Finding Inspiration

When I started writing The Second Season a couple years ago, I had never attempted to write historical fiction. Everything in my first draft came from my Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and BBC historical drama mental files.  To be sure, there are a lot in those files. Thanks to Netflix, my sister Melissa’s never ending selection of clean regency romance novels, and Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, I felt somewhat ready to take on regency England.

But then I started writing, and we all know that is a different story. There were things even my BFF Google couldn’t help me imagine. How do you write about places you have only seen in movies?

If only all writers could afford a quick trip to the land they are writing about. It would make things much easier, not to mention more fun. I am sure I could find some inspiration visiting some historic estates and traveling the green countryside. Honestly, hearing the English accent alone would inspire me. But alas, a trip to England was not in my cards this time.

During a particular period of writer’s block, I took a quick trip to Tennessee to visit my parents and siblings while my brother was on leave from Germany. While there, we took a day to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This wasn’t my first time seeing the Biltmore, but it was the first time I had visited while writing this novel.

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This is the closest I’ve ever been to a historic English estate, and while it certainly was not regency England, I felt transported to that place and time.

My poor siblings. I spent half the day trying to speak in an English accent to my sisters and brother. I’m sure they were embarrassed, and I admit that I enjoyed embarrassing my oldest sister way too much. It probably didn’t help that my accent seemed to change with every sentence.

As I toured the immense house and pretty gardens, I couldn’t help but think of my story. For most of the tour, I silently imagined what it would have been like to live in such a house. I imagined myself enjoying the parties in the music room, exploring the library, and riding a horse on the expansive grounds. Many of my characters came to life while there. It was as if I physically saw Mr. Jasper in all his disgusting glory, alongside the feminine and gentle Lady Lucy. I could picture so vividly Lord Searly parading across the music room, his title and wealth evident in his every stride. I saw my characters’ manners and looks, their personalities and motivations.

Though it sounds so juvenile, it was so much fun to use my imagination again. I could have gotten lost in it, if it wasn’t for my mom’s incessant modern talk. It was as if her one goal was to remind me that I was not in fact a character of one of Jane Austen’s novel, but instead a mother of three, living in the twenty first century. It’s not like it was really her fault. She had no idea I was so involved in my imagination. It went something like this…

Me: Wandering a hallway with old photographs and guest chambers, I imagined that I had just been invited to stay with a wealthy family in 1815.

Mom: “Did you hear that Obama…(insert political action)..?”

Me: Looking clearly annoyed, I just shook my head.

Mom: Confused at my irritation and silence.

I probably should have told her I was busy living out my pretend life as a young lady in my first season, just having been invited to stay with a wealthy family, who happened to have a very handsome, kind, and eligible heir…

 

 

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Where Stories Begin

It all started when I was about five or six years old and I got my first diary. Since then, I have always written in a journal. I remember as a teenager writing down all the dramatic sagas and accompanying emotions, tears streaming down my face as I scribbled the words. Then, inevitably, I would throw the pages away, embarrassed by it all. I smile thinking about that now, and I wish I would have saved some of the high school soap/friend operas. I think I would have a better perspective now, and the stories would probably provide some much needed comic relief to my busy life.

Somehow, I kept all my writing so private. Not even my husband knew I liked to write until our third year of marriage. One day someone asked me, “What’s one of your life goals that you have never told anyone?” When I answered that I wanted to write and publish books, my husband looked at me confused. It was then that I realized I had never told him how much I liked to write.

I’ve asked myself, “When did it all start- this love of writing?”

Over time, it’s come down to the fact that I just love stories.

I spent my childhood in the country. We lived on about three acres. My older sister and I spent all day outdoors (rain, snow, or sunshine). We  had some pretty intense pretend play. Whether we were the royal orphaned runaways (doesn’t every girl pretend that at some point?), animal whisperers, or the greatest cowgirls in all the west, we made up many complicated storylines that usually involved some melodramatic love story.  There was a broken fence by our barn, and my sister and I would hop on that bouncy log, pretending it was our trusty horse Lightening or Buttercup. Somehow we never died from the tetanus-infested nails poking out of the logs. We also survived many tightroping trips across an irrigation canal.

My parents couldn’t give us much when I was young, but they gave us more than most by moving our family to that country house for five years. My sister and I are the youngest, and we learned to be creative since we were much too young to be wrapped up in the latest music, fashions, or boys. No, no, no (well maybe I had a few crushes). Instead, we looked forward to our nature club meetings (which I was vice president of by the way) that met in the attic of our rodent-filled barn. We invited the neighbor kids, a lose country term considering their parents had to drop them off. We did super exciting things, like go on nature walks, where we would encounter pretty much nothing (except for that disturbing time we found and watched a snake eat a mouse). We swung from willow branches, imagining hot lava in place of the grass, and played Robin Hood, shooting real arrows at our hay targets. My sister was the best person to play with. Together, we made up stories and characters that could keep us occupied for hours.

During my time at that country house, I wrote stories a lot. Then, somehow things began to change. I think it must have had something to do with the fact that we moved to desert mountains in New Mexico and left our happy farm fantasy. Or, it could be that my sister started to enter adolescence, and she started to be more involved in sports than make believe. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t until years later that I started to really write again.

So where did the stories start? I’m guessing my childhood of make believe had a lot to do with it. I’m sure the fact that we had no Nintendo also played a factor. I played. I imagined. And in the middle of doing all that, I fell in love with stories.

 

 

 

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