With collections come inspiration. Objects of fascination are boundless: milk glass, bottle caps, depression glass, Golden books, grown-up books—signed copies and first editions—jadeite, rocks, stamps, coins, dolls, marbles, and… well, you get the idea. The endless need for shelf space and feather dusters. My mother-in-law collected salt & pepper shakers and tiny souvenir spoons. For my massage therapist, it’s a Zen-like collection of crystals. In 1995, I owned a world-class collection of Beanie Babies.
Sometimes, you collect and learn.
I also collect snippets of other peoples’ lives. How so? I have a sunroom filled with vintage postcards. Recorded on them are other writers’ thoughts. They are passing moments that range from the cliché, “Wish you were here,” to the rarest of postcards, one bearing a message powerful enough to inspire an entire book. Let me explain.
What’s a picture worth?
Below is a postcard dated 1906. It wandered into my collection about twenty years ago. It’s an idyllic image of the Great South Bay and a pier that washed away years ago—decades before the town of Bayport was my home. If you can’t make out the message, it reads: “Spent 2 weeks here a year ago last summer. Did not dream of you then. E.M.K.”
The words, even the feathery cursive, have always struck me as hauntingly poetic. I’ve considered many scenarios, wondering what became of E.M.K. and Mr. Herman Dierks of Brooklyn, NY, the card’s addressee. Apparently, that question stirred like a potion in my head. When it came time to dream up the plot for Echo Moon, I immediately thought of the postcard. I knew I wanted to write something with a historical edge. From there my framed keepsake neatly and unwittingly lent itself to the task.
When reality and imagination mix.
Echo Moon’s protagonist, Peter St John* is haunted by the postcard and its century-old secrets. It’s a ghost gift that belongs to his mother, Aubrey Ellis. Readers can find mentions of the postcard going all the way back to Ghost Gifts. If there’s such a thing as subliminal plotting, I suppose this is a fine example.
In fact, the postcard became so integral to Echo Moon, readers will find a lithograph version on the book’s opening pages—slightly modified to serve the plot and my publisher’s legal department. While the message has been finessed, you can see how the words stay fairly true to the original. Even more curious, the initials E.M.K. only had to be altered by a single letter, which I swear was not by design.
How the ghosts got in on it.
All Ghost Gifts novels are fueled by a chase. In the first novel, Aubrey and Levi chase a twenty-year old cold case. In Foretold, the reader is chasing a ghost—whether they know it or not. For Echo Moon, I wanted to bring back romance and I pose this question: What if the woman you loved was a ghost? Worse—what if you knew, that in another life, you killed her?
Turns out the vintage postcard in my collection serves double duty. Not only did it provide inspiration for the story, the card’s dreamy message holds clues protagonist Peter St John* will need to guide his chase on the pages of Echo Moon.
Do you collect anything? Do you collect your treasures for fun, investment, or perhaps reasons more personal or abstract. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Click on the Peter St John link to participate in some early character casting!