Every author has a spark of inspiration that gives birth to a story. Whether that spark comes from being delayed on a train traveling from Manchester to London King’s Cross or from working on another project which sparks a vivid scene of finding direwolf pups, every story has a beginning before the beginning. But these stories aren’t formed overnight. It takes days and months and years to grow a story into its final draft; the draft readers come to enjoy and love.

The inspiration for Junkland began to form after I saw Aladdin on Broadway in January 2016. Disney stories have always been a strong influence on my storytelling, but Aladdin has been my favorite and has stuck with me all these years. It was different when I saw it this time, however. Instead of seeing a fun, fairy tale Disney story, I saw a young man struggling; he wanted something greater than himself, and to prove his worth.

When I saw this play, I was working in a large engineering firm as a Systems Engineer. I was struggling to find my direction because I knew the engineering lifestyle wasn’t for me; I wanted to write, but I did not know how, or where, to start. Watching this play, I felt a connection with Aladdin. He, too, was a young man who had dreams, but didn’t know how to reach them. Watching Aladdin change his path on the stage made me realize that the path I was currently on wasn’t going to take me anywhere fulfilling. I wanted something greater, something that would prove my worth.

After I saw Aladdin, I was inspired to follow my dream of writing and to believe in myself to make a change in my life. I knew instantly that I needed to write a story with a protagonist who shared the same beliefs as Aladdin did, as I did—a relatable character to all young professionals.

The week after seeing the play, I kept passing this emergency light in the stairwell that caught my attention each time. It looked like it would make a good Disney character having had a tiny, square body with two bulbs protruding from the top that resembled large, innocent eyes. So I did what any normal person would do: I took a picture of an emergency light in a stairwell.

Later, I sat down and studied the photo I had taken. I thought, what kind of setting could I see this guy in? It took no effort discovering the answer—this guy belonged in a world covered in junk. With the influence from the play still bubbling in my mind, I whipped out a notepad—my cellphone—and began to write an outline of a story in a junkland. The outline came effortlessly to me. I read it through once, thought it was perfect, and I did not hesitate to begin writing. Now, a year and a half later, (and a total of fifteen drafts!), comes a story completely different from my original outline—Junkland and The Hoarding series.

I can’t even tell you how many hours were put into this, along with all the early mornings and sleepless nights. I know I said the outline came effortlessly to me, but once I realized I had a story, things got real. A simple idea suddenly turned into an Epic Fantasy. I had no control over it. The story kept expanding and expanding and expanding. I realized I had to make maps, family trees, timelines, character motives, and most importantly: story outlines.

Thankfully, I had a lot of help from friends, family, and the writing community. Honestly, without their help, motivation, and support, this book would never have been completed. It is important to keep those kind of people in your life. When I was down in the dumps about my book, a friend would always text me out of the blue asking how the book was coming and to keep it up. It was as if he or she felt a disturbance in the force and knew I needed that moral boost to keep things in balance.

Another thing that helped me was running. I was training for a marathon while I was developing this story. Whenever I was stressed about things like not knowing what to name a character, or how to fill in a plot hole, I would save it for my marathon workouts. When I would go running, answers would come to me; it was incredible. The only problem was, I would think of a great idea, and I would be fifteen miles away from being able to write it down.

Although the cute, little emergency light never made it to my final draft, he will always have a place in my heart. He was the spark that created a world I never thought I’d imagine. And each day, my story and world keeps expanding, making The Hoarding series better than the day before.

Has there been an event in your life that sparked your imagination? Share your experience in the comments below!