Rumor has it your great grandmother was a bootlegger…

So what are you gonna do about it? 

First, how much do you know? What details can you tease out? Where did she live, when did she live, how old was she when all that interesting stuff was happening….

And then, if it were my great grandmother, I’d start digging into more research. I’d look into bootlegging in her community and era. I’d see if I could find any connections to other known bootleggers. I’d read up on the history of bootlegging in the U.S. and dive into the whys and wherefores of prohibition, trying to get a sense of the people who chose to defy the law and why they did it. And I’d try to figure out if it was a family business or if great-granny was working on her own.

My book collection would grow…

After a bit, with any luck, a story would start to emerge, ideas would come thick and fast, and one thing would lead to another. That theoretical great grandma would start to take on flesh and spirit. Mabe I’d begin to admire her, or I’d uncover some other nuggets and discover she was a not-so-great grandmother. Before long, I’d be sketching out the plot of a novel based on great grandma’s life. My imagination would take over and I’d find myself melding known history with conjecture and populating her world with other fascinating characters, historical or otherwise.

In fact, I’d be doing what many writers do. I’d be taking the germ of a story and making it into something bigger.

Inspiration can come from many places, and the stories we’ve heard growing up—or that we stumble on while going through family papers—can be a rich resource. The trouble is, it can be tricky to take that kernel of something and wrangle it into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a satisfying character arc to boot.

I’ve long been tempted to find out about my great-grandmother Candora Seeley, who was somehow connected to the Hoadley Carriage Works in New Haven, Connecticut. I know almost nothing about her. I think her husband was James Hoadley Gueurnsey. I have a few old photographs, and my mother had a genealogy done decades ago so I can probably find out her birthdate and other vital statistics.

How will I turn those crumbs into a story? I don’t know yet. But after a dozen historical novels, I do know how to write stories that live and breathe and keep readers turning the pages. And as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach, I know how to help other people do it, too.

Got something in mind? Talk to me! Maybe I can get you started, keep you going, or nudge you across the finish line of that draft manuscript.

In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on my own journey to see if there’s anything I can make of Candora—or Cannie, as she was apparently called. See? I feel as if I know her already.

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