14 Answers

Before we were writers, we were all readers. And since this is National Library Week, we're talking books, books, books!  (And after you're finished reading our thoughts, go to your public library, tell them how awesome they are, and if you want to mention these 14 amazing authors they should be on the lookout for, hey, you won't hear us complaining!)

This month's question:

 Where did you get your inspiration for your novel?

Joshua David Bellin: In a file folder for my novel SURVIVAL COLONY 9, I keep a scrap of paper with the name of my narrator (Querry Genn), two other main characters (Laman Genn and Aleka), and the word "Skaldi," with the following description: "Leech-like monsters." I can't begin to tell you where those names came from, though I can tell you that I scribbled them all down one morning in the summer of 2011 when I woke up from what must have been one of the most productive sleeps of my life. Lots of other ideas tumbled after the first few: the image of a desert landscape, the concept of the survival colonies, the age of my narrator, his relationship to the other characters, his problem (memory loss), and much, much more. Truth be told, I'm never sure where my ideas come from. But I've learned to trust them and let them take me where they want to go.

Joy Hensley: The idea was kind of straight forward for RITES--I went to a military school on a dare. However, I wanted Sam, my MC, to be way more kick butt than I was at military school. I was kind of a wimp, I think, though I did survive my freshman year. RITES was my chance to "redo" the school year with a lot more courage than I had at the time. :-)

Kate Boorman: The idea for WINTERKILL started as a random image/feeling, as all of my book ideas do. I get a 'something' in my brain and then work out from it: who is that person? why are they feeling that way? where do they live? and so on.

This image was of a girl in a forest of poplar trees and I could hear the line "Out here, I can feel the dead in the trees" echoing around her. (Those ten words were the very first I typed on my MS, and they are still the first line of the book.)

I worked out from there in a variety of ways, but my fascination with the concept of fear (how it motivates us and inhibits us) and my love affair with this land were major influences in the end result.?

Lisa Maxwell: I came up with the idea for SWEET UNREST because of a picture from my wedding.

We have this one candid shot where my husband and I are running out to the very awesome vintage limo we rented, flanked by all of our friends and family. There’s a weird smudge in the picture—right in the middle of the scene, where no one is standing—and the photographer told us in an off-handed kind of way, “Oh, that’s a ghost.” She might have been kidding—I don’t really know, but since then, my husband and I like to argue about which of our grandmothers might be making that smudge.

That weird little smudge of light in the photograph gave me the idea of photographs and ghosts and that old-time superstition that a photograph could steal your soul. I started doing some research and discovered that one of the very first daguerrotypists in the country was a guy named Jules Lyon—a free man of color who trained in France (where his race wasn’t as big of a deal) and settled in New Orleans. A bit more research (because I love me some research), and I discovered that a census from the 1840s shows that Jules Lyon was living in New Orleans with a young girl—a teenager named Armantine Lyon. She was a free woman of color, but she wasn’t his wife or daughter. She wast a minor he had guardianship over. That was the beginning of the idea...

The more I researched New Orleans and the surrounding area and added that information to what I already knew about studying African American literature, I knew that the book had to be about these people who found themselves in this singular place—a place where people of different races and cultures could cross some lines, but not others. So I wrote about the Armantine I imagined—what would it be like to live in the space between freedom and slavery? To be wanted for your beauty, but always held at arms length because of your blood? And what happens when we mix up magic into all of that? Because you can’t have New Orleans without Voodoo. So I had my setting, and I had the beginning of my characters.

That was just the beginning. I didn’t set out to write a historical novel. There’s history in it, but the present is where everything happens. At the time, I was a Yankee who had just moved to the Deep South, so I wanted my protagonist to be dealing with that sort of experience. Lucy Aimes came out of me wanting to make sense of that experience, and her love of and talent for photography links back to the daguerrotypes. Because it’s like Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past."

Kat Ross: Gosh, that's a complicated question. Initially, I spent about two years conducting intensive first-hand research on extreme weather conditions, interviewing scientists around the globe, and poring over dusty academic journals into the wee hours of the morning...

Just kidding!

It all started with America's Finest News Source, The Onion.

December 2008. Hurriphoonado Cuts Swath Of Destruction Across Eastern, Western Hemispheres.

It was funnier six years ago, granted, but at the time I thought it was brilliant. I didn't start writing Some Fine Day just then, but that article always stuck with me. It became one of those "what if" moments.

As in, what if something like that actually happened? And what if it didn't go away?

When I knew I wanted to write a story about that (the folder with all my booky wook stuff is still called hurriphoonado), I did throw myself into research (Google), and discovered that in fact, there is something called a hypercane. Theoretical, yes, but so is fiction. I emailed the very smart man at MIT who ran the computer models and he patiently explained to me how they form and other cool tidbits.

Yeah, the book pretty much wrote itself after that.


Anyway, if you're intrigued by hypercanes, I have a little page devoted to them, in all their glory, here.

Austin Aslan: I lived in Hilo, on the Big Island, when I was getting my masters degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. My field sites were high up on the forested slopes of Mauna Loa Volcano. I was coming home from a rainy day of doing pollination experiments with rare Hawaiian flowers and I drove down through the clouds and suddenly had a great, clear view of the ocean surrounding the island. I was struck by how alone and isolated the Hawaiian Islands were (this is something that people in Hawaii think about frequently, and it wasn’t a new thought for me, either).

At that time, though, I happened to be thinking about a haunting post-apocalyptic book by Cormac McCarthy called THE ROAD. The idea popped into my head that it would be really interesting to set a post-apocalyptic story on the isolated Hawaiian Islands, and the story and characters just started flowing out of me like lava! I thought to myself, Everybody know what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders? 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, where would all those people go? There are no mountain ranges or Great Plains to escape to. Everyone is stuck. Hungry. No way to escape. When I arrived home at the end of my drive, I started writing the book immediately, that night, and I had my first draft finished 83 days later—all while going to class and doing field work for my degree! (Escapism at its very best.)

Other than that, if I told you were the other ideas in the book came from, then I'd have to kill you. Or, rather, you'd kill me! Spoilers galore, so I'll just stop there...for now...

Kendall Kulper: I came up with the idea for SALT & STORM because I wanted to write about islands. I think they can have the best and the worst of small towns--they're so isolated and intimate, and everyone knows everyone, which can be both comforting and suffocating. It's something that I think a lot of teens can relate to, especially about their own small towns. The only island I know much of anything about is Martha's Vineyard, which I've visited since I was a kid, and so I started my research there. I was so captivated by Martha's Vineyard's rich whaling history, and that's where I learned about legends regarding water witches, who would make good luck charms for sailors. The story jumped off from there!

Shallee McArthur: So my mom is one of those people that has a memory attached to every single item she owns (practically). It's actually one of the things I love most about her. One day after visiting my parents, my husband commented, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could store our memories about an object IN that object?" And my writer brain and heart simultaneously shrieked, "HOLD THE PHONE!" I've wanted to write a memory story since reading The Giver in fourth grade, and even more so since my grandmother had gotten Alzheimer's and started forgetting...everything. I had found a story that I was able to pour my heart and soul and fears into. I wrote a draft in six weeks, and it truly is a book I can say is a book of my heart.

Kristen Lippert-Martin: Kristen just happens to have a Vlog Post on this very topic! Check it out!

Jaye Robin Brown: The idea for No Place To Fall didn't come in one bolt of lightning. It was a slow stew of ideas. An overheard story in the high school art room where I teach, the music from the movie, Songcatcher, the area of the country where I live, and my MC, Amber's, voice, which did arrive loud and clear on a drive into work. But overall, it's a universal tale of chasing a dream in spite of any obstacles that get thrown in your way.

Sarah J. Schmitt: After starting two different series and getting a lot of "nice writing, but we aren't looking for Paranormal/Dystopian right now," I kinda got tired of trying to save the world. In a conversation with my mom, I vented that maybe it would just be easier to save the cheerleader.

And that's where the seed for It's A Wonderful Death came from. A smart-a$$ed, frustration infused comeback to my mother. As luck would have it, this all happened at the beginning of October. With NaNoWriMo in November, it felt like a great time to write a simple stand alone. What was supposed to be a pallet cleanser ended up being my debut. Who would have known. Well, maybe my mom.

Amy Finnegan: My brother has a really cool job—he works for FOX on their Hollywood studio lot. Because of this I’ve had opportunities to visit tons of film and television sets, and have even sat in on productions of some of my favorite shows such as PARKS AND RECREATION and PARENTHOOD. But initially, it was the stories my brother told me over the years that sparked my interest in writing a novel with young stars as main characters. In particular, I started noticing how frequently he mentioned how different the actors can be from their characters—villains are often the nicest people on set, for instance. And sometimes it’s the self-sacrificing, super-cool heroes of a movie who are in real life the biggest pains to work with. So this theme was one of many that influenced NOT IN THE SCRIPT.

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