Creative Collaboration – Getting Ideas

“So, there’s a sparkly 50s jukebox that falls from the sky and just sits there in the Arizona desert until a latino family finds it. But no one can make it work except the little grandson.”

That’s the kind of statement John makes when we’ve just finished a book and are trying to figure out how to start another one.

“And let’s tell this story using the Magical Mystery approach.” John says. He’s referring to Magical Realism, a style made popular by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize Winning novelist and author of One Hundred Years of solitude.

We explore the style and the jukebox idea: who is the family that finds the jukebox, what do they do for a living, what’s special about them? What are their relationships? Then we just go off and think about it.

“Did you know,” John says the next time we meet, “that the search for the Seven Cities of Gold was not led by a Spaniard, but by a black man, from Morocco?”

“So our book should be about a Morocco?” I ask.

“Nope,” John answers. “It should be about a new search for the seven cities, led by the great, great grandson of the original Moroccan, Esteban Dorantes. Our hero should have the same name, and a great sense of destiny.”

After the discussion I do some Internet research and read a few books. Turns out, there’s a great novel about Esteban Dorantes written by a woman who wanted to explore his adventure from the Muslim point of view—The Moor’s Account by Lila Lalami. I read it.

I show up to our next weekly meeting and am very excited about the research I’ve done. But then John has a whole new idea:

“What about coyotes?”

Nothing surprises me at this point.

“Maybe Esteban runs into a bunch of coyotes who talk to him. There are coyotes in a lot of Native American stories from the Southwest.”

“Do the coyotes give Esteban good advice?” I ask.

“Hell no,” John says. “You can’t trust Coyotes. Everyone knows they’re tricksters. Their advice gets Esteban and his partners into terrible trouble.”

The following week John says:

“I have this image of a mountain of old rusty cars in the desert. And there’s a hermit who lives there. Esteban and his party stumble onto the guy, ‘San Pablo of the Cars.'”

At this point, I’m asking myself if I can make a story out of all this. How the hell do I make the pieces fit?

“What’s this story really about?” I ask.

“Greed,” answers John instantly, “the greed of the guy who owns the copper mine that employs almost everyone in the town.”

So, we have coyotes; we have a jukebox that falls from the sky, San Pablo of the Cars, the great, great grandson of the historical Esteban Dorantes launching a renewed quest for the Seven Cities of Gold, a copper mine, and greed.

“Anything else,” I ask.

“Camels,” John says. “Esteban is home having his morning coffee one day when he sees these three camels walking down the street.


“Do we at least have a love story?” I ask.

“Oh yeah.”

John knows that I always insist on a love story.

“There’s this town called La Sentencia. It means ‘the sentence’… as in a legal sentence or punishment. And the town is falling apart because of corporate greed. Esteban decides to go on this quest to find the seven cities and bring back something that can save the town.”

“And who does he take with him?” I ask, finally realizing I should have asked that question long ago.

“Ceci,” John answers, “The girl who fell in love with him in high school, the only person who doesn’t think he’s crazy because he’s been talking about the quest all his life.”

“And she’s still in love with him?”

  “I don’t think so,” John answers. “Ceci’s in love with another guy named Gabe, part of the family that finds the jukebox. He works at the mine, the only good guy there. But Ceci gets disillusioned because Gabe won’t stand up to the greedy old man who runs the place, who is shutting down the mine and destroying the town.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

John smiles, “I think we should call him Devlin Lucero.”

ESTEBAN’S QUEST, is now available from Amazon.

Leave a Reply