One of the most common questions anyone writing a novel is asked is “where do you get your inspiration?” It seems like an easy enough question, but the reality is it’s not. There are levels to it. One minute an author could be inspired by Their Eyes Were Watching God and another minute they could be in awe of the way the clouds move through the sky. Inspiration is also an elusive, cruel mistress. Sometimes it comes in waves and other times it doesn’t come at all. But as Ray Bradbury said, sometimes you have to go after inspiration with a club, and that means finding it where and when you can and through multiple mediums.
An obvious source of inspiration is other books. I don’t agree with everything Stephen King writes, but I do think that writers must write a lot and read even more. Though I read slower when I’m drafting a novel, I’m usually toggling between two books – one I’m reading and one I’m listening to. I’ve read a lot of books over the years, but here are five that have inspired me thus far.
Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
I’ve always been a fan of mixing humor into anything, and that’s what drew me to Grady Hendrix novels. Horrorstor, a book about a haunted store that’s essentially a stand-in for Ikea, is a dark and funny and inventive book that showed me how making things funny could punch up the horror or fantasy of it all. His propensity to add in mixed media, i.e. product manuals, voicemails, and flyers as means of worldbuilding, also inspired me. If you’ve read To Astera, With Love, you know what I’m talking about. I recommend Horrostor, as well as My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires.
The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater
There’s a reason The Raven Cycle series has been optioned for a television show – it’s such a damned good story with plenty of worldbuilding and characters you root for throughout. This novel follows Blue Sargent as she and a group of pre-school boys – Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Gansey – search for the lost Welsh king, Glendower. The worldbuilding in this series is wonderful, and I especially love how seamlessly Stiefvater blends the fantasy with the everyday lives of the characters. I was really inspired by the different myths and mystical elements of this series, as well as how easily the story progresses from one book to another.
Parable of The Sower – Octavia E. Butler
I first read Parable of The Sower in high school. It was an experience I know many Black and brown people can relate to – reading a book with a main character who looks like you. I loved the dystopian of it all, and I was really inspired by how Butler never let up on the characters. At each point in Lauren and the other survivors’ trip north, they are forced to reckon with something or someone. I took the lesson through to my own work, when Mercury and his friends travel across the country.
A Blade So Black – L.L. McKinney
Reading A Blade So Black was another transformative experience for me. Reading Alice’s story and the scene after her father dies where she runs from the hospital made me feel a way because I know that loss – my father passed away in 2008 suddenly. It’s something you never quite get over, it just becomes your new normal. I loved how McKinney gave a fresh take on the Alice in Wonderland tale, all while putting a streetsmart Blerd at the helm. Also, I’m a sucker for worldbuilding, and this is another one that blends fantasy with the real world so seamlessly.
The Coldest Girl In Coldtown – Holly Black
In this novel, vampirism has become a pandemic. Humans who are bitten by vampires turn “Cold” and are sent to “Coldtowns.” After waking up at a party next to her ex-boyfriend who is turning Cold and a strange vampire, Tana journeys to the nearest Coldtown thinking she might soon turn Cold herself. I loved the way Black played with the vampire-as-a-public-health-concern conflict and how campy the Coldtowns were – there’s even a vampire there who live streams nearly everything. I was inspired by the government getting involved in something supernatural like this, a fact that inspired me to put a vampire in the highest office of the land.
What novels inspire you? Let me know in the comments.