Occasionally, I get questions from readers about various things. I generally reply to the reader privately. But, after being asked some of these questions several times, I start to assume that maybe other readers might have some interest, so, from time to time, I post these here for everyone to see. I think maybe I'll start a feature called "Reader Questions" and answer these. If you have a question, send it on in!
So, here was the question: "Do you based off the slice-of-life moments in your story from moments in your own life? Like with Lexa’s tantrum with her audition to Dr. Timberi?"
I actually get variations of this question quite a bit. Since I'm a teacher in a small private school, and since the books take place in a small private school, it's a good question.
The answer is: No. Yes. Well sort of.
Let me give a general answer, and then I'll answer the question about Lexa's confrontation with Dr. Timberi at the end of Penumbras.
In general, I don't just transfer things from real life to my books. Sometimes, I am inspired by a real incident, or a term. For example, a few years ago, it was a big deal at my school for kids to "taser" each other as described in The Kindling. Or, as another example, Conner's vocal patterns were suggested by a student I had, as was Lexa's hoarse squeal. The scenes at Dauphin Island in Penumbras were inspired by a class trip I chaperoned (minus the fights, bad guys, students being dragged under the waves by monsters, etc.). But for the most part, things that show up in the books are totally products of my imagination.
Now, as far as that specific scene between Lexa and Dr. Timberi, that's an interesting question. Yes, it was based on a real incident. The details were different. But it involved a student of whom I was very fond being very angry with me. I felt the student was being unfair and ungrateful by being upset. The student thought I was being unfair and unkind for what the student perceived as a big slight or injustice.
I won't go into the details, but it was a very emotional situation. One of the saddest days of my teaching career, actually, and still makes me sad when I remember it because it fundamentally changed years of warmth and a relationship with an entire family.
At that point, I was working on Penumbras. I had an early draft, but it didn't include the fight with Lexa and Dr. Timberi, nor did it have anything about Lexa getting so obsessed with auditions, etc. In fact, I had been trying to find some kind of conflict for Lexa, something for her to struggle with. Conner was fighting his memories, Melanie her frustration about not being able to do everything, and later, her fears about Conner. But I felt like Lexa needed more. I had a tiny bit about The Sound of Music in the book, but it was just a small detail.
As I drove home from this real-life confrontation, I was pretty down, to be honest. Teachers have feelings and mine were pretty hurt. It went over and over in my head. And, as it did,
I started to wonder about using it together. Stephen King talks about when to previously unrelated ideas click in your mind to become a book idea. And that's what happened.
Could I use the essence of what had just happened?
Lexa had always been close to Dr. Timberi, and was sort of his favorite, so what if they had a big fight? I knew how the story was going to end at that point, and so this seemed like a good way to increase the tension. It would also provide Lexa with a strong objective for Book 3, which I was planning.
So, I went home and wrote the scene with their fight. It was sort of cathartic to write it out. Again, the details were different, but the emotions on both sides were real. I tried to write Lexa's viewpoint out as honestly as I could, even though I was in Dr. Timberi's position.
Honestly, because it was so raw, the first draft was longer and angrier than it appeared. I revised it until it was a little shorter and softer--Lexa was much harsher in the original. I shaped it until it fit the story in the way I needed it to.
Then, I went back and added the bits in earlier chapters about how excited she was to audition, all of that stuff, sprinkling little bits of conversation in the scene at Dauphin Island, etc.
In the end, I felt like the scene really worked well for the book, and it positions everyone beautifully for Book 3, which I have always thought of as Lexa's redemption.
To be honest, every time I worked on this scene, editing or proofreading, I got a little emotional. All of the emotions of that day come rushing back. I don't know if that comes through to readers or not, but it still packs quite a wallop to me.
As a side note: this works the other way too. There are very positive moments that make their way into the book. The ending of the book literally changed when some other students showed great kindness to me. The original ending was going to be a bit harsher, honestly, because I suppose that's how I felt at the time, and it seemed more dramatic.
Then, as I said, some students did something that really touched me. So I re-wrote the last chapter about the funeral to create a more conciliatory, hopeful feeling. And Book 3 is quite sweet. There is scene I don't want to say too much about, but everyone who has read it says it is their favorite scene. It shows Lexa being absolutely amazing. I get emotional when I read that as well, but in a different way. I hope you all like it!
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