Every writer’s process is different for developing stories. Personally, I can’t just sit down and write a story. I have to see it, hear it…the characters have to talk to me, compel me to want to learn more about them, to care about them. In November I began to embark on writing a new western series…well…almost. I began to think about writing a new series. This is the first time I have finished a book and didn’t have another already in the works. I was starting with a blank page and this vague idea to write a series based on the founding and development of a western boomtown. But where, who, and what historical element could I tap into? Too many options can be a mind-boggling thing! I went on a research book-buying spree and poured over books about pioneer doctors, pioneer teachers, mail-order brides, western madams, desperados, railroads and ranchers–in a sense I was mining for characters, sparks of inspiration to help me form a community. I read countless intriguing tales, and yet, nothing really called to me, no voices or faces of new characters formed in my mind. I’m not one to take notes (I’d only lose them), either something takes hold in my mind or it doesn’t. I needed a series title, character names. For me, these are cornerstones I use to build a visual foundation and a connection to my story.
It wasn’t until I’d gone to Borders to find a World War II book for one of my boys that I happened across GREAT MAPS OF THE CIVIL WAR—not just a map book, but one with a pocket on each page containing a map of a major battle, and on the pages were accounts and information about the cartographers who drew those maps. I had never realized what a huge part these map makers played in the war or the danger they faced. Cartographers on both sides risked their lives to survey battle grounds where opposing troops patrolled and capturing the others maps was a prized advantage. I was mesmerized for days and began to see an image of a hero, a scarred and callous Civil War veteran and skilled cartographer who’s life now has no direction (much like my writing at this point!). One tidbit of information that had stuck out in my mind from earlier readings about post Civil War was the movement of the railroad and their campaigns to lay routes into the mining territories of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Since I’ve already written a series in Wyoming, the other two states were at the top of my list for possible locations. This newly forming hero was the perfect candidate for a railroad surveyor team to travel into the western frontier for possible railroad routes.
I still had no heroine, no set location, no burning drive to lead this team in one direction or another. All through November and December as I shopped and worked on my house I chipped away at the hardpan of my brain, trying to find the vein of my story. As of last week I was still waffling between Colorado and Montana…did the heroine meet up with the men on the trail or was she already in a mining community–was she a widow, a virgin, a spitfire with a grudge against the railroad? What was the significance of their first encounter? Nothing would stand out and sing to me. I needed a bolt of lightening!! Just one strong jolt to charge this story and bring my characters to life!
This past Monday my boys went back to school and as I drove home in the blessed silence, I heard it, this soft whisper in my mind…Copper Canyon. I don’t know where those particular words came from—perhaps the copper faucets I’ve been trying to decide on for the new kitchen (still haven’t moved home), but this moment was the lightening strike I’d been waiting for, the charge of inspiration to breath life into these characters who’d been bumping around in my mind, waiting to be grounded. I got home and Googled Copper and Montana. Wouldn’t you know, Montana had the world’s largest copper mine, first discovered in the early 1870’s–the major vein wasn’t tapped into until the 1890’s–the early claims were just enough to start small booms–Eureka!!!!!
After two months of mining and chiseling out vague impressions of character story arcs my Copper Canyon Series has life! In the past few days I’ve been fleshing out the characters and storyline which has been unfolding in my mind with bold color. This is a picture I sent to my editor with the suggestion for the series title…the working series title, which could change–as they usually do 😉
This is where I’ll be for the next few months, and the months after that as I dig into the second book in the series–which is already coming along nicely–strange how a single spark can make such a huge difference.
Here’s wishing lots of lightening strikes for all y’all! Anyone else’s new year starting off with a bang? I hit a bit of a bump on Tuesday when I got a speeding ticket after dropping off my boys *ggg* My resolution was to find balance in ’09, so I guess that balanced out my excitement from Monday–I guess I need balance and Cruise Control 😉
My upcoming June Anthology STETSONS, SPRING AND WEDDING RINGS, with authors Jillian Hart and Judith Stacy, is already up for Pre-order on Amazon!