Gail Nall On Finding Inspiration In Your Obsessions

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is Gail Nall, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel, BREAKING THE ICE and the author of the young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT. Another middle grade novel, OUT OF TUNE, releases TODAY from Aladdin/S&S!

Be sure to scroll down for the giveaway!

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I did! I have a tiny (huge) obsession with reading travel blogs, and I kept running into blogs from families who lived on the road. As in, they sold everything and moved into an RV. With kids. And pets. I was fascinated, and I knew it was something I had to write about. As a parent, I totally get the motivation behind a decision like this, but as a twelve-year-old, I would've been horrified. And a horrified twelve-year-old always makes a great book.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

Once I knew I was stuffing a family into an RV to travel the country, I needed a reason for Maya, my main character, to desperately want to get back home. This reason changed entirely from the first draft to the published version, which meant a lot of rewriting to turn Maya into an aspiring country singer who wants to audition for a reality singing show. Then I had to figure out all of the crazy stuff she was going to do to try to get back home and the obstacles that were going to stand in her way. And – the most fun for me – I had to decide where her family was traveling.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh yeah, definitely! I rewrote the second half of this book twice before even showing it to my agent because I didn't like how the plot changed as I wrote it. The first version had Maya and company getting lost in the mountains instead of taking a long a bike ride. In my head, it was really light and funny, but as I wrote it, it got more serious (not enough food, wild animals, etc). So I ended up with a second half that didn't match the first half at all. Hello, rewriting!

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I keep an ideas file on my computer, but usually I have anywhere from one to three ideas sitting in the back of my brain, demanding to be written. Of the three taking up space in my head right now, one came from a co-worker's unique experience (day jobs are great for inspiration!), one came from something I love to do, and one was inspired by a song.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

This is the hardest part. I write both MG and YA (and last winter, I even tossed a chapter book into the mix to keep things interesting), so it depends on which one I'm in the mood to write. But once I choose, I don't let myself work on another project, unless the other project is already in the publication process and needs attention rightthissecond. Once I decide MG or YA, I pick the project that appeals to me the most at the moment – the one I can see myself excited to get up and write at 5 a.m.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

Ha, yes! I had a great scene in OUT OF TUNE with slugs attaching themselves to a frozen towel. That came from a real life experience when my washing machine died (while filled with sopping wet towels, of course). Let's just say I had no idea that many slugs lived in my backyard, and I had to Google “how to remove slugs from frozen towels.” (Spoiler alert: Google was unhelpful.) I ended up cutting that scene, but it still lives on my computer, hoping to fit into another book some day.