I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Thing of the Past: Finding Inspiration from Objects


 

 I’m a museum nerd, one of those who loves strolling through exhibits, reading plaques and, on occasion, taking photos of displays (when allowed) so I can soak up every juicy detail of whatever it is I’m admiring. One look at a landscape, snuff box, dress with panniers or potpourri vase and my imagination goes bonkers. Who used the item? How did they feel about it?

Sometimes, that’s how the germ of a story forms. Connecting to Things (for lack of a better word) has set me on paths of research that have molded my stories—including my historical romance novella, Love’s Reward, from The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection.

In that particular case, a hundred-year-old pencil sketch on tracing paper caught my eye and got me thinking.

The premise of my novella required my hero’s involvement in competitions—both professional and personal—which take top priority in his life until a rival offers a reward for the capture of his heart (the only safe female in town, of course, is a charity-minded miss whose only designs are on the hero’s wallet).

Finding a personal contest for my hero was easy, but I wasn’t certain about my hero’s professional challenge. I wanted him to be an architect with a goal, such as winning a commission or a local prize. However, I didn’t know much about his field in the 1800’s. Rather than start looking for articles on the subject, I first peeked at Ebay and Google Images to get a glimpse of architecture tools and buildings from that era.

That’s when I stumbled upon some pencil and pen-and-wash architecture submissions to a global contest held in the 1890’s. (The copyrighted submissions can be viewed here.) In 1896, mining and real estate heiress Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of media mogul William Randolph Hearst) granted a gift to the University of California, Berkeley, allowing it to hold an International Architectural Competition to determine a master plan for the campus’s buildings and grounds. Over a hundred architects from all over the world competed for the honor.

 I was enraptured by those submissions and could imagine my hero busy with his own proposal—and my story fell into place. I had a time and setting for my novella (1896, in Hearst’s San Francisco), data on how architects worked in the 1890’s, and a conflict with much higher stakes than I’d originally planned—all inspired by a Thing I’d seen online.

 Ironically, I fictionalized the Hearst Competition as well as the name of the university for my novella, but I felt confident knowing there was a historical precedent.

 Not everyone is a visual learner, like I am (some of us are auditory or kinesthetic), and not all of us write historical fiction. Nevertheless, looking at Things related to our stories is a form of research that can add depth and detail to our works-in-progress. Whether it’s found in an illustrated guide (even ones for children!) or a site like Ebay, Things can be used to help guide our investigation—at the very least. At best, a writer might find the item sparks the imagination.

 And a Thing of the past becomes a vibrant part of a living story.

 
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 What’s your favorite antique treasure that belonged to your family?

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