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 Moriah McStay, fellow Katherine Tegen author of EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU, releasing March 17th. Moriah grew up in Memphis, TN, where she acquired a come-and-go drawl and a lifelong love of cowboy boots and fried pickles. She attended Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Two graduate degrees and seven jobs later, she finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up.
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 was in an accident at age one that left me blind in one eye. You can’t tell now, but you could when I was younger. My eyes were different colors, and I had to wear big protective glasses. I couldn’t play contact sports, went to tons of doctors, had school pics taken in profile rather than face on. Looking back, it doesn’t feel that big a deal, but at the time, it was.
Often, I wondered how much of me was determined by that single, freak accident. And what about my brother and sister? My parents? How did the accident shape their lives? What about everyone else’s individual experiences? What about my friend whose father died when she was young? Or the classmate with cancer? How did those events shape them?
There are so many “what ifs”–we all have them. It’s an interesting question to explore, I think.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
For the longest time, I did NOTHING. I started thinking about writing a book around this idea–exploring how we each come to be the person we are–when I was in college. In fact, I had this idea for SO LONG that when I saw the Sliding Doors trailer, I said to my then-boyfriend (now-husband), “That’s my book.” I didn’t see the movie for years, scared it would affect how I’d tell the story. (I finally watched it while I was revising my first draft, looking for tips on how to deal with certain elements.)
I’d say there was a good fifteen years between the original idea and the final draft.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Uh, yes! My original plan was to follow lots of events, because seemingly insignificant things can create enormous impacts. It was impossible to follow, though.
Later, I focused on Fiona (the girl with the burn) thinking it was her story–Fi’s purpose was as a counterpoint. But Fi ended up flat and uninteresting, and I had to create more of an independent story line for her.
Lessons learned from ETMY (and my next novel) are why I don’t outline anymore—it takes forever, and I abandon it in days. Now I keep a general direction in mind, but otherwise try to get out of the way of the story. My first drafts are a mess because of it, but the end result is better, I think.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
I have a list of ideas that I’ll never get through, even if I live a hundred more years and write 18 hours straight a day.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I ask this question: On the off-chance I’m run over by a bus the moment I finish the next WIP, what do I want to have written the most?
If dinosaurs were real and had you to marry one, which would make the best spouse?
I’m going to say Pterodactyl, because I could ride on his back, which would almost be like flying.