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 is Gabrielle Prendergast who writes picture books and middle grade and YA contemporary and historical as Gabrielle Prendergast. Her science fiction and fantasy is published as G.S. Prendergast. She has won the Monte Miller Award, the Westchester Fiction Award and The BC Book Prize as well as being nominated or short listed for numerous other honors.
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?
The series I’m just finishing up now with COLD FALLING WHITE (November 2019 from Simon & Schuster BFYR) started with a dream. But even though the book is about an alien invasion, there were no aliens in the dream. It was mainly a feeling. In the dream an injured girl was being carried up stairs over several levels. She didn’t know the man who was carrying her—he was kind of just a shadowy figure—but she was terrified of him, as though he represented something dangerous and violent.
And yet she wasn’t sure if she was being kidnapped or rescued, if she was threatened or protected. For a long time I didn’t know what to do with this very amorphous idea. I thought for a while that the man might be in a crime gang or something. But then one day I thought about writing about an alien invasion and I thought “That’s it! The man is an alien!” I know there are quite a few books and movies about alien invasions but I thought I could do something different with it. That’s where ZERO REPEAT FOREVER was born.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
One thing I struggled with through multiple drafts was when to start the story. In my first draft the story started over a hundred years after the aliens, the Nahx, invaded. The next draft started fifteen years after the invasion. Then I tried five years after the invasion. Finally I realized that I could start the story the day of the invasion! My key issue was that I needed my human protagonist, Raven, to have a deep fear, hatred and mistrust for the Nahx. I had thought this was something that might be ingrained into her community but I realized that in situations of war, the fear and hatred would grow very quickly.
The other breakthrough I had was to tell half the story from the point of view of the one of the Nahx, Eighth. Once those two things were in place I “pantsed” the rest of the story because the plot came from these two characters learning to trust each other and fighting their way out of danger.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Yes! For a long time I envisioned a kind of push and pull relationship between Raven and her dead boyfriend’s twin, Topher. But as I wrote I discovered that was NOT what was happening. No spoilers but much is revealed in the sequel! Also major plot and even premise issues are often first revealed to me just as I finish the first draft.
When I wrote ZERO REPEAT FOREVER I didn’t figure out what the Nahx were actually doing on Earth until I wrote the last few scenes of book 2! And characters reveal things as I write. When I was writing AUDACIOUS, the love interest. Sam, revealed on the page as I wrote that his name was actually Samir and that he was Muslim! Suddenly I had all this research to do. But it fit the story so well, given the main character’s, Ella, is losing her faith.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Another manuscript I’m just finishing up came from a dream. I also wrote an award winning screenplay based on a dream. I usually have at least one really usable story dream every six months or so. Some of them become books or stories. Some don’t. But they are entertaining. Many of them are very epic and visually stunning, and complete with character names and minute details. Sometimes they even come with a title!
I also get ideas from misreading things sometimes. Or things my daughter says. She was the inspiration for PANDAS ON THE EAST SIDE because she babbled something along those lines when she was about five.
I have a database (actually just a Word document) 23 pages long with ideas waiting to be brought to life. I’ll never get to them all!
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I dabble with a few of them. One of the first things I do is try to write what amounts to the query letter. If that’s easy, then it’s a good idea to work on. Queries are easy to write if a story has a clear premise and genre and a strong and obvious protagonist. After that I might pitch a couple of them to my agent. I take her advice about what she thinks sounds interesting and sellable.
I usually have a few things percolating at once, to a maximum of seven. In the past my hit rate has been pretty good with getting the majority of those seven to publication one way or another.
I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?
I don’t have pets in the house because I’m allergic, but I do have two pet chickens that live in the yard. Sometimes if I’m feeling uninspired I’ll go out and dig up worms with them. Mostly though, I like complete silence and solitude to write. I’m driven mad by my husband and daughter coming in and out, my husband taking business calls, the radio on, music. I could never write in a coffee shop. I have been known to write in my car outside my daughter’s music lessons though.