Whenever I tell someone I’m a writer, the question I’m most commonly asked is: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ The question supposes that ideas are phantasmal, evanescent creatures that can be plucked from the aether with the correct combination of lures and snares. Although I very much wish this was the case, the truth is messier and more complex.
The exact process for the generation and accumulation of ideas greatly varies from writer to writer. I don’t normally like to divulge too much, but today – just because I’m feeling generous – I’m going to let you peek under the hood. No, not there, that’s where the squirrels are nesting. Not there either, that’s where I keep some old teeth for entirely non-suspicious reasons. But here. You may look here and only here, otherwise some of your teeth might just end up over there, you get me?
Here’s (part) of how I put together the pieces for my latest novel, Rumors of Her Death.
SETTING: The Orrery
The mysterious building that defies the laws of both the state and physics is based on both a real place and the unreal place upon which that place is based, which many people believe to be real. It’s a recursive turducken of creativity. I visited a bizarre club in Bogota, Colombia where each of the three levels was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. I wandered through Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory, surrounded by an utter visual bombardment of overdesign and costumed waitstaff and thought, “Well this is obviously going in a story at some point.” I joined that original idea back to Dante’s concept of 9 circles of hell, and had each of the Orrery’s nine stories devoted to a different type of sinful indulgence; greed, lust, wrath etc., with the added twist of the final level being devoted to REDACTED. *
*You’ll have to read the book to find out.
MAIN CHARACTER: “Archie Leach”
I’m putting his name in quotes here because my central character uses a range of fake names, this one being the most prominent. Like most writers, Archie is a little bit based on myself, or, to be more specific, an exploration of the various selves I might be if my life had taken various possible directions and permutations. He’s much better at accents though.
BACKGROUND AND EASTER EGGS: Gnosticism
I grew up in a very religious household, and although I left religion behind in my twenties, the structure, mythology, and ideology of religion is irrepressibly pervasive throughout western society so it’s something I find relevant to write about in a surprising array of themes and genres. For this book I wanted to eschew Christianity and look at Gnosticism; there are some very obvious references (names of characters, drugs named after Gnostic demons) and some more subtle ones like sections of dialogue and song lyrics. I wanted to make sure that people who read this book a couple of times are going to find new things upon each revisit, while still grounding the book as a fast-paced page turner centered on plot and character.
THE MILIEU (AKA THE SOUP/VIBES/TONE)
When I approach a novel I want to think about more than just the setting in terms of time and place but also what the story is seeped in, what are the informational and stylistic tidbits that are going to occur throughout? Most of this comes from the way that my brain works and the things I’m drawn to studying, it’s the stylistic elements that occur as a side-effect of me being me. If you read a Neal Stephenson book, you’re going to walk away knowing a little bit more about science and technology, if you read a Neil Gaiman book, you’re going to gather a little more knowledge about myth and storytelling. I wanted this book to be steeped in the themes of atonement and reinvention, so everything from the characters’ names to the tech and drugs they use reflects these ideas in some way. You’re going to find some fun and esoteric info in here about social engineering, psychology, hallucinogens and mythology.
First and foremost, however, it’s a fun ride filled with bikies who enjoy yoga, a dog named Dante, and a neighbour named Nisha who has just as many secrets as our lead character.
Come for the adrenaline, stay for the mescaline.
J.M. DONELLAN is a writer, musician, poet, and teacher. He was almost devoured by a tiger in the jungles of Malaysia, nearly died of a lung collapse in the Nepalese Himalayas and fended off a pack of rabid dogs with a guitar in the mountains of India. He is the author of the novels A Beginner’s Guide to Dying in India and Killing Adonis (which was nominated for the Kirkus prize). He has spoken/performed at the Brisbane Festival, the Sydney Opera House, TEDxBrisbane, World Science Festival, and some very distinguished basements.
Aside from novels and poetry he has also written plays, video games, the internationally admired podcast series Six Cold Feet and the dance performance INTER. His latest novels are the gothic mystery Lenore’s Last Funeral and the surreal thriller Rumors of Her Death, the film version of the latter is currently in development with Continuance Pictures. He’s won numerous awards in a range of artistic fields but refuses to list them all here because no one likes a braggart.
RUMORS OF HER DEATH DESCRIPTION: An underworld courier is forced to repay a debt by taking a surreal journey through a nine-story mecca of hedonism known as the Orrery where he’s pursued by thugs, mercenaries, and the apparition of his allegedly deceased lover.
LENORE’S LAST FUNERAL DESCRIPTION: Lenore is a professional mourner who inherits the estate of one of her clients, drawing her into a strange conspiracy involving a cult obsessed with wealth and immortality, a missing girl, and a 200-year-old reptile named Nero. They are joined by Audrey, a financial dominatrix; Kyle, the famous actor and wavering spokesperson for the cult; and Orin (recently deceased but still eager to help).
LENORE’S LAST FUNERAL Sale Link: Amazon