I am often asked where I get ideas for my stories.
Several experiences influenced my decision to write When We Were Saints. First is my own enthusiasm over the Cloisters Museum in New York. I don't remember how young I was the first time my mother took me there, but I do know that I went as a teenager and I loved it. It is one of my favorite museums and I have always wanted to put it in a book somehow. I thought that I might write a story about the Middle Ages, a subject that has always fascinated me, and I actually did quite a lot of research on this. I've also always been interested in stained glass and cathedrals, and another influence on me in writing this story was a book I read about cathedrals and the way they were built and the reasons for building them. Then several years ago I spoke at a conference at Calvin College in Michigan, where I met quite a number of young people interested in spirituality and religion. This made me think about writing a story with a contemporary setting rather than historical. I decided that what I really wanted was to explore what it would be like for a young person today to experience the deeply spiritual life that someone in the Middle Ages might have experienced. Is it even possible today to have those kinds of experiences? What would be the consequences today on someone who has visions, and receives the stigmata?
If I Should Die Before I Wake, my first book, was inspired by a newspaper article I read about the resurgence of neo-Nazis in a neighboring town. This stimulated memories of how I had felt when I learned about the Holocaust, when I was fourteen or so. Back then I couldn't express my outrage about what human beings had done to fellow human beings. When I read the neo-Nazi article, I realized the outrage was still in me--but I also realized I finally had a way to express it.
I wrote Send Me Down a Miracle because I was homesick for the South, where I was born and where all my relatives lived. The book also was inspired by several anecdotes people had told me--one from my grandfather, one from a young boy, and one from a preacher.
Dancing on the Edge was inspired by my children and by other stories about children who, like my own, are adopted. For this book I asked myself two questions: How do you form an identity when those people who should be telling you who you are aren't there for you? And how does it affect a child to grow up "protected" from family secrets?
Aspects of my own life are reflected in A Face in Every Window. When I was younger, people moved in and out of my family's home, staying for a while and then moving on. Sharing their home was a way for my parents to share the love they had for us and for each other; they simply passed it on to anyone who needed it.
The idea for Burn Blue began with a conversation I had with my sister, Caroline, who had just been listening to the music of Laura Nero. We talked about how much we had loved her as teenagers, and Caroline suggested I write something about teens and their passion for music.
I don't usually take suggestions for stories from other people because the story, for me, has to come from within or I can't get through it. I had thought the idea was a good one yet I didn't sit down to write with it in mind. Instead, it was the voice of the main character, Leshaya, who spoke to me. She wanted me to tell the story of a homeless girl who manages to slip through the cracks of the foster care system.
Both heartbreaking and funny, CRAZY lives up to the intense and compelling characters Han Nolan is praised for. As Jason himself teeters on the edge of insanity, Nolan uncovers the clever coping system he develops for himself and throws him a lifeline in the guise of friendship.
King-Roy Johnson shows up on Esther's doorstep that summer, an angry young man who feels betrayed by the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. Sent north by his mother to escape a lynch mob, he meets a follower of Malcolm X's who uses radical teachings about black revolution to fuel King-Roy's anger and frustration. But with each other's help, both Esther and King-Roy learn the true nature of integrity and find the power to stand up for what is right and true.