I love genealogy and history, old houses, and family stories. They’re full of inspiration for fiction. My dad used these, too, for his stories. When I read some of his writings, I recognize parts inspired by his family history and by events from his life.
I’m (still) working on my first novel. I’m writing two parallel stories. One story takes place before and after the Civil War and the other story takes place in the present day. The house owned by my main character has been in her family for five generations. It’s based on the one my great grandparents owned, and it is where my grandmother and mother grew up. (We call it “the Big House.” Nobody remembers why. It’s now owned by the Valdosta Heritage Foundation.) I know its history, and I use it in my story–how it evolved from a one-story, four room house built in 1845 to the Folk Victorian-Queen Anne style it is now. My sister and I sometimes joke that it’s haunted.
The name of my main character’s home town is the same as mine. In fact, the story takes place in my home town. I even use some of the town’s real history, a few real street names, and real place names. A couple of scenes take place (nothing bad) in two downtown restaurants where I’ve eaten, and I give their real names. I went ‘round and ‘round about this. Would using real place names make people upset? Would people be pleased to see their town’s name in a story? Do I have to get permission from someone? Would anyone complain if I’m off in any of my descriptions? From what I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to, there are pros and cons about using the real names of towns, businesses, neighborhoods, etc.
I named my present-day main character Lavinia after my great, great aunt. I wanted a name that sounded a little old-fashioned, like it’s been passed down through the generations. I named Lavinia’s sister Isabella (Bella for short) after my great grandmother. I love those names. I first named Lavinia’s love interest Jack Dawson, a variation of Jack Dalton who was a historical figure in Alaska and whose name I love. Then I all I could hear in my head was the female character Kate in the TV show Lost saying “Jack!” all the time. I searched my family tree for other possibilities. And so Jack became Jedediah (Jed for short).
Inspiration for stories is everywhere. Sometimes ideas fly into my mind and fly out of it just as fast. I can’t get them all written down.