This is a common question for writers. I often have this question myself when reading a historical novel, especially ones by author Elizabeth Camden, who tends to find the most unique historical backdrops for her stories! But I’ve been thinking about it in terms of my own work again as I stand at the beginning of a new project. And so as I look back to see where my stories have come from, I thought I would share a few of those with you.
Wings of a Dream—This was my first novel, the one that had been in my head for 10 years (with many starts and stops!) before I actually wrote it. The germ of the story came from family history. Or maybe family legend. My dad comes from a family of storytellers, so sometimes fact and fiction get blurred. Anyway, I knew my grandmother’s mother died of Spanish flu while her husband was fighting WWI in France. She left behind four small children who needed to be cared for. I used the family version of the “end of the story” while most of the rest came from research and imagination.
At Every Turn—This book is the one which garners the question most often since it’s a story about a woman who drives a race car in 1916. It might be one of the most fun books I’ve ever written. I think that’s because I knew absolutely nothing about the history attached to it! So how did that history end up in my story? My publisher had asked me to stay within the 1910-1920 decade to stay in keeping with Wings of a Dream. I had no idea what story to tell so I just started Googling by year then scrolling to the later search results. There I found a fascinating article about a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1916. The information was so intriguing I believed I could make it into a story. And since I immediately wanted the heroine to drive a race car incognito, I thought about the women in my life who would be brave enough to do such a thing. Two came to mind—my sister and my daughter. My sister was living in the Middle East at the time, so I added missions into the mix and poof! A story appeared.
Playing by Heart—I mashed up lots of family in this book. I took my grandmother’s story of being thrown into the role of girls basketball coach while teaching the in 1930s (different grandmother from the previous story!), my oldest son’s love of basketball, my younger son’s love of music, and my sister’s love of math. It ended up as something of an homage to all the teachers in my family, who I so admire.
Time Will Tell—A few years ago I wanted to dip my toe into indie publishing so I wrote two historical novellas. This one happened after reading about The Toledo War, a border “war” between Ohio and Michigan in the 1835-36. Which of course just begged for a Romeo and Juliet, forbidden love story. The “war” didn’t amount to much as far as violence—just one slight skirmish—but it was a fun piece of history to explore.
Hidden Riches—This is my book which comes out in November as part of the Secrets From Grandma’s Attic Series from Guideposts. The evolution of this story was most interesting! I started with wanting to include something about the WPA murals painted in post offices in the 1930s and ended up instead with two pieces of local history from the actual setting location—a dead body—a man with tattoos—washing ashore from the Mississippi River in 1933 and a young boy who died of tetanus after getting a splinter in his foot. Then I added a piece of medical history—the tetanus vaccine, first used during WWI—and the architectural boom of the 1950s. Want to know how they all fit together? Nope, no spoilers here. 🙂
What has been your favorite unusual historical backdrop or information around which an author wove a good story?
P.S. Thanks to everyone who entered my anniversary giveaway!
D’Ann, I look forward to reading this and am especially curious to see how you have woven in the Tetanus. As COVID was rapidly becoming a household world a few years ago, I researched the polio vaccine and further back the small pox. I was amazed at how many people died from the vaccines themselves before they reached the product we have today.
I love reading your blogs and your many uplifting ideas.
Thanks, Kerry! History is an interesting thing on so many levels!