The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Ah. Every author’s dream question! I recently was asked it about my new middle grade novel, Planet Jupiter.

01 cover

Some authors have flippant answers…from the idea fairy. I capture them tumbling under my bed with the dust bunnies. I sometimes point out that a novel has to have interesting and unusual ideas for every scene–and that maybe a better question is, “Where do you get your details?”

In the interest of demystifying the writing process just a little, I show how various details in my books have come from memories, observation, and research–even if in the end, there is something deeply mysterious about the whole stew of it all, and how we take a spoonful and shake our heads and say, “needs something.” How we find something to try. How we know whether or not we’ve created the effect we want.

With Planet Jupiter, I can vividly remember where I stumbled on some of my details. For example, I agreed to be part of a reading night for the school where my brother, Chris Kurtz, was teaching in Portland, Oregon. One of his students introduced me to her twin. The way the two of them described their experiences made me burst out laughing. So I went to school to interview them about twin-dom.



By the next school year, I’d finished many drafts and gotten feedback from my editor, so Chris and I decided it would be okay if I came back to school and read the entire novel aloud to his third graders.

I sang songs for them. They sang songs for me. Every time I read a chapter, we discussed Jupiter and Edom’s lives and feelings and struggles and worries.


I asked if they knew what buskers were (a word I’d only recently learned, myself, for what I’d called “street performers”). Not only had most of them seen buskers around Portland, one boy had been busking with his family all over the world! Wowie zowie on that.

A couple weeks ago, I returned to school to show the Advanced Reader Copies of Planet Jupiter. Embarrassingly enough, I told the students that when I was first working on writing the entire story–the year I interviewed the twins–this group would have been in second grade.

Chris classroom

And the group I read the revised-and-ever-revising novel to? They were in third grade, then, and in fifth grade now.


If you’re a writer–if you’re me, anyway–it takes a long, long time and ever so many details before you actually get to share the stew with your friends.

But then the feast is delicious!


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