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Where Debut Novels Are Born

Our “Lessons From First-Time Novelists” roundtable continues with a discussion of where the featured authors’ inspiration for their novels came from—plus tips for sparking your own creativity.

For the full roundtable, check out the January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine.

IT SEEMS YOU ALL HAD PRETTY UNIQUE INSPIRATIONS FOR YOUR DEBUTS, FROM TRIPS TO JERUSALEM TO TRIPS TO COSTCO—CAN YOU ALL GIVE ME THE BRIEF VERSION OF WHERE YOU FOUND YOUR INSPIRATION AND SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHERE OTHER WRITERS CAN TAP INTO THEIR OWN?

LISSA PRICE, author of Starters

I went to CostCo a few years ago to get a flu shot. And CostCo looks sort of dystopian, anyway. They didn’t have enough vaccine, and so the government set up a triage system and only the very young and the very old could get the vaccine. And I was thinking, What if this was a killer disease? The only people left would be the very young and the very old. What kind of world would that be? And that became my world years later for Starters. My advice to young writers is always be on the lookout for ideas. Ideas are going to come to you from everywhere, so just be ready for them.

EYRE PRICE, author of Blues Highway Blues

I had the good fortune of taking a trip down the Blues Highway, which is for the most part Route 61. It stretches from Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans. I took a trip with my then 8-year-old son. … There’s certainly a lot of thinking that goes into writing, but I’m of the opinion that it’s largely an intuitive operation and you just kind of have to open yourself to the inspiration that’s all around you. Anything can turn into a novel.

MELINDA LEIGH, author of She Can Run

The inspiration for She Can Run comes from my experiences teaching women’s self-defense, and self-defense in general. There are an alarming number of women who are victims of domestic violence in the country—millions—and it’s one of the most underreported crimes, mainly because these women live in fear of their spouses, and the most dangerous time for them is that leaving point. They plan for long periods of time on how to actually accomplish that. So that became the jumping-off point for my book. Because I know a number of women who have been in that situation. And you read about it all the time in the papers, in the news, that someone leaves their spouse and then he tracks them down and then he kills them—he kills her, he kills the children. It does happen—it happens all the time. So that really became the jumping-off point—What would you do?

KIRA PEIKOFF, author of Living Proof

My inspiration came when I was working for a newspaper. I did a bunch of reporting internships in college. I was studying journalism. For one of them I was living in Washington D.C. for the summer, and my beat was basically Capital Hill. So I’d go to cover congressional hearings and all the events going on in D.C. every week. And one of them took me to the White House, where Bush was issuing his very first veto of his presidency, which was to deny funding for stem cell research. I had a little background in the subject because I had taken biology, so I had some passionate feelings evoked from being there and watching that prehistoric event, so when I got back to my office and had to write this newspaper article, I had just found it was difficult to make it very fair and balanced as a journalist has to do. I thought, There has to be a better way to tell this story that I think is there. So I turned to fiction.

CARTER WILSON, author of Final Crossing

I think the genesis of any thriller is really the question, What if? And I think that’s where ideas come [from]. I was traveling to Jerusalem on business and I was thumbing through a Fodor’s guide, and it had a very small paragraph about Jerusalem Syndrome, which is an actual and extremely rare psychological syndrome where people who are ostensibly normal and go to Jerusalem can’t handle the religious significance of everything … and they go temporarily crazy. There’s symptoms of it—they start wearing bedsheets, they start spouting bible scripture, and they get institutionalized. By the time they get home, they’re fine, and my what-if is, Well, what if they weren’t fine? What does that look like? I think my advice to writers is, don’t try so hard about trying to answer that question. I think a lot of people I know who are struggling writers and who just can’t quite finish a book are trying to get it all figured out. I’m not much of a plotter, so I just write and it kind of comes to me.

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