The Alchemy of Inspiration

One Real Thing by Anah Crow and Dianne FoxWe get our inspiration from all kinds of places but, more than anywhere else, we get it from ourselves and from our reactions to current events or books we love—even books we don’t love. Much of the time, we’re writing a book we wish we could read and can’t find anywhere except in our imaginations. We have each other to bounce ideas off of so those reactions and ideas don’t die in the instant they arrive, crushed under the steamrollers of our inner critics; we can work out the flaws and plot holes between us.

Writing One Real Thing came from a number of places. One was that we wanted to write a contemporary story, which we really enjoyed doing. We didn’t want to get caught in one style, though, so we thought we’d look to a very different setting that we both love—New York City this time, instead of the world of small-time sprint car racing. Men with private school and Ivy League backgrounds instead of trailer parks and the family farm. No chance of getting pigeonholed with that kind of leap.

When we went looking for what we wanted out of that story, we realized that we didn’t want an established couple but we did want characters with history. We envisioned a convoluted history that could bring two men who had gone their own ways over many years back to either side of a locked door, one with no intention of opening it and the other with no intention of leaving. And we knew that door would be the smallest of the obstacles keeping them from each other. That wasn’t the beginning or the end—often times we have an idea for an opening scene or a finale and we work from there. This, we knew, was the middle.

Starting from a single scene, regardless of where it falls in the story, is often like leaping into a detective novel. We walk around and look at the evidence, we draw conclusions, we create a story for how things got to where they are in that scene based on what we find. It’s one of our favorite parts of the writing process, expanding on that initial bit of inspiration. It’s amazing how much can come from digging deep into one frozen moment in time.

The other inspiration we had for One Real Thing was wanting to do something different from everything else we’d done before, from everything else we were seeing on our bookshelves. We wanted to tell the story of a power dynamic—dominance and submission, control and obedience—that’s often formalized in a particular subculture and structured with negotiations and even contracts. It also often comes packaged with practices such as bondage and other kinks or fetishes. While those are things we’ve written about (gleefully), that wasn’t what we wanted here.

We were inspired to take that one dynamic—one person giving the orders, one person obeying—and make it into something not only romantic and organic but vital to who both partners are. We wanted to make it a nameless, wordless, and absolutely necessary part of the relationship from the first interactions of the characters. Both of us loved the idea that a relationship could unfold that way and lead both characters to a place of happiness once they were able to yield to their need for each other.

Not all our inspirations go so well, of course. Some of them are a bit like badly made paper planes. Something—the paper or the pattern—isn’t right, or they aren’t right together, and the whole thing crashes. Those end up in the bin. The ones that fly, though, are worth the time taken to test and develop. Fortunately for us, our inspirations for One Real Thing meshed seamlessly and developed into a novel of which we’re very proud.

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The Alchemy of Inspiration — 11 Comments

    • We do write separately (though we haven’t published separately recently).

      That’s a really great question. We both come up with ideas to write together. There’s just a gut feeling about if it’s “right” for us to write together, or if it’s a solo project. Sometimes it comes down to the characters. We have a good feel for the way we write together, and there needs to be space for both of us to move inside a story. If there isn’t, it’s a solo project.

      For Anah, I know a lot of her solo inspirations come from news stories, nonfiction books, and sometimes artwork. She’ll see an element that interests her and she spins it out into these fantastic, deep stories by twisting the element into something completely new.

      For me, my solo inspiration often comes from other art forms. A song, a painting, a photograph. I’ll see or hear something in it that speaks to me and it’s like a door opening, with bits and pieces of ideas flowing through and filling in the empty spaces.

      Overall, inspiration for joint projects works the same way, but something in the idea marks it as right for both of us. Character types, setting, themes… There are certain elements we keep going back to as a partnership and part of that is because we recognize those elements as having what we need to be able to write a story together.

      It sounds awfully jumbled, but in practice it happens very seamlessly.

  1. Excellent metaphor about how building the novel from a single scene is like jumping into a detective story. I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s a good description of what happens. For instance a character may say something (that even I didn’t expect him or her to say). Then I have to dig down deep and brainstorm what past experience might have made the character say or do what he did. It’s often a fun adventure. It must be even more fun to do that with a partner.

    • I do a lot of adventure games and I love police/detective procedurals, and both have a lot in common with the writing process. I think it’s definitely more fun to do with someone else than it is to do it alone—like most things. *g* It’s too easy to get stale, for the mind to go along familiar paths of speculation.

      When there’s someone else, too, I think it’s easier to be daring because you know that other person can back you up or rein you in. You’re not relying solely on your own judgment. Of course, that can make it harder (more boring!) to go back to writing solo, but it’s a small price to pay. :)

    • Thanks, Gillian. :) We’ll definitely be blogging more in the future about how it all comes together. It’s certainly really different from writing alone.

  2. This was great. And, of course, I’m most (and endlessly) fascinated by the idea of writing in partnership. I can’t imagine anyone putting up with me–or, for that matter, bending to meet a stronger limb.

    • Lots of people are really curious about how we write together and it’s interesting to me how over times we’ve managed to leverage both our similarities and difference to make it work. It’s hard sometimes to rein in one’s ego, to hear criticism, all those things, but the positives really outweigh those times.

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