Great question. It’s a bit of a murky journey.
Here’s a fun fact about me as a writer: most of my story ideas that I’m actively working on came to me in high school or earlier. Unfortunately, though, it’s difficult to determine when an idea first occurred to me or when I started working on certain stories. Once upon a time, when I decided to axe projects (which was often), I was a notorious deleter and scrubbed my digital files (and some paper ones) without mercy. Apparently I was paranoid that someone would steal my clearly brilliant (note my sarcasm) work. I’d kick myself for my zealous caution though, when I inevitably decided I did want to work on said trashed project mere weeks or even days later and had to start from scratch. Thankfully I shifted to keeping an “Archive” folder for each project just in case I wanted to return to it. It’s only been in the past couple of years that I started to date things in my notebooks and sketchbooks, too.
I give all that background to say: it’s hard to put a start year for Whitman Court, let alone an actual date of origin. Though I didn’t finish the book until after undergrad, I started it while in high school (estimated late 11th Grade or 12th Grade based on other story note context and vague memories). The idea for the story could’ve come to me as early as 9th Grade, but again, I’m not sure. The timeline gets hazy and my notes are inconsistent.
I know this for sure: the idea started as a musical (which I still hope to write at some point). I have a list of possible songs and scenes in a couple of notebooks. I didn’t get very far in the stageplay version, though. There isn’t a draft for it at all, just scattered notes, but I did turn it into a standalone novel. It had a massive cast and a lengthy outline of short scenes. I wrote about half of it before abandoning it. I stumbled across it again in college and almost made it a prequel to Leah Pool’s Our Company of Fools story, since Leah naturally shares part of Melody’s backstory (both characters have a history of cross-country moves, as both are inspired by me at different stages of life). I ultimately didn’t get very far with that at all—the narrative tones and feels of the novels were completely different from one another, so it wasn’t a good match. The book then lay abandoned until the moment I needed it: my gap year. I was struggling to recapture my writer identity during that time (and just struggling in general), when I came across this book again and fell in love with it. I picked it back up in the Fall of 2018 and ran with it. I finished it in November of that year, then went on to edit it in the Summer of 2019. It helped me through a lot of rough writing patches and personal struggles. To summarize the rest of its history to date, based on critiques and personal ideas, I decided to split the single draft into a series in 2021 to allow more stories from the world and characters to be told. Since then, I’ve refined book one and drafted three other books. I really do hope it gets picked up as a series. I’m excited about the potential stories I can tell with this cast and I hope to end the series the way the single book ends. (No spoilers on what that ending is!)
But that’s just the writing process history, I hear you say. Where did the idea come from?
Again, great question. With a less murky answer.
In short, it was inspired by my life. While I didn’t live on a culdesac and I wasn’t best friends with my neighbors, as is the case in the book, when I moved to Oklahoma around the age of 10 (similar to Melody), my family did become close with six other families and form a sort of neighborly feel with one another through our homeschool co-op. Looking back, I often think of those four years in Oklahoma City as the “Golden Age” of my childhood and consider Oklahoma the closest thing I have to a childhood home.
Oklahoma is also where I truly became a Christian—I was baptized during my time there. I was challenged in the best way by the other young ladies (my mom, my friends, and my friends’ moms!) to lean into following Jesus. I confronted my own pride and selfishness, my tendency to soak up the spotlight and be a bit bossy, as the older sister’s right seemed to be in my mind. God started to work on my heart to make me more humble, more servant-hearted, and more kind. All aspects of Melody’s own character arc, and even an inspiration for Cadence’s exaggerated vices.
Similar to Melody, after Oklahoma, I also struggled deeply with wanting to make friends because it hurt to say good-bye. While this struggle in my life didn’t correspond with the Golden Age of my childhood (and thus the time that inspired Whitman Court), I struggled with this tension in my personal life around the time I started to work on this story, and it became a key piece of the Whitman Court narrative. It’s interesting to me how God uses my own struggles and heartaches, past and present, to weave together stories that hopefully speak to other people in similar seasons or trials.
If you knew me from my childhood in Oklahoma, these books are a love letter to our shared adventures and friendship, even if there’s not a fictional “you” that appears on the page. These books are meant to be fiction, not memoir, but trust me: your impact on my life is present through the spirit of the book and the magic of the story.
By the necessity of telling a good story, Whitman Court is not 100% true to my life. It’s probably 10% true, with most of that coming from the name itself: Whitman Court is the name of a culdesac I spent many an afternoon and evening on playing with my friends. Some of that 10% of truth also comes from Easter Eggs of actual childhood antics or jokes, as well as the strong character inspiration for the Evergreen and Dogwood families. (But even Melody, Mason, and the Dogwoods are not perfectly comparable to me, my brother, and our oldest friends!)
There is a lot in the series that is completely made up. Take Cadence, for example. I needed a neighborhood bully, and thankfully I had no such person in my own life. Thus, Cadence is completely original, among a few other characters. If anything, she’s based off of a dark shadow of a person I could’ve become.
I’m anxious to share these adventures with the world, stories that seek to capture the unmistakable joy of childhood, the struggles of friendship, and the wonder of imagination. I write each new Whitman Court story with a smile on my face and often laugh out loud as I work on the project. It feels very soft and light compared to my other works, but I think that just makes it all the more special to write. Plus, it’s one of those books that takes me right back to my childhood. I’m thankful for this story, and I hope you all get to read it soon.
Have any questions about Whitman Court, either about the story itself or my writing process? I’m happy to answer any (non-spoiler) questions in the comments!