Jennifer Fenn On Finding Inspiration In Real Life

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 Jennifer Fenn, author of FLIGHT RISK. She is a graduate of Lycoming College and Rosemont College's MFA program.

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?

My book was inspired by a true story, that of Colton Harris Moore, aka “The Barefoot Bandit.” When I first became aware of Harris Moore’s story in 2010, he was still on the run from law enforcement after stealing several planes. I was fascinated by this story immediately. While I knew what he was doing was dangerous and illegal, a large part of me did not want to see him caught. I’m a mom, a former teacher and a law-abiding citizen, so I was very interested in exploring what about Harris Moore made me so sympathetic toward him. I first wrote a fictional piece inspired by his story in the form of a flash fiction piece. A year or so later, I was teaching “Maniac Magee” in my 7th grade classroom. The rhyme Jerry Spinelli created about his main character on the first page of that book gave a new layer of meaning to the story I already had percolating in my mind: how are legends and folk heroes created in our media-saturated society? Both the appeal of the anti-hero and that question drove the creation of my novel “Flight Risk.”  

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

I’m a “pantser,” but I nearly always write my endings first, and that was the case with “Flight Risk.” I had a particular image, that of a giant, “lollipop” moon as seen from the pilot’s seat of a stolen plane. I knew I wanted to end with that and wrote it first. I also knew I wanted to work with multiple points of view, so I began writing scenes in several different voices. Basically, if there’s a scene I’m pumped to write, I write it, no matter where it exists in the story chronologically. Then I have to work to connect my scenes to create a coherent structure.  

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

Yes, particularly as someone who rarely outlines. I find that to be the most satisfying, magical part of writing—when suddenly I’m typing a scene that I didn’t know was coming!!  

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

Story ideas come to me often enough, but unless I can envision an ending, I rarely pursue them further. As I’ve said, I don’t outline, but I need a destination on the map!  

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

Usually, one story starts to interest me more than another. Another thing I always do is ‘soundtrack’ my stories. Creating a playlist to go with a work in progress helps me determine the story’s mood and really inspires me. If a playlist starts to emerge for a particular idea, that’s become, for me, a sign that it could be a keeper.  

I always, always, always empty my bladder before I start writing. Nothing stops short a burst creativity like a burst of urine. Do you have any “musts” before you sit down to write? 

As the mother of a small child, I’ve learned to not be as choosey about the conditions under which I write. I’ve written with my newborn daughter napping on top of me, in the car on family vacations, and recently knocked out 19 pages in a Target café. Flexibility has become a part of my style!