On publication of Bloodwitch, the latest in the multiple bestselling Witchlands series, author Susan Dennard talks exclusively to SciFiNow about her writing inspirations, the importance of reading… and, er, Justin Timberlake.
As an author, people often ask, “Where do your ideas come from?”
I’ll be honest: this question has always puzzled me because ideas are just…there. They come from everywhere; they come constantly. My problem is never “no ideas” but always “too many ideas.”
But lately, I’ve been looking harder at this question. What does inspire me most? And looking back, what was the initial spark that pushed me into writing?
Turns out, the answer is easy: fandom. Other stories were the first to inspire my own, and only by reading and reading and reading some more could I ever have become a writer.
The first fiction I ever wrote was at the perky age of 12. I was obsessed with a book called Dinotopia. It had been (and still is) one of my favourite daydream tools. I would browse page after page, pretending I lived in that world where dinosaurs and humans coexisted peacefully. There was so much fodder for my brain. So many places I could imagine adventures unfolding.
However, before age 12, it had never occurred to me that I could transfer all my daydreams onto the page. Not until a homework assignment from my English teacher (write a mystery short story!) did I realise the power a keyboard could wield.
After that, I was a writing machine. Most stories I typed out were short – five pages, max – and many were never finished. But that didn’t matter. I had become A Real Writer, and gone were my dreams of being a marine biologist. An author I would one day be!
(Hilarious side note: I actually got my MSc in marine ecology before becoming a novelist. I guess that makes me 2 for 2 with accomplishing childhood dreams.)
After a year of dabbling in Dinotopia fan fiction, I discovered a new world that become my new obsession: Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. In fact, my best friend and I fell so deeply into the rabbit hole of Pern – dragons and harpers and Thread, oh my! – that we would go over to each other’s houses after school to draw bad fan art and craft complicated stories about our dragonrider characters.
For some reason, I was also really obsessed with the name Paige – except that I always spelled it with various “fantasy” twists. E.g. Payge, Paage, Payj… All versions were used at some point in my many fan fics.
Honestly, thank goodness the Internet wasn’t the Internet back then, or all of Paije’s/Page’s/Paaj’s stories would now be online. *insert my panicked laughter here*
The crowning achievement of my fan fic writing came when I was 14, though. You see, I discovered this amazing band called N’SYNC. Their lead singer, Justin Timberlake, was the swooniest boy I had ever seen, and as soon as I heard him belting, “I want you back!”, I was in deep, deep lurrrrve.
Cue: fan fic after fan fic after fan fic in which JT fell for someone named…you guessed it! PAIGE! Or occasionally Page. (Honestly, I don’t know why I liked that name so much. It just sounded so much cooler than Susan, I suppose.)
My favourite fic from the Golden Age of Timberlake is one that I now regularly read at conferences. It’s my Justin Timberlake x Indiana Jones crossover fan fic, in which I was Indy and JT was a boy who needed rescuing from the Nazis.
Spoiler alert: I saved him and cracked a secret in one of the Egyptian pyramids. All in a day’s work for Paige/Payje/Payge.
It is a terrible piece of writing (which is why I love reading it at conferences. Hilarity always ensues), but the quality isn’t what matters. What matters is that I was writing. Even if my characters and worlds weren’t my own, I was getting words onto the page and learning how stories are put together.
And the more I wrote stories based on my favourite fandoms, the more confident I grew as a writer. Until eventually, I was writing original content.
I’m not saying my original stories were good either, but at least I was practicing – and also finding my own unique storytelling voice.
These days, fandoms are still an important source of inspiration for me. Sure, my obsessions have shifted (Dragon Age, I love you forever; Farscape, please marry me), but that external spark remains. Something in those other worlds speaks to me, and tapping into whatever that is is absolutely critical for my writing.
Though that said, I have finally stopped naming everyone Payj/Paage/Page. You’re welcome.
Bloodwitch is out now from Tor. Get all the latest fantasy news with every issue of SciFiNow.