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As an author, I think the question I am most often asked is, “Where do I get my inspiration?” To which I often reply, “Everywhere.” The next question I am often asked is, “What comes first, the character, the setting, the plot?” to which I reply, “Yes.”
Frustrating answers, no doubt, but completely true. The inspiration for my stories can come from a variety of places, people, and experiences, even other stories I read or movies I see. The key is to be open to any and all avenues of inspiration.
I find travel to be my biggest inspiration. A trip to Oxford, England to take a Jane Austen course at Christ Church College inspired my first novel, The Promise of Change. A recent trip to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys with my husband inspired the idea for a future novel set in the wine country, while my high school reunion last year gave birth to the idea for a novel about a prodigal granddaughter.
Music, too, is a powerful source of inspiration. I often listen to music while I write. I love how it evokes emotions that color my stories. Recently, one of Sting’s songs — one I’ve heard thousands of times — struck a chord in me (okay . . . pun intended). For some reason that day I really listened to the words and the backstory for the song began to take shape.
As for who or what comes first, again, it can be all of the above. Sometimes the character comes first. I start with, “What if?” For instance, in my work-in-progress, Dreams of Perfection, I wondered what if a romance author falls in love with her own hunky, but fictional heroes to the detriment of her love life. She can’t find Mr. Right because she’s always looking for Mr. Perfect instead. What lessons must she learn to find her own real-life happily-ever-after and what would those lessons look like?
Other times, it’s a specific scene that plants the seed. My latest novel, Rescuing Lacey, was born from a real-life incident that happened several years ago on a trip to Costa Rica with my husband.
We were on a hiking trip in Corcovado National Park, a densely forested park that encompasses some 263 square miles at the tip of the Osa Peninsula, when a storm hemmed us in. The pilot who had dropped us off at the ranger station couldn’t make the return trip to pick us up. After a harrowing hour of thinking an unplanned bivouac in the forest without tents or sleeping bags was our only option, the pilot radioed that he’d make an attempt at a quick landing. We had to be ready to run for the plane.
The pilot landed in a blinding rain, lightning streaked sky, wind bending the trees first in one direction and then the other. We boarded the plane, careful to avoid the still-revolving props, relieved to make our escape, but fearful of the treacherous flight ahead.
About ten minutes into the flight, the pilot radioed the closest airport, only to learn it was closed as a result of the weather. The next closest airport, across the Golfo Dulce, was also closed. We found ourselves airborne with nowhere to land.
Below you can read the excerpt from Rescuing Lacey inspired by this real-life adventure. This was the first scene I wrote for the novel, and like ripples in a pond, it grew in both directions from there.
After I drafted the scene, I thought about my heroine. Who was she? What life-events shaped her? Why would she be in that situation? What experiences had led her to that point? And where would she go from there?
The trick to inspiration is keeping your mind open (and a notebook handy). You just never know what will trigger your imagination and lead to the next great romance novel.
A Note from the Book Boost: Sounds like you've had a lot of great adventures in your life. I loved hearing about them and I'm sure your readers will love to read wherever your imagination takes them. Nicely done. Please tell us more about your latest.
When tough battle-scarred photojournalist-turned-wildlife-photographer Lacey Sommers travels to Costa Rica in a last-ditch effort to save her job, she meets beach-bum-gorgeous Luke Hancock, an outdoor guide, environmentalist and expert on economics and sustainability, who’s been hired by her magazine to serve as her pilot and wilderness guide for the duration of her stay.
It’s clear from the outset there is a powerful physical attraction between the two, but strong personalities, pre-conceived notions, an unexpected and contentious family connection, and the scars from a tragic death and a terrifying event threaten to keep them apart.
Will Lacey shed the mantle of Kevlar she’s worn for so long and allow Luke inside her heart? Or will her ostensible strength be her downfall?
Lacey knelt down, adjusting her telephoto lens to achieve the sharpest image. They’d finally stumbled across a red-eyed tree frog, one of the must-haves on her list of shots. Satisfied with the composition, she pressed the shutter.
Before she could snap another photo, she shot to her feet, like toast from a toaster, camera dangling from the strap around her neck, hands fisted at her sides.
“What?” Luke asked.
“Get him off me,” she ground out, her teeth gritted in revulsion. She pointed toward her leg and watched as Luke glanced down in time to see the frog climb up her inner thigh and duck beneath her shorts.
Lacey sucked in a breath. The cold, wet suction-cup feet clung to her. She couldn’t even breathe, afraid any movement would prompt the slimy thing to crawl further up under her shorts. If it got to her crotch, she would die on the spot.
Luke didn’t think it was possible, but Lacey’s eyes grew wider as the frog apparently made his way farther north. Enjoying her dilemma, he explained, “You know, because water and air flows so easily in to and out of amphibian skin, amphibians are much more vulnerable to possible pollutants on our hands—”
“Just. Get. Him. Off. Me. I didn’t invite his invasion of my person. He should have thought about that before he assaulted me,” she hissed through gritted teeth.
Luke couldn’t hold back the chuckle that escaped, or suppress his wicked thoughts as he knelt down and peered up her shorts to see where the frog was hiding. The sight of her muscular thigh and pink panties nearly made him forget his mission. He slowly slid his hand beneath her shorts and up her inner thigh.
“How do you know it’s a he?” he asked, taking pity on her and hoping to distract her from her obviously uncomfortable predicament.
“Like that even deserves a response,” came her sarcastic reply. His soft laugh only inflamed her ire.
“Don’t you think it’s rather ironic that you’re afraid of the very thing you’ve been sent here to photograph?”
“I’m not—” Her angry denial was cut off when his warm, rough-hewn hand closed over the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, cupping over the frog and making her flinch at the heat rocketing up her spine.
“Hold still,” he instructed, “otherwise I can’t promise he won’t head for . . . warmer regions.”
She shivered in response to his touch. She had a frog on her thigh, and astonishingly she now had sex on the brain. Luke’s hand rested on her thigh longer than she thought necessary. “You’re enjoying this way too much,” she said through tight lips.
Damn right I am, Luke admitted to himself. Her thigh was as hot and smooth as sun-warmed silk. His fingers itched to glide further up her leg, to hear her gasp in pleasure, rather than in disgust. Between the monkey and the frog, Costa Rica’s fauna was making better time with her than he was. “No, I’m simply trying not to startle him.”
“Then lose the shit-eating grin.”
He struggled to assume a disinterested face, while she eyed him furiously.
His hand gently closed over the offending amphibian, grazing the apex of her thighs with his fingertips, triggering yet another wave of heat up her spine. He slowly inched his hand out from under her shorts, extending the exquisite torture. She didn’t know which caused the stronger adrenalin rush: her revulsion of the wet frog, or her arousal from Luke’s warm hand.
As soon as his hand cleared her shorts, she began pacing and cursing.
Good thing the forest was devoid of tourists, Luke thought, otherwise their ears would have been scorched. Her vocabulary could make a hardened criminal blush. Luke released the frog, watching it hop away without a backward glance.
“Good riddance,” Lacey muttered.
“Hey, frog’s no fool. Saw a warm, inviting spot and went for it.”
“Spoken just like a man.”
Ignoring that comment, he asked, “Want any more photos?”
“No, I don’t. I’m done with that”—she shivered—“frog.” Picking up her pack and turning away, she continued to walk in the direction they were previously headed.
He hefted up his bag and followed after her, wiping his hands on his shorts. “Let me get this straight, you’ve covered two wars, but you’re scared of a little frog?” He shook his head at the vagaries of women.
“I wasn’t scared. It just—it startled me.” She refused to admit to him she was ranidaphobic. “How would you like it if something wet unexpectedly landed on your thigh? Wait! Don’t answer that!”
His only response was a low rumbling laugh that carried deep into the rain forest.
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