I am delighted to be able to share with you a guest post from the talented Connie May Fowler, whose newest book, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, I reviewed yesterday.
I love Kristen’s wonderful blog and her very evident dedication to books, so it’s quite an honor for her to ask me about how I generate ideas for books.
One of the first rules of being a novelist is The Writer Thou Shalt Not Bore Thyself. I mean think about it . . . novelists spend years (too many hours to count) spinning a single tale that will eventually end up on your bookstore shelf. The brain expenditure and the time dedicated are simply too large for us to spend our creative energies on something we find boring.
So the most honest answer to Kristen’s question is: The ideas find us. A character, a circumstance, a moment in history—perhaps even simply a conversation I eaves dropped on—will grab hold of me and won’t let me go. For instance, in my just released novel, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, its inception began about five years ago when I was reading about pre-Civil War Florida history and uncovered information about the 1819 Florida Purchase Treaty.
Florida was a Spanish colony and though Spain didn’t practice progressive policies throughout the New World, in Florida it did. For instance, women and black people could own land. Black men could sit on juries. It was, considering what was occurring in the United States, an imperfect Utopia. But the treaty called for Florida to be turned over to the U.S.—a place where slavery and the subjugation of women flourished—in 1821. Thanks to a real estate deal, the most basic of human rights were stripped from two groups: women and people of African descent.
That haunted me. For years, I walked around with the information in my head, creating characters who would have been directly, horrendously affected by the treaty. But I didn’t want it to be a historical novel in the traditional sense, so it also became a ghost story with Clarissa Burden being our current day heroine. Clarissa, too, has to find her path to freedom.
I was interested in what happens to people who are trapped in cruel relationships (government or familial)—how that shapes them and affects other aspects of their lives. Clarissa’s challenges are many and most of them stem from the simple fact that she is mired in a loveless, mean marriage. Her march toward freedom is tied to the past—she recognizes that—and this tension between past and present, the acceptance of cruelty or its outright rejection, forms the foundation of the novel.
Sometimes ideas for my books come from my own life, sometimes from research, sometimes from the people and places around me. And always, always, they haunt and sustain me to the very end.
Cheers and happy reading!