Elves and Magpies: The Mysterious Ways Writers Tap Into Rich Veins of Inspiration

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the pods of people who support and sustain our lives. Pods of family members, pods of friends, and (in my case) pods of people who are obsessed with writing fiction. The writer group is made up of people that I know personally and others whose work I admire and who give me a greater understanding of the craft.

I turned to the writer pod recently to gather some thoughts about an enigma when it comes to fiction. It involves a question that writers get asked all the time but many of us find it hard to answer: Where do you get your ideas?

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The Comparison Trap: How to Get Back on Track When Others Succeed

There once was a belly dancer named Carmen. She wowed crowds from Coney Island to Cairo. Really hot men dropped at her feet when she did the Turkish Figure Eight. They didn’t call her Magic Hips for nothin’. Another dancer named Stardust won the International Belly Dance Championship, and Carmen was back a ways in the rankings. She just couldn’t curb her sense of despair and jealousy. She felt like calling the whole shimmy-thing off. Maybe she should just become a bookkeeper for her shady uncle’s dump truck biz like he always wanted.

My fictional Carmen just danced into a very particular circle of hell: comparing herself to someone with similar aspirations who scored a coveted victory.

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‘Where Then Is Paradise?’ — Reflections on Asteroids, Putin, Scarcity, and Love

You may have heard the news that scientists uncovered new understandings about the asteroid that hit planet Earth 66 million years ago, destroying three-quarters of all plant and animal species, including dinosaurs.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan initially reported the findings in NGU Advances. And a later report in The Washington Postdescribed the asteroid this way: “The researchers drew on previous research and assumed the meteor had a diameter of 8.7 miles and a density of about 165 pounds per cubic foot — roughly the weight of an average adult male crammed within a volume the size of a milk crate.”

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Dr. Killjoy, Or Why I Learned Not to Trust Doctors as Much as I Once Did

I call him Dr. Killjoy. My gastroenterologist had done all kinds of tests and had me on a strict diet that sapped some delight out of my life. But after months of diligently following his advice, continued bouts with a certain plumbing issue continued to dog me. Old Killjoy threw up his hands and told me he didn’t know what was causing my body to go haywire. I’d just have to watch and learn. (Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash)

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It’s Horror Movie Season! Why Do We Love Scary Films So Much?

Get ready for terror. Streaming channels and movie theaters are about to unleash the annual October sack of ghoulish predators and monsters. At least eight new horror movies are coming out of their cages in October. For example, there’s “Hellraiser,” a mystery-horror-thriller reboot of the 1980s film; “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” based on a Stephen King novella; the final installment of the “Halloween” franchise; and “Terrifier 2,” which features a resurrected killer clown named Art.

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‘Crooked Lines’ — Holding on to Dreams Despite the Monsters on Our Paths

There’s a writer named Jenna Zark whose work I adore and who navigated through plenty of personal trials. While she was creating some of her early works of fiction, Jenna’s marriage to a Jewish cantor fell apart. And, she flailed about as she raised her young son, Josh. Her inspiring new book, “Crooked Lines,” chronicles her personal experiences and how they eventually led to smoother roads. Along the way she also explains how certain Jewish traditions and holidays have personal resonance.

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My Little Town: Celebrations and Moments of Nostalgia in Upstate New York

The first time I can recall feeling shocked at how a certain place can change, I was a teen in a tiny upstate New York village called Franklin. My school was burning down in the middle of the night. This happened a few hours after I sent up a fervent prayer to God, asking him to please save me from the humiliation of performing in a school play the next day. I hadn’t learned my lines.

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The Truth Might Send You Into a Frightful Frenzy, and Maybe Into Sleep

What stories send you off to dreamland? One of the kindest, most generous people I know likes TV series about real-life murder mysteries, no matter how grisly. (Love that about her.) For me, stories about trains taking me to exotic locations in distant times, or fantasy tales, are just the thing.

When it comes to fantasy, one the great masters to whom I bow down is Neil Gaiman. I was among the legion of fantasy and horror geeks who have highly anticipated the debut of his “The Sandman” TV series — adapted from Gaiman’s comic books.

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A Kiss Is Still a Kiss, But I’m Seeing ‘Casablanca’ Through a More Truthful Lens

It took some vintage films to make me see how my mind has shifted — in ways that put the movies in a new perspective that isn’t entirely flattering. This came to me while watching Bette Davis claw her way to a richer life in “The Little Foxes.” And then I watched Ingrid Bergman trapped in a life-or-death love triangle in “Casablanca.

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Struggling With the Feeling of Failure, 10,000 Times Along the Way

If you’re anything like me, then you were utterly gobsmacked by the astounding images that NASA released this last week. They are “the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The odds we’d even get to see those images was amazing: there were 344 possible points of failure along the way, NASA said.

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How We Move Forward, After the Supreme Court Devastations

When I was very young, my older brother died of brain cancer. He was four years old. As you might imagine, this was a deeply shattering experience for my parents. My mother’s way of dealing with it was to repress her feelings under a big flat stone. She rarely mentioned what she and my father went through — all those repeated trips to the hospital, the crushing sense of failure.

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From Sissy Spacek to Jean Smart: Delicious Roles for Older Women Multiply

Outstanding roles for older female actresses on TV have always been in short supply. In recent years, the business has tried to address the issue of racism and sexual misconduct. And older men have been around in shows for a long time. But as for a variety of shows with primary characters that authentically portray fascinating, mature women? Not a lot.

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The Essential Writers’ Tool: How to Build or Join a Feedback Group

Writing a piece of fiction can be like walking through a foreign land that seems endless, and occasionally filled with thorny brambles. Yes, you may have friends who will commiserate with your dilemmas, pour you some wine, or provide some good advice. But maybe the people you know just are not enough to get you where you need to go. Maybe you need to widen your circles, suck it up and meet some absolute strangers even if you’re an introvert — people who can guide you in new directions that you hadn’t considered before or hadn’t thought about strongly enough.

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Top 8 Things About a Friend With a Richly Lived Life

Her parents were part of the French Resistance. To evade Nazi detection, her mother hid tiny bits of paper with secret messages in the curly locks of her children’s hair.

A treasured friend of mine who lived in the United States for 45 years recently emigrated back to her native country, France. I’m coming to grips with the reality that our frequent visits are at an end. And I’ve written a list of things about her that I want to remember, always.

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Elon Musk and the Future

It was like a musket shot when Elon Musk pursued a deal to acquire Twitter. (And actually snagged a deal after this story originaly went to press.) But the most striking thing about it, for me, is his use of the word “freedom.”

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Red Beans and Rice: Memories of a Creole Love Affair

The cookbook lost its cover countless years ago. It’s spattered with roux (that baseline sauce of many a Creole recipe) and other unidentified marks from meals long gone by. The spiral binding has been a little derailed, but still holds the pages together. And part of the index was unintentionally ripped out of its original place somewhere along the way and is now a bookmark.

” is like a bible for some people utterly smitten with New Orleans cuisine. And its author sure has one snobby attitude. Leon E. Soniat Jr. prefaced his recipe for red beans and rice: “If you insist on cooking sausage with your red beans, try this recipe.”

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Fantastic Worlds Coming Our Way: How Metaverses Will Evolve

The cascading crises that the world is facing tear me in two directions. I pay attention to it in a pretty big way. But at the end of the day, escaping into far-flung fictional worlds is even more vital to my state of mind than before. If there were a bookstore version of a deli, where you could order novels instead of sandwiches, I’d be yelling: “Hold the futuristic disasters and smear on something fantastic.”

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How to Increase Your Powers of Charisma and Seduction

The dominatrix wasn’t what I expected. It seemed like anyone earning money from erotic bondage-and-submission services would be seedy, down-market, and a bit of a loser.

I was so wrong.

When we met several years ago, I discovered that she had her very own dungeon, with an assortment of whips and other trappings of the trade. Even a bed of nails. Anyone who hired her wouldn’t be disappointed — and she had some powerful clients.

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Six Tips on Building a Creative Writing Bonfire

It seems to me that desire to tell stories is universal among humans — almost as necessary as it is for a bird to sing. The urge must be written into the DNA of who we are. There are tales we want to blurt out to our friends in casual conversations. Or maybe we dream about getting our stories produced or published, wowing much larger audiences.

When bigger goals are at play, many people don’t know how to begin. It’s a fantasy they keep tucked away for their retirement years, or when they can cajole someone else to write a story for them.

I understand. The prospect of putting down words on a page can seem overwhelming. But there are ways to do it, one word at a time.

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Choosing Painful New Paths That Just Might Lead to Joy

Some of the hardest things that I’ve ever done have involved a sharp, painful turn in a new direction. If I didn’t make a needed change, another person pushed me hard. I had to do it.

In a lot of situations, it seemed like someone was forcing me into some gawd-awful situation. Maybe they laid me off (a.k.a., fired me). Maybe someone broke off a passionate relationship. However, if I step back and look at the circumstances that led up to the heave-ho, it often comes down to my own actions. At least partially.

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CBD to the Rescue: Responsible Ways to Live Without Booze

By Janet Stilson / November 22, 2021 /

Do you ever wonder if there will come a time when humans will no longer need to swallow and smoke chemical substances to relieve their pain and relieve anxiety? As the relationship between humans and computers continues to evolve, maybe future generations will implant a chip in their bodies to counteract whatever whacked-out thing they’re…

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The Confessions of a Stick-in-the-Mud: Searching for Spontaneous Joy

By Janet Stilson / November 9, 2021 /

There’s a defect in my personality that I have only recently identified. Those of you who know me may immediately think, “Uh huh. Maybe Stilson is actually going to stop (fill in the blank). She drives me nuts.’” Whatever that might be, today, right now, the defect du jour that I’ve pinpointed is a lack…

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Cherishing the Small Stuff: Porting Into Lost Times, Distant People

By Janet Stilson / October 26, 2021 /

I once owned a locket of no particular value. It might have been made out of tin with gold plating on top. And it was a little dented. But it was something my grandmother had cherished. Inside were tiny little photos of her parents, a dairy farmer and his wife who raised her in a…

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The Woman Who Looked Like a Chicken, and Other Inspirations

By Janet Stilson / October 12, 2021 /

I once met a woman who reminded me of a chicken, and another one who often stored muffins between her breasts. At the time I met them, they were both well into their 70s, if not older. Though many, many years have passed since then, they were so memorable that I based two of my…

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A Dark, Steamy Movie and a New Isaac Asimov Series Splash Down

By Janet Stilson / September 28, 2021 /

  The new Apple TV+ series, FOUNDATION, based on Isaac Asimov’s landmark sci-fi novel series, is blowing my mind. Although I’m still trying to decide whether I like the gender switching and romantic frisson touches that weren’t in the original work. It’s not fair to deliver final judgement, because I’m still on episode 2, but…

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How Beauty Helps Me Look on the Bright Side of Life

By Janet Stilson / September 13, 2021 /

It’s almost like I’ve been in a science fiction story over the last week. I’ve inhabited a world in which all niggling and gargantuan points of tension lifted away. All I did was gaze at exquisite wildlife and scenery, breathed pungently healing air, listened to sweet bird cries. Nothing could crowd out those wonders; nothing…

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It’s All in Your Head: Feeling Future Happiness Today

By Janet Stilson / August 31, 2021 /

Do you know how WD-40 got its name? I recently discovered that the 40 refers to the number of versions of the formula that were created before its makers finally got a lubricant that worked just right. Chances are, you’ve used it to make cranky windows open more easily, or get rid of that squeak…

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Why I Love Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’

By Janet Stilson / August 17, 2021 /

What if it were possible to walk into a store and buy a best friend with artificial intelligence – a humanoid robot able to love you and serve your best interests? That is the central premise behind a novel that rocketed up close to the top of my personal “favorite book” chart. And that was…

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Growing Up Like a Wild Bird in a Town Called Franklin

By Janet Stilson / August 3, 2021 /

Imagine a lottery system that runs across the entire universe. And each time someone is about to be born, a ga-zillion colored balls ping around, and as a select few are pulled out, your fate is sealed. Perhaps you will become Rusty Redsnore, and you are foisted off on an alcoholic old aunt in a…

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What Gets You Hot and Bothered During This Crazy Summer of Ours?

By Janet Stilson / July 20, 2021 /

Remember that old song: “Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer — those days of soda and pretzels and beer”? At the time I first heard Nat King Cole croon it, I was a kid and enjoyed the romantic notion. Now I still love the summer. But when I consider my laziness, thoughts…

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