We asked some of today's most exciting new writers - Jon Steele, Marissa Meyer, Wiley Cash, Charlotte Rogan, Alma Katsu, Chris Pavone, Mark Henshaw, Honor Molloy, Julie Cross, and Maria Dueñas - to share the inspiration behind their captivating debuts (and did some research on a few more favorites). Which debut will you check out first?
Jon Steele on The Watchers: In June of 2004, I’d quit television news and was hiding out in the south of France, with frequent visits to Lausanne to stare at the lake and mountains. One night, a friend and I were driving by Lausanne Cathedral and he pointed to a faint light on the lower balcony of the belfry. He told me it was the lantern of le guet de Lausanne…the watcher, the man who called the hour over Lausanne through the night as it had been done, each night, for 800 years. He said le guet de Lausanne was the last one of his kind in the world, and then he said, 'Would you like to meet him?' I knew, at once, there was a story to be told about this place and my imagination was desperate to find it.
Marissa Meyer on Cinder: Cinder started with a short story contest, for which I rewrote the fairy tale Puss in Boots with a sci-fi twist. It was so quirky and fun that I decided to expand it into an entire futuristic-fairy-tale universe. Some months later, I had a late-night vision of Cinderella running down the palace steps, but instead of losing her slipper, her foot fell off! Hence, my cyborg Cinderella was born.
Wiley Cash on A Land More Kind Than Home: This novel is based on a tragedy that occurred in Chicago about a decade ago. I wanted to tell the story, but I'd never been to Chicago, and I couldn't speak for the people there. I decided to place this story in my native North Carolina, and once I did it just came to life. —Wiley Cash
Charlotte Rogan on The Lifeboat: What do you do when murder is the price of survival? An old legal case about shipwrecked sailors inspired me to write The Lifeboat, which tells the story of Grace Winter, a 22-year-old woman who survives three weeks in an overcrowded lifeboat only to be put on trial for her life.
Alma Katsu on The Taker: I was inspired to write The Taker after a very spooky experience I had one night in the area around Concord, Massachusetts. I was driving home and had just passed an old Colonial-era farm when I thought I saw a man walking towards me on the side of the road. It was a foggy night and so I looked in the rearview mirror to make sure I'd passed him cleanly, only to see that he'd disappeared. Rather than become freaked out—which is what any sane person might do—being a writer, I started piecing together a story in my head. And because I adore Gothic fiction, it became a tragic love story. I imagined the man as a ghost pinned forever to that place, which I envisioned as his childhood home. He was trapped—he'd ..
That was the origin of The Taker. The story morphed and shifted a little in the ten years it took to write, but the essentials are still there: old New England, the supernatural, heartache and longing, and a love so strong that it transcends time. It's been called an epic supernatural love story, and I think that's pretty fitting.
Vanessa Diffenbaugh on The Language of Flowers: A Novel: I discovered Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers in a used bookstore when I was 16, and couldn’t believe it was such a well-kept secret. How could something so beautiful and romantic be virtually unknown? When I started thinking about the book I wanted to write, Victoria and the language of flowers came to me simultaneously. I liked the complication of a young woman who has trouble connecting with others communicating through a forgotten language that almost no one understands.
Christopher Coake on You Came Back: I wrote You Came Back(about a grieving father and husband confronted by a ghost) because I am always reminded that my current happiness—I'm remarried, some years after losing my first wife to cancer—is a result of past tragedy. I wanted to write a horror story...and I could think of nothing scarier, more devastating, than someone like me having to choose between a past and present, each full of love.
Chris Pavone on The Expats: A few years ago, I became what's known in the expat world as a 'trailing spouse'—I followed my wife's job to Europe, where I could no longer continue the career I'd had, could no longer be the person I'd been. I needed to reinvent myself, in a foreign land and a foreign language, and in the equally foreign universe of raising children and keeping house. I started writing about this very real (and somewhat boring) circumstance, then I decided to make the story somewhat unreal (and completely un-boring) by adding spies and a stolen fortune and more than one long-play con to a cast of extraordinarily clever characters, all of them telling crucial lies to the most important people in their lives.
Mark Henshaw on Red Cell: Like so many other aspiring writers, I'd always had the bug and needed a swift kick from my spouse to get me moving. My wife decided that I had a talent that was going to waste, so she made a bet with me—I could buy a new MacBook if I would use it to write a novel within one year, but she got the laptop if I failed. It actually took five years to finish the book, but my wife was merciful and let me keep the computer.
Red Cell grew out of my love for espionage stories that integrate real history into the plot. I don't want to give out any serious spoilers here, but I will say that during my research, I came across two real events that happened close together in time and space, the first involving ..
Red Cell grew out of my love for espionage stories that integrate real history into the plot. I don't want to give out any serious spoilers here, but I will say that during my research, I came across two real events that happened close together in time and space, the first involving the loss of some highly classified US military technology and the second involving a military strike that led to a major diplomatic incident. I thought, "those two events probably aren't connected, but it would be very interesting if they were." Connecting the dots led to a scenario where the US military could be targeted with an advanced weapon it helped create. Red Cell is my version of that scenario.
Honor Molloy on Smarty Girl: I grew up in a house filled with music and stories and song. Smarty Girl: Dublin Savage is a fictional version of that magical time when there was lively poetry to be heard on the streets and in the pubs and markets. It draws upon the story of my parents' love, their life in the theatre and what ultimately drove my mother and her six kids out of Ireland.
Ernest Cline on Ready Player One: Ready Player One was born out of my lifelong love of science fiction, and my obsession with classic video games and 80s pop culture. By crafting a novel that centered around things I was incredibly passionate about, I was able to maintain my own interest in the story as I was writing it, while also giving myself an opportunity to celebrate the icons and pop culture of my youth.
Julie Cross on Tempest: Tempest evolved after taking a premise from an old manuscript...guy witnesses girl friend's murder, jumps two years in the past and gets stuck there. I worked with my editor to create a brand new plot that had the action he was looking for and the epic love story I was dying to write. The layers of emotion, family drama, government thriller, and coming-of-age elements fell into place one by one as I wrote that first draft, so not exactly a big epiphany moment, but still a very enjoyable development process.
Maria Dueñas on The Time in Between: It all came originally from family memories. My mother, her parents, brothers and sisters lived in colonial Morocco for decades. The smells, the light and colors, the nostalgic scenes of that lost paradise remained in their hearts forever and were naturally transferred to their children. And so, when I thought about writing a novel, before having any plot or characters in mind, the only certainty I held was that, in a way or another, I would turn my eyes back to that legendary mixture of Europe and Africa to which my family once belonged.
Lissa Price on Starters: I got the idea for Starters when I couldn’t get a flu shot at Costco. They had a shortage and were only giving it to the very young, the very old and the infirm. And I thought what if this were a killer flu and the only people left were the very young and the very old? What kind of world would that be?
Regina O'Melveny on The Book of Madness and Cures: The novel began with a desire for healing in poetry - the rich taxonomy of the maladies and the cures, and then leapt into prose and story; began with the search for my father and the reasons for his disappearance decades after his death, and then leapt into the unknown. My inspirations stemmed from my Italian mother's art studio full of books on Renaissance paintings, my journeys to Europe, madness in the family, dreams, and my daughter coming into her own wisdom as a doctor.
Madeline Miller on The Song of Achilles: I have loved ancient Greece since I was five and my mother began reading me the Greek myths. I was enthralled: by the larger-than-life gods, the epic adventures, and most particularly by the stories of the Trojan War, with its noble and deeply flawed heroes. "Sing, goddess, of the terrible rage of Achilles," begins the Iliad. The words resonated in me, lingering long after my mother had closed the book and turned out the light.
Years later, when I became a student of Greek and Latin, I immediately sought out the Iliad. Achilles’ story was just as gripping as it had always been, and I found myself particularly moved by his desperate grief over the loss of his companion ..
Years later, when I became a student of Greek and Latin, I immediately sought out the Iliad. Achilles’ story was just as gripping as it had always been, and I found myself particularly moved by his desperate grief over the loss of his companion Patroclus. Patroclus is no more than a minor character in the Iliad, yet Achilles mourns him with a shocking intensity, unlike anything else in the entire work. Why? Who is this man whose death could undo the mighty Achilles?
The answers I found—about Patroclus’ exile, his compassion and loyalty, his courageous and gentle heart—eventually became The Song of Achilles.
Adam Mitzner on A Conflict of Interest: The first thing that I thought about when I began developing the plot in my own mind was actually the idea of Batman and comic book superheroes. And in particular this idea that we all sort of have a secret identity—there's the identity you have at work and the identity you have at home and the idea that they're all in some way a part of you. But which one is the real you? And that, I like to think is the theme that runs through A Conflict of Interest, this idea that you can be different things to different people and either have to come to grips with the fact that they're all you or pick the one that you feel is your truest self.
Carole DeSanti on The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R: In my first real publishing job, which will always stand as my favorite, a clairvoyant came to our offices to sell his book proposal. I was a skeptical intellectual at the time, thinking that I was headed to grad school, and gave him pretty short shrift. But he told me, among other things, that I’d had a 'past life' as a prostitute in France. I considered this something of a joke. However, after I was laid off when the company merged and downsized – which was a heartbreaking situation – I had time on my hands, was reading for the GRE’s and I procured a battered old copy of Zola’s Nana. I devoured it in a night — but it also bothered me: Zola’s heroine had no soul, no interior ..
Alex Grecian on The Yard: I think I’m drawn back to the past and to England specifically because I read voraciously as a child (still do) and most of what I read was set in England. British writers tended to write better children’s stories, in my opinion, than American authors did. There was often an undercurrent of darkness and bitterness in British writing that I didn’t see in American books for children and young adults, which tended to be more upbeat and have happier endings. I never believed in happy endings. So after a steady diet of Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan and Chocolate Factories, rats and moles and lost shadows and rabbit holes, England somehow became, for me, the place where stories happen. Sure, I read the Hardy Boys ..
Beatriz Williams on Overseas: Though I pounded out the initial draft in a few frenzied weeks, you might say I've been writing Overseas all my life. It combines the two worlds I know best: the British experience in the First World War, and modern-day Wall Street. As the daughter of a British national, I spent my childhood absorbing English culture and literature, from Elizabethan plays to boarding-school slang. Even so, it wasn't until I took a college seminar on turn-of-the-century Europe that the period 1900-1918 really began to capture my imagination. So when I began to fiddle around with writing as an adult, the Edwardian period (and the First World War in particular) made a natural starting point.
None of my
None of my ideas really worked, however, until the middle of a writing workshop one summer. The image of a Great War infantry captain popped fully-formed into my head, walking the streets of modern-day Manhattan. But how had he arrived there? What was he doing? And why? Browsing through my old writing files one day, I came across a scene I'd scribbled long ago, in which a modern history student had found a way to travel back through time and warn a soldier of his impending death. There at last, the pieces clicked, and I knew I had my plot.
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