I’m certain every author can relate an incident where their friends or family have attributed the feelings or actions surrounding their fictional creations to the author’s own life events. While my life inspires my writing, I don’t write about my life. I take those inspirations, stir them with the amply available ingredients I find in the world at large, and after hours at the keyboard, and many more procrastinated hours spent doing laundry/vacuuming/general puttering, my tale is born. It’s as simple as that!
Okay, maybe not so simple, or for that matter, maybe not so detached from my own reality. None of the three women whose stories I tell in The Shell Keeper are me, but parts of them may inhabit my soul. Unlike the sweet and naïve Del, I have not hidden out in the back yard on my kids’ swing set smoking Camels in a blizzard, contemplated the vast and colorful array of available condoms for purchase or even struggled to find my comfort zone sitting at a bar for the first time. But like Del, I have been a newly divorced mother of young children. Del is, perhaps, every insecurity I may have felt-times a hundred!
I don’t own a bakery, like Gwen, or worry about a loss of income if my husband’s union goes on strike. But I am a big believer in baking therapy, as my family can attest. Nothing hits the spot like late night brownies! Like Claire, I have been a Realtor. Her stress-filled life, with its endless paperwork, and clients that run the gamut from thoughtful to life threatening is most definitely inspired by reality, though not always my own. I definitely don’t have Claire’s style, unfortunately. She knows how to ‘work’ a wardrobe.
Clearly, I am not my characters, but my life is tucked in between the lines. The idea of The Shell Keeper evolved over time, but it got its start many years ago when a friend recommended a slim book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Gift from the Sea. Ms. Lindbergh wrote the book during an escape from her own reality for a long visit to the peaceful beaches of Captiva Island, Florida. While there, she considered the amazing variety of shells washed up on the shore and compared them with the phases of a woman’s life.
My copy of the book has been well read. Its pages are ambered with age, corners bent, multiple ink shades coloring the margins and underlining sentences from years of highlights and notes. Her words were, and are still an inspiration for all women. You might ask how a book written in 1955 could still speak to generations of women who weathered the feminist revolution and all its consequences. But it does, and the reason is the woman who wrote it.
Anne was no ordinary gal! She started life in a quiet and privileged home. Her father was an ambassador and a senator and along the way, in 1927, she met one of the most famous men in the world at that time, Charles Lindbergh. They fell in love, married and Anne soon shared his passion for flight. She was setting flight records alone, as well as with her husband.
Her first child, at 20 months, was kidnapped from their home in March of 1932, his body later found in the nearby woods. The search for the killer and the ensuing trial created a media storm probably beyond even contemporary standards. The heart rending tale even inspired Agatha Christie’s classic Hercule Poirot novel Murder on the Orient Express.
You’d think after that, that Anne would seek quiet and seclusion, and for a while she did, moving to Europe with her husband. But World War II brought them back home and they eventually settled on the island of Maui in Hawaii. After her husband’s death, she moved to Connecticut to be near family, and in 2001 she died at the age of 94. Life’s heartaches had not bowed her. She’d been a decorated aviatrix, multiple published author, and mother to 5 more children, after the tragic loss of her first born.
In my opinion, a woman with this sort of grit had something worthwhile to say to other women in any age. Gift from the Sea still speaks clearly all these years later. It inspired me to take the ups and downs of my life and create a story of three women struggling to overcome the challenges thrown their way. I like to think they did it with humor, grace and some of the occasionally minor insanity of life.
In Anne’s words, I decided to throw Del, Gwen and Claire ‘together on this island of living’ where they found unexpected friendship and support. Life’s a funny thing, the way we sometimes come upon our friendships in surprising ways.
If you have a special friendship you found unexpectedly, I’d love to hear about it!