Picture Me Gone came to Meg Rosoff in small pieces, the way the clues to the mystery at the heart of the novel came to her 12-year-old narrator.
First, the author found the name Mila (pronounced MEE-lah). Then, she met a lone dog in the park with a nametag that said Mila. "I don’t believe in extraterrestrial communication," Rosoff told me in an interview, "but I had a little bit of a feeling that someone was telling me to go to work." That dog also gave the author her opening line ("The first Mila was a dog"), and after that, the book was all in her head: "It was a moment of magic that happens sometimes with writing," she said.
Rosoff knew that Mila and her father, Gil, would be trying to find someone--Matthew, Gil's oldest friend--but she wasn't sure why Matthew left. One of the key early clues for Mila is that Susannah, Matthew's wife, seems to be angry with the family dog--Susannah completely ignores Honey. Mila realizes Honey must be Matthew's dog, and what kind of person leaves his dog behind? Rosoff wasn't sure when she began why Susannah would hate Honey, but over time, as she rewrote and rewrote, it became clear to her. "It was like applying thin layers of paint, draft after draft," she said. "Each draft got a little more complex."
The parallel between Mila and Rosoff herself, this process of discovery in solving a mystery and writing a novel, seems too strong to ignore. The creative process is a mystery. In the composition of a novel or a painting or a piece of music, the creator may have an idea of where he or she is going, but the way to get there is often elusive. And on the journey, like Mila, the artist often discovers something about herself in putting together the puzzle.