With Leisha’s Song officially heading out into the world this week, I’ve been doing lots of thinking and talking about the book to wonderful writers’ groups: Kentuckiana Romance Writers, Women Who Write, and the Bard’s Corner Writer’s Group. I love hanging out with other writers, and it’s been fun to trace the development of Leisha’s Song.
In thinking about the novel’s origins, I feel fairly clear about where the inkling of the story idea came from. Several years ago, I was standing in line in New York’s Port Authority to board a bus for Connecticut. A grandmother and teenage granddaughter were standing near me, and being the nosey writer I am, I was eavesdropping on their conversation. It became evident that the granddaughter was heading to boarding school for the first time, and she did not want to go. She was leaving all her friends in her neighborhood and wasn’t at all sure she wanted to go to some fancy school with what she called “uppity white kids.” Her grandmother would have none of that. Her granddaughter was smart, she said, she’d earned this scholarship, and it was her shot at a better life.
That got me thinking about what it would be like to be a whip smart young woman of color at a boarding school where the majority of students come from white, wealthy families.
As I developed Leisha’s character, and it came to me that at boarding school, she would fall in love with classical singing, I modeled her somewhat after a Howard University opera student. We lived together one summer when we were doing volunteer work in an African American community in Atlanta. Every night, Cynthia would go down to the basement of the house we were living in to practice. She had a voice from God and gave me chills whenever I heard her sing! In fact, one of the highlights of that summer was getting to perform “the Lord’s Prayer” at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Cynthia sang, and I danced.
So, I feel comfortable being able to talk about the germinating ideas for Leisha’s Song. Same goes for my novel, It Should Have Been You. Years ago, an adult dance student shared with me that she’d had an identical twin who was murdered while they were in high school. Her story stuck with me and became the inspiration for It Should Have Been You.
But truth be told, I don’t always know where story ideas come from. For example, right now I’m working on a middle grade novel about a kid vampire who hates the taste of blood and is convinced he landed in the wrong body. I recognize that this is a metaphor for trans kids who feel the way Varney does. And as a volunteer for comprehensive sexuality education, I have enormous empathy for what trans kids go through. But how Varney arrived in my consciousness? I have no idea! I’ve never written fantasy or middle grade novels. It’s a mystery.
In fact, so much of the fun of doing any kind of creative work is welcoming our imaginings and letting our mind play with them and expand upon them.
So, I guess it’s okay that I don’t always know where my story ideas come from. I’m just so glad whenever they land on my writer’s doorstep.