Last night I had a great time at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA, where four writers were introduced with lively introductions and listeners were treated to a raffle for books and bags. Each author spoke and read short passages from her most recent novel, then answered questions from the audience. After being asked where they get their ideas, Deborah Noyes, whose most recent novel, THE PLAGUE IN THE MIRROR, involves time travel between 14th century Italy and the city of Florence today, said that she was inspired by finding connections between places. Jo Knowles said that she usually begins with some question that tugs at her, but in the case of her fifth novel, LIVING WITH JACKIE CHAN, which takes up the story of a character from JUMPING OFF SWINGS, she was answering readers’ questions about a teen father who wouldn’t quite let them go. N. Griffin, author of THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE, said that most of her ideas come from daydreams and other forms of procrastination, which can have their own richness. Julie Berry said that beginning her writing career as a humor columnist she kept alert for anything with the potential to be funny. Now that she’s writing novels, most recently ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME, with its themes of abuse and silence during the colonial period, she says she keeps a sort of radar for anything that has the potential to be a story, and keeps a notebook with these ideas.
Another question was about how to take characters you have to deeper places. Julie Berry said that while characters may have one main reason for being there, such as to be funny or rebellious, she considers their entire life stories, including their family roles, what’s embarrassing to them, or what they eat when nobody’s looking, in order to see them from a new angle. N. Griffin spoke of trying to imagine herself within her character’s bodies; once she has a feel for how they walk, slouch, or stretch, she explores why they carry their bodies the way they do. Jo Knowles alluded to Kate Messner’s advice to strategize by writing: “This books is about…” and then underneath, “But what the book is really about is…” as a way to explore the layers of plots and develop these to themes. There were more wonderful answers to wonderful questions, but I left thinking about this one. I’m going to try these strategies along with my own of asking of each character, How are they very unique? And how are they like every reader? Looking for unique and common ground.