Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Patricia Wood, author of "Lottery"

"That is so totally cool!" There was no one in the room but I was hearing a voice. Not deep but definitely a man's voice. With something. A timbre of breathlessness? Joy maybe? That's what it was. Joy. It's not that I commonly hear things. Well, maybe I do. I'm a writer after all. But this voice was persistent. I didn't know who he was yet or where he came from. I only knew one thing. He was probably going to be a character in my next book.

This is how it begins for me.

One of the more interesting questions I have been asked is how Lottery came to be. That is always such a complex question. Which came first? The premise? The characters? The story?

When I answer, I usually do not mention these voices I hear. Conversations that go on inside my head independent of my thought and seemingly uncontrollable. But this article will be different. This will be read by writers. And writers will understand how a story comes to fruition deep inside a writer's bowels and will not let go. How it expands like an inflated balloon and then morphs into a literary cephalopod that takes over a project. Hunting. Tentacles reaching into every crevice. Probing and gripping until it is all a writer can think about.

"Ha!"

There it was again. I did not know his name but I knew eventually that I would know all about him. Where he lived (Everett, Washington). What toothpaste he used (Crest). His favorite candy (Hershey Kisses). What he wore (jeans and a green hooded jacket).

His voice gave me my very first sentence.

"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded."

That's how it began. The character talked through me. For weeks, I thought like Perry. I acted like Perry.

I was Perry.

For months, he was there with me like a cerebral twin.

Then the others came.

Keith.

Gram.

Cherry.

You could see them in my eyes as I flitted from one to the other. My multiple personalities that vied for attention.

My husband notices a difference in me each time this happens.

"Who are you now?" his expression says. "Where is my wife?"

She is still there but her head is full of characters rambling and arguing.

"Me next!"

"No! ME!"

When this happens to a writer it is magic. Writer's block? It doesn't exist. The words tumble and spill out on to paper. Spread across the page straight from brain to fingers to computer screen. There may be slight detours. Small divergences that lead tangentially away from the story but the characters are so strong within they provide the guidance needed to satisfy the vision and accompany the writer tenderly to the end.

Although parts of Lottery came from years of experiences that were built up like an intricate tapestry -- my relationship with my ex- brother in law with Down syndrome, my teaching high-risk students with learning challenges in Hawaii, my father winning the Washington State Lottery -- the guts of the story came from the actively engaged voices in my brain.

All writers bring varied experiences unique to themselves when they write. How it is manifested to form a novel is individual and specific. What I created has been altered and distorted, seen through my own lens but delivered by these imaginary voices. I write to tell stories but I write to silence the clamoring dialog within me.

The result?

Lottery, a novel.

A novel that garnered me my agent, Dorian Karchmar of William Morris Agency, and sold at auction to Putnam. The foreign rights have been sold to the Netherlands, Italy, Israel, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Korea, Taiwan, and Russia. Lottery was released August 2, 2007.

Silence. Golden. Pristine. Reassuring sanity. It does not last long.

Soon other distinct characters will make themselves known. And I will be off on my wild auditory ride once more.

Patricia lives aboard a 48 ft sailboat in Hawaii that she shares with her husband and all of her imaginary characters. Please visit Patricia's website and her blog.

(Photo credit: Mary Gullickson Gray


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Comments from our users:

Saturday August 18th 2007, 1:31 PM
Comment by: David D.
This is well stated. It happens to me all the time and I have a hard time expressing the experience to people who do not live with characters forming or hear and have conversations in the mind. I say that I don't know what I think until I say ... or write it. But the truth is that I say it in my mind, taking unformed thoughts through a growth process that I can then say or write.
Saturday August 18th 2007, 5:46 PM
Comment by: Mattie D.
It is great to hear from authors. Challenging to would be authors.
Saturday April 4th 2009, 7:17 PM
Comment by: A. Z.
I agree with Mattie.

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