It’s what every writer needs in order to create. Some writers refer to this stimulus of ideas as their “muse” and swear they can’t get a single word on the page without it (thus, the dreaded writer’s block).
While I believe in a spiritual source of inspiration when I write, I’m also very visual and need a picture or an image to spark my writing. When I actually see a particular place or person, whether in real life or through a photograph, then I can transfer that to the page more clearly.
So when it came time to write the characters and settings for my book, Perfectly Arranged, I knew exactly where to look for my inspiration.
A Stroll Down Memory Lane
In August of 2006, my husband, two daughters, and I packed up all our belongings and our cat, Tiger, and headed to Nanjing, China. It was quite the experience and we loved (almost) every minute of it! As we’d never traveled to Asia before, there was a lot for us to take in. I did my best to chronicle our time there through pictures and blog posts so our family would always remember that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Little did I know then that the photos and writings I’d kept, as well as a mysterious card, would help me pen a novel (three, actually) ten years later!!
I used those images to capture the tastes, smells, sights, and sounds of China that my main character, Nicki Mayfield, experienced. And while no one ever loves to flip through a thick photo album or watch videos of a trip they didn’t go on, I thought I’d share just a few of the memories with you so that you might get a small glimpse of what she and I observed during our time in the Land of Dragons and Tea Leaves.
When you look at these pictures I hope you’ll see a side of China that you may have never seen before. And later, when you read my book(s) in the upcoming months, I hope these images will float through your mind as you turn each page. I’ve tried to include snippets from my manuscript with the photos so you can see how I did 😉
China Scrapbook, August 2006 – December 2008
Smaller apartment buildings fight for space among the businesses, and laundry hangs from almost every balcony of the crammed high rises as if shielding the windows from any sunrays that dare penetrate the hazy clouds guarding the city. Further down the road, groups of men squatting on the curb smoke cigarettes while others gather around small tables to play games.
As we continue our drive out of the city, I encounter situations I’ve never experienced before—a young bicyclist slowly pulling 12 oversized fish tanks full of water and sea life down a crowded street, workers sweeping up piles of litter with handmade straw brooms, and a toddler flashing the world thanks to the large slit in the back of his pajamas. I cackle at the sight of his bare skin.
Getting Around China
While the plane ride and landing were without drama, the ride to the hotel isn’t. Small cars, bicycles, and mopeds weave through the streets without any sense of order. Heavy exhaust fumes and blaring car horns fill the air. And mixed in between all the congestion, smells, and noise, crowds of people line the sidewalks and streets.
“Doesn’t this chaos bother you?” I ask Ms. O’Connor as I watch our car narrowly avoid hitting a moped that’s swerved in front of us.
“I’ll admit it’s extreme, but I guess that’s just the way they do it here.” She seems unfazed by the pandemonium.
“Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like it. I mean, how do people get anywhere when there’s so much confusion? Aren’t there any rules to follow?” I jump as another car pulls into our lane without blinking its lights or waiting for enough space. “It’s like a NASCAR race on steroids,” I scream without meaning to.
My words linger in the air without any response.
After a while, the constant stop-and-go of the traffic flow leaves me dizzy and nauseous. I’m reminded of when I was a little girl swirling on those cheap amusement park rides at the local fair. I was sure I would lose my lunch every time I got on one of them. Lord, please don’t let there be a reappearance of my last meal anytime soon.
The Great Wall
After a few minutes, Julia looks at me and makes a request. “He wants to know if he can invite his family over to take pictures with you as well.”
I laugh. “You’re joking, right?”
Julia shakes her head. “No, no joke.”
I glance back at the boy. The hopeful look on his face tells me his request is genuine. “Sure, I’d be honored.”
Julia conveys my answer and the teen races off to find his family. “That is very kind of you. You didn’t have to do that. But I should warn you—you’ve probably opened the door for others to ask for a picture with you too.”
I’m curious as to why she would say something like that. “What do you mean?”
Before she can reply, the boy returns with his family, and I start taking individual pictures with each person in his group. Standing next to each of them, I look like a Western giant.
When Julia hands the phone back to the boy, I assume our photo shoot is over, but as I turn around, I see more locals have lined up to take their picture with me. So, this is what she meant about opening the door. My heartrate increases about double to what it was beating while I climbed the wall. Now I know how the celebrities back home feel when the paparazzi chase them down.
Ten minutes later, my face is hurting from smiling so much, Julia rescues me from the crowd that has surrounded us. She shouts out a few sentences in Mandarin and my entourage quickly disperses.
And then there was the famous squatty potty …
He bows slightly and offers us some refreshments while we wait. I decline but inquire about using the restroom. He points to a door with the letters, “W/C” on it.
I turn and look in the direction he’s pointing, but don’t see what he could be referring to. “W/C?”
“It means water closet,” he suppresses a laugh. “I believe you refer to it as the bathroom or restroom.”
“Oh.” I grin. “Well, excuse me while I go to the water closet then.”
I dash towards the door, amused by the cultural differences even with something as simple as using a bathroom. Locking it behind me, I search for the toilet but don’t see one. I spin around the room just to make sure I’m not missing anything. There are only a sink and a small, raised ledge on the opposite wall. Certainly, I’m not expected to go in the sink, am I?
With slow steps and uncertainty marring my heartbeat, I walk across the cream-colored floor to the raised ledge. I carefully place my right foot on the ledge, and glance down. There, on the ground, is what looks like the top half of a ceramic toilet seat. I cover my hand over my mouth to stifle a scream.
Not a squatty potty!
I’d read about these in-ground toilets, but I hadn’t expected I’d have to use one, what with our upscale accommodations. Rookie traveler mistake. They are, apparently, everywhere.
Thanks for taking a stroll down memory lane with me! I hope you enjoyed not only the pictures but the snippets of the book as well! There’s so much more to the story than these few pictures and excerpts, but hopefully, it’s whetted your appetite for what’s to come in October! Stay tuned …