How Costco Gave me the Idea

The idea for my YA novel STARTERS is that in the future, desperate teens would rent out their bodies to rich seniors who could then enjoy being young again.

It came to me in Costco, a few years ago. Trying to get a flu shot. For those of you who don’t live in the US, Costco is a “big box” store, a huge discount membership club. You pay a yearly fee for the privilege of shopping in a gray warehouse, just one big space with no carpeting, and everything from books to food to computers. And they have a pharmacy.

The pharmaceutical companies didn’t make enough vaccine that year. So the US government had to set up a triage system. The very young and the elderly, and of course the infirm, were to get the vaccine first. It looked like a dystopian future with long lines of people in Costco, hoping to score the injection. I didn’t fall into any of those categories so I left without the shot.

But I got an idea from it.  I thought, wow, what if this was a devastating disease and the only ones left were the weakest members of society?

It wasn’t until a few years later that I put it together and wrote it as my debut novel. I created a near-future where the only people left after the Spore Wars were the ones who were vaccinated: the elderly, called Enders; and the kids and teens, called Starters. Almost all the parents were dead, leaving a landscape of silver-haired Enders with the young Starters. I loved the contrast.

Of course there are remnants of VIP Middles — politicians, movie stars and people of power — who were able to get the vaccine and survive. But they’re not who you see every day.

This was the world, the canvas. The character I wanted to battle this oppressive system was a 16 year-old girl who had to protect her sickly younger brother as they lived on the streets for a year, fighting for food and squatting in abandoned office buildings.  And when she discovers this place they call the body bank that will pay her enough money to get a home, she decides to take the risk. She allows them to plant a chip in her brain. I wanted to quickly get to the story, which was the “what went wrong” – that her renter wants to do more than just party, she plans to use the girl’s body to murder someone.

The rental place, called Prime Destinations, wasn’t stupid. They had programmed the renters’ chips so that no renter could kill. But the girl’s renter had also thought ahead, and had her tech guy alter the chip. However, in doing so, something else changed. Callie wakes up in her own body, displacing the renter. She enters the fairy tale life of her rich renter, living in a mansion, and going out with a senator’s grandson. More big twists follow, but that is the setup.

My focus is always on creating a fresh world as simply as possible that allows me to get to where I want to be, dealing with characters on different levels of reality. Some films that I like that address this are Inception and Memento, and a few books would be Never Let Me Go, Uglies, and Incarceron. I love to have two characters together in a room and at least one of them doesn’t know the truth about the other.  And the reason is because it gives me this rich ground for both intellectual intrigue and also emotional depth. So while I use thriller pacing, I’ll slip in moments that I hope will resonate with the reader long after they’ve finished.

I like to follow an organic writing process, where I work back and forth from ideas to outline to pages, always drawing from and reacting to what is already there embedded in the story. This manuscript came out fairly smooth, with lots of yes moments where I saw that something I had planted early on would dovetail with later plot elements.  One thing that changed was the first chapter. I tried different beginnings, thinking I should set up Callie’s life first. But one day I decided to do something that seemed so radical. I really wanted to dive in and start with her going through the doors of the body bank before you knew anything about her. And once I did that, there was no looking back.

Writers will understand my special challenges in writing this story after they’ve read it. But I don’t want to give away any spoilers here. One thing I can say is that I had to decide how much of the world and the history of the war I would explain, because I did not want to stop the thriller pacing of the narrative drive. When there was a choice between continuing the emotion, or answering what I imagined might be a question in the reader’s mind about the past, I opted to keep the emotion. It’s dystopian. It’s cautionary. But mostly, I want to take readers on a wild ride that leaves them breathless at the end, saying they never saw it coming.

When I finished writing, I got my agent in 24 hours via an email query. She sold it as a duology to Random House Children’s Books in 6 days, over a holiday weekend.

All this because I’m a Costco member.

From big-box stores come big ideas. Sometimes.

***

Addendum: In a perfect circle, I will be signing STARTERS at Costco Los Feliz, on May 19, Saturday, at 1pm.  See me by the meatballs.

28 Responses to How Costco Gave me the Idea

  1. Laura says:

    This is an amazing story. I can see how you could come up with that idea just from standing in line waiting for a flu shot. I remember a few years ago when people were going crazy looking for flu meds and shots and what not. People were scared.

    I loved the contrast of the Starters and Enders in the book. The older people looking down on the younger generation, yet using them for their bodies and looks, etc.

    I wish I lived in LA so I could go to your signing! But if you come to MA, I’ll be there!

  2. Samantha says:

    I abosolutely ADORED the book I read it in two days. I just had to know what was going to happen next! The way it was left immediately sent me to the internet hoping there was news for a sequel! If you ever come to SoDak I’ll be the first in line for the signing!

  3. luke says:

    i just LOVE the book. is there a sequel? i must read the sequel! Im giving it 5 star on amazon:) great story
    ~luke

    • Lissa says:

      Thank you for the 5 stars. If you have time, Barnes and Noble and Google also have review areas.

      Yes, there is definitely a sequel, book 2 in the duology. Am working on it now. See “events” page for calendar of appearances.

  4. Veerendra says:

    I cant wait to read the book Lissa. Just gotta finish what I’m reading now before I order it with B&N. I heard so many great reviews, and already can’t wait for a sequel. And I haven’t even picked up the first yet!

    • Lissa says:

      Thanks so much! That makes me so happy. I can’t wait to hear from you once you’ve read it.

      • Veerendra says:

        Well after finishing the book about a week ago. I only have one major problem with the book, which might be a spoiler to anyone reading this [yes it is, so I will edit out those parts] HOW DARE YOU [edited out], [edited] WAS SO COOL. But other than that the book was great!

  5. Cynthia says:

    Sounds like a good one I’ve already read incarceron and i have the whole uglies series so this is a must read for me i will be looking for it on my nook. :). Have to add to the nook library and also rating it for you on B&N

  6. Maria B says:

    What an amazing book! I read it in a day because I couldn’t put it down. How long until the next book?!

    • Lissa says:

      Thank you! Please give it a review or stars and/or a “like” on Amazon please.
      Not sure in the UK when ENDERS will release. I am finishing up a rewrite draft this weekend and we are looking at a 2013 release in the US.

  7. Michael Gonzalez says:

    Is there going to be a movie…??? Hope so… Cant wait for Enders

  8. Elijah says:

    Lissa,

    Your novel was amazing. I don’t recall where I heard about this book but I got on a waiting list at the library and finally got it. I read it in a day! Amazing! The twists were incredible and at first I was thinking that we only had a few pages to finish the story and then it ended like it did and I was so mad! I immediately got on the internet to see if there was a sequel. Am now impatiently waiting for ENDERS. Thanks so much! And if you ever find yourself in Utah, I’d love to meet you!

    ~ Elijah ~

    • Lissa says:

      Thank you so much! I was in Utah in the Salt Lake City area on my tour in March, so maybe when Enders comes out (and yes, be patient), my publishers will chose to send me again. Watch my website.

  9. Lissa Woodbury Jensen says:

    Just finished your book and loved it! As a fellow (aspiring) writer with the same name (Lissa), I am curious as to how you pronounce your name. People never get it right with me. 🙂

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I’m usually not one to get emotionally invested in a book however, I did this one. I absolutely love this book! I read it quickly and had a hard time putting it down. How very clever of you to come up with this story, it’s so very different than most. I seriously can not wait for “Enders” to come out, I am so excited to read it and see what will come next! When can I expect to be able to purchase it? Please tell me soon, I’m hooked! =)

  11. Casey Johnson says:

    I must say I am not much of a reader. I have only read four books in the last 7 years and Starters has become my new favorite book. I seriously could not let the book down. The story draws you in and you feel as if you are there. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for your imagination and inspiration. I can’t wait to see what happens to Callie and Tyler in the sequel. I just can’t wait till it comes out this fall! 🙂

  12. Megan says:

    Hi, Lissa Price.
    Your book was interesting and exciting, and the plot was very creative! I couldn’t put it down when I first read it!

    I am an inspiring author and would like a few tips from you on how to write a good story. Is there anything a young writer should know before they start trying to write a novel? Is the Snowflake Method the best structure to use for your story? How you develop the main plot and all the mini ones at the same time?

    If you could answer back, that would be amazing.

    Thanks,
    Megan

  13. Morgan says:

    I’m a high school senior and we had to do an individual literary analysis on a book. The idea you used for your book was unbelievably amazing. I loved this book. It kept my attention very well, and most books don’t. I can’t wait to read Enders. The thought you put into everything made it seem like this was possible. I really enjoyed this book. Thank you for writing it.
    -Morgan

  14. Allie says:

    I haven’t been reading many books lately. None have drawn me in or interested me enough. When I went to my schools book fair I automatically gravitated towards Starters (the U.S cover is absolutely beautiful)! It’s such a great book, I just started yesterday and I’m already on page 243! I already mentioned it to my friends online and in school, can’t wait to read Enders! 🙂

  15. Stephanie says:

    Love Starters…in the middle of listening to the audio book. I just want to know where did you get the last name for Kallie? It’s my last name, and it isn’t that common, so just curious…
    BTW I’m a grownup (in my forties) and I’m loving this story, and such a good idea. I was telling my nine year old about it, and he said “but why don’t their grandparents take care of them?” And “if they don’t have grandparents, why doesn’t someone else’s grandparents take care of them?” He was very disturbed by the idea that there would not be vaccines for everyone…maybe because we live in Canada. It has given us so much to talk about…even with my 15 year old who thinks everything I do is “lame”… Including reading teen fiction. But she still asks me what is happening in the story! 😉

    • Lissa says:

      Thanks for writing and love hearing from a Woodland! Because you’re listening to the audio book, I’ll mention that her name is spelled “Callie.” 🙂 I got the name from one of my travel agents who is based in S. Africa. It must not be common, because whoever did the voice for the video trailer (link is on this site) at first said, “Callie Woodlawn.” So they had to redo.

      About half of my readers are adults. Tell your nine year old that this is a desperate world in Starters and people are overwhelmed. But the vaccine shortage happened in the US several times where batches were spoiled and they didn’t have enough for everyone so the government set up a triage system much like the one in the Starters series. Of course there is always a black market (in the series).

      The series has many, many 15 year old readers. Maybe she’ll eventually become one. 🙂 I love Canada and toured there. Especially fond of Nova Scotia. If you see this, let me know What part of Canada (or email it if you prefer).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *