When I was a teenager I had a lot of questions.
People always want to know where I get my ideas. In the past I would give them a snappy comeback: the Stork… the Idea Fairy… a Jar on my desk.
Actual Jar on my desk.
Then one day I came to a realization… an epiphany if you will. I realized that nearly ALL of my story ideas came from my childhood. Specifically from my family secrets.
I didn’t meet my father until I was 17. I knew his name and I knew that I looked a lot like him. But I knew almost nothing else.
There was a drawer in our dining room where the family photos were kept, including two or three photos of him. He was a lighting director, so the photos were either headshots or “on the set” shots. These photos didn’t tell me anything about who he was or what he was like. More importantly, they didn’t tell me who I was to him. It turns out – in my case, at least — how your parents regard you has a huge impact on how you regard yourself.
Looking back, I probably should have asked my mother questions about my father and his family, but at the time I was afraid to. Maybe because my father wasn’t in the picture and there were literally NO photos of he and my mother together and I sensed that talking about him would be uncomfortable for her. So, instead I spent years fantasizing about the various ways I could find out about him and even meet him without my mother knowing anything about it.
As a teenager I was all about keeping secrets… including things that didn’t need to be secret. To this day, I clearly remember the weight of all those secrets and how much I craved someone I could trust to share my burden back then.
It took me a lot of years to figure this out, but once I did, I realized that nearly everything I write is informed by my early childhood father situation. Before I turned to writing YA novels, I wrote for children’s TV. My stories always included a missing parent, an adoption or a family cobbled together by love, not by blood or birth. And questions… my protagonists are always seeking the truth and answers to secrets. The families in my stories labor under lots of secrets.
In my new book series (coming from Tor Teen Oct. 2016): Sixteen year-old Erin Blake is on a mission to learn three things about her life: 1. Who killed her mother, 2. Who is her father and 3. That the answer to question 1 and 2 are not the same! See… secrets!
In my second book: a 15 year-old girl, named Xiomara, just wants what basically every American teenager has… high school, dates, movies, the Prom… and she will ultimately get that, but first she, along with her father and brother, will have to survive the Zombie apocalypse that she somehow started.
Notice the theme? Incomplete family + typical problem = atypical secretive solution. Where do your ideas come from?