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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

HAYBALE HORSES & WOODEN CROSSES--A WRITER'S INSPIRATIONS by Shayna Matthews



Someone asked me recently, "How on earth do you get your ideas for these stories of yours?" The truth is, I don't know where they all come from, nor am I always conscious of when an idea strikes. What I do know is this: stories come to me. Not all at once, of course; that would be too easy. But they do come in visual flashes; sometimes quick as a lightning strike, other times more like a slow, steady burn, like glowing coals from a perfect smores campfire. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, and I begin each session wondering what my characters will reveal to me this time. Often, if the session goes well, I become lost within their world and lose all sense of time and place. Just last night my main character finally decided to reveal her story to a group of eager Texas cowboys, and before I knew it,I had written straight through the night and shut my light off at 5:00 a.m. Sure, I know where I went last night-1880's Texas- but I don't know how I got there. Where did these brand new ideas come from? My MC revealed details of her life I certainly knew nothing about, and I created her. Or, so I as the writer, would like to think. Sometimes I wonder, but that's for another post entirely.

It's a funny thing, one's subconscious. We writers conjure up all manners of past experiences, conversations, people, places and faces. And yet, details show up we have no recollection of having experienced ourselves, in any sense of the word. So when someone asks me where my ideas stem from, I just smile and murmur an answer about knowing how to look for, and listen for, a good story. You see, my training in listening for stories began when I was three, and has sculpted me throughout my life to become what I am now, a historical fiction writer.

My training? I was essentially born into the world of living history. I suppose not many of us can boast experiencing life's day-to-day adventures of the 18th Century, but my fondest memories still bring me back to my youth...when kids still plugged into their own imaginations.

My favorite smells in the world are woodsmoke, leather and horse sweat. Combine the three and I'm a little girl again, running through meadows in moccasins and a little deerskin dress, dodging teepees while catching grasshoppers in tin lanterns and picking ox-eye daisies to decorate my braids. By 1986, (I was seven) I knew how to row a canoe, drive a team of mules, and con absolutely any man with a horse to give me a boost, saddle not necessary. When no horses were available, a bale of hay holding someone's saddle sufficed, and I imagined I was on my trusty steed, gallivanting off into the sunset. Ladder-back chairs made for the perfect train, and when enough of us kids got together around the woodpile, teams were chosen and a very serious game of "Patriots and Lobsterbacks" always followed. We were always the Patriots, and being that I was often the only girl, I was always the one tied up, time and again, waiting for my Patriots to break through enemy lines. Sometimes, the boys fighting over me got a little bit too real. Wielding fire-pokers, they dueled, and I wound up with the tip of a hand-forged fire-poker embedded in my shoulder. I still bear the scar, and it brings me nothing but bittersweet joy for the memories I've gained. I miss those times, terribly. Years have a way of changing things, and I do not often adjust well to change. Lifelong friends have been made and lost over the years. We still reenact, and I still sit around campfires at night, passing the jug, and quietly listen to my friends reminisce over the good old days.

In the old days, my solitude during the campfires was two-fold. If I was quiet enough, maybe my parents would forget I was there and I wouldn't have to retreat to the tent for the night. I wanted to stay up, because I wanted to hear the adults tell their stories. One can pick up on grand stories, if one knows how to listen. Over the years I learned to listen intently. To this day I am often labeled as quiet and shy, but usually I'm just listening for a juicy tidbit...a damn good story.

Sometimes, those damn good stories turn into scenes which, no matter how much you love them, you wonder if they are meant for the story. A decision must be reached...do I scrap the scene, or keep it?

One day I came up with the idea for a small, insignificant scene involving a small wooden cross. I could see the cross clearly in my mind. It was handcarved out of a wood with tiny mottled holes, and handwrapped with black sinew. I began jotting down the framework for the idea revolving around this cross to be gifted to my main character, a young woman from Philadelphia. (You’ll hear more of her later). The original scene didn’t seem to blend too well with what was going on in the story at the time, so I had decided, pretty much, to scrap it. Two days later, my uncle had an appointment in town and so he came for a short visit and a crash on our couch. The appointment also took him out of our place long before my husband and I rolled out of bed the next morning. I was going through my morning routine when I heard my husband ask “What’s that on the floor?” and I saw him bend down to pick something up. He carried the unknown object over to me and I held out my hand. He dropped the item in the palm of my hand; I looked down at it and the breath hitched in my throat. I started to quiver and I can only imagine the look on my face. There it was, the very same little wooden cross wrapped in black sinew… the very same mental cross I had written, and thought of scrapping, only days before.

You see, when my uncle found out about his illness, his brother carved that little cross for him, and he has worn it under his shirt ever since. This is why I have never seen it before. I gave the cross back to my uncle, shivering as I told him the story. And in case you are wondering? No, I did not scrap the scene. It will be there, bold as print, in my novel. I took a picture of my uncle's cross, the cross I envisioned my character wearing days before it fell into my reality...just to remind myself that the stories we write belong to our characters, it's their story as much as ours. Sometimes it pays just to stop, listen, and let them tell it.

Tell me, where do you gather your greatest inspiration for your own stories? Comment on this post, and I will select a random commenter to win an e-copy of Prairie Rose Publication's anthology, "Cowboys, Creatures and Calico, Vol. 1" - containing my debut short story, "The Legend of Venture Canyon"! Thank you for reading.

If you just can't wait to see if you won, here's the Amazon link.

http://www.amazon.com/Cowboys-Creatures-Calico-Lorrie-Farrelly-ebook/dp/B00NVX5Y2C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422460676&sr=8-1&keywords=cowboys+creatures+and+calico+volume+1






23 comments:

  1. Oh, Shayna, that story about the cross gave me shivers. It's both scary and wonderfully affirming when something like that happens, isn't it? I'm glad your cross paid a visit to affirm its place in your story. :-)

    Great blog! It's nice to get to know more about a sister Rose. We're awfully glad to have you and your unique voice, your unique stories, in the corral.

    BIG HUGS, lady!

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    1. Hi Kathleen! Thank you so much for your warm comments, you're not the first person to tell me I have a "unique" voice, probably a good way to word that, lol. The story of the cross, when it was happening to me, was soul shaking. One of those moments when your path is confirmed in the Highest Regard, and I feel so blessed to have experienced it firsthand.

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  2. An interesting topic, Shayna. I believe writers share through their writing their perspective of their own life and history. Sometimes they intend to, and sometimes they don't, but there it is all the same. In any case, I think we write about things we care deeply about or events that forever changed us in some way.
    Like you, I have found inspiration in family treasures and history. I love sharing them in a story.
    I enjoyed reading your story, The Legend of Venture Canyon, in the anthology, Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico, Vol. 1.
    All the best to you, Shayna.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah! I agree, writers cannot help but to share their lifelong perspectives in their writing, whether we mean to or not. Our inner-selves bubble out as we lose ourselves in writing, and sometimes, as in the case of The Cross, we are reminded that our work sometimes stems from something much larger than ourselves. I love incorporating history, snippets of personal background and experiences into a story. I'm so glad you enjoyed Venture Canyon! All the best to you as well.

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  3. Shayna, we are so glad to have you here with us at PRP. I loved your story, The Legend of Venture Canyon, and look forward to whatever you are working on next!

    Like Kathleen, that story of the wooden cross gave me chills. If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what is.

    You have really had a very interesting life--thanks for letting us get to know you better!

    Cheryl

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    1. I'm so glad to be here with you, Cheryl, thank you for everything! I took the Cross as a definite sign, it chokes me up everytime I think of it, but in my WIP novel "Back to Moral" several other odd occurances have happened similar to The Cross, where objects I write into the story come to reality shortly thereafter. I am a firm believer in that some of us are meant to write a certain story. I look forward to sharing mine with the world! ;-)

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  4. Love. It. So very cool and spooky, all at once. Nice article.

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    1. Thank you Connie, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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  5. Such a great blog today Shayna. The stories of your youth really struck a cord with me, only my adventures weren't so much hale bales turned into horses, but a long picnic table was my ship and my brother was Blue Beard and my sisters and I his captives. Of course there would be sword fights and we'd have to walk the plank, only to have a croc or a shark try to devour us. Sadly I worry if parents today don't turn off the computers and TV's children may never discover that secret world that lives in their minds just waiting for a new world to explore. I believe it is why our characters are so real to us, because as children we learned how to play and pretend and make our adventures come true.

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    1. LOL Barb, see? Like minds! I love the story of your own imagination as a girl, pirates and sword fights, under threat of sharks and crocodiles, love it! Nothing like a good old fashioned imagination to bring the best memories! I agree, children don't get outside enough to activate their own imaginations. I don't like "battery-operated" toys for my son, I grew up playing with lincoln logs and breyer horses and we try to instill the same for our boy. And yes, characters are almost like real-life people to me, too. Like old friends, I think we know more about them than we do ourselves, sometimes. ;-) Thank you for sharing your memories!

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  6. HI, Shayna--I'm pleased to meet you. And what a grand way, meeting here at the PRP blog. I'm on Friday, so hang around!
    We must have a vivid imaginations to write fiction, and you, my girl, have it in spades. You've lived a life that sounds like a novel.
    The cross story gave me chills..very interesting and very appropriate.
    Congratulations on your writing.

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    1. Hi Celia - Well I'm pleased to meet you, too! Thank you for your kind compliments, my life has dealt me some very unique experiences so far, that's for certain! No shortage of good writing material with me, I have a habit of taking imagination to the next level. ;-) Thank you for reading my post!

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  7. Shayna,

    I, too, grew up with the opportunity to let my imagination run wild. I was an only child until I was almost 13 years old, and I didn't have but one friend that I occasionally *played* with, and she was three years older. I spent a lot of time by myself. From an early age, all things Old West-related spoke to me (I think I must have lived a previous life back then...another story for another time. *grin*).

    My point is, when you spend so much time alone and you have a writer's imagination, inspiration for stories practically pop up everywhere you look.

    I've read your story, The Legend of Venture Canyon, and I enjoyed it very much.

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    1. Kaye, what you say couldn't be more true - I am an only child, I grew up amidst rural farmlands...my friends were our animals, the chickens, who all had names, the dogs and later, the horse and llama. I was a little socially backward, but I knew how to use the most basic inspirations to extract a wild story. To this day, I find stories are everywhere! I keep a journal to house scribbled "nibblings" of ideas as we are out and about, to use later. Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed "Venture Canyon"!

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  8. Wonderful post you wrote about finding your ideas and the characters that mold those stories. We all have those pieces of our brains that look for and expand on what we see and hear. Best to you. I enjoyed your story in the anthology and know others will also. Doris

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    1. Doris! Hi! Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my post, and my short story. Best to you as well!

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  9. Wonderful post you wrote about finding your ideas and the characters that mold those stories. We all have those pieces of our brains that look for and expand on what we see and hear. Best to you. I enjoyed your story in the anthology and know others will also. Doris

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  10. Hi Shayna, It's always a pleasure hearing more about a fellow Rose and author. That cross story was amazing. I love when the universe decides to lend a hand with our stories.

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    1. Hi Kirsten, isn't it amazing how the universe, as immense as it is, sometimes feel so intimate and small in regards to our chosen path in life? The Cross experience is something I shall never forget. I'll never second-guess the wisdom of my characters again!

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  11. Yep, the cross story gave me shivers, too. Just so perfect.

    I grew up mostly alone as well, and spent a lot of time telling stories to the cows. Sometimes they even listened. The neighbor and I did a lot of derring do on our horses trying to emulate Hollywood stunts, and all the bruises gave me some inside knowledge and has spurred several ideas.

    Welcome to the PRP blog, Shayna! I certainly enjoyed your story in CCCv1.

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    1. Thank you, Jacquie! You told stories to cows, I told them to chickens...it's amazing how animals listen to you when they don't have a choice, lol. You know, I carry my share of scars from horses, too...but I prefer to call them "tattoos with better stories"... ;-)

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  12. Shayna, I got shivers too. But at same time the intrigue of the whole thing sent my mind scurrying. WOW! Love that kind of deja vu. Can't wait to read about that cross. I so enjoy reading how other authors come up with ideas and if they reflect on their pasts and why. Fuel for writing for sure.Your blog was a treat to read. I can just picture you back then. Aren't memories of our childhood and past great? I too had a vivid imagination and would tell my dog my thoughts and stories. Of course I had several playmates and I yacked to them too. Loved The Legend of Ventura Canyon and look forward to reading more of your adventures. So nice meeting you. You did a great job with this blog.

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  13. Hello, Beverly! Wonderful to meet you! So many stories and experiences have stemmed from this one WIP novel, more than one deja vu experience...I take that as a very good sign! Makes for a grand story, doesn't it? Thank you so much for your wonderful comments, I love to share personal stories with other authors, as you said, and learn how everyone else come up with their own stories. I have fallen in love with the story of Venture Canyon so much, I'm not through with it, but am writing a full-blown sequel to the short story. Thank you again, so glad you enjoyed reading my work!

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