“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question that gets some pretty interesting responses from writers—but an even more important question is: “How do your ideas evolve?”
When you read a good book, it can feel like such a seamless whole that it’s easy to assume the ideas were there from the start. Sure the writer had to pretty up the words and put in some foreshadowing, move a chapter around, get rid of that character whose name no one can remember and all that, but the way we talk about drafting often makes it sound like the ideas were solid from the start.
My experience is that ideas evolve and to illustrate that, let me take you through the process of the ideas that became my new novel, Just Girls. Here’s the blurb so you can see how it turned out:
Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can’t be that bad.
Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag University, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.
New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.
Did I start with all that? Nope …
The first idea that came to me as a possible novel plot was the one about a cisgender (non-trans) girl coming out to protect a trans girl that she didn’t know. Originally, I thought that character was going to be Claire from my first novel Being Emily—that she’d go to college and hear this rumor and come out. That came to me while I was doing the edits for Being Emily in 2011.
Then I realized it shouldn’t be Claire for two reasons:
1) Claire is petite and it’s unlikely people would believe her as a trans girl due to their stereotypes of what trans women look like
2) Being Emily is actually set in 2008, so when I started writing Just Girls in 2012, Claire would be 20 years old, which is a little old for young adult
Okay so Plan B—create a character who was younger but who had met Emily and Claire, and through her friendship with them began to understand what it would be like to be a trans in college and to have that kind of rumor going around about you. That’s how Tucker came to be.
The second idea that was central to creating the book was really a set of ideas. In 2012 after Being Emily came out, I started to read a lot about transfeminism. I’d also been reading about women in science and the sexism they still face—and I saw how these ideas could be explored through the story of a trans girl student in a science field.
Plus I wanted to write about a trans girl character who was further along in her transition than Emily. I wanted to mess with the notion that a lot of people have that they can always spot a transsexual person—they really can’t. So I made Tucker a big-boned Midwestern cis girl and Ella quite a bit smaller. And she’s pretty, because lots of trans women are pretty.
And then the third central idea in the novel is that gamers who play together build strong bonds with each other and develop good problem solving and leadership skills. That idea had its roots in about 2007 when I formed a World of Warcraft guild that grew into a close-knit group of friends. And I wanted to take another look at the good aspects of gaming because I love gaming. In Being Emily it was subtle, but I tried to highlight how online gaming can let people explore themselves and express themselves before they can do it in “the real world.”
In Just Girls I wanted to take gaming fully into the real world with an alternative reality game and then play out the implications of having a community of gamers at your back. Because I’m a fan of Jane McGonigal and knew about her game, Cruel 2 B Kind (also developed by Ian Bogost), I decided to use that—but at the start, I didn’t know how the students in the book were going to change and adapt the game for their purpoes. It really is one of the best things as a writer to be surprised by your characters as they begin to evolve the ideas you’ve given them to play with.
Raised on world mythology, fantasy novels, comic books and magic, Rachel Gold is well suited for her careers in marketing and writing. She also spent a decade as a reporter in the LGBT community where she learned many of her most important lessons about being a woman from the transgender community. When she’s not working on her novels, you can find Rachel online checking out the latest games.