Day 5. The event this year is rather Q&A heavy, so I'm thrilled that some authors picked the guest post option. I love seeing authors expand and expound on topics and not be held captive by the question they're trying to answer. Also, guest posts can reveal some interesting little nuggets about the author that no one would've expected. ;)
Catherine Egan currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Born in Vancouver, she studied English literature at university. After, she headed off to Japan to teach English, writing short fiction in her free time. Then, she headed to China (where she taught English on an oil rig), New Jersey, and then Connecticut with the man she would one day marry. Her debut YA novel, The Last Days of Tian Di: Shade and Sorceress, was published on September 1, 2012 by Coteau Books. You can find her at her website and on Twitter (@ByCatherineEgan). :) (Bonus at the end of the post.)
Getting The Right Idea
Last week I did a reading at a school book fair and during the Q&A I was asked the question that every author gets asked A LOT: “Where do you get your ideas?”
I gave the kids at the book fair a brief run-down of how it works but they wanted to know more, they wanted details, and that's when I decided to write it all down. Here, then, is precisely where and how I got the idea for my own first novel, The Last Days of Tian Di: Shade and Sorceress.
So first, obviously, I went to the Idea Shop. You know the one? Squashed between the cafe with the joke-telling barista in her cupcake-print skirts and that old 50s-style barber shop? The Shopkeeper is there behind her desk as always, with her big pouf of purple hair and the glasses on her nose magnifying her eyes alarmingly. She stretches her lips slightly at me. I'll bet she whips out a big old smile for the likes of Kenneth Oppel but I'll take what I can get. At least she's not ignoring me this time.
"Looking for something in particular?" she asks. There is something oddly feline about her look as she says this and I half expect her to start licking at a paw.
"Just browsing," I say. "The last idea didn't work out."
Her eyebrows shoot up. "What, the young man with the sleep disorder in Tokyo? With the ghosts and the Japanese mythology that I threw in at a bargain?"
"It was the extras that did it in," I say, a little petulant. "It got too complicated."
She gives me a look. She's right, it's my fault; it really was a good idea.
"I haven’t tossed it, just put it aside for a while," I mumble. "I need something totally different to clear my head a bit. You know, something fun. "
"Well, go ahead, look around," she says, obviously unimpressed. If I couldn't do something with the Tokyo sleep disorder boy, what good am I?
The shop is full of variously shaped lacquered cupboards with labels on them. I walk among them, reading labels: Comic tale of match-making dog...inner monologue of a young nurse contemplating suicide... Veronica Mars rip-off high school mystery… Sexy retelling of Rip Van Winkle. I pause at a drawer that says simply girl must rescue her kidnapped father from Arctic prison. I look over my shoulder at the Shopkeeper. She gives me a feral little grin.
"I'm just going to have a look at this one," I say, trying to sound casual.
"Something fun?" she says mockingly.
Whatever. Arctic prison rescues can be fun. I crouch in front of the cupboard and open it.
Inside, a beautiful woman with green-gold eyes says to a frightened-looking girl, “You’re adorable! A child with the barest smidgen of Magic and the sad delusion that you could last five seconds against me.” The woman bends close, wraps one of the girl’s disorderly curls around her finger and gives it a little tug. “Well, little Smidgen, you’ve come running straight into the only place left where I still have power, and now that you’re here, what fun we’re going to have! Although,” and here she gives the girl’s hair a yank that makes her cry out, “It might not be quite as much fun for you.”
OK, so the girl - Eliza, the name comes immediately – is on a hopeless quest to save her father, the greatest powers in the world against her. The woman is her father’s kidnapper. She is both Eliza’s enemy and the person who knows her best in all the world. She is ruthless, but there is love there, too. The girl... what does she want? Safety, home, to be with her father, to stop running away... but what have they been running from? The details don’t matter yet. The idea has taken hold, it has me now like a hook to the heart and it is reeling me in.
"I'll take it!" I say. “The kidnapped father one.”
"Ah, that one," says the Shopkeeper. "It's a trilogy, you know."
"Is it?" That only gives me pause for a moment. This feels so right. "Well. That's fine."
"If you say so."
She works out the price on a notepad in terms of time (years? really? well, I guess it is a trilogy), strain to relationships, unanswered e-mails, loss of income, etc. I stop paying attention halfway through. I don't care what it costs; it's always worth it, even when it leads to nothing, and I would pay much more. I want to go back to that scene in the cupboard, the girl and the witch, no, not a witch, a sorceress, the girl and the sorceress in the Arctic. Not our Arctic. This is definitely otherworldly fantasy. Tian Xia. Oh. Oh crap. That means research.
When it comes to writing fantasy, research is the real rub. I'll have to apply for a travel grant. It's going to take me months to sort out childcare, procure visas, find the right weapons and amulets and whatnot to protect myself, and then go trundling off to snap photos and take notes on dragons and shape-shifters and malicious, enchanted trees. This business of making stories is not for the faint of heart, but we authors are not faint of heart.
The Shopkeeper pushes the invoice across the table at me and I sign it.
"I hope this one works out," she says, almost kindly.
"It will," I say. I'm sure of it. She hands me a box. It’s mine now, this idea. I put the box to my ear.
I hear the Sorceress: “Why can’t we be friends?” and Eliza replying, “Because you’re going to kill me,” thinking that a very good reason for not being friends.
When I get home, clutching the box to my chest, my husband is making dinner and the kids are clobbering each other with plastic dinosaurs and everybody wants to know where I've been.
"Nowhere!" I yell. "Just a minute!"
I grab my laptop and shut myself in the bedroom, heart pounding. This is the part I love best of all, when the idea first starts to unfurl, offering up possible directions. Even though you don't know the whole story yet you can see it hazily taking shape. It might turn out to be a mirage in the desert, you might crawl towards it thirsting, because that's what writers do, and then find there's nothing there, just more sand between your fingers. Or it might be the oasis you've been searching for, with all of life right there among its burbling springs and dense green trees. Deep breath.
I open the box.
Thanks so much for taking part, Catherine. Go check out The Last Days of Tian Di: Shade and Sorceress now! :)
BONUS! Because Catherine is awesome, she's generously giving away 4 books to 4 lucky people. To enter, simply comment saying you'd like to be entered and add in your e-mail address (and do the (at) instead of @ just to be safe). And it's open to everyone. :) (The giveaway will be closed to entries after May 19th.)