About Behind The Books We Love From The Authors We Love
Books are often so much more than just a way to pass the extra minutes or hours of the day. Books are both a way to escape reality, as well as to reshape our reality with the values we take from stories or testimonies. Any dedicated reader likely has a favorite book that changed the way they looked at life or a situation, and that’s because authors–often intentionally–write their books from personal passions or experiences.
In our new blog series, we are sharing the purposes and inspirations of these books. Behind the Books We Love From the Authors We Love will be an ongoing series for the next few months and will feature authors of all genres to all ages of readers. You may recognize some of their books as being featured on Literature Approved before, and others are entirely new. But these posts are sure to give you a fresh look at a book that you loved, or may even motivate you to pick up one you’ve never read. We invite you to join us by checking back with us every couple of weeks, or ensure that you’re following us so that you get the articles in your email–who knows, maybe your favorite author will be featured?!
Behind Words We Don’t Say from Author K.J.Reilly
Readers sometimes wonder about the inspiration for a book—often assuming that a book always begins with a plot idea. After all, story is the backbone of a novel. But sometimes the inspiration can come from something else.
When I sat down to write Words We Don’t Say, I didn’t begin with a specific plot in mind. Instead, the process for me began with a character sketch of the narrator.
I knew that I wanted to write a story about a teen who wasn’t having an easy time of it. Someone who wasn’t predictable or simple to classify; someone who did things that felt incongruent. Things that would surprise us—just like real people do.
I also knew that I wanted Joel to be dark; someone who feels the weight of injustice in the biggest of ways; someone who’s just trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense at all.
To start, I gave Joel a set of “normal” teen problems—he likes a girl he can’t have. He did badly on the SATs. He wants a car, but doesn’t have one. He loves his family, but sees their flaws in an exaggerated, self-conscious way. He’s cynical and somber and mad at the world and keeps his feelings bottled up inside. And there’s something else under the surface, too. Something that has unglued him. But he doesn’t tell us what it is—he just hints at it, calling it, the thing that happened.
Then I opened Joel’s world up and overlaid life’s larger problems. The really bad stuff—the things that are impossible for an adult to make sense of, let alone a teen: injustice, poverty, hunger, oppression, censorship, homelessness, PTSD . . .
And then I gave Joel a gun.
And there he was; Joel Higgins, fully formed. He was unpredictable, dark, sullen, three-dimensional and real—heading out into the world facing both the mundane and the catastrophic.
And he has a gun. So he’s dangerous; potentially dangerous.
But then I added something else. And this was the most important thing of all.
I gave Joel a heart.
And that directed everything.
So when people ask me, Where did this story come from? I tell them it came from Joel. And then when they ask, Why? Why’d you write a story about this overwhelming amalgam of some of life’s worst problems? I want to say, That’s the wrong question. That doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not I wrote something that will make a reader feel.
So when I sat down to write Words We Don’t Say I wanted to write a book that would make readers feel everything, The whole spectrum—outrage, compassion, grief, joy, gratitude, respect, hubris, humbled fear, wonder . . .
And I wanted readers to think about all of it. The big and small. The macro injustices and the microaggressions. The mundane and the global. The things we can change. And the things that we can’t change.
So when someone asks me, Why’d you choose to write about the value of free speech and the plight of veterans? About PTSD? Or about the homeless and food insecure? Why’d you include drunk driving, questions of faith, the issue of gun control? I want to ask them, How did you feel when Joel took the gun out of the hiding place in the back of his garage? How did you feel when Joel left cans of food for Rooster? Or when Joel asked Eli to go with him to the farm? How did you feel when Benj gave Joel the socks off of his feet? How did you feel when Joel read Winnie the Pooh to Rooster on the sidewalk outside the soup kitchen? How did you feel when Joel told Benj about Andy? Or when Joel learns about free speech and banned books and censorship and the power of words for the first time? How did you feel when Joel won’t say anything that he’s really thinking and won’t send the text messages that he writes?
How do you feel about the words we choose to say, and the words we don’t say? And how do you feel about the fact that there are homeless vets that can’t speak at all?
Because that’s what matters.
So when people ask me, How do you get an idea for a book? I respond by saying that good writing can start with anything. Story, plot, setting . . . or even a single character. The important thing is that in the end it makes us feel. That it makes us laugh and cry and ache.
And that it makes us think.
Because a book can change us.
Books can remind us that we matter. That an individual can have an impact. That even the smallest things we do can affect change.
And that’s what’s most important—not where a book starts, but where it takes us.
Have you read Words We Don’t Say? Here is a perfect place to tell K.J. Reilly how her book made YOU feel! Drop a comment and we’ll make sure she sees it!
K. J. Reilly graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, then headed to New York City to work in the marketing research departments of several of the largest advertising agencies in the world. She loves reading, writing, dogs, sailboats, children of all shapes and sizes, and growing her own food. Words We Don’t Say is her debut young adult novel. Learn more at kjreillyauthor.com.