One of the things I love most about being a writer is that no experience is wasted. What used to just be a frustrating day is now material for a story. What was once an odd interaction with a stranger is now a budding idea. Inspiration can be found anywhere, and often comes in the most surprising places.
My first book, The Houseguest, was the first bit of JAFF I’d ever written. I had been reading published fanfiction and I would occasionally come across a story that left me angry (What was he thinking?!), or in wide-eyed disbelief (THAT would NEVER happen!), or just unsatisfied in some way. There were several that left me happy and content, but despite that, I felt a stirring to tell my own story and to see what would happen in the many scenarios that presented themselves to my imagination.
I’ve told the story before of how I was actually writing another book, one that was methodically planned and plotted and very well researched with accompanying family trees and maps with pins in them. But one day, the idea of Georgiana meeting Elizabeth at Netherfield grabbed on tight and wouldn’t let go. So I ran with it.
Most of you probably don’t know this, but in real life, I am a dancer and choreographer. Before I had children, I did it nine hours a day, five days a week, and the occasional weekend. I absolutely loved it, and it is hands-down my favorite way to earn a living. Now, I teach a few lessons a week and choreograph a play or two a year, but my heart is still out on that worn wooden floor. But what really strikes me as interesting is that the way I write and the way I choreograph are eerily similar.
A strong beat, a lilting melody, a compelling lyric, or even a specific dancer can inspire me. I have only ever had one actual muse. A woman I knew socially contacted me out of the blue one day and asked if I knew how she could get involved in some sort of dance competition. She wanted to learn and apparently competing would best motivate her. She was very into horses and competed in barrel races and other obstacle courses. She was long and lithe and had at least seven tattoos – that I could see. In short, she was not the kind of woman I usually train.
I primarily specialize in partnered dances, especially Latin dances. I have always had a curvy body and that helped my Cuban motion to look more, well, Cuban. Women often asked me to help them with this particular style, but an edgy horse woman was not my usual customer. However, I was intrigued and told her I had just signed on to participate in a dance fundraiser for a homeless shelter. We needed dancers, and she became one of them.
Training was slow going at first, but one day I was driving home from the studio, my two toddlers asleep in the backseat, and the song Personal Jesus came on the radio. I had been wracking my brain for choreography and suddenly my head was filled with patterns and sequences and poses. You wouldn’t think it straight off the bat, but that song makes an excellent tango.
So I trained this hardcore girl and made her wide-legged cowgirl walk into a sophisticated sashay. I let the jaggedness of her tattoos and the fire of her red hair pull something out of me that I hadn’t known was there. The end result was a routine that had three hundred people soaring to their feet in applause and solid tens on the judges’ score cards.
When I was ready to write another book, I wondered what my material would be. I was in the mood for something modern, and I had a general idea of the kind of relationship I wanted between my two main characters, but I had no idea how to get them there. I was discussing it one day with my husband when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been staring my idea in the face all this time. He was my inspiration, or at least his status was. You see, while I am as American as apple pie, my husband is more of the beet and cabbage variety.
I met my husband when I was living in Ukraine, having left my dance job in favor of seeing the world while I was unencumbered enough to see it. Long story short, I was married eight months later and applying for his green card shortly thereafter. Thus, I had all the inspiration I needed for my second and most recent novel, Green Card.
This story originally began as a modern JAFF, so there are ghosts of Darcy and Elizabeth lurking in the pages, but I realized it was veering too far from Austen and decided to make it original. It’s about an English man who finds himself in immigration trouble and needs a green card, so he pays an American woman to marry him. They try to live together peacefully and become some sort of friends. Of course it’s all a big fat mess and they argue and make-up and laugh a lot along the way.
Who would have thought when I was standing in the American Consulate in Kiev, desperately hoping my husband’s visa would be approved, that I would write a book inspired by those experiences?
I heard a wonderful storyteller once say that she had been through a horrible break-in and been tied up and threatened, and though she was terrified, she didn’t want to forget those feelings, at least not yet. She would call them up, in great detail, and use them for her work, to give authenticity to what is essentially lying with flair.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. It is the cat sleeping beside me as I write this; it is a good laugh with an old friend; it is the yellow glow of a warm fire. It is all around us.
What inspires you? What makes you run for a pen and paper to write down an idea for a story, or a joke, or a dance, or a piece of art? Tell me. I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. My latest book has only recently hit the shelves, so in honor of that event, I’m giving away two copies of Green Card, one e-Book and one paperback. Just leave a comment and let me know you want to be included in the drawing. Giveaway closes midnight Saturday (CST).