I have no idea how the brain works, but in a novel-writing brain (er, mine at least) it works from convergence. Or at least that’s my theory this morning.
In the excellent on line magazine, Black Gate, I read an interview with Jeffrey E. Barlough, author of the Western Lights series. He described how his latest book in the series came from combining three different writing projects he was working on. He also said that his rich alternate history world came from the intersection of 1) his interest in paleontology; 2) a love of Victorian fiction; and 3) his time as a volunteer excavator and the La Brea Tar Pits.
I often cook up story ideas that way, too. Even wildly disparate ideas, once brought together, can suggest meaningful themes and plots. This is a variation of the old short story-generating tactic of making two lists and then grabbing one idea from each list to see what possibilities the association brings.
To make this work all the better, it helps if you’re deeply engaged with the threads. Thus, recently, when I was searching for my next story, I got a springboard effect from two nonfiction books that had me in their thrall.
My new novel (August, 2013) A Thousand Perfect Things is about a re-imagined England and India, when a Victorian woman takes on the scientific establishment and the British Raj to find her destiny in a magical subcontinent rife with palace intrigues, ghosts and an immanent revolution.
The inspiration for this was the conjunction of two books:
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey, and Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India by Lawrence James. These fabulous books–which I just happened to be reading at the same time (one by my bedside, one on the couch) suggested strands of subject matter that my brain churned into fiction. It became a braid of ideas that I lived with for the next year of my writing life.
A fantasy based on history (the Raj) and science (the museum.) Thus, convergence!
Dear readers and friends,
My blog is changing. I’ll be sharing more personal perspectives on the writing life rather than teaching fiction. In order to commit more time to my writing, some things, alas, must go. It’s exciting to have a new book coming out, and of course, the next one’s under way. They’ll now get more of my attention. I hope you’ll still drop by and catch some of my musings on the writing life and, along the way, insights into my latest book. With many thanks–Kay