I mean, you never know where inspiration for a story is going to come from, right?
Take my novel Pictures of You. I know the exact place and time that the idea for the story came to me. It felt like a revelation, so much so I actually had to sit down.
I had just given my daughter her first driving lesson. It was a beautiful spring day. For some reason thought it would be funny to tape the experience and post it to YouTube. And that got me to thinking: what if one day you woke up and found videos of your life posted on YouTube for everyone to see that you never wanted anyone to see?
Break-up scenes with an old flame, or the day you went to school with your fly down. What if the scenes became progressively worse, and couldn’t possibly have been taped, and you had no idea who was sending them or how they had gotten hold of them? How powerless and out of control—not to mention scared—would you feel?
I was off and running. Mapping out the first few chapters, imagining scenarios. Constructing it as a Young Adult novel, because for some reason, that’s the creative medium I work best in…and always, as a 16-year old girl, for some reason. Probably better not to ask.
That’s when the really scary things started happening. Like my own personal unwanted YouTube video, my main character started to speak to me. Made herself known. And I realized this girl wasn’t who had I initially envisioned at all.
You see, I originally intended to write the story as a strict YA thriller, with your stereotypical girly girl young pretty teen-ager who all these awful things happen to, but who wins out in the end. But as I progressed with the story…about six or eight chapters in…the true Ashes16 increasingly started to assert herself. She wanted to become so much more than that. And one morning, as I was lying in bed dreaming about her life and her world, I realized, “Oh, wait. This is a girl with gender issues. This is a girl who really wants to be a boy. And not just any boy…she wants to be her dead brother.”
After that, to me, the book really came into focus. I had always viewed it as a ghost story, but in seeing who Ashes was, it became clear to me that the story was as much about being haunted by the memories of your past as it was about an actual haunting. When that fell into place, I realized the real point behind Pictures of You was about giving voice to those hiding in the shadows—and not just voices of the non-corporeal variety. It’s about those who are unable to talk, or too scared to speak their own personal truth—for even if Ashes is a self-described YouTube addict with a very public social face, she still wears a mask. She still feels different, every day of her life. She’s still hiding a past she desperately needs to come to terms with and a sadness that she dares not reveal to anyone, especially herself.
There’s a lot to be said for giving in to the voices inside your head. At least in the case of Pictures of You, I think the book was made stronger for the experience. So let this be a lesson for you, sinners: creative schizophrenia can sometimes be a beautiful thing. Would you mind taking a look at the story and letting me know if you agree?