Thursday, August 25, 2011

That Creative Spark

Today I'm posting for Christine Tyler's Sparkfest! She's asking the following questions:

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

I meant to post on multiple days this week to address the various angles of these questions, but, alas, it just didn't turn out to be practical time-wise. (It's been one of those weeks... by which I mean every week.) So instead here's one really, really long post (you've been warned) telling you everything you never thought you wanted to know about me and why I write and how I came to this point in my writing journey. It wasn't so much about a spark as it was a single glowing coal that somehow slowly spread into a bonfire. Let me tell you all about it.

From "Reader" to "Writer" to "Author"

I started, as most of us do, as a reader. My home life wasn't particularly pleasant during my childhood so I hid in books. I was a shy child who lacked any sort of self-confidence at all which meant that making friends was like one of the dangerous tasks that are always given to heroes in myths. I found it was easier to absorb myself in books. Stories and characters were my friends. But for several years worth of voracious reading it never occurred to me to turn my own hand to the craft.

It finally began, I believe, when one year in elementary school we had an exercise for Spelling that required us to write a story based on some of the words we were learning. I forget what the words were, but I wrote a silly little story about a female Indiana Jones type character and her search for an illusive artifact. I dashed it off without a thought, it was just a school assignment, but my mother enthusiastically praised my writing skills. And I realized that it had been fun. So for several years I wrote casually, just for the pleasure of it, stories which mostly were never finished. But I didn't want anyone to read them (especially the embarrassing Indiana Jones the Girl stories that were my guilty pleasure) and spent a lot of time waging a war against my mother for control of my papers. She knew most of them ended up getting thrown away and would always go through my garbage. Eventually I started tearing everything up into little pieces. Ha! Take that! Still, writing to me was just a game played by a lonely girl who wanted to forget how miserable she was. 

Then I encountered The Lord of the Rings. Those books changed my life irrevocably, and not just because they eventually led me to finding my wonderful husband. But it was upon reading them and being transformed by the magic of them, that I knew I HAD to write. It wasn't a game or a casual pastime anymore. It was a need. I was compelled to try and create an imaginary world of my own. Ah, but I had started with Tolkien and so everything I wrote and imagined was so, so very pathetic compared to that ideal. Not to mention the blatant plagarism. I was new to the fantasy genre at that point in my life and I had no idea what I was doing. I'm afraid those early stories were uncomfortably similar to LOTR, right down to having a character named Arwen. Yes. Seriously. 

But I am grateful for those days.I think all writers go through a plagiarism phase when their creative brain has been soaking up all the stories you've read for years but you haven't yet written enough to have found your own unique voice and style. So your brain resorts to recycling all the stories you've loved the most. Some authors even manage to get published during this phase, but I think it's better to work through it in private before you submit your work to publishers. I hope that all the time I spent writing Indiana Jones fanfiction and LOTR-esque imaginary world fiction has sufficed for myself. 

Still, during all this time it had never entered my mind that I could write professionally. It was all personal and private and I didn't want anyone else to know about my writing much less read it. So what was the final catalyst that made me think in terms of writing for an audience? Probably my husband. He was the first person I knew who has very similar taste in books and whose opinions I trust. (He'll probably laugh at that bit.) He took my writing seriously, encouraged but never pushed me (as my mother had), and seemed genuinely interested by my ideas. 

Even so, it took me a long time to accept all this. I made many jokes about "When I'm an international best selling author we'll be able to..." and it was funny because I was able as close to actually writing a whole book as I am to becoming a famous chef. (Read: not remotely.) I had a lot of vague, nebulous ideas floating around in my head all the time, but they just weren't coalescing into something I could feel passionate about bringing to reality.  The extra spark that finally made me think that I could, possibly, actually be an author whose books other people read came from an unexpected source. 


My husband had recently been on a Tim Powers binge. He read some of his books and told me about them, but I remained uninterested. Sometimes I think he takes my indifference to various things he enjoys as a personal challenge. (Am I right?) So after I refused to read Declare he took a different tactic. (I'm assuming it was deliberate anyway. I can't be sure, but he's sneaky that way.) He took out another Powers book from the library and briefly mentioned it but didn't try to push it on me. (I respond notoriously badly to anything that is pushed on me.) He just left it lying around. And of course I picked it up, because it had Anubis in the title and I am a bit obsessed with Ancient Egypt.

Now, for the record, this book is nothing like the kind of stuff that I want to write. It involves time travel and secret societies and black magic and thieves and beggars and Mamelukes and an interesting take on werewolves. It ranges from this century to  the 19th century to the 17th century and back to the 19th. Wikipedia calls it a "time travel fantasy novel" but that hardly seems a sufficient description. It's one of those books that transcends genres, while I have my sights firmly set on writing mythopoeic fantasy.

However, it set certain ideas loose in my head and it made me realize that my love of Egyptian mythology could give me a lot of great fodder for a fantasy setting. It made me aware of aspects of Egyptian religion that I hadn't known about before. And after putting in a little research, it led directly to the idea behind my WIP tentatively called The Last Light.  

Since then the ideas have been constantly inundating me and I've been collecting them and massaging them into something I think can be really amazing. I've never been so excited about writing in my life and that's why I started this blog. Not only to share my enthusiasm but to keep me from giving up. I really want to see this through. I want my stories in people's hands and I'd like it if they were willing to pay me for it too. 


  1. I've loved reading everyone's spark stories and I especially like yours because it feels similar to mine in a lot of ways, plus it's always great to get to know other writers!

  2. glad you joined in (and i checked back)
    had a plagiarism phase in school - i was suppose to use Mark Twain style so i took a bit from Louis L'Amour with a twist on it for the assignment. it was my best grade of the year...but all is original now =)
    great spark story!

  3. J.A.- It's always nice to meet people who made a similar journey.

    Tara, I once got an A+ grade in a class on mythology in high school when I co-wrote a script for a retelling of Jason and the Argonauts that basically recycled every joke I'd ever read on the internet. Good times.

  4. Oh, interesting. I have a copy of The Anubis Gates that has just never worked its way to the top of the TBR stack. Looks like it's time to stop bumping it in favor of other books.

  5. Margo, it's a really great book. In hindsight I might have to admit that maybe I should read some of Powers' other stuff since I liked it so much.

  6. The Anubis Gates is a great book! On Stranger Tides was also good. (And the inspiration for the latest Pirates movie.)

  7. Alex, I had heard that. So much to read and so little time...

  8. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x

  9. Lovely to read about your journey from reader to writer... I know so many people who have this image in their head that they'll write a book one day, but I think only a handful of true writers are ever sparked into actually doing it (and then, of course, finding out how much hard work and talent is actually required)

  10. Hi Sarah, I'm visiting from the Campaign, also in the Adult-All Genres group. I enjoy reading about writers' journeys. For all of us, I think it's a combination of external and internal dynamics. Like you, I don't respond well to being pushed into anything, and I've found that the stubbornness behind that can parlay into tenacity, which all writers must possess. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  11. Lola, watch out. That many exclamation marks can be hazardous to your health.

    Claire, I don't know about hard work and talent, but it certainly takes some dedication.

    Katie, great to meet you. Thanks for making my stubbornness seem like a good thing!

  12. Wonderful responses, thanks so much for sharing! I love what you said about the plagiarism phase and how it's best to wait it out. I think that's true for so many authors and it's a refreshingly honest view of one step in the process.

    Ancient Egypt + fantasy = excellent.

    Best of luck on making your dreams come true!

  13. Hi I am stopping by from the campaign to say hello. I already follow you...
    I look forward to getting to know you.

  14. Christine, thanks for hosting the blogfest. I wish I could have participated more.

    Hi, Doreen. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone involved. :)

  15. I keep hearing good things about Tim Powers. That's it! I'm adding him to The List.


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