Sandra Dallas is an award-winning author of several novels including Sacred Paint, which won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Wrangler Award, and The Quilt That Walked to Golden, recipient of the Independent Publishers Assn. Benjamin Franklin Award. A journalism graduate of the University of Denver, Sandra began her writing career as a reporter with Business Week. A staff member for twenty-five years and the magazine’s first female bureau chief. Follow Here to find out more about Sandra.
Most Recent Sandra Dallas Book- Whiter Than Snow
Ideas. That’s the question people ask most: where do you get your ideas. The answer is I haven’t a clue. Ideas pick me. They come out of nowhere, a kind of “Aha! moment.” James Michener called it the “magical moment.” And truly it is.
That sounds a bit coy, but the fact is I don’t sit down and systematically plot out what I’m going to write next. I don’t say that novels about a particular subject are pretty hot these days, so why don’t I do one? I wait until the idea hits me, and while it may take its time, it does eventually.
My first published novel, Buster Midnight’s Café, started that way. I was walking from my office at home to the kitchen, and it came to me in the front hall—the setting, the characters, the plot, and the first line of the book. I stood there for a moment, torn between doing something with this great idea—and eating. Fortunately for me, I turned around and went to my computer and wrote the first chapter, which then was about a page. And of course, everything was rewritten later, although the first line stayed. I think if I’d gone on to the kitchen that day, I’d never have become a novelist.
I don’t know exactly how the process works. But I think you store a lot of information in your subconscious, where it gets mixed up and eventually percolates up as an idea.
Having said all that, I have to admit that the genesis of Whiter Than Snow was different. I don’t even remember getting the idea. A couple of years ago, I attended a Western Writers of America convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it was over 100 degrees. I heard someone say that a plot was where a group of unrelated people came together to face a common danger. How that led to a book set in the snow of Colorado’s high country I don’t recall. I just know that a few months later, I was writing Whiter Than Snow.
The idea (wherever it came from) for that book was an anomaly, because all my other books had that Eureka! moment. The idea for The Persian Pickle Club, for instance, came when I was lying in the hammock at our house in the mountains, while my husband was mowing the yard, trimming, cleaning up. And I thought I had to justify doing nothing. I know, I told myself, I’ll come up with the idea for a novel. And I did. Laziness is a great motivator.
My favorite story along this line is my book Alice’s Tulips. I had had elements of that book for a long time. I knew I wanted a book with quilt themes. And I wanted to write a book of letters; my friend Diane Mott Davidson, the wonderful culinary mystery writer, had suggested that. I had the names of characters, which I’d taken from a Civil War-era friendship quilt. I even had the title, which is a quilt pattern.
But I couldn’t come up with a plot. I thought maybe it would center on a woman who comes to Denver in 1900 and writes letters back to wherever she came from. I couldn’t figure out what she was doing here, however.
Then one day, my husband and I went to an art show and stopped afterwards for hamburgers. I complained to him that I had all the elements of a novel but no plot. Then I said, “Maybe instead of setting it in Denver in 1900, I’ll set it during the Civil War, and the narrator will be an immature, not-very-likeable young woman whose husband joins the Union Army, and she’s left behind with her unpleasant mother-in-law on this nasty farm. There’s a murder, and she’s suspected….” The whole plot just spilled out.
I like that story because it has a moral to it: It pays to eat red meat.