“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Please give it up for Jackie!
By Jackie Morse Kessler
BREATH is the fourth and final book in the Riders of the Apocalypse series. It’s the dual tale of a teenager named Xander Atwood, who has a secret that’s preying on him, and Death, who is suicidal. When the two meet, what happens next will change the world. (Cue music!) Even though the first three books (HUNGER; RAGE; LOSS) can be read as standalone novels, that doesn’t work as well with BREATH–mostly because part of the challenge of this book was answering the major questions raised in the first three stories. (But if you’re the sort of rebellious reader who has to go straight to the last page before page one, maybe you’d enjoy reading this first. Knock yourself out!)
Before I sat down to write the book, I started writing out all the questions the story needed to answer – one Post-It Note per question – and putting them on my external monitor (which is now, sadly, a paperweight). That monitor was littered with notes. Oy, the notes. As I wrote, once I answered a question, I crumpled up that note (and pitched it on the floor; I am not an Aim For The Basket sort of author). The two biggest questions BREATH needed to answer were: How did the Riders of the Apocalypse come about (and really: why should teenagers wield Phenomenal Cosmic Power)? And, along with that: Who, or what, is Death?
The answers to both are intertwined in Death’s tale.
When I first created the character for HUNGER, Death sort of pulled an Athena — he sprang fully formed right out of my head. I had no idea why Death was a dead ringer (ha!) for a certain dead rock star, but I ran with it. Since then, I’ve come up with the reason, as well as where Death comes from and what his purpose truly is.
Discovering the origin of Death was a long process, but it kicked off with a song. Specifically, with Slipknot’s Snuff. There’s one line in the lyrics that hit me hard: “Angels lie to keep control.”
I heard that, and I was like OMG THAT’S ABOUT DEATH. I had no idea **how** it was about Death, but that’s the fun part of creating stuff: figuring it all out. Other songs wound up influencing Death’s origin — quite a bit of Nirvana (which, if you’ve read the first three books, should be no surprise), especially “Oh Me” from the Unplugged In New York album, plus Breaking Benjamin’s “I Will Not Bow.” To this day, whenever I hear Nirvana on the radio, I’m like, “Hey, it’s my Muse!”
Death’s story had many other influences — and some readers might notice when I give those sources a hat tip. There was a big one in LOSS, which some folks got: When Billy, that book’s protagonist, is about to take a ride with Death, the pale steed (Death’s horse) shifts its form into a yellow car, with the license plate MORTIS PRIME. Even though Billy says, “Your horse is a Transformer” (and Death corrects him and says it’s a transmogrifier), that was actually a nod to Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series — specifically, On A Pale Horse, in which Death has a horse that’s also a car, and its name is Mortis. Other influences include Good Omens (yeah, shock, I’m a Neil Gaiman fan), The Truman Show, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
A huge influence for Death’s story, and for much of BREATH itself, is depression. Each of the Riders books takes a look at one (or more) issues that teens (and others) go through; some of those issues are more personal to me than others. When I wrote BREATH, I was battling depression at the time. And not “I’m so blue, woe is me, where’s the chocolate?” sort of sadness, but rocking-on-the-floor, having-trouble-getting-out-of-bed, what’s-the-point depression. I’d hit the wall in early 2012, and it took the better part of the year for me to get back on my feet. I’m grateful to my Loving Husband and my close friends and family who all were right there, not only helping pull me out of the hole I was in but then filling up that hole so that I couldn’t fall back into it. I don’t think I could have done it on my own. I’m lucky that I had such an amazing support system. A portion of proceeds of the Riders books goes to charity; for BREATH, as with RAGE, that charity is To Write Love On Her Arms. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, TWLOHA can help you find the support you need. You don’t have to do it alone. (And hey, if you wind up buying BREATH or the other Riders books, thank you for your part in giving to charity!)
And there’s another pop culture influence for BREATH that I can’t name because it’s a spoiler. Sorry! If you want to know what it is, email me. 🙂
Thank you, Jackie.
And now, for the giveaway.
One lucky commenter below will win a set of The Riders of the Apocalypse series with HUNGER, RAGE, LOSS and BREATH. The contest is open to addresses in the US and Canada only, and will run until Saturday, April 27 at 12:01am EST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!