Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How My Son's School Project Inspired My Book

In 2007, my son's eighth grade history teacher gave the kids an assignment. They were each to collect ten family stories. Each story had to take place during a different decade. For each decade chosen, the students prepared a panel like the one above. The first column shares the family story. The second column tells what was happening in the United States during that decade. The last column tells what was going on in the rest of the world.

My mother told Alex the story of his great-grandmother, Lena, and her sisters, Crawley and Anna. Crawley died when she was only twenty years old. She left behind a ten-month-old baby and a letter planning her own funeral. My mom often read the letter when she was growing up, and it always made her sad. It appears Crawley died from tuberculosis. The family worried that her baby would get sick too, but he never did. Some years later, Anna also developed tuberculosis. Unlike Crawley, who died at home, Anna went away to a sanatorium. My grandmother, Lena, was the youngest of the three girls. She cared for Crawley's baby as if he were her own until his father later remarried. My grandmother always maintained a special relationship with Junior and considered him her "first" baby. She went on to have seven more of her own.

By the time Alex was working on his school project, everyone involved in these events was long dead. We were left with snippets of a family story and an old photograph of Anna and Crawley. These became my inspiration. I filled in the blanks through research and imagination. The story is made up, but the emotions are true.

Do you have a favorite family story? Or how about a favorite family photo or memento? They make great writing prompts, and you never know where they will lead you.


  1. Don't they look lovely in those white lacy dresses? Only wondering how careful they had to be to keep themselves thus...

  2. I love the picture. I even used a description of it in my book. My heroine keeps the picture in her treasure box.

  3. I wrote a family story once and this post makes me want to dig it up.

    I love the picture.

  4. Medeia, Dig up that family story and have a look at it with fresh eyes. You never know...

  5. Very interesting to read how you became inspired to write The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. I can't wait to see it in print. : )

  6. Me too, Cindy! I'm ready to hold the book in my own two hands.