Sheila Finch on Her Notebook of Story Ideas

by Sheila Finch

Sheila Finch reflects on the little sparks of inspiration that sometimes become her short stories. Read her latest work Asimov’s, “Wanton Gods” in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]

“Where do your ideas come from?” Harlan Ellison used to reply: A post box in Schenectady.

No, but really. Where do your ideas come from? Readers want to know the truth.

Would you believe me if I said I often don’t know? Once the story is underway, I’ve forgotten all about its genesis. Sometimes I consult my trusty notebook for the very first mention of a story. Often the entry I find is incomprehensible: “Czerny would’ve had to write eight-finger exercises.” Where did that come from and where is it going? It refers, I remember now, to a book of five-finger piano pieces for beginners. Ah. But why was I thinking about that? I have no recollection, just that ambiguous note. And the next clue is a quote from a book I was reading at the time: “Evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.” That’s from Other Minds by Peter Godfrey Smith, my notebook tells me, and refers to an octopus. I’m a charter member of the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, and my all-time favorite marine animal is the Big Red Pacific octopus. So—an octopus, a child playing a piano . . . A story is born, “Czerny at Midnight.”

And away my mind goes. Sometimes I refer to this creative, unconscious part of my mind as Murgatroyd.  (Some writers name theirs something more prosaic, like “Fred” which was apparently Damon Knight’s choice for his creative muse. Perhaps that’s a better choice. Murgatroyd gets swollen with his own importance.) 

From that initial puzzle of a note in my notebook three short stories about the octopus eventually came into being—two of them published here in Asimov’s. And I’m now expanding the ideas in those stories into a full-length novel. 

What has any of this to do with the current story, “Wanton Gods?” Let me consult my notebook.

Sheila Finch is currently working on expanding the stories she’s written about Lena Ke’Aloha and her octopus studies into a novel. Sheila’s most recent short fiction collection, Forkpoints, was published by Aqueduct Press in 2022.

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