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Ideas For the Taking

I have two cats? a sixteen-year-old tortoise named Taddy, and a very large, and very fat—nearly nine pounds—ginger named Shadow.

Recently, Shadow disappeared for three days. Both my husband and I went out day and night looking for him, to no avail.

Now, it has to be said that Shadow is not the kind of cat that just disappears. No, this is a cat who loves her food and comes running at the slightest hint of food. I had visions of him either being hit by a car or being ‘run over’ by some rogue. (Why anyone would want a foodie cat I’ll never know!)

After three days of checking animal shelters and searching the streets, still no shade, I decided to knock on the neighbors’ door. The third house I visited had heard “fantasy” meowing at all hours and a “ghost cat” walking around the house. Hmmm, that sounded like my Shadow.

After four hours of trying to locate exactly where he was at the neighbor’s house, the neighbor husband recalled that on the day Shadow disappeared, their roof had been repaired. I went home to get my son and my man’s ladder (heights are not my forte) only to go out into the driveway to find my neighbor waiting. “We found your cat,” he told me. “He’s watching us from the well.”

Yes, it was, but it took twenty minutes to trick him, my poor love. And since then he has been following me and making up for the loss of his food. (By the way, we called him Shadow because he follows me everywhere.)

Why, you ask, is this crazy woman telling me about her cat?

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction (or both), as writers, we need to be forever on the lookout for ideas. This was a big drawback for me. Not so these days. Learning to come up with ideas doesn’t necessarily come naturally – it’s something that, with practice, will become easier with habit.

The story about my fat fluffy cat, Shadow, will eventually become either a short story, an essay, or maybe even a nonfiction article—maybe all three. Let’s see how to turn it into a non-fiction article. First of all, ask yourself if there is a need for such an article. To decide, answer a few questions: How many other people have lost their beloved pets this way? How many have given up hope (like I almost did), and how many had no idea where to start? Assuming, as I have, that there is a need for information, and therefore an article, then you should work out the type of content you would like to use. Think of some questions that need to be answered. I find brainstorming to be the best technique to edit my content. In this case (for this particular topic) I could ask:

When a pet goes missing, where should you start looking? How long does it take on average to find a pet? Can animal shelters help? Is microchipping your pet beneficial? Will animal shelters contact you if your pet is microchipped or tagged? Is this certain? Is it best to check in in person or can you rely on the lodge to contact you? What is the process that shelters and pounds use? How does a hunter/game warden determine if a pet is a stray? Citations from catcher/ranger/council/shire about missing pets. Facts and figures (statistics)?

The above list only took me a few minutes to develop, but as you can see, I have the basis for an article. And so, with a little research, photos and planting the bottom firmly in the seat, I have my non-fiction article. With a little extra work, I could rewrite and sell the article in more than one marketplace, generating additional income. (It’s much easier to sell articles that come with photos, so take that seriously.)

Anthologies are big business these days, and their editors are constantly looking for content. Regardless of the publication, magazine or website, the majority carries market information. Most of the time, there will be at least one listing at any given time for the anthology submissions required. Some of them may not fit your current needs, but some, like the Chicken Soup series, A Cup of Comfort series, etc., have ongoing story needs. Some have a newsletter you can sign up for to keep up to date with current requirements. For others, you’ll just have to keep your eyes open.

At some point, maybe not right away, possibly in the future, there will be an anthology or a collection of short stories or even a magazine that will require Shadow’s story to be relayed in one form or another.

Maybe I should look further back in my past for material? About fifteen years ago – when my children were very young, my son “hid” from his frightened parents after going on a bush walk. He was gone for nearly two hours and we were on the verge of calling the police when the little darling jumped out of a bush and said, “Ha ha, I tricked you!” No, we never let him forget it.

There was also the time our family was on holiday, going up the coast of Australia, from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. We stopped in Port Macquarie for a few days – the same town Alan (husband) and we honeymooned in many, many years earlier.

On this particular day, Alan and our two (then) teenage offspring wanted to go to the beach. I had a terrible feeling of foreboding, of impending doom. We went, much to my dismay, and Alan was dragged overboard by a King Tide and nearly drowned. I am waiting for the proper anthology to arrive.

The trick here is to write these things down. Put them in a box, a binder, or even a card file. You don’t even have to analyze. The basics will probably be enough to jog your memory. We are all a wealth of information – memories are a wonderful asset. In addition to providing us with a wealth of material, they also provide emotional connections. It’s the emotional connection that often wins over the editor, so don’t just stick to the facts. Process and bare your soul.

You can use a similar technique for short stories, but you’ll also need to create information. For example, I went to my local supermarket for some groceries. When I arrived, the police were there taking statements. One of the cashiers explained (to me) that they had been robbed. The thief made his escape by literally running through the store and then jumping over some shopping carts parked near the registers.

Writing humor is one of my strengths – in fact, the Kelly and Tony Mystery series are all comedy/crime stories. This particular story tickled my funny bone. You guessed it right. I turned it into a short story. As Kelly (my main character) has a fetish for tight butts (male of course!) I worked that into the story. The result is a very funny story that I’m thinking of using in my Kelly and Tony novel (still unnamed).

My unsolicited advice is to really look around you, open your eyes, see your surroundings. Don’t just walk down the street, cycle or do your shopping – instead, witness a story.

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