The Idea Fairy

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Where do ideas come to you?  For some people, it’s in the shower or the bathtub.  Other people, while they’re washing their car or walking in the rain.

The Idea FairyI think the Idea Fairy must be a water nymph.  The idea for the book my daughter and I are co-writing came in the swimming pool.  I remember it vividly.  Before it was a book it was just a thought exercise, to make my daughter laugh.  It took me awhile to realize the potential for an actual novel and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to traumatize partner with my daughter on a creative project.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To beat the summer heat my wife and I took our two youngest to the pool at our gym, where there is a whole aquatic playground typically teaming with kids.  Our then-3-year-old boy dragged my wife to the fountains and dump buckets, and my daughter and I headed for the deep end.

The irony is not lost on me.

My daughter has always wanted to be a princess, or a fairy.  Usually both.  But I was never particularly good at playing those kinds of pretend games with her.  She had an uncanny ability to change gears ‒ and the laws of physics ‒ in a heartbeat, and I couldn’t keep up.  So she amused herself at my expense, poking fun at my largish nose or my bouncy belly.  Or the way I chew.  The list goes on.

In the pool she was pretending to be a mermaid princess, and I asked her, “What would you do if after all this time you found out you really were a fairy-tale princess, and you had magic and everything?  And it turned out the reason you were was not because your mother was a fairy princess before you, but because your dad was the troll king?”

“So I’m a troll princess?” she sighed.  “Figures.”

And The Last Princess was born.  It actually took me about a year of mulling it over to figure out how to make a whole book out of it.  My first novel, started when I was still in high school in the days of Dungeons and Dragons, was an enormous* failure.  I knew nothing about writing a book, including when to stop.  So this time around I invested in books about “plot.”  I was fairly certain this was a pretty important concept.  Characters, I had.  Even the hint of a story.  But the secret of plot eluded me the way the secret of fire eluded early man.  Now, I feel like this little bit of forethought has made the difference between a readable book and a fat lot of pages.

I guess we’ll see.  I’m praying for rain so maybe the Idea Fairy will return and give me her blessing.

*About 250,000 words.  I think I’m the only person who ever finished reading it.

  1. Ah yes, the quarter-of-a-million-word high school novel. We are more hardcore than the NaNoWriMo crowd! Now if I can just stomach OCR scanning all that bad writing to preserve for posterity! 😉


    • Tom, do you remember that story we wrote in about you and I and two girls being the only survivors of a catastrophic flood? Or the one where we saved the Enterprise because we were smarter than the crew? Do you still have those?


      • Hey John! Sorry for the late reply – I never seem to remember to check in over here. I do vaguely remember those stories, although I don’t think I have either of them, although I am still going through papers that my parents had. I did find something I wrote in the 3rd grade, which ALMOST holds up better than the 250k word high school novel does!

        We need to connect next time I am out in California!


  2. John,

    Kids are amazing once you get to know them . . . as I’m sure you know. I’d suggest you have an “Idea Party” and invite all the kids you, your wife, friends and daughter know. Hopefully the kids will be all within a year or so of your daughter’s age.

    Then tell the kids you are writing a story and want their help! Give them an overview and start asking questions, such as:
    What’s the Last Princess’ name?
    How old is she?
    Is she brave or is she a “fraidey cat?” (as in “afraid of everything?”)
    Is she friendly? Do most people like her?
    Does she share with others or does she ‘hog’ stuff just for herself?
    What would she do if someone was very mean and rude to her?
    Would she ever lie or steal or cheat?

    Regardless, be sure to get everyone’s permission to record the event and, hopefully, have a small hand held recorder which you can then place in an inconspicuous spot. Be sure to try it in advance.

    Think about your plot line and ask questions to lead the discussion to topics relevant to it.
    Ask “Why is that?” at every opportunity.

    When my grandson was in the 6th grade he participated in a “robotics” club, building a robot out of “Legos” (TM) which had to traverse a set course, perform certain actions and gain points. There were other kids on the team who were in the 4th and 5th grades. The team also had to have an “activity”. They decided to write a book about the importance of sleep. I had several ISBNs left from a block of 10 and gave them one. Each child was responsible for a chapter. I put it together as a book.

    Their book was incredibly well written. It was passed out free to several grade schools in the Fresno/Clovis area of California. It was not sold which is why I think Bowker refused to list it. Regardless, I have “retired” the ISBN.

    I have a pdf version, 36 pages which folds up into a booklet with 2 staples in the middle of the folded cover. (It then needs to be trimmed with a paper cutter.) I tried to attach a copy, but couldn’t here.

    I was able to e-mail my wife a copy just now, so it must be this site. If you could send me a “regular” e-mail, I’ll send you a copy. It is surprisingly well written and you or anyone are free to copy it, but not sell it. By the way, their team placed 9th overall out of 190 teams competing, which is pretty good! The back of the booklet has a picture of the team wearing C-Pap sleep apnea machines which aid sleep.



  3. Thanks for reading, James. That’s a great story; you should be very proud.

    I actually did something similar to what you suggested with just my daughter a little over a year ago. I devised about a dozen questions like “what does being a princess mean to you,” “who are your heroes and why,” etc., then interviewed her and recorded her responses. I used those responses to help shape the characters and the storyline.

    We’re actually well on the way to finishing this book; my post was a reminiscence. And I have consulted several of her friends about certain details of their everyday lives and the things they are into.

    Have you considered publishing your son’s book as a free e-book on or Amazon?


  4. jmgajda says:

    That was really sweet. It’s nice that you and you’re daughter will always have this. Whether the book gets published or not (and hopefully it will) you’ll always have this experience. Priceless!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Glynis Jolly says:

    So you did find a way to fantasize with her. You know, don’t you, that you’ll be her king forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I did. We’re co-writing The Last Princess together, a middle grade urban fantasy in which the MC is based on her. This has been an amazing bonding experience, and even if the book doesn’t get published, she’ll always have a novel written specifically for and about her. I talked about that in my previous post.

      She’s 13, now, so we don’t have tea parties like we used to. But we watch “Once Upon a Time” together — that’s our thing, and only ours.

      Thank you so much for reading.


  6. Sandra Coopersmith says:

    Hi, John. I love that you’re doing this and I would love to read the book when it’s done. I just finished doing a story for a community newspaper about a local writer who’s launching her first book, a memoir, and I kind of think, buried somewhere within me, I have a possible children’s book based on childhood experiences — so, I was delighted to read your article. My best to you and your daughter in this venture.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] The idea for this story started out as a thought exercise to make my daughter laugh. She must have been about eleven at the time. She was always pretending to be a fairy princess or a mermaid or some such, and one day I asked her what she would do if it turned out after all of this time she found out she really was a fairy princess … but not because her mother was a fairy, but because her father was a troll. It occurred to me that that was a great premise for a book, and after about a year of mulling it over and trying to develop a plot, I started writing it. My daughter and I have been collaborating on plot points, characters, how a 12-year-old-girl would react to given situations, etc. ever since. I described this exact thing in one of my blog posts. […]


  8. […] Ideas come at the oddest times.  In the shower.  In the car.  In the middle of an unrelated conversation with your spouse.  At that last possible moment before you drift off to sleep.  You never know when you’re going to get one.  Which makes ideas precious.  So precious, in fact, that sometimes you’re compelled to hang on to one tooth and nail.  This can become a problem if you are committed to selling a novel. […]


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