Most of the time, for me, it comes from a song or a movie or a book, but sometimes it comes from the smallest moment of an ordinary day. Sometimes it comes and you don't realize it for years. Which is kind of what happened with The New Normal.
I was working as a staff writer for my hometown newspaper back in 2003 when the war in Iraq began. After the first wave of the invasion, soldiers and Marines started coming home, and people were interested in hearing their stories. I was assigned to interview a 19-year-old Marine who was home for the holidays. As I sat in his parents' living room, it struck me that he was just a boy. (I mean, he wasn't. Not really, but as a mother with two children? Yeah. He was a boy.) And I couldn't stop thinking about how the things he'd seen and done in Iraq were things the kids with whom he went to high school would never experience. Aside from writing the article about that Marine, I didn't do anything with that little grain that lodged in my mind. Life went on.
Then, years later, I was kicking around ideas for a book and I started thinking about that young Marine. How it must feel to come home after being deployed in a foreign country where you sleep on the ground most nights and have people shooting at you almost every day. How difficult it might be to adjust when months have passed and life has kept on going. But mostly, how you live with what you've seen and done. (I realize now that I asked that him all the wrong questions.)
So that was the start. And then I thought, "What if my character lost a leg?" I started out writing about a Marine who had lost his leg but desperately wanted to get back to Afghanistan with his friends, but I discovered a couple of things: The timeline for recovery is much longer than the timeline I had in my mind, and logistics is a pain to write. I always had to think about how the character was getting from point A to point B. Wheelchair? Crutches? The logistics kept getting in the way of the story for me and I wasn't sure what to do.
Then I read Soft Spots: A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Clint Van Winkle and I realized that there is so much a Marine can lose without ever having to sacrifice a limb.
I re-listened to a favorite song. (If you listen, you might want to have tissues handy)
And everything pulled together. A young Marine--home from Afghanistan, where he lost his best friend--struggling with PTSD, a disintegrating family, and old friendships that no longer fit.
I would have never imagined back in 2003 that I would write a military-themed novel. But I guess that's the thing, when something inspires you, I think you owe it to yourself to at least follow the inspiration and see where it leads. It might be a dead end.
Or it might be a debut novel.