The Problem with Inspiration
Thirteen years ago, I spent a lot of time walking. Much more than I do now. I lived in Boston, where I was twenty-three, starting my first year of graduate school, and living in what could barely be called an apartment in Brighton that I shared with a twenty-four-year-old Laotian travel agent named Alex. I spent most of that year doing three things: reading, loving, and walking.
I've been thinking a lot about those three habits as I get deeper into writing this new trilogy. Jane and Eric's story is probably one of the most anticipated things I've written yet. My readers have been very patient for this story. I wrote the first few chapters quickly and popped them onto the end of the Legally Ours because I was so excited to share them. It was an unintentionally cruel thing to do—little did I know it would be more than a year later before I'd get a chance to start writing it. I still get emails asking when the book is coming out.
I thought I might need to write Jane's story when she launched her endless tirade of jokes about Skylar's love life. I knew I needed to write it when she shouted "Christ on a Cracker!" in a room full of political operatives. And when her and Eric's affair started to unfold midway through the second book of the Spitfire Trilogy, it was clear that this girl had demons that needed to come out at another time.
Now I'm working on it. But it's coming...slowly.
Here's a secret: all nine of my previous books have drawn to some degree from autobiographical experiences. Was I swept off my feet in Boston by a reclusive billionaire? Well, no. But I attended school there, spent a lot of time around Brookline and Cambridge in my mid-twenties. I was close to Skylar's age when I met my husband, an electrical engineer who was almost Brandon's age. Like all three of my other female characters, I attended NYU as an undergraduate. At one point I even lived in an apartment on Delancey Park, just like Layla. Maggie's entire childhood essentially takes place on the lake where I grew up.
Unlike these characters, Jane is a foreign beast to me. She has shouted some truths from the sidelines, while others are more shrouded. She's from Chicago—we know this from the first book. But guess what? I've never been there. She's the daughter of a Korean immigrant, and her relationship with her father has been finicky, to say the least. She's revealing her secrets to me little by little, but it's happening a little more slowly. The usual trick of pulling kernels from my own lives and then constructing another world around them isn't working.
When I ask myself what Jane and I have in common—the answer is almost immediate: Boston. But totally different experiences in Boston than I lent to Skylar. Skylar followed my path in Boston more astutely: she was a student, an athlete, closed off, and frequently caught between New York and Boston, between family obligations and her own dreams, just like I was. When I think about the moments of my life in Boston that Jane would identify with, it's less about the actions, and more about specific sensory experiences. A feeling. A touch.
Seattle, where I live now, isn't a walking city. It's too hilly, too spread out, and there are too many bodies of water scattered through the city to make anything an easy walk. But when I lived in Boston and New York, I used to walk everywhere, mostly to avoid the claustrophobia-inducing public transit. There might have been six inches of snow packed on the ground, but I was as likely to walk the hour to Trident Coffee from my apartment at the end of the C-line as I was to wait for the train. But also I did it for another reason: walking was the only way I could think.
I had an iPod. You know, one of the old, cheap ones, the tiny little pieces of tin that would clip onto your sweater. I had a totally random assortment of music loaded on the thing, which mostly consisted of a lot of Death Cab for Cutie and whatever indie bands my much cooler friends recommended to me. The Avett Brothers. Band of Horses. M.I.A. The Mugs.
There was one album in particular I used to listen to from beginning to end while I walked: Year of the
Meteors by Laura Veirs. I would stride around Boston in my cut-off plaid miniskirt, thick fishnet tights, and water-stained boots, bundled in my ugly black parka, listening to the lingering notes of Veirs's voice, which always seemed to drift into an oblivion instead of ending clearly. She echoed the restlessness I often felt at that age. She was the soundtrack to my own year of oblivion in Boston.
Today I remembered that album, and I've been listening to it on repeat all day for the
first time since about 2005. And for the first time since starting the project, I felt Jane with me. I could see her stomping around Boston as restless as I was, her combat boots treading the same paths across Allston, Brighton, up and down Beacon and Comm. Ave, beating on the pavement like a drum, setting her own beat.
I put on the the song "Galaxies," which wanders all over the place, just like me. Just like Jane. And then I went back to writing.