Category Archives: inspiration

Creating Fictional Characters

No one creates characters out of thin air. They are bits and pieces of people you know, have seen, or read about. Sometimes the main character has a lot in common with the author. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel, but I know that his main character is often a novelist.

While writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I identified with several characters, especially “Effie Belle Butler,” an airbrushed image of me, with all of my strengths and none of my weaknesses. Writing a novel is like daydreaming about who you would like to be and who you would like to be with.

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Finding Inspiration in Quotes

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My favorite novel is ST. Elmo, by Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909). The book inspired me to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  Although my book is not a ST. ELMO remake, the similarities are not coincidental.

To pay homage to Augusta Evans Wilson and her best-selling novel, I introduced ten of my thirty-four chapters with a quote from ST. ELMO.  They are as follows:

“He is a rude, blasphemous, wicked man,” said Mr. Hunt as Edna reentered the shop.

“That passage leads to my son’s apartments, and he dislikes noise or intrusion.”

The expression with which Mr. Murray regarded Estelle reminded Edna of the account given by a traveler of the playful mood of a lion, who, having devoured one gazelle, kept his paw on another, and, amid occasional growls, teased and toyed with his victim.

She picked up from the spot where he had thrown his shawl a handsome morocco-bound pocket copy of Dante, and opening it to discover the name of the owner, she saw written on the fly-leaf in a bold and beautiful hand, “S.E.M.”

God help me to resist that man’s wicked magnetism!

“I go like Ruth, gleaning in the great fields of literature.”

“Mrs. Powell received a letter from a wealthy friend in New York who desires to secure a governess for her young children.”

“If she ever marries, it will not be from gratitude or devotion, but because she learned to love, almost against her will, some strong, vigorous thinker, some man whose will and intellect master hers, who compels her heart’s homage, and without whose society she cannot persuade herself to live.”

He strained her to him and pressed his lips twice to hers, then the carriage stopped at the railroad station.

“Edna, my shadow has fallen across your heart, and I am not afraid that you will forget me.”

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Romance and the Language of Flowers

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I found this copy of the POETRY OF FLOWERS (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.) in an antique flea market.  The inscription on the flyleaf reads in part, “Miss Carrie Lawrence, May 18th 1891.”

People who lived in the nineteenth century assigned meaning to each flower.  Choosing flowers for a bouquet was a delicate matter because you wanted to send the right message.

For example, if you wanted to say “Let the bonds of marriage unite us,” you would choose the following flowers for your bouquet: blue convolvulus (bonds), ivy (marriage), and a few whole straws (unite us).

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If you saw the movie KATE AND LEOPOLD, starring Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan, you might recall the scene in which “Leopold” shows “Kate’s” brother how to choose a bouquet for his girlfriend.  Sad to say, the language of flowers has faded with time.  I would like to see the POETRY OF FLOWERS in print again as a runaway best seller. 

Creating a Fictional Landmark

The church loomed before her like some aged monument preserving the memory of its founders.  Clutching vines of ivy encrusted the walls and  scaled the towering steeple, as if to hold the bricks in place and keep them from crumbling.  Like sentinels, a pair of massive, gnarled oaks guarded the entrance.

As Effie took the key out of her pocket, she recalled Mrs.  Baldwin saying, “I hope you’re not superstitious.  Providence is one of the oldest churches in Fairfax County.  It predates the Civil War.  Some say it’s haunted.  Can you imagine calling a church haunted?”

Timidly she unlocked the door and peered into the sanctuary, deluged with light from stained glass Palladian windows.  Each was part of a series depicting the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Resurrection.  She walked down the center aisle, carpeted in red, towards the cross that loomed over the choir loft and dropped to her knees at the altar.  Surrounded by all the trappings of spirituality, she prayed and pictured the throne of God, the “sea of glass,” the cherubim, and “the four and twenty elders” clothed in white.

But the vision was short-lived.  Like a clap of thunder, the specter of doubt jarred her with a question:  What if her circumstances were accidental, not providential?  What if coming to Fairfax was a mistake?  She waved the notion aside and seated herself at the organ. 

A careful examination of the instrument found it nearly identical to the one she’d practiced her lessons on in Columbus.  “What harm is there in playing the organ?” she asked aloud.  Her words hung in the air, unanswered, undisputed, and soon “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” resounded throughout the sanctuary. 

She poured herself into the composition, mindless of time and place, until a rapping sound arrested her attention.  Her eyes scanned the church before resting upon a stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion.  Like a metronome, a branch was tapping the pane. 

As she resumed playing, the melancholy fugue fired her imagination, bringing “The Phantom of the Opera” to mind.  A mental picture of Lon Chaney lurking behind one of the pews prompted the feeling that someone was watching her.  To counter the thought, she abandoned the organ for the piano and played a hardy rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”  But halfway through the song, a scraping sound sliced the air, immobilizing her fingers.

Excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER (pages 7 and 8).

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St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

When I started writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I wanted to give the story a familiar setting with historical landmarks.  I chose the City of Fairfax, one of my favorite stomping grounds.  Most of the landmarks mentioned in the novel are real, but Providence United Methodist Church is fictional.

The name “Providence” is not a coincidence.  Not only does it mean God’s will, but prior to 1859, the City of Fairfax was known as the village of Providence.

My description of Providence Methodist was partly inspired by the architecture of Berryman United  Methodist  in Richmond.  Truro Anglican Church in the heart of the City of Fairfax influenced me also.

Directional Dreams

Dreams are awesome!  I never paid much attention to them until I had a life-changing dream–or night vision?–several years ago.  I saw the phrase “Kindle & Kindness” lit up against a dark background.  The letters were large and outlined in tiny white lights like the  title of a film on the marquee of a theater.  But the letters were not typed.  They were written in cursive.

Wondering what the phrase meant, I “googled” it.   Nothing definitive came up.  A few weeks later, I tried a different search engine and found a Website with the phrase “Kindle & Kindness.”  Up to that point, I don’t think I knew what a Kindle device was.  I had seen the  icon on Amazon off to the side while looking for other items.

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, ...

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My unpublished novel was gathering dust.  So I took the dream to mean that I should publish it on Kindle.  I bought a Kindle and consulted Joshua Tallent of e Book Architects.  His group formatted the book for me so that I could upload it on Kindle and Nook.

For a while, I was more focused on the book than the dream or where it came from,  That was a mistake.  The real story is about a closer relationship with God.  My interest in dreams led me to John Paul Jackson’s Website.  John Paul Jackson is a Christian dream interpreter.  His insights have given me a deeper, Biblical-based understanding of dreams and visions.

I knew that dreams and visions are in the Bible, but I never thought of them as having significance today.  John Paul Jackson points to Job 33: 14-16.  “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it.  In a dream, a vision of the night when sound sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instructions” (NASB).

Not every dream comes from God.  That’s for sure.  Dreams fall into different categories and come from different sources: the flesh, the mind, God, and the demonic realm.  While dreams are one of the ways that God speaks to us, He speaks primarily through His Word.  If you think God has spoken to you in a dream, make sure that the dream doesn’t conflict with the Bible.  God will never direct you to something that contradicts His Word.

A relationship with God through Jesus Christ is more important than anything in the world.  Books, inventions, and projects will come and go, but a personal relationship with the God of the universe lasts forever.

McClellan Letterhead

McClellanLetterhead

This letter from my husband’s ancestor inspired the following passage in “The Prince in the Tower”  (pg. 19).

Before moving to Fairfax, Effie had revered ministers as God’s mouthpiece, but her view had changed overnight, making all of them suspect.  She winced at the thought of Rev. Baldwin parading around in clerical garb conning his congregation.

A three-way fireplace, jutting out from the wall, separated his sitting room from the bedroom.  Should she cross the “line of demarcation” and enter his bedroom?  A series of framed black and white prints decided the issue, and Effie ambled ahead to examine them on the wall.

The Currier and Ives prints depicted the killing fields of Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.  Centered beneath them was a display case of Civil War artifacts that included cone-shaped bullets, a canteen, a bayonet, and a letter with faded writing. 

She read the letter through the glass.  The McClellan letterhead identified the writer as a Union soldier, and she squinted to make out the signature of Elijah Douglass.  Next to the letter was a drawing of the family tree, which confirmed that Rev. Baldwin was the soldier’s direct descendant. 

English: "Battle of Antietam. Army of the...

English: “Battle of Antietam. Army of the Potomac: Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, comm., Sept. 17′ 1862. – 1′ 2′ 4′ 6′ 9′ 12′ Corps & Pleasanton’s cav. div. engaged.” Color lithograph. Français : « La Bataille d’Antietam (17 septembre 1862). Armée du Potomac: Le général B. McClellan, commandant les 1 er , 2 e , 4 e , 6 e , 9 e et 12 e divisions de cavalerie de Corps & Pleasanton. » Lithographie en couleurs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oxford, England

Magdalen College

From her vantage point in the tower of Magdalen College, Effie had a birds-eye view of the City of Oxford, which reminded her of a medieval town cast in gold.  Against the backdrop of an ancient city wall, colleges crowned with spires and domes dominated the landscape.  Some dated to the thirteenth century.  Constructed of honey-colored stone, the buildings glowed like amber in the noonday sun. 

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Unobserved, she gazed down upon the students, tourists, and natives who strolled along the narrow streets, crossed campuses, and passed under the Bridge of Sighs.  Oxford was a blend of old and new–a place where past and present met and found each other compatible. 

THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pg. 197