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The flapper photo that spawned a novel

houston-flapperOne of the first questions people always ask me is, “What inspired you to write this book?” A Mona Lisa smile appears on my face, and I shift into my enigmatic mode. I usually say, “Why, from Bestsubjectsfornovels.com. It’s a great website. And quite reasonable. They even have a three-for-the-price-of-one special on trilogies.”

The truth is closer to what Flaubert said: “We do not choose our subjects. They choose us.” A novelist doesn’t have to search for a subject. It already exists. Inside him or her. To be “original” means to go back to your “origins.” What Henry James liked to call the donnée, from the French for “given.” What has life given you to write about? Go there. Find that inner core, that donnée, and work outward from there.

I grew up seeing photographs such as this one of my mother, Dottie May, as a flapper from a remote, more romantic time in Texas history. The exotic woman in the pictures wore furs and long strands of pearls, staring into the camera with a kind of flaming defiance missing in the practical housewife who was raising me. I had to write a book to explain who that other woman was. She sparked my imagination in so many ways as I tried to picture her on a honeymoon in Galveston, sneaking into the Balinese Room for one of the fashionable new bootleg cocktails. “Dottie” shape-shifted into “Hetty” and sprang to vivid life in my mind. I found the thread of my donnée in those old faded photographs of my mother. When I yanked on it, a whole book unspooled.

That moment was only the beginning. I’d love to share with you My Long and Winding Road to Publishing. If you’d like to read more, please click on the subscribe button and fill in the information (it won’t be used for any other purpose).

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Guest Thursday, 19 October 2017