Saturday, September 4, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Caroline Clemmons

Writing Using Your Heritage

Where do you get inspiration? Newspapers, television,? Don’t neglect to include your heritage. Whether you write contemporary, historical, or science fiction, your own heritage holds a treasure trove of inspiration. Certain human truths exist through the ages!

Please don’t mistake my intention here. I do not suggest you take incidents in your heritage and relate them precisely. Not at all. Writers are creators, after all. But we do take kernels of truth and weave them into our stories. We build on them, twist them, and make them fit our story and our voice.

Many people believe genealogy is boring. True, those charts with only names and dates are far less than fascinating. They tell us nothing except born, died, and where. However, digging into your family’s actual history—the stories, not the boring parts—creates a wealth of story material. How did your family end up where they are? Your parents, your grandparents, and their parents? Why did they leave their original home to travel to a new place? These are great stories if you care to research them.

Ah, you say you only write contemporary and that you absolutely hate history? Hmm, your family can still provide inspiration. For instance, my brother just married his old childhood sweetheart. Both were divorced and had lost contact with one another. A class reunion reunited them and they married on Valentine’s Day. Their wedding happened this year, but could have occurred in either of the last couple of generations.

An orphaned young man wanted to seek a better life in the West. He joined a wagon train on which a family from Tennessee also was moving West. He fell in love with the Tennessee family’s daughter. At a place in Texas, the couple married and settled down. Reaching Texas wasn’t achieved without problems, but there was a HEA, happily ever after. Sounds like a historical romance novel, doesn’t it? In fact, I’ve read similar books. Were they based on fact or fiction? We’ll never know, but they might be based on your family. The one I mention here was actually in my step-grandmother’s family.

A less happy example is in my mother’s family, where many women have chosen unwisely when marrying. Not my mom, thank heavens! But my mom’s niece, sister, mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother married . . . well, let’s face it. . . creeps either initially or as second husbands. Patterns perpetuate themselves. If a father/stepfather is worthless, a daughter has no role model for choosing a husband and judging male character. Worse, she may marry in haste to escape her home life, thereby creating the same situation she sought to escape. Stories like this are timeless and fit in any genre. You probably know a woman among your acquaintances or in your family who fits this sad situation. I know several.

Do you count your heritage Scots, Irish, English, Middle Europeans? Did they come because they lost their land in their native country? Did they serve as indentured servants for years after they arrived? What was their occupation in their old life? How did they adjust in their new environment? Did they keep the same occupations, religion, customs, or did they adapt? Does your heritage include American Indians? How did the intermarriage come about? Did your ancestors found a town? Were they pioneers in the Midwest? Their life story would make a book, believe me. Sure you’ll want to change names, or some situations, but the basic story kernel is just waiting for you to tweak and write.

My father was a master storyteller whose stories I loved. After supper, he would relate the escapades he and his brothers encountered, and also talk about his ancestors coming to Texas from Georgia. Those stories mesmerized me, hence my love of Texas history and of genealogy. This love of family history has prompted me to investigate further. I’d have to live several hundred years to write the stories I’ve discovered.

In summary, don’t overlook your heritage for story inspiration. Each of us is the sum of all our experiences, plus the experiences of those who came before us. Utilize this wealth to flesh out your stories.

Have you ever taken real life events from your family history and turned them into fiction in one of your books?

Caroline Clemmons and her Hero husband live on a small acreage in the ranching and horse country of North Central Texas with their dog and two cats. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with family, reading, traveling with Hero, browsing antique malls, and digging into family history and genealogy. Caroline Clemmons writes Romance and Adventure. Writing about strong heroes and heroines who overcome amazing obstacles to forge a meaningful life together is her passion. Check her blog at and website at .


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Caroline,
Great blog. I can relate to what you say about digging into your own family history for inspiration and information. I have often done it myself.



Karyn Good said...

Hello Caroline and welcome to the Prairies.

Thanks for the reminder to look to different sources for inspiration. I don't often think about heritage as a place to gather inspiration but I do have a couple of short story ideas that stem from stories told to me about my grandparents. All were immigrants to Canada in the early 1900's and they all had stories to tell!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Caroline,
Welcome to the Prairies. Thank you for being our guest today.

Maybe when they say "write what you know", part of that is remembering where you came from. Every family has stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of those stories can be turned into great fiction.

I haven't tried that myself yet, but perhaps on day some family heritage will find its way into one of my manuscripts.


Helena said...

This is one of my favourite sources of inspiration for my stories.

It took me a while to realize there was a difference between truth and facts. Now I don't hesitate to write stories that have come to me from factual events from my heritage (or my own life). My aim is to reveal truths of human nature through the lives of the characters in my stories, not to clearly identify a person or event. Therefore, it is sometimes a delicate process to turn the facts into fiction.

The jury is still out on how effectively I am able to do this!

Welcome to the Prairies today, Caroline, and thank you for such a thought-provoking post.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Ladies, thank you for you kind comments. I have used bits from this or that family story in many of my books. Plus, I have compiled a family book for my mom and one for my mother-in-law. My brother and I are in the process of editing one on our father's family. We don't want these stories lost for future generations.

Have a great weekend.

DebH said...

loved your post! i haven't raided my family history yet for story/plot ideas, but i will certainly keep that resource in mind. i have quite the interesting heritage on both sides of the family - plus.

i was adopted and found my birth parents at age 30. there is quite the family history there as well, so i've quite the deep well to explore for inspiration. thanks for bringing this idea to the forefront. i will remember this for future projects.

thanks for sharing!