Every book starts with a little marble of an idea. A place, a character, a concept—a “hmm” in the back of the mind. That marble is poised on top of a hill, and it starts to roll. Sometimes the hill is a gentle slope and it takes the marble a long, long time to make it down. Sometimes that hill is as steep as a cliff side and the marble plummets to the ground quickly.
That marble picks up stuff as it rolls. Mud, some chewed gum, a glob of hair, maybe some shiny stickers. Twigs and pebbles. These are the things that make the idea marble into a story. Some of it’s pretty, some of it isn’t. That’s the first draft. It’s the revision that picks out that glob of hair, smooths out the twigs, and arranges the pebbles into a pleasing pattern.
Most of those bits and pieces come directly from the subconscious. Ask an author where a particular scene came from, and you might get a shrug in response. It came from nowhere.
The marble that started Watch You Burn was an image that popped into my head. I used to drive past a boarded-up and abandoned Route 66 motel on my way home from work. When I was stopped at the traffic light one afternoon, the image of two girls standing in the ruins of that motel flashed through my mind. Where did that come from? I don’t know. But the marble started rolling.
From that growing ball of words and images and thoughts came the fictional town of Las Piedras, New Mexico and the Los Ranchitos Inn. Then came Jenny. She told me about her relationship with fire. How she hated it and was terrified of it—how she needed to possess and control it. The marble became a boulder careening down the hill toward the end.
What inspired you to write this story? The answer is never simple. Fiction is a living, organic thing. It changes every day the author works on it; it changes every time the author reads it.
Books don’t start from one place. They come from thousands of little pieces collected by the subconscious. But the creating happens when the author gets out of the way. I often overhear conversations or find myself in a situation or location that would make a perfect scene for a book. I used to try to the point of anxious dread to memorize every little detail, afraid I would forget before I could write them down.
And what would happen? I would forget most of those details, because trying too hard is the enemy of creativity. My subconscious didn’t want a ready-made scene. It wanted to glue all the bits and pieces together into something new.
Watch You Burn was originally set in my hometown of Albuquerque. I got so hung up on every real detail that the story couldn’t breathe. The characters were stuck going to the places I knew existed in real life. I couldn’t bring myself to add things that weren’t really there.
It was impossibly hard, and I had to give up. I had to let my subconscious put the pieces together the way it wanted, and it wanted a new setting where the characters could roam (and get into trouble). Letting go of what is is hard, but it’s the root of creativity.
Now when I’m in that real life situation that would make a perfect scene, I sit back and enjoy it. I let it wash over me. I don’t worry about the details. My brain is sucking them up, and all those pieces are being sorted and stuck in the craft drawers in my head. Some day they will come out again stitched together as something completely new. That’s what keeps me coming back to the page day after day. I can’t wait to see what’s going to be created next!