I’ve made no secret about the role Jim Thomsen plays in my writing life — and, I hope, the role I play in his. He’s my confidante, my consigliere, the guy who helps me filter ideas and is simultaneously encouraging and brutally honest. Last night, as he and I chatted online, something happened that illustrated just how beautifully this partnership often works.

I feel compelled to share it here.

For the sake of preserving my proprietary idea — I’m dead certain this will be the next story I undertake — I’ll be vague on some of the details. But I hope the moment of inspiration, one that would not have occurred had Jim and I not talked, will be preserved.

Amid a wide-ranging discussion, I told Jim about a local character here in Billings, one who isn’t widely known but is distinctive among certain downtown denizens. He has a compelling backstory — to the extent that I know it — and some interesting habits and mannerisms. As I went through all of this, Jim suddenly says, “Now that is a guy begging to be fictionalized.”

I was thunderstruck. I had never even considered it. But once the seed was planted, associated ideas started flying into my head, like a magnet drawing in scraps of metal. I instantly envisioned a friendship between a character based on this guy and a character in a short story I just completed. Supporting characters sprouted up like crabgrass in my mind.

I started tossing these ideas into the chat window, and Jim says, “Wow. Now you really have my wheels spinning.”

And then I got a little territorial (in a joking way): “Hey! Fuck your wheels. This is my story, hoss.”

The intervening hours between last night and now have only solidified and expanded the original idea. I now have the story I want to launch during this year’s NaNoWriMo competition. I’ll start on character profiles and outlining later this week. Principal writing commences in November.

And so it goes.

Who, if anyone, helps you focus your ideas?