Steunenberg Trial and the Idea File

12 Dec

I recently went to the Idaho State Historical Museum.  I remembered some exhibits from previous trips, but a display on former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg caught my eye.  Had this been here before?  I have no idea.

The story inside the case was vivid — on December 30, 1905, Steunenberg was killed by a bomb placed on his gate.  Bits of aged, twisted metal from the bomb rested under the glass.  What had it looked like, hot from the explosion?  Professional hit man Harry Orchard was arrested days later.  Three men associated with Western Federation of Miners, believed to be Orchard’s employers, were kidnapped from Colorado and brought to Idaho for trial.  Abundant legal drama followed.

This story has been tumbling through my head.  What were these people’s real motivations?  What really happened?  There are a hundred different stories that could be written about this incident — indeed, as I utilized Google to check the date and names, each article gave a slightly different version of events, casting different characters as the heroes.

One trip to a museum, a hundred story ideas.  It seems like ideas for stories are everywhere — in oddly-written ads, in the news, in articles about scientific discoveries, in things my children say.  It seems like the only time I don’t have an idea for a new story is when I’ve just finished a project and need a new idea.

So, some time ago, I started keeping a file of just ideas.  I’ve added the Steunenberg trial there.  Maybe I’ll never use it.  But, when I finish a project, that idea — and a hundred others — will be waiting, put up like jars on a shelf.

Perhaps the best thing about an idea file is being able to mix two ideas together — I find fiction works best when there’s multiple things happening.  For example, a journey to recover lost treasure by itself is mildly interesting; so is a middle-aged hobbit with furry feet.  Put them both in the same book, and something magical happens.

Having an idea file is one of my favorite writing tools.  It means I always have something new to write.  It means when I have something that’s not-quite-exciting yet — like a treasure hunt — I can scroll through my ideas and find that middle-aged hobbit the story needs before it can get started.

What about you?  How do you find and organize ideas?


Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Boise, Idaho, imagination, research


8 responses to “Steunenberg Trial and the Idea File

  1. marsharwest

    December 12, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Yeah, MK. I’ve got that file, too. I’m convinced we can never make up anything more bazarre than what happens in real life. I’m constantly amazed at what real people do.

  2. Janis McCurry

    December 12, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    I think about character types and what makes them tick. Then, I think about what scenario would push against those characteristics. News articles plant the seeds of my characters, but I don’t keep a file of the articles. I keep files that have pictures of people who might become characters, though.

  3. maryvine

    December 12, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    I will have to see that exhibit. I moved to Caldwell a year and a half ago where Steunenberg was a resident. Lately, I’ve been scoping out downtown Caldwell to see what’s there. I noticed a Steunenberg building and a Steunenberg historical district. My sister gave me a book called, Early Caldwell Through Photographs, and it shows a picture of his house which was bombed and is no longer standing. So, we’re kind of on the same wave length. Speaking of a file of ideas, I noticed an old church for sale and I thought, that would be a great place for a heroine to buy and turn in to a coffee shop or bakery. You just never know. Thanks.

    • mkhutchins

      December 12, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      Ooh! On a similar note, somewhere up by Horseshoe Bend, I’ve seen a drive-through that has now been converted into a church. Interesting architecture is everywhere!

  4. stephanieberget

    December 12, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    I love the idea of an idea file. I usually forget the great ideas when I get around to needing them.

  5. Lynn Mapp

    December 12, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    Did you know that Steunenberg wasn’t even governor at the time of his murder? Why would “they” want him dead after he was out of office?
    I teach fourth grade. We talk about this strange event.

    • mkhutchins

      December 12, 2012 at 11:47 PM

      I somehow missed this in fourth grade (wasn’t paying attention? we didn’t cover it?). I did see that he wasn’t governor at the time; I’d assumed, perhaps erroneously, that he was still pulling political strings. I need to research this more (thanks, Mary Vine, for the book recommendation). Details are so interesting.

  6. Clarissa Southwick

    December 13, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    The Steunenberg murder was one of the first Idaho stories I ever heard and I always thought somebody should write a novel based on it. There are so many odd happenings in Idaho history. I don’t have an idea file, but I really should start one. Thanks for the good advice 🙂


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