When people ask me where I get my ideas for young-adult novels, I have to laugh. Ideas rain on me in daily deluges – honestly, they do – but it’s not about the ideas themselves. It’s about what you do with the ideas. How you take and run with them. Where you direct a chosen raindrop’s path down your outstretched finger.
Ask ten writers to produce a wilderness survival tale, and you’ll have ten very different stories. But when I recently chose to tackle just that topic, three things shaped Mountain Runaways instantly.
First, I discovered a book published in 1958 by Harold Gatty: Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass. “Applying methods used by primitive peoples and early explorers, the author shows how to determine location, study wind directions and reflections in the sky, even how to use the senses of smell and hearing to find your way in the wilderness.” My creative engines cranked into full gear. Ditch the GPS, the cellphones, the maps; introduce incidents that diminish the food and tools. Then let the kids (I always write about kids) find their way.
Second, I went to lunch with a social-worker friend and asked her to help me get my characters lost in the mountains. Together, we brainstormed the orphans-fearful-of-being-separated-by-Social-Services angle.
And thirdly, while browsing in my favorite library, I came across former national park warden Rob Kaye’s autobiography, Born to the Wild. I contacted Rob and he became my wilderness guide. He did all the math on how much weight the three kids could carry. He chose elevations and “supervised” their moose and elk kills. From him I learned the difference between predator and scavenger and how long pemmican lasts.
The fact that I’m the second of six children made the sibling rivalry sooo easy to construct. And things flowed from there.
My other books have been inspired by students’ ideas (I love that they approach me after presentations), by a sense of place (my visit to the Great Bear Rainforest generated Drone Chase), or by experiences in my own life.
Where do I get my ideas? I’ve actually revealed that answer for each and every novel I’ve written, to inform and inspire kids and fellow writers alike. Just go to PamWithers.com, click on “books” at the top right, click on whichever one interests you, then on “Read the story behind the book” below the summary.
And next time you’re under an umbrella, lift your hand and catch a raindrop, then direct its path down your hand – with joy.
Pam Withers is an award-winning author of over twenty young adult novels, including Red Maple nominees Tracker’s Canyon and Stowaway, and two non-fiction books. She lives in Vancouver. Learn more here.