I often get asked about where I get story ideas, which was the genesis for my series of “Inspiration” posts. Sometime it’s easy to pinpoint a specific inspiration, but often numerous things inspire a story. For my story “Wings Over the Suicide Rocks,” which appears in the April 2012 issue of 10Flash Quarterly, it’s easy to pinpoint the initial inspiration, but the route to the final story is not so straightforward.
Every issue of 10Flash Quarterly is built around a writing prompt. The April prompt was The falls are beautiful this time of year. This prompt was the starting point for “Wings Over the Suicide Rocks.” Taking this writing prompt, I used a word association approach to brainstorming. I started with words and phrases naming things that could fall, and for each one I came up with, I wrote the very next first word or phrase that popped into my head. I continued in this fashion for several minutes, until I eventually hit on a phrase that became the seed for my story: “the bombs fell like birds in her dreams.”
This image was particularly vivid to me and made me think of Japanese haiku poetry (not sure why, it just did). I have read a few Japanese novels and was always fascinated with the way they would juxtapose seemingly incongruity images of nature with the events of the story. I decided I wanted to try something like this, and this led me Tomoko, the main character in “Wings Over the Suicide Rocks,” and her struggle against the expectations of her society. The final piece of this story came from my time living and working in the Mariana Islands. I decided to place Tomoko’s story during the Battle of Saipan, when thousands of Japanese civilians committee suicide in the closing days of the battle by leaping off the cliffs at the north end of the island.
Once I finally sat down at my keyboard, “Wings Over the Suicide Rocks” was written quickly—a single sitting. I am always hesitant to write stories from different cultural perspectives than my own (it doesn’t stop me, of course) because it’s important to me that I get the details right. I hope I have correctly captured the time period, and especially the Japanese culture and philosophy of five elements. My apologies if I have not.
If you haven’t already, head over to 10Flash Quarterly and check out the stories in the April issue. This issue will be final issue of 10Flash Quarterly; after three years and twelve issues, the editor has decided to close down the publication.
Thanks for sharing this window into your writing process — and for sharing the link to the story! It’s moving and beautifully written.
Thanks, Marc. I’ve used this brainstorming approach before—I find it especially helpful when starting from a set prompt or idea. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Having lived out that area of the world, I’ve experience first-hand how real this tragedy still is, even after 70 years. To stand atop the Suicide Cliffs is a moving experience.