THE BLOG
04/09/2013 03:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2013

What Inspires Authors to Write Their Novels?

Ask any group of authors what inspired them to write their novels, and you'll get a collection of answers as different as the books themselves.

Erin Hart is the author of four archaeological crime novels set in the mysterious bogs of Ireland. What inspired her newest novel, The Book of Killowen?

My inspiration for The Book of Killowen came from a real artifact known as the Faddan More psalter, a ninth-century book of psalms discovered in an Irish bog in July 2006. The book was open, and in reading few legible lines, archaeologists knew that it was a psalter. It just so happened that on a research trip way back in 1999, I'd been at the National Museum of Ireland's Collins Barracks conservation lab when work began on a leather satchel that had just turned up -- in the very same bog. Now the possible connection is that Irish monks, who were noted around the world as scholars and scribes, stored and carried their books in leather satchels. So of course I wondered about the person who'd been carrying the Faddan More psalter. (You know crime writers, always on the lookout for a corpse... ) Had the book-carrier escaped a Viking raid? Or become the victim of a secret and unlawful killing? Was he also somewhere down in the bog? No body has turned up at Faddan More -- not so far, anyway -- so I had to make one up.

Teri Coyne is the author of The Last Bridge, a haunting novel about a daughter who returns home after a ten year absence to bury her mother and unravel the meaning of the suicide note addressed to her.

Teri talks about her inspiration:

The Last Bridge was inspired by an image that appeared to me one day of a farmhouse kitchen with garbage bags taped to the walls. I sat down and started to write about what I saw in my head and what I thought it meant. Even after all these years, that image is still as vibrant to me as it was when it first appeared. The idea for the novel I am currently writing came the same way. I get an image or feeling I can't shake. I write to understand it.

M.J. Rose is the bestselling author of thrillers that center around reincarnation. She talks about what inspired her new book, Seduction, due out May 7, which explores the story of Victor Hugo's tragic loss of his daughter and his desperate attempts to contact her via séances.

M.J. says:

A trip to Paris and Victor Hugo's home there inspired me to read Les Miserables. I became obsessed with Fantine. I kept wondering if someone had inspired Hugo to create her? I started reading more and more about him. I read his poetry. Sought out his watercolors and drawings... I had wanted to be an artist and still do watercolors so I found his work especially fascinating. But it was coming across a description of his belief in reincarnation and his experimenting with séances that made me decide to write about him... and the woman who might have inspired him to create Fantine.

Sarah Stonich's new novel, Vacationland, has been called" "A brilliantly engaging novel, focusing on the power of memory, new discoveries, and shared experiences." Here's what inspired it:

Sometimes the only thing connecting us is place and place often manages to unify us. When writing Vacationland I hadn't set out to challenge the Minnesota stereotype, but as I got further along, it occurred to me that in these connected stories, not all the men are good looking and not all the children are above average (nor are neighbors named Ole or Lena, and they aren't all white either). After realizing I'd been writing the real Minnesota more or less as a character, I thought it deserved a place to live, so I was inspired to create Naledi Lodge, a fictional resort that is the one geographical point each character in the book has in common. I wanted to populate Vacationland with people I might know -- people you might recognize as yourselves.

Frigid, lethal, and wildly beautiful, Lake Superior is as alluring as it is dangerous. Danielle Sosin's award-winning novel, The Long-Shining Waters, with storylines set in 1622, 1902, and 2000, illuminates this iconic and most mysterious place.

Danielle explains what inspired her to write about life on this great lake:

Lake Superior itself was the inspiration for the novel The Long-Shining Waters. I've felt a deep connection to Lake Superior since my first encounter with it as a child. It is a haunting, powerful body of water, and this book is my attempt to explore what makes it such a profound and singular presence. The premise of the novel is that Lake Superior is holding it history. Literally, this is true. The frigid water temperatures keep preserved all the objects that have come to rest on the lakebed. But more important to me is the idea that the lake is holding its history in a watery subconscious way. Imagine that everything that has happened on and around the lake is held in the waters -- all the eras and all the stories held simultaneously. Time then becomes non-linear creating the water's haunting presence, which both affects and connects the people who live on its shores.

My current novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban, bubbled to the surface during a tour I took of Glensheen Mansion, a stately, old home on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Once a private home and now a museum, Glensheen has its own haunted history -- matriarch Elizabeth Congdon and her maid were murdered in the house by Elizabeth's daughter and her husband, no less, and reportedly both of the slain ladies remain -- but I wasn't interested in writing their story. I wasn't looking for story inspiration at all. I was just taking the tour.

It was a gorgeous summer day on Lake Superior, and after wandering from room to glorious room inside, I walked out onto the patio that spans the whole length of the house. I stood there gazing at the meticulously-manicured lawn that flows out to the lake, which was glittering in the summer sun.

I thought: "What a great place to host a party!" And I started imagining it -- men in their summer suits, women in long, cotton dresses, servers in black circulating with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. I could almost see the ghostly images of the revelers there in the yard, talking, laughing, listening to music wafting through the air.

And then, being the type of writer I am, I thought: "Ooo. What if somebody wound up dead at that party?"

I could clearly imagine that, too. A gunshot, a scream piercing the night air, the confusion that would follow -- stunned onlookers, too traumatized to move, others running for the door, a police siren, faint at first and then growing louder. The anguished cry of grief as a love is lost forever.

I don't know how long I stood there, caught up in the scene playing out in my own mind. The thought of it just wouldn't let me go. And so began The Fate of Mercy Alban, a novel centered around a long-ago summer party at a stately old mansion much like Glensheen, where one of the party guests, a world-famous writer, winds up dead, and the daughter of the host and hostess disappears without a trace.

Now I'm starting my fourth novel and casting about for plot ideas. Maybe I'll take another tour of a haunted house and see what's lurking in the corners.

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