More often that not, the book you’re reading has been inspired, to some extent, by some class of relatively major real-life event, be that a particular war, a revolution, a time of cultural change, or the idolization of a certain historical figure or celebrity — the point is, if a book is set in the real world, it’s likely to have been influenced, at least in part, by fairly well recognizable situations. However, sometimes a novel can be inspired by something much smaller and insignificant when compared when wars, revolutions or rockstars. Sometimes, one fleeting moment, a chance interaction or a simple mistake, can inspire in an author a whole book’s worth of story telling! Here are five books which began as fleeting moments…
1. The Best People by Marc Grossberg
Marc Grossberg’s The Best People follows a cop-turned-attorney, Paddy Moran, whose sense of right and wrong is challenged as he enters the world of elite divorces in Huston. As best-selling author Andrea White puts it in her glowing review, “As his dreams get bigger, his crimes grow darker.” According to his website, Grossberg’s ‘tale of trials and errors’ “portrays a Houston as it is, a glitzy meritocracy populated with larger-than-life characters. It is the landscape where the country-club and café-society sets clash amidst clever legal manoeuvring, big law firm politics, a Ponzi scheme and judicial corruption.”
When asked who or what inspired his main character of Paddy Moran, and the situations he gets himself into, Grossberg admits:
I was at a family event at a Marriott in Houston and went to the bathroom. I heard female voices. At first I thought they came through the vent but then I realized I was in the women’s restroom. Not wanting to be thought of as a pervert, I made an anxious, stealth departure. Then, I wondered what if someone heard a conversation they weren’t supposed to hear in a place where the speakers thought they had privacy. Although that scene doesn’t come until late in the book, the entire plot spun from that.
Who’d have thought something as simple as walking into the wrong bathroom could spark the idea for a whole novel, and a successful one at that!
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2. When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
When All Is Said, the number-one bestselling debut novel from Irish author Anne Griffin follows an old man named Maurice Hannigan, as he had as drink for each of the people who effected his life the most, and in doing so, unearths long buried secrets. This heartbreaking novel has stolen hearts all over Ireland and the rest of Europe, and is now available in the US and Canada. But Griffin didn’t pluck Maurice out of thin air. She met him in a bar, she reveals in an article for The Irish Times:
A few years back… I met an elderly man at a hotel bar. He had a head of white hair and a voice that was deep and melodious. Amongst other things he told me he’d worked in the hotel as a boy, not that it was a hotel back then.
He enchanted me. It was no surprise, I’d a history of listening to quiet men tell stories in hushed rooms. In him I heard the gentle voices of my father and uncles.
My time with this man was to be brief. We spoke only for a few minutes before he began to say his goodbyes. But just as he finally turned away he said these words: “I’ll not see the morning.”
It was then he left. Too late to pull him back to ask what he had meant, his words seeped into the heart of me as I watched the spot he had vacated. I wondered what it was that had brought him to tell a stranger such a thing. I knew then, that this man with his kindly worn face, his openness, had just given me a precious gift no writer could ignore – the inspiration for a story.
3. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
So this one might be a bit of a throwback, but who doesn’t love a classic? You’re probably familiar with the tale of Phileas Fogg who sets out to sail around the globe in a hot air balloon. So where did Jules Verne get such an idea? The story goes that Verne was inspired to write his beloved novel Around the World in Eighty Days after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper in Paris, which offered tourists the opportunity to travel the world in eighty days. was flipping through a newspaper in a Parisian café when an advertisement caught his eye. At the time, this sort of travel was unheard of, and Verne got writing!
4. 10:04 by Ben Lerner
Poet, novelist, essayist, and critic Ben Lerner has a frankly ludicrous number of accolades under his belt. But even the likes of Lerner find inspiration in the little things in life. Upon learning he had to have tooth pulled, Lerner imagined telling his friend about it, conjuring the lines “then as I inhaled the delicious N20 I had the sensation that I was already telling Yarrow—that I’d floated away from the office back into his presence”. He is quoted in an interview with The Believer as saying:
I remember I had been walking around the city with my cousin Yarrow before I went to the dentist, and then the dentist said I had to have a tooth pulled right away because it was infected. Before he gave me the laughing gas, I imagined telling Yarrow about what happened. And then as I inhaled the delicious N20 I had the sensation that I was already telling Yarrow—that I’d floated away from the office back into his presence. And this minor experience did eventually get transposed into my fiction. As did some other dental and more serious medical experiences.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m aware of narrating certain experiences as they happen or obliterating those experiences with narrative and then those stories—not the experiences themselves—might become material for art.
5. A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel A Visit from the Good Squad, which is a comprised of thirteen connected stories following a number of characters all of whom have connections to Bennie Salazar, a record company executive, and his assistant, Sasha, a kleptomaniac. Jennifer Egan was apparently inspired to write the book after seeing a woman’s wallet exposed at the top of her handbag while in a bathroom, and imagining somebody stealing it. In an interview with CNN, Egan revealed:
The entry point for me was very much what it is for the reader; I was in a hotel bathroom, looked down and saw a wallet lying exposed in a woman’s bag. I’ve had my wallet stolen many times and ways in my life — through carelessness, oblivion or just plain being a sucker — and when I saw that wallet, I thought, “Oh, no! Someone will take it!”
Since I was the only person in a position to so, my mind made one of the fictional leaps that I live for: Someone would take the wallet. Who? And why?I began writing from that moment, and the rest followed fairly intuitively; a peripheral character in one chapter would catch my eye, and I’d think, “Who is that person? What does his or her inner world look like?”