[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] Three Seeds of Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it. You may not understand its value at the time, but if you are lucky you plant the seed and curiously await the results. That happened to me a few years back, and planting those seeds has made all the difference.

Before I decided to write my debut novel, A Cup of Redemption, I was busy writing short stories involving travel and food memoirs. While interviewing an elderly French woman, Marcelle, about her favorite French recipes—cuisine pauvre, or “French peasant food”—she stunned me when I asked, “What recipes did you prepare as a young wife?”

“Recipes?” she answered with a not unkind laugh. “We were in the middle of World War II and my husband was part of the French Résistance. It was often too dangerous for me to sneak into the field to get a potato or two for my family. We were in hiding. Recipes? Now, that was something I only dreamed of.” 

My original idea of writing a regional French cookbook slipped by the wayside as my desire to understand this woman became pronounced. How had this woman, who struggled under the weight of war, managed her family? How had she, along with so many other valiant women and families, survived with war scrapping on their doorsteps? I’ve written about this moment before but, for me, this was defining moment and my first “seed” of inspiration.

On a second occasion—actually, on a food tour in southern Italy, I was resting on a large rock near an ancient sixth-century B.C. Greek temple in Paestum. With rapt attention I was listening to a retired professor giving a short talk—not about cucina povera (Italian peasant food), which was the reason I was touring—but about military history.  He was waxing poetic about the battle which had taken place nearby in Salerno—not during Greek or Roman times, but during World War II. Waving his hand to the north and pointing beyond our view, he regaled us with the perilous happenings on those nearby beaches between the Allies and the Germans. With great detail as to strategy used, generals in charge, numbers of military involved, numbers killed and/or wounded, he explained the tragic outcome of that particular battle. 

I nodded my head with interest, but waited until he completed his talk. Then I asked my question: “What about the people who lived here? How many were killed? How did families survive in the midst of this tragedy?”

He may have been dumbfounded by the naïveté of my question, but I, too, was left limp-jawed by his answer: “The military keep no records of unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by a military action, especially when it comes to unintended civilian casualties. It is known as ‘collateral damage.’”

I walked away from that conversation struck by the audacity of war and those who led it. I knew this gentleman was an expert in his field and he was only reporting on what was recorded, but I couldn’t get his words out of my mind: “It is known as ‘collateral damage.’” Not the people are considered collateral damage. I found the military’s total disregard of civilians—those vast numbers of men, women, children caught in the cross-hairs of war and never counted—was daunting.  This was my second seed.

A year or so later, during a conversation with a young French woman, she mentioned her concern for her eighty-year-old grandmother from Bordeaux. The Twin Towers had come down so as the world was anxiously awaiting if and when war would break out, her grandmother hit the reset button. Her experience of starvation in Paris during World War II was one she would never forget. And she was not taking any chances! She ordered a ton of potatoes to be delivered to her door. This was the third “seed,” for I began to realize how the impact of a war sixty years prior brought up memories along with a sense of immediacy and emergency for those who have lived with it . . . as did the following generations.

My novel, which focuses on three women—two French, one American, who separately experienced life-changing events during war—is about women’s struggles to rise up during and after the devastation of war. So, by the time I flew to France to follow up on Marcelle’s story, she had passed away and I was there to help her daughter unravel some of her mother’s mysteries. And it was there I was able to reap the fruits from the seeds of inspiration which had been planted.

Those three non-linear conversations—or seeds—propelled me forward for years—digging through archives, interviewing others, working with translators, reviewing  transcriptions, plus reading, researching, and reading some more. (This is part of the writing process, I promise you. And, by the way, research is probably one of the most seductive things you can do, as you don’t want to stop.) 

So, why did I take you on this lengthy description of my writing process? For me, my passion and drive to write this novel—which took twelve years, by the way—culminated with three offhand comments or three seeds of inspiration.  You see, the seed of a story can find you anywhere or any time. 

Carole Bumpus - www.carolebumpus.com

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Tags: WWII, Women, collateral, damage

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Comment by Nina Gaby on July 12, 2014 at 10:06am

You never know when the synchronicity is going to happen. But your being present for it has made for what sounds like a wonderful book that I am looking forward to reading. Thank you for the post, a reminder to keep our senses open.

Comment by Carole Bumpus on July 7, 2014 at 3:20pm

Thank you, Barbara.  As you know in putting your novel together, inspiration comes in the most obtuse of ways!  But, then, there they are!

Comment by Barbara Stark-Nemon on July 7, 2014 at 12:06pm

Carole, Reading this post, I'm reminded again how much I'm looking forward to Cup of Redemption. I so relate to your seeds of inspiration and admire how you've nourished them!  All best wishes!

Comment by Carole Bumpus on July 3, 2014 at 9:45pm

Dear Catherine, Leslie, Janet, Rita and Bette, Thank you for your kind comments!  This has been a work in process for so long that I can barely believe my good fortune of having it published.  Yes, it is coming out October 27th through--She Writes Press, of course!

Comment by Catherine Marshall-Smith on July 3, 2014 at 1:33pm

It's true the seeds are always there but it's only Carole Bumpus who identified them and wove them into A Cup Of Redemption.It's up to all of us to be open to inspiration.Thanks!

Comment by Leslie Johansen Nack on July 3, 2014 at 12:55pm

Bravo Carole! So inspirational. I can't wait to read your book and wish you all the luck and success in the world!  

Comment by Janet T Cannon on July 3, 2014 at 11:19am

Thank you for  this post. I'm also eager to read your book. Who is publishing it,

and when?

Comment by Rita Gardner on July 3, 2014 at 10:08am

Carole - that is a great post!  I'm so excited to read your book. I've shared the post on FB and to one of my dear friends who is also interested in France/World War II.  So thrilled to be part of our writing cadre!

Comment by Bette Houtchens on July 3, 2014 at 10:03am

Such a thoughtful post, I can't wait to read the novel! 

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