Occasionally readers ask where I get my story ideas. One rich lode of ideas is studying real-life history, which I do often, both on my own and as a volunteer at a local history museum. Insatiably curious, I love digging into the past of places I’ve lived–it helps me feel more rooted and at home there. It’s a lot like snooping, but if you’re snooping through historical documents, you get to call it research. And the real-life past is an absolute treasure trove of future story ideas for a historical fiction author.
My first two books grew out of my interested in the Chicago area, where I grew up. A new story that’s coming out next fall moves the action to the dense fir forests of northern Idaho. I’m also mulling a story around the Armistice of 1918. I collect these ideas on scraps of paper in a folder, and now and then I sift through the folder for inspiration. Not every chance idea makes it into a future story, of course, but as Grandma used to say, it’s all grist for the mill. In the meantime, I’ve learned something new, and am always the richer for it.
If you’re interested in early-20th-century history, The Winter 2019 issue of SANDPOINT magazine contains three of my articles about my current home in northern Idaho. One’s about the Armistice, the second skims over key events that shaped the region, and the third’s about Sears mail-order houses, a big deal in the early 20th century. (Maybe you or someone you know lives in one!)
You, too, might be surprised and delighted at what you can turn up by studying the history of your town or region. Start with the local library or historical society, and see where the path may lead.
In the nine years that I’ve lived in northern Idaho, I’ve continually been impressed by the quality of the local literary community. Who knew there were so many intriguing authors, writers, and booklovers living in these parts? And then to discover that I share a publisher with one of them–well, to my mind, that makes us sort of literary cousins! Join me in welcoming fellow author and North Idahoan Buck Storm to the Sparkling Vintage blog.
On a recent sunny day I had the privilege of chatting with Buck over coffee. His debut novel, The Miracle Man, was published in 2015 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
But Buck’s is not only a novelist–he’s an accomplished musician and songwriter, too (another form of storytelling). As a soloist or as one half of “Stonehill and Storm” (with Christian-music powerhouse Randy Stonehill), Buck “plays live throughout America and the world, in venues that range anywhere from churches to concert halls, prisons to soup kitchens to barrooms,” as stated on his website.
When not traveling on tour, Buck and his wife, Michelle, call North Idaho home. They enjoy hanging out with their grown kids and renovating their 1908 house–of which, I must admit, I’m envious. To my delight, it turns out that the Storms, too, are fans of “all things vintage,” scouring the area for cast-off treasures that just need a little TLC to restore them to their former luster.
But back to matters at hand . . .
Set in 1951, The Miracle Man tells the story of Luke Hollis, police chief of sleepy Paradise, Arizona. When an unexplained healing occurs during a service at the Mount Moriah Pentecostal Church of God, Hollis finds his simple belief system challenged and his life changed forever. Throw in a struggling minister, a world-class grifter, and a stranger with an unbelievable story of love and redemption and the stage is set for The Miracle Man. By the time it’s all over everyone involved will come face to face with a power that’s greater and more wonderful than any of them could have ever imagined.
I loved this book, especially its vivid descriptions, memorable characters, wry humor, and powerful story of redemption. It’s the kind of story you find yourself rolling over in your mind, days after finishing it.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Jennifer Lamont Leo: Thanks for meeting with me, Buck. The Miracle Man is set in the early 1950s. Why did you choose that time period?
Buck Storm: I don’t really know … I think it chose me! Growing up in Arizona, a lot of guys I knew were from that postwar time period. I loved listening to their stories.
Jennifer: Is Paradise based on a real town?
Buck: Paradise is fictional. I’ve placed it in the area around Payson, Arizona, but it’s not based on any particular town.
Jennifer: Is any part of the story autobiographical?
Buck: No, except to the extent that, like Luke Hollis, I have arm-wrestled with God. The truth is, God is involved in your life, whether you know it or not, whether you acknowledge it.
Jennifer: That’s an important message for people to hear.
Buck: Yeah. If our lives are grounded in faith, then our writing comes out of that faith.
JLL: What have you enjoyed reading/watching/listening to lately?
Buck: I recently enjoyed the movie Smoke Signals [ed. note: based on a story by another notable Northwest author, Sherman Alexie]. I’ve been reading Charles Martin, Elmore Leonard, and Larry McMurtry, paying special attention to their use of dialogue. As a songwriter, I appreciate dialogue that has an almost lyrical quality, like [songwriter] John Prine. I’m on the road a lot, so I listen to audiobooks while driving.
Jennifer: Speaking of being on the road, tell us a bit about your music. How would you describe it?
Buck: I’d call it Americana, both in genre and content. It has elements of country and folk, a sort of vintage acoustic style. You can listen to it at buckstorm.com.
Jennifer: Do you take copies of The Miracle Man with you on the road?
Buck: Yeah. A lot of people who come to hear us play have responded very positively to the book.
Jennifer: What writing projects are you working on now?
Buck: My next novel, Truck Stop Jesus, will be published in November 2016. And I’m working on a third novel, The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez. I also write a blog called Tips for the Traveler, where I share some of the thoughts I have while traveling.
Jennifer: Life on the road must give you a lot of time to think. It helps your creativity.
Buck: Yes, it does.
Jennifer: Thanks for talking with me today, Buck. I look forward to future visits to Paradise, Arizona.
Buck: Thank you.
Look for The Miracle Man (available now) and Truck Stop Jesus (coming in November 2016) at your favorite online bookseller. For more about Buck Storm, visit his website, buckstorm.com, where you can read his blog, listen to his music, and find out more about his upcoming tour schedule, book releases, and more.
“Why would I want to drive around and look at the same old stuff that I see every day?” you may ask. Because you’re not looking for the stuff you see every day. You’re looking for the stuff that was there fifty or a hundred-and-fifty years ago (or even older, depending on where you live).
For example, in my area of northern Idaho, historian Nancy Foster Renk has written a new book called Driving Past: Tours of Historical Sites in Bonner County, Idaho. In it she outlines several driving tours, and along the way she tells you the stories of what to look for. See that tumbledown building? It was once one-room schoolhouse, and here’s what it was like to be a student or teacher there. That patch of meadow? Indians tribes used to gather there every year. That old cabin now used as a museum? It was built as a ranger station by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1934. For a history- or nostalgia-minded person, soaking your imagination in “how it used to be” is a delightful, refreshing way to spend summer afternoon.
Now, chances are most of you won’t be visiting North Idaho anytime soon. But you can do something similar for your town or county. Look for a book fo historical driving tours or, if there’s none available, map out a plan of your own. Visit your local library or historical society to find out where buildings and other structures were located, or what was there before there were any buildings at all (a farm field? A forest where people picked huckleberries?) Then plot your route, grab your lunch and your camera, and hit the road. Let your car become a time-travel machine as you learn about the people and places of yesteryear.