Fresh Input for More Output

Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 in A Writer's Life, Books | 0 comments

By the time I finally get a book published, I’m tired of writing. All writing (which unfortunately includes blog posts, hence my irregular updates here). No, after dumping 150,000+ words out of my head, what I want and need is input.

So about a month ago I started devouring fresh books. At first it was light and easy stuff, such as trying to find a new middle grade series for my daughter to read. Tried The Beyonders, Fablehaven, and The Unwanteds, but wasn’t impressed with any of those. The only one we enjoyed was the Keeper of the Lost Cities series (or what’s out so far). In fact, we enjoyed it enough to buy the whole series.

Then I started reading what I already had at home, including

The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes, by Mark Urban, about George Scovell, one of Wellington’s aides, who managed to break the ciphers used by the French army in Portugal and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.




Pox Americana, by Elizabeth Fenn, about the smallpox epidemic of 1775-82. I’ve read this one several times. It is still unbelievable, the scope of what happened.




Then a week and a half ago I hit the library and came back with five books.

The Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel, about the Allied soldiers tasked with recovering Europe’s art treasures from the Nazis. This was something of a disappointment, especially after devouring Erik Larson’s books. The story promised so much excitement and suspense, and then just went flat. Sigh.



The other four books were by Erik Larson. I have decided I love Erik Larson’s writing. The amount of historical detail he pours into his books while still spinning a dang good story is awe-inspiring.

The Devil in the White City, about the Chicago’s World Fair and one of America’s first serial killers. I had no concept of how big a production the World’s Fair was. Larson’s writing turns even a ton information into riveting drama. Still, I don’t think I’ll read more on either subject.



Dead Wake, about the last voyage of the Lusitania. My second favorite of the Larson books. Now I want to research Room 40–there’s a story in there, I’m sure.




In the Garden of Beasts, about the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. Fascinating topic, but unfortunately, I really didn’t like one of the main characters (Martha Dodd), and so I didn’t get as pulled into the story as I did on the other books.




Isaac’s Storm, about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. The first one I read and my favorite of this batch of books. Not only was the book itself utterly fascinating, it also got my mind spinning with the question that starts all my stories: “What if?”



That’s how An Uncivilized Yankee was born. Originally, the story was straight historical fiction. I knew I wanted Star to ride with Jeb Stuart’s cavalry, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that work. No gentleman would ever allow such a thing, and no proper female would seek such a position. Then I asked myself “What if she had some special talent, something beyond just being trained in medicine. What if there was magic in this world, and Star could control it to heal people?”, and the story flowed from there.

This time what popped into my head was “What if there had been a Weather-Watcher in Galveston, someone with the Talent to know how the weather was going to behave?” Almost immediately one of my characters jumped up and waved his hand wildly going “Me! That’s my story!” So now I’m exploring this new idea. Why is he in Galveston in the first place? Does anybody listen to him or is he treated like Cassandra?

And that’s what this time of input is all about…cramming large amounts of new information into my brain as story fodder. Then they all whirl about and collide and form new ideas, new plot seeds, and before I know it, I’m ready to write again.

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