I never know when inspiration will strike. Just in the last week, story ideas have come to me in the aisles of Barnes & Noble, just before I fell asleep in my bed, and while I was in the shower. Sometimes, I’ll read a news story and an idea will flower in my mind like a Spring awakening. My first novel, The Vanishing, sprung from a sad news article I had read in the New York Times. Reading other novels helps, too. Not only do I learn more about good writing by reading regularly, but ideas often germinate in my head and pop out at odd times.
Luckily, I keep a rather extensive notebook. Actually, it’s an electronic one, a OneNote file that I keep close to me at all times. I can access it on my laptop or my phone or even some random computer that has Internet access. I write down every single idea and a few thoughts behind it to give it context so that I remember it later. Once I record ideas, they often sit there for a long while before I turn them into novels. Some have lingered on the note page for years. The oldest idea in my notebook came to me in January 1997 on a drive from Memphis to Atlanta. I didn’t have OneNote then, so I recorded it in the old school way by etching it into my stone tablet…I mean, writing it in a physical notebook I had back in ancient times. That idea has gone through several iterations as I struggled to learn how to write a novel. I still haven’t finished that novel. Maybe I will someday.
The Vanishing went from idea to novel in a space of six months. I believe I read the article that inspired the story in June 2012, and by the first of July of that year, I had decided it was now or never for me to finally write a novel. Six months later I had completed my first novel, and I haven’t stopped since. I just finished my sixth novel in January.
And there’s plenty more where that came from. I have no shortage of ideas, just the time to transform them into novels. I add ideas to my notebook all the time. Sure, there are some periods where I don’t have anything new to add, but then, I get a tsunami of ideas that just hit me and I type furiously just to keep up with my mind. I love it when that happens, but I don’t worry if it doesn’t. I have so many ideas already that I could keep up my current writing schedule for many years without running out of material.
I don’t remember exactly when I came up with the idea for Grace of God. I do know it’s one of my oldest ideas. I guess I should put a date by my ideas so that I can see how long it takes to go from idea to novel, but does it really matter? Some ideas go through transformations. They may begin life as one thing and end up as another. One idea that has seen its share of evolution is one tentatively called My Father’s Daughter. It’s about a woman who reunites with her terminally ill father after being estranged for many years. Not only does she face the imminent death of her father, but she also has to come to terms with the painful past that has haunted her throughout her adult life. This idea started as an homage to great fathers, but it has since turned into a story about divorce and abandonment and the ripple effect that has on familial generations.
Most of my ideas focus on character transformations of some kind. I like to explore what goes on in a character’s head when they are faced with sometimes extraordinary circumstances. Those are the stories that interest me, and those are the ones I write.
Grace of God found its genesis in a sordid tale of a televangelist gone awry. Deceit. Betrayal. Hypocrisy. All the great elements of a story that make it both intriguing and maddening at the same time. Around the time this story idea came to me, I read an article about a young girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash. I couldn’t help but think how awful it would be to grow up without parents, but then I put the two ideas together and thought about what would happen if this young girl went to live with her morally-challenged grandmother, a grandmother who was not above using a singular event to her advantage. What would happen? How would it unfold? How would the story read from the young girl’s perspective? These are all the questions I asked as I fleshed out the story, and these are the questions I plan to answer as I write the novel.
This is how a novel starts for me – a hastily typed series of words in an electronic notebook. Oftentimes, I’ll spend weeks or months turning the idea over in my head before I even attempt to outline the story. It’s only when I feel the inspiration is there to turn it into a 80,000-90,000 word novel that I begin to put it together. That’s where I am with Grace of God. Let the journey begin.