Often I only realize long after I put down my pen where the inspiration to the story came from
Last night, I had a bit of an epiphany. Well, not really, but I realized that a the inspiration for a certain part of my latest book project, The Jonathan Trilogy, had come from my own husband. A die hard fan of the classic TV clan shows of Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest, Alex has always had a thing for family sagas and for shows and films with several main characters. I remember when he first read Jonathan’s Hope, at a time when his job still allowed him to read my manuscripts before they were sent off to my publisher. The first thing he asked me was: “doesn’t Dan have parents? Siblings?”
I, of course, had no answer. Why? Dan never told me. It was one of the questions he never answered, and so I remained in the dark as to Dan’s family, his past. So when I continued to write the story of Jonathan and Dan, I guess, my husband’s question was looming in the back of my subconscious, because in the sequel, we learn more about Dan’s past, his family, and we find out, why it wasn’t mentioned in the first book. For the latter, blame me, for the former, my husband.
Even more so, in the final installment, there is a scene, a very beautiful one (in my humble opinion), where the entire Jackson clan celebrates Christmas together. It’s quite the gathering, let me tell you, a large loving family, four generations, who come together in Florida. Again, I think that somewhere, this was inspired by my husband’s obsession with such large families.
I often wonder how my stories are inspired. I always claim that I write character driven, and that my brain is to blame for all I write. That is true, of course, but I also know that my brain is pulling that information from somewhere, it doesn’t just invent things out of thin air. Sometimes it takes me a very long time to realize just how a character was inspired, or where the blueprint for a house, or my mental image of a certain landscape, or a name, comes from. Sometimes, as with a recent character I used, the inspiration came months ago, during a conversation with an aspiring author online. He was looking for books with Asian male characters. Months later, meet Kim Hwan.
I very rarely do things with clear, conscious intent. Sometimes I have a goal, and I may know roughly how a story will end. Sometimes I don’t. Willem of the Tafel is a very good example of that. I had literally no idea where that story would take me. After I had been “forced” to abandon the idea of writing about a black character, and I consciously (for once) decided to write about racism using reverse psychology (most readers get it, some don’t), I had no idea where the story would go. It was just this idea of a civilization thriving (or not) underground, in South Africa. I don’t even remember why I chose South Africa, but I’m sure that Cape Town must’ve been on my mind at some point in time before I began to write. But did I know that I would make Antananarivo the capital of the world? Hell no! Did I know that Willem would leave the mountain? Of course not. Did I know how and where the book would end? Not a clue. I am completely honest when I say that I’m the first one to read my books. It’s always a huge risk.
The Fallen Angels of Karnataka is a good example to the opposite. The book starts with the end, with young Haakon lying in the water of his private island. But how did he end up there? When I began to write, I had no clue. Who’s Charles? Beats me. And why did Haakon inherit the island? Let’s find out! Oh, and did you know that Haakon was named after my best friend? Yeah, that I knew: a feline gentleman named Haakon Magnus, who’d passed away just a couple of years prior to me writing the book. The cat had once been named after a certain Norwegian crown prince. It’s all connected… He’s now eternalized in that book!
With the Jonathan Trilogy, I purposely decided to end it on a very happy note (which isn’t a given with me), while hopefully maintaining the overall tone of the books. And there are good reasons for that, mainly the somber note on which the original novel ends. And the ending of book two, which “forced” me to write book three. Naturally, by then I had a host of characters to choose from, given that I introduced a whole range of them at the end of the first novel. I had good reasons to do that. I wanted to show that gay couples could indeed have families, have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Hence that epilogue. I wanted to write about hope. Give myself hope (we were six months pregnant at the time I wrote the book!) I needed that hope myself. I needed to know that we could, would be happy, and that our family would thrive. That was my inspiration at the time. The impending birth of my son.
As with all authors (I presume?), my brain takes its cues from a great many areas of my life, a dance performance inspired me to write Willem of the Tafel, reading a book to get started on The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, a convicted pedophile I know changed the direction of that book, and the many stories of homeless children that we currently have in Sweden (mainly boys from the Maghreb who have no chance to receive asylum but managed to make their way here due to the open borders from Spain and Italy all the way up here, estimated to be at least 800 kids!) had me write about street kids even in the Jonathan Trilogy, again. Children are, and always have been important to me, and I guess having become a dad is most likely the main reason.
I’ve already mentioned inspiration from books, and this is where it becomes tricky, where does inspiration turn into plagiarism? Sometimes you swallow hard, like I did when I read Posy Roberts’ book Silver Scars, reviewed here a couple of days ago. Posy describes in great detail things I had written about just weeks before, obviously completely unaware of each other’s writing. There are no similarities to the stories as such, but there are details that are eerily similar.
This is the main reason why I don’t pleasure read while I write. I am too scared that it could influence me, and that a book I like (I write books I’d like to read, with one notable exception) could influence me. Naturally, I’d never plagiarize or copy intentionally, but I’d be lying if I said that my brain doesn’t pick up on things, even from within the industry. One good example is the story of an author I know who was engaged to another author. The latter fell seriously ill, and the couple eventually broke up. I have no idea about the circumstances or the details of that breakup, but the question of a partner’s responsibility to stick to his loved one versus his right to a life of his own, has been on my mind for two years. In the trilogy, I was finally able to work with that topic, and – one of the advantages of books – argue both sides of the argument. Which one prevails, you’ll see when you read the story.
You might wonder why I do all that… And it is a very valid question. I think in the end it’s all about trying to predict my own behavior if I’d ever face such a situation. In Family Ties (where the death of a parent is the kick-off to the story), I wrote the book ten months before my mother actually died (reality was quite different), in Jonathan’s Hope (long term consequences of a large age difference in a couple is one of the themes of the book), I’m nowhere near as old as Dan got to be, and by the time I’ll have the answers it’ll be too late to tell you, as for The Opera House (losing a child kicks off this story), I hope I’ll never, ever find out, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, well, that was a therapeutic write, as reality had actually preceded it, and eerily, after publishing the book, the British police has been almost constantly reporting busting pedophile ring after pedophile ring, and for once, reality seemed to trump fiction! Willem of the Tafel, again, was different, I’ll never lead a people, but I would hope that if I ever were put in that position, that I’d be as wise as Willem…
Which brings me back to the Jonathan Trilogy. Yes, I hope I’d act like my characters do, in the end, but I won’t say any more than that, I don’t want to give it all away. Book two in the trilogy will be out on March 31, book three on September 29. I can’t wait for you all to read those stories… Have you seen the trailer? It’s gorgeous… and inspired by the original trailer for Jonathan’s Hope. My first trailer ever, amateurish, of course, but I think I’ve learned a few tricks since then…
Have a great weekend.