When I was looking for blog topics, one reader suggestion was to talk about where my ideas come from. That’s a pretty complicated discussion because I feel like my best ideas are cumulative. There’s no one flash of light that results in a book.
The closest I’ve come to that lightning bolt feeling was when I came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc., but really, the lightning bolt was just that I wanted to write something that felt like a contemporary “chick lit” kind of book that had magic in it, a book about a woman getting a job offer from a magical company out of the blue (a fantasy that struck me because I was really hating my job). The rest gradually built from there. I figured that my heroine would have to turn out to have magical powers, but the hero/heroine finding out they have powers has been done to death, so I flipped it and had her finding out she has no magic at all, but that’s useful. I’d wanted to write a small-town Texan in New York story ever since my first trip to New York, and I decided this would be the one. Those were the big ideas, but there are thousands of little ideas that built up along the way as I planned and then wrote the book.
For the Rebels books, it started with the general idea of wanting to write something steampunky. I love the aesthetic, and I love the sense of adventure. I just had zero idea of a plot. My initial lightning bolt that set it off came when I was finishing up writing the first Fairy Tale book but was distracted and procrastinating by studying the bookshelf nearby. I noticed my copy of Jane Eyre next to a Madeleine Brent Victorian Gothic adventure novel, and I felt a “click” in my head. I could write a book about a governess in a house full of secrets who ended up having adventures. The original idea was that Henry would be a mysterious, shadowy Gothic hero type figure, but he refused to cooperate, aside from having secrets. The revolution plot came from me thinking about how bizarre the British class system is, the idea that some people are better than other people because of who they’re descended from. I started thinking about what if there really was something different about the nobility. They’d certainly want to guard that, which would explain a lot of the rules of Victorian morality, though it would apply equally to boys and girls. It would ruin their hold on power if suddenly “common” girls started having babies with magical powers. The nobility wouldn’t be different anymore. Then I started thinking about how that would affect history, and I ended up with the idea that maybe the American Revolution would have failed, but in the Victorian era there would be more technology, so maybe they’d stand a chance. That was definitely a gradual build kind of story because I did tons of research, and each bit of research added an idea I wanted to explore.
The origin of the Fairy Tale books was a lot more nebulous. I had a dream-like mental image of a very dainty woman walking a bulldog and disappearing into the mist, and I tried to come up with the story behind that image.
There’s no one “aha” moment behind the mystery book that’s about to come out. Nearly ten years ago, I first started thinking of writing a mystery, and I came up with a reason for an outsider to come to a small town with secrets, her boss dying, and her being the suspect, so she had to solve the case herself. I revived that idea, but I changed the heroine’s profession and finally figured out what the secrets were. I really have no idea what sparked the decisions I made. It was like things started popping into my head, and I went with them.
Generally the process is that I get a burst of inspiration that sets me off on a voyage of discovery, and it takes a lot more thinking and work before it turns into an actual story idea.