Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Discovering the Story by Marilyn Turk

Author Marilyn Turk compares herself to an archeologist as she discusses how she uncovered the idea for her first novel. -- Sandy

Marilyn: I never intended to write fiction. I thought I’d be writing devotionals and articles. And that’s what I did, so when I attended writers’ conferences and heard others talk about writing novels, I didn’t believe the topic pertained to me. That was before I discovered a story that would be my first novel.

History has always interested me, especially the history of the area where I lived. So naturally, I researched that history.  I’m a southerner, born and raised, and I’ve only lived in three southern states, so my research has stayed in the south as well. But one day after I moved to Florida, I stumbled upon a new subject to research.

You see, like many others, I’ve always admired lighthouses. Majestic and alluring, they represented strength, dependability and tales of adventure. I’d only seen them in pictures, so imagine my surprise when I chanced upon a lighthouse while making sales calls for my day job.

I was astonished to see one so close, and I was immediately smitten. I had to go inside. In a heavy rain,  I followed a van down the road to the lighthouse, and when it parked, I parked alongside. The driver rolled down his window and asked if I needed to get inside the lighthouse which was closed during the week. For the first time in my life I said, “I’m a writer.” Then I added, “I need to see it for research.” Amazingly, he told me to come back in an hour after he did some work, and he’d let me in. When I returned, he gave me a personal tour of the keeper’s house and the lighthouse, telling me the history of them and the roles they played in the Civil War. Standing at the top of the Pensacola lighthouse, I could “see” history playing out before me,  imagining the feelings of those living there at that time.

I know now that experience was a gift from God and He led me down that road to lead me into a new career. Before I even left that day, a story was forming in my mind, and my first historical novel was born. Shortly after my visit to the lighthouse, my company was sold and I was laid off. But God had shown me the new path I would take.

It’s been such a surprise to see how God has continued to lead me down trails in my mind as stories continue to unfold. But to those who ask where I get my ideas, I say, “I don’t think I create them. I find them.”
As my passion for lighthouses and coastal history has developed, the more I learn, the more the stories expose themselves. I find out what happened in a particular area and immediately, I see the characters who lived there, and when I start writing, they reveal themselves to me. In that way, I feel like an archaeologist, uncovering history and finding the story that is told by the discovery.

If there’s one question that I ask myself in finding the story, it’s “what would life be like for someone who lived here at that time?” And knowing people haven’t changed much since the beginning of time, I can relate to the feelings they might have had.

I admire those writers who can invent worlds – they are truly creative. But for me, I’ll just take my shovel and keep on digging.

How you do come up with your ideas? Are you a "creator" or an "archeologist?"


Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coastal South, especially its history. Rebel Light, the first book in her Coastal Lights Legacy series, and her Lighthouse Devotions, will be published in 2015. Her historical suspense, The Gilded Curse, will be published in March 2016. She writes a weekly lighthouse blog @