Breathe, then write

by M.J. Hearle

I remember the moment I was inspired to write Winter’s Shadow. Three years ago I was walking past a BORDERS on my way home from work when a Twilight poster caught my eye. I’m sure you know the one – the pale hands holding the red apple. This was before the movie had opened so the series hadn’t reached critical mass yet in the public consciousness, however being a pop culture savvy individual, I had already read the first two books. They were entertaining enough but not earth-shatteringly brilliant. Nevertheless, elements of the story had stuck with me – the dreary atmosphere of Forks, the Cullens’ house on the edge of town, and the curious (sometimes batshit crazy) tweaks to vampire lore Meyer introduced.

For a book that didn’t resonate deeply with me, Twilight was definitely occupying a significant amount of mental real estate and I didn’t twig as to ‘why?’ until I saw that poster and was struck with an epiphany of such startling force that it changed the course of my life forever. Twilight was a book I could have written. I should have written. By the time I reached my front door I was gripped with the powerful urge to write a paranormal novel. Like Twilight, only better. Of course, I’d never written a book before but that didn’t seem to matter. The certainty that I should was so strong it was impossible to ignore.

In the grips of my epiphany I began writing my paranormal novel straight away. This was odd in itself as I usually had to drag myself kicking and screaming to the old laptop to write. For once, my general laziness didn’t derail me. I was hot and wanted to get something down on the page before I lost the heat. Sure, I didn’t have a plot yet but I had an opening scene – an angsty teenage girl comes across a handsome young man in a graveyard. What the girl doesn’t know yet but will soon discover is the handsome stranger is – wait for it – a vampire! A nice vampire though – one that doesn’t snack on you but gathers you up in his big strong arms and whispers in your ear ‘everything is going to be okay’. You can roll your eyes because what I’ve just described is the most generic of generic paranormal scenes. I was writing Twilight Fanfic and didn’t even know it.

Being so drunk on the sheer exhilaration of my epiphany to write a book, I didn’t stop to question what I was writing. Or why. Later, when the initial rush had subsided and I re-read the pages it occurred to me how derivative they were. This didn’t cause me to slip into a depressed funk as it once might have done. Instead, I recognised that the epiphany wasn’t a false high. I’d always written genre pieces (horror short stories, screenplays etc) so writing a paranormal novel wasn’t a crazy concept, it was just the execution I needed to think about. The world didn’t need another novel about moody vampires.

I took a deep breath and started to think seriously about the story I should write. Eventually, I found my true inspiration but even then I didn’t just rest on my laurels and write down the story that resulted from that blinding moment. I was constantly challenging myself on story points and character motivation, never trusting that what I was coming up with was gold and should be left unexamined. Too much of it was just yellow dirt.

Looking back over the novel there are parts I wish I’d challenged myself more strongly on. Specifically the romance between Winter and Blake isn’t as unique or as moving as I think it could have been. But coulda, shoulda, woulda – didn’t. The book’s out there and enough people liked it that I don’t beat myself up too much. If nothing else, Winter’s Shadow taught me the valuable lesson of being mistrustful of creative epiphanies. They happen so rarely that I think it’s very difficult not to blindly give into them.

For example, today while I was on my lunch break waiting for my pad thai, the idea for a new story occurred to me. I didn’t jump up in the air, click my heels and shout ‘Eureka!’ instead, I took a breath and carefully considered the originality of my idea. After mulling it over, I allowed myself to get excited. I think I’ve stumbled across something that hasn’t been done before. My next book is going to be about a neglected boy who discovers he’s actually the chosen one and has to go on a magical adventure to defeat an evil sorcerer. I already have the boy’s name – Larry Cotter.

M. J.