by Michelle Levigne
When people ask where I get story ideas, sometimes I say I buy them from a shop in the French Quarter in New Orleans. My other stock answer is to tell them about a book I read in junior high, about a guy who discovers that every bit of fiction in our world is rooted in a real world somewhere “out there.”
That illustration holds up only so far, because let’s face it, revisions are a fact of life for writers. How can we be writing about a “real place” if we’re changing details up until two minutes before we have to send it to our publisher?
Honestly? My stories kind of grow themselves. Bits and pieces of things catch my interest or my attention; ideas and images stick in my head. And if I’m lucky, I write them down in One Note before I forget them. Then, as I flesh out a story, I’ll remember those bits and pieces and insert where necessary.
For instance, a co-worker told about this obnoxious guy who worked out of a satellite office. He got fired, and she had to help clean out the small office. The place was, quite frankly, disgusting. Trash and layers of grease and dust and the smell … That story stayed in my head, and when I needed an opening for my humorous romantic suspense, How to Bury a Millionaire, the heroine uncovers a kiddie porn ring in that filthy office. The first word in the book is “Ewwwwwww!”
The same for book rough drafts that SEEM to be stand-alones. As I revise, I realize, “Hey, if I change this person’s name, and set his story in the same town I created in this other book,” and borrow characters from a third book and someone’s history from a fourth book, I can tie them all together. And suddenly I have this three-dimensional place — a town or a science fiction universe — with not only geography and big cast of characters whose lives overlap, but a history. It becomes “real.” And feels like it happened without any conscious intent on my part. Suddenly.
Only it didn’t happen “suddenly,” but over years of writing and rewriting, ad infinitum.
Example: I wrote Sunsinger, about a boy growing up on a small starship. I wrote True Caderi, an SF story exploring the idea of gaining the universe and losing your soul. Then I wrote the story of an ordinary Earth girl who discovers that she’s the survivor of an alien shuttle crash. Borrowing details from all three books, I created the Leapers — a race of female pilots who take their ships from one dimension of reality to another. The Leaper fleet shows up often in my Commonwealth Universe SF stories, including Sunsinger, True Caderi, and thirty-plus titles.
Another example: Book #1 is about a shattered college romance, where the couple reunites twenty years later. Book #2 is about a family running a community theater. Book #3 deals with three college students, sharing an apartment for a year. I made the man from Book #1 and the father from Book #2 drama professors in the same university — and the three girls in Book #3 are their students. And many of them go to the same church. “Suddenly” I had a town, Tabor Heights, and overlapping characters. I found other books, either ideas or rough drafts, and realized with some tweaking, they all fit in the same town, where their lives overlap. And “suddenly” I had twelve books, “Year One” of my Tabor Heights, inspirational romance series.
Only this doesn’t happen “suddenly.” It grows. Like a vine. But even healthy vines need pruning and reshaping to tame them and get something useful out of them.
Sometimes you have to sit back and let this organic “thing” grow where it will. You can’t rush it. You have to let the connections come in their own time. Put it away for a few months, a year, ten years, simmering in the back of your mind while you’re working on other projects. Sometimes you “test drive” your characters in fan fiction, or launch a whole series based on a story you wrote for fan fiction, playing on someone else’s “playground.”
Check out these fan fiction pieces I wrote years ago to see what I mean:
“Darkness Past” was fan fiction for the Stephen J. Cannell TV show “Stingray.” Stingray teams up with Joan Archer, a visitor in the Tabor Heights books. Joan and her tough chick friends are stars in the women’s fiction series Quarry Hall, from Desert Breeze Publishing, which also handles the Tabor Heights books: www.DesertBreezePublishing.com.
“Day for a Knight” is Fantasy Island fan fiction. This was the base for an unpublished Arthurian fantasy novel, Athrar’s Heir. In the process of creating a history for this book, I discovered other stories waiting to be told. The result? A five-book series of Arthurian fantasy, called the Zygradon Chronicles, published by Uncial Press — http://www.UncialPress.com — Zygradon, Braenlicach, Three Drops of Blood, Lady Warhawk, and The Rift War.
You never know where fan fiction can take you, so go ahead and experiment.
In the final analysis, it’s all organic for me. I don’t throw anything out, no matter how lousy a story it was in the first incarnation. You never know where a hole will appear in a story, and that useless, disconnected scene or bit of history will exactly fit.
Meet the Author:
Michelle has been a story addict for as long as she can remember, starting with The Cat in the Hat and Weekly Reader Book Club. She discovered Narnia and Star Trek in elementary school, and was a familiar face in the school library, especially when she became addicted to Greek mythology. She fell into fandom in college, and published many short stories and poems in various universes, all while sending out original stories to magazines and publishing houses, eventually receiving rejections that weren’t the standard photocopied photocopy of a form letter.
She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and a MA in communication, focused on film and writing from Regent University. In 1990, her writing career finally broke into the public market when she won 1st place in the 4th quarter of the Writers of the Future contest, which included publication in that year’s winners anthology. Her first published novel Heir of Faxinor came out in 2000. Since then, Michelle has published 50+ books and novellas with multiple e-publishers and small presses, in SF and fantasy, YA, women’s fiction, and many sub-genres of romance. She makes her living as a freelance editor and proofreader.
Web address: http://www.Mlevigne.com
Click on the pics or here for info about buying Michelle’s books.
Most recent releases:
Los Cielos — historical/paranormal romance from Uncial Press: http://www.UncialPress.com
Cooking up Trouble — Tabor Heights Year Two, Book #2 — http://www.DesertBreezePublishing.com
Virtually Dead — a series of novellas based in the Commonwealth Universe, coming from Writers Exchange: http://www.Writers-Exchange.com
By Fire and Stars — the 3rd book in the Chorillan Cycle, part of the Commonwealth Universe, coming from OakTara: http://www.OakTara.com