Graves around the Episcopal church in Salem, Massachusetts.
As I strolled around Salem on my birthday, the movie Paranorman kept springing to mind. I don't know if many of you have seen it, but it is a beautifully animated film that immediately found a place in my heart. Though it takes place in the fictional town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, it looked incredibly familiar to me. Blithe Hollow, as it is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie, was made famous by a witch trial 300 years earlier. The town has the same tourist traps and kitschy witch-vibe as Salem, but it also shares the same beauty, history, and vibrant spirit of Salem as well. It didn't at all surprise me when it was mentioned in the blu-ray extras that Blithe Hollow was extensively modeled after Salem and Concord (incidentally another favorite town of mine). I loved the welcome sign of Blithe Hollow featured in the film, with the motto "Welcome to Blithe Hollow. A great place to hang!" pictured with your stereotypical Puritans in their stark black and white and a grinning, green faced witch with a noose around her neck. It reminded me Salem, whose high school mascot are the witches and you will also see witches displayed prominently on all Salem police cars.
Of course we stopped into the Salem Witch Museum.
Just one of the many local businesses that capitalizes on Salem's grim past.
Besides my affinity for anything that hints of Salem, the film touches on so many of the same themes as what I'm writing in my own book, and contains the same otherworldly, New England elements. Of course, the book I'm writing has more adult themes, since Paranorman is a children's film, but it deals with the same difficult feelings of living in a world where one struggles with being different from than those around them, where the protagonist is mocked or made to feel shame, even by people they love, over things they have no control over. But in the end, their perceived weakness becomes a strength.
Both the film and my book contain an accused witch and at least one person who can can see spirits. The plot of my book and the plot of Paranorman are very different, but it is clear why this film resonated so with me.
A door at the museum, which used to serve as a church
When I write, I plug in my ear buds and listen to carefully selected songs in a writing playlist, and the Paranorman soundtrack features prominently in it. It inspires me. It conjures up the appropriate feelings and emotions. Simply hearing the first few notes of Norman's Walk and I am immediately in the mindset of my novel.
Beautiful old Salem architecture.
And now Salem has the same association for me. It gets the writing side of my brain bubbling with thoughts and excitement. It isn't surprising that for two days straight after my birthday in Salem I wrote almost non-stop, and it was deeply satisfying.
Salem Witch Museum
The Old Burying Ground
My novel takes place in the present day and in colonial New England. I had always meant the present day portion to make up almost the entire book, with only small moments with my historic characters. But in those two days I wrote after going to Salem, the historic portion is suddenly playing a bigger part, and that is a surprising turn for me.
Much of the book deals with issues from my past, namely childhood abuse, and it is really meant to help anyone is who has been abused in any way to heal from those feelings of shame and guilt, and hopefully creates understanding in those who have not. Aside from that, I hope it is simply an interesting and entertaining read as well.
Of course I found a Halloween-themed purchase in Salem.
My son brushing the leaves off the tomb of a man who died in 1680.
The arch left standing after the old Salem Armory burned down.
Some more kitchy, tourist town props
You never know, as a writer or any other type of artist, when something - a place, a movie, a book, a song will inspire. You never know when something will just synch in with your brain and create the rich environment for thoughts to bloom. Paranorman and Salem are two for me, but there are many others, including my own sweet little village. In any case, I'm grateful that not only was my birthday a wonderful day spent with my family, but it also got my creative juices following, and that is probably the best birthday gift of all.