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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Cover Reveal for Comes the Winter

Comes the (1)

Available Now for Pre-order on Amazon!

 

Alena Sommer isn’t one to run from adversity. But when the child she’s been governess to dies, she boldly seeks a new life in Idaho Territory by accepting a marriage proposal from a man she’s never met. When she arrives in Sawtooth City she finds the mines are in financial trouble and the man she was to marry is dead. Determined to stay, she ignores the warnings about harsh winters known to plague the Sawtooth Mountains. Will the same man who warns her to leave be the one who gives her the strength to stay? Surviving winter’s threat will take more than courage; it will require mettle forged of two strong wills.

To pre-order Click Here.

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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.

 

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.