Guest Blogger Jennifer Lynn Alvarez writes about The Book You Were Born to Write.
I recently read The Martian, by Andy Weir. It’s a unique, thrilling, and detailed survival story described as “Apollo 13 meets Cast Away.” I thoroughly enjoyed the book, in spite of all the math equations and the use of the metric system (English Lit. major here). But I’m not writing about Andy Weir to review his wonderful book, I’m writing about him because of something he said in an interview:
“I love reading up on current space research. At some point I came up with the idea of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The more I worked on it, the more I realized I had accidentally spent my life researching for this story.” Andy Weir (Book Browse online interview)
You see, Mr. Weir is a self-proclaimed space and science fanatic inspired by the idea of humans someday traveling to Mars. While penning the novel, Mr. Weir wrote his own software program to calculate the constant thrust trajectories of his imagined mission—all based on real-life technology. He crafted the main character’s wisecracking personality after his own, and supplied him with entertainment on Mars in the form of a crewmate’s recorded 70’s shows, which happen to also be the author’s favorites.
The fact that this book is grounded in the passions and education of Andy Weir is what makes the tale ring true. He used what he knows; space travel, computer science, his own personality, and his childhood interests to imagine a story that is pure science fiction. And The Martian has taken the world by storm. Mr. Weir originally self-published the book, but quickly sold the rights to Crown Publishing. The novel debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Film director, Ridley Scott, and actor, Matt Damon, will bring this story to life next month in theaters everywhere. (Source: Wikipedia)
So how does Andy Weir’s success apply to us as writers? It all goes back to his sentiment from the interview: The more I worked on it, the more I realized I had accidentally spent my life researching for this story. While the author didn’t set out to write the story he was born to write, he accomplished it by pursuing his passions and his expertise with his pen.
We all have a passion for something, right? I hope so. And we all have expertise, whether it’s studied or acquired through life experience. And the intimate knowledge we have about people, places, things, or relationships can be used to bring our books to life for others.
Readers, literary agents, publishers—they respond to authenticity no matter how outrageous the tale. Personally, I wrote and queried four novels before I sold my first book, The Guardian Herd, to HarperCollins. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that this fifth book is the one that broke through because it’s the book I was born to write. I’m a lifelong horse-lover, I’m fascinated by politics, and I love reading fantasy. My book series is about five herds of flying horses at war with one another and the special black pegasus foal who will inherit the power to either unite or destroy them. As you can imagine, this upsets the leaders who stand to lose their power. It’s politics, horses, and fantasy all rolled into one.
But what do I really know about pegasi: Very little. What do I know about horses: A lot. I grew up riding and I own a horse now. I applied my knowledge of stallion behavior to all my pegasi, male and female, making them fierce, protective, and territorial. But I also used my imagination to give them ninety-year lifespans, emotions, speech, and strict rules of power. It’s an imaginary world, but it’s informed by my real experiences with horses, my studies of politics, and my formative years of reading animal fantasy novels.
This brings me to my last point, which is about genre. I believe that the book we’re born to write is also the book we’re born to read. When you hit the sweet spot of combining your passions with your knowledge and adding that to your favorite book genre, you will write something truly magical. I can’t promise it will become a bestseller, but I do believe it will find a devoted audience of like-minded readers.
How about you? What are your areas of expertise, your passions? What type of book are you dying to read? Well, don’t wait for someone else to write it, that’s your book.
Here are some equations to help you get started (in honor of Mr. Weir who loves math):
Knowledge + Passion + Genre = Book You Were Born to Write
Computer Science + Traveling to Mars + Science Fiction = The Martian (Weir)
Horses + Politics + Fantasy = The Guardian Herd Book Series (Alvarez)
But don’t worry if the book you were born to write doesn’t immediately pop into your head. I loved horses and knew I wanted to write about them long before I tried it. Instead I filled my time writing practice novels, studying the craft of writing, and daydreaming, and so when inspiration struck, I was ready to act! I encourage all writers to set regular hours, don’t judge your first drafts, and to seek feedback. One day, the big idea will come, and when it does, you’ll be ready.
Note from Marlene: Figure out your equation and just write! Jennifer will be the Writers Forum presenter in Petaluma on Sept. 17, 2015. Join us, if you can. Jennifer will talk about World Building: How to Create Fiction That Feels Real. The Guardian Herd Series Starfire and Stormbound will be available for purchase.
Jennifer is an active horsewoman and volunteer with U.S. Pony Club. She draws on her love of animals for inspiration when writing her books. Jennifer graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. degree in English Literature. Jennifer lives on a small ranch in Northern California with her husband, three children, and more than her fair share of pets. Please visit her website for more information.
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