Monday, June 26, 2017
There were three of us - cousins, all within a year of one another in age. We grew up in a small town in Indiana. Back then, in that trusting age, our parents turned us loose to do whatever we wanted during the days of summer vacation. We rode our bikes to the park outside of town, played in the river, went to the library, ambled down alleys to gather thrown-away magazines to make scrapbooks and visited the dump to see if we could find a cache of love letters. One of our favorite pastimes was going to the cemetery. One of my cousins would pick out an interesting tombstone and ask me to tell a story about the person who lie under it.
And I always knew exactly who that person was. I never had to stop and think. Once I had the name in my head, the history flowed out behind it.
My cousins would listen enthralled by a world of magical little girls with dogs named Bestus and one-legged soldiers and a beautiful woman who died of a broken heart. To tell you the truth, I was somewhat enthralled by it myself.
My cousin, Shirley, asked me once - "where does it come from?"
"I don't know, it's just....it's just there."
My son always preferred me to tell him a story than to read from a book.
"Yours are better, Mom."
And it has always been there. I didn't begin writing until I was an adult and I didn't write fiction until I was in my 40's. Now I have 14 published novels and they all started with a name, just like those cemetery tales.
Once I had the name, I knew the person intimately - his or her looks and interests and history laid out before me. I never questioned why Luka was born and raised in Romania or ended up settling in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. That's just the way it was, just as Shea found his dream in New Mexico and Ethan fled to Equador. I didn't know anything about any of those places but they were destiny for my characters.
I'm sure some people don't have the creative bent to do this but I bet there are a lot who could and just don't realize it. I think it would be an excellent practice for budding writers to find a name, any name, and make up a story about the person behind it. If you are curious enough, they will tell you about themselves.
I also think it would be a good lesson for smaller kids. Creativity has to be nurtured and stroked. Make up a name and ask your child to tell you who they think it is. Some, of course, will walk away to go play video games but others, who have that spark, may discover that what inside their head is every bit as interesting as what happens on a computer screen.