My thanks to Kelsey for inviting me to appear at Ketch’s Book Nook.
What inspires me to write?
That’s not a question often directed at me; I usually get “Where do you find the time??!!” with a painful emphasis on the last word in a higher pitch.
Now, I could wax poetically and spiritually about it being a gift – this ability to put words together to form coherent sentences that eventually become stories – but I won’t. Everyone has gifts – we just have to unpack them and use them. For me, writing is a gift that gets broken from time to time and I have to fix it: there are days when it just happens and there are weeks when I can’t write a thing and I stare at the screensaver going through its transitions and use it like a mantra for contemplative prayer and pray for something to come out of the ether…like now.
Okay. I’ll answer the question. You, my friends, colleagues and acquaintances are the reason why I write and where I get my inspiration. I am not in it to win it, but to read it. My inspiration comes from people and what they do, how they react, how they respond.
History also inspires me; I think I’ve been interested in the medieval period for as long as I can remember. I know it had something to do with the ladies’ dresses, the castles, the romance (which I learned later, was an invention – the Middle Ages were anything but romantic in the Victorian sense that many think), and a few Disney princess movies. Out of history I find myself drawn to people who went through life on the fringe of society, outsiders looking in, people who bucked the norm and through their actions made a difference. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that, like many writers and artists, I identified with this lot.
I view life optimistically, but not like a Pollyanna. There are dark days. Where it concerns my writing, I’ve learned that even the most routine, mundane day-in-the-life can have a moment or spark of interest. Take for instance, my stories about Alice Martin and Quinn Radcliffe – two young people who made all the wrong decisions and then struggled for the ‘Why?’ of their actions. I could have written it straight up, just a chronicle of two people moving through their respective lives to their conclusions, but I thought what if they were confronted with their errors after death, or near death, or while in great pain? What if they had observers to point out things? From that idea evolved The Village That Could Be in Dorset or Out of Thomas Hardy’s Imagination and the panoply of historical figures close to me and my characters that ‘help’. What if I told the stories as if they were dreams? You know how dreams are fragmented, yet everything connects and fits, oftentimes fluid? I get these ideas for my stories as I walk to and from the secular job, or to the parish.
My character Violet Ellison from “A Knight on Horseback” could be anyone you sit next to on a bus or train. She’s someone who commutes to work every day, has a husband, kids, and a job she hates, while she struggles to find a happy medium or at least something that makes her content. Again this could be a straight-up vanilla piece, but I started observing people in the Financial District, seeing things, hearing things, and thought “What if…?”
My historical fiction is inspired by actual events. I like to take the common person and toss them into a moment in history and have the heavyweights like politicians, clergy persons, artists, be the wallpaper. Think about it – we know that Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I like to think of the assistants and apprentices being part of and witnesses to the history and what their contributions might have been and writing about them. I throw myself into research as if the finished product will be a thesis or scholarly article and not a work of fiction. George Ascalon, the earl of Grasmere in “Armor of Light” is a burned-out Crusader wanting peace and quiet. I decided to make life a little more exciting and confusing for him in a time that was already exciting, confusing and lethal. I’ve taken his reaction to the times and events in which he lives and made it atypical. Or is it?
This brings me around to fiction. It’ a story. A fable. A ballad that comes from the imagination with sparks of reality floating about. My side-trips into whimsy and disbelief make an interesting story to me, personally, and I believe that may be true of a lot of bibliophiles. What is more relaxing and entertaining than opening a book while curled up in a favorite chair with a beverage and a favorite person or furry friend? To be able to escape from reality and into a world created by the imagination is a joy. I think the pervasive and omnipresent trend of ‘Reality TV’ has taken away the ability in some to suspend belief, to use the mind and imagination when they read. I hope I can encourage these readers to let go of life as they know it for 318 pages and just let the words take them to another place and time, let them be another person.
Their lives, their hopes, dreams, failures and thoughts are what inspire me, and others, to write.
May your reading and writing take you on interesting adventures and journeys.
Thank you for taking a moment out of your life to come with me on my journey.
Be sure to check out Ellen’s latest novel:
When Quinn Radcliffe shows up in a village somewhere in the Cotswolds or Dorset, he knows he’s been there before. It’s a place out of a Thomas Hardy novel – or the imagination. There’s the Curiosity Shop with The Proprietress and her famous guests, the church at the end of the lane, and unbelievable but necessary journeys that test and affirm. Now the conductor of a world-renowned orchestra, Quinn isn’t surprised by his surroundings – the love of his life, Alice Martin, told him all about the village but he has always and secretly thought it was the best part of a dream she shared after her life-threatening illness.
There are two sides to every love story. This is the other side of the haunting and poignant romance that began with “Tallis’ Third Tune.”
Ellen L. Ekstrom has been intrigued by all things medieval since seeing Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” as a five-year old—when it was first run in theaters. Now that she is in her own middle ages, her passion for all things medieval is still strong. She is a member of the clergy in the Episcopal Church and serves as the parish deacon in a local church in Berkeley, California. To support her family and frenetic lifestyle, she works as a legal secretary. Once in a while, she sleeps.