Why do writers write what they do? What influences the content of their stories? Where do ideas come from? How should I know? I’m not keeping track of them, I can only speak for myself. And for me, it comes down to that old adage of “Write what you know,” the interpretation of which varies wildly. My take is this: people, over the course of a life, gather a specific, very individualistic set of experiences, which flavor the way they see the world and how they react to it. When I write, I don’t write about the experiences per se—I don’t think garbage men should write about garbage any more than I think it’s necessary for aging psychotherapists like me to write about counseling—what I try to focus on is the reactions. Those thoughts, mannerisms, and actions are the skeleton of my “voice.” They are what I “know.”
So, the next question is invariably then, Danny, you’re saying you’re stories are autobiographical? My response: absolutely. But in only the deepest sense, because in accessing those places, those very real reactions, I must allow myself to be vulnerable.
Since I’m splaying myself open for you like a frog on a wax biology tray. Let’s go to that place, because it’s really what’s behind the story of Velveteen.
Velveteen, at its core, is a story about wanting so desperately to be something real. I couldn’t have written this as my first novel and, in fact, it’s my fourth, following—and this is important—the dismal failure of my adult urban fantasy series (which shall remain nameless).
**moment of silence**
I was reeling when I realized the fourth book wouldn’t be optioned. Devastated. I’d poured so much energy and, myself, into those books that it felt like a personal slight, which of course it wasn’t. Nothing is personal in publishing, it’s all a numbers game and these numbers were zeroes. So I moved on…with a new experience and several new reactions to access later. Reactions to—you’ve guessed already—wanting to do something better, relevant…acceptable? Maybe. Maybe that’s it.
**bear with me, I’m working this out as I write**
What was it about those other books that didn’t work for the vast majority of people? I thought long and hard and what I think it finally came down to was a general hopelessness. It’s maybe not so surprising that I’d find myself knee deep in a young adult project coming out of this period of reflection. Young adult books at their core require an element of hope, of redemption.
The premise of Velveteen came in fits and spurts, a piece of world-building here, a character there, but with an overwhelming feeling of resolution to it. The book itself is my redemption. Velveteen is the result of those horrible reactions of failure and despair and wanting so desperately to not be that anymore, not to be in that place—much like the souls in the story who want nothing more than to be alive again. And in that, it is successful.
Of course, I’m avoiding the precursor to this discussion. The fact that those earlier books were the result of reactions that came from an even darker place. But that is a story for another time.