From the Idea Mill: How “Tin Machine” became “Nowhere Land”

Writing is a love affair.

This is a topic for one of my “Shit people say when they find out I’m a writer…” posts. It will be on the blog at some point, since I’ve already done the status update on Facebook.

It revolves around that age-old question writers inevitably get asked by well-meaning, hopefully happy readers and fans:

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

Writers hate this question. This is the Dreaded Question, and the one inquiry we get to which there is no real easy response. Truth is, we don’t often know where the ideas come from.

The creative process is just that: a process, and it’s different from one person to the next. I can’t speak for my peers as to the magic spring where their creative waters flow.

I can tell you how it is with me, though.

My muse and I are in crazy love.

Oftentimes, muse puts random images in my brain…strange stories that just beg to be told…and so I tell them. Other times he plants an idea I don’t like (such as a recently published all dialogue story) and keeps after me, turning the idea this way and that in my mind, until I’m so in love with it that I have no choice but to write it. He’s relentless, my muse.

Sometimes he sends me a message so loud and clear I get it right away. I understand what he’s inspiring me to do. Those are scary and wonderful times for my muse and I.

When the playlist for the anthology Eighty Nine was announced, I scoured through the song list, debating with my inner (muse) about which one would make a kick ass speculative fiction story. Which one was my song?

Out of the list, there were only two or three songs that I did not recognize. And wouldn’t you just know it…the muse kept drawing my eyes to one of them. I’d never even heard the damn thing before. So naturally I Googled the lyrics.

It was my song.

The idea for the story was Β in my head as soon as I read the lyrics.

Of course, being the ultimate Doctor Who fan since age ten, and a fan of weird shit always, I knew I had to write a story about a “Tin Machine.”

I knew immediately that the Tin Machine, which I ended up calling “The Bullet” was both a gateway and a trap. I knew it was a place, not for bad people, but for courageous people. People brave enough to stand up to the injustices of the world and thus earn themselves a one-way ticket to Nowhere Land.

I’ve always liked the idea of a prison located in an alternative dimension. The zombies (or mutants) come from watching too much television. Maybe they’re bigger, dumber, more genetically fucked-up versions of Daleks (sans metal traveling machines, of course). Maybe they’re the gov’s top secret mission to create a super warrior ala The X-Files. Zombies were in the song, so the mutants became my mindless killing machines. Genetic engineering gone wrong.

Of course, knowing I wanted the song was not enough. It had to be chosen for me by Jodi Cleghorn. She put song titles in one hat and authors in another. We were going to have our song selected for us.

I kidded myself that I could still write my Big-Tin-Bullet-Gateway-to-Alternate-Prison-Dimension story without the song prompt Tin Machine, by David Bowie. Of course, I could.

But I really couldn’t.

As luck would have it (or maybe not…Jodi, tell me, did you by chance catch a whiff of something like cinnamon and after shave when you were pulling songs/names from the hats?) my name was pulled and Tin Machine was pulled as my song.

Luck. Yeah. Totally buying that.

Thank you, Muse.

Eighty Nine, by Literary Mix Tapes

The anthology Eighty Nine launched yesterday and all the stories are available to read on the website for a limited time.Β 

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8 thoughts on “From the Idea Mill: How “Tin Machine” became “Nowhere Land”

  1. Great story Maria – both this blog and Nowhere Land. I loved the decision you made to write the action from the POV of an observer, not the actor – worked brilliantly. Your muse is a very clever man πŸ™‚

  2. Cool to see how the process works for you, Maria. Glad you got what you wanted and it’s a great story, too.
    Adam B @revhappiness

    • Thanks, Adam. Some stories are a joy for me to write and this was one of them. I was inspired to do the vignette format by Dan Powell’s story in “Nothing But Flowers.” πŸ™‚

  3. Hi Maria, it’s always interesting to hear how other writers come to their ideas. Sometimes I focus of finding a topic while at others, they simply come to me quite unexpectedly. I gave some examples on my blog, Where Do Story Ideas Come From, but I would not be able to give another guidance in the process since the process is different every time.

    • Hi Gayle;
      Thanks for stopping by. It is fascinating to hear about how the muse strikes other writers and it’s so cool how each writer has different processes for finding ideas. πŸ™‚

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