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August 7, 2013

J.L. Spohr: What Keeps Me Up at Night

I have a confession to make. Most writers, or so I assume, have a very intricate system for devising story and character. Sometimes they might be given an assignment by their editor: “Give me a Moby Dick meets Twilight and set in prehistoric times where people only communicate in gestures, because that’s what’s hot right now.” Or perhaps they’ve always wanted to write a Southern Gothic and start to study the genre, traveling to places like Savannah and New Orleans. And that is where their story begins. 

Others (cough, Stephanie Meyer, cough) dream about their heroes and heroines.

Me? Nothing so glamorous. In fact, I thought of Heirs & Spares so I could dream in the first place. Normally a sleep addict, I was in the middle of a bout of insomnia. I didn’t want to write a book, I set out to get some blasted sleep. 

My daughter, who was one at that time and finally sleeping through the night – and by this, I don’t mean that ridiculous definition of sleep-training books that claim six hours is sleeping through the night. Is my child a firefighter or something? Is she a doctor on call? I digress. She was finally getting good ten-twelve hour junks. This should be bliss for me as a mother, right? Enter insomnia. What the what? Unfair! Damnable hormones! 

And, of course, being a new mom, I didn’t want to even take a Tylenol, let alone a chewable Trader Joes melatonin less make my milk become so toxic it would be eligible for Superfund cleanup. 

After way too many nights going over to-do lists and swearing at myself for still being awake at 2am, I decided I needed to find something that my mind could focus on enough to distract me from the clock, but also allow me to fall asleep. My husband’s a light sleeper, so turning on a lamp to read was a no-no. Basically I needed to read in the dark (this is preKindle era. I know. I’m soooo old).

So one night, attempting this hoped for sleep-inducing trick, out of nowhere, I saw her. The woman who would finally be called Annelore.  All I saw that night was a woman in a thickly-veiled wedding dress of the Tudor era (which I’d studied in graduate school), in the aisle of a huge stone church, trembling. It was almost like a crane shot from a movie, I started at her head and sort of zoomed up to the ceiling, catching flashes of color from the nobles vying to get a good look at her. 

Who was she? What was she doing there? And why on earth was she trembling? She didn’t want to be there, that was for certain. Before I could really think about it, the camera swept up the aisle to the waiting groom. He was handsome, in that rugged way of Clive Owen or Gerard Butler. He was smiling. But I knew in an instant, he didn’t want to be there either. 

Buy Heirs & Spares at Amazon

And that is where the entire Realm series began, Heirs & Spares, the first, is available now.

Of course, for a while Queen Annelore and King William only made my insomnia worse. Just like those favorite books you can’t wait to get to, or the ones where you feign a headache so you can secretly go read a few more scenes, this story in my head kept me awake even later every night. But I didn’t care. Yes, I’d curse myself in the morning, but every night, I got to return to a court full of plots and secrets.

After about two years of this, the story was getting to unwieldy to keep in my head so I started to write. And write. And write. What was my nightly obsession became my daily one. Dishes and laundry piled up, those small tasks that used to keep me up at night never saw the light of day. I got brave enough to show my husband, who read a few chapters and said, “This sounds like an actual book, not just something you wrote.” Which, even though it doesn’t sound like it, was a wonderful thing to say. It meant that these characters who had so enraptured me, might also speak to others. 

I’m absolutely positive some people won’t like my book – as my Nana used to say, “there’s no accounting for taste,” – but for those who do like it, for those who, like me, self-induce insomnia just to find out what happens next, I will soldier on into the wee hours of the night, dismissing dirty floors, ordering take-out again, and staring at the dust collecting on my out-of-season mantel decorations (pine cones in July – it’s winter somewhere), all to let these characters out of my head to play. 

About the Author:
J. L. Spohr is the author of Heirs & Spares and several short stories. An incurable Anglophile, she turned her attention to historical fiction and fictional monarchies after studying the Reformation in graduate school. She is an ordained minister and lives with her brood in Seattle. 
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