Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mining for Gold at Family Gatherings by Marie Wells Coutu

Family reunions can be a goldmine for writers.
Marie Wells Coutu


Every time I go to a family reunion, I come away with half a dozen story or character ideas. (Of course, I would never use the actual people or events in a recognizable way!) Especially at funerals, or simply as we get older, my relatives and I like to talk about family history. We try to glean those precious stories about our parents and ancestors that we’ve never heard before from other aging relatives before they, too, are gone.


Here are a few of the “seed” ideas I’ve picked up in the last few years that may find their way into one of my novels someday:


  • A cousin told me how the other side of her family had disliked her and treated her rudely because she was adopted.
  • An aunt dated my uncle for at least seven years because he wouldn't marry her until after his mother died. (He inherited the family farm.)
  • My grandfather killed a man in a shoot-out. The other man’s family had been living with him, but the man came home drunk one night and started shooting. My grandfather killed him but died several days later from the gunshot. (I was a baby when this happened, and never learned the details until after my father died.)
  • Out of homesickness, my father went AWOL from the Army at one point (and none of us children even knew he had been in the military). We learned about this from old letters he had saved for more than seventy years.

If you’re a writer, you can see how any one of these tidbits could be the basis for a scene, a character, or a subplot, if not an entire book.

The point is to always be aware of potential story ideas. Record the stories in a notebook or on your computer as soon as possible after hearing it, so you can capture the details. Even better is to use a recording device (even your phone) and interview those relatives who know your family history and the “skeletons in the closet.” You never know when those stories may turn into a jewel of an idea.


What stories have you heard from your family (or your spouse’s) that get your creative juices flowing? Have you incorporated family history into a novel without betraying the individuals involved?

About the Author
The Secret Heart
by Marie Wells Coutu


Marie Wells Coutu’s newest novel, The Secret Heart, releases February 2017 from Write Integrity Press. Follow Marie on Amazon.com to be notified when it becomes available. The Secret Heart, loosely based on the lives of Bathsheba and David, is the third book in the Mended Vessels series. Books in the series are contemporary re-imaginings of the stories of biblical women, including Esther and the woman at the well.

Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the 2016 Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook page (Author Marie Wells Coutu), at her website (MarieWellsCoutu.com), or follow her on Twitter (@mwcoutu). 
Marie retired after 15 years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and she and her husband now divide their time between Florida and Iowa.


The Secret Heart

Beautiful Shawna Moore married Hunter Wilson, the governor of Tennessee, after a whirlwind romance, only six weeks following her first husband’s death in Iraq. Now, she wonders if the governor loved her at all or only hoped to avoid a scandal.

An investigative reporter—and friend of Shawna’s—is asking questions. If he discovers the truth about Shawna’s baby, Hunter’s chances for reelection could be ruined. But keeping the secret is destroying their marriage. Will Shawna convince Hunter to choose his family and drop out of politics, or will he continue to put his career first?

The Secret Heart is available for pre-order now. For a sneak peek, download the first chapter here.

6 comments:

  1. This had me searching my memory, Marie! :)

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  2. I know what you mean, Sandy! That's why I have to make notes right away, or I forget about those great stories!

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  3. I started thinking about my family and wow, we do have a lot of stories. I guess that is why our family motto is "It's Always A Story with The Henderson's" hahaha

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    1. Melisssa, Be sure to write them down or get family members to talk about them and record it! I wish I had done more of that while my parents were still alive.
      When you use them in a novel, you do have to be careful not to offend anyone though!
      Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Fascinating stories,Marie!I've used character traits from family members, but not actual stories. Now you have me thinking!

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    1. Sure, Dawn! In historicals, it's easier but it can work for contemporary too! I based a scene in The Secret Heart on a situation when my grandson's loose tooth came out at a swimming pool (but don't tell him!).

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