Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Funny Origins of Inspiration

Describe how the idea for your book first came to you. Where were you? Who was the first person you told? How did they respond?

Tagestraum started, bizarrely, on a website called ChickenSmoothie.

The website is an adoptables site.  For the uninitiated, this basically means that you collect "pets" that are released each month.  They "grow" over the duration of the month, changing from a child image into an adult image.  Some pets are rarer than others, and you can trade them with friends, hoard them for collections, etc.  It's quite fun.

Anyway, on the site, there are some rare pets that are "permanent pups" -- meaning they never grow.   I was organizing all of them one day, and I decided on a whim to put all of my "permanent pups" into one group, which I tongue-in-cheek called "The Children's Crusade."  Then I added this fellow:

Pet's name: Tagestraum
Adopt virtual pets at Chicken Smoothie!
He was released in a special event as an homage to Coraline, of course, but I liked the idea of having a big, grown-up stuffed animal (who looks a bit rough around the edges) be in charge of a whole group of children who would never grow up. 

And, just like that, the idea dropped into my head:  A little boy whose imaginary friend kidnaps him and takes him into a world that's supposed to be safe for children...but isn't. 

Immediately, ideas just started to blossom.  I wanted to talk about the brutality of children, the way that children's fantasies are rarely as idyllic as adults seem to think.  I wanted to envision a world created by the fantasies of children who weren't always happy -- kids that were abused, built from their fears and uncertainties.  I basically wanted to take Wonderland or Never Never Land and inject it with the harsh, nightmarish reality of childhood in the 21st century. 

I came up with this in September of '09.  I worked on fleshing out the ideas and doing some research for it in preparation of Nanowrimo that year, but I wrote the story basically from the hip.  Which is probably why the novel that I ended up writing had only a little bit in common with the book I thought I would write. 

See, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the main character to be a social worker.  I wanted him to enter this fantasy world, this "other realm," in search of a missing child -- and once he got there, he'd have to confront some nightmares and deal with a world that was really, really not meant for grown-ups.

What I wasn't prepared for was for Adrian, the social worker, to completely take over.  He showed up on the first page as a living, breathing, fatally flawed, neurotic hero who demanded the story be about him, and I rolled with it.  I didn't realize until I set the first words on the page just how much pain he was carrying, how deeply and intrinsically invested he was in this world. 

He wasn't just seeing nightmares, he was re-living his own nightmares, and they were so deeply tangled in his past.  I learned a lot about Adrian, and though I lost the thread of the story a few times, it's ultimately a story of his arrested development:  How he goes from being completely emotionally barricaded into his own neurotic mind to finally accepting all of the terrible things from his past and allowing himself to dream again. 

I don't think I'm totally finished with Tagestraum.  I think there's more stories there -- stories about other children and faeries and nightmares -- and one day, I'm sure I'll go back to visit them.  I'll never forget, though, how the whole thing started with a picture of a stuffed dog....


  1. This sounds like a really interesting storyline, and I love how a stuffed animal picture inspired it.

    1. Thank you :) I am inordinately fond of the book. I hope someday soon it finds a home.