G.S. Prendergast On Dreams As 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 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.

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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.

Finding Inspiration In Your Passions: Malayna Evans

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 Malayna Evans, author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh has long enjoyed crafting stories that feature and promote ancient Egyptian settings, characters and artifacts. Jagger Jones gave her the opportunity to share her passion for ancient history with today’s middle graders and pursue her dream of becoming a published author.

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?

Absolutely. The moment is crystal clear in my memory.

First, two things-to-know about my biography. One, I’m an Egyptologist by training. And two, my kids are biracial. Now that you know those tidbits…

I was having lunch with my son—he was nine or ten at the time—talking about ancient Egypt, one of my favorite topics. He’d asked what ancient Egyptians looked like and when I said he’d fit in well, he told me someone should write a book about a kid like him who went back in time. He spontaneously whipped up a title and set up: the book should be called The Eye of the Mummy and the kid should fall into a mummy’s eye to time travel.

He and I went home and wrote a chapter that afternoon. Not much about that initial chapter is still in the manuscript, but the inspiration is solid.

(And my son, now a teenager, loves pointing out that the book was his idea.)

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

When my son suggested time travel via mummy, I immediately thought of a tomb from the Amarna period--my favorite historical period--that features images of princess Meketaten’s death. Her death, and mummy, still shape the plot.

I was also influenced by an ancient Egyptian blessing: Ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity, and health. I wanted to examine modern vs. ancient notions of life, prosperity, and health in a format that would entertain young readers. So book one has the modern kids fighting for their own lives while the ancient characters fret about the afterlife. Book two, Wedja, will similarly explore modern vs. ancient ideas surrounding prosperity. And book three, Seneb, health.

It’s mostly mummies, magic and giant scorpions, but these elements were my scaffolding.

I find it really useful to have different projects percolating at once. I can’t edit when I’m too close to a manuscript, so immersing myself in a different one helps me see the manuscript I should be editing with fre.png

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. My first version had a murkier (dare I admit, more academic) plot that kids probably wouldn’t have found all that fun to read. I didn’t realize it was all wrong until I had the entire idea down on paper. Once I let it percolate, and got some advice from some more experience writing pros, I realized I needed to start over with a crisper plot. I sketched out a general idea—the idea influenced the manuscript but I adapted as I went. As the characters became clearer in my mind, it was easier to figure out what they’d do in given situations. So I’d say I tailored twists and turns to my characters’ strengths, weaknesses, resources and quirks more than anything else.

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

I have a million ideas in my head, but most of them don’t stick long. Almost anything can spark an idea: something I read, a tweet, an image. I have one idea twirling around my brain now that was trigger by a phrase I heard in passing that I thought would make a nice book title.

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

I have about five manuscripts in some stage of development on my laptop. If an idea loiters in my head long enough—for a few months—I’ll write a few chapters down then ignore it. If I’m still thinking about it a few months later, and it moves me when I review my first stab, I push it forward. I find it really useful to have different projects percolating at once. I can’t edit when I’m too close to a manuscript, so immersing myself in a different WIP helps me see the manuscript I should be editing with fresh eyes.

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?

My rescue dog, Caesar, has been by my side through a huge chunk of my writing. My ten-year-old daughter is my review partner: I read what I’ve written and she gives it a thumbs up…or down. (She is brutally honest.) And I spend an embarrassing amount of time writing in coffee shops. The energy and buzz helps me focus. Plus…. caffeine!

Avoid Shiny New Idea Syndrome By Letting Your Ideas Bake: With Ryan Uytdewilligen

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 Ryan Uytdewilligen who was born and raised outside the small Canadian prairie city of Lethbridge, Alberta. He gained an obsession for film in his teen years, taking in all the classics while developing the ability to name you every Oscar Winner from memory.

In 2016, he published his first non-fiction work; a film history examination called 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies. That same year he released his first fiction book—Tractor, a YA novel with Sartoris Literary. His next fiction work, Akela, has been released by BHC Press along with his first novella, a western titled The Last Cattle Drive. Kids Can Press will release his first children’s picture book in the coming future.

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 love stories where animals talk and converse and live their daily lives like humans do. So I was always very eager to write a story like that which was geared for adults. I love historical fiction, particularly stories like Forrest Gump that traverse through moments that we are familiar with and use them as a backdrop – particularly the forties through eighties like that movie does. And finally, I was in film school when I had this funny notion that sea turtles live a really long time – centuries – so they would most definitely see a lot in their life if they moved around. With all those elements in my head, something connected and the story was born!!

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

The hardest part was choosing where the turtle went and what made sense for the story. You can’t just do what Forrest Gump did but he can’t just stay on the Hawaiian Islands either where he is from. He needs goals and obstacles. Once I pinpointed Pearl Harbor as an inciting incident, I think everything clicked and what followed made sense. The character had to be tested and putting him in places where sea turtles don’t belong (The desert/ arctic) and places I’m generally interested in to bring to life (The White House/ San Francisco 1968), it was a blast.

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

For this particular story, the plot was fairly firm because I knew where it was going to start and end. I knew the bulk of historical events I wanted to cover, but sometimes I’d come to a location and think “wow, this was also happening there at this time.” If it made sense for the story, it would be added to bring color. For example, Akela ends up in Las Vegas in the late 1940’s. That’s when Bugsy Segal and the mob were still setting everything up and so naturally that was a great fit – even though it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment. I think that spontaneity helped make it wildly unpredictable while supporting the overlying story arc.

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

Oh, I’m blessed with the ability to generate story ideas. I can’t help but watch something or read something and wonder “why didn’t they do it this way.” Then a story is born from that. During conversations, someone will say a notion or thought and I’ll be flooded away on some tangent because it’s given me an idea. I have an endless supply – the biggest problem is that I’ll never have the time to properly develop them all or write them into full fledged stories.

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

You have to let your ideas bake. I’ve done it a few times where I get really into an idea because of an existing work I’m obsessed with in that moment. Sometimes you are so taken with your own idea, all you can do is write as fast as you can. But after a few days or months, you run out of steam and your attention turns to something different. Sometimes you lose the entire point on why you wanted to write the story in the first place or what it represents for you. I know it’s the right project because it’s stewed and baked in my head for months and even years. I came up with this story, Akela, over five years ago. I baked it for about two years and got really excited the more and more I thought about it. I have stories in my head now that I would love to write, but that may not be the best choice because they’re so new. Let it sit for a few months and then you’ll know if it’s something you truly want to pursue.

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 have a cat, Cat Stevens, who usually lies on the desk to bask in the warmth of my laptop. When he wants attention, he will meow until he gets it. Usually, he’s fairly quiet and lets me work though. He’s a good distraction when the words aren’t coming. As far as human’s go, I prefer to be a lone wolf when it comes to writing. I would love to work with others, but for now, getting a sense and developing my own personal skills and abilities as a writer seems to be the most important project of all.