Novelist Claire Eliza Bartlett on Finding Inspiration

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 Claire Bartlett, whose debut We Rule the Night releases April 2.

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 origin came from a song, which turned into a research project, which turned into the novel. In late 2013 a friend gave me a spare ticket to a metal concert, and I listened to some of the band’s newer music before going. The song that caught my ear was called Night Witches, and was based on the true story of the world’s first all-female combat regiment. Several memoirs and nonfiction books later, I knew I had a novel on my hands.

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

I knew there were certain episodes in the story of the Night Witches that I wanted to include, so as I built on my themes of feminism and strong female friendship, and sketched out those scenes in my own world (which is historically based, but a fantasy setting). As I went I added scenes that I knew would be key for the development for the novel and my main characters. When I ran out of my key scenes, I finally made an outline to figure out which scenes I was missing.

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

Very early on I toyed with the idea of including a love interest, and his side of the war from the enemy’s perspective - but I quickly realized that not only did I want to focus on female friendship instead, but writing a third point of view would make the novel way too long!

Once I’d cleared him out of the way, things went pretty much the way I expected them to.

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

I probably read something every day where I think, ‘this would make a good novel.’ Sometimes I think it would make a good novel by someone else, but not by me. But sometimes an idea builds on a concept that’s lying fallow in my brain, and sometimes it goes into my ‘story hub,’ a Scrivener document that I have for any characters, settings, plots or concepts that I don’t have space for yet, but I don’t want to forget. I won’t say that my story hub is absolutely bursting with ideas, but I’m not going to run out of material any time soon!

I probably read something every day where I think, ‘this would make a good novel.’ Sometimes I think it would make a good novel by someone else, but not by me..png

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

Ooh, that’s a good question. For my next book, I’ve been slinging ideas at my agent. We talk about the market, where I am as a writer, and how future work might tie in with my existing work to try and figure out where to go next. Some ideas go back into percolation, and some we explore further together. Otherwise, it’s the capriciousness of my brain.

I also have been experimenting with writing short stories. I have a goal of writing 200 words on a short story every day - just to make sure I’m still paying attention and moving forward on it. Those 200 words feel like virtually nothing when I sit down to do them, but pretty quickly they add up!

I have a lot of 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 would love a writing buddy in the form of a furry animal. My dream animal right now is a wire-haired dachshund, but negotiations with the husband aren’t getting very far! (Husbands make terribly distracting writing buddies, by the way). Perhaps a cat is in the near future, but for now I’m writing solo.