Jennifer Brozek: Five Things I Learned Writing Never Let Me Sleep
What would you do if you discovered everyone in your house, on your street, and in your town dead? Then discovered you weren’t alone and what was out there was hunting you? Melissa Allen knows exactly how it feels. With only a voice on the phone for help, she must stop what is happening before the monsters find her.
1: Twitter is Great for Research
It all started when I asked twitter this question: “How long do you think it would take the world to notice if everyone in a state went to sleep at 2am and died?” The answers brought up things I had not considered in my personal answer: Is it a border state? Does it have a military base? A nuclear power plant? An international airport? Is it a flyover state where distribution centers live? After taking in these options, along with population density, we came up with an answer that gave me the basis for NEVER LET ME SLEEP.
As a bonus, one of my medically-minded twitter followers contacted me with a plausible reason that would cause people to go to sleep, then die. It never comes up in the book, but I know the answer if asked.
2: Primary Sources are Even Better for Research
The internet is great for research but it will never replace the value of going to a primary source. I contacted my local FEMA PR person to ask what FEMA would do in the case of the world losing contact with a state. The answer was enlightening. I spent time talking to a medical professional about the medical aspects of the second Melissa Allen book and she saved me from making a complete fool of myself. My protagonist is a teenager with mental illness. I spent time talking with several people who lived the kind of life Melissa lived and got the inside, real answers of what the life of a functioning young adult with a medicated mental illness is like. My book would not have had those realistic details without going to a primary source. No matter what your book is about, it will always benefit with primary source based research.
3: “Wouldn’t it suck if…” is the Author’s Best Tool
Multiple times while I was writing NEVER LET ME SLEEP, I thought “Wouldn’t it suck if X happened right now?” Stuff I hadn’t planned. Stuff that would make Melissa’s life that much more difficult. Stuff that I immediately wrote and updated my outline because, sometimes, the complication really complicated Melissa’s life and my story. But, because of all those “Wouldn’t it suck” moments, the story is better for them and moves at a much more active pace.
4: Google Street View is Awesome
I have never been to Onida, South Dakota. But I know the town’s layout. I know how the streets line up with each other. I know what the houses and businesses look like. Google Street View allowed me to walk the town over and over for months while I was writing NEVER LET ME SLEEP. To stop and look at the sign in the yard of a small house that turned out to be a walk-in medical clinic. To find exactly the right place for Melissa to glimpse the monsters for the first time. To see which houses were two story and which weren’t so I could put Melissa’s house in the correct part of town. Google Street View is a wonderful tool to visit places you’ve never been and get a feel of the landscape around you.
5: Sometimes the Protagonist Dictates the Novel’s Ending
NEVER LET ME SLEEP was supposed to be a one-off novel. I’d left Melissa in an ambiguous place, wondering if everything had happened was real or if it was all in her not inconsiderable imagination. Melissa wouldn’t let me do that. After I’d written “The End” I kept thinking about her and she kept railing at me about how this wasn’t going to be the way her story ended, dammit. I’d never had a story or a protagonist flat out tell me, “This is not it. There’s more to the story,” before. It was a strange and interesting place to be. So, I wrote a new ending. One that would allow me to get some rest and to stop thinking about Melissa Allen for a little while.
Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. She has worked in the publishing industry since 2004. With the number of different projects she juggles at one time, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist.