Goodreads recently added a feature called “Ask the Author”. To get the author started, the Goodreads Team listed some typical questions. Prompts like “How do you deal with writer’s block?” and “How do you get inspired to write?”
I thought I’d start with an easy one. “Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?”
Everyday I see something or read something, and I think, that would be a great story. For awhile I kept a list of story ideas, but it got to the point it was frustrating to note down another idea and not do anything with it. I’ve sat in movies and halfway through thought, if this doesn’t end the way I think it’s going to end, then I’m going to write that story.
With Couillon, I was under pressure to write a short story for a literary fiction class I was taking. On the web I had recently seen an image of Jesus and Mary painted in DayGlo colors, and in my head, I immediately saw that painting hanging in a voodoo shop in New Orleans. I love all things mystical and spooky. That image of the voodoo shop gave me the theme and led me to write the first section [20 pages or less for the class], the scene where Janice purchases the voodoo doll. I later turned that short story into a novella.
An Untold Want had no such immediate inspiration, no ah ha moment. I had finished my literary fiction class and helped form a short-lived writing group with some of the members of said class. They were all working on A Novel, and I thought I should be working on a novel too. Again, I love anything arcane. But for me, a novel can’t just be about witches or spooky stuff. Yes, there are a lot of novels out there about witches and ghosts, but I don’t write urban fantasy. I’ve tried to write genre, because it sells better, but I just don’t think that way when I’m writing. Then I thought about Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, and I decided to try my hand at a story like that. It ended up being nothing like Practical Magic, except it has witches, but that was the key factor in how An Untold Want started. I pulled the last name from one of my favorite songs, Ode to Billie Joe, but spelled MacAllister differently. I took the setting from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You don’t get spookier than Savannah. And from those key factors, I built a small town and an unhappy woman who is a bit too much like me.
For my latest project [working title: Twin Story], I decided that I did not want to invent another small town. It’s a lot of work to create a world, from the street grid to the geography [Is it a swampy area? What are the trees/flowers like? What does it smell like? What are the buildings like?] to the town’s personality/attitude. I’ve lived in Seattle long enough that I thought I’d try my hand at writing a novel based in Seattle. But my novels have to have that bit of the esoteric, or they wouldn’t be mine. So I decided to incorporate Native American mythology into it.
But the key factor, what really started the project was an article I read in the Weird News on some newspaper website. I can’t tell you what the news story was because that would give away a large part of the story I’m working on. But those three things — Seattle, Native American mythology, and weird news — gave me the premise for my new novel. I’ve since read a lot about Native Americans, about the residential schools [which disturbs me greatly], about the different tribes, and about the myths especially those of Raven. I didn’t realize how different the Pacific Northwest tribes are, but I’ve grown to love the Native American mythology. I’m still not sure how I will pull it all together, but I’m working on it.
With that said, I should be writing the book instead of writing about it. I wish it were as easy as writing a blog post.