I think I’ve told the Saintsverse story a million times now–I read the Crows duology over the course of a couple weeks, and when I went to bed one fateful Sunday, it was after finishing Crooked Kingdom. When I woke up, after my usual dreamless sleep, there was a name in my mouth–Landon Ash. I had no idea who he was, where he’d come from, or what he was about, but I started trying to peel back the layers. On Wednesday, a package arrived in the mail. It was from one of my yoga friends, and inside was a citrine cluster. I bought this for me, she wrote, but I think it’s for one of your characters. A new one. It was, and still is, the weirdest thing to ever happen in relation to my writing. It wasn’t, however, the first time a book had inspired my writing, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Inspiration strikes in many forms. Realistically, Saintsverse probably started coming together while I was rewatching Peaky Blinders in one of the many, many times that I’ve wept over Tommy Shelby throughout the last several years. It only truly started to coalesce and take on an actual shape when I read the Crows duology, and while it was definitely inspired by both, it is not, by any means, a replica of either. One of my favorite book taglines is always going to be the one on Ace of Shades—Six of Crows meets House of the Rising Sun. It was just wild enough to make me pick it up, and it became one of my favorite series. Someday, maybe, you’ll pick up the researcher & the librarian, and it’ll say something like The Watchmaker of Filigree Street meets As Above, So Below. Like, WHAT. That makes no sense, but here we are, with a book about a psycho British researcher trying to figure out how to summon a demon who also happens to spend some time in the Italian catacombs screaming Dante at his kidnappers.
Crows may have been one of the many beginnings to Saintsverse, but it was not the end all be all of why I wrote it. And thus, here we are with six books that inspired six of my books.
The Raven Boys
the Pen boys
I’m going to try to do this in order, which does mean going back before Saintsverse, all the way to the Pen boys. Fun story, actually–this blog was created as a place for me to dump all of my Pen boys thoughts. I didn’t have an outlet other than one of my friends to talk about it, and Pen boys was a pretty transformational story for me in that it kickstarted a lot of painful healing, though that meant that I was practically bursting at the seams with wanting to talk about it. Thus, I created this blog, wayyyyy back in 2016, though I made it private, and it literally was just a place for me to shout into the void. Those original posts can still be found if you just scroll into eternity, and I’m glad that they’re there, a sort of diary of thoughts while I was writing something a bit chaotic.
The Raven Boys came even earlier than that. I’ve been reading Maggie Stiefvater’s books since Shiver first released in 2009, so when The Raven Boys came out in 2012, I already had it preordered and was freaking out about the possibility of a brand new Stiefvater universe. They released yearly while I was in college, and I have this really insane set of pictures that I’m unashamedly going to share here:
I’ve taken one with every single TRC book, and I plan to keep on with the tradition when Mister Impossible releases later this year.
And then a whole mess of things happened all at once. In April 2016, the night before my nephew was born on the thirteenth, my best friend walked out of my life. At the end of the month, on the 26th, one of my favorite series of all time came to an end with The Raven King. One month later, in May, I started writing.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Pen boys is inspired by The Raven Boys. Heck, even the titles are similar, though mine will forever be a working title, and there’s no way I’ll actually call it that when I someday get around to rewriting it and trying to publish it. (That is very far down the road.) Harrison is practically Gansey in Latino form. James has way too much in common with Ronan. Oliver is, admittedly, pretty different from all of them, though I’m sure readers will see a nod to Noah in him. And Jasper is, well–he’s a Weasley twin, admittedly, which means he probably has some Henry Cheng energy. The story itself has similarities, too–Penhallam is a private academy for boys, though mine is all about magic. Margaret falls for Harrison over the course of the series, though Harrison is far from the MC, and Margaret is definitely your most normal person ever. There’s angst over dead parents, best friends in love with each other, and a demon lurking in the shadows.
The Pen boys happened at a time in my life when I needed to see The Raven Boys reflected in my own writing. Stiefvater’s writing has been there for me time and time again, and I am fully capable of saying that she’s my favorite author. (Yes, above Tolkien.) TRC was a massive inspiration for the Pen boys, too, and though I’ll someday go back into it and reshape it into something that stands more on its own, I love the foundation that it was built on.
Oh, it’s weirddddd to be talking about comet novel, I don’t like it, and this’ll definitely be the smallest of these. Comet novel exists inside of my head, and it’s constantly evolving, and, some days, I’m not at all sure that I’ll get around to writing it, but if I do write it, it won’t be for actual decades. Never mind years, I know what I’m writing over the next several years, but legit decades.
I talked about my journey with David Mitchell when I reviewed his entire collection, and I’m forever waiting on the day when he finally announces a new book. I just typed that and immediately remembered that Utopia Avenue came out this summer, and it broke my brain. Okay, so I’ve reset, and now I’m waiting again for a new book, though I can definitely wait a little because I’m still reeling from the revelations in Utopia Avenue. ANYWAY, Mitchell has long been a force to be reckoned with, both in general and in my reading life, but it was The Bone Clocks that did it for me. The way that he’s slowly, over the course of the last twenty years, unfolded his universe until it’s starting to become impossible to read a new book without the background of the others is just fascinating to watch. Utopia Avenue was so normal for the about 85% of the book, except for a few quick things, but there’s that chapter at the end in Jasper’s POV that’s just wild, and it makes absolutely no sense if you haven’t read The Bone Clocks.
And this is twofold for me. Because comet novel and my own universe are inspired by Mitchell’s crazy universe, but in different ways. And similar ones? It’s weird. Every book I’ve ever written, and plan to write, exist within the same universe (yes, even Saintsverse), and while comet novel technically does, as well, it’s the most separate out of all of them, it will not contain any references to other, and it will stand entirely on its own. The rest of the universe will also stand on its own and can be read separately, but they also feed off of each other. It’s like LOTR and The Silmarillion. You absolutely don’t have to read The Silmarillion to understand LOTR, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun if you do. For me, sister witches will be a thing all on its own, but you’ll meet characters that have their own books, and the hope is that, eventually, the universe will wind its way around so that people are reading vampire detective purely because they got to know Andrew a bit in the second sisters witches.
Comet novel, however, will stand apart entirely, but it’s also insane. Much like how Cloud Atlas weaves through time and space, how The Bone Clocks is the central piece of the whole universe–comet novel is a story in pieces. It has eight main characters that are sprawled across time, but that also exist in a way that allows them to communicate with each other. It’s like if you smashed the idea of the traveling soul in Cloud Atlas with the chaotic ability of the cluster in Sense8 and made them into something beyond what I’m going to be capable of for a long time. But when I do finally sit down to write comet novel, it’s going to be with Mitchell’s universe in my brain.
Six of Crows
Ehhhhh, the OG reason for why this post was written! Which is odd, honestly, since it reflects its inspiration the least. Sometimes, I don’t even like saying that Saintsverse is inspired by Six of Crows because it’s so different, but the vibe is definitely there, and I know that readers will see it. I know I told the story in my intro, but that’s honestly how it happened. I was being totally psycho about Crooked Kingdom, and after getting a small cold post-Crows, I wanted to wait until I was feeling better before I embarked on what would hopefully be an outstanding sequel. Spoiler alert: IT WAS. Thus, though I wanted to read CK immediately after SOC, I ended up waiting a full two weeks, and then devoured the entire thing in a weekend.
When I went to bed that Sunday, I really had no idea what was about to happen. And when I woke up on Monday, I mean it when I say the name Landon Ash was sitting in my mouth. I don’t know where it came from, but I sat up and just spoke it into the universe. Landon Ash. I had no idea who he was, why he’d popped into my head, and what he was about to do to me. The following week was probably the most chaotic I’ve ever been while writing a book, and that includes trying to write a two thousand year vampire story right now. I felt like I was excavating some grand new wonder that had only been revealed to me, and that might mean my entire world shifting. It did shift a lot, too, after Saintsverse came into existence, and every novel that came after it has been a cause and effect of beginning that universe.
I wrote that first duology so fast, much like how I recently wrote the researcher & librarian duology in about four months, and I’ll never look back on those months with anything but fondness. It was the beginning of something wonderful, and though I’ve meant to go back and reread the Crows duology over the last nearly four years now, I know that the second I do, I’ll want to crack open Saintsverse and get back to work on it. Truthfully, though, there is no direct tie of inspiration other than Saintsverse was birthed immediately after I finished Crooked Kingdom. Landon has almost no similarities to Kaz, Madison blows shit up rather than stabbing things like Inej, Miles and Jesper do echo each other a bit, though Miles is much more of a doting father figure (albeit reluctantly), and I guess I can see Wylan’s bumbling nature in Riley if I squint enough, though she’s not a main character in the slightest. Where there’s gambling and heists in SOC, there’s a cathedral and religious persecution in Saints. Realistically, it’s more of the gritty, dark aspects of Crows that get to me, and it’s why I also see so much of Peaky Blinders in Saintsverse. Honestly, you want to talk about inspiration, don’t fall in love with Tommy Shelby and then read Saints because you’ll just straight up cackle at me. That is how Landon is modeled after.
But Crows will forever be the thing I launched into the dark moon that is Saintsverse with, and though they’ve drifted pretty far from each other, I’d still say that, if you like Six of Crows, you’ll probably like Saintsverse.
the bookstore boys
Gosh, the line from Shiver to the bookstore boys is utterly bizarre, and I love it. There’s a scene in Shiver, when Grace & Sam are trying to go on a normal date after all the chaos of their first few weeks together, and they end up in a bookstore. Sam takes Grace upstairs, and they curl into a sofa on the loft while Sam reads her Rilke in the original German, and it’s just so tender and so sweet, and my brain immediately went WRITE SOMETHING LIKE THAT. And, honest to Satan, that’s the sole inspiration from Shiver to the bookstore boys. Really, that’s not even the line.
Back in college, when Erin & I were lucky enough to live down the hall from each other rather than four hours away and separated by a damn pandemic, she would wander down to my room, tuck up onto my bed, and say, “Write me things.” THOSE WORDS. I think, if Erin said those words to me right now, there would be a literal Pavlov reaction, and I would just start power writing some Marvel fanfiction. (Don’t try it, it won’t work, I’m lying.) The amount of fanfiction that I wrote in college is astronomical, and all of it was her fault.
At the time, the Wolves of Mercy Falls series was coming to an end while I was in college. Forever came out in 2011, just before my sophomore year, and Erin & I really started becoming friends that year. I can bring myself right back to rereading Shiver that year, missing Sam & Grace more than anything, getting to that scene in the bookstore, and saying to her, “I want to write a bookstore au.”
“Do it,” she said, “Write me things.”
Truthfully, the history of bookstore boys is: Sam & Grace scene in the bookstore in Shiver made me write a Tony/Bruce bookstore au while I was in college that I loved so damn much that, years and years later, I said, again, “I want to write a bookstore au.”
“Do it,” Erin said, “Write me things.”
Thus, the bookstore boys were born. There is absolutely no similarity between Will & Emilien and Sam & Grace other than there’s a bookstore involved, and that’s where the romance starts. There’s no werewolves, no magic at all to speak of, and it’s only going to be one book. There is a lot of angst, and that angst does revolve around the parents in the story, but it’s all so contemporary and normal and sad. And I love it. The fact that a single scene in one of my all-time favorite books was able to inspire me, almost a decade after the fact, to write an entire novel is just so indicate of the power of reading.
the ones we left behind
The ones we left behind, a story born of both a book and an event, is the one that reflects its inspiration both the most and the least, and that’s purely because I’m not certain what it is anymore. I read Bad Call by Stephen Wallenfels in a single sitting one summer, and, a few weeks later, I went on a hike with my dad. Bad Call is about a group of friends that go on one last big adventure together before the school year starts, and to say they are ill-prepared for the snowstorm that descends on them while hiking is a major understatement. A whole lot of bad shit happens while they’re on the hike, including some severe maiming and a character death. Obviously, while I was hiking with my dad, all I could think about was this story. It wasn’t even a “we’re going to die in a freak snowstorm!!” thing, but just a “I want to write a hiking novel, why haven’t I done that yet?”
And then, while hiking, we stumbled across something strange.
I really wanted to include a picture, but can’t find one, so you’ll have to just accept my description. On a trail that was otherwise hidden beneath a massive forest of trees and only the barest of summits, we suddenly stepped out of the tree line and into a wide, open field. It stretched for what felt like forever on either side, though we could see several paths leading up to it. The paths were rocky, steeply inclined, and should have been impossible for the RV weirdly sitting at the edge of the field to have climbed up.
We stopped in the field, staring around, wondering at how the RV could have possibly gotten there, and my dad started laughing. “I can practically see the gears turning,” he said, “What book just came to life in your head?”
Realistically, the problem with the ones we left behind is that I have the characters, but I’m uncertain of the plot. For a long time, I wanted it to be a hiking novel, and while I’m still leaning in that direction, The Haunting of Hill House definitely made me want to write a haunted house story, and uhhhh, yeah, I could totally apply these characters to a scary story rather than a hiking one. For now, I’m not really aching to write it, so I just keep on keeping on, writing other books while that one builds itself in the back of my brain until, one random day, my brain starts shouting. Hopefully, by then, I’ll know if this is a hiking or a haunting story.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
the researcher & the librarian
I’ve said it before, but after reading Lara Elena Donnelly’s The Amberlough Dossier, I wasn’t sure what would happen with my heart. I thought it would forever be a sad thing to be pitied, withering away in darkness and despair without the terrible beauty that is Aristides & Cyril. And then, I found Natasha Pulley. There was honestly only a month or two in between finishing Armistice and finding The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, but I was fully prepared to never feel the way I did about Amberlough about another book of its similar strange aesthetic for a long time, so Pulley felt like a godsend. And really, there is no true inspiration behind Thaniel & Mori’s adorable romance and Freddie & Hugo, but it’s more the aesthetic.
I’m not a historical fiction writer by any stretch of the imagination, though I’m sure I’ll be pegged as one occasionally when it comes to things like the researcher & the librarian and Andrew’s two thousand year story. There’s a lot of history packed into both, and given that they both take place far away in time (Freddie is only in the 30s, but Andrew travels back to BC), I can see where the urge to label them historical fiction comes from, but, at their core, they’re still urban fantasy. And really, that blend between the two genres is what I love about Donnelly & Pulley so much, and it’s why I’ve started to veer that way in my own writing occasionally.
I just could not think of a better setting for a bumbling researcher who wanted to figure out how to summon a demon than 1930s Portugal in the majestic beauty of the Joanina library. I don’t even remember how Freddie came into my brain. Looking back on my messages with Erin, it looks like I just woke up with him in my head one day, and he slowly unraveled into a person, though it was definitely not as mad and all-consuming as Landon. Saintsverse was always something I was going to write, but the weird, slow, gentle kind of historical fiction was never something I thought I’d do, and it probably won’t be something I’ll ever do again. (She says, full well knowing that it almost certainly will now that I’ve said it won’t because that’s just how the fickle universe works.)
But that aesthetic that Watchmaker and Amberlough has, that’s what inspired me to write the researcher & the librarian, and, who knows, if a third book wanders across my heart that’s got aggravatingly stubborn characters who are obviously in love with each other, but are also fighting a war in the middle of a long ago time period, well. There might be another Freddie in my bones. (Nah, that’s definitely not happening, there’s only one Freddie in my heart.)