On Writing: Jelly, Nail Clippings, and Sad Endings

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten some more questions from you all on Formspring. *Puts on hard hat* I think it's about time I answer them. 

How do you find your inspiration? And how do you come up with such creative plots?

Like a freak lightning strike, inspiration hits me at the most random moments. Perhaps too often – sometimes I have to check my head to make sure my hair hasn't burnt to a crisp! But when I go hunting for a story, as deadlines make you do, I become a scavenger.

I cast my net as wide as it can go.

Anything weird or quirky gets caught in my net; a broken music box, an abandoned baloney sandwich, the boy in the corner who wears too many keychains, the little bottle in the bathroom with beach sand and seashells inside. My taste in music is all over the place, I read tons of YA and children’s lit, and I still have a child’s heart. Which is why I still think that Mickey Mouse is still da bomb.

When I find these ideas, they are usually fragments. Strange thoughts. Adding up to nothing. I like to combine ideas in a way that makes sense – turning the mundane magical. Making impossible ideas believable is a fun challenge.

Also, how do you continue writing? How do you finish something and move on to the next?

I’m not perfect as far as this goes; there are a few projects I started that I’ve put on hold for one reason or another. Continuing, I think, is difficult for anyone. 

My advice for sticking with a story usually involves a few strategies:

1) Find a few readers you trust (Figment is great for that, haha). When you feel stuck or confused, it’s their cheerful, encouraging voices that will keep you going. Writing is, at its core, a solitary job. But it doesn’t have to be. A little support goes a long way. 

2) Take a breather. Kick your feet up and watch a favorite movie. Play golf. Order pizza. Clip your toenails. Do your laundry. Giving yourself a break will help you feel refreshed and ready to write another chapter.

3) Know your roots. Remember why you’re writing this story in the first place. Find its pulse. 

4) Do some research! If you’re writing about pirates, raid your library for books, documentaries, and movies – and go for the historic accounts (you’ll be more inspired by reality sometimes, than, for instance, Captain Jack Sparrow). If you have access to college-level databases and journals, read those too. It’s amazing what kind of interesting perspectives and ideas you can find buried within stuffy, academic articles. Immerse yourself in your idea. The more you know, the more tools you have to continue your story. 

In regards to finishing a story and moving on… 

Finishing a story is incredibly rewarding – and also gut-wrenching. When I finished Birdcage Girl, I literally had to cool off my brain. And I felt like crying a few days afterwards. It was an unexplainable sadness wrapped around the jolly pride of having finished. I think it has to do with finally reaching the goal. For most of the journey, you keep looking ahead and, chapter by chapter, the big finale keeps getting closer. But you always think, in the back of your head, that you’ll never get there.

Until you do. You’ve just written The End. 

That odd melancholy arises, I think, out of that finish line goal. When you finally reach it, it seems almost unreal. I’ve spoken with some of my writer-friends about the finishing blues and a lot of them had experienced it too. Glad I’m not the only one. I don’t cry much. Unless I’m watching an oddly touching commercial. Weird, right? 

Being able to move on to another project may be hard at first, especially if you feel like beginning revisions on your finished story (and you should, if you feel up to it). Concentrate on feeling refreshed and energized before jumping onto the front seat of another writing project. You will be able to write another – it’s just a matter of shucking off that sadness and beginning the journey again. 

What's your writing process like? (for B&B or any other novels)

Because each project has its own personality, my process tends to vary. However, every story usually starts for me with one particular image or idea. 

For Boys and Bees, I started out with the concept of love letters. Having written a love letter or two in my own time, I know how it feels when those carefully-crafted letters are ignored. But what excuse does the receiver of the letters have for not answering back? Those were the thoughts that started Boys and Bees; Hedda came first, the girl with the love letters, and Lorabeth quickly followed after with her bramble-like hair. 

The bees came about because, well, I’ve always been fascinated by them. A few years back, I saw a television special while at Disney (on the hotel’s Japanese channel) that featured beekeepers. I loved the cozy, delicate world I saw – quite unlike the scare-tactics that American shows use when featuring a beekeeper’s job. I wanted to create, alongside Lorabeth and Hedda, a bee world that wasn’t one to be feared. Love and bees seem to be going well together so far, I think, haha. 

Another question - how do you first develop and plan out your stories?

For me, developing and planning have a lot to do with tinkering. It’s about the only kind of tinkering I can do, especially since I lack the skills needed to put together IKEA furniture (despite the idiot-proof directions). 

I like to mash ideas and concepts together. Use glue to make them stick – or make sense. Say I start with a boy who has an obsession with grape jelly. So much so, that he’s sculpted a living dog out of jelly. Well, I’ll string another idea – fish don’t like cats – and another – Tuesdays are blue – and then fill in the gaps between them to make them work. And sometimes they don’t. But when they do, it makes for an exciting story to write. 

Each idea, in other words, is connected to another. Plots and subplots intertwine like threads. 

I try not to plan too much in advance because sometimes the planning itself gets overwhelming. You get bored when you have every scene, every piece of dialogue perfectly laid out. There’s no room for change or innovation. I use Microsoft OneNote for what planning I do; I have pages for each character where I put pictures and bits of information as it comes to be. And I do basic outlines, usually for the beginning of the stories – though I have a pretty concrete idea of how each story ends. 

Hi Kim! So, I am one of your ghost readers--I've only made one comment on your various brilliant stories. I'm considering coming to Figment to post my own fairy-tale-esque things. Anywho, the question: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your fa

Hello, ghost reader! I’m glad you decided to take off your bed sheet skin to send me such a nice comment. I always know a ghost reader is nearby when my laptop screen goes suddenly cold. Shhh, my new chapter is being read. 

Oh, you should! And please let me know what your username is so I can take a look at your stories. Gads, the question got cut off on Formspring. I wonder what you meant to ask. Well, since you were talking about fairy tales, did you mean to ask where I got my inspiration for my fairy tale stories? I’m going out on a limb here, haha. A phantom limb. 

Fairy tales are very much a part of me. Their stories race through my blood (or something equally poetic). Ever since I was a child, I soaked up any kind of fairy tale. Mythology too. With each retelling – whether picture book or film – the stories only got better. I felt like I was a part of one big secret: after all, fairy tales have a lot of human truth to them. I guess I sensed it. 

My mom says she used to play Disney’s The Little Mermaid for me every day – and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve suffered no delusions. It didn't take long to get my grubby little hands on the Anderson version, but it wasn't a smooth transition. My parents rented me an anime version and sat me down in the basement to watch it by myself. It was - and is - a beautiful adaptation. But I didn't see the tragic ending coming. When the little mermaid burst into sea foam (with, I might add, an eerie, warbling backtrack), I burst into violent tears. I cried so loud that my parents rushed downstairs. They couldn't quite comfort me. I had to get over the sad ending on my own. I had connected the mermaid's death with the passing of a dear family member... and I think, to this day, the whole event reflects how real these tales are. How there's always a way to relate. On a lighter note, it was probably at this point that I developed a taste for happy endings. Yeah. 

So I'm not sure how to answer how fairy tales influence and inspire what I write. They kind of go together. The enchanted bears, wise women, poison apples, mirrors, dresses of sun and moon, a tinderbox with saucer-eyed dogs. After reading so many fairy tales and myths, the oddness of life isn't so surprising.