Kat: Story Inspiration

Hopi House Grand Canyon

Hopi House Renovation
Grand Canyon National Park

This past January, I had the pleasure of visiting the Grand Canyon with two other 8Ladies—Kay and Jilly. If you’ve never visited the Canyon or have only visited during the high season, I highly recommend a wintertime visit. Yes, the weather can be risky in January, but the tradeoff is no traffic, parking woes, or mobs of people to elbow aside for a view. There’s also a very different vibe in winter—a quiet feeling of stepping back in time.

The structures scattered around the canyon reinforce the feeling, and while there, I assumed that Hopi House, Bright Angel Lodge, Hermit’s Rest, and in particular, The Watchtower at the north end of the park were hundreds of years old, built by some ancient people and abandoned. Here’s where the story gets good. When I returned home, I began reading about the canyon structures and was surprised to find that most were conceived and designed by a singular woman of the time: Mary E.J. Colter. College educated (design school no less), Mary Colter stepped away from the expectations society held for women at the time and went to work to support her sister and mother in a field few woman had dared breech: architecture. She created five historical structures in the Grand Canyon (and numerous hotels, only two of which remain), and every one is a love story. A celebration of nature, Native American history and culture, and of western life.

A woman with such passion (and determination) had to have one hell of a backstory (I thought), but when I began looking for personal information on her, I found little. The few personal antidotes I found described her as  passionate and single-minded when designing a structure (an artist in other words), but people who worked with and for her described her as “bossy” and “hard to get along with”.  Mary Colter was a chain-smoking, pants-wearing, independent woman who swore like a sailor, wanted what she wanted, and generally got it through sheer force of personality.  She’s also the inspiration for my next story.

I read somewhere that the best story ideas come from synergy. Two (or more) ideas combined in a way that makes one ass-kicking story. What I have right now is half the equation. A twenty-first century woman stuck in the early twentieth century. That’s a good start (IMHO) but she needs a personal life that’s equally progressive.

Any ideas for a personal life for this incredible character?

7 thoughts on “Kat: Story Inspiration

  1. (-: She does deserve a story!

    What are you thinking, right now? Woman’s journey, or romance? If it’s woman’s journey, she could have anything. I recently read a fictionalization of another early 20th century woman who worked for Tiffany’s glassworks — Clara Driscoll. The author found a trove of letters, the lucky writer! Driscoll had quite a romantic history. She married a guy for comfort, and got stuck in a housewife role. Then she almost got married to a handsome scoundrel who did NOT reform. (Lucky escape!). I feel like I’m missing a husband in there . . . . She finally wound up with a very comfortable guy who didn’t smother her. In the story, her boss, Louis Comfort Tiffany, also had possessive/romantic feelings for her, as well.

    It seems like people at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century had a very wide variety of romance models to choose from, ranging from the practical to the very impractical. (Free love, communes, swinging in the health spa.) There also seemed to be a lot of “marrying because people are supposed to be married.” In the Driscoll story, her first marriage perhaps was never consummated. A true marriage of convenience. Except, it was very inconvenient.

    • I’m open at this point. I’d like to stay true to her reality (no husband, no kids), but give her a love story. So maybe women’s fiction with a romantic element? I like the idea of her having lovers (maybe more than one), but I definitely don’t see her married (not right now anyway), or if she gets married, it would be a non-traditional union (maybe with a native American?).

      • Oh, sure. I’m a sucker for intellectual/romantic relationships where the love also feeds the creativity.

        Personally, I would love to see more female Sherlock Holmes types. You know, not so nice as human beings, but their brilliance just makes the reader sigh in wonder and jealousy. Sherlock had a Watson to balance out his social awkwardness. It would be a very hard line to walk, because women tend to be viewed as bitchy, and bitchy often tends to be viewed as a negative trait. Of course, it can be! Nobody wants to live with Sherlock Holmes. But, it can get some stuff done, too.

  2. I’m not sure what you do with a bossy, difficult, chain-smoking, swearing female architect in terms of romance or women’s fiction, to tell you the truth. Maybe there’s a fictionalized biography. Or maybe there’s a romance or women’s fiction with Colter as a secondary figure.

    One thought is maybe to look at the life of other unusual women from approximately the same time period, to see what kinds of personal lives they had. I’m thinking of Annie Oakley, who was living probably around the same time and also triumphed in a male environment, although of course a completely different one. (Oakley was married for 50 years.) Good luck!

    • That’s how she was described not necessarily how I would portray her (maybe she’s salty rather than foul & I’d probably give her another bad habit and ditch the cigs).

      You make a good point however. Maybe I use her as a model for a fictional character.

  3. Pingback: Jilly: Einstein’s Brain and Other Story Starters | Eight Ladies Writing

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