Thursday, June 20, 2013

The birth of a story

There are so many writers I admire, writers with the ability to tell incredible stories I wish I'd written, stories that grab you from the first page. Here's the thing I'm most grateful for, though. Reading a book like that always heats up my own creative process. Like last fall, after reading one that wouldn't let me go, I was driving somewhere and happened to spot a clawfoot bathtub sitting in the middle of a field. No one around. Nothing in sight but that old tub and the mountains in the distance.

Why would someone put a tub there? I wondered.

Days later, I attended a wedding. The church was full, everyone fidgeting. Then, just as the ceremony was about to begin, a young woman slipped inside and took a seat across the aisle from me. She looked sick, tired and harried, her hair limp, her dress rumpled -- and she was carrying a baby. After taking her seat, the baby began to fuss with that distinctive tinny 'newborn wail' many people easily recognize.

I was fascinated. Who brings a newborn to a wedding?

The young woman was far less rattled than everyone else. With a stony expression on her face, she locked her eyes on the groom and his groomsmen and rocked her baby to settle it down. And for the most part it worked, the child quit wailing. Seemingly oblivious, the bride came up the center aisle, took the groom's arm, and they said their vows. It was only when the minister pronounced them 'man and wife' that the strange young woman seemed to have seen enough.

As quietly as she came, I watched her leave, face burrowed against her baby, breathing him in.

Who are you? Why did you come? I wondered.

Weeks later, after I'd had time to fully 'imagine' what her story might be, I began writing the first draft of the novel I'm currently working on called The Iron Angel, a story about a woman who was abandoned at birth in an old bathtub in a meadow and spent much of her life searching for answers. Now twenty-eight and a mother herself, she's made the reckless decision to drive across the country with her newborn daughter to crash a wedding so she can tell the groom that he is the child's father. The situation is made worse by the fact that the woman is sick, but even though she's scared and uncertain about her own future, she's determined to make things right for her daughter.

Seemed like a story I could build on, the past and present colliding in a shocking climax, a story with some pull. At least, I hope so. Wish me luck.