Where Do I Get My Ideas?

IMG_0579I was in Valparaiso, Chile, walking down a narrow street filled with flowers with a lovely young woman who was acting as a personal guide, when she asked me how I got my ideas. I answered, “From this and that,” which was the exact truth.

One of the pleasures of being a writer is getting inside the heads of people who are not us. When we are beginners, possibly every character we write is us, but the more we grow and improve as writers, the more able we are to conceive of or take note of people who do not think and feel exactly the way we do about various things, whose cultural touchstones are different from ours and whose personal values are, too. We can’t make this up. We have to do research. This research comes from a wide variety of sources, some personal and some global.

Do we violate the privacy of our friends and write about their specific lives and problems? No. We get ideas from some aspect of something in their lives, perhaps. If I have a friend who drinks a little, is any story I write about a character who drinks about my friend? Not at all. But maybe, seeing how drinking has become a part of my friend’s life, I might be inspired to look at examples of what alcoholism does to individuals or couples, and create a character for whom drinking has created definite negativity.

IMG_0585 In Summer in the City, one of my women’s fiction novels, I write about a character who has a bit of a drinking habit, not alcoholism. I gave her that habit to show how she copes with emotional issues in her life, but it’s not the most important thing about her. In fact, it’s a minor detail, an effort to make her seem more like a convincingly fallible human being. I could just as easily have made it a shopping habit, or a habit of binge-watching television shows, or whatever, but drinking seemed to fit the sophistication level of my character.

Other ideas went into the making of this character, ideas from a television series (Sex and the City was on my mind), ideas from stories I heard from other friends about the difficulties of being a woman who wanted a career in 1970, and so on. There’s not a single character I’ve ever written who wasn’t an amalgam of traits of many people, some of them people I know, and some I have never met, plus stuff I made up at random or added from what is currently floating around in our society or from what I remember from the past. The result is a character who has never existed in real life, but who could. Even my roman à clef superhero novels, which call up pretty closely some well-known personalities or situations in the comic book business, do not attempt to take actual people or situations wholesale. Every character and situation is unique and original, made richer by the variety of ideas I’ve thrown together.

So that’s where I get my ideas.

The Story Behind Summer in the City

Summer2In Summer in the City, my first women’s fiction novel, I combined mythic, romantic Manhattan with a real-life Greenwich Village co-op apartment building. Why do this? Because people have fantasies of coming to New York and living in a brownstone on a tree-shaded city street, near the action yet sheltered from the hustle and bustle of this dynamic city.

I happen to know a building in Greenwich Village that seemed very suited to the romantic tale of three Baby Boomer women reuniting for a summer in the city. I used some of the real features, such as the secluded backyard patio. The patio is where one of my heroines retreats late one night, trying desperately to hold onto the romantic memories of her first date. It’s where another of this story’s three heroines basically has a breakdown, where confrontations occur. And the patio is just for starters. Exciting events happen on the front steps, in the hallways, and in more than one co-op apartment in this building. A real building.

Other scenes in this novel occur in public places in Manhattan, most of them unnamed restaurants and nightclubs I made up, but some of them at real places like the Metropolitan Opera, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park.

Summer in the City is a novel that always makes me smile. It’s about new beginnings, recapturing the dreams of youth, straightening out the problems of long-term marriages, and more. True to its romantic fantasy core, my heroines always can find a cab when they need one, get a reservation to a hot new restaurant, and snag a last-minute ticket to a Broadway show, too.

Summer in the City is available at Amazon.

Sequel to Captive of the Cattle Baron–Saving the Soldier


Saving the Soldier is JD’s story.

Jesse Dwayne Selkirk is Baron Selkirk’s younger brother, the cocky young man who chased the girls and always won the game. When he joined the Army and was deployed to the Middle East, JD matured from a teenager into a man. But then his luck ran out and an IED blew him up.

Life will never be the same for JD, but he’s already beaten the odds and is walking again. Now Paula Barton, secretly in love with him, is trying to blast JD out of the VA hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The ranch needs him. His family needs him. Paula will do anything to help them all, even risk her chances of ever winning JD’s love.

Saving the Soldier is available at Amazon.


Fifty Years Ago, a Comic Book Fan Emerged from the Suburbs…


Irene Vartanoff's card to DC Comics April 16, 1965

I just went through my box of oldest letters. Fifty years ago I wrote a lot to the editors of DC Comics, which at the time was still hiding under the name National Periodical Publications, Inc. I also wrote to the subscription department. As was their habit back then, often my initial postcard was stapled to their response. Thus, despite not having a technologically practical way to capture what I wrote as a teenager to that big New York comics company (you can’t run carbon paper under a postcard in a typewriter or if you’re using a fountain pen), I have some souvenirs of my amazing outpourings. Imagine a handwritten postcard with every space on it taken up by an argument about the price and frequency of a subscription that included an 80-page Giant. Over fifty cents! If I hadn’t already put the box back into the most inaccessible corner of my closet, I’d scan it just for the absurdity. (See my note below.) Didn’t I have anything better to do with my time?

Actually, no, I didn’t. I graduated a year early from high school, and got a part-time public library job and went part time to what was then called junior college. And I read a lot of books and comic books. I had acres of time left over to write letters of comment to comic books, and to harass subscription department clerical workers about the minutiae of their offers. From these, somehow, the editors decided I was someone to encourage. I shake my head to this day at the unlikelihood of it. Maybe their own daughters showed no enthusiasm for what they produced. By contrast, mine was palpable.

Fifty years later, I still have every note written to me by anyone from National Periodical Publications, Inc., and every envelope in which those notes came. I treasured each one of them at the time as a connection to the world of all my colorful fantasy longings. They also were a connection to the adult world, totems that proved I was on the right track heading for adulthood because I could actually get an adult to respond to me seriously instead of brushing me off. I probably was wrong about that; I was first and foremost a customer, so of course they replied politely. It was a more polite era, as well. But what a thrill. I suppose the current equivalent would be to write a piece of fan mail to a movie producer and get a personal reply.

I treasure those notes, because I treasure my few memories of who I was fifty years ago. It’s an unimaginable distance ago in time and living.

007Vartanoff DC subscription info April 1966

EDITED TO ADD:  Finally opened the closet again and here’s the postcard I sent April 16, 1965. Stapled to it were two form notes from the subscription department. I sent my postcard at a time when I was still in high school but deathly bored and determined to be done with it soon. That’s a tale for another day. Mort Weisinger was the editor of all the Superman titles.

JD’s Story Coming Soon

Desert Landscape2
If you’ve just read my first sweet contemporary romance, Captive of the Cattle Baron, you might be wondering if I’m going to tell JD and Tess’s stories. The answer is YES! Saving the Soldier, JD’s story, is in the final stages of production and will be published soon. I’ll announce the publication date here, or you can go to my Facebook author page here or check out my Twitter feed here for updates.




Michael N. Kalantar’s book, Russia Under Three Tsars, has been a project for me ever since I discovered the typed manuscript in the wall of books on Russian history at my mother’s hRussia Undre Three Tsars mediumouse four years ago. Sadly, this was after her death, so I couldn’t ask her about a literary work I had never known existed. Dr. Kalantar was my father’s cousin and my godfather. I knew him simply as a kindly old man who gave me Madame Alexander dolls (very fancy!) and sterling silver spoons (also fancy, but hard to play with). He died in 1958, when I was a child. I never knew until recently that he had been a writer all his life.

After graduating from an impressive series of universities, ending with the Sorbonne, Dr. Kalantar entered the tsarist government service at one of the most crucial moments in Russian history, when the Duma, the Imperial Senate, was formed. The Duma was an attempt to have a legislative body, to quell the massive public unrest with lack of reform during Tsar Nicholas II’s reign. Dr. Kalantar rose to be Secretary-in-Chief of the Duma and became privy to information others never knew.

Russia Under Three Tsars covers the period from Tsar Alexander II’s tragic assassination (he was a reform monarch who was about to do great things for his country) in 1881 to around 1911, when the final crisis of tsarist rule was on the horizon but had not yet taken place. According to a cover letter I found with the manuscript, which had been submitted to a publisher sometime in the 1950s, Dr. Kalantar wrote more about later events, including the revolution of 1917, but so far I’ve not been able to find any trace of such writings.

He was not yet born when Alexander II was assassinated, so how did Dr. Kalantar know in such intimate detail the various events and people involved on that fateful day? His uncle, Count Loris-Melikov, was Alexander II’s reform minister. It is safe to say that Loris-Melikov was at least the partial architect of the reform law the Tsar was about to publish before his supremely untimely death. Dr. Kalantar had exclusive access to the Loris-Melikov banned, untranslated, raw memoirs, from which he wrote his stirring account of Alexander II’s assassination, and which provided many other details only known by people close to the imperial court. Years later, of course, the private diaries of royal personages became available to scholars, so Dr. Kalantar added frank items recorded by these people.

Such intimate access to the seat of power, and the ability as a scholar to synthesize many accounts, is what makes this history of value even though it is incomplete and despite the many decades that have passed since the events it describes—and the many decades since it was written, as well. There are other eyewitness accounts of the last days of the tsars, but there can never be enough. It’s a fascinating and tragic period of world history. For those who are interested, every newly discovered account is very welcome. Dr. Kalantar’s history is written by an unapologetic tsarist, which again is welcome because we get a true sense from someone who knew the Tsar just what he was like and how people viewed the Tsar and the various people involved in his life.

I was very impressed with the manuscript. Dr. Kalantar’s command of the English language was nearly faultless despite English being far from his first, or his second, or even his third language. There were no egregious grammatical errors. The story flowed. It was immensely readable. And it was about larger-than-life, charismatic royal figures, people who glittered and yet who were human, too, as Dr. Kalantar described both their public and their private moments. It’s a compelling story as he tells it.

I scanned every typewritten page, OCRed them, and regularized the spellings of proper names since there are various ways to approximate Russian alphabet letters in English. I did not attempt to edit the sense or style of this historical account, nor comment on Dr. Kalantar’s opinions. It’s his history of a crucial time, his opinion and interpretation and synthesis of the facts, worth reading as an historical document, an eyewitness account.

Russia Under Three Tsars is available as an ebook and trade paperback at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook Press, and Barnes & Noble, as well as other venues.

Captive of the Cattle Baron Makes Another Blog Visit

Check out my mCaptive of the Cattle Baron by Irene Vartanoffost recent blog visit talking about Captive of the Cattle Baron. Beverley Bateman’s Blogging with Beverley now includes my detailed explanation of how to rewrite a scene to shift who instigates it, and why that can be a good idea. And there’s an excerpt, of course!

(Or, you can click here and buy the book from Amazon.)

Temporary Superheroine Has Moved to Kindle Unlimited

Don’t read thisTS WEB PROMO large if you hate Amazon. You know who you are.

I’ve moved Temporary Superheroine to Kindle Unlimited so people who do not know me and don’t want to risk $2.99 on my superhero action novel can read it free.

You can still BUY Temporary Superheroine as an ebook and print book on Amazon, and the paperback edition is also available through Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers.