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Looking for the author and exact words of a quote.

A science fiction writer was asked too many times "Where do you get your ideas from?"

He came up with a sarcastic reply along the lines of:

I get them from Saskatchewan. There are several Ideas mines there. I just send 1000 dollars, and they send me three new original ideas by return of post.

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    This seems a pretty common style of answer from writers "He [Robert Jordan] seems to have a half a dozen answers for the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" The one that tickled me was that he sends off to a mail order company from Trenton New, Jersey (I think) for some large amount of money, at three ideas per page. I looked askance and remarked that Ellison gave the same answer, except his ideas came from a warehouse in Peoria (which I'm sure I've read somewhere. Think it was Ellison.) He shot back, "Yeah, but did you notice that mine are more expensive?" -tinyurl.com/3u4t6wu7
    – Valorum
    Sep 6, 2023 at 19:57
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    "People ask me where I get my ideas. I always tell them, “Schenectady.” They look at me with confusion and I say, “Yeah, there’s this ‘idea service’ in Schenectady and every week like clockwork they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas for 25 bucks.” Every time I say that at a college lecture there’s always some schmuck who comes up to me and wants the address of the service. - Harlan Ellison
    – Valorum
    Sep 6, 2023 at 20:04
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    @Valorum Schenectady, Saskatchewan, potato, potahto...
    – DavidW
    Sep 6, 2023 at 20:06
  • That's the one, @Valorum. Please give that an an Answer, so I can accept it.
    – Pete
    Sep 6, 2023 at 20:06
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    @Pete - It's not an original idea. Others have used it extensively. Asimov ("A mail order store in Wisonsin"), Stephen King ("The used ideas store in Utica"), etc etc. Which one in particular (above) is the one you were thinking of?
    – Valorum
    Sep 6, 2023 at 20:10

2 Answers 2

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Harlan Ellison used a similar answer for decades, whenever he was asked about the inspiration for his books and writings.

Q: Go ahead, ask me the dumbest question a writer can be asked: DUHH, WHERE D’YA GETCHER IDEAS?

Ellison: My answer is always the same – since there is no answer to this query. At least neither Plato nor Socrates nor Shakespeare could make the codification. When some jamook asks me this one (thereby revealing him/herself to be a person who has about as much imaginative muscle as a head of lettuce), I always smile prettily and answer, “Schenectady.”

And when the jamook looks at me quizzically, and scratches head with hairy hand, I add: “Oh, sure. There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ‘em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.”

And wouldja believe it…there is always some demento who asks me for the address.

Doorly - Harlan Ellison Interview

In his short story collection Shatterday, he claimed the location was Poughkeepsie. Possibly a branch office.

There are those who ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” Of all the silly questions asked of writers, that one, surely, is the silliest. It presupposes there is a place or a method by which dreams become actualities on paper. No. There is no such place (though I usually respond with the spine-straightener that I get my stories from an idea service in Poughkeepsie, New York... $25 a week and they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas fifty-two times a year)

Harlan Ellison: Shatterday

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    I grew up in Poughuag, a suburb of Poughkeepsie, and we used to walk down to the idea orchard outside of town on the weekends. Turns out they actually grow on trees but the writer’s guild have been trying to keep it secret for centuries which is why they popularized the saying “x doesn’t grow on trees, you know!” I remember wishing we could just pick our own ideas but they only had a surplus in late autumn which were the educational ideas, and we didn’t care about those. But of course the ideal idea season is why school starts in the fall, because that’s right after the ideas are ripe. Sep 7, 2023 at 11:01
  • @ToddWilcox: Somehow I was reminded of the word "synecdoche."
    – releseabe
    Sep 7, 2023 at 17:33
  • If you want to see someone in action saying this: youtu.be/6xok9mLR1HY?t=74 Sep 8, 2023 at 7:25
  • “Possibly a branch office.” For those unaware, Poughkeepsie, NY, and Schenectady, NY, are both towns on the Hudson River, and thus familiar to those from New York City who would hear about them as stops on the train and/or signs on the highway. Both are memorable for their strange names ;)
    – KRyan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:56
  • @releseabe You’re certainly not the first, given the feature-length film
    – KRyan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:58
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You can find this text in the Forepiece to Barry Longyear's collection of short stories It Came from Schenectady.

It is a retelling of an interview that Mr. Longyear gave.

(Interviewer) Mr. Longyear, where do you get your ideas?

(Barry Longyear) Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America are supposed to answer that question with a post office box number in Schenectady. You send in two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope and you will be sent back an idea.

(Interviewer) Schenectady?

(Barry Longyear) Schenectady.

The quote above comes from a highly embellished retelling of an interview given by Barry Longyear at the Chattacon science fiction convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee (the year is not given.) Mr. Longyear makes mention of a pair of "genuine Harlan Ellison shades" used as protection against the "interrogation lights" used by the interviewer while filming the interview.

Given the reference to Harlan Ellison, I think it probable that Mr. Longyear was riffing on Ellison's joke about Schenectady.

If you can find a copy of It Came from Schenectady, I highly recommend the Forepiece. Besides the post-office box, it mentions TV commercials as sources of surreal inspiration - including Prudential Insurance, Preparation H, Living Bras, and aftershave lotion. It is hilarious.

There are several really good stories in the collection. It ends with the (really short) short story Where Do You Get Your Ideas? I think that story gives the most truthful answer to the question - that most successful authors have less of a problem finding new ideas and more of a problem not being overwhelmed by their thoughts and fantasies.

At any rate, after re-reading the Forepiece from It Came from Schenectady, I think that Valorum's answer gives the correct source as being Harlan Ellison, with Barry Longyear picking up the gag and running with it for his collection of short stories.

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  • I love that book (and generally Mr. Longyear's work)! I have a copy, but it's as yet unpacked in a box after a recent move. Now I have incentive to get busy!
    – Blaze
    Sep 7, 2023 at 15:25
  • Ellison apparently proposed the idea to the Scifi Writers of America Association that they should all give the same answer. Quite a few seem to have stuck with the joke.
    – Valorum
    Sep 7, 2023 at 19:42

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