Why is inspiration so tricky?

Today’s mail takes us to Arizona.

Lauren writes: I am a student at Aprende Middle School and in Ms. Angelea Herrera’s 8th grade advanced language arts class. We are currently working on a research paper and the main theme is to pick an author we’ve read and enjoyed. I personally chose you and your books because I’ve read all of the young adult books and enjoyed every single one.

While doing research I found a lot of information about your books and why you wrote them, but I haven’t found any information telling my why you wanted to write and what your inspriation was to not only write but to also write in the young adult series.

Thank you for your time.

Say “Hi” to Ms. Herrera for me, Lauren. I was at your school a couple years ago and I loved it.

The concept of inspiration is one that I struggle with. Students (and teachers) seem to think that there is one way to answer the question. It should be simple, it should flow off the tongue. “How long does it take you to write a book?” “A year or two.” “And where do you get your inspiration?”

It stops me cold every time.

Inspiration is a complicated thing. My books usually start in character. Melinda in SPEAK, Ashley in PROM, etc., etc., I see and hear them in my imagination before I understand what their problems are or have much of a clue about plot. Let’s use Ashley as an example. I knew that I wanted to write about a kid in a working class family. But I didn’t want the stereotypical working class family (I hate that), where all of the tragedies come out of the fact that sometimes money is tight. I wanted a fun, loving, wonderful family, with an 18 year old daughter who had no clue about what she was going to do after high school. If there was any inspiration for the book, it was the teens who come from that family situation who complained to me that they were tired of reading about middle and upper class suburban kids. So – they were my inspiration.

But, no, not exactly. Where did the idea for the prom come in? The crazy grandmother? The skeezy boyfriend? The plot twists at the pizza place, the math teacher, the dress? It is really hard to pin all of that stuff down. To be honest, I don’t think I want to. Most of writing is hard work; ten hours a day at a desk trying to tell a good story. Inspiration feels like magic to me. It’s the secret ingredient of writing. I don’t want to know where the magic comes from. I just trust it will be there when I need it.

Bruce Coville used to say there was a secret store at the mall where authors bought their inspiration. Maybe I should just use that line.

And why do I write for teenagers? Because they are interesting and I like them.

Hannah writes: I am a student from Evergreen High School located in Northwest Ohio.In school we have to pick a favorite book and i picked yours ,Prom. We have to answer some questions on our author and one of the questions is ,Is your author still writting? If yes ,what is she currently working on? So all I need to know if your still writing books and if you are then I would like to know what it is called.Thanks for your time and write back soon please.

And Julie writes: I was wondering if you had any new books coming out soon.

I’m working on it. I’m still puzzling about how to fix one arc problem in this revision. Assuming I can fix it this week, the new book will be out next spring.

You guys want to know the title of the new book? I can’t remember if I told you yet.

Warning – mushy romantic post

Some of you know this story, but for those who don’t here goes.

I have known my husband since I was three years old. He was six when we met; an older, wiser man. Our mothers were best friends and liked to drink coffee in the afternoon, so he was in charge of walking me home from kindergarten. We spent a LOT of time together as kids, but never romantically. In fact, when our moms would predict we’d wind up together, we’d groan and shriek and spit “Ew!”

That attitude changed when we were hit with the puberty stick.

And then it changed again when I went away to college because we were young and stupid. We married other people and went almost twenty years without being in contact with each other. When our first marriages ended, our paths crossed again. The second time around we weren’t so stupid.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

Trying to be organized

I had a couple of trusted friends as well as my editor read the draft of my WIP and the comments are finally in. They pretty much verified what I knew: two of the minor characters act inconsistently at the end of the story and it is getting in the way of the arc of the main character. That was the bad news. The good news was that they were more enthusiastic than I thought they’d be about the rest of the book.

I have to leave for a conference a week from Thursday. Between now and then I have some family responsibilities and a few work things, but my Big Goal is to finish this revision and mail it off. I think I’ll still be posting here, but I probably won’t be responding to comments as much as I usually do.

I thought all weekend about the whole idea of a forum where you guys could talk about my books. It seems that the only way to do it is with a moderator, and I cannot afford to hire someone to do that now. Sigh. So we’ll put that in the good idea file and pull it out from time to time to see if we can deal with it yet.

Because of the workload here, I am behind on my plans to unveil the contest I promised. I hope you can forgive me on that one, too.

Are any of you interested in wallpapers or buddy icons? Theo designed a beautiful SPEAK movie wallpaper (scroll down). If you want, I’ll ask him to design more based on my book covers.

Last but not least, check out the a gamer comic by Jared, who – along with being a good comic artist – is smart enough to be dating my daughter, Stephanie.

Shaking out the mailbag

Today’s post empties my email bag… the handwritten stuff is almost finished, too. I’ll be spending most of Saturday at the Sectionals swim meet in Syracuse, and I’ll bring what’s not done with me to finish there. Be sure to read the first letter (below), because I want the opinions of you guys who visit this LJ regularly.

Today’s interesting article about language growth.

Max writes: Hey! I had what I thought was a really good idea. I was reading back on your journal entries, because I haven’t been online in a couple of days, and I first read your most recent entry about what advice you would give to teens, then I scrolled down to read about your AIM chat with your daughters, and the idea hit me! I think it would be awesome if you created a screen name specifically for the website, like writerlady, and put together chats for all of your fans and the people that you inspire to come and chat with you and ask those questions! I’m not sure how much you like this idea, but I think it would be awesome to actually get to chat to you like all of us are on a phone call!

Good to hear from you again, Max! I have mixed feelings about your suggestion. It is a terrific one, and it uses technology, which I like. But I am feeling very pressed for time these days, what with deadlines and road trips coming up. What if we set up a message board so readers could communicate with each other? Check out Neil Gaiman’s board and tell me what you think.

Jenn writes: I have a question about publishing. I am in the process of writing a poetry novel. I want to try to get it published when it is finished but I don’t know how/where to start that whole process. Can you give me some advice?

The best advice I have is to go to a library and ask the librarian to help you find books about the publishing process.

“Melinda-twin” writes: I loved the book speak. Im 15 and my life seems almost like Melindas. I got the site from the book in class! Ha! I thought it was weird… me and Melinda had the same freshman year thing! I had an art teacher I liked more than my others. My English teacher is a Hairwoman.. and my american history teacher….is a mr. neck! I dont really have spanish but i hear she only talks in spanish like melindas! I am suicidal sorta like Melinda.. But she only really tried once.. Im a repetitive suicidal girl. I havnt been raped but some of my old friends… (mostly goths) just dont like me. Me and my mom dont talk… when we do its about the weather. (ha!) I had a friend like Heather.. but she didnt snub me off for some other clan.. her name was Julie…. But i have a friend named heather! not from ohio though! it would be awkwardly funny wouldnt it?! Before I make this horribly long.. I just want to say that I love the book!

I am really glad you’re joining us here! And I hope, more than anything, that my books can help you see that high school does not equal life… and that things will get better. Be strong!

Naomi writes: First of all I would like to start off by saying that I thought Speak was an awesome book and I think you did a great job on it! I read your book for a book report that we recently had to do in English class. It was a multi-genre book review and for one of my genres I wrote a short story. I pretty much shortened your story for a quick read review. Recently I was looking for some scholarship ideas and I found a scholarship where you write a young adult short story to apply. I am very proud of my short story and was wondering if I could submit the story inspired by your story. My version has some different events and the people’s names aren’t the same but I figured I should ask your permission before I entered it. Please get back to me as soon as possible as there is a deadline to this opportunity. If you would like to read my story I would love that also and would be more than happy to e-mail it to you!

Go ahead and enter the story. It would make me very happy (and be ethical) to mention in the title that the story was inspired by my book. That way the judges won’t think you’re ripping it off. I wish I had time to read it, but I am drowning here. Let me know how the scholarship goes.