INSPIRATION STEW || The Helluva Year That Inspired My First Novel

kilmoon2Here I am, your Friday girl, and in all honesty, after reading my fellow debs’ posts this week, I felt an acute case of stage fright, because, for one thing, aren’t they awesome? And for another thing, I couldn’t think of the inspiration for KILMOON.

So here’s a question, what do my first trip to Ireland and family trauma have in common? They both inspired my novel. In one helluva year, over a decade ago, the story found me. Here’s my inspiration stew:

1. A matchmaking festival in Ireland. There I was, Guiness’ing my way through Ireland, when I landed in Lisdoonvarna village, home of an annual matchmaking festival. I was immediately intrigued. Wouldn’t a chaotic and oversexed festival be a great backdrop for a story? By its very nature, a matchmaking festival is a happy affair, but I’m a fan of juxtapositions, not to mention fascinated by the dark impulses we harbor … soooo, I got to thinking about what could lurk beneath the happily-ever-after façade of a charismatic matchmaker.

2. A church named Kilmoon. In County Clare, where the winds gust off the Atlantic and drystone walls undulate over the hills, sits an early Christian ruin called Kilmoon Church. It resides in a field off a lane in the middle of nowhere. I fell in love with it. There’s something about old churches, the way they guard death within their walls. Kilmoon Church infiltrated my initial drafts, becoming her own character. I renamed her Our Lady of the Kilmoon, and she’s got a story of her own she could tell.

3. My dad’s death. My dad died of cancer around the time the initial ideas for my novel were percolating. His death had a direct impact on my first chapter. Every other scene might have changed, but the essence of my first scene remains the same, a scene of death and betrayal and heartbreak. (How’s that for a hook?) In truth, my dad was hard-to-know, and we weren’t particularly close. I now realize I was processing my dad’s death and my relationship with him. KILMOON is a mystery, but it’s also a family drama about the relationships between fathers and daughters. In particular, about Merrit Chase, who travels to Ireland to meet her biological father — a charismatic matchmaker — with no clue that events from his past are about to land her in a world of hurt.

4. My mom’s secret son. Another theme is secrets, and what family doesn’t have its share of secrets? Just a few months after my dad died, my mom revealed a secret that she’d been suppressing since before she’d met my dad. She’d given up a baby boy for adoption, and this choice had devastated her. She’d given up a part of herself, and because suppression works in funny ways, this impacted her ability to mother my sisters and I. A part of her had gone missing. In real life, my big brother is awesome, so it all ended well. But in my fictional world? Let’s just say that secrets and missing moms also factor into Merrit’s journey.

I set KILMOON aside so often that in the intervening years I managed to complete two novels and begin two others. I never 100% gave up on my first baby novel, however. Kilmoon, the church, wouldn’t let me. She kept whispering messages she wasn’t going to let me keep buried. And I’m so glad she did!

Friday ChatathonWhat about you, have you ever discovered a secret about a loved one that rocked your world? If you’re a writer, what themes from your life have found their way into your books? For readers, what book themes attract you?

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

20 thoughts on “INSPIRATION STEW || The Helluva Year That Inspired My First Novel

  1. Welcome to your Friday digs, Lisa! I was the Friday Deb and I loved being able to read a week’s worth of Deb posts while I contemplated my own. Sometimes I felt like I was cheating (in a good way).

    I think you’ve hit on something here—our inspiration isn’t always a pinpoint but a compilation of many things that just seem to fit together in our writer brain. Glad it all came together for you.

    • Hi Amy! From one Friday Deb to another — I did feel like I was cheating a little bit. :-) It’s amazing how story happens. It’s a magical process. I love it!

  2. I am just charmed by the idea of a matchmaking festival! So ripe with story potential. And those names– Lisdoonvarna, Kilmoon… you’re right– these tidbits just begged to be spinned into a tale! Can’t wait to see how you did it.

  3. I love the imagery you painted of this church! I’m very excited to read your novel, Lisa. And family secrets…sigh…my family has more than their fair share. But it should certainly make for an interesting read!

  4. I love the term inspiration stew, how all these factors in our life come together, get thrown into a pot and stirred up until there’s delicious story we just can’t resist telling. Your book sounds amazing, Lisa!

    As for family secrets that rocked our world, this isn’t necessarily a secret, but something I just discovered since my cousin is in town visiting. We got to talking about our ancestors yesterday and she told me that our great grandmother on my mom’s side used to be a medium. I’m so intrigued. I want to learn more about her and write about her now.

    • Oh my god, Natalia — a medium! That is the coolest. thing. ever. I can totally see making that your next novel! What an inspiration stew you’ll have with that! :-)

  5. Wonderful Friday post Lisa. My favorite part of reading a book is ferreting out what inspired the author to write the story. Was it events in history or their own life? Thanks for allowing us to follow your breadcrumbs to Kilmoon.

    • Thanks, meco! It’s so strange–and wonderful!–how the creative process works, isn’t it? I still think you’ve got the best inspiration stew ever, you southern gothic voodoo queen. :-)

  6. WOW. What an amazing set of inspirations.

    My dad died a little over a year before I started writing my debut novel. He never knew I’d started writing mysteries, and I miss the fact that he didn’t know. I’m intrigued to see how your father’s death impacted your opening chapter – and I love hearing about the way your real life experiences have influenced your writing.

    I can’t wait to learn more as the year progresses!

    • Thanks, Susan! I understand what you mean about your dad. I’m sad he’s not here to see it as a real live book. The best I could do was dedicate the book to him.

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