The Original Idea

When I was talking to a friend about my two new books, Lost Mothers and Every New Beginning, she asked me what had been the original idea for Lost Mothers, that first spark that had lit the fire that became the novel. This is my favorite question—as I imagine it is for many writers—because it is so easy to answer. In my experience, there is always a moment, an incident, a conversation, even the appearance of a stranger, something a writer saw or experienced that sticks with her and either slowly or quickly grows into a story idea, a group of characters, an expanding tree of story lines. I know what the original idea was for every book I’ve written.

So I told my friend how Lost Mothers began, with a long-time memory of the moment, when I was about eight years old, when I thought I’d never see my mother again. My family was on its annual summer vacation, and while my brothers and I were at the campground with our father, our mother was at the Laundromat in the small nearby town, dealing with our laundry.

Bad weather blew in, tornado weather. My oldest brother remembers being in the camper watching the approaching storm; my other brother remembers how dark it was, like night, with a terrific wind blowing. My father hustled us into the car and we drove back to the town to get my mother.

This is where my memory kicks in—in the backseat of the car as Dad drove down a dark, empty street, the wind blowing and howling, and seeing my mother standing outside the Laundromat. She was staring into the distant sky, as if watching a twister whirl toward us. My father drove by and I thought, That’s the last time I will ever see my mother.

It wasn’t. We picked her up, leaving the wet clothes behind because the power had gone out. But I carried the memory of that moment with me, and it crossed my mind occasionally. After more than thirty years had passed, one day the memory was accompanied by those two most valuable words for a writer: “What if …” What if a young woman saw her mother for the last time the day a tornado blew through a small Western town while her family was on summer vacation?

That “What if” led to the multiple characters and story lines that fill Lost Mothers. More inspirations informed the way the book developed, who those characters were, how they would interact, what issues they needed to hash out.

I also challenged myself to write a book that takes place in just three days. If you’re curious about how I handled that, and if you want to know what happened to that girl who lost her mother, buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

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