When I read a story I really love, it’s the first thing I always want to know…
Where did this story begin? What tiny spark brought it into being?
For each story I’ve written, there are bits of serendipity, bits of discover-as-you-go, and somewhere… way back in the beginning, sometimes so far back I’ve almost forgotten it, there’s the original germ of an idea that started my mind spinning, and wondering, and planting the garden of another story. I never know quite what will grow from those first seeds. Finding out is part of the magic and wonder of storytelling. Here are a few of those seeds from past books:
Tending Roses was inspired by a true story my grandmother told me when she came to stay with me after my first son was born. The story of her own early married years, and the rose garden that was the one thing she could call her own, changed the way I thought about everything. That story from my grandmother opened my eyes to life as not just a trip from here to there — from what you’ve got to what you want — but a journey with lots of things, and sometimes the best things somewhere in the middle. Writing the book was a way of walking through that experience again in words. I wasn’t even sure anyone would ever read it but me.
Good Hope Road was inspired by a near miss with the massive 1999 Oklahoma City tornado. After making it home safely, I watch the news report about a young girl gathering other people’s lost photos to return them. Wondering what gave her that strength, that compassion, was the genesis of the book. I was reminded of it again when I read some stories on the Internet about pictures and letters washing up on beaches after hurricane Sandy. We are, in this human condition, connected by so many things, and sometimes by the storms that overflow the walls, and sweep us unwillingly together.
Larkspur Cove was inspired by a chat with another baseball mom on the side of the ballfield. The J.C. Dugard case had just broken, a young woman rescued eighteen years after being stolen from her family. The mother I was visiting with during the ballgame that day pointed at her adopted daughter playing in the sandbox and said, “If not for the kindness of strangers, that could have been my daughter.” Before the teenage birth mother could give the baby up for adoption, a male relative with a prison record had stolen the newborn and gone on the run with her. A year and a half later, neighbors and a shopkeeper got nosy. The little girl was rescued, saved by the intervention of strangers. She was given an adoptive family who love her dearly, her life and her entire future changed. Her story generated a question I couldn’t resist — what would happen in a little community, if the town outcast suddenly showed up with a mysterious little girl in tow?
Lone Star Café was inspired by a few minutes in line at a local Walmart. The woman behind me in her business suit was complaining because the cashier had taken a minute to chat with an elderly man in the front of the line. He had lost his prescription card, and he was having a bad day, and just needed somebody to listen for a moment. As the grouchy lady behind me made her discontent obvious, then huffed off to another line, I thought, What if she were the one stuck in a bad situation, and the only person who could help her was a stranger behind a checkout counter?
I had fun putting that grouchy Walmart customer in a book and watching her discover that it’s not how fast you get from here to there, but the human connections you form along the way that matter most. Ultimately, stories hold a special kind of magic. They can cause the to blind see, the busy to slow down, the impatient to take time for another human being, the bitter to lay down their bitterness and open up to love. Stories can rescue hearts, at least on paper, from all the things that imprison us in life.
And in the process, perhaps someone else out there who reads the story is changed, and perhaps, as the writer, you find that you’re changed, too. Those imaginary people aren’t just talking to strangers, they’re talking to you They teach you things as you’re discovering their stories. They have lessons to share.
That is the magic of it all. The learning of lessons from people who never were, and things that never happened… to open us to the possibilities of everything that could happen.
So, what about you? Where do the stories come from in your life? What lessons have they taught you?