I'm interested what sparks story ideas because the process of finding a story-worthy scenario isn't science. It's not just inspiration from a muse. The source of a story may help me understand what I'm thinking about (as Joan Didion said, in her essay, "Why I Write") or what another writer, whose story I'm reading, is thinking. Not every story needs to make a point about society, of course. But if writers can write about any topic, it's worth looking at what motivates them, and what they're trying to say about the world they're depicting.
For "Shrine to the Cult of Joy," the goal was to write about a room that contained a lot of emotion; the scenario of a daughter and mother who have a complicated relationship came from a different story, "Homework Assignment #3," which has just been accepted for publication.
In "Homework Assignment #3," a dramatic monolog, the narrator is a college student who tries to explain to his off-screen professor why he's been unable to fulfil the assignment of the assigned writer's prompt -- to write a story in which a room is a locus of emotion. In the course of that other story, the narrator describes several possible ideas that he tried and dismissed because he feels he couldn't write any of them. (The reason becomes apparent by the end of the story.)
After setting "Homework Assignment #3" aside, I figured a way to write the story that became "Shrine." As basic as it sounds, I started with a description of the room in order to set up the emotion the room holds for the daughter. That meant describing the contents of the main character's room as Gabby decides what to take with her to college, what to give away or trash, and what to leave behind. It was those details that help establish who Gabby is and what her relationship is to her mother.
While I knew what the beginning had to describe, I had no idea what the middle of the story would entail, and only a partial sense of what final section should be. As details fleshed out the lives and disagreements between Gabby and her mother, I kept asking: how are these relevant, what don't I need to keep?
I had to figure the plot and raise the stakes while maintaining a focus on the room as a character itself. As with Gabby, the room changes over the several years covered in the story. It was interesting going from what I knew I had to describe in the first section to figuring out the path to the climax.
Part of the challenge for me is that while "Homework Assignment #3" and "Shrine to the Cult of Joy" are standalone stories -- they are not sequels, for example, because they have different types of narrators (first person and third person, close perspective) and involve different characters entirely, different settings (New York City and suburban Massachusetts), etc., I wanted to keep them connected. Since the scenario in "Shrine" originated in "Homework Assignment," I wanted to write "Shrine" as if the "Homework" narrator was the writer. "Shrine" had to be the story the "Homework" narrator could tell, the story that would interest him, with some of his obsessions, his interests. That is why there is a similarity in the description of Gabby and her mother and the love interest in "Homework" and her mother.
Along the way, I moved sections around, added new content, deleted unnecessary scenes. After a lot of work to make sure "Shrine" could stand on its own (instead of being a story-within-another-story), it won Honorable Mention in the 2023 Marblehead Literary Festival.
My main point is that you have to trust and believe in your ideas. Often it takes longer to see them through completion -- at least for me -- but I'm pleased that my conviction in the story ultimately paid off.