One of the most common questions I get about my writing is where do I get my ideas. My usual response is that I steal them because that's a lot easier than coming up with them on my own.
Like a lot of jokes, there's an element of truth in that smart-ass answer. The true part is that I get a lot of my ideas just by paying attention to the world around me, listening and keeping my eyes open. I don't consider that stealing. I consider it part of my job as a writer.
I read an article in yesterday's New York Times about how the Army Corps of Engineers is opening flood gates that will flood the Atchafalaya Basin, the heart of Cajun country, in an effort to avoid even worse flooding elsewhere. The reporter asked one local resident why he lived in a place that was subject to this kind of flooding. Here's what that person said:
"It's where we was raised. Where my daddy was raised. Where we make our living. Why you are here is something you never even think about. You are this place."
That's one of the best pieces of dialogue I've come across in a long time. It's honest, real and heartfelt. And it's one of the best descriptions of how place can become a character in a story.
I tore that out of the newspaper and stuck it in my wallet and now I have to find a way to put those words in the mouth or mind of one of my characters without committing plagiarism. Maybe my character will have read the article and the quote will have stuck with him/her as much as it has stuck with me.
I collect this kind of stuff and some of it is a lot easier to find a way to use than others. I'm still looking for a way to use one of my all time favorite headlines - It's Raining Tadpoles in Japan. Let me know if you've got a good suggestion.