Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie – In Memoriam

My Great Aunt Tillie passed away last night at the age of 100 years.

aunt-tillie

Aunt Tillie (in red)

She was not the typical sweet, old little lady.

And thank the stars she wasn’t.

Quick-witted and cantankerous, she spoke and did as she pleased, without caring much for what other people thought.  At my cousin Kathy’s wedding, she mortified my grandmother by dancing with a plant atop her head. She went to church and Bingo every week, sometimes driving 80mph to get there on time.

I just had to write about her.  One of my novels-in-progress, tentatively titled “Rotten Tomatoes” has 13 year old Haley reluctantly moving in with her Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie:

Her garden takes up nearly a third of the backyard. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie grows everything out here, but not everything gets to live.

She said she didn’t mean to hurt any of them. She just meant to scare them. Frighten them enough so they would stop. She never even aimed.

There were just so many of them. Running here and there, going in circles, like some crazy dance. It was all so confusing, she said.

If only the rabbits had enough sense to realize it was Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie’s garden, and not some other, normal person’s garden.

They had been sneaking into her garden and eating the “fruits” or rather “veggies” of her labor. For most people a fence would have been enough to keep the rabbits out. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie is not most people.

One day she saw some boys in her neighborhood playing with paintball guns. And she got an idea.

She bought herself a paintball gun. The next day, she loaded it up with blue paint balls.

She claimed she never intended to hit the rabbits, just scare them. She didn’t point the gun at any one rabbit. But one particular rabbit was just not in the right place at the right time.

Aunt Tillie hit the poor rabbit with a blue paint pellet, dead on. Literally, dead on.

And what does one do with a dead, blue rabbit? Bury it? Hide it? Throw it in the neighbor’s yard?

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie did none of these things.

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie made blue rabbit stew.

Aunt Tillie didn’t really make rabbit stew.  Actually, she was very upset about killing that poor creature.  But we can’t help but laugh about it.  And about the many other stories we’ll all share in the coming days.

We joke that there’s an Aunt Tillie in every generation of our family. My brother has already deemed me heir.

I hope not to disappoint.

Call it serendipity

Call it serendipity. Coincidence. Divine intervention. Author Sharon Creech calls it the great unexpected.

But I thought about all the things that had to have spun into place in order for us to be alive and for us to be right there, right then. I thought about the few things we thought we knew and the billions of things we couldn’t know, all spinning, whirling out there somewhere. – Naomi, The Great Unexpected

In her latest novel, The Great Unexpected (2013, HarperCollins), Sharon Creech explores how unexpected things can be wonderful and how connected people are to each other, even if they are strangers, living oceans apart. I was fortunate to be “right there, right then” at the recent NE-SCBWI annual conference to hear Sharon Creech discuss the relevance of connections in her writing.

In an engaging manner, she explained how two poems, written by different authors and discovered at different times in her life, collided together at the right moment to provide the inspiration for her novel, Love That Dog (2001, Harper Collins). And how she found the message of her Newbery award-winning novel, Walk Two Moons (1994, Scholastic), in a most unexpected place – a fortune cookie.

I’ve had my own great unexpecteds: a visit to an Impressionists exhibit in Glasgow, a mix- up of the words to Gary Wright’s song Dream Weaver, and an introduction to the Velvet Revolution in the book The Wall (2007, Macmillan) by Peter Sis. Random occurrences that have all somehow connected to inspire and influence my own MG novel.

We may not immediately see the underlying web of interconnecting threads linking together, but they are most certainly there. And we need only to allow ourselves to be open to let them connect.

How about you? Have you had any connections, any great unexpecteds?

A River Runs Through Me

Where do ideas come from?  Most people tend to think of inspiration coming from a wellspring, a static source, into which you can drop a bucket and pull out ideas.  That doesn’t work for me.   My ideas come from a river, its flow variable and unpredictable as New England weather.

Some days it’s Spring, and the river calmly meanders along at a steady pace.  I wade into the middle of its flow.  I need only dip my hand into its cool depths to retrieve a morsel that spawns a new story.   Until the temperature rises and the dog days of Summer arrive…

My river becomes a trickle, a drought of ideas.  My thirst can hardly be quenched as I gasp for droplets.  I fear my river has dried up and I pray for rain.  It’s all I can do to suck on a few smooth stones from the river bed to create enough juices to keep my writing life alive.  Until the rain comes.  And stays…

My river overflows and I am overwhelmed by the torrent of ideas.  I feel lost in the tumultuous waters, out of control.  One idea crashes into another; pops through to the surface, then disappears before I can grasp it.  I nearly drown from the excess of inspiration.  Eventually, the river calms and so do I…

I am able to look around at the mirage of colors that Fall brings and I get a cosmic sense of how my river and I play only a part in some far greater creation.  That sustains me until Winter comes…

My mind freezes.  I stand along the river bank and wonder if the waters still flow beneath the weight of frigid deadlines and snow drifts of self-doubt.    I tell myself I must stand still, I must breathe, I must listen.  And there it will be.  That faint tinkle, my river’s chime, there to remind me life, ideas, words, still flow underneath.

Sometimes the seasons will each last a few days, a month, maybe more.  And sometimes I get to experience all four seasons within a single day.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words…

Norman Maclean “A River Runs Through It”

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