Clouds rose above, their white bodies billowing into a blue sky. Below, surrounded by unkempt fields, a farmhouse rested on the patch of land it laid claim to long ago. Its sun worn siding, its sagging roof sliding into weeping eaves, the old house seemed too tired to stand for much longer. A mound of hay stacked high against one side may prove to be its only buttress against shifting foundations. Wisps of trees, tall slender bodies partition the old home from former fields of grain, offering it tenuous shelter from encroaching grasses and easterly winds. Stretching beyond, across the once fertile fields into a distance where colors melded into hues of blue, hills rolled along the curve of the horizon.
The flood of ideas that engulf many a writer’s mind – so many that it proves exhausting to focus on just one – is an envy of mine. More often than not, a drought of ideas is my affliction. I set off in search of mental prompts hoping for a smidgen of inspiration able to give rise to a rich, if not simply post-worthy, storyline.
This was one of those times, not a full week past. One story finished and set ready to publish as this particular week’s blog posting.
“What’s next? I’m sure I left something out there dangling without an ending? Of course there were a number of somethings but they languished in limbo for no other reason than I hadn’t a notion where to take them.“
Leaning back in a high-backed, craigslist-found office chair, my laptop open, a fresh word document stared expectantly back at me. Ideas were not forth coming. I took to staring out the window.
According to numerous writing advice articles, this is how inspiration is derived. I deferred to this sage advice.
Blooming flowers in my neighbor’s yard (yellows, lavenders, purples, whites and blushes of pinks), a flutter of birds in and through their holy tree, a raven eying rooftops with suspicion from a perch atop a power pole. I retreated inside skimming over a calendar on the wall, books packed tight into overstuffed bookcases, a painting of cattails in a ceramic vase brush strokes thick with acrylics, a relief more than a painting. My grandfather’s work, one of some I asked to keep after his passing. But the cattails were not what gave movement to an idea. The weary cabin, sun-bleached and broken, lingering at the edge of once productive fields under a clouding, brilliant blue sky, fostered a thought that wanted to grow.
The thought grew, evolved with a vision of a young couple huddled inside that cabin, hiding from something, from something they did wrong. But it wasn’t entirely their fault. They’d fallen too far into circumstances they could no longer escape from. They’d done too much.
Okay, good start.
The cabin, or farmhouse, was a place they both knew, something from their childhood, a place where they used to play and even shared a first kiss. They’d be safe there, is what the girl told him. No one would find them. He knew she was right. They could escape everything and start over, just the two of them.
The farmhouse from the canvas, the fields, the mountains in the distance were somewhere in northern Idaho. That was where my Grandfather learned to paint and where he honed his talents throughout his late retirement years. But the cabin in which the couple saw as their personal sanctuary was no longer in Idaho, no it was now in the Midwest, somewhere in middle America, Nebraska maybe. Why not that was where my Grandfather grew up. His painting showed a cabin, an old farmhouse forlorn and forgotten, committed to canvass probably in the 1990’s. But this one, the one in the blossoming story was tired and weary in the 1930’s, the era of the Great Depression, of Nelson, Floyd and Dillinger.
Interesting setting but where does it go from there?
What is the something the couple needs to hide from? What was it they did to need a place, isolated and away from the world?
The young couple huddled on a bare and broken bed in the corner of the cabin planning a future in this isolated place far from the mistakes they made. Her tears beginning to subside, he held her tight promising to keep her safe. Everything would finally be alright. Outside, the last of three state police Plymouths edged off the long rutted and overgrown road leading to the old farmhouse. With brusque gestures, the sergeant, already stepping from his squad car, directed his men to positions around the property where they’d wait for the fight each of them expected.
Well now, this just may have some potential.
The story can really grow from here, so much to explore and let the reader experience. So many questions to ask. Where did the couple start out from? What did they do that brought a contingent of state police cars to that little farmhouse where they thought they’d be so safe? What led the couple to do those, presumptively, awful things? Did they actually do those things the officers outside the cabin think they did?
Oh! There’s a twist.
If they are innocent, how do they convince the police officers, who appear ready for a fight, that they are not guilty? How do they stay alive long enough to convince anyone of their innocence?
As writers we know a story can take on a life of its own and lead us off into directions unimagined when we first begin typing. I hadn’t considered the couple might be innocent until the questions started flying in my head as I wrote that previous paragraph. When I confess to someone that I’m an aspiring professional writer, they eventually ask, “Where do you come up with all those ideas for stories?” All too often I don’t know how to answer for the simple reason they are hardly ever a product of one place or one process. Speaking for myself, there is no predictable way to find a story. They arrive from anywhere and nowhere. My first, serious attempt at a short story started, wholly unbeknownst to me years ago, when someone was talking about the unpleasant nature of a friend’s new wife. Years later that description found root in the virtually spontaneous (I say virtually because I know a catalyst was involved but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was) creation of the climatic scene for that particular short story.
This time, however, I will know how to answer the question, “Where do your stories come from?” From my Grandpa’s painting, I will say as I point to where it hangs on the wall alongside the cattails. He was one whose advice and support appeared subtle but often proved to be cherished pieces of wisdom. It shows what we leave behind can continue to inspire even years later. Whether the farmhouse painting was only one of many he painted or if he took pride in it, I wish now I knew. But whichever it was I’m sure he would find amusement in knowing it was an object that roused a story (a potential masterpiece of American literature) from one his grandsons.
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