Writers are often asked about where they find inspiration for their stories. A great answer is always "the idea store," because the real answer is often long and convoluted. Debut author Michael Hiebert talks about the inspiration for his coming-of-age mystery, Dream with Little Angels, the story of mom Leah Teal, a widowed police officer, as she investigates the disappearances of children in Alvin, Alabama—all told by her 11-year-old son, Abe.
Guest post by Michael Hiebert
It’s funny, sometimes, where you draw your inspiration from. Often, you don’t even realize you’ve taken something from somewhere until long after the fact or until you sit down and actually think about it.
I decided to do just that in this post with my book Dream with Little Angels. I knew I had been inspired from a number of places, I just hadn’t thought to sit down and catalog them before.
Inspiration for the Story
Many comparisons are being drawn in the press between Dream with Little Angels and To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s true, I did read To Kill a Mockingbird before sitting down to write. However, my story, to me, was always about my 11-year-old protagonist, Abe. It was never a book about this or about that. It was just a book about what it would be like to be an 11-year-old boy growing up in a small town in Alabama with a mother who had to contend with horrible crimes going on.
Inspiration for the Title
I spent six months living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and down there, when they kiss their children goodnight, they say this little thing to them in Spanish that translates into “Dream with little angels.” It’s so much nicer than, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The first time I heard it, I knew one day I’d be using it as a book title.
Inspiration for the Setting
When I started Dream with Little Angels, I was dating a girl who lived in Alabama, and I knew I would be spending a lot of time down there. I also fell in love with the way she talked. Having seen how the setting in Harper Lee’s book leant to the sense of innocence and tenderness, I decided to try my hand at setting my book in Alabama. As soon as I came up with my main character and placed him in that setting, I knew I had made the right choice.
Inspiration for the Main Character
I am partial to writing in children’s voices. I have done a lot of it, mainly in my short story work. So telling Dream with Little Angels from the point of view of a child was an obvious choice for me. As soon as I began writing it that way, I realized it was the perfect point of view and offered the best opportunity to really express that sense of innocence and tenderness I mentioned earlier.
This is really a horrible story when you think about it. Little girls are getting raped and murdered and yet, somehow, in the middle of all this, Abe is able to not only make the reader care about the mundane life of an 11-year-old, but manages to create scenes that I think are actually funny. It’s hard to pull off funny in a book about 14–year-old girls disappearing. Constantly balancing the horror aspect of the book with the sweetness of childhood wasn’t easy.
My Inspiration as a Writer
My inspiration as a writer will always be Charles Bukowski, despite the fact that we don’t write very much alike at all. It was after reading my first Bukowski book that I decided I wanted to write. There’s just something about his work that grabs you and won’t let you go. Oftentimes, you’re reading what seems to be very simple prose and then realize that, no, there’s something else going on beneath it all—something much more complex and dynamic. I’m not even sure Bukowski knew about it as he wrote, but it’s there.
There you have it. My five key inspirations for Dream with Little Angels. It will be interesting to do this same exercise with the sequel, Close to the Broken Hearted, that should be out next summer.
Michael Hiebert is an award-winning author of novels and short stories. He won the prestigious Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller’s Award twice in a row and has had his work published in The Best American Mystery Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. His writing often contains elements of mystery and the fantastic, as he tries to find the redemption in the horrific; the surviving heart still left beating among all the sorrow; the beautiful lost somewhere in all the ugliness of the world. Michael lives in Canada with his family. Visit Michael Hiebert online at www.MichaelHiebert.com