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 Melanie Hooyenga whose time travel series, The Flicker Effect, tells the story of Biz, a 17-year old who uses sunlight to travel back to yesterday, and her sports romance series, The Rules, follows three teens as they navigate love and sports.
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?
My latest release, The Trail Rules, is the second in a series about girls in Colorado trying to figure out life while spending every free minute skiing, mountain biking, and snowboarding. The idea for the series was sparked during the 2014 Olympics. We were buried under 100+ inches of snow and I decided it’d be fun to write about a girl who was not only a skier, but a freestyle skier—meaning she does tricks and flips that I could only dream of attempting. The second book takes place in late summer/early fall, and since a lot of skiers and snowboarders mountain bike in the off-season, that’s what my main character does. The main character in book three, which comes out October 2018, is about a skier who’s learning to snowboard.
My earlier series, The Flicker Effect, came to me in lightning bolt fashion. It’s about a girl who uses sunlight to go back to yesterday, and it was sparked by the sun flickering through the trees while I was driving. Out of nowhere the idea popped into my head: What if there’s a girl who, when the light does this, she goes back to yesterday? And a trilogy was born.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
The Trail Rules is a companion novel to The Slope Rules, so while readers have already met my main character Mike (Mikayla), I wanted to dive into what makes her hopes for the future and what makes her happy. At the end of book one, life has come together for her and she thinks she has everything she wants (spoiler: she doesn’t), so I had to figure out what would have to change to make her question her decisions.
I knew her boyfriend would teach her how to mountain bike, and from there I decided to introduce a new group of friends who would encourage her to be her true self. There was a lot of school drama in book one around Mike’s former BFF, so that continues (and leads into book three), plus her parents are cracking down for her to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Funny you should ask, because that happened with The Trail Rules. I’ve always been an outliner, but I keep things pretty loose to allow myself and my characters the freedom to explore the story. But Mike totally threw me for a loop when (minor spoiler) she fell for the boy who was just supposed to be a distraction. I had to rewrite the outline for the second half of the book to allow the new relationship to grow. The plot-based parts of the story didn’t change much, but having to switch gears on the love interest definitely surprised me!
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
In the past, I really struggled with ideas. I need to know how a story ends before I can start writing, so unless I could see my way to The End in the notes phase, I didn’t consider it an Official Idea. My first published book, Flicker, was the first in a series, so I had the next couple books all plotted out. I got the idea for The Slope Rules when I was starting Faded, so I dove right into that next. This is really the first time I get to choose my own adventure.
As I’ve written more, I’ve learned to let my mind wander to tickle out ideas. I have a background in advertising and marketing, so I love brainstorming and seeing where a seemingly crazy idea can lead.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
This is a very timely question, because I’m struggling with this right now. I have two very different ideas for novels—one’s a light-hearted road-trip New Adult and the other is a darker, more psychological thriller YA—and every time I talk about them, I change my mind on which I want to write next. I finally settled on the darker one, which will be perfect since the days are getting shorter and I love writing when it’s dark and gloomy out.
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?
YES. My miniature schnauzer Owen, who, by the way, is way more popular on Instagram than I am. Depending on where I’m writing, he’ll snuggle against my side or at my feet, but most of the time he sleeps on what I call his princess pillow (a weird leopard-print pillow from my single days that he’s adopted as his own) next to my writing chair in my office. He’s excellent at sounding out plot points and never judges me when I laugh at my own jokes.
As for human writing buddies, I don’t have a regular routine of writing with others but I do have lovely critique partners. For NaNoWriMo, I typically go to at least one write in and I find a room full of clacking keyboards inspiring, but for the most part I write alone.