Where Do Books Come From?

      Last night I was reading more of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Instead of picking up on the chapter I left off, I flipped to the back and started reading the acknowledgments Gruen wrote.

Psst.  I also have a secret habit of reading the last sentence of a book before I get there.  I know, I shouldn’t, but then when I really do get to the end and re-read that last sentence, it’s like coming home.  I refuse to stop, don’t try to make me.  

In Gruen’s acknowledgments, she first related how she came up with the idea for the story.  She read an article in the newspaper about Edward J. Kelty, a photographer who traveled along with circuses in America during the 1920’s and 30’s.  She became so transfixed with a photo in the paper, she immediately went out and bought two circus photography books.  From there, the passion took over.  She spent around 4-6 months researching everything circus, including visiting the Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which isn’t that far from where I live, so my honey and I are going to plan a weekend getaway to check it out!  She spent a few weeks in Sarasota, Florida at the Ringling Museum and time at the Kansas City Zoo getting to study elephant body language and behavior.  Want to start your own circus project?  I kind of do.  I’m fascinated with the book so far, and was intrigued that a whole story began after viewing one photograph in the newspaper.

Doesn't just a little part of you want to trade places with this performer for a day? To say you rode an elephant in a circus!

I’m sure most of you heard the genesis about how Twilight series author, Stephanie Meyer began her books.  She had a dream that was used in the meadow scene with Edward and Bella.  She also spent time in Forks, Washington, the book’s setting, and now the community has more tourists than ever coming to see the houses and school Bella “went” to.

I'd write a book too if I was dreaming of Robert Pattinson!

One of my all time favorite books is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  I’ll actually be re-reading it this month for a book club.  Skloot spent 10 years doing research for this book and it all started with a science class.  She remembers her teacher wrote the name Henrietta Lacks on the board, and after that day no one knew a thing about her.  She spoke with ethics advisers, lab technicians, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and eventually family members to piece together a story so crucial to the medical industry and never told to the woman’s own family.  Just a name on a blackboard launched an investigation into a multi-million dollar industry and one well-kept secret.

Her research went on to conduct interviews, review medical records, visit the hometown of Henrietta, and eventually make contact and earn trust of the Lacks family, thereby viewing journal entries of Henrietta’s daughter and family footage and photos.  I am just floored by the amount of devotion Skloot put forward to make a difference in the lives of the Lacks family and to tell a story that helped shape every medical advancement you can think of.  You really MUST read this book!

What I’m wondering is what was the moment that hooked you into your writing project?  Did you read something in the paper, have a dream, see a name on the blackboard?  Every writer is inspired differently, what inspired you?  And what was the next step that took that captivating idea into a work in progress/published book?

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13 responses

  1. I love research! That Henrietta Lacks book looks like my kind of book!

    I loved “Water for Elephants” too (Twilight…not so much!)…

    Wendy

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE Henrietta Lacks. You must add it to your list. We’re reading it this month in book club, can’t wait to discuss!

  2. Great post!

    My current writing project has been rumbling around in my brain for about 8 years, although I didn’t really start researching until a few months ago. My idea was sparked by an old family story that’s been told over and over again, but is so great that it needs to be written down.

    Thanks for another book reco (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)!

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      Cool. I really like memoirs, there’s something special about them isn’t there? Good luck with your writing project!

  3. My current WIP was born four years ago through Vicodin mists while I was home with a broken leg. Flipping on the science channel a show came on theorizing how humans could live and expand into space. So I started thinking of ways to do the same (in my haze mind you). A ton of research has followed.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks sounds very interesting, will have to pick up a copy.

    Thanks for a great post Jess 🙂

    1. Wow, you’ll have to elaborate on your WIP. lol. Sounds freaky and interesting!

  4. First off, you’re just like Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally. He always flipped to the last page of a book first so, in case he died before finishing, he’d know how it ended.

    My writing projects usually come to me through news stories. 10 years ago the local paper ran a series on ecoterrorism, and “No Time For Kings” was born. More recently, a few weeks ago I was reading a recap on how influential Nirvana was to the city of Seattle, and came up with the idea for my next, as-yet-untitled project.

    1. I think that’s really cool, Mark. When stories are based on real life there’s just something even more intriguing about it, don’t you think. Hold on a sec. Waiter, there’s to much pepper on my paprikash!

      1. Coincidentally, I also love paprikash…

  5. It’s so funny you put the Water for Elephants before Twilight. 🙂 Sometimes, reading about something inspires me to write about it. Sometimes, it’s the scenery. They come from different sources but when they come, they come. Now, part of the problem is editing. 🙂

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      I know not everyone likes Twilight (except you and me, right?) 🙂 but the story of its genesis is interesting, and it demonstrated another way writers get the ideas for their books. The ideas are all equal, and how we portray that idea is our voice. While I would’ve loved to let Stephanie Meyer borrow my thesaurus, how she took a dream and turned it into a four volume novel and box office hit film series is pretty cool.

  6. I love hearing the stories behind the story. Ideas are everywhere.

    P.S. I also often read the last lines (and chapters) of books before I get there. And, I’m not stopping, either.

    1. Maybe we can start a club, Last Pagers Anonymous!

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