Wednesday, February 17, 2016


During and after the frenzied Pitch Wars revision process, the mentees spent a lot of time getting to know each other. One question we asked the group was, "What is the inspiration for your manuscript?"

As I wait (!!) to hear back from agents reading the full and from agents I've queried, I decided to revisit the question. Partly for fun, and partly because this story means a lot to me and I want to make a note of its genesis.

My inspirations for SPOOKY JANE were:

The Child Ballads:
(The Unquiet Grave and to a smaller extent, Sweet William's Ghost)
I had always wanted to write a story based on one of the Child Ballads. SO I played around with ideas for The Unquiet Grave. I kept being drawn back to this particular stanza:

 You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
  But my breath smells earthy strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
  Your time will not be long.

And then I discovered the Vaughan Williams arrangement of the poem.
And then the Joan Baez recording.

As I have always loved both artists, I believed it was a sign. The tunes haunted me for days; I had them on repeat on the iPhone. Ideas percolated. And finally Olivia spoke to me.

Personal Family Lore

Fictional Olivia is Grandmother Livvy, the first person to realize Althea has returned and that Ivy Jane has broken the cardinal family law -- never bring anything back from the dead, not even a lilac blossom.

Real life Olivia was my great aunt, younger sister to my grandmother. She's the inspiration for the Althea character. She too sat in a corner and on the front porch laughing maniacally. She too was heartbroken over the too-soon death of her father. She was said to be quite insane before she died, lost her mind from sadness and disappointment. Note: I never met my Aunt Olivia. She was dead before I came along. My mother, however, knew her and was the source of many stories.

So I began to think - what if we took my real aunt and turned her into a fictional character who actually tried to resurrect her dead father? (To my knowledge my real aunt never tried to do that). And what if she tried to kiss her dead father on the forehead but he begged her not to, because to do so might kill her? THIS IS THE CHILD BALLAD!! WOOHOOO!!

From this nugget of an idea came the rest, which parted dramatically from the Unquiet Grave and real life.

I imbued the family with the magical ability to revive life in growing things. I let Althea be partly successful in trying to revive her father, but in doing so, she unbalanced nature and awakened a storm of retribution that lasted for generations.

I set much of the most dramatic action in a snowstorm because I grew up in Minnesota and I love snow. (Yes, maybe I'm a little nuts too.)

Aaahhhh.. this is when it got REALLY FUN.

This also is when my book became much more fiction than real life. My real aunt died as an adult, and originally, I let Althea live into adulthood as well. But an editor and my amazing Pitch Wars mentor pointed out that as a main character in an MG book, she couldn't be a grownup. So I killed her off younger, same age as Ivy and Hunter. That allowed me much greater room to play with the connections between the three of them.

The real family lore that survived the creative process:
  • The song "Where Was Eva Sleeping?". My family really does sing this song at the end of every large family gathering as a way to wish each other safe passage.
  • My family really is musical and sings in harmony. Most of us play at least one if not more musical instruments.
  • My family really did watch the Dred Scott case closely. And when the decision was handed down, two of my ancestors escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad. The plan, as is told in our family oral history, was to get everyone there, but they were never able to do so. However, diligent retracing of our family tree from family members here in the US and in Canada allowed both branches of the tree to reunite back in the 1980's. We still hold semi-regular reunions. We really are so racially mixed that some of us are blue-eyed with straight hair, others tight curls with black hair, and everything in between.
  • The plug grass that grew in my grandmother's back yard really was thicker and more luxurious than the rest of the grass, and really did withstand drought and cold when the rest of the lawn died. My grandmother said there were plugs buried under the ground there.
  • My great grandfather's nickname really was Skip.
  • Olivia really was a twin; her twin died as an infant.

One last note: There was a real Aunt Althea. I want to be clear here, however, that she was the opposite of the Althea in the book. She was kind and sweet and lived into old age. I used her name because I love the name.


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