This is possibly the most frequent question I get when people learn I’m a writer. The answer is often ethereal and elusive. Things just pop into my head. Most of the time, however, I can point to exactly what triggered the series of fortunate events that germinate, sprout, and flower into a novel.
Scent is important to me. I have a sensitive nose and love fragrance. Good, natural fragrances, not manufactured chemical perfumes. One day, I picked up a book on the history of perfume and—voila!—the idea for Family Guardian was born. That story became my first Avalon sale, my first sale, and won the National Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Regency, much to my shock.
Wanting to target a book at a specific line, I did a little research and read about missing federal gold around the time of the Civil War. What would happen if a lot of people went looking for it? What if one of them found it? I sold that story to Barbour Publishing. Learning that New Jersey had a glassmaking industry in the eighteenth century led me to The Glassblower, my next release and first in a three-book series.
One of my favorite inspirations is part of a nursery rhyme, something we used to say while counting buttons on our clothes to find out what kind of man we would marry: ‘Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief’. I changed the ‘chief’ to ‘chef’, made the professionals all women, dropped them into the 1890s, when women were becoming sort of accepted as professionals, and voila! My next Avalon series.
My latest sale, to Baker/Revell, is a little harder to trace. It just bloomed like a wildflower in the garden of well-tended blossoms, an amalgam of many bits and pieces of my knowledge on midwives in history, the War of 1812, my love of early U.S. history, as well as early 1800s British history and how closely the two were tied by loyalty and dislike and those who would like to start or stop a war according to their own purposes.
Sometimes, ideas just come from plain, hard work. My agent asked me for a proposal on a certain type of book and specific era. I dug into my research materials and began to simply read. I read three books in a week and the proposal was there, coming into focus like a Polaroid photograph developing before one’s eyes.
So if you ask an author where her ideas come from, don’t be surprised if she gets a vague look on her face, or gives you an answer that has you getting glassy-eyed.