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 Amanda Hosch, author of Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules For Spying, which releases October 1. Amanda loves writing, travel, and coffee. She lived abroad for almost a decade, teaching English as a Foreign Language. A fifth generation New Orleanian, Amanda now lives in Seattle with her husband, their two daughters, and a ghost cat. When not writing, she’s a reading tutor for elementary school kids or volunteering at the school library.
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 doing dishes when this strong voice popped into my head to say, “My parents swear they don’t hate me, but all the evidence contradicts their feeble denials.” Intrigued, I jotted the sentence down on a piece of paper. I didn’t know her name, but I knew her nickname was Moppet (after the kitten in Beatrix Potter), her parents were spies, and she knew their secret. It was summer so I didn’t have a lot of free time and I was querying a middle grade adventure. However, every time I sat down to manage my queries, Moppet shared more of her secrets. When my kids went back to school in September, I really knew Moppet’s backstory. I finished the rough draft in six weeks writing in three-hour intervals, three times a week.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
Mabel knows that her parents love her, despite her constant complaints at being left home when they are out on a mission. One of the first things I did was rewrite and expand the Moscow Rules from Mabel’s point-of-view. Once I had her Rules for a Successful Life as an Undercover Secret Agent, I build the plot around the question of how would an eleven-year-old act as a spy in her own home/hometown when the enemy was estranged family members who were eating up all of her favorite food?
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
For other books, yes. But MOPRS, while changing and growing, stayed remarkably similar to how I envisioned it. If I were to physically plot out on a map the actions/places of MOPRS, it would look remarkably the same from the first draft to the final. However, the motives, reasons, and even how the characters move about changed so much. Plus, the HEGs went from being mean girls to being super-nice and friendly (way too friendly). Also, Mabel’s cousin Victoria changed a lot. She’s a much richer and fuller character now (thanks to amazing guidance from my amazing editor).
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Sometime, the shiny new ideas come at me like a fire hose. Other times, it’s nothing.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I’m currently working on two WIPs right now. One is a hot mess YA (historical) that breaks me all the time. Seriously, some days, I’m writing through the tears. However, it’s a story that I’ve felt compelled to tell for years and years. I never thought I was quite up to writing it until last year (see answer 6.) I probably would have quit writing it many times except for my writing group who are so encouraging.
The other one is a fun MG, which brings me joy to write. It’s similar to MOPRS in that I love the characters and the world. I haven’t shown it to anyone yet because I sort of need to keep it to myself for a bit. In many ways, it’s my reward to write the MG.
2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?
Oh, yes! I remember how I felt at the beginning of 2016—so optimistic and happy! I had a book deal (finally!) and my editor was a joy to work with. However, 2016 took a very bleak turn on Valentine’s Day morning. Got a call from a New Orleans police detective. As soon as she introduced herself, I knew what she was going to say. By the time she contacted me, my older brother had been dead for a few days. I flew out as soon as possible to officially identify his body. Before I left home, I wrote my brother’s obituary as an act of service to him. It took half a day, but I wanted to highlight the good he had done as a public school teacher.
This all happened when I was doing the final edits of MOPRS. It was only afterwards that I realized if I could write my brother’s obit, I could write anything—no matter how difficult (see hot mess of YA historical).
And then there was the election, which broke me all over again. So, yes, I’ve used my rage from the last year (and on-going rage this year) to fuel my writing, to keep me going when I feel like stopping, and remind myself that stories are needed.
However, writing and reading are also refuges for me, places of joy and replenishment. So, I try to honor that also.