Edna Ferber was having a bad night. George Kaufman had persuaded her to turn one of her short stories into a play. Out-of-town tryouts weren’t going well: the play was proving to be a dud. Hoping to buoy up the cast, the director started talking about how even if the tryouts flopped, the play might find new life on a show boat.
Show boat? Our gal Edna perked up her ears. What was a show boat? She’d never heard of one. When the director told her it was a floating theatre and that show boats had once sailed up and down the Mississippi, Edna was fascinated. Her old newspaper reporter instincts kicked in. She began researching these floating palaces and spent a few days on one. The result? Her wonderful novel Show Boat, which Rodgers & Hammerstein turned into a hit musical that’s still going strong.
There might have been a dozen people in the room with her, but only Edna picked up on the director’s casual aside and turned in to something grand. One chance remark blossomed into a book.
Angels of opportunity — that’s what I call ideas that seem to be floating out there in the ether, just waiting for someone to catch them — and run with them. Ideas like this are all around us: an offhand remark by a friend or a stranger, a clever turn of phrase, a news item buried on page 24 of a newspaper, an old letter we find tucked away in an attic or a dresser. Any of these can be the starting point for a wonderful story or novel.
But in order to find these ideas, we need to let them find us. Angels of opportunity may be flitting about, but we have to be out and about before they can tap us on the shoulder or whisper in our ear, “Here I am!” Just one more reason why we need to leave our desks once in a while and get out into the world: Angels of Opportunity are waiting for us.