Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

- by Rebecca York

Sometimes I’m not sure where one of my novels comes from. An idea may bubble up from the depths of my brain–and I’ll begin to play with it. Other times, a story idea will spring directly from an experience I’ve had–like touring the hidden bunker under the Greenbrier Hotel, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The Greenbrier is a sprawling five-star resort set on 6,500 manicured acres about four hours from Washington, DC. Think luxury rooms. Golf. Tennis. Swimming. Fine dining. A world-class spa. High tea every afternoon.

And, oh yeah, a secret bunker where Congress could hole up in case of a nuclear attack.

You think I’m kidding? Think again. Your tax dollars built a lavish fallout shelter in Nowhere, West Virginia and maintained it for four decades. Blast door would seal off the facility in the event of a nuclear attack. But in the meantime, the chambers for the House and Senate could be used as auditoriums, and the mess hall could be a conference center for the Greenbrier.

I have no idea how members of Congress were supposed to get to their clandestine hide-away in the event of nuclear disaster. But the bunker was faithfully maintained by a government team posing as Greenbrier TV and telephone repairmen until 1992 when an article in THE WASHINGTON POST blew the lid off the operation.

Stripped of its former glory, the fallout shelter is now reduced to a document storage dump–and a tourist attraction for hotel guests. If you’re curious about this monument to the Cold War, you can still see the decontamination showers, the air purification system, the massive water and fuel storage tanks, the bunk rooms. No thriller writer worth her salt would turn down a tour of a place like that. And as I walked down the cinder block corridors, all sorts of diabolical plot ideas started spinning in my head. What if a guy were held captive in the bunker? Why? How did he get there? What if his former lover risked her life to help him escape?

The speculation led directly to a novel called SOLDIER CAGED that’s out from Harlequin Intrigue this month. Of course, I had to change some details–since real life doesn’t always fit my plot lines. For one thing, I separated the bunker and the hotel. It’s still in West Virginia, but now the “back door” is through a huge natural cave (like some of the real caves in the area). It’s also out in the wilderness, because I didn’t want my hero and heroine escaping into a comfortable hotel where they could get a warm bath and a hot meal. I wanted them to stumble from the bunker into the woods, where there was little chance of escape from the armed men hunting them.

No, that part got changed. I’m mean to my characters. I tend to put them through hell before they get their happy ending. While I relax in one of the sitting rooms of the luxury hotel with my laptop and the ideas spinning in my head.



  1. What a fascinating story, Rebecca. Now you’ve made me want to visit that resort and take the bunker tour – as well, of course, as read your book!

    I’ve never had a location give me an entire book idea, but I’ve definitely had one prompt a scene. For example, in “Hot in Here,” my heroine asks her firefighter boyfriend to enact one of her fantasies. A “rescue me” fantasy where the heroic, studly firefighter rescues the damsel in distress from a burning building. (And no, she’s not a wimpy, old-fashioned heroine, she just had this particular scenario in her mind [g].) Now, I don’t plot ahead so at this point I had no idea how my poor hero was going to comply with her request.

    Then I remembered touring a firefighter training centre in Reno. They simulate real-life fire situations (smoke, flames, dark rooms, etc.) for training purposes. So, I decided that my hero, being a guy and pretty literal in his interpretation of the heroine’s request, would sneak her into the training centre after hours and set a faux fire. Complete with smoke and grime. Isn’t that just what a typical guy would do? To me, it seemed totally in character for my hero, who was trying so hard to please his girlfriend and of course got it completely wrong.

    So then I had the two of them up on the roof (after he’d “rescued” her), with her all grimy and coughing her lungs out. At which point, she decided she could either whack him in, uh, a sensitive place, or give him points for trying – and take advantage of the fact that they were on the roof of a building on a moonlit night, with not a soul around . . .

    I loved that scene, but it never would have come about if I hadn’t toured the firefighter training centre. So I figure, you take advantage of all ideas and opportunities, and tuck them away in your memory bank (or, if you’re like me and have a rotten memory, make notes), because you never know when they’re going to come in handy!

    For sexy romance that’s intense, passionate, heartwarming and fun!

  2. Susan, the fire fighting training center would definitely have given me ideas for a story! I like the way you ended your scene.

    Interestingly, there’s another scene in SOLDIER CAGED that’s set in a location near home that I visit often and had been dying to use in a book. And this time, it fit in. It’s Brighton Dam, a huge wooded tract of land that’s filled with azaleas. I tell people that if they live around here and don’t go there when the azaleas are in bloom, they’re crazy.

    In SC, I have the h/h hiding among the bushes at night and the bad guys flying above them in a helicopter–looking for them with a search light and illuminating the blossoms. And as the helicopter swoops low, azalea flowers fly in all directions. I had a lot of fun with that scene!

    Places I visit often give me ideas for scenes and also add authentic details that I’d never get just from reading a book.


  3. It amazes me how writers get their ideas and how their minds works. I can understand somewhat how Rebecca could get a story out of the underground bunker but the idea of azalea flowers is amazing to me.

  4. Love the story, Rebecca! Idea’s abound every where we look, don’t they? I think it’s just the way a writers mind works…our imagination is tweaked by things other people don’t always see. Some people would take that tour and just see the building, and not the possibilities.

  5. I don’t see myself passing thru W VA anytime soon but if I do, I’d like to see that. Story ideas come from the simplest of things. I think many storytellers are the grown-up children who always asked “why?”

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