Kate Flora: It was one of those days–the days when a blog post is due and my brain felt empty. I started a post. Trashed it. Started another and it was boring. I got up and prowled around my office, which is a tiny space crammed from floor to ceiling with books and filing carts, looking for inspiration. Instead, I found a notebook with my mother’s correspondence from fifty years ago, trying to sort out her family’s history. Nope, not inspired by that, but it was fascinating to see the process, long before there were genealogy programs for computers. Queries. Answers in the distinctive handwriting of dozens of people all over the country, answers in the distinctive voices of those letter writers. It reminded me that we’ve lost something in the transition from written communication to email.
In another file, labeled “Fan Mail,” I find cards and letters from my early writing years, sending praise and compliments on my books.
I left that behind and opened another filing drawer. It in were the manuscripts of the first mysteries I wrote, those books that live forever in a drawer. Two law student mysteries. A book about a disgruntled teacher who moved to Sanibel Island and became a dog groomer. The three Ross McIntyre mysteries. Along with those books were files of research done to create those books, and correspondence and hand-written notes from long-ago writing groups or beta readers.
I pulled out a file called “Ideas.” An weird, decades long collection of little things I’ve collected that might be used in a book someday, or inspire a book some day. This file doesn’t have have the two clippings that have lived on my refrigerator for years. One was a newspaper article about plague rats escaping from a lab. The second a pulmonary physician who died at home of an asthma attack. Definitely story ideas here. Along with those, I have those little pieces of paper we all keep. One of mine says: Poison in an airplane meal when a person always orders a special meal. Another is a snipped of character: “He saw himself as being like a man on a Unicycle balancing two others on his shoulders. He had to pedal frantically to keep from falling over. If he fell, they fell, too.”
Another tiny piece of paper records something a neighbor saw and called me about. She’d just been to the Fruitlands Museum and saw twelve motorcycles in the parking lot. In the noisy tea room, there were twelve leather-clad middle-aged women from a motorcycle club called “Moving Violations.”
I don’t know what I will do with all these discoveries, nor with a file on articles about writing from the late Globe columnist Donald Murray, who sent me my very first fan letter. I do know that I now have a lot to think about. Rewrite an early book? Read that fan mail and see what inspired people to write? Take some advice from Don Murray? Learn more about the history of my mother’s side of the family? I have learned this from prowling around my office and I pass it along to you: don’t throw those little pieces of paper away. Use the newspaper for story ideas. Listen to conversations around you and pay attention to the people you see. You may think you have nothing to write about but there may be the seeds of a novel lurking there.
I can’t stop thinking about the Chocolate Body Paint. Is this a new hobby for your erstwhile sabbatical? Or research for plotting a pleasurable poison delivery? I love the line, “If you’re worried about calories, you’re missing the point.”