Inspirations's Where You Find It

One of my fabulous critique partners inherited a roomful (and then some) of antique dolls. To her late mother, the collection represented beloved old friends and a lifetime passion. To her daughter, they represented bittersweet memories, as well as a logistical problem, since finding space for a relative's treasured possessions is never easy, even when they don't number in the hundreds.

To me, that crowded room represented something else entirely: the macabre inspiration for my latest book, PHANTOM OF THE FRENCH QUARTER, whose villain was, as a child growing up...

How 'bout if I just let you see for yourselves from this brief excerpt?

His grandmother had collected doll babies by the hundreds, which his mother arranged on shelves around a single room, where he’d slept as a boy.

How he’d hated those damned dolls, staring at him through the days and nights. How he’d pleaded with his mother to box them up, to let him put up his sports pennants and his plastic model racecars — the kinds of decorations he wouldn’t have to hide from other guys.

Year after year, she had stubbornly refused, saying it would be disrespectful of Grandmama’s memory, hiding them all away, and the narrow bungalow — a damned shack, really — was far too small to put them elsewhere.

“Then keep them in your room,” he had at first demanded and then pleaded, tears streaking down his red face.

But they both knew that she wouldn’t, that the men who visited her at night could never do their business with all those glass eyes staring.

And after while, it was all right. The boy began to like them anyway.

Which just goes to show you that when it comes to life, as well as writing, it really is all about perspective. When you look at a staring doll, a grinning clown, a running dog, or a forest laced in shadow, do you smile or do you shiver? Does your mind leap back to a fond memory or a disturbing moment?

Can you find a way to harness raw emotion, to suffuse your words with its essence? Can you exaggerate, twist, and tweak (or seriously warp, if your mind works the way mine does) to bring a character to life?

Question for the week: What's been your most unusual real-life inspiration and how did you use it in your writing?


Julie said…
I don't think it's unusual, but I've used both of my grandparents' houses in my writing. One was an old farm house built at least a hundred years ago with peeling paint on the outside, rich wood panels and doors inside and creepy stairs and attic. The other was a depression era shotgun style. They both have helped me with atmosphere.
Jeanna Thornton said…
Colleen, my ideas have strong ties to red dirt roads, riding in the pick-up with my Dad...I find myself looking at the fields as he saw them, seeing more than I did at the time. Great post!!!
Lark Howard said…
My paranormal series was inspired by the best-known obscure place in Paris--Deyrolle. It's a palatial townhouse full of stuffed animals-taxidermied, not toy--who look like they freeze mid-play whenever humans are present. It should be creepy but it's wonderful!
I think the sense of place is far more easily conveyed when it's somewhere that has emotional resonance for you. I've used my grandparents old farmhouse (which I still walk in my dreams) and cool places I've visited as well. Lark, if I ever get to Paris, Deyrolle's sure to be on my list, even if it does sound as if it should be haunted.

Come to think of it, that's an even better reason! :)
TJ Bennett said…
I'm with you, Colleen. When I saw those hundreds of dolls staring at me in the "doll room," I was seriously creeped out, and that kind of thing doesn't normally get to me. Isn't it funny how one person's treasure can be another's worst nightmare?

Word verification: scibe
Definition: when you try to say the word "scribe" after your dentist has just novacained the heck out of your mouth.
Jan Crow said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan Crow said…
My WIP came from a used book entitled "The History of Brothels in Wyoming" that came tumbling out of a box I was checking in at KBB. I immediately picked it up, looked at the pictures and knew this was what I wanted to write about. Took me about 3 hours to read the book that night and my characters started forming.

I find that I enjoy browsing through used books stores looking at odd titles of books for inspiration.
I think I've read that book, Jan! It was fascinating. Bet it'll make for excellent novel fodder. I remember thinking the same thing!
Barbara Sissel said…
It's not the room full of dolls that I find especially creepy, but this excerpt that makes the scene so vivid. I'm there with this poor kid, imagining trying to sleep, trying to be a normal boy. What if one of them blinks or breathes or walks up onto the bed? I feel his fear, his hatred. the sense of his isolation and can't resist feeling compassion for him. It's the power in the words that brings this room to life for me. Colleen, you are a master at this--setting atmosphere and mood! The photo is eerie, but somehow, for me, at least, the real nightmare is brought out through the words.
Thank you for the kind words, Barbara. I like giving the reader a little insight into the villain. Even if you don't like what he or she is doing, you should at least get where the person's coming from.

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