stop a moment to relive the moment.

Ana Aragón said...

I'll bet you've got some great stories to tell, Susan! I feel I've been teaching my whole life and kids (and adults) do say the darndest things! Perhaps one day I'll feel safe enough to write some of those stories. I'm afraid I'd get in trouble for writing about some of those...

Sandy...you'll have to tell more about your friend with the dominatrix lifestyle!)

Tami Brothers said...

Great idea, Susan! I can totally see this being published. Sounds like the Coffee Tea or Me book I loved when I was a teenager. This was written by a group of Flight Attendants and I laughed so hard. I wanted to be a flight attendant so badly after that...

The experiences I could write about would be something like Sally's. When people find out I write, I can't even count the number of people who tell me they have the best story idea. That I should write it and split the profit with them. I can't dog on them to much, though. I remember thinking the same type of thing before I actually wrote. If only I could find that author willing to put in the work for my little ideas... Talk about the life...grin...

Tami

Susan May said...

Ladies,
Thanks for all your wonderful comments. I'm just getting to where I can respond. I've been subbing today and gettting ready for our big wedding on Sat. You all sound like you have great stories to tell also. Keep looking for those ideas.

Linsey Lanier said...

Susan,
I hope your short story book gets published. It sounds like a hoot.

"'Weren’t you my kindergarten substitute?' I had been. He didn’t look happy to see me again, bless his heart." Reminds me of Haywood's line in Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch - southerners can say anything about anybody, as long as they end it with "bless his heart." :)

I work in software and tried to write a novel based on it. It didn't work out at the time, but I may get back to it someday.

Interesting post. Hope everything goes well on Saturday. Congrats!

Linsey

Mary Marvella said...

I attended a reunion of some of my former high school students. They're in their 40's now. When I mentioned I am writing romance novels some of the boys wanted to know if they are in them. I laughed and said only the ones where I needed victims, the suspenses.

Susan May said...

I use names I like from the rolls. One of the guys I was especially good friends with wanted to be in one of my books so I gave a child his name. He really wanted to be the hero.

Susan said...

Hi - I enjoyed your post, but what really knocked my socks off was your name. I'm Susan May too, and it's startling to see your name on another picture. I've written under Janis Susan May (my full given name) for years, but all my life have been known as Susan, and I've never met another Susan May. Two of us! Shall we take over the world?

Susan May said...

Susan-let's do take over the world. Starting with publishing.