Adina West looks at the role of inspiration in a commercial world, as she shares the story behind Dark Child, her first novel, which is being released by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum as a serialized e-book starting 1st February, 2013.
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For me, when inspiration strikes, the characters always come first. Sometimes characters in a particular scenario. And then, I’m left with the question: how did they end up here? What events led them to this? When I get an idea, (and in common with most writers, I honestly have no idea where they come from) I jot down a few notes to remind me of the key elements. I have a special folder for these on my computer. Many of these jottings may never end up going anywhere, but writing them down means I can put them aside, so they’ll stop niggling at me.
Today though, I’d like to concentrate on the chain of events that inspired Dark Child, as it’s my first published book. The first book I followed through on, from initial idea to finished article. And perhaps it’s no surprise that there was something a little bit different about the inspiration for this book than all the other stories I’d started and abandoned.
The idea that ended up leading me to Dark Child was one I consciously went looking for. I’d been writing romance for years, with one particular project that I’d labored over for ages, had almost finished and then put aside in frustration. There was something wrong with it, but I wasn’t sure what. And besides, I’d written it just for myself. While it was a romance, it didn’t fall neatly into a particular romance sub-genre, and I knew that would make it harder to sell, but I told myself that as I wasn’t seeking publication it didn’t matter.
This time, though, I decided to try something completely different. Well, not completely different – I wanted to keep the romance, but write something with paranormal elements. My sister had introduced me to PNR authors like JR Ward and Nalini Singh. Twilight was also really big around that time. And I’d decided I really did want to write seriously. Write with a view to ultimately being published.
Write what you know, I remembered hearing. Write what you like to read. I loved reading paranormal, and without quite realizing it, I’d watched pretty much every vampire movie and TV series made in the last twenty years. I also knew paranormal was selling well, around the world. So I thought if I liked the genre anyway, it made sense to try something that was commercial. No more dilly-dallying around. Why not intentionally set out to write something that would have a good chance of getting published?
When you’re unpublished, it doesn’t seem so outlandish to aim for the moon. So why not plan to write a series from the outset? In for a penny, in for a pound, right? I bent my mind to thinking of a concept that could hold together a series of paranormal romance novels. A common character that travelled through all the books perhaps? I thought vaguely about a paranormal detective, solving crimes, one per book. I jotted down ideas, scenarios, and characters as they came to me. And without realizing it, I was building my world. In my notes, in the ways characters interacted, I’d already started to formulate my version of what a world with vampiric beings and shape shifters might look like.
Anyway, I wrote a scene, based around one of the many scenarios that I’d written down in summary form. Then I wrote a little bit more. It was about a human girl – an unusual human girl, who moved into an apartment building with a secret. An apartment building warded with magical runes, so she shouldn’t have been able to see it, let alone walk through the front door. I sent it off to my sister, my PNR ‘expert’ for comment. Was it a piece of god awful tripe, or did she think I had something worth pursuing?
Well, her first comment, funnily enough, was about the lack of a hero. A paranormal romance is, by definition, the story of how two people find love, find their ‘Happily ever after’. “If it’s going to be a paranormal romance,” my sister said, “we really should meet the hero near the beginning of the book. Where is he?”
“Oh,” I said, “I forgot to mention, this isn’t a paranormal romance novel.” (It wasn’t a detective novel either, though that had been my starting point. I kept the detective, but as a minor character.)
“Okay,” my sister said. I could hear the furrowed brow down the telephone line. “What is it then?”
The project had changed, in my mind, into something else. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what. So much for my initial plan of writing something commercial, that would fall neatly into a known genre and be easy to sell. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending which way you look at it) that resolve had gone out the window as soon as my inspiration had been fired-up and I’d started embroidering the initial concept. I might as well admit now that I’m pretty much a seat-of-the-pants writer, and when you’re writing without an outline, or with only a very loose outline, it’s all too easy to find yourself going in a completely different direction from the one you’d envisaged. For better or worse.
Anyway, armed with my sister’s cautiously positive feedback, I put aside the few scenes I’d written, and let them percolate away in the back of my mind for a few months. Then I started to write again. I filled in what had come before that first scene I wrote. What had brought my heroine to this apartment building? Who was she? And I wrote about what happened next. The story of a unique young woman caught out in the wrong place, at very much the wrong time.
When I finally finished, I had the first book of what I thought could be a series, and it was a crazy mish mash of genres - closer to urban fantasy than anything else, but not quite fitting the mold. It had romance, and touches of epic fantasy, and suspense. It wasn’t YA, but it wasn’t purely adult either.
The important part, though, was that despite the fact that Dark Child ended up (despite my best intentions) being a cross-genre beast, it was my beast. My creation. A combination of all the elements I loved, in a somewhat unholy alliance. It was the product of letting inspiration run free. While the initial inspiration came from something I thought could have ‘commercial’ appeal, I ended with something that I’d poured my heart into. Something that I loved.