Please welcome Lisa Unger, author of a new novel, Fragile!
Inspiration and Character, by Lisa Unger
The inspiration for my novels might come from anywhere – a painting or a photograph, a line of poetry, a news story, or a piece of junk mail. And if that germ connects with something going on in my subconscious, I start hearing voices. No matter what the initial spark, each of my novels has started with a voice in my head. When I begin to write, I have no idea how the story is going to end, who is going to show up day to day, or what they might do. I don’t even fully know what a book is about until I’ve been sitting with it for a while. This is why I was about halfway through the writing of Fragile when I finally realized what it was about — and that the story at its center was an event from my own past.
When I was a teenager, a girl I knew was abducted and murdered. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we were friends. But we were acquaintances, played together in the same school orchestra. And her horrible, tragic death was a terrifying and hugely traumatic moment in a quiet, suburban town where nothing like that had ever happened before. This event changed me. It changed the way I saw the world. And I carried it with me in ways I wasn’t aware of until I was metabolizing it on the page — more than twenty-five years later.
The story at the heart of Fragile has tried to make its way out in other partials that I have discarded or abandoned. The voices that had tried to tell it before were never strong enough to center a novel around. It is notable that the voices who finally were able to tell the tale are much older, people with a lot of distance from the fictional event. In other words, it’s almost as if we all — the characters and the author — needed to grow up a little to have access to the heart of the story, to really understand it.
Even though I saw Jones Cooper first, it was Maggie Cooper who first drew me into the book. I met in her a moment when she grieving the loss of her son — but not in any tragic way. She was warring with her teenager, missing the loving little boy he used to be (even as much as she loved the person he’d become). From the moment I connected with her, I was in The Hollows. And the story began to unfold.
In Fragile, as in all my novels, the true inspiration came from a voice in my head, from a character. In this case, the story that unfolded, was similar in many ways to actual events from my past, but so very different. This book is not a fictional account of the actual event; it is merely some combination of my memories and my imagining. And maybe this is the case for all fiction. It comes from a true and honest place, a soup served from the imagination, experiences and observations of the author. The actual germ of the story, whether inspiration came from within or without, matters very little in the telling.
Look out for our review of Fragile this month!