Word Count: 789
Where do story ideas come from? Well, everywhere. The short answer is that I get ideas from random places and events, which has led to me writing about everything from fairy warriors to zombie romances, Scottish assassins, and the mythical Medusa. However, a pretty specific chain of events led to my first urban fantasy novel.
Back in 2011, Neil Gaiman was touring for the tenth anniversary edition of his novel American Gods. Being a huge fan of all things Neil, I had to go to at least one of his appearances. The closest stop to me was in Portsmouth, NH, which was a two hour drive for me. I didn’t think that was too far, especially not for Neil, but I didn’t want to travel that distance alone. What I needed was a co-conspirator.
Enter Trisha Wooldridge, my always-willing partner in crime. We worked together in publishing, and had embarked on many literary-themed adventures together. On a sunny afternoon in July we met up and began our day with lunch; since Trisha is a food writer, she’s always trying out new restaurants. During the drive, I fished a bracelet out of the center console and gave it to Trisha, as a thank you for my meal. It was green marble with a copper clasp, and I mentioned that copper was my favorite metal.
Once we reached Portsmouth we met up with another writer friend, Justine Graykin. After dinner, we trekked over to the Music Hall, listened to Neil speak, read from American Gods, and be interviewed by the local NPR affiliate. We also scored some signed hardbacks.
After the presentation at the Music Hall was over, Trisha, Justine and I went to a local restaurant for drinks and dessert. We hit the bathroom before we left, and let me tell you, that was one of the nicest ladies’ rooms I have ever seen. It had granite counters, a terra cotta tile floor, and the most gorgeous copper sinks and faucets. While washing my hands, I remarked again that copper was my favorite metal.
“You keep saying that,” said Trisha. “Maybe you should write a story about copper.”
“You should,” Justine said. “Even Neil Gaiman hasn’t done that.”
Well that was a great idea, but how did they expect me to write about metal? I couldn’t just whip up a story from scratch, like magic.
The next day found me at work, sitting in my cubicle, wondering how I’d made so many wrong turns in my career. Spending the day with two friends who actually made a living from their writing had simultaneously reinvigorated my own desire to be a working writer, and shone a light on just how disenchanted I was with my day job. Since I couldn’t up and quit, and I also couldn’t expect to make money writing until I wrote something, I took my friends’ advice and did some surreptitious Googling of copper and copper-related things.
I learned that humans have been utilizing copper ore since approximately 8000 BC, that it’s in the same elemental group as silver and gold, and that its alchemical symbol is also the symbol for the planet Venus. Fascinating information, all of it, but none of it was a suitable foundation for a story.
When lunch time rolled around I went out to the parking lot to warm up in my car; that office building’s air conditioning system was permanently set to Arctic, and I frequently went outside to thaw my frozen extremities. I was parked in the rear lot, next to a wooded area. Right next to the asphalt were two pine trees whose trunks had wound around each other, as if a giant had attempted to braid them like a ponytail. While I stared at the unusual tree, I wondered if the tree was a portal to the Otherworld.
When I realized what I was wondering, I assumed the air conditioning had won and my brain had succumbed to frostbite. Then I remembered my earlier Googling, and that copper had been a significant element for the past ten thousand years.
And I wondered if that portal to the Otherworld was filled with Elementals, magical beings who could wield air, earth, water, fire…and metal.
I wondered what it would take for a human on this side to cross over to the Otherworld, be it via a tree, an old wardrobe, or even a stone circle.
I decided that the human in question’s name was Sara Corbeau, that she was a copper girl, and wrote the outline for her story later that day.
That novel, Copper Girl, was made possible by copper sinks, a strange looking tree, and an overworked office air conditioning system. I really had made magic from scratch.
Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.