Monday musing: Inspiration from nature

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Many artists found inspiration in the natural world: Beethoven, Tom Thomson, Bedrich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, the list goes on. And writers do, to.

I am one, and I thought I’d share some pictures with you from a whitewater canoe trip down the Dumoine River I took a couple of years ago, along with my younger son, Super Nicolas.

The Dumoine runs more or less directly south from western Quebec into the Ottawa River, and was part of the fur-trading route that opened up North America for Europeans. It has a number of rapids, which required portaging — until the invention of memory-polymer canoes that could flex and spring back into shape, which made it possible, and fun, to run the rapids.

It’s an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 

This trip gave me an idea for a short story called Teri and the River, which I plan—one day, probably far in the future—to incorporate into novel called Dark Clouds.

Running the rapids, then eddying out into a calm spot, helped me solidify the concept of each river having a personality, which also nicely fits into the cosmology of my first novel, The Bones of the Earth.

A typical “Canadian sunset” picture.
I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.
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Monday Musings: Creating Visual Inspiration

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by Kathleen Valentine

halcyonOne of the most wonderful things about the internet is all the resources it offers for writers. The amount of research writers can do without leaving our desks is mind-blowing. Google Books offers millions of fully indexed books that you can search in seconds. I can remember the days of driving around to half a dozen libraries when a book I wanted wasn’t available through inter-library loan. No more. If you are working on a story and need a name that was popular in a certain period, the Social Security Administration lists most popular baby names by decade for over 100 years. One of my favorite things that I ever found on the internet is a Name Generator for your belly dance troupe. Yes, I used it and the Sirens of the Undulating Dream will be in my next Halcyon Beach story.

One of the best and most useful helpers that I have found is using a site like Pinterest (Instagram, Flickr, and other image storage sites can work, too) to create galleries for projects I am working on. Back in 2010 when I started work on my Halcyon Beach Chronicles series I knew that I wanted it to be set in a rather seedy, run-down beach town that was a vacation playland in the summer but a virtual ghost town the rest of the year. As I tried to envision the location I thought of many resort towns that I had driven through in the past. I made several trips—from October through January—up the coast from Newburyport to Kittery, stopping to shoot pictures whenever I saw a business or a building that I thought might fit in my story.

Back home I sorted through my photos and decided to make a gallery of the best images on Pinterest. This proved to be an excellent tool and I wound up just leaving it open on my desktop as I worked so I could refer to it often.

A couple years later I started work on my fourth Beacon Hill Chronicles story, The Crazy Old Lady’s Secret. Because I love weaving obscure historical details, legends, and unusual locations into my writing, I again made a Pinterest gallery. Only this time instead of taking pictures, I made a gallery of stories and images that I collected from the internet that all related to my story. Elements that I wanted to weave into my story included the existence of an abandoned music hall buried four stories under the Common in downtown Boston, and a legend about four angels that had been stolen by an eighteenth century privateer that are on display in the Old North Church. This proved to be so interesting that I wound up making an image gallery that I included at the end of the book so readers could find out more about the legends and locations contained within.

Another useful tool that writers have suggested to me is keeping a gallery of interesting-looking people for when they are creating characters. I’ve started doing this on my hard drive. Maybe some day I’ll put them in an online gallery.

I believe that the more visual we can make our writing, the more we can keep our readers engaged. Thanks to the internet we now have more resources than ever to help. It is fun and it certainly fires up the creativity.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Anyone Can Write, Writers Can’t Not Write

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by Kathleen Valentine

content_writerIt happens every now and then. I am talking to someone and, when they find out I am a writer with over two dozen titles available, they say, “I’ve been thinking about writing a book.” Usually this conversation is not headed in a positive direction. I tell them whatever seems appropriate at the time. “Where do you get your ideas?” they ask. Like Ray Bradbury, my problem is not getting ideas, my problem is not tripping over them when I get out of bed in the morning. Then they ask the question that makes me a little crazy, “But how do you know what people will buy? How can you be sure your story will be successful?” The truth is you don’t and that’s fine.

I’ve been a writer all my life. As a little kid, I wrote plays for the other kids in the neighborhood to act out in our garage, to a very patient group of parents sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and I also got a lot of compliments from teachers on various papers I wrote. In college I was the editor of my campus literary magazine, and over the years I wrote reams and reams of very bad poetry. After a brief infatuation with Samuel Beckett, I wrote an absolutely awful existential play that even the kindest writing teacher I ever knew told me to burn.

I wrote letters, I wrote journals, after a workshop with Julia Cameron I wrote three years worth of “morning papers” (I still have some—they’re embarrassing) and then, when I was in my forties I started writing short stories. I did this for a friend who was going through a rough spot in her life. I made my stories very romantic and atmospheric just as a special little gift for her. She loved some of them, some she said needed work, but eventually I edited and edited and edited until I culled them down to the stories In My Last Romance and other passions.

It wasn’t until a couple years later that I decided to write a novel. As a kid spending summer vacations in a Great Lakes seaport town with my godparents, I had developed a romantic fascination with the working waterfront. Later, I went to college in that town and my fascination around that rough part of town (rough back in the Sixties) grew. The locus of my fascination was a bar called the Mermaid Tavern. I was too young to go into bars then and too scared even if I wasn’t too young. But I vowed someday I would.

Years went by and I lived several states away when I had occasion to return to my old stomping grounds. By then I had plenty of experience going into bars and I was determined to at last fulfill my fantasy. But, alas, it was not to be. It was now the mid-Eighties and urban renewal had sanitized my old neighborhood. I went back home heartbroken and disillusioned. But the Mermaid Tavern had imprinted itself on my writer’s soul and I could not let it go. I started writing and I could not stop.

It took ten years for The Old Mermaid’s Tale: A Novel of the Great Lakes to become a reality, but, see, that’s the thing. I couldn’t NOT write it. The story owned me. It had chosen me to write it and I couldn’t turn away until it was done.

This is what I believe: we are all called to do certain things in life and we have to do them. We can push ourselves to do other things, of course, but the thing we were meant to do won’t let us alone until we do it. Maybe you were meant to paint, or dance, or cook, or raise chickens. You can do other things, but it is the thing that you cannot NOT do that is crucial. You can think about writing but, if you are a writer, you’ll write regardless of anything else.

Thanks for reading.

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