I’m thrilled to be guest blogging on this fabulous site today, and want to thank all the authors who host the site for their kind invitation.
As part of my job I arrange author events for one of the busiest libraries in the US. This means I attend a lot of events, and when it comes time for the question and answer period, I wait for someone to ask one of the most popular questions. “Where do you get your ideas?”
There are as many different answers as there are writers, but one of my favorites is that if you scour your family history, you’ll discover a lot of material. I once heard it said that every person who survives childhood has enough material for a book. And while you might not want to pull skeletons out of the closet, you might find some great source material in family stories and old photos.
After recently attending the Romance Writer’s of America conference in Washington, DC, I took a short trip to visit my uncle in Richmond, VA. The first night I was there he pulled out an old box and asked me if I’d ever seen any of “these”? What he meant was an archive of family photos from my grandmother’s house. I had no idea these photos even existed.
I was amazed to see faces that connected me to the past, to see eyes that reminded me of my sister, a nose that reflected back to me like a mirror. I had no idea my grandmother was a flapper or my grandfather a farmer. These people were known to me, yet unknown – like a character in my book who has a name, but in the beginning has no back story and no history until I complete it.
My ancestors are like these characters. I know they had families and that they lived in died in Oswego County, NY. I have bits and pieces of the family history, told like stories. The ancestor who shot and killed a man, (determined to be self-defense), the Civil War soldiers who survived Andersonville prison and walked those long miles back home, my great grandmother who lost 4 children, 3 of them in a typhoid fever epidemic that took them all on the same day.
When I’m writing a strong female character who grits her teeth, stomps her feet and never gives up, I don’t have to look far for inspiration. I have pioneer blood running through my veins, with relatives who fought in the Revolutionary war and cut down trees, built homesteads, farmed rocky land and survived. These were tough, tenacious people.
I believe that’s the reason I became I history major in college, and why historical romance has always appealed to me – first to read and then to write. My heroines are trapped by the rules and restrictions of Victorian society, but they are strong, determined and intelligent.
My new book, Promise Me will be released in January 2010. My heroine, Amanda Wainwright, is a widow hell-bent on keeping a deathbed promise to her husband. She’s determined to make life better for the miners of Willow Creek. My hero, Samuel Calhoun, is on an undercover assignment for the Secret Service. He pretends to accept an offer from a consortium of mine owners to seduce, humiliate and ruin the Widow Wainwright.
When Sam and Amanda meet, a tiny flame of desire bursts into a blazing inferno of passion and longing. While I can’t honestly say that any of my relatives inspired this tempestuous couple, I did name my secondary characters after my grandparents. I think they’d be pleased.
Have you ever used your family history as inspiration for a story or named characters after family members?