[Katharine Davis (East Hope, Capturing Paris) — like all authors — gets ideas for her writing from everywhere at any time. In today’s guest post, however, she explains how a chance encounter evolved into her latest novel, A Slender Thread.]
I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my novels. Capturing Paris, my first book, came from a dream I had about a woman glimpsed in the Paris subway. My second novel, East Hope, came from a short story I had written years before. But, from time to time, I wondered about the main character in that story. What if Caroline had succumbed to Pete’s advances in the story, instead of coming to her senses at the last moment? That fateful act would change everything.
Often stories or novels evolve from asking the “what if” question. What if the husband leaves his wife? What if the single woman wants to adopt a child? What if the boss falls in love with his assistant? The possibilities are endless.
Now try to imagine eight women around a table in a museum restaurant talking about a photography exhibit. The women, most of them in their fifties, well dressed and accomplished, are enjoying themselves. They comment enthusiastically on art, current events, books, movies, and their own families.
Yet, one woman says nothing at all. She is visiting from the West Coast, and she is the college roommate of one of the guests. She looks no different from the women around her. She has a loving husband, has raised two children, and has had a successful career in real estate.
Except unlike the other women at the luncheon, this woman has a rare brain disease. Her name is Anna and she can no longer speak. When it is time to order lunch the woman next to Anna asks her if she would like the chicken salad. Anna nods in agreement. She still understands language, but eventually, as her disease progresses, she will lose her ability to comprehend anything at all.
Two years ago I was a guest at that luncheon. I met Anna, a woman very much like me, but a woman whose life had begun to unravel in a way she never expected. I was writing another novel at the time, but every day when I sat at my computer to work, I kept thinking of Anna. I tried to imagine what this tragedy was like for her husband, for her children, and for the many friends who loved her. Here was a vibrant woman in her prime who could not utter a word.
I didn’t want to tell Anna’s personal story. I don’t know her family, or even her last name. Instead, I began writing a new novel and A Slender Thread was born. It is the story of two sisters, the elder of whom is diagnosed with the same disease, Primary Progressive Aphasia.
How do we find the strength to cope in the face of adversity? How do we start over at mid-life? Are we capable of change? Do we ever truly leave the past behind? How do we communicate? Are words enough? Is love enough? These were the questions I asked myself while writing A Slender Thread. Over the next year that chance meeting became a novel.
One warm afternoon last spring, I found myself thinking about a summer I had spent in Florence, Italy when I was twenty-one years old. I had stayed at a small hotel, more of a bed and breakfast, and I remembered the Italian woman who cooked and served the lunch. I also had the vague recollection of a very old English woman who lived in a shabby room on the top floor with her ancient husband. I knew immediately I had the germ of a novel. I began to picture three women in Florence, three different nationalities, three different ages, but all living together in the same little inn. Why were they there? What did they fear? What did they hope for? The questions keep coming and the scenes are already forming in my head. So yes, I’ve started another novel. Best of all, I think I need to travel to Florence for some necessary research!
Book Giveaway: This week Kate Ledger has graciously offered two “signed” copies of Remedies to the winners of a random drawing from comments left on this specific post, Kate Ledger and Remedies. A comment left on any other post during the week will not be eligible. The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT and the winners will be announced here in Thursday’s post. IF you do enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.