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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

From Whence it Comes - IWSG May 2023

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of  Alex Cavanaugh.  To find other contributors, click here. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts: 
Joylene Nowell Butler, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Meka James, Diane Burton, Victoria Marie Lees, and M Louise Barbour.

This month's optional question: When you are working on a story, what inspires you?

The former owners of our home used to dump trash on the property. When we cleaned up the yard, my husband discovered a couple of antique glass bottles, pre-twist top. I cleaned them out, put them on my windowsill and used them as a bud vases. One day when trying to jog my creative juices, I wrote a scene I posted in Middle Passages about a woman with three similar bottles. Then came the questions. Who was the woman? What was the significance of the bottles? The story changed radically, but that scene triggered my first attempt at a novel.

Anything can inspire. Back in the late 1800’s in my hometown, an eccentric man built a kind of amusement park on his 800-acre estate. His “folly” featured a hotel, a “pirate’s grotto,” a bear pit, a crystal palace, a monkey house, and a camera obscura. There was a water tower with a mammoth statue of Poseidon. He dammed up a stream and made his own lake. The property featured mechanical jokes as well as progressive ideas. At one exhibit guests were invited to drink “Laughing Water” and after they did, the floor would tilt to make them feel drunk. He maintained a fastidious “piggery” with the innovative thought that taking care of the animals used for food would make for healthier eating.

Years later, the property was sold, parceled off and developed. Growing up, kids I knew who lived in the area talked about fishing in the lake and playing in the woods around the ruins of the old grotto, but I never experienced any of it. From my side of town, unless you lived in or visited one of those houses, the land and pond were physically inaccessible. But they weren’t inaccessible to my imagination. I used a fictionalized version of the ruins of that old estate in one of my books. 

More inspiration? A family at our church arranged for a memorial service honoring the passengers of an Irish immigrant ship who perished in wreck off the coast of our town in 1849. Once the service became an annual event, I did some research. Newspaper articles written about the tragedy listed ninety-nine official passengers on the ship manifest (the maximum allowed) but according to witnesses, as many as twenty off-the-record and nameless passengers traveled also. Twelve passengers survived the wreck. Forty-four people are buried in an unmarked grave in our Central Cemetery. (A marker was raised in their memory later.) Other victims were buried up and down the coast. I was haunted by the idea of the unregistered victims whose names were never reported. Would their families have ever known what happened to them? I wove the angst of unknowing into an unreliable character, threw in a missing child with correlations related to 150+ year old Irish shipwreck and it all came together in one of my novels.

Inspiration comes from anything. Trash, history, church, or simply walking down the street. All it takes is imagination.

What inspires your best writing?