Finding Inspiration

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).

52 Responses to Finding Inspiration

  1. I saw a flamenco performance in DC once that was organized by the Spanish embassy. It was amazing! If only Darcy had ever taken up flamenco! I’m sure he would have really been able to boogie!

  2. I love these conversations. It is wonderfful to be able to catch up with all of you and find out what is happening in your livies and what book will soon be available. This is a great resouce for any Jannite. thank you for sharing.

  3. I agree with you, Elizabeth. “Inspiration can come from anywhere”. That’s what makes a simple idea a real thing. A word, an event, just an emotion can inspire us and we can make great things. I really believe it’s kind of magic. I loved reading your post and thanks for your generous giveaway. I would love to win the paperback but since I am international, the Kindle version is OK with me as well.

  4. I loved how you used your life experience to write your novel. I can’t wait to read your newest novel.
    Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. I really enjoyed The Houseguest and when I came across Green Card on goodreads, I wondered if it was the same Elizabeth Adams. I wasn’t sure but added it anyway ’cause it looked good. 🙂 I was engaged once to someone from another country, in the US on a student visa, but it never got to the marriage & green card stage (bullet dodged! lol)

    I was always a wallflower but I do love to watch people dance, and am inspired a lot by music. I write many a scene in my mind when songs are playing, they just never look as great on paper. I have a niece who’s almost 9 who really loves freestyle and interpretive contemporary dance, and it’s fun to watch her.

      • Thank you! It’s great to hear from you. I personally love “The One that Got Away”. That was one of those muse-inspired things that I don’t know I can even claim credit for. I’ve thought about expanding it several times. It may be my next project after this one is over. 🙂

  6. I love The Houseguest very much, would love to join your, In case I win I would love to get the book for my kindle.

  7. Thanks for sharing your inspiration to writing your latest novel. I have read many authors often use snippets from real life that they either experience or heard from friends and family as their base to pen their stories. I’m glad to know you through here and wish to hear more from you in future.

    Please add me to the giveaway for both formats. Thank you.

  8. Hello Elizabeth, I enjoyed reading about where you find inspiration. I would love a paperback copy of THE GREEN CARD. 🙂

  9. I read the plot of The Houseguest on Amazon a few weeks ago and it looks a very good reading. I have to admit that I have not read nor The Houseguest or Green Card but I have read ‘On the couch’ and I just love it!!!! It will be very interesting to have a book following that short story or at least a novella!! Believe me, it will be great!!
    I would like to enter the giveaway, thanks.

    • I love “On the Couch”, too! I have thought of a few follow ups, like a small series. “At the Table”, “In the Car”, etc. and finally, “At the Church”. We’ll see if that pans out. 🙂

      Good luck with the drawing!

  10. I am thrilled to know how you get your ideas for writing, As someone that can’t write anything original to save her life, I really admire the way you can get inspiration from things that happen in your life. Thanks for the insight!

    I would love to be included in your drawing.

  11. Elizabeth, I started to say “your life could be a novel” but realized it now is! I loved your first book and am sure that Green Card will be just as enthralling. It is fascinating to read your story as it is so far removed from this country girl’s experiences. As Regina said, it is miraculous that we ended up in the same place!

  12. Elizabeth, I think I need to see you about my dancing skills! I make Mr. Collins (as played by David Bamber) look like Fred Astaire. Of course, there is the small matter of that pond known as the Atlantic Ocean between us. I am totally envious of those who can dance and make it look like second nature.

    I haven’t yet read The Houseguest, I have to confess. You’re a new author for me, as are several of your colleagues at AuAu. I’ve read a lot of Regina’s, Sharon’s and Joana’s books but only a few of everyone else’s. So, my TBR list takes another hit!

    Thanks so much for sharing your back story with us and as to what inspires you. I’d love to be entered into the draw for the ebook as I assume the paperback is only open for US readers. Of course if that’s open internationally as well (faint hope!) then please put me in for that, too.

  13. Great post! It was great to learn more about you. I just started research on a novel that was inspired by a couple of minutes of footage in a WWII documentary I was watching one day. I immediately thought “that would make a great novel” and grabbed my pen to jot it down.

    Thanks for the giveaway! I’d love to be entered. diaryofaneccentric at

    • Oooh, I love that time period! Documentaries have so much information, my mind goes nuts when I watch them. I have the same thought – “That would make a great book!” Alas, my brain has about 7 ‘great books’ in it already, so I’ attempting to stay focused on current projects.

      You’re in the drawing – good luck!

      • I know what you mean! I have at least 2, maybe 3, other books in progress. Maybe someday, I’ll actually finish and publish one. In the meantime, I’m enjoying editing books, so that’s something! 🙂

  14. Quite interesting and unique way to austen. I personally loved your first novel. Houseguest was so good I’ve read it several times. Loved how you made Georgiana the catalyst. I wonder if you made your dancing into some sort of P&P alternative? It could be interesting. I’m going to check out your latest novel.

  15. First of all, I love watching professional dancers. The body I’m stuck with doesn’t move very well just getting from one place to the other so the beauty of the body lines always fascinates me. I used to go and watch competitions every now and again when I lived in the city. Sounds like you are very talented!

    My inspiration almost always comes from a random thought in response to someone else’s statement or something similar. I’m also very inspired by movement. My favorite art is always those pieces that look like the water is moving (though it’s all paint) and I can stare into the ocean or the sky for an eternity. I already mentioned dancers. I don’t write books, but I write a lot of essays and journals. It never ceases to amaze me how something completely random can fire my thought processes.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes! I completely agree about movement. There’s something about wind in the trees or the current in the water – I can watch it for hours. It makes me so peaceful – I tend to be a bit high strung normally. 😉 What sort of essays do you write? I love reading nonfiction. There’s always something fascinating to learn about!

      As far as dancing goes, I always say there’s no such thing as a person who can’t dance – just people who haven’t met the right teacher yet. 🙂

  16. Loved the insight! I had no idea you were a dancer. My thing is music, so of course Lizzy always sings. Great fun pulling in what you know best. Best wishes with your new publication. Jen Red

    • Hey Jen! I love a singing and a dancing Lizzy. 🙂 I sang in competitive choirs as a child – my mother was a professional singer and toured and all of that, so there was no way we were getting out of it. I taught myself to play the piano and me and my brothers would have jam sessions. Two of them play guitar, one bass and another drums. Music is so important for children – it makes such great memories and is something you can always come back to and do together years later when you have hardly anything in common anymore.

      When my studio found out I could sing, they decided to make one of the pro pieces a musical number. I’d heard my manager singing and knew he had a nice voice, so we worked on the “Good Mornin'” piece from “Singin’ in the Rain”. It was really fun, but one of the guys got injured before we performed so it never made it out. I was so bummed! Maybe one day I’ll get to do that…

  17. What I find most inspiring about your post is the way many of have come to Austen fiction. Is it not miraculous that we all ended up in the same place but followed different paths? I am always aware of conversations going on about me when I am out. I once created a scene where Elizabeth watched people at an inn and tried to figure out their back stories from the snippets of conversations she overheard. Many “back stories” to which I have been privy at the doctor’s office or the grocery store have become scenes in my books. There are also bits and pieces of my life found in each story I create.
    Another thing I like in reading the post this week is the common threads we share. We began as strangers, but find ourselves very much alike. For example, I once danced professionally, and I taught dance teams for years. My teams have been state and national champions.

  18. It was so interesting to read your ‘story’, Elizabeth, and learn of your dancing and choreography. Fascinating. I truly love to watch good dancers. The story of your ‘cowgirl’ dancer is a testament to your talent.

    I read about ‘The Houseguest’ on Amazon and thought it sounded like such a good read. I bought it, read it and was not disappointed. It was excellent and I think I told you that once before when you were my guest at MAE. This new one sounds very good too. Thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

    Nature inspires me most of all. I am at peace with the world when I can sit and watch my surroundings. Sometimes I am inspired by something I read or a song I hear but most comes from the world around me.

    • Hey, Janet! It’s great to see a familiar face! So many people say that about nature. I have never been a big outdoors person, but I love a beautiful garden and they always inspire me immensely. I go to the Biltmore in Asheville a few times a year to write. Nothing beats it for gorgeous walks, Stateside anyway. 🙂

  19. Wonderful post. I am a reader, not a writer,but inspiration I understand. It is all around us, as long as we are in tune to see it. I have read Houseguest and would love to be included in the drawing for Green Card. Thank you for the giveaway.

    • I agree completely. Tuning in is so important and valuable. I notice so much more when I get out of my own head and pay attention to the world around me.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  20. I am in awe of your creativity! A dancer AND a writer? Wow!

    I enjoyed “The Houseguest” and would love to win your latest book.

  21. What a fascinating post. I enjoyed learning about your life, your talent and your dancing. The photo is captivating and Green Card would be a treasure for me to read and cherish. best wishes and much happiness.

  22. Very interesting to read this and learn
    more about you. Thank you for the
    giveaway too. I would just love to win
    a pb of your novel (my Kindle is ailing),

  23. I am thrilled to get to know you better, Elizabeth. I love to watch the smoothness and sultriness of Latin dance. In Ecuador, the dances of choice were salsa and merengue. Even though we are back in the US, my heart still beats to that Latin rhythm.

    Observing how others react to people outside their comfort zone inspires me. Because they are typically strangers, I imagine the thought processes behind their actions. Stories develop and blend. Then they grow.

    Thank you so much for sharing your own backstory. Best of wishes for success with your latest. I already have the eBook so please pass me by in the drawing.

    • Thank you, Joy. Salsa is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve got several workshops booked this month just for that – it always seems to be my most popular class. 🙂 This is always my busiest time of year. All the couples want to do something romantic for Valentine’s, so they come to dance class. it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it….

      I like your people-watching inspiration. It’s so fun to imagine why and how people do what they do. Thanks for chiming in!

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