Right around the time I sold THE ART OF ESCAPING, I decided to finally let my mom read it. She loved it (because of course—she’s my mom), but her reaction had some interesting layers. First, there was the sad and hilarious I had no idea you were so miserable in high school layer (my response: I think you already knew this and just blocked it out). Then, there was the inevitable question that writers tend to get from non-writers: How did you come up with that?
I think writers tend to avoid asking each other this question because we all like to believe that fiction is purely fiction and that our imaginations are so powerful we can build worlds in the blink of an eye. And some writers can probably do just that, but I know that I (and most of the writers I know) pull a great deal of inspiration from our actual lives and the things that we see, hear, and read. After rattling around in our heads and picking up lots of creative threads and tendrils, those inspirations might be unrecognizable by the time they hit the page. But I think, once in while, it’s useful to take stock of them. It’s kinda fascinating to see all the nitty gritty ways in which an idea can evolve once your brain decides to take it and make something new out of it.
Since I’m hoping people other than my mom will ask how I came up with some of the elements of THE ART OF ESCAPING, I decided to write a post on just a few of the inspirations.
Princess Tenko. When I was about five or six, I saw Japanese pop star and illusionist Princess Tenko perform a water tank escape on That’s Incredible (thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can watch it here). I’m still not entirely sure why, but those images—particularly the shots of her peering out at the crowd while in the tank—seared themselves into my young brain. Even as a teenager and a twenty-something, they would randomly float up from the depths when I let my mind wander. So when I started thinking about a premise for my first solo novel, naturally escapology was one of the first things that came to mind. I also decided to loosely base one of my characters on Princess Tenko herself.
The Weird and Wonderful City of Providence. When we were very silly twenty-somethings, my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to move to Providence, Rhode Island. We left after a year because of the recession, which hit the Ocean State particularly hard, but we spent that year discovering many of Providence’s odd little secrets, such as hot weiners and grilled pizza. But it wasn’t all about food. Part of the reason I wanted to move to Providence in the first place was an abundance of local music and a collection of semi-secret venues where bands played. The venue where my MC cuts her teeth is fictional, but it was inspired by those semi-secret venues, as well as a fantastic little bar in Federal Hill called Lily Marlene’s, which looks like it’s hiding oodles of delicious little secrets.
My IRL BFF, Troy H. Gardner. Long before Troy and I decided to start writing YA fic together, we were weird teenagers growing up in a small town. I vividly recall him coming out to me, not just because it was a poignant moment, but also because, immediately after he told me, I stepped in a huge pile of dog poo. Such is life. The dynamic between my MC and her partner in crime (who’s really a second MC) is heavily inspired by the dynamic between Troy and me. We were both wary of people, but trusted each other almost immediately and stayed friends even as most of our other high school friends drifted away.
Awkward Conversation with a Guidance Counselor. In THE ART OF ESCAPING, my MC’s decision to become an escapologist is sparked by many things, including a guidance counselor telling her she needs to be more “well-rounded” if she’s going to appeal to a college admissions board. I had a very similar conversation with my high school guidance counselor who, of course, truly meant well. But it stuck with me because, at the time, it made me want to shove all of my textbooks into a shredder. I was working my ass off to get good grades and suddenly there’s some middle-aged dude telling me I need to do more if I really want to get into college. That said, I’m glad I ultimately took his advice because joining my school’s mock trial team was how I met the aforementioned Troy H. Gardner.
Breech Birth. My novel includes a diary entry about a breech birth, where the baby is delivered by a doctor who comforts the young mom by explaining that he’s also a farmer and has delivered hundreds of breech sheep and pigs. It’s pretty much a reiteration of my own birth, as described by my mom. This is the kind of stuff you can’t make up.
There you have it. What strange little nuggets have inspired your writing?