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.
Today’s guest for the WHAT is Anna Hecker who holds an MFA in fiction writing from The New School. Her debut YA title When The Beat Drops released from SkyPony on May 15th.
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?
Poetically enough, I got the idea for When the Beat Drops on the dance floor.
I was at a warehouse party deep in Brooklyn, covered in glitter and dancing hard to a 3am set. Earlier that week I’d gotten laid off from my job of two years. I’d posted about it on Facebook, and people kept coming up and congratulating me. It reminded me that jobs come and go but this scene was my home; these people were my family. I had this giant “aha!” moment on the dance floor where I realized I wanted to write about this world, and the pure romance and magic of falling in love with a subculture for the first time.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
Falling into a new subculture is a lot like starting a new relationship. There’s a “romance” period where it’s all glitter and unicorns, and then you start to see the flaws and the dark side. With the dance music/rave subculture, it’s often about drugs, lack of sleep, and burnout. You come to a point where you have to decide if it’s really worth it, and figure out how to make it work on your own terms.
I knew this was the trajectory my story needed to take, but there were a million false starts between the initial concept 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?
So. Many. False. Starts!
Initially, When The Beat Drops took place in the 90s rave scene—but I was getting bogged down in historical accuracy, and I wanted it to feel more immediate, so I moved it to the present day.
Then I had this whole plot, inspired by a blog post by a former drug dealer, in which an attractive and charismatic older guy ropes my protagonist into selling molly for him at festivals. But I was having trouble rooting for a main character who would make that decision, so I scrapped that, too.
Finally, I landed on the idea of telling this story from the point-of-view of a budding DJ. I wanted the scene to feel really alien to her but I also needed her to be able to appreciate it from a musical perspective, so I started envisioning this introverted, nerdy jazz musician. That felt right: so many of my DJ friends have backgrounds in band or chorus or even opera. It also created some fun tension between her old jazz world and her newfound love of the dance music scene.
I kept a few elements from each of my false starts: that feeling of being gobsmacked at your first party, the charismatic older guy. But the story changed so much between when I first envisioned it and what was printed, it’s barely the same idea.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
I tend to have a lot of ideas for book titles—maybe because I also work as a copywriter? I’ll think of a title, and then I’ll think: “okay, what would that book be about?” Usually it’s laughably awful—I had one that started with the title The Lord’s Work and was this nutty tale about a missionary with a Jesus complex and had, like, spirit hauntings and exorcisms and stuff. Fortunately that didn’t make it past the outline stage.
My current WIP started as a comp: Call of the Wild meets Girls Gone Wild. I thought, man, that is a bad idea for a book. I’m going to write that.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I have a technique I call “proof of concept writing.” If I’m juggling multiple ideas I’ll write an outline for each that runs between one paragraph and three pages, then write a chapter or three as “proof of concept.” I pay attention to how it feels to be writing it: is it putting me in my flow zone? Am I gelling with the characters? Am I having fun? If the answer to any of these is “no,” I’m probably not going to be able to stick with the story for the length of an entire novel, since I have the attention span of a flea. I’ll put it in a drawer and move on.
Although right now I’m torn between two equally compelling ideas for my next book, and I’m seriously considering just crowd-sourcing them. There are worse ways to pick your next project than a Facebook poll, right?
I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?
I generally work in libraries or coffee shops, so my “writing buddies” are whoever’s around. I can usually tune out quiet conversation or other people tapping away at laptops, but every once in a while some film guys will sit down next to me and I’ll have to leave. I don’t know what it is about film guys. It’s like they’ve never heard of an “indoor voice.” And yes, it’s always guys, and yes, they’re always talking about film.