Show Daily at BookExpo asked all six of the Adult Buzz authors what inspired their books. Here are their answers.
Seven years ago, a person I didn’t know and would never meet called the police on me for what they thought was my neglectful parenting. The fallout from this event spurred me to reconsider both my own identity as a mother and the culture of fear-based parenting in which I was raising my children. Writing for me is always a form of inquiry or interrogation; I write in order to unravel that which most mystifies me. With Small Animals, I wanted to understand how it was our notions of what it means to be a good parent and to keep a child safe have changed so radically in the course of a generation, how these changes disproportionately impact the lives of women, and what these changes and the rise of fearful parenting can tell us about our children, our communities, and ourselves.
I’d lived my way into a dead end and decided to write my way out. I’d achieved about everything a kid is supposed to achieve in this society, but I was cracked up, and many of my friends were cracked up, and the world was cracked up, too. So I set out to trace the cracks. Before I finished, one of my friends took his life. He came to me in a dream and said: “We did a lot of things that we would not advise anybody we loved to do.” My job became to make plain “those things,” to expose the dark side of the American Dream, to counter the ways we’re taught to live—to die, in fact—and, ultimately, to find and share a way to heal.
Maid began as an essay I wrote in college. Disregard whatever image that conjures in your mind. I was in my first writing workshop, taught by David Gates, a real writer, and I had to come up with 10 pages to submit to the rest of the class. My classmates, most 10 years younger than me, didn’t know what to say about an essay written by a single mom who had to scramble from scrubbing toilets to picking up a kid at preschool, her car breaking down along the way. To quell the silence, David Gates read the paragraph about the “Sad House” out loud to the class. He’d never done that before. When he finished, he shook his head, chuckled, and said “Solid gold, man. Solid gold.” I mostly forgot about it until I saw a call for essay submissions by Vox Media several years later. The morning the essay went live, my website got traffic of 4,000 hits an hour. People wrote to me, some thanking me, since they, too, grew up with or were single moms who worked a disgusting job for barely any pay. In the midst of it all, an agent contacted me, asking if I had a book in the works, and, well, here we are.
Ohio’s gestation dates back to one of those nights I had back in my hometown during my late 20s, pretty lost in life, banging around the bars, and having strange conversations with a range of people I’d known in high school. It all ended in a truly [explosive] thunderstorm with an old friend being pulled out of the car we were in and arrested. He’d later spend three days in jail over Christmas, and I woke up in a stranger’s house and that morning wrote the first notes that would grow into the idea behind the novel. It was something about all those conversations of loss and longing combined with the way events can hurtle forward with unpredictable momentum. Inspiration is fickle and not always pretty.
I wanted to write about love and also about Liberia, two things that, at the time, I hadn’t quite figured out. When I started writing my novel, I hadn’t been back to Liberia since I was five, when we fled from the civil war, so it was a way for me to reconnect and rediscover a part of me that had been lost because of that war. I am also endlessly curious about love. I had a very specific, somewhat purist way of looking at love and its consequences as a child, because my parents and grandparents have epic love stories that crossed continents and religions. Still, I’ve always known that love is rarely ever spotless. I wanted to navigate imperfect love through story.
My beat, if I have one, is the intersection of crime and culture, ideally stories from the mid-20th century. Several years ago, I stumbled onto Sally Horner’s kidnapping while looking for my next project. When I learned the details, I was stunned: I didn’t know there was a real-life precursor to Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s still-controversial novel. And I was especially taken aback to discover he’d referenced her by name in the book. I wanted to know what happened to Sally, who she was, and how she survived her terrifying ordeal. I also wanted to know what Sally Horner’s brief and tragic life revealed about Lolita, about America just after WWII, and about who has the right to shape other people’s stories for art’s sake.