Friday, December 25, 2009

Eureka Moments!

Flickr photo by Partricia Drury

I am often asked where story ideas come from. I don't really have a pat answer. I've come to see myself as a sort of literary hunter-gatherer, constantly scanning his environment for clues. Dozens of others might walk past the tell-tale signs of a potential story, but they don't see it. What appears ordinary and uninteresting to them strikes me as fascinating, sometimes thrilling.

A couple of examples will illustrate my point.

My next novel, Stained Glass, sprang almost fully formed from a single line in the Oxford History of Christianity. I happened to be reading that stupendous tome in preparation for another novel I was working on called Caution: Prayin' Ahead. One sentence, in the chapter dealing with the medieval church, noted a furor that was created in a French town when the local harlots offered to fund the installation of a stained glass window depicting Mary Magdalen.

I'm sure hundreds, possibly thousands read that line and passed it over without a second thought. I whooped and laughed out loud, knowing then and there I would have to write a novel based on it. My version of Stained Glass will be set in the rough-and-tumble gold rush town of Barkerville, BC, but the trail leads back to that single reference in the Oxford History of Christianity.

Just the other day I was chatting with my father-in-law Fred Durrand. Fred retired years ago from a long career as Municipal Clerk with the town of Central Sannich. A great conversationalist, he has many stories to tell about: growing up in Revelstoke, BC; his experiences as a dispatch rider in the Second World War; and his career in municipal government.

His latest was about a fellow who rolled up to the Central Sannich municipal hall in a Cadillac and stumped into the office to complain about his neighbour - a woman, who insisted on hanging her clothes on a line, thus blighting the view out his back window and lowering his property values. The guy had recently moved from Oak Bay, a well-heeled jurisdiction where such Plebian offenses were firmly discouraged by law. Informed that no such injunctions existed in rural Central Sannich, and that anyone could let their shirts and panties flap in the breeze, the fellow stumped back out again - an unsatisfied rate payer.

A few days later, his sheet flying neighbour showed up in Fred's office in tears. The complainant had taken to lighting up a bonfire in a barrel whenever she hung her laundry, and stirring the cauldron vigorously to get as much soot and ash flying as possible. Carried on the prevailing wind, this malicious pollution would soil her freshly laundered clothes and linens, making it impossible for her to use her clothesline.

Fred's reminisce will become my next Two Minute Story, called The Clothesline.

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