Creativity Triggers

Cecil Dawley house donated to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After many days of rain, the sun came out in full glory yesterday and called us to take a walk. Our five-mile, round trip trail led east along the Olympic Discovery Trail skirting Discovery Bay. It was new territory for us at the edge of the Salish Sea, better known as the Straits of Juan de Fuca. One half mile in, we passed a retreat camp within Sequim Bay State Park. Its name is Ramblewood.

That name brings me to the focus of the post—triggers for creativity. I’ve written before about inspirations springing from locations. Most of my writing does just that; it’s first a place that I’ve seen. Fort Ross gave birth to a little boy named Misha Alexandrov, a boy of my imagination who told me his story as I related it to my readers in the book by the same name.  A visit to Stanley, Idaho brought the characters of my latest book to life. Lena Sommer and Evan Hartmann seemed to step from the pasture at the foot of the magnificent Sawtooth Mountains. Comes The Winter started with that visit where the sight, smells and even the air became the petri dish for this writer’s imagination. Names have had the same effect.

The name Ramblewood, carved in block letters on an unremarkable park service sign, literally stopped me. I stared at the word, the shape of it. Saying it out loud I smiled. Something stirred within. Then the images began—a lost town hidden in a dark forest—no, a forest glade filled with light. Then the questions—how does one find her way there? Who has the gift to find and see it? What are the gifts that draw the seer? What is the town’s secret? Why is it called Ramblewood?

With the sun warm on our faces, we walked east and deeper into the Wildlife Sanctuary where the trees crowded the trail as though desiring to reclaim what had recently been taken from them. Now, the setting speaks of mysteries and dangers. Is nature an adversary or a friend? Is Ramblewood a place of refuge or a prison for those drawn to her? Why is Ramblewood a she? Time shifting comes to mind, like the San Andreas Fault line. Possibility of a fourth dimension seems inevitable.

Just off the trail a boarded up house peeked through the trees. Again, I stopped, clicked a picture on my phone and wondered about the former occupants. So much about the house said welcome. Was this the house at the center of our imaginary Ramblewood, the one that had called us into discovery of her secrets? After five miles, the ideas had coalesced into a dystopian, YA, time-travel story with flavors of Timeline by Michael Crichton.

The rhythm of walking and the hushed quiet of those woods worked together triggering further creativity. It isn’t just my idea that this phenomenon is a reality. That evening I read another post on ways to jog the writer’s creativity. Psychology Today posted an article about the benefits of walking for just this purpose. Aside from the fact that sitting for hours every day before a keyboard is bad for the health, it’s also bad for this ability to create. Scott McCormick wrote a recent post on this same topic for BookBaby.

A fellow author, McKenna Grey, has written recently of her imagination’s far-reaching scope that can encompass multiple genres. She says that she has “embraced the wildness” of her imagination. Having read her books, I can honestly say that she is able to do that well. I’ve read that she takes long walks on frequent occasions.

If you are unable to walk, try taking a long car ride without the music to distract you. Studies have shown the old-fashioned concept of a drive in the country to have similar effect. Whatever method you use, let’s get out there!

What triggers work to stimulate your creativity?

 

 

The Sterling Justice Trail

Within a short drive of Pocatello, Idaho, lies a trail head leading to Slate Mountain. Three trails offer views of Pocatello and the mountains further east toward Wyoming. On a sparkling day in late December of 2017, we trekked up the newly completed Sterling Justice Trail. Without Pocatello’s notorious and frequent chilling winds, we couldn’t have asked for a better time to venture out.

Although the trails were perfect for our fitness level, it wasn’t just the trail or the spectacular views that intrigued me. It was the name of the trail and the legend that followed the man with such a fantastic name – Sterling Righteous Justice. What writer of western fiction could resist building a story around such a name?

His fame seems to be due to his dedicated efforts as a ranger to care for the forests and wilderness areas around the Portneuf River Ranger District. Born in 1884 on an cattle ranch near Hagerman, Idaho, he had a legitimate heritage to protect. All these simple facts aside, there must be more to the name. What dreams did Mr. and Mrs. Justice have for their baby boy to name him thus? The next thought that comes to my mind is how does such a name frame the character of a child? For not only is he Sterling Justice, he is Righteous Justice.

I am researching further, because I feel there is a story here. We are all stories, with or without the name. But names have impact. One of my names means two-faced, after the Greek god. That was a heavy burden to carry throughout my youth. Often and with concern, I wondered if it applied. Then, when I was an adult, a woman presented a talk in our school and gave a different meaning. Hers was ‘beloved of God’ or ‘gift of God’. It was a revelatory moment and I recall breaking down in tears feeling as though I had been anointed with new life.

It makes me ponder how much this man’s life and character were shaped by the weight of his name. He is credited as leaving a living legacy. I’d say he made his parents proud.

Do you have a similar story? I’d like to hear it.

 

 

 

Skiing is a Dance and the Mountain Always Leads

Some have credited Jim Bowden with this saying, while others say it’s been around a lot longer than Mr. Bowden. The truth of it remains. Risky and wonderful, skis were not always used strictly for sport.

While researching the modes of travel in Central Idaho’s mountainous country, I’ve read of some unusual snowshoes and skis used in the nineteenth century. In the Boise Basin Museum is a fine display of early wooden shoes and skis, including those made for horses. Dick d’Easum’s fascinating Sawtooth Tales recounts the travails of isolation through the severe winters into the Stanley Basin outposts to mining towns of Sawtooth City and Vienna. Transporting the mail from Ketchum to those boom towns was no small feat, requiring a dedicated and physically fit postman.

Even as late as the early 1900s, traveling by motor vehicle in the summer months over the 8,700-foot Galena Summit required serious planning. Engines and brakes over-heated and the curves were so sharp that passengers often opted for walking, catching up to their motor vehicle when the road straightened. It’s even reported that many chose to back up the worst of the road until reaching the summit. Even today, avalanches frequently block the road for winter travelers.

Last week, this photo appeared in my search for Idaho travel in those early years. It was a jaw-dropping photo for me. In Comes the Winter, Evan Hartmann must make that crossing of the Galena pass. Initially, I placed him on snow shoes, but after further research and actually traveling the route this summer by car, I knew it didn’t make sense. He’d have never made the trip I had written. Seeing this photo confirmed my decision to strap some skis on his boots. It would have been an exhilarating trip to make while listening for the warning crack of an avalanche.

Comes the Winter is scheduled for release on February 10th. I’ll be giving away 10 ARCs in a coming post when I reveal the cover. Watch for that or sign up for the newsletter to learn more.

 

Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst

 

Established in the first gold rush of 1862, Idaho City boomed to impressive size and influence in Idaho Territory. Far exceeding the population of Boise City, 36 miles to the southwest, Idaho City became a thriving metropolis boasting over 200 businesses, including 36 groceries, 5 pool halls, 41 saloons, at least one church and a Masonic Lodge. What remains are a few energetic souls with a passion for preserving her colorful, but often forgotten history. A major focus of that preservation comes down to maintaining the surviving buildings. Both fun and informative, the Boise Basin Museum makes an excellent stop for those with an interest in the area’s history.

Those buildings and their construction and reconstruction stirs my ruminations today. In light of the devastating brush fires burning in my home state of California, I think of how the residents of Idaho City coped with fires that destroyed their city not once but four times. In 1865, 1867, 1868, and 1871 fire swept into the valley taking away lives and property. Their human quality of resiliency is not unlike that which will bring residents of Sonoma County back in the weeks and months to come building again.

The difference may be in the manner of adaptation to the constant threat of fire in these arid lands. Living in a forested area, the obvious choice for quick construction surrounded them – wood. It didn’t take some forward-thinking businessmen long to reconsider the materials used to rebuild. Brick became the preferred choice for exteriors. However, the nature of the fire usually set roof ablaze and that presented the real threat. Their solution was clever.

Many rebuilt with metal roofing, but beyond that they filled the space between roof and ceiling with dirt. By the time the next fire rolled into the city, those who had employed this method of protection could point to the evidence of their success – a standing building. Others went to the added expense of shipping in heavy metal doors. As you can see in the photo below, those doors would have presented an impressive defense.

My family lived through one evacuation when we made our home in the San Diego foothills. We were fortunate to have a home to return to when the fires were extinguished. Horses survived as well, although there is a story to tell of their evacuation. Another time. Although we made some changes to help us prepare for the next fire (including purchase of a larger horse trailer), we did not go to the extent of filling our attic with dirt. Our adobe walls and tile roof were assets, but not as effective as the measures taken be the residents of Idaho City.

It would be natural to suppose the unfortunate victims of this week’s fires will be taking stock of their lives as well as their property. My heart goes out to them for the losses they’ve suffered. Those other losses can’t be compiled on an insurance ledger. They are deeper, more profound. Security is the first that comes to mind. Such times makes us consider the true definition of home and family. Those who share with their neighbors this sense of loss may find their definition of family expanding. And home? Well, we’ve known for a long time that it isn’t just a building.

What stories and preparations have you made for natural disaster? We’ve certainly seen many in the past few months.

Idaho City (6)

Listen to Many, Speak to a Few

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Shakespeare wrote that with his quill pen a good while ago. It’s not a bad motto for life in general, but I’ve come to believe it is also an exceptional way to approach book research. Thank you, William, for the notion. Traveling through Central Idaho on this recent research trip, I had many occasions to employ the philosophy.

In Idaho City, a once bustling metropolis in the mid-nineteenth century, I found historians in unlikely places. Reduced to a scattering of novelty shops and a few rustic cafes providing a variety of berry pie refreshment for those traveling the scenic route through the Central Idaho mountains, there remain those who are passionate about the region’s history. When one of my questions stumped the volunteer at the excellent Boise Basin Museum, I was directed to the Simply Fun Toy Store on Main Street to speak with the proprietress. She knew kids and she knew her history. More will follow on that visit in another post.

A few days later, our travels took us north along one of Idaho’s most breathtaking highways that links Stanley to the more celebrated, ski resort of Sun Valley. We stopped in at Easley Hot Springs where we met a friendly manager who directed us to another local historian. As we lingered at the desk, perusing their visitor guides to the area, he volunteered a little more interesting local lore. Not far from these commercially developed hot springs there were more secluded and little known spas surrounded by the natural forest, with views to the Boulder Mountains. Glad we listened and followed up on his advice with a visit. Look for another post on that tranquil experience.

However, the greatest example of Mr. Shakespeare’s wisdom came as I was spending a lovely day in the research department of Ketchum’s Public Library. After spending a productive morning pouring through out-of-print books and scanning fragile black and white photos with nervous fingers, I still had not found some of the answers sought. Just as the need for a second cup of coffee suggested it was time to close my laptop and head back to the condo, a distinguished-looking gentleman took a seat at the table behind me. That’s when William’s maxim came into play.

It wasn’t that I was intentionally eavesdropping; it was simply due to the small space we shared and certain key words that I over-heard the discussion between the man and our helpful librarian. They were discussing the late nineteenth century in Sun Valley and the effect of the Oregon Short Line Rail on Ketchum’s economy. My ears tingled. My pencil scratched a few interesting tidbits, but after a few minutes, well, William, I did speak a few words.

A quick introduction on my part, followed by an even quicker explanation for my research and the door was open. I learned from the candid description of the librarian that my fellow researcher was an expert in all things related to the railroad. My pulse quickened. A lawyer by profession with ancestral ties to the area, he was compiling facts for a definitive history of Sun Valley. Why speak? So, I listened, priming this amazing pump with just a few questions. Finding me a receptive audience, he shared his passion for history. In a mere twenty minutes, I gleaned the answers to all my questions and more I had never thought to ask.

He generously offered to become a resource for me. We have corresponded since as questions have arisen. The wisdom of the Bard proved quite true. Listen to many, Speak to Few. As a result, my lovers in Redeeming Lies can meet in Shoshone on the train platform where the inciting incident of Maddie’s father’s death will propel them north to Ketchum on the Oregon Short Line. It’s a gratifying experience when fiction coincides with fact. I confess that I did a little dance when I returned to the condo at the end of the day.

Of course, you may take issue with my interpretation of Shakespeare’s words, but I think they can be applied here without much of a stretch. If you have another perspective or a similar research experience you’d like to share, I’d like to listen to it in the comments below.