Behind the Book
The idea for The Forsaken came from a nightmare I had one night—one that I couldn't shake, even the next day. In my nightmare, I was trapped on a tropical island, trying to escape. The island was some sort of terrifying prison colony, controlled by men in black robes wearing masks and carrying knives. They chased me up a giant spiral staircase and cornered me there. I was just about to get captured by them when I woke up.
My first thought was, “Wow, that was a really scary dream!” My second thought was, “But that could also be a really cool start to a book!” I’d always wanted to write a novel. In fact, my parents tease me because when I was a little girl, I’d carry a dictionary around with me and read it out loud to them. And I studied English lit in college, and I work as a librarian at UCLA. So I’ve been surrounded by books my entire life. Yet I never managed to write anything much longer than a short story, despite many attempts.
But something about that bad dream stuck with me. And then, a few days later, I was chatting to a friend whose sister was about to take the SATs. We were talking about how unfair it was that standardized tests have such a huge impact on people’s lives. And at that moment, something just clicked inside my head. I suddenly thought, “What if there were some kind of standardized personality test in the future and if you failed, you wouldn’t just have trouble getting into college, you’d actually got banished from society?” And then I thought maybe the place you would be banished to would be like the island in my nightmare: harsh, scary, and brutal. The kind of place you’d have to fight to escape from, or else die trying.
Of course, then I started thinking that any government that created such an awful test would probably be totally corrupt. What if their personality test was a lie? What if they just used the test to weed out any kids who had strong or rebellious personalities? And I began to imagine more details about the island, too. How there might be different societies and tribes of kids there, battling each other for land, and how the government of the future would probably use machines to try to control everyone and keep them on the island.
So I started writing the first draft of The Forsaken that same night. I just wrote a couple pages every day at first, but soon I started writing more and more. I kind of became obsessed with the world of the story. The characters began coming to life on the page, especially the main character, Alenna Shawcross. It was almost like the book was writing itself, which is both a really cool and kind of disturbing feeling! Alenna’s journey—from being wrongly sent to the island, to learning how to survive there, to falling in love, and ultimately making an escape attempt—became the center of the novel. Alenna’s choices often surprised me, and they ended up taking the novel in some unexpected directions. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but along the way, Alenna definitely learns some shocking truths about her society and her own identity as well.
It took me about three months to write the first complete draft of The Forsaken. And from there, it was a process of revising and editing to get it into good shape. I really hope that readers respond to Alenna’s story and enjoy The Forsaken. More than anything, I just wanted to tell a riveting and unique story about a girl who is faced with an impossible challenge and has to make some tough choices about friendship, love, and loyalty in order to survive. Sometimes I think back to the nightmare that started me on this journey, and I can’t believe that it actually turned into a book. I guess I can only hope that I have more nightmares in the future, to keep giving me inspiration.