Finding Inspiration

Where does the inspiration for a novel come from?

For me, at least, the inspiration is just that–only an inspiration, not the story itself. I rarely know in advance how a story will end, although I may have an inkling.

The inspiration for Lonely Souls was a near-accident that my husband and I experienced while traveling on the Ohio Turnpike. I was driving and he was asleep in the front passenger seat. When we crested a hill, I saw a pair of huge truck tires traveling down the highway at high speed ahead of me. They had broken from the axle of an eighteen-wheeler I had passed at the top of the hill.

Unlike Shelby in Lonely Souls, I managed to navigate around them safely after they crossed the median, hit a truck in the opposite lane, and ricocheted back toward our car. One passed in front of us and one passed behind. It was only after both were out of sight that I pulled over to the side of the road and began to shake uncontrollably. Meanwhile, my husband continued to sleep.

I could not get that experience out of my mind. The “what-if” possibilities kept nagging at me. What if my husband had died in that accident and I had survived? What would my frame of mind have been? How would I have gone on?

The inspiration for The Keeping, on the other hand, came from an article I read about the Vermont eugenics project, a terrible time in Vermont history of which I knew nothing. It hit home even more when I learned that people I knew had grown up denying who they really were in order to avoid persecution and possible separation from their families because of their heritage.

I never know where my stories will come from. I only know that when they come, the pleasure of fleshing them out is one of my greatest joys!


Creating Characters

No one in my stories is based on a real person, although some come close. Primarily, I create people I would like to know.

Some may be inspired by people I think of as “types,” such as the strong rural woman who is often known in town as a good cook and is a critical component of the town’s support system for church events and the local volunteer fire department fundraiser. Cassie Marsh, in Lonely Souls is one of those women. So is Miriam Penfield in the same book.

Perhaps the character closest to a real person is Grant McIan (Lonely Souls). When I met my husband, he was in his late twenties and was a bachelor living “with the seasons” — fishing season, hunting season, sugar season. While he didn’t have the personal history that Grant has (at least as far as I know!), he was also college-educated but without clear direction in his life in terms of a career. He had worked as a carpenter and a mason’s helper, as well as for a landscaper and nurseryman. Most importantly, he was a sugarmaker, continuing a tradition learned from his grandfather, just like Grant.

Dawson “Sonny” Penfield (Lonely Souls) is a hybrid in that his basic story comes from a person I knew, but has been modified to include a more diverse background. I knew a young man who was delivered as a newborn to the doorstep of his biological father’s home and handed to his father’s wife as her husband’s illegitimate child, born to an unmarried girl. She raised the boy as one of her own, and upon reaching adulthood, he became the one child who took care of her in her old age and made a success out of their rundown family farm. With the additional angst of never knowing his Abenaki mother or that side of his heritage, Dawson becomes an even more sympathetic character. 

Where is Chatham, Vermont?

My stories take place in a fictional tri-town area located in central Vermont, within an hour of Montpelier, the state capital.

Chatham, Wild River, and Wingate share a regional high school, a small cottage hospital, and, among them, all the necessities of rural life including a feed store, local diner, general store, and late-night watering hole.

I decided to create my own towns primarily to protect my characters from speculation about who they might “really” be if the stories were set in actual Vermont towns of relatively small size. Still, their attributes remain true to a variety of small Vermont towns.

Vermont is a unique place–one of beauty but also isolation. Vermonters tend to mind their own business and leave their neighbors alone. Still, they know everybody in town, and it can be hard to keep things private.