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?

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Keeping Close to Nature’s Heart

Those words begin an observation made by John Muir.

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Sheepherder’s Bath

“Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, climb a mountain, or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Most of us who have spent any time in the mountains know the truth of this sentiment. On a family trip to central  Idaho’s majestic mountains, we traveled north from Ketchum along the 75 through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery God ever designed. Along Idaho’s volcanic spine are scattered numerous hot springs. Some are better known than others. We visited one a few miles north of Sun Valley that fits into the category of better-known. A sign directed us to the spring that has been commercialized for years, boasting a swimming pool at a consistent bath temperature. We passed on the experience of bathing with a bus-load of excited, splashing children.

The manager, taking pity on us, told us a number of stories concerning the springs in the area. As I pulled out my pen and began taking notes, he surely recognized he had an interested, even if not captive, audience. To my delight (and I suppose his), I filled the page with dates and names. Customers willing to bath with the masses took his attention away for a time. When he was once more able to speak with us, he paused for a moment as though appraising our worthiness of this next piece of information. Having apparently passed his assessment, he leaned in confidentially and said, “There is another spring not far from here that the locals know.”

Our interest peaked, we too leaned in to accept this conspiracy of information. Giving us clear directions, he explained that it was once known as Sheepherders’ Bath. That name didn’t stick for Google, but the locals still refer to it as such. Just as the miners of the late nineteenth century used the numerous warm springs to wash off the week’s settlement of dust and grime, so the sheepherders of the early twentieth century took comfort in the thermal waters. Convenient to their grazing grounds, the shepherds availed themselves of nature’s provision.

We drove the short distance where we found the spring just as described. No hordes splashed in it’s crystal waters. As though we were alone in the wilderness, we stepped into the 80 degree waters. With a view of the mountains to the east, we could imagine John Muir himself, walking with stick in hand, a flock of sheep trailing behind, walking asking to share the healing waters.

We’d have willingly made room so that we might together wash our spirits clean.

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.

Ghost Town Settings for Historical Fiction

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One log structure remains near Beaver Creek.

Comes the Winter is another sweet historical fiction set on the eastern side of the Sawtooth Range. In 1886, Alena Sommers arrives to the boom town of Sawtooth City expecting to begin a new life with a man she hasn’t met. Together they were to operate a lodging house, more correctly considered a partnership than a romance.  But her future takes a sharp turn when the man who was to be her husband dies before she sets foot in Idaho Territory.

This summer I visited the site of Sawtooth City. Not much remains, some rock foundations scattered here and there across a narrow valley. Just a few miles off Highway 75, it can be found quite easily by driving down a gentle dirt road that winds along Beaver Creek. That ease of access probably explains why so little remains of the once thriving mining community.

There are a few stone foundations, evidence of fireplaces here and there. We were there shortly after the snow melt flooded the rivers and streams of Idaho. Beaver Creek rambled, split, and came together again in lively pathways. It’s been reforested, making it a little more difficult to imagine the saloons, boarding houses and restaurants that written accounts and a few grainy black and white images prove were here. Still, the setting came alive after we found one partial log wall near the stream. The window and door frames were evident. It might have been a nice place for a lodging house.

It was a perfect summer day, lupine and yarrow dressed the tall grasses. Searching for anything that bore witness to the city existence made for a pleasant few hours. Reluctantly, we drove out of the valley, east to the main road. My husband had seen a notation on Google Maps of a cemetery. A little more than a mile beyond the last foundation a narrow forest road let to the top of a knoll with a view to Beaver Creek. I would imagine Sawtooth City would have been visible as well. We found the rustic remains of wooden crosses, nearly lost in tall grass.

The crosses were in random positions close together. No names survived the years of weathering. People who came to strike it rich never returned home. Lonely as it is, the site is peaceful and I could imagine Evan sitting beside his brother’s grave admiring the view.
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Driving west toward Sawtooth City.

A Setting Speaks

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Nestled up against the rolling foothills bordering the Salmon River, the town of Stanley, Idaho has an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range. This time of year the town has already put on its down jacket and hunkered down for the winter that will soon be bullying its way into the basin trailing harsh winds and snow. But this week, it’s a lovely place to be, free of tourists, dressed in the warm golds and reds of autumn. With a populace numbering far less than 100, it’s a hardy community that’s already stacked in the firewood under wide roof eaves. Shops are closed or only open for limited hours of business. The change of season is caught in the crisp air scented by sweet leaf mold from trees quickly discarding their summer clothes like the residents.

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Highways bringing summer visitors from either Sun Valley to the south or Boise from the southwest converge here, the road bending sharply changes one’s perspective of the landscape from rolling ranch land to majestic mountain peaks. But there is no mistaking this for a hospitable place to settle year round. In the 1820s hardy Hudson Bay fur trappers learned it and were quick to leave when the beaver population did not yield the bounty they’d hoped for. Miners stayed only as long as the veins produced ore. But other souls have found a home here, settling in for the long winter months with ready acceptance, fair trade for the beauty that greets them each day in the form of snow-capped peaks and quiet isolation.

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As a writer, this place speaks to me. Place your romantic fiction here, it whispers, but do not neglect the harsh realities of such a setting. Use it as a character, one that inspires and directs the plot. Let your characters be shaped by this land and this climate that changes so sharply with the seasons, transforming the residents as dramatically as the landscape. Allow your people to learn from the seasons, the rhythms of life that bring comfort in their consistency. Transport your readers here to this place so removed from the modern pace of their lives.

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And so I shall.

Back Under Idaho Skies

Cherry Springs in Fall
Cherry Springs in Fall

After spending the last two months in the forested Pacific Northwest, it feels exceptionally fine to be back in Idaho under this expansive sky I’ve come to love. From the western border of Oregon all across the mountain passes and later spanning the broad rolling plains of central Idaho, the past becomes almost palpable. The imagination seems to be sparked by ghostly voices of earlier travelers.

Each time I make the passage, I am struck with the contrast of traveling at 70 and 80 miles an hour against the struggles of those determined souls who were grateful for a few miles travel in a single day. This especially presses in upon me as we pass along the Snake River, starting with Three Island Crossing. Such a short time ago, the collective breath of an entire wagon train would have been held as each wagon made its way across the fast-moving, sometimes unpredictable Snake. For us, it is passed in a mere eight seconds.

Then there is Massacre Rock and Register Rock nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the route except for a few ignoble road signs. Once again, fear would have gripped the travelers as they approached the narrow passage between two rocks that now have been blasted away for the freeway. Not knowing if vengeance-bent natives were waiting for them on the other side, they made their way through, one wagon at a time. We pass through without a thought in two seconds.

Today we walked along a familiar trail that follows Cherry Creek. We’ve missed the fall color, leaves scattered across the path now by winds notorious to this area. But it’s still beautiful. Leaves shush beneath the feet as birds who will brave the winter or wait for a later migration note our passage casually with soft sounds from the bare branches.

Cherry Springs Nature Area is a riparian habitat that winds along a gentle stream carved between a narrow canyon covered in brush. Shade provided by a variety of trees supports an even greater variety of wildlife, including beavers, voles and even weasels. The signs warn us that this is the time of year to be alert to Moose during the rutting season of late September and October. We missed sighting them all. But the thrill of that possibility added an element of anticipation.

There are places that speak clearly to the soul of man. Idaho sings to me.

Roseberry, Idaho Photo Tour

Driving down a narrow road through pasture lands affording wide vistas took us north through Payette’s long valley. The route paralleled the primary route from Boise to the popular tourist destination of McCall. But this was our true destination, a place to savor the atmosphere of Kat’s fictional hometown of Snowberry, Idaho. We arrived just as the Music Festival was tuning up, which lent an even more celebratory background to our brief visit.

The Long Valley Preservation Society has established its base here working to preserve not only Roseberry history but that of the entire Valley County. Roseberry, like so many other towns built with such hope or a thriving future, met its decline when the promised railroad chose to locate its station elsewhere. In this case the move was to Donnelly, only a few miles west. In fact, some of the buildings now located in Roseberry were originally constructed in Donnelly, having been moved here to become monuments to the nineteenth century settlements.

While there we met some enthusiastic volunteers who shared a passion to keep the memories alive of those who lived and dreamed here. You can learn more about their efforts and town history here. http://historicroseberry.com/

 

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Traveling Through Dr. Kat Meriwether’s Country

While traveling through Idaho this past month, we’ve had an opportunity to visit many interesting historic sites. We started in Payette’s long valley leading along the river, where Kat’s Law has its fictional setting. That portion of our travels took us to the bustling recreational center of McCall. But this past Sunday, known locally as Pioneer Day, we spent several hours touring the Fort Hall Museum in Pocatello, Idaho.

One room is dedicated to the frontier doctors who served the community at the end of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth. From instruments of torture that represented early dentistry to one of the earliest drug stores in this area, there was almost more to absorb than hours in one afternoon provided.

It was interesting to read the labels of “medicines” to treat everything from toothaches to heart palpitations. Worthy of further research was the use of sassafras for a wide variety of ailments, including the relief of constipation. I remember it from my childhood as simply a great tasting tea offered by my great grandmother. Little did I know I was apparently being dosed!

The handsome Rosewood medicine case belonged to a Dr. Augustus Fisher. The label reads that it was made in Germany and that the bottles are labeled in Latin. It made me wonder how long the shelf-life was for these elixirs. But I would imagine most patients would have been impressed by the case alone with all the mystery of strange amber liquids with exotic labels.

The picture on the right is of Dr. James H. Bean, one of Pocatello’s earliest doctors. Receiving his medical degree in 1857 would have made him closer in age to Kat’s father, Nathaniel. What gives him some notoriety is the fact that he owned and operated one of the first drugstores, opening it’s doors in 1891, shortly after Idaho earned statehood. The newspaper clipping reveals the frontier nature of the town at that time. It reads, “A man, Cal Durfey was shot to death while seated in the chair occupied by Red(the dog in this picture). It was an accident. A man named Taylor saw Durfey reach for a handkerchief-thought it was a gun.” 

That small footnote seems to be a good writing prompt to me. Doesn’t it make you wonder what Dr. Bean did? What became of Taylor? Why was the man so obviously jumpy, as to draw his gun as a reflex? So may questions, so little line space in that yellowed newspaper article.

I love museums, don’t you?