Writing Inspiration: Quotes

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As a writer, I’m constantly asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”

I can’t say where my ideas come from. From life, from other stories, from the interests I’ve naturally developed over time … They start out as a vague idea (nostalgia!) and then develop out from there (a teenage girl, World War II, a chateau with secrets…) Most of the time I just have bunches of ideas that only get fleshed out as I write (I’m not an outliner).

In the beginning, I like to collect quotes that inspire me and have something to do with the theme and tone of the book I’m trying to write. Does anyone else do that? So I thought it would be fun to share the quotes I currently have at the top of my Word document work-in-progress. See if you can guess where they’re from:

1. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

2. “Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they’ve cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.”

3. “You can throw yourself away, missing what you’ve lost.”

4. “But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”

5. “All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way—if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.”

6. “The point was for one place in their lives to be impregnable. For just one kind of love to be stronger than any outside thing; to be safe.”

7. “Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does.”

8. “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

9. “They know that tragedy is not glamorous. They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors are not attributable to one single person. Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing. That is what the children know.”

(Answers below. Photo found here.)

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Friday Things

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As everyone else bitches about the cold, I’m really trying to savor winter, despite the fact I don’t live in a place as lovely as this. Staying in and writing, drinking hot toddies, bundling up in scarves, watching snow fall–is anyone else with me?

Here are some things that made my week:

1. This chart of how old best-selling authors were when they “broke out” is helping me feel loads better about my (non-)burgeoning career.

2. A teenager’s view on social media. So, so interesting and helpful, especially for those of us who are writing for teens. (Although this is the reason I set all my stories in the ’90s/early ’00s–social media changed everything.)

3. When I’m seeking inspiration, I always go back to stories that have blown me away. Those stories are not always in the form of books. Last night I rewatched a couple of Buffy episodes, and started sobbing, as always, at one of the most beautiful speeches in TV show history:

“I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine, and done things I’d prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker; I follow my blood, which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of. You.

Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you–it has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try… I’ve seen your kindness, and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman.”

Have a wonderful wintry, inspiring weekend!

Photo found here.

Feeling Nostalgic

La Vire in Autumn III

Today I’m missing Saint-Lô. Most of all, I miss those autumn afternoons where I had nothing to do but take long walks out into the countryside on the Route Du Candol, with no one but the cows for company. I thought I was doing nothing but wandering, but really I was percolating; these long walks inspired the seeds of what would later become my first novel. Never stop wandering.

Wanderlusty Wednesday

chateau 2Don’t major in French, they said. It’s useless, they said.

What “they” failed to take into account was that someday, a relative could win a trip to stay in a French chateau for free. And that this relative may need a translator. And then, as the sole French-speaking niece in the family, you will be invited to spend two weeks at said chateau. For FREE.

I have an obsession with chateaus. This place was straight-up my dream house. A stone chateau originally constructed in the 1500s, it was purchased and restored by an American couple in the mid ’00s. It had three stories, eight bedrooms, a library, a turret, a wine cellar, unicorn tapestries on the walls. A pool. A trampoline. And wifi!

It was in the absolute middle of nowhere, of course. About an hour’s drive from Toulouse. The nearest town was Mirepoix. Grocery shopping required a half hour car ride to the nearest LeClerc. But it did come with abundant wildflowers, some cats, and a cute little old lady neighbors who brought over eggs from her own hens.

My sister and I stayed in the tower bedroom, like princesses. We consumed nothing but wine and bread and cheese the whole time we were there. We wandered around the area a bit, but really we just basked in the beauty of this place that had been there for centuries.

If that place ever goes up for sale, and if my plan to become a millionaire is ever realized, you’d better believe I’m putting in the first offer. Until then, I can only dream (and write my little heart out).

A few more images, keeping in mind this was taken with my ’05 point-and-shoot:

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Wanderlusty Wednesday

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The current story I’m writing is about a group of high school kids on a school trip to Paris. It draws largely on my own experiences. I just wrote the part where they take a day trip out to the Loire Valley to see the chateaus, and writing about seeing those amazing places for the first time just sent shivers down my spine. I remember that everyone else liked Chenonceau the best, but my favorite has always been Chambord. It’s the one that makes you think What could I possibly do with this many rooms? and then your imagination goes into overdrive trying to supply the answer. When I retire I’m becoming a tour guide at one of these places, you wait and see.

On Character Inspiration

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Image found here

Do you base your characters on real people? From everything I’ve read, this is somewhat of a no-no.

I remember reading somewhere that J.K. Rowling has stated that none of her characters are based directly on real-life people (except for Crookshanks, who’s based on a real-life cat! I love that), but that shades of people she knew, as well as herself, naturally creep into the characters.

Of course your own emotions and experiences are going to fuel your characters. Realistic human emotions are what make good books so good. For my first novel, I was very careful about not making the protagonist too much like myself, but I’ve had friends read it and think otherwise. For each character, I did draw upon traits of people I know or have known, and for some I drew upon traits of fictional characters I felt were particularly well-drawn. But in the end, each of my characters was entirely fictional. I couldn’t say that one or another has a real-life counterpart somewhere.

As I’m querying my first novel, I’m hard at work on my second. I had immediately jumped into a sequel, but then I read somewhere that your second novel should be something totally different–if the first one doesn’t sell, the sequel won’t either, for obvious reasons. So the sequel is on hold (just for now, since I love it so far and can’t wait to see what happens next).

So I decided to do something drastically different. I started writing an epistolary novel about a shy teenager on her school trip to Paris, drawing heavily on my own experiences (as well as my high school journal). It’s written in the first-person present, which are both firsts for me. This novel is a little uncomfortable, to be honest. High school was not a great time for me, and the more I write, the more I find myself tapping into the pain of the awkward teenage girl still inside me somewhere, pain from wounds I thought were healed long ago. And while none of my characters are thinly-veiled real people, every single one of them draws from people I actually knew in high school and beyond. And some of the scenes I’ve written–such as the one where my protagonist smokes her first cigarette under the Eiffel Tower–are fictionalized versions of stuff that actually happened. Most of the people involved are people I’m no longer in touch with. But I can’t help but wonder if someday someone I knew once will pick this up and recognize an element of themselves in it somewhere.

I’m only a month and 36,000 words into this new work, so I’m not sure yet if it’s something that will pan out. The rawness and realness of it scares me a little in the way my first novel didn’t, but I think that’s a good thing, no?

Aspirations (or On the Brilliance that is Tana French)

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I have what you’d call an eclectic taste in books. I’ve read obscure books, trendy books, YA, middle-grade, crime thrillers, memoirs, you name it.

Not everything I read is perfect. There are a lot of things that make up a perfect book, for me at least: a character-driven story, at least one character you fall irrevocably in love with, the ability to live inside the story, beautiful sentences, themes that make me think really hard about something in a new way. But even if it’s not perfect, as long as you have a well-told story, you have my attention.

The perfect story has all these things and more. It’s one I’ll think about constantly and will read over and over again.

Tana French has written four such stories.

It will take me more than one post to get into the absolute perfection that are the Dublin Murder Squad novels. I don’t even think I have the right words (and I’m someone who spends a great deal of time searching for the right words). Not only are these books unputdownable, the settings remarkably drawn, the characters so real you can taste them, the sentences are so beautiful they make my eyes hurt.

Not one of these novels has a 5-star Amazon review (not that I trust Amazon reviews—more on that later). But at least a few other people have recognized just how beautiful these stories are.

Tana French is everything I aspire to be as a writer. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’m having a hell of a time on the journey.

I’ll leave you with just a small selection of her beautiful sentences…
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