Tabitha Lord, 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 Tabitha Lord, whose debut novel, HORIZON, won the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize for Self-Published fiction in 2016, and was named finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Awards. The sequel, INFINITY, was released in June 2017. Tabitha also has short fiction published and soon-to-be published through World Weaver Press, Kristell Ink, and Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

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’ve always been a big sci-fi fan, so when I started writing fiction I knew it would be sci-fi, at least to start. When I’m in a creative, imaginative place, my mind generally goes straight to sci-fi! For me, this genre is also a place to consider serious, meaningful issues in a different context, slightly removed from the real world. 

With the Horizon series, I had two distinct parts of a story floating in my head. The first was the crash sequence at the start of book 1. It was more basic at the time of its inception – just a young man who crash-lands on a planet, and a young woman, in some kind of trouble, who saves his life. 

The second part was more complex. I was playing with the idea of what would happen if one segment of an already small, isolated population evolved differently, either naturally or by design, from the other. What if some had gifts that enabled them to imagine a different kind of future for themselves and their world? What if they were empathic and could sense each other’s emotions and thoughts? What if some of them could heal with their mind? How would the unchanged people feel about their neighbors? Then I thought, what if the young woman who saves the pilot is one of those gifted people? It created such an interesting premise I knew I had to find a way to make the whole thing into a story.

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

I was so excited when the two ideas I mentioned earlier coalesced that I just dove into writing. Pretty quickly, though, the concept grew beyond a standalone novel, and I knew that if I didn’t get my thoughts organized, I could really lose my way. I took a brief time-out from drafting and roughly outlined all three books. I knew, at the very least, where each book had to begin and end. The outline became the framework for each book, around which I filled in the details and let the creativity flow. 

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

That’s a great question, and the answer is yes and no! I’ve read several great blogs about the difference between “story” and “plot”, and although I know a good bit about writing craft, it wasn’t until I came upon the simplest definition of the two that something shifted in my process. Story is the “what” and plot is the “how." Many plotlines can tell the same story.

I’ve definitely made major changes to my manuscripts - from the outline to the first draft and from the first draft to the final edition. This used to feel very disconcerting to me, especially during developmental edits, when entire scenes would get tossed or reimagined. But when I embraced the idea that the plot could change in service to the story, I settled down a bit. I want the best telling of my story, and I’m willing to rework the plot until I get there. So, I’ve had ideas firmly in mind that changed as I wrote or edited, but my overall story concept remained intact and served as the driving force for the book.

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

It’s funny because the stumbling block that prevented me from writing fiction for years was this notion that I didn’t have any good ideas, or that even if I had the seed of an idea, I wouldn’t be able to turn it into a whole story. Once I started writing, both notions completely disappeared. It was like the dam burst! But what I really think happens is that being creative inspires more creativity. The activity of writing inspires more writing. 

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

Right now I’m writing a series, so although I do have other ideas percolating, I’ve committed to finishing this project. In between writing the full-length novels, I’ll often write short stories. They create the same satisfying feeling of completing a story arc, but in a fraction of the time, and they give me a chance to explore other ideas. But when I know I’ve hit on an idea that wants to be a novel, I’ll take the time to outline it, and then I’ll save it and tell it to wait its turn!  

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

I recently read a quote attributed to Albert Camus that said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” I have to say, that feels like an awful lot of pressure! My goal with writing is, first and foremost, to tell a good story. But I believe that most writers have a theme they tackle, or some issue they wrestle with, through their writing. With the Horizon series, I’m definitely exploring the idea of what it means to be a hero. What quality of character compels a person to risk their life for an ideal, or for a stranger? Who takes a stand? Who fights? Who turns a bling eye? I think these are questions for all ages, as relevant now as they ever were in human history. I’m inspired by today’s world to keep asking those questions.