The Inspirational Sparks of Books: Guest Post by Julie Abe

Once upon a time…

Or, in the world of Alliana, Girl of Dragons, since it has a strong Japanese influence: mukashi, mukashi…

Stories begin in interesting ways. For me, it often occurs as a flash of an image in my mind. For Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, it was the face of a girl who was about to give up—but absolutely refused to, and kept on trying. For Tessa Miyata Is No Hero, it was in part inspired by—of all things—the entryway to my grandparents’ home in Japan. To explain a bit further, my dear grandpa used to have lots of carvings in a curio cabinet by that door; in Tessa, one of those just happens to hold the spirit of an evil samurai god. Tessa accidentally breaks it (oops), and sets the evil god loose.

For Alliana, Girl of Dragons, my latest release, it was inspired by two images. First, I should note that although Alliana, Girl of Dragons  can be read as a standalone and many readers discover Alliana first, it’s actually a prequel to Eva Evergreen, and can be read either before or after Eva Evergreen. I wrote a quick backstory for the queen within Eva Evergreen. It was just for fun: the queen escaped her evil stepmother by flying out on a pigeon that had been charmed into a flame-throwing dragon. A fun visual, and a whimsical, dragon-filled twist on the typical Cinderella story. I grinned when I typed that in.

Then, I started dreaming of another story. An image unfurled in my mind: a girl looking out her window, down a dusty, empty road. That path led to somewhere, but she only had the briefest of ideas of where that could be, because she had never been able to travel farther than the outskirts of her small town. There was something so comforting yet intriguing about the potential of this girl and her journey, and of her aching hope to see beyond the only world that she had ever known.

As I was trying to write each of those books separately around the same time, something kept tugging at the back of my mind: There’s something about these two stories that just isn’t working yet…

Then, finally, it sparked: I was writing two stories about the same book.

So, with that flash of inspiration, I combined the two stories into one. That girl looking down that dusty road was someday going to become queen. She wouldn’t make it there immediately, and she’d have a lot of challenges in her way—because I was taking inspiration from the Cinderella fairy tale, with a decisively Japanese twist—but she was burning with the desire to take that step down that road. Yet, I realized, there was something very important holding her back. Revitalized and inspired, I began writing in earnest, and that quickly wove into the first draft of Alliana, Girl of Dragons.

The source of inspiration for stories is a point of fascination and wonder to me, both as an author and as a voracious reader. One of my favorite books, Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, is also based on a fairy tale. Another of my absolute go-to reads, the Lockwood series by Jonathan Stroud, was inspired by his keen interest in writing ghost stories but in a modern, upbeat, adventurous style. These wonderful authors also found their stories through sparks of inspiration that grew and grew into a story, and that made me realize that our world can spark a story at any given time. As part of this, it allows me to see the everyday wonder in things big or small—whether a fairy tale or a simple curio cabinet filled with oddities.

This lesson can be taken into the classroom with surprising benefits for seasoned readers, and it can illuminate books in a new way for reluctant readers.

To connect the inspiration of a story with the actual book, have your students…

  • Pick a book. It can be a story they know and love, or a recent read.
  • Have students write a brief introduction to the book. This could be based on the back cover summary.
  • Have students research the actual inspiration behind the story.
  • If they are unable to find the origins, write about what they think might have been the inspiration for the story.
  • Discuss as a group. First, have students read the introduction, and then discuss the inspiration.
  • Extra Credit: Encourage students to select one book to read based on their classmates’ recommendations and the book’s “origin story.”

By continually considering the stories that they read as well as the inspiration, this exercise will encourage readers to see the reflection of the real world in fiction, and perhaps will spark their interest in more stories—including potentially writing their own.

As for me, I’ve begun to love reflecting on my stories and seeing the parts of my life that I have woven into the narratives. Each has a bit of my heart, but when my books reach new readers, they take on whole new lives—and, as I have heard from readers, they inspire some to create their own stories and art, too.


Long, R. F. (2013, August 27). Jonathan Stroud and Lockwood & Co. From