Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Inspirational Process

Inspiration comes to us in many forms.

For me it's all about the what-ifs. In creating the two main characters for my new novel, The Sanctum, I didn't just throw two people together and try to make it work. No. Although I had one of the characters developed somewhat in my mind, I took my time, thinking long and hard about a possible plot first. That's unusual for me, because my stories are all character-driven.

I knew I wanted to write a story that involved my three favorite aspects of story. The possibility of the paranormal, spirituality from different points of view, and like I said, a character-driven plot. Also, I knew I wanted to write this book in first-person from one main character's line of sight and reasoning. And last but not least, I knew I wanted the story to include an animal that has fascinated me all my life. I wanted to write about the wolf.

Since the day I let go of my first novel, Televenge aka The Rose and the Charlatan, I wanted to take a different route with this new story. That first novel's plot spanned a thirty-year timeline. Writing The Rose and the Charlatan was a labor of love that also spanned over a decade of hard work. It kicked my butt, but made me a much stronger writer.

So, with that said, as I contemplated the next book, I knew I wanted a coming-of-age story. I had a picture in my head of a fuzzy red-headed, young girl. And for a while, that was all I had. No name, just this image in my mind of a skinny, lonely, parentless, country girl who lived on a tobacco farm.

On January 29th of this year, 2010, The Greensboro News & Record published a special magazine dedicated to the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in the old and newly restored Woolworth's building, in downtown Greensboro. In an act of courage, four black students sat peacefully at a whites-only lunch counter on February 1, 1960 and changed the world. The civil rights movement had begun.

There is another reason I wanted to write The Sanctum. A few southern writers today have pulled from deep in their memory, growing up under the care of an African-American woman hired by their family to cook, clean, and care for them. They fondly remember her as a piece of their childhood. Their family fondly remembers her. She will always be a precious piece of their history, inspiring them to write such books as: The Help, by Kathyryn Stocket; Plantation and Sullivan's Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kid, and The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin.

But for me, it was quite different.

Although my mother and father taught me respect for all people, I discovered a great deal of prejudice in other branches of my family. My grandparents believed, wholeheartedly, in segregation. During a reunion not many years ago, a family of distant relatives arrived wearing Ku Klux Klan t-shirts. The town this reunion was held in seemed rather proud of their Klan history, printing old photographs of their Klan members from the 20s and 30s in the local newspaper. It affected me so deeply, I never returned to future reunions. This began my quest to write stories, uncovering the evils of racism.

I wish I would've had the wonderful memories of the above authors. But I am sorry to say, that was not the case. But quite possibly, the passion in my stories bubbling up from way deep down in my gut, will come alive for my readers in a totally new and unique way.

As I thought about the civil rights movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. It wasn't long and two Native Americans came into my view. They didn't talk much at first, but within time I saw them clearly, and I heard their voices within this story, as well.

Living in the South, having spent a great deal of my youth here, I am naturally drawn to its conflicts. To me, racism is the biggest white elephant in the South. I began to think about my little red-headed white girl and placed her in the loving hands of the most opposite character I could create. A seventy-year old African-American male. A rugged individual who isn't afraid of his gentle side. The story began to take shape. The what-ifs began to roll. And each morning a little more of the plot was revealed with the characters telling me their story. I call this time, a time of "gleaning."

Like the gleaning of wheat, I gather tons and tons of notes, complete research, write dialogue, paragraphs, whole scenes, time-lines, and sketch out an outline. (Although I never stick to the outline, I still make one.) For some writers, I suppose it's called preparation. But for me, it's harvest time. I believe when God gives a person a talent, He doesn't just leave you hanging with it. I believe God makes sure stories are cultivated, planted, and grown inside the minds of writers long before any of us see the evidence sticking up through the dirt. We just have to wait, water it, let it grow, then harvest the story God gives us, using our talent to put it together.

For my new book, the wolf came into play. I have always loved the face of a wolf. Not the scary, teeth snarling face of Hollywood wolves, but the pack wolf in the wild. Wolves are about family and order. I suppose God cultivated my attraction to wolves from the time I first heard the story of Rome's Romulus and Remus, a pair of twins suckled as infants by a wolf.

In The Sanctum, the wolf is a subtle character, but still a voice to be reckoned with.

My best friend, Tina, lost her German Shepard last year to a tumor on his hip. She and her husband, Tim, adored their dog beyond reason. He was their autistic child, as far as they were concerned. I don't think they will ever get over the death of Casey. But he was not a dog anyone could just walk up to and pet. It seemed to me the ancient wolf in him was more prevalent than the domestic dog part of him. But I watched how my friends interacted with their "wolf-dog." And I began to study the wolf more intently, and discovered there were some folks who loved wolves. Still others loved them enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I got on-line and found a wolf sanctuary in the mountains, a two-hour drive away. After the winter snows had melted enough to allow safe passage, Michael and I went for a visit.

When we pulled up to the side of a mountain that led to the property where the wolves were housed, the sign at the bottom read, The Wolf Sanctum. Light bulbs, fireworks, shotguns, and pea-shooters went off inside my head! That sign confirmed the title of the new book. From that moment on, I called my story, The Sanctum.

The story takes place from November 1959 until March 1960. I'm realizing that not only is each book I write a journey to another time and place, it is my own journey of hope. The hope of dreams fulfilled.

In the end, The Sanctum came together as a coming-of-age story about giving sanctuary to those we love, the healing power of second chances, and overcoming prejudice during a volatile time in our country when the winds of change begin to blow.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Blessings to you and yours.

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