Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting There From Here by Sheila Curran

I’ve heard authors complain about the so-called ‘dumb’ question of where they got their ideas for their novels. I don’t get it! I love talking about what inspired the books because for me, the inspiration and the end product are inseparable.
My first novel, Diana Lively is Falling Down, was born from an evening at an elaborate British dinner. I was with my husband, feeling a bit too American but the point of real discomfort came when I mentioned I was a stay-at-home mom. The full story can be found on my website. (link: http://www.sheilacurran.com/roots.html )

Everyone She Loved, (link: http://www.sheilacurran.com/) my second, came out of the blue, in the midst of a conversation with a dear friend. We were driving with our two daughters in the car. I mentioned an article I’d written about two little girls whose parents had died within six months of one another. Luckily this mom had asked some adult friends if they’d take over in the event of tragedy, and these two friends were a lawyer and accountant. Their warning to me during our interviews: choose your replacement parents, or in many states, your kids could be sent into foster care.

As I told Julianna (link: http://www.juliannabaggott.com/ ) this, we mulled over the difficulty of choosing exactly which couple among our family and friends would be best suited to replace us. Then, out of nowhere, I had a much more horrific vision than my children orphaned. “Oh my God. You know what would be WAY worse?”

Short of breath, I paused. “What if it was just me who died, and John (my husband) married someone awful?”
My inner control freak went into overdrive and within seconds I’d recovered my abilty to speak. “I know!” I said, as if I’d just cured cancer. “I’d make him run the second wife past a committee of my sisters and friends.”

From there, came the premise of my second novel.
Here’s the funny part. Neither book ended up being at all what I expected . I blithely plotted both novels, thinking I knew exactly what they were about, only to find my characters had vastly different expectations.
Which brings me to my favorite (and most dreaded) part of the process. I may have strong feelings about where things are going, but once I find a character, s/he seems bound to destroy my simplistic reductions to…just that.
The complexity and unpredictability that stem from a simple premise are part and parcel of what makes a novel entertaining, not just for the reader, but for its so-called creator as well. Walker Percy once said that the process of writing was like driving in the dark: you could only see two feet in front the car. For me, it’s more like getting behind the wheel and having the passengers wrestle me into the back, where all I can do is strap myself in and hold onto my hat, marveling that I had never known about this more scenic route, no matter how well I thought I knew the territory.


  1. What a great post, Sheila! I agree, those characters have a mind of their own!!

  2. Oohh, that's a really scary idea, being strapped into the back seat...I have nightmares like that!

    How did your husband enjoy the committee plan, Sheila?:)

  3. Great stuff - I love hearing about where ideas come from!

  4. Oh, I love that visual of being wrestled into the back seat by your characters. I can so relate!

  5. Great post, I can feel the excitement of your ideas popping into your head and then growing.