Monday, March 7, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

Engraving of James Smithson as an adult, Smithsonian collection 

Stranger than fiction–it's a cliche for a reason. Tonight I take a break from fiction to share a bit of truth that came together like magic and has me geeking out. I set out to research a 16th-century earl with an intriguing moniker for my WIP. Not a fan of 'write what you know,' I'm telling a story far from my ol' Virginia home, or so I thought.

The more I researched, the more details pointed to a British colony with a queen's nickname. Along the way, I found the website for the earl's family home in England. Yes, the same family lives there over 400 years later, but that isn't the strange part. The strange part is the latest arrow pointing its way back to VA. A man who married into the family had an illegitimate son, a son named Smithson who made a strange bequest. Though he'd never been to the United States, his estate was to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” 

The bequest and a few tidbits from Smithson's bio made elements of the WIP snap into place and added possibilities better than fiction I could dream on my own. It's like the time I randomly picked a college for a character's mom to attend and said the mom assisted with an exhibition of Georgia O'Keefe's works while there. After the rough draft was done, I figured the years the mom would have been in college based on her age in the story and started to research. Yep, the randomly picked college has an art museum. And then, much to my disbelief, in the year my subconscious said, there was an exhibition of Georgia O'Keefe's works. I knew almost nothing about the school, let alone enough to make such a leap. It passed from nifty coincidence to magic. 

What magic have you experienced in your art? To paraphrase Madeleine L'Engle, when has the work known more than you? 

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