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It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? That’s the day of the re-opening ceremony of the Taftsville covered bridge in Taftsville, VT this past September. The bridge got totaled in tropical storm Irene and in true Vermont style the community came together and made sure the structure was perfectly restored to its original 1836 condition. It took two years and a serious amount of work, but it was well worth it. The finished product is beautiful and the celebration of its reopening was a picture perfect apropos New England morning fete. There were politicians, dignitaries, American Flags flying, horses and carriages, an antique car parade, ice cream and kettle corn. Perfect. A little too perfect.
While sitting on the riverbank trying to keep my two and four year olds from getting burnt into human jerky by the unseasonably hot sun and suffering through the blathering of the local pols, a story started to percolate in my overheated brain. What if just as the ribbon were cut this perfect scene turned to chaos? What if something happened to the bridge – like, it collapsed as the first horse driven buggy full of period dressed dignitaries were to fall into the river underneath? Not too many deaths, but of course someone would have to go. And, what if it tore the little town apart – a split between the newcomers to Vermont and the old timers, a divide that resonates all over the state. For instance, what if after all the accusations and blame were thrown around there were a battle as to whether to keep the historic structure or build something modern to avoid this tragedy from ever happening again.
Maybe not the best story, but it was a germ of something I could work with and it fit into my genre. After a few weeks I began working on it, playing around with the characters and such, and although it isn’t finished, I kind of like where the story is going and will probably include it in the follow up book to 5 Tales.
It’s seems overly obvious to say that inspiration can come from anywhere. But, that’s what I like about inspiration – it’s so different for everyone. Mine usually comes from a location, or as I mentioned in my very first blog post, cemeteries. With two young rambunctious children I find cemeteries a great place to let them run free without breaking anything, running out into the road, or falling into the lake we live on. So while they’re getting enough energy out to sleep, I roam around thinking about the people lying underneath my L.L. Bean moccasins. I think it’s the energy in the bone yards that sparks my imagination. I create stories behind the names on the stones and if one hits, I take notes and go back to it later. (By the way, Absinthe helps a lot too. No, really it does.)
My good friend the author R.A. Diane, whose blog you should check out, wrote her book Coffee with my Brother as a way to try and help her Sister-In-Law through the pain of her husband’s death. She had been thinking about it for a while, wanting very badly to alleviate her Sister-In-Law’s grief and then one morning while pouring water into her French press to make coffee, she heard her dead brother say to her: “tell her my story”. There’s some inspiration for ya! The book came out of her at light speed.
To me location is so important for inspiration. Most of my stuff thus far has been born in either Southern California or Vermont, and I have a list of other places I would like to live and write in. I could wreak serious havoc in Charleston, Savannah, or Atlanta. My native state of Connecticut isn’t one of them, and the reason is how ubiquitous it is. The state itself is beautiful, in my opinion one of the most beautiful in the country. But, the pulse of Connecticut is just white noise to me. It’s like this level of static I can’t break through. It’s as if New York City bleeds over into Connecticut, only not enough so to be interesting – just a cauldron of ambition and upward mobility. In SoCal, there is a slowing down of the pace providing time to reflect and the people are much more relaxed – the funny part being most of them are New England transplants. In Vermont, well, Vermont is like it’s own universe with its unspoiled beauty and commitment to self-reliance. Vermonters are simple in their way of life but by no means are they simple and extremely interesting conversationalists when you break though their granite facades. And, man do they make for great character development.
Chasing inspiration can be very gratifying as long as you don’t force it. I’ve given up sitting around trying to think up story ideas in a vacuum; it just doesn’t work. If I’m not struck by something I don’t try and wrangle up a plot. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Bukowski, it actually appears on his tombstone – when asked what the key to life and art is, he replied, “Don’t try.”