Most everyone I’ve talked to the past month agrees on one thing: This is the strangest spring in recent memory.
Austin’s average rain total for May is 4.37 inches. We aren’t done with the month and have already received over 9 inches. That’s an especially big change from several recent years, where May saw less than 2 inches. Area ponds, cattle tanks, and reservoirs are filled, some overflowing, although Lakes Travis and Buchanan have seen little benefit because the rains are forming too far southeast of their watershed. Plus, to quote an article at NPR.org – it’s going to take an insane amount of water to refill the lakes.
Although the rain may not be making much impact in lake levels, it is wreaking havoc on some people while acting as a blessed reprieve for others. I worry about the outdoor workers who don’t get paid when they don’t work. And I hope businesses like nurseries, food trucks, and amusement parks that depend on dry days are hanging on.
But as a writer? I love these days! I can curl up with my laptop, surrounded by pets, and write all day without feeling guilty of neglecting mowing or weeding. I can easily justify postponing errands because the driveway is a river. I can step into the world I’m creating and live there for a while, really getting to know my characters and fine-tuning the plot so it comes alive. (Okay I admit in the photo I’d taken a break while eating a sandwich to play a hidden object computer game for a few minutes.)
Rainy days are great for remembering things that recently inspired me or tickled my fancy. Writers find inspiration everywhere from a dream to a bad experience in a store to an article in the paper. Every writer I know is keenly aware of the daily minutia most people don’t even notice. Our minds are a filing cabinet of seemingly useless trivia: That man’s shoes are scuffed. The dog that woman is walking is scruffy and needs a bath. Those kids are awfully curious about that empty box. Why didn’t I get any mail today? Who bought that hideous bowl that was in the antique shop’s window? And why? And on. And on. Aaaand onnnn…
Sometimes my sponge-like brain can drive me to distraction because it just doesn’t turn off, but I’m also thankful that it perceives so much. On rainy days I can squeeze the sponge out and look through what I’d stored away. Although much deserves tossing, some are gems. This free-flow is how I come up with some of my best story ideas. Or several! I rarely make notes as I remember. I usually just let my memory and imagination have at it. At these times I want to remain as right-brained as possible, and writing shifts focus to the left brain. What pops back into my head during these mental wanderings can even surprise me. Things I’d noticed but forgotten. Things I hadn’t noticed I noticed.
My first novel, The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, was inspired by a newspaper article about a family donating a Brown Bess musket to the Alamo. It was remembering the article’s mention of a rare bend in the musket’s triangle-shaped bayonet that sparked the story. There were thousands of Brown Bess muskets used in the battle of the Alamo, but this one could be identified decades later because of that bent bayonet. And off I went with a story of murder, theft, a kidnapped twin, and one frustrated but determined PI.
My current novel effort is Virgilante. I quoted my “elevator pitch” in my last blog. This time I thought I’d like to talk about what inspired the story. We all have moments in life when we wish someone who has done us wrong would “get what they deserve.” That’s why Dexter was so popular (rated 8.9 on IMDB), in spite of its gruesome depiction of Dexter’s brand of justice. People hate being used, lied to, abused, taken advantage of, etc. The incident becomes a distant memory to the abuser, if they remember it at all, while we, the victim, dwell on it for months… or years.
I had recently experienced such an incident. It hurt. It made me angry. I wanted justice. But I also knew it would never come. So I fretted and fussed over it. And one night I dreamed of a man who took these injustices into his own hands. Not ones committed upon himself, but toward others. I got up at 3 am to write down the rough draft. I envisioned a character people could almost imagine being. Most people don’t imagine being Dexter. They don’t want to torture and dismember their victims. They just want a bit of karma thrown in the right direction. That’s Virgil. He’s Dexter-light. He doesn’t kill. But he does deliver, through very creative means, the karmic debt his targets have earned. He sees the world as all the better for his actions. Others begin to take notice and aren’t so inclined in their view.
Not only am I excited about the story that, thanks to the rain, is now over 20,000 words, it’s also cathartic. I’m releasing my own frustration and anger by letting Virgil be the bringer-of-justice. Every writer I’ve ever talked to finds the same release. They kill off the teacher who was cruel in third grade, or the bully who tormented their child all through Middle School. Not by name, of course. Usually there are clues for those in the know – hair color, mannerisms, speaking style, etc. But for most readers the rabble of characters in a book are just that, characters.
So when you read Virgilante (and I surely hope you do), perhaps a handful of you will recognize some of the characters. Most won’t. And that’s fine either way. I’m just delighted to be writing another story that was inspired by real life. To me they make the most page-turner stories for the reader. They’re the stories readers can crawl into with you and your characters. They’re why I write.