Tuesday, October 27

The Dead Do Tell Tales – by Janie DeVos

                                      

     Inspiration for my novels and blogs can come in unexpected ways and from some of the strangest places.  And since it’s that BOO-tiful time of year, I thought I’d confess that one of those places that gets my creative juices flowing is cemeteries. 

Every autumn, a friend and I head out for a day of leaf-looking, and, as we drive along the back roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains, time after time, we’ve come across cemeteries tucked back off the road.  Quietly, we read the headstones, and as we do, it’s easy to see patterns emerge.  For instance; if a town was hit by an epidemic, such as Yellow Fever, or the Spanish Flu, then the dates of numerous people’s demise will be clustered around the same months and in the same year, which was what I came upon in a tiny little cemetery one October morning years ago.  There were quite a few children who had died around the same time, as well as adults, so it wasn’t hard to conclude that some terrible disease had struck the town with a vicious blow.  As I walked down a row of headstones, I came upon a woman’s grave named Sarah, with her twin children buried next to her, and realized that they had died within weeks of each other.  Suddenly, the story line (SPOILER ALERT!) for Anna Guinn’s twins’ deaths in, BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES, started to formulate.  

Unfortunately, but all too frequently, many women died during childbirth in those “good ol’ days”.  It’s common to come upon a grave where a young woman is buried and find her child buried near her, with his birth date being the same as his mother’s date of death.  In an extremely old and hidden cemetery we ventured into recently—one that our local florist told us about because who knows more about cemeteries better than florists?—I came across the grave of a baby born on the same day his mother died and then he, too, perished a week later.  It was in the spring, and I wondered if the baby died because he didn’t have his mother’s milk.  And, since it was March, I also wondered if food that had been put up in the fall was running low, as was feed for livestock, forcing the family to sell their animals, or eat them, leaving no cow to provide milk for the child.  Those are the types of scenarios that begin to take shape as I wander among those who’ve left their soft footprints on this Earth, and leave a lasting impression with me. 

There have been several times that interesting names have been the inspiration for characters in my books.  Recently, I stopped to have a look at a large cemetery that runs along one of the main drags through town, but never taken the time to investigate.  In an area closest to the church were the oldest graves, and many were far older than I’d expected them to be, with some dating back to the early 1800’s.  Inscribed on one of the headstones was the name Dovey, and she was young—just in her 20’s—when she died.  The name struck me, and suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I pictured a rail-thin woman, about 5’4”, with light, icy blue eyes, and long, straight blonde hair.  She looked to be about 17, and her skin was so fair that the veins showed through it, making her appear as delicate and fragile as blown glass.  I could see her nearly as clearly as my flesh and blood friend who was with me, which is usually what happens when I’m about to embark on a new story; if I can’t see the people and the places, or clearly envision the scene, then I can’t write it.  But, with little Miss Dovey, there was an inexplicable, intensely strong pull to write her.  And the feeling hasn’t left me since I left the old Presbyterian cemetery. 

I’m in the middle of working on a new novel, but the nagging continues, and I’m tempted to put my manuscript aside and begin a novel about painfully shy Dovey.  Though quiet and reserved, she will also be a powerful force.  Dovey will be a water diviner, or what is sometimes known as a “water witch”, and the fact that I happened to come up with that story line during the month when goblins and ghosts, banshees and beasts can be found prowling the streets on the 31st was not lost on me.  The strangeness appealed to me, and I couldn’t help but think that research for this novel might be some of the most interesting research I’ve ever done…even if it is the dead helping to tell the tale. 





   

8 comments:

  1. I love this, and I love cemeteries, too. There is one across the road, and I walk there sometimes just because of the peace that is there. At one across the street from where my kids lived in Vermont, there was a row of baby graves all the way at the back. I never heard the story, but the sadness felt heavy back there.

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  2. I know exactly what you mean about feeling the heaviness, Liz. So much for the good ol' days.

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  3. I love old graveyards. Not that I go in them a lot, but I do like them. I like seeing the names as well and imagining the stories they left behind. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Margie. It's funny how fascinated we are by cemeteries, isn't it?

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  4. Can't wait to read what may come out of the wanderings in the cemeteries!

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    1. I know! I'm excited, too! It's always fun developing new characters. I get really attached to them.

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  5. I find cemeteries interesting, too. Maybe it's because we're writers we find the stories of the people buried there so compelling and inspiring. Best of luck writing Dovey's story Janie!

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    1. Thanks, Jana! I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like to stroll through an old cemetery. Not totally sure what the draw is, but it's good to know I'm on like company. ;)

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