Seems so fittingly Murphy's Law that the one question I'm most often asked is the one I have no answer for. Ask me how I created my characters, and I could talk all day. Ask me about plotting and the use of flashbacks in my novel and I'll chew your ear right off. Hell, you could even ask me about theme and tone and metaphor and all that other stuff I haven't thought about since 10th grade English and I'd hold my own. But ask me this one question — you know, the question every
one asks — and... I got nothin'.
"What inspired you to write Hate List?"
Well, even I'm smart enough to know that a blank stare and a shoulder-shrug isn't the most appropriate answer to this question. Nor is it considered good manners to go all Introspective Writer on an interviewer in the middle of an interview and just sit... thinking... tapping a pen on my bottom lip contemplatively.
Yet, what do you do when every interview you've given has used this as its anchor question? I have no idea — every time I've attempted to come up with a satisfying answer to the inspiration question, all my answer's really amounted to was elaborate shoulder-shrugging and/or long, fruitless contemplation.
At first I went the easy route, explaining how the Nickelback song, "If Everyone Cared," got stuck in my head while I slept and I woke up with the novel idea. Which is true, but makes me sound a little bit 12, plus I wouldn't really say that song was the inspiration behind the novel. More like an anchor to keep the story in the harbor while I worked on its engine.
So I changed my answer. I went with, "Well, I think a lot of things have come together at just the right time..." which is a really fancy way of using a lot of words to say nothing at all.
And now I find myself saying, "You know, I wish I had a definitive answer for that," which is probably the most truthful answer I've given thus far ("I wish I could give you an answer, Bob, but it turns out I got nuthin'" would be only slightly more truthful), but again... what is that answer saying? Basically it's saying, "Idunno" *shrugs shoulders*.
But the truth is I really don't know what inspired Hate List. It's not like I sat down one day and racked my brain to come up with an edgy and dark novel that would say something about society and make readers think about their role in it. Not that I tossed around various tragedies — bus accident, deadly fire, war crime — and rejected them, one-by-one until I landed on a tragedy that best suited my taste. It's not like I got out my calculator and plugged some numbers into my handy dandy Idea Formulator and the sum of X,Y, and Z equaled School Shooting.
The idea just... happened.
It was just there.
Honestly, that's not really all that unusual, an idea just being there, ready for me to write it.
And I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet if you polled a hundred writers, they would tell you that they've had this happen to them. A story is just... waiting for them. It pops out at them when they're drifting off to sleep or visits them in dreams or swirls around in the mist while they're showering. And maybe many of those writers would tell you that these "just there" ideas turned out to be the stories they loved the best.
And I, truthfully, think that's one of the most magical parts of being a writer.
Magic happens when a story chooses a writer to do the writing. When an idea strikes and you have no idea if you're even capable of sitting in the same room with that story, but you think you might try anyway because... well, why not? And when you do and it works... aha! Abracadabra! Magic happens, and suddenly the writer is inspired by a story idea, rather than inspired with it.
I guess even if I could sit down and timeline it out, dissect it, define it, pinpoint the exact origin of the inspiration behind not just Hate List, but any of my story ideas... I still wouldn't do it. Even if it meant I could finally answer this question that dogs me in every interview. Even if I could land upon an answer that would make me sound smart and philosophical and calculated and like I know what I'm doing.
Nope. Still wouldn't do it.
Because as much as I like answers... I like magic even more.