Today I called my mom. In passing, I told her about the progress of my novel that's set sort of near one of the towns where she grew up in the Appalachian Mountains. She usually doesn't express much of an interest in my writing and doesn't even try to fake it. It's just how our relationship is. I knew I was kind of talking to myself and didn't expect much of a response.
But something I said about the research I was doing on two particular coal mining disasters had the effect of opening a magic doorway into the past.
For forty-five minutes she shared with me her memories of living in a coal town. I knew my dad had lived in a coal town but didn't know my mom had. She even told me about the mining accident that her dad and grandfather were involved in. Her descriptions made me feel like I was there and validated much of what I already had in my novel. She also told me some things that went against the grain of what I've been reading in history books that generalize the region.
I felt like a dwarf from The Hobbit sitting in a pile of gold treasure.
I did write down notes while I talked to her - I was on a corded phone, so I grabbed a black sharpie and scribbled on the back of grocery lists, my kids' homework, junk mail, anything I could reach.
I called her back a few hours later (after typing up the notes) to thank her for sharing with me and to assure her that nothing I'm writing is going to be even close to biographical. I know that's something she would worry about. What I'm writing is definitely fiction.
Holy crap - she opened up again and gave me a fantastic idea for yet another novel. She was every bit as excited about the writing I'm doing as I am. How cool is that?! She asked me to come over and talk with my step-dad, whose grandparents grew up in the same region.
This is the best day ever. I can't even express how happy I am - for one, I'm drowning in story ideas - I could spend the next twenty years writing about characters in this region. And I've made an amazing connection with my mother that I never expected.
If I ever make money from this adventure, I'm going to buy something incredible for my mom just to thank her for the inspiration she gave me today. That's some good motivation to strive to make lots of money.