I could really identify with Michelle’s literary pilgrimage(although I am freaking jealous. I wanna go!) It is amazing the kind of thing that will get you in the mind frame to write. Garry McLaughlin posted a link on Crimespace to some civil war photos. I knew that photography existed at that time but I didn’t know how advanced it really was. The pictures are in some cases so graphic you can not look at them and escape the reality of that war. And yet, and yet, looking in the faces of those folks, I wanted to go back and talk to them.
There was a picture of a group of black folks marked simply, contraband. Yeah, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. It was obviously labeled at the time it was taken. I could go off on the kind of times that could look at people and see…possessions but I have to be honest. What really struck me was how young so many of them were. And even so, even the baby in that picture is probably long dead now.
Failing to be able to talk to the people I saw pictured, I wanted to at least read a book like Ann McMillan’s Civil War series or even write one myself. I guess sometimes I use reading and writing to make sense of reality. I’m not at sure I could write historicals though.
I know writers who use pictures in a different way. One woman I know goes through magazines and newspapers until she sees her heroine. She doesn’t know what the character looks like until she sees a picture that strikes her. Then she can write–not just the description of the character, but the whole book. For some reason, she knows how the character will react by looking at the picture.
I have another friend who was so struck by the picture of a place that had housed a mental institution back at the turn of the last century that she set a book there. It was a horror type of book, of course. Looking at the picture, you knew it had to be.
It might be a bit of conundrum that writers who deal with words that paint pictures can start with a picture. But then again, whatever works.