Where ideas come from: One author’s journey

October 25, 2017 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, writing.

James Callan is a fiction writer who was introduced to newsletter readers several weeks ago.

He is the author of the Father Frank mysteries, the first of which is Cleansed by Fire, a roaring good adventure with lots of action and interesting characters.

Here are a few questions that James was kind enough to answer.

Cleansed by Fire

Where do you get the ideas for your books?

That’s one of the questions most often asked when I make a presentation.  I love that question because it’s so easy to answer.

Ideas are all around us, every day. You can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to the newscast without a story idea popping out.  Even talking with friends, or overhearing a bit of a conversation can ignite a story.

For example?

I was once in a restaurant. The people in the next booth were chatting back and forth and I pretty much ignored them.  It was as if my mind heard the sentences and immediately discarded them, without my conscience brain registering them.  But one sentence vaulted to the front of my mind and I knew I would write a story, or a book, where that sentence played an important part.  The sentence?  “Was she the woman who died twice?”

My books are all complete fiction, but initiated by something in real life.

What about Cleansed by Fire?

A few years back, a number of church burnings occurred in east Texas.  When they finally caught the two arsonists, the only reason given was, “Could we get away with it?”  As I thought about it over a year, I just couldn’t imagine someone burning down buildings for no reason.  What could be a reason?  And that became Cleansed by Fire, where churches were burned. But there was a reason.

You have said the spark for Over My Dead Body was the Keystone Pipeline.

Over My Dead Body

By eminent domain, Keystone cut a swath one hundred fifty feet wide and a quarter of a mile long through our property, bulldozing down thousands of trees, from hundred foot tall pines to sixth year-old oak and hickory trees.  And this was eminent domain for a private corporation, not for a state or federal project.  

One day I read a brief folktale about a missing wagonload of precious metal in Texas back in the early 1800s.   I wondered, how could such a folktale affect people today.  The answer became A Ton of Gold.

You said that newspapers often provide you with ideas.

Several years ago, I read a four-paragraph story in the Los Angeles Times about a woman held a virtual slave. There were no chains holding her, only the threat to kill her family left behind in Cambodia.  At first, I couldn’t believe such a story. Virtual slaves? In the U.S. today?  I decided to research that on the Internet and to my amazement found it was common. One government report said there may be more slaves in the U.S. today than there were in 1860 —no chains, but threats and economic controls.

A Silver Meddallion

One editor suggested I write a non-fiction book. Interview some who had escaped or some of the families of “slaves.”  As I thought about that, I knew it would be too emotional a topic for me to ever finish the book.

But the idea stayed with me and finally I decided I could write a fiction book and highlight the problem.  A year later, A Silver Medallion was released.  Tthe four-paragraph news story led me ultimately to a 94,000-word award-winning novel.

Any other examples?

Other books have come from similar circumstances: a chance comment, a news story, a personal experience. Often, it’s just asking the question, “What if?”  Not only does this produce good books, it makes life more interesting.  Seemingly off-hand remarks can send the curious mind down interesting and unpredictable paths.  

At least it does for a fiction writer. 



Cleansed by Fire, Over My Dead Body, A Ton of Gold, A Silver Medallion, and other books by James R. Callan can be viewed on his Amazon Author page:  http://amzn.to/1eeykvG or by visiting his website:  http://www.jamesrcallan.com


James R. Callan took a degree in English, intent on writing.  But when that did not support a family, he returned to graduate school in the field of mathematics.  Upon graduation, he worked as a research mathematician, and vice-president of a database company.  

James Callan

He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Data Processing Management Association.  He has been listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science, and Two Thousand Notable Americans.

When his children were grown and self-supporting, he returned to his original love—writing.  For two years, Callan wrote a monthly column for a national magazine. For six months, he wrote a weekly column that appeared in newspapers in four states. Callan has had twelve books published. All have been published in print, nine were also published as e-books and four were released in audio.  The audio version of one of his mystery/suspense books rose as high as number six on the Books in Motion list. Another book ranked as high as seven in its category on Amazon. He has had shorter works published in five anthologies.

In addition to writing books, Callan gives workshops on writing in the U.S. and Mexico.

He and his wife split their time between homes in east Texas and Puerto Vallarta.  They have four children and six grandchildren.

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