Monday, January 11, 2010

Where it all begins...

J. David Vansandt (a good, Dutch name!) is an Air Reserve Technician in the US military. His Blogger profile is a little sparse on personal information, but by reading some of his posts I've learned that he is a man of many talents. Mr. Vansandt is a soldier, a writer, and a man of great compassion. I loved this excerpt from one of his posts: "I spent hours hunkered down in tents and bunkers splitting bag after bag of Jelly Bellies while deployed to Southwest Asia. Want to see a grown man get giddy? Hand him a bag and watch him remember what it's like to wonder like a child then dare his bunker buddy to find a better combination of flavors than what he just discovered." Makes me want to send boxes of Jelly Bellies to all our troops!

Mr. Vansandt's question is: How do your stories start?

That's a bit of a hard question for me because the answer is different every time. After the Leaves Fall grew out of a scene that I had written years earlier... When I was about to deliver my firstborn, my beloved grandpa was dying from cancer. I was living in British Columbia at the time, and there was no way for me to travel to Iowa so I could be with him or attend the funeral. It was a very difficult time for me, but punctuated by joy, too, because less than two weeks after my grandpa passed away, my son was born. Anyway, when my son was about five months old, I put him down for a nap one afternoon and suddenly found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn't figure out why I was so inconsolable, so I got out a pen and paper and began to write. I ended up writing a graveyard scene, with a young woman attending her father's October funeral. It was my way of dealing with the loss of my grandpa. Years later, that scene became the first chapter in my debut novel. The rest of the story just evolved from there.

So some books come from very personal, almost private places. They grow out of my own feelings and experiences... But that's not always the case. My sixth book, which is still in the concept stage, is very loosely based on a story from my dad's past. We have some pretty unreal stories in my family--some very movie-worthy plots that seem more fiction than fact! But it's all a part of me and my history, and I'm fascinated by the long journey that brought us to where we are today. I love a good story.

I guess more than anything, my books and my writing come from things that grip me. If I experience something or hear a story that grabs hold of my imagination and won't let go, you can bet that at some point in time it will come out as a novel, a scene, or even a character in one of my books. I'm blessed to have more ideas than I know what to do with! Right now I think I have at least six books in queue.

*I've got a little bonus for you today... Since Mr. Vansandt has got me thinking about our troops, I'll send out a book to the first person who emails me to say: "I've sent a package to our troops!" Your choice--of book and package contents... though I think Jelly Bellies might be appropriate. ;) My favorite flavor is buttered popcorn. What's yours?


  1. Nicole, I'm loving this feature! I'll be emailing you my own question soon :)

    And I had to comment on the buttered popcorn flavor being your favorite. Yuck!! I always think it's funny when someone says that's their favorite flavor of Jelly Belly and it's the one I think is the only non-delicious flavor in the bag! I think my favorite is either grape or green apple.

  2. As a fellow Buttered Popcorn fan (I got a pound of that flavor for Christmas...sadly, they didn't see New Years), I say thumbs up to this post!!

  3. Thank yo so much for taking the time to answer my question. I'm really enjoying the question and answer thing you have going here:)
    I'm always amazed at how stories are revealed. A falling leaf, passing cloud, the loss of someone or something - anything can spark a begining.
    As for the Jelly Bellies, I had two huge boxes shipped to me by an elementary class when I was in Iraq. When collecting them, they called it the "Jelly Bellies for Jonathan" campaign. For the record, my favorite flavor is Kiwi.

  4. Ha! I like buttered popcorn too! Great post. I sort of had a similar one today. About how a story kind of forms, but isn't quite there yet.

    A lot of mine are inspired by song lyrics, which is weird because I'm not a huge music person.

  5. Amanda, you don't like buttered popcorn?!? When that flavor first came out I refused to try it because I thought it sounded disgusting. But I mistook it for lemon one day and it's been love ever since... Though I do go for the fruity flavors, too--have to agree with you about the green apple.

    Bina, we'll have to share a bag of buttered popcorn someday. :)

    Jonathan, you're so right, anything can spark a beginning. I love it that inspiration can come in the most mundane, unexpected moments.

    Katie, I'm actually very inspired by song lyrics, too. I always make a playlist of songs when I'm writing a book. It helps me stay in the right mood as I write, and the songs serve as a way to help me overcome writer's block.