Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big Sky Inspiration

As the person who plans public programs, including author events, for 44 libraries in one of the busiest library systems in the country, I attend a lot of author events. Inevitably - someone in the audience will ask the author what I call the “inspiration” question. “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve heard answers that range from funny, to silly to sad. Every author has a different answer, including the one who responded, “All my ideas come from, isn’t that where everyone goes”? There were folks in the audience who dutifully wrote the URL address down. Author Susan Wiggs presented a PowerPoint program on the various ways she found inspiration for her wonderful books and the variety of sources amazed me, from newspaper articles to cartoons to standing oh the deck of an aircraft carrier for an official military ceremony.

I’m at the inspiration point right now, as I begin work on my next Western historical romance. I’ve had the characters in mind for a while, and I know the setting will be in Montana because I want to write a trilogy. I’ve found more inspiration for the story in different places.

I visited the setting for the beginning of the story on one of my trips to Montana, but that was a few years ago and I couldn’t quite recall the name of the place. I assumed I could google a few keywords and the name of the place would just “pop” up. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I searched the map, interviewed the members of my family in the hope they might remember the name of the place. We narrowed it down, but none of us could recall the exact name. The internet is a wonderful thing, but there is still the need for the best search engines in the world – librarians.

I sent an Email to the Montana State Historical Society requesting reference help, and within 24 hours I had a response. They provided the name of the place, and even apologized because they didn’t have any photos. I’m grateful to Zoe and Ellie for their perseverance and assistance.

Obviously, I know a lot of librarians, so I have a tendency to utilize their amazing reference skills when I need help. Even I was impressed with the enthusiasm and quick response from this group. And I was motivated to do some research in my own house. I dug out the photo boxes, assuring my family that we had a picture of the house I was thinking about. I found that and much more.
I had the chance to recall the happiness we shared that week of our vacation, the beauty of the mountains, and the glory of the buffalo running through wide- open spaces as we experienced the incredible majesty of visiting a still untamed part of our country. That is what inspires me to write my stories, a landscape that challenges on an immense scale, sometimes terrifies with its unbridled fury and yet can take your breath away with the glorious grandeur.

So I have my place, but who are these people? I’d discovered an interesting fact when researching my other two books. In 1864 Montana the divorce rate per capita was nearly equal to that of 1964. I’d always assumed that in Victorian America divorces were rare and divorcees were shunned. In fact, because there were so many men in the western states and so few women, there were opportunities for women to improve their lives through making better marriages. While obtaining a divorce wasn’t exactly easy, if a husband was abusive, a drunk, abandoned or didn’t provide for his family, or if he was found guilty of adultery, his wife could sue for a divorce and Judges in the territory were willing to grant them.

Because I’ve wanted to write a “reuniting the couple” story for a while, I used the idea of a couple separated by the war and then divorced as the premise of the story, now all I needed was motivation for bringing them back together.

That’s where the “what if’s” come into play. What if the couple had a teenage daughter and she ran away with a young man? Most parents would go through just about anything in order to find a lost child, so the couple would set aside their differences in order to search for their daughter.
For me, that’s the way the ideas for Cherish Me developed. Piece by piece, it reminds me of doing needlework, except I never prick my finger and in the end; I have a tapestry of words. I’d love to hear how other writers build their stories.

Deborah Schneider, RWA Librarian of the Year 2009


Tanya Hanson said...

Deborah, congratulations on your terrific honor as Librarian of the Year. It is a profession that has my highest respect.Our public library here in town is just a magical world to me.

And congrats on your upcoming book and best luck with your series. It's hard to say where I get inspiration. Sometimes it is a newspaper article, an old antique family picture or tidbit of lore. Sometimes even a name. NOt an easy question to answer!

Best wishes always!


Paty Jager said...

Zoe is awesome! She helped me immensely with a book I wrote set in Montana.

Congrats on your honor. Librarians have always been Gods to me. Growing up libraries were my favorite place to go.