Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Question #14

All right, question fourteen comes from Paris, who asks:

What inspires you when you write? Books, other authors, music, movies maybe, and/or people?

Inspiration comes from a lot of sources, I believe. I would say my primary inspiration is other authors, however. Authors whose work I have read and gone, "That is what good writing is supposed to look like!" Those are the authors I keep close on hand when I am writing my own projects, and they can be an eclectic bunch!

With my most recently drafted manuscript, Starflower, I found myself turning to a variety of poets. Frances Thompson and his brilliant Hound of Heaven was a major source of thematic inspiration. But stylistically, I found myself drawn more to the works of Terry Pratchett (forever my idol), Charlotte Bronte, and Peter S. Beagle. Not that Starflower is anything like these authors' brilliant stories (I wish!). But simply their way with words, their ability to look at the world and see truth even when they write about the fantastic. I have rarely read a book I found more achingly truthful than Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Not that I agree with his world view per se . . . but I agree with his assessment of the human condition, which he beautifully presents in a tale of knights, princes, magicians, harpies, bandits and, of course, unicorns.

Truth revealed through fantasy. That's what I want to do!

I am often inspired by music. When writing Moonblood, I found myself oddly inspired by a rock song, Ten Years from Now, sung by a group my military big brother likes. Just before drafting Moonblood, I flew out to where my brother was stationed in Okinawa for a two week siblings-getting-into-mischief-while-exploring-a-foreign-country vacation. We toured castles and gorgeous Asian gardens, ate at amazing sushi restaurants, swam in the ocean . . . and did a lot of driving between places. My brother played this CD by Rev Theory, and I found myself repeatedly drawn to that one song.

Now, you must understand that Yours Truly is not much of one for rock music. I'm not against it on principle, I just don't tend to enjoy it personally. My tastes tend more toward opera and classical with a dash of jazz thrown in for good measure. So the fact that I got hung up on this particular song took me by surprise. Yet it said something so simply that I knew I wanted to communicate through one of the main characters in Moonblood.  While drafting the novel, I listened to that song many times over. And I think, ultimately, I managed to say what I intended to with that character . . . though you will have to be the judge of that when the book comes out!

Life circumstances can also be an inspiration. I believe that every good book is written from a foundation of truth, even a fairy tale fantasy. I am always striving, in the midst of all my goblins and dragons and faeries and sylphs, to discover the true heart of the matter, the universal that will speak to my reader on a personal level. I believe that, while not everyone physically disguises themselves in veils, everyone hides themselves in disguises of public presentation and the opinions of others. We all have a piece of Rose Red in us. I believe that, while not everyone makes a fool of themselves over a handsome prince, we all latch onto one dream or another and kick and scream and refuse to let it go to our own detriment. We all have a piece of Una in us.

Movies tend to be less of an inspiration to me. Off the top of my head, I cannot honestly think of a specific time a movie has inspired me. It's just such a completely different storytelling method. Equally as important in our culture, but so very different. And with the style of story I write, basing anything off of cinematic inspiration could get muddy very quickly. I am trying to model my work after classic archetypes. They didn't go to the movies for inspiration either!

I spent quite a bit of time reading other types of work besides fiction. Recently, I have begun a theological study of the Atonement focused on the idea of penal substitution. Not entirely certain if it's going to pertain to my current work-in-progress, but simply trying to keep my mind alive (and my spiritual walk active). I am also studying some of the more significant historical events in medieval England. Again, not because I write books set in England or even particularly medieval-ish settings (many reviewers have mistakenly labeled Heartless a medieval story . . . but, I mean, really? They use carriages. And forks. And napkins and table cloths. Una wears a hat and crazy crinolines and writes with a pencil. They drink coffee. It's not any one time period specifically, but it is definitely not medieval!) It's good to be aware other ways of life and thought, old and new.

Inspiration is one of those tricky subjects to write about. Each story I have written draws from different sources. Each one comes from my heart, but my heart is influenced by circumstances and my own maturity level. The manuscript I just completed and the one I am just beginning are both story ideas that I initially noted down when I was 17. But, while the basic plots of have not changed, the stories I am now writing at 25 are VASTLY different from what I would have written at 17.

I honestly believe God brings specific circumstances into my life according to the story I am trying to tell at the time. Sometimes those circumstances are painful. I hope to never relive that period of my life when I wrote Heartless. Yet I wouldn't trade it for the world, because it was what I needed in order to write Heartless and, I hope, to bless other people through what I learned.

Other times, the circumstances aren't painful. Starflower was inspired in large part by my daily life this spring and summer when I began working with and fostering feral kittens. I am a consummate Crazy Cat Lady with plenty of feline experience. Yet I learned so much from working with those kittens. I learned about the vital need a living creature has to be loved before it can become complete. These little creatures were wild as squirrels when I caught them, hissy and growly, without personality. Dumb beasts bent purely on survival in a harsh world. No room for any little spirit or personality to thrive.

But the seed was there. When watered with love, I watched four distinct and beautiful little personalities grow out of these four different kittens. Three of them from the same litter, and yet no two were alike. With a little love (and a flea bath or two) they went from wild beasts to loving, purring, cheerful little babies with their own little mannerisms, thought processes, and ways of interacting with others. Cliché as it sounds, it is truly miraculous the difference that love makes in even the humblest life.

This truth, learned while sitting in a basement bathroom cuddling sick and flea-ridden kittens, watching their snarls turn to purrs, became the very heart of Starflower. There isn't a single kitten to be seen in the manuscript (there's cat, but no kittens). My inspiration wasn't the kittens themselves. It was what I learned while caring for the kittens.

Anyway, that was a rambling post if there ever was one! I hope it gives you some idea of how my creative process works.


Paris said...

Great answer! I used to avoid getting inspiration from other authors because I was afraid I would be a "copycat". But now I'm going to dive into some great literature and start up my writing again (:

Anonymous said...

Christa here!
Ten Years From Now is a really good song and, when I get Moonblood, I'm going to try to see which character that song pertains to.
I'm suprised some people thought Heartless had a medieval setting, especially since with all the stuff you just mentioned being in the book. I'm so glad you didn't put Heartless in that setting! It made it all the more unique!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I think just like painters have to study other artists, so writers MUST study other authors. It's all part of pursuing an artistic form . . . we have to stand on the shoulders of those who went before, or we're just digging in the dirt.

Christa: Glad you like that song too. And I'm glad that you noticed that HEARTLESS wasn't medieval! So many people miss that.

Anonymous said...

"That is what good writing is supposed to look like!"

Precisely why I have spent the last few days reading Heartless and Veiled Rose, and poring through your archives. I read your agent's post about you being intentional about your work, with a firm vision for your series, and knew that I could learn from you. I'm twice your age and am just coming to the end of finishing my first novel, and you took my breath away.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

@Accidental Poet: Thanks you so much for the words of encouragement! That means a lot to me. Blessings on your efforts with your novel! I hope you will continue to find great fun and enjoyment in your work.