I returned to my beloved hometown primarily to see my older brother graduate from med school and get married, but my secondary concern was generating ideas for my masters thesis, an original novel that’s due in two months. This means that I’ve spent the majority of my southern vacation poaching plots from every local I encounter. People I would never expect to have book ideas have written me outlines and sketched out character motivations. This town is a hotbed of unrealized literary genius.
My 21-year-old brother and his buddy run a handyman business in town mowing lawns, chainsawing everything in their path, “removing stinkbugs,” “babysitting,” and performing other oddjobs. When I jokingly asked them if they did novels, it took them less than a day to turn over a notebook overflowing with rich material, including fully developed protagonists (serial killers in love), back stories (sex abuse, murder, childhood trauma), themes (municipal corruption) and some thoughts on a prequel. But my little brother had a vague impression that my typical work is more emo, so he was sure to pencil in “(*feelings*)” where he thought my skills could really shine, e.g., “Mom addicted to painkillers, protag always starved for her affection <<-----(*feelings*)." The boys said they'd write the sex and violence scenes, and I could be in charge of all the emotional truths. My friend's four-year-old son is obsessed with traffic cones. Last week we all went to Lowe's and while his mom shopped, he spent 45 minutes in the plumbing aisle lining up orange cones in different formations, then routing the Lowe's employees around them as though the men were cars or airplanes. My friend says, try as she might, she cannot find any children's books devoted to the wonders of traffic and safety cones. She thought I might write something for her son and other kids like him. I have never written a childrens' book, but I think I could manage a literary novel about an extended family of traffic cones. Something like The Corrections, but set in a parking lot.
Stumpy and Big Mac, the two men who make the compost deliveries from my uncle’s compost farm, were especially excited when they found out I was trying to write a novel. They told me I could do a ride-along with them in the compost trucks for a week and I’d have more than enough material for my book, tentatively entitled The Adventures of Stumpy and Big Mac. At first I thought they were just teasing me for being a dork, but now every time I go over there they gush about a new plotline worthy of Tom Clancy. Without giving too much away before this thing is published, Big Mac’s latest brainstorm involves a jihadist at UVA’s graduation ceremony. We agreed that the more local landmarks I insert, the better my chances would be of getting my book stocked in New Dominion. Or in the Barracks Road Barnes & Noble. Or in Random Row Books. Or in Daedalus. Is anybody listening?
Also my grandfather gave me a 2011 World Almanac, saying that it was full of ideas.
Also I need all the help I can get, because I have no ideas.
No, I have one idea. Wishter, a 30-year-old woman with few career prospects, laments the fact that she chose writing school over medical school. In a fit of jealousy, she steals her big brother’s med school diploma, and his beautiful new wife for good measure, and opens a private psychiatry clinic in the Cayman Islands, where she makes tons of money by hypnotizing her patients into giving her tons of money as well as revealing their darkest secrets <<—–(*feelings*), emotional truths which will eventually make their way into Wishter’s bestselling memoir.