Faryn Miller wants to build a new life in a small town. It’s her last chance to figure out, of all the roles she’s played in her thirty-some years, which one truly fits. Her aim at simplicity sounds like the perfect medicine until she meets Kai Allen, who’s spent his life doing everything the hard way and never bending for anyone. Lucky for Kai, Faryn has no preconceived notions about what he’s done and who he is, unlike the rest of town.
When cryptic messages start sneaking their way into Faryn’s apartment, then blatant threats, the two of them compile a long list of who could be stalking her. Unable to keep his frustration and rage hidden any longer, Kai explodes on everyone in his path, and Faryn can’t help but wonder if the storm is closer than she thinks.
~ Xpresso BT
Guest Post: Building a Book: From Real Life to Story
by J. Mercer
One of the questions I get most is “How do your stories start—where do you get your ideas?” Usually I go into my process, how I build a book, but lately I’ve realized that even deeper than that, they start in real life.
I don’t mean that I have crazy friends who do insane things which end up in my books. It’s much more subtle than that, at least for me. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and I think stories are informed by real life more than most would think. The creativity comes when the author takes the inspiration and plays with it.
Where, specifically, does reality and fiction combine for me? This is muddy and hard to discern, because the reality is faintly spattered throughout the fiction, but the places I can see it most are in theme, setting, and emotion. These are the cement pillars on which my stories stand, and what comes most often from real life.
My first step in any story idea is theme—what has me thinking enough in real life that I want to take it apart and study it. This nugget of an idea is usually the core of my story—not to teach, but to pose a question for us to collectively mull over. So as not to give anything away if you haven’t read Dark & Stormy, I’ll use my work-in-progress, After They Go, for example. That theme started from watching how my youngest compared herself to her older sister even in her toddler years. She would cry that her chalk drawing on the driveway wasn’t as good as her sister’s, at a point in her life when she could barely explain what she was crying about. This was foreign to me, as an only child, so it spawned the relational dynamic in After They Go, informed the plot, and posed the question: why do we so often, so naturally, look to the person next to us to set the bar? And further yet, why are we taught that by our society, when it can be so damaging?
My settings are also a conglomeration of real life locations. The town in Dark & Stormy is a cross between a place I lived and a nearby town I’ve spent some time in. Faryn’s apartment was an actual building that was recently torn down, and the river/park area is straight from real life. The bar comes from the middle of nowhere Wisconsin—what I remember of it, at least, shaded by fiction. And more convoluted, the tourist town in After They Go is a mash-up of a Greek island marina, a popular summer vacation destination in Wisconsin, and the East Coast.
With emotion, I try to put myself in that character’s position, and also think of the closest I’ve felt to where they’re at, to get the beating heart and the sweaty palms. What my body does when I’m feeling that way, what makes sense for the character, how my mind is racing—or stalled, etcetera. All this meat comes from my experiences, funneled and honed for the moment in the story.
The piece of my writing that’s least informed by real life are my characters. They start more as tools of illustration, and are built up around the point of the story—weaknesses and strengths they’ll need for purposes of the plot, personality traits that will make sense with the relationships I want them to have. Then, once they get reasonably fleshed out, they’re kind of on their own. They make their own decisions and their own mistakes, because once you have their framework, you can’t have them doing something that doesn’t make sense, something they wouldn’t do.
I think this truth of real life, and how it illuminates the common human experience, is what connects us all through books. Reading or writing, I’m reminded that others are out there, experiencing the same lonely or painful things, and that none of us are truly alone. Books are not as solitary of a thing as some might think!
I hope the scene you’re living right now is as fun as the one I’m currently writing. Thanks to the Butterfly team for having me, and happy reading!
About the Author & Links:
J. Mercer grew up in Wisconsin where she walked home from school with her head in a book, filled notebooks with stories in junior high, then went to college for accounting and psychology only to open a dog daycare. She wishes she were an expert linguist, is pretty much a professional with regards to competitive dance hair (bunhawk, anyone?), and enjoys exploring with her husband—though as much as she loves to travel, she’s also an accomplished hermit. Perfect days include cancelled plans, rain, and endless hours to do with what she pleases. Find her on Facebook @jmercerbooks or online at www.jmercerbooks.wordpress.com.
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