Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lory Kaufman Blog Tour Guest Post

Question: I would love to learn about Lory’s inspiration for History Camps, and why he chose the story's setting as 1347 Verona, Italy. It must have been a hard decision to make. History is filled with many other interesting places and time periods.

Answer: Choosing a setting for a story usually happens in two parts for me. The first is the inspiration, where I’m just day dreaming or doing something, like cutting the lawn, putting out the recycling or, most often, I’m on a long walk. Then, without warning, some random incident will cause a click in my brain. It’s a real click, like a video screen changing channels. Suddenly I’m in the middle of a story. Over the short span of a few seconds a whole universe unfolds and I’m watching a character in the middle of some situation. Then two or three subsequent incidents, streaming off the first, flash in front of my mind’s eye. It’s like a dream, where you think it’s lasted hours, but apparently, the whole experience lasts but a few seconds.

I used to think that all I had to do then was fill in the in between bits, between the original inspiration and the subsequent events, write an introduction and then an ending. As a consequence of this naïve thinking I have journal upon journal, full of half developed story ideas. I would dive in, scribble page after page, writing what I call, free fall, where I’d just see how one thing leads to the next. The result was most ideas have just stayed in their journal, stillborn and silent.

Because this happened often I learned to be very careful, which brings me to the second part; qualifying the characters, story and setting.

What I do now is write the original inspiration as an elevator pitch . . . the shortest description of the story concept I can muster. It's like you've just met a big publisher in an elevator and only have the length of the ride to inspire them with a great story idea. With this done I’ll start writing point forms of the story, characters, settings, etc. It’s a long, arduous vetting process that takes months, where you come back to it with a new puzzle piece, seeing if it fits. Now don’t get me wrong, this is all creative work, but done in a logical manner, because a novel has thousands of things to consider, thousands.

But the question is about how I picked 1347 Verona, Italy out of all the times in history. I’ve explained my process. Now to the specific.

Again, the first seed of choosing 1347 Verona came from a series of unexpected inspirations. I had the criteria for a concept. I wanted to send kids from a future world back in time to before our time. I was going to have them involved in some sort of ancient industry, to make them appreciate how easy their modern lives were in contrast. With this quest placed firmly in my subconscious, I went about the everyday business of life. Then it happened.

I was in a local Lens Crafters store with my mother. Some weeks earlier she’d had a cataract operation and we had to keep going back to have the lenses of her glasses changed several time to accommodate her new vision. Having this happen to my own mother, it made me think about people from the past, how it would have been for, say, a seamstress or a blacksmith or . . . anyone. How could they do their job, make a living, if their eye sight was failing? I know that without my glasses I can’t work for long, or at all, and it was oddly emotional the day after my mother’s operation where she spoke of waking up the next day and being able to read the alarm clock from across her bedroom. She thought she had slept with her glasses on. When I heard her recount this, I received a sympathetic and emotional shock. (code for started to cry) Perhaps it was this that caused it, but while I was in the Lens Crafters, watching them make lenses within an hour on ultra modern equipment, that I started to wonder what the first lens making equipment looked like. Back at home I researched when glasses were first invented. Their first mention in the historical record is in 13th century Italy, although magnifying stones had been around for several thousand years, as far back as ancient Egypt. But it was in Italy where two lenses in a frame were first propped up on the bridge of a person's nose. What then “clicked” in my head was the fact that this was also the time of the Romeo and Juliet story. And whammo! I sat, as always when inspiration strikes, my brow furrowed and my body frozen like a statue. The possibilities began to spin in my mind, incidents and the faces of colorful characters, yet without names, popped into my mind. Then I pulled myself out of my trance and sat down at my laptop and wrote down the stream of consciousness that had just been flying through my brain.

My curmudgeonly high school art instructor, Mr. Meachan, used to say in his thick, Scottish accent, “Art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Girls, start perspirin' and boys start sweatin!!” It’s true. After the inspiration, the work really starts, including research. I love research because, again, stories and ideas just seem to spin off from it. It puts me back into a fantasy world. I think this is the “high” that keeps me going.

On this particular project I spent the better part of six months researching Italy, then Verona, Romeo and Juliet, ancient lens making, clothing and foods, regional names, developing characters . . . the list went on and on. Like I said, months are spent trying out and rationalizing if things work. You bring in and throw out lots of research. But eventually things fell into place, and what a place. Verona worked because there’s no better place to set a young love story than the home of Romeo and Juliet. The ancient technology of lens making worked because it showed a time when what was a craft turned into a science, the science of optics. It showed how a simple invention took so much manpower and dedication, always a good thing to make young and old readers appreciate the past. And the setting was exotic. Verona, Italy is absolutely beautiful. After I had been working on and off the project for some years, I arranged to spend four days in Verona, at the end of a holiday. You can see those pictures on my History Camp Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/historycamptrilogy?v=info).


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