Many people ask writers “where do your ideas come from?”
I usually answer "from all over the place". For the story I am working on now, entitled A Buss from Lafayette, however, I can pinpoint when and how the key idea for the story came into my head.
In 1997, my mother and I went on a Jane Austen Society of North America tour of Jane Austen sites (Chawton, Bath, London, Lyme, etc.). We spent a lot of time riding on a tour bus with other members of JASNA, chatting about Jane Austen (a bit competitively) and telling stories to pass the time as we travelled, somewhat in the manner of the Canterbury Tales. (We did actually go very close to Canterbury when we visited Jane Austen’s brother's estate in Kent.) I hauled out one of my own favorite NON Austen anecdotes to contribute. I told everyone how my eighth grade teacher, Maybelle Hettrick, had lived in Lawton, Oklahoma as a young child, homesteading like Laura Ingalls Wilder. When Geronimo was jailed there, Maybelle’s mother took the little girl, her hair in pigtails, to see him, pointing out he was a great leader of his people. Geronoimo reached through the bars to shake her hand, then patted her on the head, and said “I had a daughter who wore her hair that way.”
I made a point to shake hands with Maybelle many times, so that I could say I had shaken the hand that shook the hand of Geronimo. (I also made sure to shake hands with my kids, and will also do so with my grandsons, so they can make this claim as well!)
After I told this story on the bus, an older woman named Rita spoke up. “Well, I have been kissed by someone who was kissed by someone who was kissed by Lafayette.” It turns out that when her great grandmother, Sally Allen, was 7 years old, she presented a bouquet of flowers to Lafayette when he went through her town, (Northampton, Massachusetts) on his triumphal tour in1825. In about 1891, Sally made a point of kissing her new granddaughter, Agnes. When Agnes grew up, married, and gave birth to Rita in 1919, she made a point of kissing Rita over the years and telling her she had been kissed by someone who’d been kissed by someone who’d been kissed by Lafayette.
As soon as I heard this, I immediately raced down the aisle on the bus and insisted Rita kiss me, which she did!
As soon as I was kissed by someone who was kissed by...well, you know... I realized I had to learn about Lafayette’s triumphal tour and write a story about a young girl he might or might not have kissed en route.
It has only taken me seventeen years to accomplish this! That is, of course, because it is not just a story about a kiss (or buss, as they used to say).