The Idea Store

by Jill Marie Landis

One of the oddest questions working writers are asked by nonwriters—at least to me it seems odd—is “Where do you get your ideas?”

As if there’s an “Idea Store” out there somewhere and only published writers know where it is. And we are keeping the location a secret. Personally, I’d like to find out where ideas don’t come from and then go there on vacation.

How do I turn my head off? That’s the question that keeps me up at night.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a rental car bus headed for a flight out of LAX. The bus filled up with all kinds of people and a young man in his late twenties sat down beside me. He was dark, handsome, well dressed and of East Indian extraction. He had an expensive brief case and matching luggage. Obviously a businessman, he took a call the minute his phone rang. Being a hard working writer, I naturally listened to his conversation while I stared straight ahead and pretended not to.

The gist of it—spoken in lyrical, East Indian accented, very proper English—was something about an impending forty million dollar deal that was obviously very important to the young man and the company he worked for. I didn’t understand all the details but “should such and such happen,” then, he said, everything would be “hunky dory.”

I bit back a smile. I mean, he was young, hip, on a smart phone, talking about forty million dollar deals and he actually said “hunky dory.” Suddenly my mind was spinning out a costume drama set in an English colony, something worthy of a PBS series, and this young guy was my hero. It wasn’t just his jet black eyes, his curly hair or his GQ look. It was his use of “hunky dory” that stole my heart.

What kind of a hero would this guy make? Would it be too wide a stretch to cast him in the role of hero? I was enthralled thinking it couldn’t get any better when he went on to say, “If this deal doesn’t go, then it could be a real ‘sticky wicket.’”

Sticky wicket! Uttered in that accent! Breathless, I so wanted to turn and stare, but we were shoulder to shoulder and I didn’t want him to think I was into some high end business espionage. (Do you see my idea problem here?)

What a guy, I was thinking. What a story. Who was he? I mean, he could even be a time traveler. Surely no one actually uses those phrases anymore, but this guy was! I knew that sticky wicket has to do with the condition of the field during a game of cricket, but in the right sentence it could mean anything. “I’m so sorry darling. I hope I didn’t ruin your gown. I don’t usually have such a sticky wicket.”

Unfortunately, my hunky dory hero exited at the first terminal we came to. I rode on oblivious to just about everything but pinning down a time period for the story humming in my brain.

Already mired in a work-in-progress, I haven’t had time to pursue my Colonial England gem of an idea yet, but it would certainly be something to rival The Far Pavilions. I did get as far as researching the origins of the term hunky dory.

Turns out there are lots of opinions on line (naturally) as to the origins of the phrase. As far back as 1862 it appeared in a song about “Old”Kentucky; “’Tis then I’m hunkey dorey.”

‘Hunkey’ was in use in the USAby 1861, when it was included in the title of the Civil War song A Hunkey Boy Is Yankee Doodle.  Either Little Yankee Doodle was overweight or a hunk. The jury is still out.

Another explanation is that there is a Japanese term, honcho-dori, which means something like ‘main street.’ US sailors could have added ‘hunky’ to the Japanese word for road, dori, when they referred to streets of easy virtue inTokyo andYokohama back in the 1860’s. It’s a pretty good bet sailors referred to streets of ‘easy virtue’ a lot.

Okay, so my hero starts out during the Civil War, jumps on a ship headed forTokyoand winds up inEast Indiawhere he meets the daughter of a cricket playing rajah. Just when he thought everything was hunky dory he found himself in a sticky wicket.

Alas, for now I must relegate my latest “idea” to a scrap of paper that I’ll toss into my IDEAS folder. There are scraps in there that are yellow with age. With each of them comes a memory of where the idea came to me. How and when they might spin out into book form remains a mystery.

And no. The folder is not for sale.