Tag: writing inspiration

writing inspiration

Inspiration Monday

Yesterday I was in Bath, England and found myself wandering around the sites that Jane Austen frequented. (She lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and two of her books, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion have Bath as a primary location)

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Inspiration Sideways

Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. (Yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition.) Finding inspiration is not a problem . . . except when it is. For me, this usually happens around the 30,000-word mark. I’m happily typing along, letting my characters do what they want to do when the words start to slow down until I click on the keyboard one last time. I describe the feeling as standing on a wobbly rock in the middle of a river. There’s no clear way to the other side and the rocks behind me are under water.  I am, for the most part, a big believer in AIC (credit to Nora Roberts). Writing output is directly correlated to time spent sitting at the computer. When I start in the morning, I set a timer and do nothing but write until it goes off. Just doing it works great when it comes to getting writing done. From time to time, however, we face something in our story that doesn’t quite work, and we’re not sure how to make it right. That’s when it might be time to step away. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a hole at the very end of the second Abish Taylor mystery. I spent a few days trying to type my way through it, but got no where. So, I took a break at the Met. Art museums are my refuge.  If I can find space away from the crowds, I don’t much care what the exhibit is about. (There, another preposition.)  A stroll through Central Park works, too, if the weather is to my liking. I’ve come to believe our subconscious mind sometimes can solve problems our conscious mind cannot. We need to give our subconscious space and time. For me, walking and looking at something pretty allows for just this kind of problem solving to happen. Museums and parks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I suspect that everyone has his or her own way of “stepping away.” Find yours. . . . and, if you like museums, are interested in the Catholic Church or fashion, I can recommend the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at the Met.      

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La Valise Volee (The Stolen Suitcase)

   “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta When people ask me where do I get my ideas, one of my top answers is by traveling. Perhaps it’s my overactive imagination, but I see stories everywhere I go.          For instance, during a trip to Provence recently to fulfill an agenda item on my bucket list, which was to see fields of lavender in full bloom, one of my favorite suitcases was stolen off a bus. Fortunately it had my husband’s clothing in it, not mine, or you would be reading a story about an international incident in the New York Times. But the point is, once we recovered from the outrage and insult we suffered at the hands of a thief and then a very blasé bus company, I began to see the event as a story with all sorts of possibilities. Spending our first hour and a half in Aix en Provence sitting in the police station in ninety-degree weather without air conditioning was indeed inspiring. Not being able to speak much more than high school French, I found myself conjuring reasons why people were gathered in the dirty, antiquated lobby. I had seen people greet one another before with the French kiss-kiss, one on each cheek, but the sight of French cops bidding hello and farewell in that manner fascinated me. I couldn’t tell whether the expressionless silent people gathered around us were victims or perpetrators, so I made stories up. Before you knew it, I knew exactly what happened to la valise volee, what the demise of the culprit would be in the short story I would write, and where the ending would take place.              We had arrived that morning at the airport in Marseille after a short flight from Dublin, a city that I found equally as inspiring. We had chosen to stay in Dublin for four nights on an extended overlay so we could build value into our airfare, which I had been unable to reduce to what I think of as a palatable price. The Hop On, Hop Off bus offered us a great way to see the city as many times as we wanted. We kept going by a vacant over grown lot near the Houston train station where one bus driver told us no one ever got on or off in his twenty-two years of experience. Immediately I knew there was a dead body in the lot. At least that there was a dead body in the lot in my mind.            Later, during the trip home when I encountered a young pale-faced Irish woman traveling to Boston with her two little waifs, I knew they had to be part of that story, which was why they had to leave Dublin. Was the body the abusive husband she had done in? Or had he been murdered by someone looking for something of value they thought the husband had and now figured it was with the widow? Another short story idea was born, even though I am challenged to write short fiction. I’m much better at being long-winded. I blame it on the Irish in me.                So maybe these ideas will end up in books if I can’t manage to fit them into short stories. Or maybe they’ll end up in my pillow as dreams. But wherever they go, I never would have had them if I hadn’t traveled. Does travel inspire you. dear readers? How, and please share photos.     

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Meeting heroes

I can date the moment I became interested in Tudor history. It was back in the 1990s, when I was a young mother and happened to pick up Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Enthralled is not too strong a word to use to describe my reaction. Since then I’ve read all her books, and for the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to spend time with her as I traveled around England as part of her Tudor tour. I’m happy to report that she’s just as lovely and smart as I would have hoped, but that led me to ask my fellow Miss Demeanors: Have you ever met any of your heroes? How did that go? And this is what they said: Tracee: I can’t say that I’ve met one of my heroes – perhaps I don’t have a concrete fix on who they would be! I’ve certainly met people I admire and I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, I’ve always been amazed that they are in fact nice ordinary people despite their ‘day jobs’ or worldwide fame. In particularly I had this experience when I met Juan Carlos of Spain. I was struck by how difficult it must be to live your life entirely in the public eye, yet remain gracious and quite frankly normal. I had quite a different experience when I met Viktor Yushchenko at the papal funeral. I only knew that he was president of Ukraine and married to an American. When he shook my hand I confess that half of my brain thought, oh my gosh this is what they meant by horribly disfigured by the failed assassination attempt with dioxin. (This was only months afterward.) At the exact same time, emphasis on exact, the other half of my brain thought, I have never met such a handsome charismatic person. Which is a little insight into what real charisma can do for a person. While not a hero of mine, he was memorable and charming, and certainly I won’t forget meeting him. Robin: I’ve gotten to meet not one but two of my heroes (so far), Dean Koontz and Joseph Finder. I met Mr. Koontz at a book signing (his, not mine, darn it). I met Joe Finder at a conference and went full fan girl on him before I could stop myself. He handled it with good grace and humor. A cool aspect of that encounter is that Hank Phillipi Ryan is the one who introduced us. She’s also fabulous. Alexia: I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak but there were about a gazillion people attending the lecture so I didn’t get anywhere near him. I’ve heard Walter Mosley speak at conferences twice but I confess I never worked up the courage to actually meet him. I felt kind of like Dorothy in the courtyard of the Great and Powerful Oz. Jonathan Kellerman wasn’t my hero until I met him at Left Coast Crime. He turned out to be so normal instead of a Big Name Author who couldn’t be bothered with the hoi polloi. He even came over to me and congratulated me on my Lefty win. So now he’s my hero. Michele: I’ve always been politically active so I’ve had the opportunity to meet many political figures that I admire, although few qualify as heroes. My real heroes are writers. In 1988, I bought a debut novel in hardcover for one of my early trips to St. John, taking a chance on a new author. The writing and plot in A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George blew me away. I’ve read every book written by her since then, loving that she still sends me to the dictionary almost thirty years later. In 2015, I got to meet Elizabeth at the New England Crime Bake and to take a class with her. She is a gifted and generous writing teacher. At an earlier Crime Bake, I had breakfast with Sue Grafton whom I’ve traveled almost the entire alphabet with for twenty years. She was more interested in what writer Ang Pompano (on her other side) and I had to say, than in regaling us with tales about her. She shares a wry sense of humor with her protagonist, Kinsey Milhone. I have to include Hank Phillippi Ryan as another hero. She is a very talented writer, but also is the most generous and inclusive author I know. She gladly encourages, supports, and launches new and veteran writers. Hank epitomizes how sharing a writing community can and should be. Paula: I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of my heroes, all of whom are writers. Starting with Alice Hoffman. I collect first editions of her work, and so I go to her signings, where I’ve met her several times. She’s as wonderful as her books. I made her laugh once, and that was a very good day. I’ve also met Lee Child, the loveliest man ever. And Elizabeth George and John Updike and Stephen King and Elizabeth Berg and William Kent Krueger and Judy Blume and Julia Cameron and, well, I could go on forever, because I’ve been going to writer’s conferences and books signings forever. On my list to meet next are Louise Penny and Mark Nepo and Abigail Thomas. And if I ever make it to that big writer’s retreat in the sky, I hope to meet Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Nora Ephron and Agatha Christie and….  

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Fair Game

 The movers brought my furniture today. Except for a few minor snafus—driver arrived, crew didn’t; car battery died so couldn’t get it off truck—everything was going well. Until. The crew parked in the nameless alley behind my house and had almost finished unloading my household goods when a cranky neighbor showed up and demanded both the crew’s pickup truck and the moving truck be removed. She “needed” them moved, she said. The movers had parked in the alley to avoid blocking the road in front of my house. They weren’t impeding traffic. They weren’t parked in the woman’s yard. They weren’t blocking her driveway or preventing her from leaving her house. Cranky neighbor was so offended by a moving truck in a back alley, she called the police. The policeman who responded did not seem overly concerned. He remained polite and professional. He simply asked the movers about how long they thought they’d be then left. Cranky neighbor stayed home and spied on the movers, looking for reasons to scold them. Welcome to the neighborhood. Being an author always alert for story ideas, I immediately thought this woman would make the perfect fictional murder victim. I fantasized ways of killing her off and created a list of suspects with a motive for doing her in. The list was long. I mentally scouted locations for the crime scene and devised a reason for my sleuth to be in this otherwise charming town. Then I stopped. I reminded myself part of what made this town charming was its small size. If I wrote a story and people read it (as I hope they would) they’d recognize the person on whom I’d wreaked fictional vengeance. That probably wouldn’t get me invited to many parties or included on any Christmas card lists. Last Spring, Richard Cohen wrote an article titled, “How Writers Will Steal Your Life and Use it For Fiction.” He explained how writers crafted characters inspired by people they met and examined how this literary identity theft impacted both writer and written about. One of my favorite episodes of “Midsomer Murders” deals with a man whose life has been turned into a novel by someone else. He feels victimized, his experiences stolen, leaving him with nothing to write about himself. There are ways to borrow someone’s life without offending them or risking libel charges. Transform males into female characters and vice versa. Borrow traits from several different people and combine them into a single character. Change your locale. Get their permission. Some people might like the idea of being an author’s muse. However we handle it, we’re unlikely to stop using bits and pieces of real people to build fictional characters. Life has too many good stories to pass up. Maybe writers should all wear warning buttons like the one I recently gave a writer friend—”Be careful. Anything you say may end up in my novel.” How do real people inspire your writing? How do you disguise them? 

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When I was a young mother, it was out of the question for me to go to an MFA. program. First of all, I didn’t have the money.  Secondly, I had four young children. Those years were filled with hiking around and laundry and writing late at night. Though I did manage to persuade my kids, for quite a long time, that they should go to bed at 7:30. I remember my oldest son once saying to me that he was the only kid in 8th grade who had to go to bed so early, and I said he didn’t have to go to sleep at 7:30. He could read for as long as he wanted. He just needed to let me have time to write. Anyway, during that time, I had to invent my own personal MFA program, and the way I did that was by finding passages in short stories and novels that I liked. I would type up those passages, because it helps to have the words in your fingers. Then I would print them out and put them on my wall. I’d read them over and over again, trying to figure out what worked and why they moved me. One particular influence was V.S. Pritchett, who I became obsessed with. Another was Anne Tyler. At one point I think I covered my wall with paragraphs from Saint Maybe. I was thinking of that recently when I read a book by Neil Gaiman. I’d never read anything by him before, but a lot of people love him, and I’m always intrigued by writers who are loved. I came to this passage, which is describing a character with a hangover: His skin felt clammy, and his eyes felt like they had been pt in wrong, while his skull gave him the general impression that someone had removed it while he had slept, and swapped it for one two or three sizes too small. An Underground train went past a few feet from them; the wind of its passage whipped at the table. The noise of its passage went through Richard’s head like a hot knife through brains. Richard groaned. I love this for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s true. If you’ve had a hangover. Which I have, once or twice. It’s alive. It’s funny, but it’s real. It surprises me. It makes me see something familiar in a new way.  I’m going to type it up and put it on my wall. How about you? What passages inspire you?  

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The shapes I see in trees

Every day that I can, I like to go off into the woods, with my two little dogs, and admire the trees. (You might have deduced as much if you read Maggie Dove.) Of course I love the leaves, but what really intrigues me are the shapes. There is so much drama in a forest! So much emotion, especially in the trees knocked over by a storm. Few things are as sad as a tree tossed to its side with green leaves still growing. What I love is how the shapes change depending on the light. IOne of the things that’s been very useful to my writing self is that trees help me see how humans express emotion.So, here are a few of my favorites.  1. Anguished treeLook out how the feathered hands reach up to protect, and you can almost hear the howl coming out of this poor trunk.   2. Ghost coming out of a tree.    3. Sassy tree: Can’t you hear it swish?    I have many more tree pictures, but perhaps I’ll stop there. How about you? Do you have a favorite tree?  

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