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Monday, February 3, 2020

Once Upon an Epiphany

Once Upon An Epiphany  - Elizabeth Clements

Writers are often inspired by what’s around them, be it scenery, a person, an event, a song, or even a movie. That would definitely describe my writing inspirations, be it for fiction or poetry.
For some reason last night I wanted to watch something different from my usual fare of westerns or crime/action movies. I wanted to get lost in another world, and there’s none better (for me) than the magic of Kate and Leopold, a delightful, romantic time travel that bespoke of a slower, gentler time:1876 New York vs New York 2001.
Time travels are so much fun, especially when the past leaps into the future and the time traveler is gobsmacked (I just love that word) by all sorts of modern technology. Leopold is catapulted into an unfamiliar world of televisions, telephones, and microwave ovens. Going from the present to the past can just as easily create all kinds of perils when the traveler brings unfamiliar things  along, such as antibiotics whose miraculous healing powers can brand the person as a witch or warlock. In those suspicious medieval times, people often reasoned with fear rather than logic and miracles were due to hocus pocus and witchcraft. I would love to see some of Sandra Hill’s Viking time travels made into movies. Her books are a hoot to read. I have one anecdote that involves reading her book, Frankly, My Dear while snuggling up with my cat—but that’s a story for another time.
Kate and Leopold has a special place in my heart and his name is Hugh Jackman. Hugh…er, Leopold, darn, I mean Josh—is tall, dark and handsome, carries himself with elegance and grace, and has a delightful accent (you can take the man out of Australia but you can’t take Australia out of the man)…but I digress.
You see, back about sixteen or so years ago I was finishing writing  Beneath A Desperado Moon, the third book of my western trilogy set in 1899 western Canada. I loved my Josh, but I couldn’t really “see” him. He was just a handsome, elegant figment of my imagination—until I had an epiphany half-way through that  delightful time-travel movie called Kate and Leopold.  
At the time, my Josh was kinda like a paint-by-number outline waiting for the right colors to truly bring him to life. I knew Josh’s history, that he’s the second son of a long line of wealthy English dukes. He had no desire to become a cleric nor join a regiment, so in 1889 he opted to board a ship bound for Canada and became a “remittance man” like so many of the noblemen who had fled to the colonies. Yet Josh wasn’t content to sit idly and indulge in the indolent entertainment of most of the ex-pats while he waited for his monthly “remittance” from his family back in England. He loved his new-found freedom from pomp and ceremony and over the next ten years eagerly explored all that the Canadian and American West had to offer. His excellent horsemanship won him the notice of a retired U.S. marshal in Montana who invited him to be a guest on his ranch. Through that friendship he also became friends with two U.S. marshals: Chase Reynolds and Mike Sutton.
When I wrote Chase’s story, Beneath A Horse Thief Moon was a stand-alone until his friends arrived. Mike immediately charmed me with his humor, while Josh was a bit of an enigma—an elegant,  handsome, reserved man who didn’t say much but his green eyes missed nothing.
Mike secretly yearned to have a life like Chase, so he whispered in my ear to find him a love like that. Not to be outdone, Josh brushed my hair back and murmured the same request in my other ear. What was a poor girl to do when the English rogue entreated with such potent charm? No wonder Molly didn’t stand a chance.
Months later I happened upon the movie, Kate and Leopold and at some point I realized Leopold was the crayons to color my Josh—fastidious, perfect posture, perfect manners, elegance with knife and fork and ever the gentleman despite the circumstances that currently directed his life. At last I really “saw” Josh. Western life had softened the sharp edges of proper English society but he never strayed from the path of human decency and kindness. Isn’t it wonderful when a writer has such an epiphany!
That happened to me one other time in the mid-80s. I was writing my third contemporary romance in which my heroine, Samantha, was a singer and the hero was a pianist…until I had an amazing epiphany while watching The Johnny Carson Show. I wasn’t paying close attention when Johnny introduced a singer who was making his first appearance on national television. I think in those first few moments of hearing him sing, it brought home the realization that a song sung beautifully in a foreign language needs no interpreter to make one appreciate and understand what a God-given talent is saying. I had chills. I remember my hubby looking confused when I excitedly exclaimed, “That’s him. That’s my __ (whatever name I’d given to my hero at the time and who I ruthlessly kicked to the curb). I remember silently willing Mr. Carson to repeat the singer’s name, to no avail. And there was no repeat button let alone a tv remote control back in the 80s. That remote was two feet pushing one out of the chair to manually change the volume or channel.
Then, just like with Leopold, I “saw” my fictional hero as I watched that singer steal into my heart. Two weeks later, he unexpectedly reappeared on Johnny’s show. Luckily, we tuned in nightly to watch. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person blown away by the Spanish crooner. Johnny said the switchboard lit up after the show with hundreds of callers who wanted to know more about this amazing Spanish singer and to bring him back. It was a first, back in the day, for an “unknown” to be asked for a repeat engagement and in two weeks. And finally, I knew his name as I watched mesmerized… again. Have you guessed his name by now? Julio Iglesias.
Needless to say, my original hero was gone, so gone that to this day I don’t even remember his name. Julius had taken over. Well, the funny thing about choosing that name was that half the time when I was talking to someone about my book, I was saying Julio instead of Julius. The names were just too similar. So, tired of correcting myself, I changed Julius to Raphael, a name I’ve always loved. The other funny thing about this anecdote is that I created a history for Raphael. Pure imagination, but here’s the kicker. A few years later I found a small little soft-cover biography of Julio and was blown away by how closely my imagination had created a similar background for Raphael without me knowing a single thing about Julio’s life. Talk about having a cosmic connection. That third book is finished, but is collecting dust somewhere in a closet or box in the basement. I called it Out Of Control and perhaps one day I’ll find it, update it and get it published. Stranger things could happen, eh?
Speaking of that book, it actually became a pivotal point in my writing as it brought about another epiphany, but this time it wasn’t me who had the aha moment. Shortly after my first book was rejected by Harlequin in 1983, Alberta Culture offered a week-long writers retreat. The romance workshop category was conducted by Judith Duncan who wrote Superromances for Harlequin.  She saw something in my writing that gave me hope. Months later, after I’d sent her several chapters of my latest story, we were discussing Samantha and Raphael over the phone when she suddenly let out a gasp and went silent. Even after all these years I still remember the amazement in her voice from her epiphany as she described two scenarios. “Imagine Samantha in a long green gown with jewels in her hair, singing on a concert stage…or imagine Samantha in a white pant suit flagging down a taxi in New York…which heroine would you choose to write about?” There was no hesitation on my part: the historical heroine. In her infinite wisdom, she had suddenly realized my writing style was more suited for historical romance.
However, that story was so entrenched in my mind as a contemporary that I knew I couldn’t turn it into an historical. So, when I returned from a great vacation in New Brunswick in 1987, I’d come up with a new story, I phoned Judith and told her about it and she said “I hope it’s an historical.” It wasn’t, but I quickly realized my Rachel could just as easily be traveling East on the train in the 1880s instead of driving a white convertible in the 1990s, and it became my first historical…also collecting dust somewhere.
By the way, since the mid-80s, Julio became my favorite singer and remains #1 to this day. I think he’s #1 with a lot of other fans, too. Besides his incredible voice, I have always loved his humility. And his son, Enrique, ain’t bad, either <grin>.
So, there you have a little glimpse into my heart and mind and what makes me tick as a writer. After my initial rejection in 1983, fear of failure, as in having my manuscript rejected, kept me from submitting to an editor for a dozen years, despite Judith’s encouragement. In 2004 Beneath A Horse Thief Moon won the Readers Choice Award at a romance writers conference in Calgary. The editor I met there blew me away by asking  for both books (I had hoped she’d ask for three chapters). Months passed; my hopes soared. And crashed when I received “the” letter in 2005. It was a wonderful rejection letter. At the same time, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and my writing went on the back burner again and stayed there long after my mother’s passing. 
Then in 2017 a dear on-line friend I’d never met urged me to submit to Prairie Rose Publications and I promised I would. My conscience wouldn’t let me procrastinate because I believe in keeping promises. So eternal thanks to Judith Duncan for her encouragement, Jacquie Rogers for her “prodding” and to my editor, Cheryl Moss Pierson for publishing my stories. And to writers reading this blog if you haven't become cross-eyed or gone to sleep over this long post—never give up on your dreams.
Josh’s story, Beneath A Desperado Moon, will be published some time this year. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt when we first meet him in Beneath A Horse Thief Moon.

“Ma’am, is this man bothering you?” a deep male voice drawled.
Sara jumped.
Chase reached for his Colts.
“Forgotten us already, have you, Chase?”
Thank God!  Chase whooped and leaped off the porch. “What's to remember, Josh?”
Managing his startled horse, Joshua Hunter laughed, his teeth white against his black mustache. He was dressed in solid black from his Stetson to his dusty boots. Behind him on a black stallion, grinning broadly, was a golden bear of a man in a brightly striped Mexican poncho.
“A fox in a hen house makes more noise than you two. About time you got here.”
Sara never moved, just stared. “You know these men?”
“Sure do. Friends of mine from Montana.”
“What are they doing here?”
“I asked them to come.”
“Because you need protection, Sara.”
“I can't afford to pay two men.”
“I can.”
“The last time I checked this was still my ranch.”
“Only as long as you can hang onto it!”
“Woman trouble?” Josh said, his voice smooth as cream. “Need some help?”
“Nothing I can't handle.” Chase shot Josh a warning look. “Keep your paws to yourself, Josh. That goes for Mutt back there, too.”
Laughing, Josh held up his hands. “Whatever you say, Chase. You are the boss.” He made no effort to hide the amusement in his green eyes or from his voice.
“I don't want anything to do with any of you!” Sara snapped.
“Sara doesn't mean to be rude. She's just been through a rough time fending off outlaws and cattle rustlers.”
“Does that include fendin’ you off, too?” the bear of a man said, barely controlling his mirth.
“That is all right, ma’am,” Josh cut in. “No offense taken.” Dismounting, he removed his Stetson, revealing rumpled black hair, and stuck out his free hand. He smiled when Sara hesitantly shook it. “I am Joshua Hunter. My friends call me Josh. And this big galoot behind me is Michael J. Sutton. Everyone calls him Mike…amongst other things.”
Mike whipped off his brown hat, revealing a long rope of wavy golden hair tied back in a tail. He leaned down from his horse and swallowed up Sara's small hand in his big one and in a voice that rumbled like distant thunder, said, “I'm Mike, Miz Sara. And you can call me anythin' you want just as long as you call me for supper.” His huge grin could swallow Texas.
Sara laughed, surprised that she liked Mike instantly and was not intimidated by his size.”
“Can you forget about your gut for once?” Josh teased.
Mike grinned. “I try, but it keeps growlin' at me.” The blond giant dismounted and stood a head taller than his friends.
Sara looked up, a long way up. “Oh, my, your Mama must have fed you real good.”
“Yup, she surely did, and twice on Sundays.”
Everyone laughed.


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  2. As both a Hugh Jackman fan, and an American who married her own Brit, I'll be on the lookout for Josh's story!

    1. I love Hugh's movies, but Kate and Leopold ranks as my favorite and such a contrast from his character in Wolverine and X-Man. Australia and Les Miserables are fantastic as well and I've watched them more than once. I'm happy you have your very own Brit. As for Josh's story, well, let's just say there's a hot time in the old corral tonight. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. 'Kate and Leopold' is a fun and romantic diversion. It has such a clever time-slip plot. My family quotes this line frequently: "You shake and shake the ketchup bottle, none will come and then a lot'll." ;-)

    1. I've lost track of how many times I've watched this movie. So many fun moments in it and some tender ones, too. I love that scene with the ketchup bottle. The movie had me smiling often and not just because of the handsome duke. Thanks for popping by.

  4. What a lovely post, and thank you for sharing your process. I too 'see' my heroes as their own people, and doing so helps me to write them. When they are nebulous I just can't get anywhere. My favourite time travel movie has to be 'Somewhere in Time'. It's just so beautiful and the casting is perfect.

  5. You so understand, Christine. I can write a scene even though my hero appears blurred, like looking through antique wavy glass, but it becomes real once I really "see" him. To enlarge on that: many years ago, I gazed at the cover of an author I'd never read before--Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire. I debated quite a while buying it, read the back blurb, put the book back, picked it up again and read a few pages, laughed out loud in the bookstore and bought it. All her books remain on my keeper shelf to this day. What drew me initially was the amazing cover, a step-back two-fold cover....a four-poster bed with netting that showed a man and woman in bed...and then I turned back the cover and the netting was gone. WOW!

  6. I love Time Travel stories whether it's reading them, watching them in the movies, or writing them. I have watched KATE and LEOPOLD so often I can quote the dialogue.
    Even though I plot out my stories, I get those epiphanies, too, and often in the middle of writing the story...and suddenly everything clicks and falls in place. I love when that happens.
    Inspiration comes when it comes and, often times, we have to muddle through without it and just give the inspiration a chance to come to us.
    I'm glad you were persuaded to join prairie Rose Publications, Elizabeth because I would have missed knowing you.

  7. I love the special imagination that goes into time travel stories and I especially love the wonderful opportunities to have fun with a time-traveling character as he/she stumbles through a mine-field of unfamiliar or dangerous territory. Lately a time travel short story I wrote years ago has been haunting me to dig it out from its hiding place and perhaps turn it into a novella. I'm glad to be here at PRP, Sarah, because I've made wonderful friends here, like you, that I would not have met otherwise. Thank you for your friendship and support, Sarah.

  8. We never know where inspiration comes from, but being open and habing fun with it sure does help. I loved the story of how your characters came to be. Doris