Well, it's a long story, but since you asked, I'll tell you all about how I almost ended up writing a story about a geisha and her dog, but have since expanded that into a much larger project.
I'm a visual guy. If I hadn't ended up a writer, I would have been a filmmaker, or a designer, or something in that grab bag of careers. Some of my thirst for doing design gets slaked via the work I do designing covers for the Infinimata line. But writing won out, for a variety of reasons (time, resources, specific varieties of patience). Still, I use imagery to fuel my work — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.
Not long ago I bumped into this fantastic image at Unsplash, one of my sources of imagery for cover art. For a laugh, I mocked up some cover art with it that implied it was the first volume in a series of cozy-crime books about a geisha and her dog who Solve Mysteries. I showed this to a couple of friends and their explosion of enthusiasm almost broke my damn neck.
"I DOUBLE-DOG DARE YOU TO WRITE THAT," one of them gushed.
Me: "... it was a gag"
Them: "DUDE I WOULD TOTALLY SHELL OUT $$ FOR ADVENTURES OF MAIKO AND PUPPER"
Me: " ... dear god what have I done"
After some more obligatory this-is-all-my-damn-fault-isms, I did the one thing I never expected to do: I started to take the idea seriously. So maybe there's room somewhere for a story about this character, whoever she is, I thought. It wouldn't be the first time I pulled on a thread like this and had something major drop into my lap from it.
Somewhere in the back of my idea wiki I had notes towards a story I had never developed completely — mostly just a series of mumblings to the effect that I'd been long interested in writing something that was an homage to 1970s Japanese gangster/girl-gang/tough-guy/wild-style flicks. Meiko Kaji was the patron goddess of such material: Wandering Ginza Butterfly, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, the Stray Cat Rock series, Lady Snowblood (not the same period, but definitely the same attitude), you name it. The attitude she brought to her perennial antiheroine characters, and the imagery in the artwork, started to fuse.
What I didn't have was an actual story, though. What was it all about?
One consistent thread through all of the media I'd been drawing on as inspiration was style — how some people just exuded cool standing there, and somehow made everything they did a casual expression of that. We, who have no cool and no style, look upon such people as gods; we can't help but feel that much clumsier and tinier in their presence, even if it's all a socially manufactured illusion. We treat style almost as if it were a superpower, something channeled from another realm, which is unfair both to us who don't have style and those who do. (I recall now the time I got something signed by one of my idols, a man barely known for his work on this side of the Atlantic, and how a tongue-tied hello on my part turned into a solid hour of wonderful talk on both our parts.)
Out of this came a question, something that is often the driver for a story: what if style was, in fact, a superpower of sorts? What if the reason things in those wild-style movies happened the way they did was because the people in question were drawing on all that energy, shaping it, directing it? What kind of world would that create, in both the near- and far-term? And what of the have-nots, who only look on and wonder, and long for something they can only see at a distance?
Next to those notes, in a newly created wiki, I jotted down a working title: Charisma. And for further inspiration, I threw together a placeholder cover from the clip art in question, as seen at the top of this article. What had started as a joke was now an actual Project, cap P, even if one that still had no start date or fully defined story. But it had a subject, and it had at least the tentative beginnings of a protagonist.
And to think this could have been a story about a geisha with a dog who solves mysteries. Not that I have anything against such a story. But there might well be any number of other people who could write it. This, whatever it is I have here, I'm the only one who can write it as far as I know.