Last fall at a literary conference, I was on a panel of YA paranormal authors. When asked why she wrote in this genre, a fellow panelist replied that she couldn’t imagine going from Point A to Point B in her plots without zombies or space monsters to make stuff happen.
I have always felt the same way about the books I write, which are primarily paranormal, fantasy, and retellings. A scene in which the main character kisses her crush for the first time? Um …. A scene in which the main character kisses her crush for the first time, and the demonic spirit of his dead ex-girlfriend sets the room on fire? No problem!
Last year, I published two YA novels: THORN ABBEY and BEAUTY. THORN ABBEY is a twisted, creepy retelling of the 1938 novel REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier in which a girl falls for a guy with (you guessed it) a dead, demonic, pyro ex-girlfriend. BEAUTY is a twisted, creepy retelling of the Snow White tale in which the Snow White character deliberately makes herself ugly in order to win her mother’s love.
I was inspired to write THORN ABBEY for many reasons, not the least of which was my longstanding obsession with REBECCA (and with the indescribably great film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock). I felt similarly about BEAUTY and the Snow White tale. How could I not be inspired by a homicidally narcissistic queen, a talking mirror, and a princess who has to die because she’s just too pretty?
Before THORN ABBEY and BEAUTY, my writing career consisted mainly of ghostwriting. As with retellings, ghostwriting projects have a built-in starting point, whether it’s an established series, the life of a real person, or other.
Which is why I feel completely lost and adrift, now that I am working on a contemporary, realistic, original novel. I have no easy springboard: no REBECCA, no Snow White, no series bible, no celebrity bio … not even the pre-existing lore of supernatural beings or the tropes and conventions of a familiar genre. I have to start from scratch. And I’m completely terrified.
I know that contemporary, realistic authors can and do draw inspiration from other sources, like, all the time. And I, too, will learn how to do this—by revisiting my favorite books and movies, by listening to music, by binge-reading Wikipedia, or whatever.
But for now, I am akin to a traveler without a map. I am so accustomed to the straight lines of inspiration that come with genre fiction and retellings that I don’t remember how to go for deeper, less obvious wellsprings.
So … time to hit the library. And the remote. And Wikipedia. And hopefully, the end result will be as epic and awesome as a psychotic, supernatural ex or a frumpy princess with mommy issues.