Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

This month, we’re looking into inspiration, how it influences my writing, and how you can use it to best effect.

Music

#1 for most people, and certainly for me, is music for setting a mood. In my family, I’m by far the least musical, in terms of talent and interest–I balked at marching band all through school and most of my music is from the early 200’s or earlier–but even I won’t deny that there’s nothing like the right playlist.

Each book I write has a carefully cultivated playlist with instrumental and lyrical songs to keep me focused and in the world of the story. Usually, I pull from my own library, but the last few years, I’ve been heavy into 8tracks.com to find playlists, and then cycle through them. Yes, the same ones, over and over. Because I’m like that. So far, the stories that have yielded the funnest assortment of playlists has been Dollface, my 1930’s noir murder mystery, and Huff and Puff, Book Six of the Beanseller Saga. Who knew there were so many songs about werewolves?

Not that Huff and Puff is about werewolves, mind. Stop searching out spoilers :-p

Imagery

What do I mean by ‘imagery’? It could be anything from a moodboard to a poster to a figurine or statue, even a font. My character, Johanne, was inspired by a font called Caviar de Diane.

After playlists, visual inspiration is my next biggest source. I bought my new writing desk largely because it has a lovely cabinet with glass doors where I can put what used to be in the corner of my old desk. It’s my Inspiration Shelf, now. On it, you’ll find crystals to inspire creativity and focus, a replica of Cutty Sark, an alabaster statue of a merman, a porcelain figure that reminded me of Johanne, a couple figurines of Sasha Williams from The Walking Dead (one of my many inspirations for Sulat), a bunch of spider, and many harps and golden eggs.

There is actually a coffee mug and a bottle of brandy on top of my desk that symbolises him, but they don’t fit the aesthetic

Points to you, if you spotted that there’s nothing specifically for Alois. Don’t think he doesn’t remind me. I have some, but they don’t fit on the shelf, and anyway, there are so many ENFPs in my life, I need only open a chat window and get all the material I need.

I also have numerous inspiration boards on Pinterest, an actual Dream Board on my wall to inspire myself more generally to stay focused, a chalk sign that I made, quite literally saying, ‘Focus, Darling,’ and the figurehead of Cutty Sark, named Nanny the Sea-Witch, as my laptop wallpaper.

Scents

Some of you may know that I once had a catastrophically unsuccessful side business making and selling soaps and candles and such on Etsy. Who hasn’t, right? I’ve always had a thing for how scents and fragrances mix and blend and layer, so it was only natural for me to experiment, mad scientist style.

So, since scent is one of the senses most closely linked to memory and other brain functions, I use candles and perfumes to evoke a mood or get into the character.

For instance, for Siren Song generally, I’ve been burning Ocean Star, by Yankee Candles. Because Sulat is the main character of this one, I’ve concocted a perfume combination, using Beach Walk by Replica and Sugar Lemon by Fresh. It’s very different from the perfume oil rollerball I designed for her last year, which was smoky and tobacco-y, but I like the salty freshness of it. She evolves as a character, why shouldn’t her scent profile?

And yes, I have fragrances for most of my characters and almost all of my books.

On location

A lot of people, like my sister, find it helpful to get out of the house to write. A coffee shop, a library, some place away from home where the atmoshpere is creative. I am not one of those people. I am fanatical about needing my room, my pajamas, my cat, etc. But if it works for you, it works for you.

What does work for me in other ways is being someplace that inspires me and then taking that feeling with me. Having a break in someplace interesting and letting my mind wander and soak up the place. The beach is a good one for feeling inspired and creative generally, if not toward a specific project. When I can travel, I like to go to places that are related to what I’m working on or might spark a different idea: Bath in England is a big one, especially for this series. My father’s home country of Guatemala is another one.

Whoo boy, look at that unflattering picture of me writing at a desk in the Jane Austen Centre. Still, it was a wonderfully nerdy experience.

Sometimes just getting out and seeing different things differently can jog something loose.

People and Events

This is another big one for me. I always need a touchstone, I’m not good at pure creation. I need lines to colour inside of. Now, fairy tale retellings used to be super gross to me until I got bit by the bug, but historical fiction has always been my thing. And they’re not so difficult. One big feature of hist fic is using real life figures–so what’s the difference between using Shakespeare and using Cinderella?

GATEKEEPING AND SNOBBERY.

But that’s a rant for another day.

Real people and real events are a great source of inspiration and can give your world a heavy dose of realism. Why does this event feel so believable? Because it really happened. Different names, different times and places, but it happened in real life.

An example of this is King Bertold, who is based on two kings of England, George I and George II, while Prince Bertold is based on George II and his son who died before he could become king, Frederic. And a couple of characters coming up are based on Parvati Shallow and Amanda Kimmel from Survivor, so it’s not all Easter Eggs for the history buffs.

So, now it’s your turn. What inspires you and how do you use it to your advantage?

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