Inspiration by Tracy Brogan
My best answer is, “Everywhere, and nowhere.” Being inspired is sort of like deciding to be left-handed, or looking at a cloud and seeing a dragon in the shape, or catching the scent of lilacs on the air and being transported to another place. I’m not sure where an idea comes from, but whoosh! There it is, and I run with it.
I see a photograph, and something about the lighting and the shadows evokes an emotion. I hear a news story and wonder how the reporter was impacted by the telling of it. A love song conjures lots of ideas. But my favorite inspirations come from old buildings. I think about the people who passed through them. What their lives were like. What they talked about inside the walls. That was especially fun as I traveled in Scotland and visited dozens of castle ruins. Can you tell I am a historical novelist at heart?
But closer to my home in Michigan, quite close to home in fact, is a building which inspired my most recent book, Hold On My Heart. Central to the story is an abandoned, one-room schoolhouse which the hero and heroine transform into a vintage ice cream parlor. I’d like to say that this wonderful idea came to me in a vision, or a dream, or just from my own vast cleverness. Alas, this is an idea I pilfered from real life! And a real building!
A one-room schoolhouse with quite a remarkable story of its own.
According to my extensive research (which consisted of 20 minutes on Google) and my own personal knowledge, Carl School was built around 1855 at a cost of roughly $600. Like many schools of that time period in rural communities, this one was small and had few amenities, but it functioned as a place of education for more than 100 years. My brother and oldest sister even attended there in the early 1960’s. It was pretty convenient since it was literally across the street from our house (seriously, you could see it from my house—and I’m also pleased to report that at some point plumbing was added along with an additional, cinderblock classroom).
Somewhere around 1965, a new elementary school was built and Carl School shut down. It sat abandoned and forlorn for several years. Nearby homeowners bought the land, fenced it in, and put horses on it. They turned the “new building” into stables. That might have been the end of the story for the little, old schoolhouse, but the community of Ada didn’t want that piece of history forgotten. They lifted the original one-room schoolhouse right off of its foundation and moved it about 10 miles into the village of Ada, Michigan. Soon after, it became The Little Red Schoolhouse Ice Cream Shop. Voila!
As a child, I went there a lot. They served a chili dog with mustard and pickles called a “beanie weenie.” Nice name, huh? It was delicious. And every time you got an ice cream cone, you could ring the original cast iron bell. The bell plays a prominent role in Hold On My Heart, too, but you’ll have to read the story to find out how.
The bell also created some havoc for the owners of the ice cream shop in “real life” because the ringing annoyed some the local neighbors. Check out this link and you can read an article from 1986. I’m sad to say she lost this case and the rope was removed from the bell.
Eventually the ice cream shop closed, other businesses passed through, but for the last 10 years it’s been home to Artisan Flowers. I haven’t seen the building myself in quite some time, but when I picture it, I like to think about how it looked when I was a kid just eager for ice cream, with its red exterior walls, and the rough-hewn floor rubbed soft by so many footsteps over its surface. In my mind, that’s how my hero and heroine have recreated it, too.
There are lots of fabulous – and fabulously old – buildings in Ada, most of which were built in the 1850’s but were reconstructed after “The Big Fire” (doesn’t every town have a Big Fire at some point in its history?). The Ada Covered Bridge has lots of history to it, as does a building referred to as “The Coach Stop.” Guess what that used to be? I have a story all set up for that place, too. For a while during my childhood, it was home to friends of our family. Then they sold it and it became a restaurant. Now it’s a real estate office.
I think that’s why old buildings intrigue me so. What you see them as now is not what they always were. They each have their own history, and that fascinates me. And dare I say, it inspires me.
Past or present, Tracy Brogan loves romance. She writes funny contemporary stories about ordinary people finding extraordinary love, and stirring historical romance full of political intrigue, damsels causing distress, and the occasional man in a kilt. She is a best-selling author, 2013 Romance Writers of America® RITA Best First Book Finalist for Crazy Little Thing and two-time Golden Heart Finalist in both contemporary and historical romance.
Her next contemporary romance, Hold On My Heart, releases this week. You can view the trailer here.
Learn more and order your own copy of Hold On My Heart:
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