" I read your book earlier today and as a fellow writer it inspired me. If possible could you give me some insight on your writing process or what inspired to create this story."
So. A few different things.
When I knew I wanted to write fiction, I knew I had some work to do. I was always a pretty reasonable writer, but I didn't really get how plot and story worked so the first step (boring, I know) was to do some self-education. I read everything in the local library on writing craft. Some things were more helpful than others.
The best resources I found were these:
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller. (I also loved, loved, loved his Blue Like Jazz, but that's another whole topic.)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. (This one's about screenwriting but it's mostly about story, and I loved how simple it was. Obviously I'm a bit of a dummy.)
One Year Adventure Novel by Daniel Schwauber. (This was a whole course for homeschoolers, basically about the essential elements of story. Really worthwhile, just for the workbooks alone.)
I plowed my way through them and learned a lot. And at that point I sat down and started to plot out the novel.
I wanted to write about a girl who found her voice on the stage. But to do that, she had to have a reason for not having a voice in the first place and she had to have a lot to get over so that we'd all be cheering for her at the end.
I picked the two things I knew about: moving a lot and bullying. And then added in a couple of things I didn't know about, but knew I could research - bipolar, a parent's death, and deafness. The combination was pretty potent.
At that point, I had to start to climb into Jazmine's skin and write it from her perspective. I'd been reading a book about brains and neurology (my son has autism and I read a lot of stuff like that) and one of the main things it said was that if one part of your brain doesn't fire so well, other parts tend to compensate. In other words, if you're deaf, your eyesight and your other senses are a lot more acute. I figured that if Jazmine couldn't hear, she was probably a lot more aware of the sensations in her body and the colours she saw, so I tried to feel and experience just how she would experience the world around her, mostly without sound. I focused on the sensations in her body, vivid colours, the interplay of light and dark and the feeling of dirt and grass on her fingers and concrete on her feet.
When I wrote each scene, I tried to block out my own circumstances and thoughts and feelings, open this little door in my brain and look inside it. That was where Jazmine was and if I stuck my head in and looked around and then tried to inhabit her body, I found I could write just what I saw and how I felt. That was probably the most fun bit of the whole writing thing. There were times when I wrote for an hour and a half, losing myself in the story. When I read back those bits later, I could see there was something a little bit magic.
The Secret Garden references came about because of the play. I'm not smart enough to make up a play, and the plot of the play really did have to tie into what was going on in Jazmine's life, so I decided to pick an old classic and try to make it fit. I skimmed through all the books on my daughter's shelf and scoured back through my memory to remember what I used to love to read. I found a beautiful version of The Secret Garden with artwork and pictures that really inspired me and it seemed to come together.
The bullying scenes were made up, obviously. But I've seen enough mean kids and experienced enough to know just bullying works. A few years ago I read Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco and I've been reading on power and abusive relationships for years, both of which helped. I really recommend Blanco's book to anyone who has ever been bullied, or to anyone who works with kids.
In one way, having Jazmine stand up to Shalini was really cathartic. It took me years before I could even start to stand up to abusive people and even now, being assertive makes me anxious. I wish I'd been as strong as Jazmine when I was 11 and at boarding school with some mean girls.
However, having been bullied (and having gone to boarding school, and had a few other hard things happen in my life) does mean that I've cried a lot and it seemed appropriate that Jazmine should cry a lot too. Poor kid. I feel so sorry for her, pouring out snot and tears all over her bed, but boy, does it help when you're in a tense or uptight situation. I should know! So, yes, the crying is all personal experience.
So, dear reader, basically, my writing process is pretty boring, quite technical and reasonably painful. It's a little bit better than pulling teeth, but not that much. And doing the editing and rewriting and adding bits and thinking through other bits is really tiresome and tedious. But when you have a book in your hand, and a character who seems to have actually come to life, it suddenly all seems worthwhile - even easy. So then you sit down to write another one...
By the way, check out Alex Isaac Rogers' books on Amazon or follow him on twitter on @AlexIRogers. Definitely worth a look if you've been bullied or if you work with kids.