To me, my novels are “born” when they’re published. For example, the idea for my first published novel, A World I Never Made, came to me one night while having dinner with friends. One of them was telling a sad story of a woman she knew whose thirty-year-old daughter had committed suicide out of the blue. Her family thought she was happy, in her work and in her life, then suddenly she kills herself and leaves an audio cassette for each of her parents and six siblings by way of personal explanation. Such planning, so meticulous. Of course, there have been countless novels whose premise was the question of whether a dead body was a suicide or a homicide. I was not inspired to do another one. Then it occurred to me that similar planning, similar attention to detail, could go into a faked suicide, and with that thought, A World I Never Made was conceived.
Blood of My Brother, my second published novel, was conceived many years ago when I came across this from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon:
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
I typed it on a piece of paper, pinned it above my desk, and began writing a novel that was going to be titled, Drop by Drop Upon the Heart. That novel, many years later, was published as Blood of My Brother. The inspiration for it was the death, many years earlier, of a childhood friend, a death that I still mourn today, though much less so after writing the novel.
A word on creation, that is, the work of actually writing (and rewriting) that takes place between conception and birth. I change. I am a different person when I am writing a novel. I write every day, with few exceptions. I think of my plot and my characters as I’m falling asleep each night. When I’m not writing, I do things that require no brainpower, but my novel is never far below the surface. I am always conscious that I am creating something out of nothing, more so of course when I am at my computer, but even away from it. Also a word on perfectionism: I am a great believer in reviewing and rewriting, which is how I start each day. I want my novel to be perfect, which is not possible of course, but to not try to make it perfect would be wrong, a sin, I think. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, or what’s a heaven for?
James LePore is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on his work. You can read more about the program here.