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 Rachele Alpine, author of both MG and YA novels. Her newest MG release YOU THROW LIKE A GIRL, about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to play the sport she loves, releases today!
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?
Yes! When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with hockey. I watched it, I read books about it, I played street hockey on rollerblades, and begged my mom to let me learn to play on ice. The problem was, my local ice rinks didn’t have a program for girls. I always thought about how unfair that was (and for the record, they do let girls play now), and the idea for You Throw Like a Girl came out of there
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
I would have dressed up like a boy and played hockey in a heartbeat if I could have gotten away from it, so that’s what my main character does. I loved writing about her experience trying to fool the boys’ team! I tried to figure out problems that she’d get into and obstacles along the way. I didn’t want the path to be easy for her, so it was a lot of fun trying to come up with funny situations to put my character into and figuring out ways she could get out of them. I sometimes feel bad that I torture my characters, but it’s always out of love, and they always prevail!
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
I used to write with a plot in mind and then sit down and see how where it goes. When I wrote like that, my story was always changing and surprising me. However, now that I juggle teaching and being a mother, I’ve gotten a lot more rigid in my writing. I don’t sit down to write a book into a have a very firm story in place. I’ve sold my last few books on proposal, and instead of turning in a summary to my editor, I give her a chapter by chapter outline that is usually nine to eleven pages. I find it’s so much easier to write this way because life is so busy, and I try to squeeze my writing time into any little space I can.
However, you can’t really develop voice in an outline, so I find that as I begin to draft my story, my main character’s personality comes out and she starts to take over the story. There are definitely twists and turns that take me off the path of the outline, but I always find that those are the most fun, because they surprise me and usually make the story better.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
I always say that my mind is a crazy crazy place because it’s never quiet. It’s full of story ideas, characters, and “what ifs” spinning around. I have a notebook where I jot down all my book ideas as they come and always have a few that seem to be whispering for me to write them.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
It’s usually the one that I can’t stop thinking about. My books come to me in scenes, so I’m constantly visualizing chapters in my mind. I usually write the one that is the most vivid and keeps coming back.
I write middle grade and YA. I started writing YA first, but my YA is pretty dark and focuses on heavy topics. I always say that I started writing middle grade, because I need something funny after writing a book that was pretty depressing. I like to jump back and forth, because it’s not always easy to dwell too long in the worlds of my YA novels. My middle grades give me a much needed escape and laugh!
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 definitely draw information from the world around me. I teach high school American Literature, so I’m surrounded by teenagers every day. What we read often sparks discussions and debates about what is important to them, and it’s those ideas, fears, and worries that inspire what I write. Not everything I write is a based off of my opinions or views on a topic, but the way I see the world definitely influences what I write and the themes in my books all spring from issues that I feel connected to in some way. My writing is often a way to understand things that are going on in my world, even if I’m exposing the ugly side of things. I’m working to create some kind of meaning to what is oftentimes hard to understand or accept.