Finding Inspiration

Snoopy's Night Idea
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A question writers (and other types of artists) often get is “Where do you find your inspiration?” I honestly get mine from everywhere. My family. My friends. My coworkers. My surroundings. My travels. My experiences. My fears. My doubts. My successes. You get the picture?

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As far as inspiration goes, everything you consume is material. Movies you watch, novels you read, music you hear, conversations you overhear, the human emotions and actions you witness. You can create a story for the situations you encounter.

Why is the man screaming at the store clerk? Well, maybe his father just died, and he’s having trouble dealing with it. Why is the woman crying at the bus stop? Well, maybe she just spent the last of her money on medication and doesn’t have enough money left to pay rent. There are endless possibilities with stories because no two authors will tell stories in the same way.

Good writing practice is to find a headline in a newspaper (printed or online) and retell the story with great details about what happened before or after the story. There are also some books with writing prompts that are helpful to get into the habit of writing every day if you need that kind of discipline. *I am not a writer to writes every day. I only write when I am inspired or have a strict deadline (in the case of writing for my day job at a university). I find that forcing myself to write when I am not inspired causes a headache and a lot of junk that I end up cutting out during the editing process.

Another good way to practice writing is to find a song that you love and write a story or poem to go along with it. How does the song make you feel? Who or what is the song about?

I think about things I’ve read and wonder how the stories could be different. I think about situations my friends have experienced and how their stories could be told in different ways. Many of my stories feature characters who have certain traits I’ve taken from friends, family, or myself. It makes my characters feel real to me, and hopefully to my readers. This is especially true with showing the characters’ flaws. In fiction, flaws make the characters feel real to me. It’s the flaws and human emotion conveyed that make me what to jump into the pages (or through the e-reader screen) to hug the character.

There is inspiration all around you if you look for it or let it find you. I keep a notebook beside my bed in case I get an idea in the middle of the night. So many of my ideas just come to me in my dreams, or while considering the “what ifs” of life as I’m trying to fall asleep after I’ve exhausted myself reading or playing word games on my phone.

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Rest in Peace, Queen of Suspense

Mary Higgins Clark
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Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark
-from her author homepage

One of my favorite authors died on Friday, January 31, 2020. “Queen of Suspense” author, Mary Higgins Clark, lived to the remarkable age of 92. 

I discovered Clark’s books as a young teenager. My mom, aunt, and I would often frequent the Goodwill store in Benton, Arkansas. We all enjoyed the search for a good bargain and liked supporting a program that offers job training and other skills for people trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Plus, the savings on products helped our own family and is a great way to teach kids about recycling.

I am still a frequent Goodwill and thrift store shopper today. My favorite things to buy at these places are books. I buy plenty of new books, but finding a used treasure is always a blessing. I donate books frequently as well if it isn’t something I want to add to my permanent collection of books, which is around 675 volumes (an no, that is not a typo). I love to read more than any other hobby.

Around the same time, I discovered another late female author, V.C. Andrews*, thanks to the 50-cent paperbacks at the Goodwill, I also stumbled across an older book with an intriguing cover. It was Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark. I hadn’t heard of this author before, but after picking up the book and reading the blurb, I knew it was a story I wanted to read. Further inspection of the shelves, which were in no particular order, revealed two other books by the author, The Cradle Will Fall and A Cry in the Night. So, for $1.50 (Thanks, Mom!), my journey of loving Mary Higgins Clark novels began.

Now, I have almost all of her novels in my collection. I love her storytelling ability. That’s not to say that I loved every single one of her stories. Some were just okay, but for the most part, I rated them as 4-star or above. The three pictured above were all 5-stars from me. Her early work at its best.

What intrigued me most about Clark was that she didn’t have commercial success until she was in her 40s. That gives hope to authors like me — authors who haven’t reached a considerable level of success, according to some people. While I may never reach Clark’s level of success, she was one of my favorite authors, and I am sad that there will be no new material from her intricate mind. The legacy she left behind will remain intact, though.

Another thing I admired about Clark was her class. She always spoke highly of her readers and her family. She carried herself with a level of class that is too often ignored in today’s world. My heartfelt prayers go out to her family and friends. While she lived a long life, I know her loss will leave a hole in their lives. Rest in peace, Mary. Thanks for all the stories.

-Brandi Easterling Collins

*Original novels actually written by Andrews, not the stories still being released under her name, which just aren’t the same.

For the love of travel (for work)

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One of the perks of my job at the university is the privilege to travel for professional development. During spring break (for the college students and my elementary school children), I attended the 2018 CASE Editors Forum in Seattle, Washington. Not only had I never attended this conference before, but I’d never been to Seattle.

Due to having to fly across two time zones (I live in Arkansas) and the start time of the conference on Wednesday, March 21, I had to travel the day before. It was interesting, to say the least. For the first time ever, I set off the metal detector at the Little Rock Airport. What parts of my body? My ankles and my right back pants pocket. Weird.

After a public frisking and bomb-residue test (firsts for me), I was on my way. It was also my first experience flying Southwest Airlines. It was odd not being assigned a seat but not unpleasant. The airline boards based on a boarding group number assigned at check-in. The earlier one checks in, the better the number. I was at the beginning, so I was able to choose a nice comfortable window seat near the back of the plane. I wasn’t in a hurry on the way over since I had a three-hour layover at Dallas-Love Field.

A delayed first flight cut into my layover time by 30 minutes, but it was no big deal. I had plenty of time to eat lunch and make a huge dent in the book I was reading on my Kindle app, Of Blood and Sorrow, by Christine Rains. A well-written vampire/demon urban fantasy story. By the time I boarded my second flight, which was much longer, I only had a couple of chapters left.

During the flight from to Dallas to Seattle, I read Broken Tomorrows, by KT Daxon, a book I’d been anticipating for a while. I actually won an autographed copy from the author through a contest on Twitter. I was thrilled to have it but didn’t want to risk losing the novel while traveling, so I bought the Kindle version to read during my trip. I read the entire thing while flying at 36,000 feet. The book was incredible. Check out my review on Goodreads. Luckily, I had brought along another book, The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson, which I started during the last leg of my flight and finished while flying home.

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