Thursday, April 02, 2009

Where Book Ideas Come from

Recently, I've had several people ask where I get the ideas for my books. Some of my unpublished manuscripts are so bad they'll always be unpublished, but here's a book-by-book look at my published books.

I'll start with the most recent and go backward:

With most of my historical novels, I haven't had a clue about what the story will be until I learn about the temple and the area. Since I'm very big on the history being an organic part of the story, I need to know about the setting before I can come up with a plot or characters to fit it.

With Tower of Strength, I researched the settlement of Manti and the temple there for several weeks, making notes and marking spots in the text of several publications, but I really had no clear idea for a story.

Then one day as I was blow drying my hair, Tabitha showed up in my head. I heard her say, "It's Tab, not Tabby. I'm not a cat!" I grinned, knowing I'd found my heroine.

From that point, I knew enough about the area that I was sure Temple Hill and some of its history needed to figure prominently in the story. But those events were way before the construction of the temple and therefore several years before Tabitha was born. I knew I'd need a character that was a child during those years. (Which is why Fred is several years her senior.)

Early into the drafting, I uncovered Mantia's story and groaned. GREAT. More research. In an area I knew nothing about. So I hit the Internet and studied up on horses and horse training. Such. A. Pain. (But in the end, totally worth it.)

As I mentioned in a recent Writing Journey post, Spires of Stone is essentially a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. I've always loved that play and wanted to retell the story. The trick for this one wasn't finding the idea, but finding a way to adapt a classic to the 1800s and work in details about the temple in a natural way.

At the Journey's End was a bit like Tower of Strength in that I was several weeks into the research before I had any clue what the story would be. I had lots of cool ideas about what could happen (and things that had happened) on the Honeymoon Trail that led from Arizona to St. George, but I also knew there was no way to tell all of them.

Thanks to all the horror stories I read about one area of the trail, I knew pretty early on that there would be a disaster in that spot. (Something that apparently takes most readers by surprise.)

One thing I did know going in was that Abe would need a strong reason to leave Utah. Plus, he needed someplace else to go that had Mormons. I'd recently read about a lynching that really happened in Salt Lake City around this time. That tragedy provided the perfect impetus Abe needed.

Once I settled on him going to Arizona, his story wasn't the hard one to come up with. It was the heroine's. Fortunately, Maddie showed up on her own a couple of weeks into the research, and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Now I had both sides of the equation and could move forward.

House on the Hill, my very first temple novel, came about after I read my parents' copy of Nolan P. Olsen's Logan Temple: The First 100 Years. I picked it up after getting married in the Logan Temple myself, and after reading the book, I knew immediately that there was a story there I had to tell. But it wasn't until after I read the book again, made a master chronology, and started looking at the events and dates that I figured out a story to go with it. This book went through a lot of drafts and revisions, especially in the early stages. Writing a historical for the first time was pretty terrifying.

I managed to buy a copy of Olsen's book for myself a few years ago. It's out of print again, so I'm glad I snagged it when I had the chance. Sometimes I get e-mails asking where you can find the book. I've seen it for sale at online used bookstores and even Deseret Book's online auction. They're out there, just hard to find.

As I've mentioned before, Abe came about after I read a paper on Native American children who were indentured by Latter-day Saints. It was such an intriguing idea that I knew right away who he was and where he'd come from. He remains a favorite character for a lot of readers.

As some people have guessed, At the Water's Edge was somewhat inspired by my parents' own love story. But only inspired by. The vast majority of the book is pure fiction. Here's where it dovetails with reality:

My dad served a mission in Finland. He returned several years later on graduate research and met my mother at church. (Check, check, and check for Kenneth.)

Mom became the black sheep of her family when she was baptized, and her father threatened to kick her out of the house if she joined the Church. (Check and check for Annela.)

But that's as far as the story mirrors reality. Mom was seventeen when she was baptized, not an adult in her twenties with a messed-up, live-in boyfriend. All the rest of the story is out of my head. One big difference is that both of Mom's parents were against the Church, not just her father.

I made the mistake of telling one of my sisters that our parents inspired the story right as I handed over a few chapters for her to read. She came back with tears in her eyes saying, "Did Grandma really say that?" I had to burst her bubble. Sorry, no. This is FICTION. Annela's mother isn't Grandma (who was very much against Mom's baptism). Grandma never expressed support like Annela's mother does. (It's a novel. Pretend. Made up!)

Lost without You was sparked by a dream. (Wouldn't it have been nice if that dream yielded millions like Stephanie Meyer's dream?! :-D) At the time, I had two children. In the dream, I knew I was going to die soon, and my two regrets were that I couldn't say good-bye to my husband and that I couldn't tell him to find a good mother to raise my children.

Up to that point, I'd been adamantly opposed to him ever remarrying were I to die. But that dream showed me that if another woman were to truly mother and nurture my children as her own, that I would praise and honor her for doing so.

That was the kernel of the idea.

Next week I might go into some other ideas, such as what prompted Band of Sisters, coming out next spring, and my the dust-gathering murder mystery I really should do something with

Today's Tour Stop:
Author Bee's Blog (Therein I discovered what that smell is.)


amelia said...

This was neat to read about all your ideas!

Ha, I still have the same opinion, that if I die, my husband cannot remarry. I'm selfish.

Que and Brittany's Adoption Journey said...

Hahahaha! Yeah, there were days I wouldn't even leave the house because it stunk so bad.

Lara Neves said...

Fascinating. I am really intrigued by the way your characters just show up. Very cool.

Kristina P. said...

I don't have this kind of creativity, so I love hearing about how these things come to you.

Jo said...

I know it is hard work to write the books, but I love how the characters kind of have a hand in shaping themselves. Personally, that is what I consider good writing, when you can feel the depth of the characters, the story, the background, behind the book. As if they really exist. I hope that makes sense...

Bethie Marie said...

I've read all your books, including the new one, and love them all! Do we really have to wait a whole year, Spring'10, for the next one?

I'd love to write historical LDS fiction, like you do! Thanks for
sharing the thought process, idea formulation, the research detail and the inspiration and imagination involved. Sounds like alot of work, but alot of fun too!

Is there a LDS writers group in Salt Lake City, where aspiring writers can get tips and learn from the pros?

God Bless,


Annette Lyon said...

HolyInheritance, Wow--thank you so much! It's pretty rare to find someone who has read them all.

One way to find writers groups in SLC would be to find your local League of Utah Writers chapter (they're all listed at My chapter is where I found my critique group.

Also, later this month is the LDStorymakers conference (24-25th) in Provo. If you can make it to that, you'll be immersed in LDS writers and can likely find plenty to network with and create a group with.

Jordan McCollum said...

Awesome! My first two (novella and novel, at least one of which will probably always be unpublished) were from dreams. My next two were all started by a friend/co-author when we started talking about the times she'd gone on a date with a guy about to become a Catholic priest. And then I wrote her back and said, "Maybe I've been watching too much TV lately, but what if . . ."

So the plot was the inspiration there and the characters took more and more shape as we wrote. But for the sequel, I played up some interesting things about the characters and found another plot for them.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That was awesome to hear all about the background for each story. (I say awesome way too much. I'll work on that.) I love little nuggets o' gold like that. How fun that Tabitha came to you while you were drying your hair. I've had a few pop in like that too. Rascals. No respect for privacy. Of course, they share the combined (narrow) space of my head so I'm sure they're complaining too.

At the Waters Edge reminds me a lot of my grandparents. Some of the same struggles you talked about your mom going through, my grandmother did too. Her father never spoke to her again after she was baptized. Never. Before she died, I asked her if she regretted that and she told me, "Never. I just loved your Grandpa too much and he was dead set on getting married in the temple. After that, the gospel did too much good in our lives to ever turn my back on it." And she never did. She financed missions for her grandchildren and left a beautiful legacy of love for the gospel.

Sorry for the comment hogginess over here. =]

p.s. Sorry for the deleted comment. I saw two errors and was going nuts over it. Sorry.

Carolyn V. said...

I love hearing where authors get their ideas from. Thanks for sharing. :)

(I need to go take a nap and dream a fantastic dream or ride a train in England that will get my brain a-thinkin')

Wonder Woman said...

Very, very interesting!! I didn't realize how much of At the Water's Edge was based off of your parents!!

As I was driving home last Saturday, thinking about your next book, I remembered that you had mentioned a book about army wives. I'm definately interested in reading that one!

Erin said...

This was so fun to read about! Thanks for filling us in on the details of coming up with things to write about.

Sher said...

I Love hearing the back stories about your books!
This makes me want to go read EVERYTHING you've written. I better get started...

Laura said...

Someone asked me yesterday if my book was based on my life. "Uh, no," I answered.
"So many authors don't know how to write anything else besides their own lives," she answered.

I've been thinking about it ever since. We do write our lives, even fictitious characters doing things we've never done in places we've never been, still comes from the author. It's still rooted somewhere in their mind from imagination, experience and the influence of others.

So, I appreciated you sharing your journey with us. And even though you are not personally every heroine in every story, it still came from your brilliant mind.

Anonymous said...

I always love to read these glimpses into your brain and journey as a writer. It's fascinating. Thanks for sharing so freely with us.

Rachel Sue said...

I've had a couple of dreams that I thought would make great stories. . . this is if I actually sat down and wrote them out.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I've enjoyed your historicals but it's going to be fun to see what happens when you do something contemporary again. I'm curious to see what if any changes in your writing style I'll see between the two. Even when you're writing a historical, you write clean, not flowery. It makes me excited for Band of Sisters.

And my word verification is: Primp. I totally do.

That Girl said...

Dang. That's why I'll never publish anything. I NEVER remember my dreams.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

What a neat insight into your personal writing process. I for one can't remember where the idea for my first came from. The second idea I had came from a rock I picked up on a beach though. It can be so random, can't it?

Heatherlyn said...

That is interesting. I think each author must receive their inspiration in different ways. I think that deciding what to write and all the details of it is the most difficult part.

Luisa Perkins said...

I never get tired of reading how writers get their ideas! It's such a fun, mysterious process.


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