One of the most loathed questions among my writer friends, and the one asked by almost every interviewer, is “Where do you get your inspiration from?”
This question comes in many forms:
- How did you come up with that?
- Do stories just come to you?
- OMG, you’re so creative. How do you do it?
The honest-to-God short answer is that no one f@cking knows. Writer’s brains are a little like those mazes the white coated lab scientists train rats with – dark, twisty, and with a bit of rat fur (and quite possibly droppings) around almost every corner.
Writer brains are like a complex piece of machinery handed to a two-year-old child, who shakes it up and down energetically and turns it upside down to see what comes out.
Sometimes there actually is a fairly straight line back to the inspiration for a particular story of mine. It might be a song I love, or an unusual word someone mentioned that made me prick up my ears. Or an article in the news might have sparked something in me and led to a sudden, involuntary expulsion of words onto the screen.
But often I have no idea at all where it came from.
I’m experimenting with writing short stories on the weekends and focusing on my next novel during the week (spoiler alert, it’s not going terribly well – I am horrid at managing these things). But I have managed to write three brand new short stories, and am almost done with the fourth.
The first one, Summer Lands, was inspired by the idea that it might be necessary at some point to sleep away the torrid summers if climate change continues apace.
The second, Airlock Justice, was my exploration of what a trial might look like in a colony on Mars, and was inspired in general by my love of Mars books and in particular by SI Clarke and Jamie Fessenden, both of whom have written AMAZING Mars-themed stories (I beta’d Jamie’s, and can’t wait until it comes out).
The third short was an intentional exploration of the racist history of my latest world, Tharassas, published in Tales From Tharassas – a giveaway with purchase for The Dragon Eater and soon for sale on its own.
But the last one’s inspiration is a bit more… complicated. It was originally titled Wildcatter, and is now called Flawless (and that may not be the last word on the title). It started out as a spin-off from Dropnauts, exploring what was going on in another part of the LimFic universe – the asteroid belt. I still think it fits there, but when I pulled out the idea to work on it last month, I decided it needed something to make it not just another Expanse-inspired story.
So I cast about for a unique aspect, one that would set the story apart and give me a different tone. And of course, my mind landed on drag queens.
Yes, drag queens.
Because RuPaul. Because We’re Here – a fantastic show on HBO about drag being used to uplift small queer communities. Because the far right is trying to demonize them, along with trans folk, in an organized attack on the LGBTQ+ community the likes of which we haven’t seen since they went after marriage equality in the aughts.
And because what story wouldn’t be improved by a bit of tucking, a dollop of heavy foundation, and some Texas-sized hair? Even if drag queens themselves may soon be illegal in the Lone Star state…
The drag queens I know (and I use that word loosely) are all about finding the authentic you under all the crap we’re inundated with every day, and all the things society wants us to be. As RuPaul herself says, “We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.” But our society is heavily invested in which kinds of “drag” are acceptable, and which should be banned.
So I’m running with it. Shake writer brain vigorously, turn over and see what falls out.
Maybe the market for drag-queen stories has dried up, or maybe everyone will be too scared to publish one. I’m having a blast with it, and in the process, am celebrating men who have moved beyond toxic masculinity and into the celebration of their entire selves.
As several friends recently made me remember, it’s not about fitting into the boxes society chooses for you. It’s about finding the authentic you, the you that you were meant to be, even if that flies on the face of what everyone else tells you.
So drag queens in space, it is. Let the fusion begin! (And there may be glitter bombs too).
To my writer friends, how do you handle questions about your sources of inspiration?