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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

by Richard Mabry

When I began writing, I had an idea-just one-and wondered if I could turn it into a novel. My idea involved a young man who wanted more than anything to play professional baseball. He never made it past the minors, so he decided to make his father happy by going to medical school. Then he had one more chance to play professional baseball, but things kept getting in the way. I loved that idea (still do), and was anxious to try to bring it to life.

I started with the characters, put them in place in the scenario I envisioned, and watched them move forward. Along the way, they took me to some places I hadn’t imagined, did some things that surprised me, but in the end, it all worked out. And that was my first novel. You ask, “What was the title?” It was More Than A Game, but if you want to read it, you’ll have to come to my house and read it off my hard drive. It never made it past the Pub Board of the first editor who showed interest in it. But it was a start. I’d taken an idea and turned it into a 75,000 word book.

Soon thereafter, at a writer’s conference, I asked Alton Gansky where he got his ideas. He gave me an answer that has stood me in good stead since. He simple said, “I ask, ‘What if..?’” As an example, he pointed out that he lived near a large military base. “What if all the people at that base suddenly disappeared?” From that question came his novel, Vanished.

Since that time, each of my books has come from my asking that one question: “What if?” My most recent novel was based on my own experience doing research and consulting for pharmaceutical companies while a medical school professor. The question was, “What if someone-pharmaceutical executive, researcher, clinician-hid critical data about a new drug in order to get it on the market before its time?” That turned into Lethal Remedy. And it came from one simple question, “What if…?”

There may not be eight million stories in your particular city (as there were in New York in that TV show), but I’ll wager that there are at least a dozen going on all around you at this very moment. Keep your eyes open. And don’t be afraid to ask, “What if..?”


Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of four published novels of medical suspense. His books have been finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. He currently serves as ACFW Vice-President.

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3 Responses to Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

  1. Actually, there are usually at least three or four ideas cycling through my mind most days. News reports, dents in cars I pass on the street, odd sounds and smells…. It seems like everything leads to a ‘what if’ question that could subsequently lead to a potential novel.

    My difficulty is in evaluating all those ideas, weeding out the ones that aren’t ready right now (or that may never be ready) and finding the one that is ready.

    A good post!

  2. Great post, Richard! I’m brainstorming on my next novel and for some reason this one isn’t coming as easily as all the others.
    Lethal Remedy sounds like a good one. Awesome title too!

  3. Carrie and Martha, thanks for your comments.
    Hope you’ll give Lethal Remedy or one of my other books a chance, and see what happens when I ask, “What if?”