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Inspiration for a novel

Last week’s blog identified three forces in Mexico that inspired me to more and hopefully better production in my writing. But motivation is not the same thing as inspiration. Today, I want to address inspiration.

Writers are routinely asked where they get their ideas. I have long suspected that those most inclined to ask are the people for whom the idea of writing a novel is a foreign (and as magical) as pixy dust on faireys’ wings. I am equally in awe of anyone who can paint a portrait, or play Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor, or dance in time with music (left foot . . . right foot . . . so confusing). Most writers have a offbeat (some would say warped) view of common situations, and are forever asking, “what if . . . ?” What if, instead of gazing starry-eyed at him as he hands her the engagement ring, she slaps him sideways. What if the genius technoid, working night and day in his garage, comes up with nothing, which drives him to end it all by jumping from the garage roof. What if the politician was honest and hard working (okay, there are limits, even in fiction).

But the essential ingredient--and by essential I mean forget the whole thing if you don’t have it--to writing a novel, IMHO, is inspiration. My inspiration for A Southern Girl was our adopted daughter, MaryBeth, or MB as she is usually called. I talked about it in a video linked here

As I made clear in the video, the story in the novel is not her story. Her true story is certainly interesting, and if one day that story is told it will be told by her, not me. Does it matter? It did to me, because I was not inspired to write a memoir, or a history, or a guide to international adoption, or a treatise on the U.S.-Korea relationship. I was inspired to write a novel, and a novel is all about the possibilities.

How does that work, this getting to the truth by telling lies, this feeling when you finish a great novel and say, “That is the truest thing I’ve ever read,” at the same moment knowing none of it was true? I simply have no answer. It is a magic of sorts, like that pixy dust on faireys’ wings. But not knowing how it works does not in the least impugn its validity. Faith is belief in the absence of proof. I have faith in the power of novels.

But John, you may ask, surely you have some working theory or theories as to how infernal lies morph into eternal truths. Yes, I do, and that is the subject of my next blog.

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