Thursday, August 23, 2007

An Inspirational Challenge

by Donna MacMeans

Several years ago, when RWA's annual conference was held in New Orleans, I heard a workshop on creativity presented by Felicia Mason. She maintained that as writers, we experience life in a whole different manner than non-writers. We see possibilities, when others see scenery. We hear sounds and instantly create metaphors to describe the sound while others dismiss it as white noise. In that workshop, Felicia challenged the group to think of the one thing they were meant to see in New Orleans. That one thing that we saw through our writer's eye that we could use in a story.

Growing up, I was the oldest girl with two older brothers. That has translated into a constant drive to "prove" that I'm as good as them. I face any challenge with a determination to win - which explains why four of my stories resulted from someone issuing me a challenge.

So I took Felicia's challenge and mentally reviewed all that I had seen in New Orleans and discovered the one thing that spoke to me, but didn't seem to resonate with anyone else - the Charm Gates at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. I eventually developed a time travel built around the Charm Gates. One of these days it may even see publication.

So now I'm challenging you. What have you experienced recently that singled you out and spoke to your writer's soul? Was there anything in Dallas at the recent convention? I know I stayed on the twentieth floor and thought about those small open areas by the elevators that dropped down to the restaurant area, nineteen floors below. I mean you could drop a body easily down one of those chutes. It's a shame I don't write contemporary (smile). What about a vacation? Was there something that inspired you? Could you create a story around it? Let me know, and I'll send the person with the best inspirational experience an autographed copy of Elizabeth Bevarly's book, The Ring on Her Finger.



Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Donna, am I allowed to win the book? ;-)

Recently during my British trip, I stayed in a gorgeous place called Morar on the west coast of Scotland, just south of the tip of the Isle of Skye. This is the hotel to give you some idea of how beautiful it was:

My bedroom faced right out across a tidal bay to the small isles of Rhum and Eigg. It was so beautiful, it was hard to believe it was real. Every night, the sun would go down behind the jagged islands out to sea. It truly was breathtaking to watch the light change.

I thought of all the seafaring people who had been up and down this coast for purposes licit and illicit. And I had a great idea for a Viking story about a raider whose boat got stranded in the tidal bay just under my window. Love it when setting speak to me like that. Don't know that I'll ever write it, but the start of the story was terrifically vivid in my mind.

Great topic!

Christine Wells said...

Donna, I love reading about the writer at work and the things that spark story ideas. Great post!

Today, I was watching the Antiques Roadshow (stop snickering, Foanna!) and a pair of duelling pistols that could be dated fairly precisely to between 1800 and 1807 came up for valuation.

As the valuer waxed lyrical about how wonderfully the pistols were made and how easily the butt fitted in the hand and how long you could stand sighting your opponent without wavering, my mind began weaving a story around a duel. There's something about seeing an object in the flesh and how it works and how it's handled that really fires my imagination.

But don't get me started on the Antiques Roadshow! I'll never stop:)

Caren Crane said...

I see things almost every day that spark ideas for new stories or inform my current one. Yesterday, I saw what must be one of the most redneck guys in the universe. Picture this: beat-up old compact Toyota; Bush/Cheney 04 stickers; stickers for other very conservative candidates for various offices; small American flag duct-taped to the radio antenna; mullet and ball cap. You really have to live in the South (USA) to appreciate this fully. *g*

Then he had two stickers which fired my imagination. Two copies of one which said, "VOTE RED". Like, vote Communist or vote Republican, I wondered? Then I wondered if he *thought* it meant vote Republican and it really *did* mean vote Communist. That made me laugh!

The other was an oval sticker of the sort used in Europe to designate countries. Here, they have things like "OBX" (for the Outer Banks of NC) or "MV" for Martha's Vineyard. The one on this guy's car said "SUE". What did that mean? File a frivolous lawsuit? Was it someone named Sue? The Suwannee Underacheivers Endeavor? That made me laugh even harder!

Man, only in the South. I am definitely using this stuff...

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna -

Have I ever told you how jealous I am of your travels? The British trip sounds wonderful and the Morar hotel especially so. I remember you blogged awhile back about some of the great manors you visited on that trip. Your writer's soul is definitely drawn to the real estate. But then, in the midst of so much fabulous scenery, it would be hard not to be. Can't wait to read that viking story.

Donna MacMeans said...

Christine -

I love the antiques roadshow! They get some weird stuff on that show. There was an episode on Fraiser that was a riff on the Antiques roadshoe, did you see it? I laughed and laughed. Obviously the show's screenwriters were motivated by the show as well.

I think I've seen the episode with the dueling pistols. That was a romantic, but deadly, time. I can well imagine a dawn with an least one, maybe two, arrogant men - a tree outlined in the mist because there's always a tree and there's always mist, at least on the tv shows - and a flask of whiskey making the rounds. I'd probably be inspired by that flask. I can see a novel, similar to the Red Violin, based on the stories sounding that flask (grin). Or - I could let that flask make a showing in every story - something like Clive Cussler. I'll have to think about that one. Great comment, Christine. You've got my creative juices revved up.

Donna MacMeans said...

Caren -

That was just too funny. You live surrounded by secondary characters. Could SUE have been his name (a boy named SUE)? I like the angsty "file a lawsuit" interpretation. Can you imagine believing that a lawsuit is the answer to life's many injustices? I wonder if someone ever pulled up alongside of him and snarled "You communist" based on that sticker. Or hows this for a story - a transplanted liberal who now lives in the south is accusing of sneaking out at night and plastering cars with Rainbow coalition or liberal candidates bumper stickers. THe town believes she's doing it because she's the obvious culprit, but it's someone else. Could be fun -
Thanks for starting my day with a laugh.

Kirsten said...

Fun post, Donna!

Like Caren, I'm more likely to be inspired by people than by scenery. With young kids at home, I'm often around babies and toddlers, and I find their individual personalities to inspire endless character ideas. Right now we have 1 year old twins a few houses down and a 1 1/2 year old next door, and even at such young ages they are such distinct people. There's a little girl who is endlessly active but totally sweet, a boy who wants to be cuddled and loved more than anything, and a little girl with a twinkly mischevious look in her eye. I can't wait to dream up stories for all of them!

Donna MacMeans said...

Kirsten -

I loved those years. My children are adults now - as are the kids of our longtime neighbors. We moved in when there were no trees in the neighborhood and lots of kids playing in the court and yards. Now our trees are taller than our house, the teenagers and young adults have their cars parked out on the court, and one hears the ciccadas rather than the childrens laughter on hot afternoons.

I hope you can find the time to create a story or two while you're surrounding by little ones for inspiration. Cherish the time.

Anna Campbell said...

Christine, I saw those duelling pistols! Weren't they fab? Yes, I must admit I filed them away to use in a story sometime. How funny to think we'll both have the same duelling pistols popping up (or perhaps just popping!).

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Great post, Donna! And Anna, the view from that hotel is stunningly beautiful in the pictures. Wish they had more photos. Like Caren, most everything inspires me. I loved the bumper sticker story idea too, it's so clever. Have you seen the one that uses symbols for all the religions to spell the word COEXIST? That would be a great one to sneak around pasting on conservative clad bumpers. snork. I too considered dropping a body from the balconies in the hotel, and rapelling in/sneaking in on the cables that held the artwork from the ceiling in the atrium. :> Here on Cape Cod, the marshes and cranberry bogs are giving me great ideas about hiding the evidence...Heh-heh-heh. And the lonesome echoing sound of the freight train's whistle makes me think of journeys and adventures. Yep, it's everywhere. I read a great description in Jude Deveraux's Legends - how do you NOT see it everywhere, when you're a writer? :> There's actually a scene in Dark and Dangerous (I love my title!) where big patio planters explode which was inspired by my son dropping a small terra cotta pot off the retaining wall and the shards going everywhere. Big mess. Inspiration's everywhere, right?

Helen said...

This is a great question Donna I just wish I didn't have a mental blank with it thats why I don't aspire to write but love the fact that you all do because I really love to read the stories that you all create. I too love antiques roadshow and some of the items they have they are amazing. I love some of the jewellery that dates back to the 1800's I can see some of the broaches on the heroines in some of the books I have read.
BTW Christine I ordered Scandals Daughter yesterday with the Sept releases should have it soon can't wait to read it and your book in October Donna.Love the hotel you stayed at Anna must have been beautiful. Thanks guys
Have Fun

Aunty Cindy said...

OMG, Foanna! That hotel in Morar looks soooo fabulous! How did you ever leave?

Thanks for the "challenging" post, Donna. :-) Right now, I'm reading a book of folk tales from around the world looking for inspiration for my next WIP. Great stuff......


Christine Wells said...

Helen, thank you for buying Scandal's Daughter, I hope you enjoy it! If you'd like a signed bookplate, just email me offline on christineATchristine-wellsDOTcom with your details and I'll send you one.

And Foanna, it's not surprising we were both taking notes about those pistols! They were a lot less ornate than I'd imagined duelling pistols to be, but perhaps the ones I'm thinking of are more from the Georgian period. I'll be looking for them in your next novel:)

Joan said...

Ireland. Plain and simple I was inspired by Ireland.

On my first trip especially, experiencing all that wonderous and truly magical atmosphere.

I remember visiting MuckRoss House in Killarney which sits on one of the lakes. We hiked up a bit of a ways into the National Forest, me pretending to look under gorgeous flowering rhodendrons for my "fairy prince". I SWEAR he was there in the quiet hush of the most wonderful greenry.

Wahhhhhh! I HAVE to go back! It's been two years! Wahhhhhh!

Donna MacMeans said...

ACK! So I write this huge long response to everyone and it just disappeared!

SO I'll try this again in small pieces. I apologize for disappearing for a while. I was at a red hat affair. Picture a posh Hilton restaurant with a table full of women of various ages all dressed in purple with bright red hats and red boas. Talk about inspiring (smile), perhaps we can do something with that.

Donna MacMeans said...

Jeanne -

I can well see you tossing a body off the balcony. Heck, I can see you shooting a body and tossing it off the balcony - or in a cranberry bog. Love the visuals of your trip. Love as well your new title (squeal!) Could your title be a suggestion of the hero inside? Hope so.

Donna MacMeans said...

Helen -

Now the correct answer is that you are inspired to read romance when your gaze falls on your Jane Austen Action Figure (smile).

I love the idea of being inspired by old jewelry. Perhaps one of the red hat ladies was wearing an antique brooch - yeah- and its magic - and...I see another time travel in my future (smile).

Donna MacMeans said...

Cindy -

Love the idea of using folk tales for inspiration. I can see how they could speak to your writer's soul. Besides Chris Vogler would be so proud. Good Luck with the search!

Donna MacMeans said...

Joan -

Two years? So did you use the lush scenery to inspire a story? How about the fairy prince? Gotta write it for that tax deduction (smile). You know that was Susan Wiggs inspiration. She wanted to visit Ireland, but she wanted to be able to write some of it off for taxes - hence her Irish stories. Inspiration comes in strange forms.

Alison Stuart said...

Has anyone ever been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia?

This extraordinary temple complex was once part of a much larger city state, the ruins of which rise from the jungle surrounds. Built at the same time as the magnficent medieval cathedrals of Europe, the mass of different temples cluster together in various stages of ruination.

By far the most romantic is the one used in the first Lara Croft movie. Unlike many of the temples it has not been "restored" and huge Banyan trees have taken root among the fallen stones, their roots coiling through the tumbled ruins like giant serpents. The friezes of the Apsara (dancing girls) cling crookedly to the passage walls.

The ancient ruins have seen the more recent wars, the temples used as hide outs and hospitals during the Cambodian War. Some places are still off limits for land mines. Everywhere are the beggars, limbless and crippled by the terrible war.

My yet-to-written archeologist meets a mine clearer story (Apsara Dreaming) tugs at my sleeve!


Joan said...

Well, Donna. I DO have a paranormal steeped in the wonder and legends of the Emerald Isle in mind after my third Roman book "Barbarian Soul".

I will HAVE to go back to reacquaint myself with the fae...I mean the good folk of Eire. Any Bandita's up for a trip?

Keira Soleore said...

I had to laugh at all the mayhem everyone planned over that open bar area. Me? I wanted to swing like Tarzan from my 18th floor.

Liz's book "Ring" is fantastic.

For your Bandita dinner in SF, may I propose a dark red outfit with black mask theme to match the site design??

Dallas was thrilling. For five entire days, I was being challenged, excited, encouraged, supported, and ratified. The conference has inspired many blogs and board posts as well as a couple characteristics to associate with the people in my current MIP.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

OOOooh, Kiera, love the idea of a good old Tarzan-yelling-swing off the 18th floor balcony. Wouldn't the bar patrons be startled? Snork! Joan, I'm raising my hand in the air to go to Eire - make that both hands, I'll add feet if it'll help... I SO want to go to both Eire and Caledonia (Scotland) in the WORST way. Had that planned but an unplanned pregnancy took that right out of the works. For now. :> Donna, the cranberry bogs are regards to body dumping. Should I be worried that you could imagine me doing it? Ha! Thanks on the compliment on the title, and yes, he is indeed dark and dangerous.
Alison, I've seen some gorgeous pics of Angor Wat - what mystery! And your description was lovely! Oh, and Kiera, I know what you mean about Dallas. W/ the bandita's there, I felt the same way. Special, eh? Grins.

Donna MacMeans said...

Alison - Love your description. It sounds perfect for a story, I'm intrigued already. Good Luck with this.

Joan - Paranormals are hot right now. Get that Barbarian Soul written and out the door so you can catch the paranormal wave while it's high. Of course, if you need to go back to Ireland...perhaps we can book a Bandita tour.

Donna MacMeans said...

Keira - I thought about swinging down on the banners a la Errol Flynn in Atlanta. TO see the same banners in Dallas made me start to wonder about if this was a requirement for the RWA convention. Guess we'll find out in San Francisco.

We are a bloodthirsty bunch with all the body dumping - so let's try another approach. My floor was above the atrium roof, so I didn't have a balcony to utilize for body disposal. But there were this "air columns" that ran in the corners by the elevators that went straight down to the restaurant area. I didn't even notice them till Saturday night. Not only did the opening seem a bit dangerous but it also funneled and heightened the sound from below. Right at the bottom of our "air column" was a dinner table. What if the diners were exchanging secrets? I swear I could have heard some good stuff...

Joan said...


I'm all for a Bandita tour! Since the Duchesse lives on Cape Cod we can fly out of Boston....only 6 hours from there and I know how to drive on the left.

But, um I have to wonder...if you throw a body in a cranberry bog...won't it float up?????

Donna MacMeans said...

LOL - Not if you weight it down.

Donna MacMeans said...

Alison -

I think you're the winner. Please visit my website at and leave me your contact information and I'll get the autographed Elizabeth Bevarly book to you. Thanks for stopping by.

jo robertson said...

Like Caren and Kirsten, I too am inspired by people. I love to watch them engaging with one another and imagine what's going on, who's mad and why, or happy and what caused it. I build entire story scenarioes around these strangers that I see.

Once I was at Kaiser picking up a prescription (Kaiser is one of the HMO's in California) and a mid-thirtish woman was hustling along ahead of an elderly woman with a walker, impatiently beckoning her to hurry up. Nary a word was spoken, but their body language revealed volumes. I felt so sad, almost as though I knew those women.

My daughter, standing in line beside me, made eye contact, but before I could say anything, she said, "Don't worry, Mom, I'll never do that to you."

I guess people-watching runs in the family.

Keira Soleore said...

Alison, I would LOVE to visit Angkor Wat. Like Tibet, it's on my "list." :)

Ooh, an archeologist and an apsara. When can I read it? :) I believe apsaras are celestial dancers, right? The gods were known to send them down to earth to tempt powerful ascetics and celibate learned men away from their meditations and studies.

Donna, and just like that your murder-mystery became a suspense-espionage story. Gotta love writers!! :)

Anna Campbell said...

Is the Alison Stuart the fabulous Alison Stuart who wrote the fabulous Kings Man that is currently in my TBR pile? If so, my friend, huge congratulations! Actually, even if you're not that Alison Stuart, congratulations! Loved the Angkor Wat description. So evocative!

Alison Stuart said...

Oh wow! I'm so overcome I can't even type straight! Thanks so much Donna!
And yes, Anna, I am THAT Alison Stuart. In the middle of galley edits and looking for procrastination - hence the reason I was fiddling with your romance bandits badge and though I'd check it out!
I feel a bit of a cheat because I'm an inveterate traveller to strange and exotic places (and I've lived in Asia). Beats me why I write seventeenth century historicals!
I was at that New Orleans conference too and NO has to be the setting for some serious writing. It was, in fact, the background to my short story "The Promise" which is up on my website if anyone wants a quick read (it's only short!)

Tawny said...

For my anniversary this year, we went to a darling Bed and Breakfast in the Napa Valley and stayed in the "Kitchen Room" It was filled with antiques, a huge four poster bed and a glorious sunken tub. Sooo romantic. You'd think it would have inspired quite a few Blaze-worthy ideas, huh?

Except all I could do was look at those wierd kitchen items and think of what great murder weapons they would be.

I don't write RS, so it was a really odd inspiration, but one I'll have to use one of these days *g*