One of the most common questions you get as an author is: where do you get your inspiration? It’s also one of the most complicated and yet simple questions to answer. Anywhere and everywhere, sums it up. Though that’s not particularly helpful or informative to inquisitive readers and aspiring writers.
In an effort to be more helpful and less cryptic, I’ll talk about the Warlord’s Concubine, our newest novel, that just came out this past month. In it, we have the story of a handmaiden to a princess, Mirella, who finds herself under the rule of some barbarous conquerors from the north, who’ve taken over her owner’s city-state.
It’s a tale of conflict, between the two women — the princess and her handmaiden — and between the peoples of Ariste and the conquerors from the north. While it’s centrally a tale of dark romance as developments occur between the new God-King warlord and the two women, at its heart it’s about Mirella’s own growth and struggles as she finds new strength and power in serving a new master.
The opening scene, set atop the Aristean royal families tallest tower, overlooking a burning city below, was partly inspired by the Last T’En trilogy (by Cory Daniells). I read it quite some time ago, and I remembered how the setting — the young noble overlooking her castle as it fell to foreign conquerors — was so striking.
Plot wise, the Last T’En didn’t have any impact as such on the story, they are very different, and the princess of the Warlord’s Concubine is not the saviour of this piece, but that chilling scene from on high as everything you knew burned below you stuck with me. I started writing it without even realizing where that inspiration had come from.
Being a former historian — before I made writing a profession — real world history tends to inform a lot of my work and world building. In very vague terms, the Empire allied with Ariste was inspired in part by Rome, and the Ka’reem conquerors were inspired by typical notions of the Germanic barbarians of the north. This was all on a sort of low level inspirational note however. Unlike a lot of authors I don’t care to borrow from history directly by setting my stories in alternate reality versions of our past world; like Kushiel’s Dart (by Jacqueline Carey), for instance, which seems to be set in an alternate, fantasy world version of France judging by the map provided.
Without getting into spoiler territory, a big inspiration for later parts of the novel as Mirella finds herself absorbed into a group of powerful women was highly influenced by the Dune series (by Frank Herbert). The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood was always fascinating to me, their secretive order spanning a galaxy, influencing politics and wielding great power unseen.
In general, when it comes to ideas and inspiration, we keep a large folder of them on hand. Whenever something cool pops into mind, whether it’s a plot, or a simple inspiration for a cool scene, we jot it down and make note of it. When writing a new story then, if ever you get stuck or feel you need something more, you can reference your list of ideas and see if anything jumps out at you that would be appropriate.
It’s the method I’ve used for years, and it’s helped make the writing process smooth. So there’s always some cool new ideas and plots to enact and write out. Your treasure trove of ideas, plot hooks, and cool inspirations becomes an intensely valuable resource.