A Place of Inspiration

Thank you for all the birthday well wishes! It really was a lovely day spent with the people I love the most in one of my favorite places, Salem. The perfect day, really, particularly since it also involved massive amounts of naughty food.

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.

The Pickman House (c.1664), overlooking the Salem Witch Memorial.

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.

My people waiting for me as I shop. Notice the shopping bags Russ is left holding for me.

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.


  1. What a wonderful birthday! I know how important Salem is to you. I'm pleased to hear that your visit inspired you. Your novel sound intriguing but it must be painful to write too. Good luck with it!

  2. I'm late but here's wishing a happy birthday, too! My daughter's birthday is next week so I know up close how good Pisces are! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  3. A belated Happy Birthday to you. It sounds like you had a really lovely day.
    Your book sounds very interesting and it is wonderful that Salem brings out the creative side to you. I can imagine it would be a lovely place to visit.

  4. Sorry for replying so late, I'm slowly working my way through all the wonderful comments on my birthday post. Thank you so much for your wonderful words and the compliment, I really appreciate it.

    Looks like you've had a wonderful birthday, Salem looks like an interesting place and I'm intrigued by your book...

    A very happy - if very late - birthday :-)

    Have a lovely evening xo

  5. Sounds like a perfect birthday weekend! I really love reading and seeing more of your beautiful slice of America. I am in total awe of that archway!

  6. That pillow is cool, and it even has a raven on it! Perfect!
    I can't wait to see ParaNorman now. It's in our Netflix queue but it sounds like that one is worth buying.
    I'm excited to read your novel when it comes out! It sounds really good!

  7. I would love to visit Salem! So much history, it looks like a fascinating place.

    gillian x

  8. So happy to hear that you're so inspired as of late--- and what a perfect place to fill that inspiration well! History and STORY at every turn. I hope to see it all one day myself! Ooooh, it would be so cool to be part of a Salem parish!If I lived near there, all I'd do is paint! :D

  9. This is a beautifully worded post and it reveals so much more than just a birthday outing in a pretty town. The creative process is always a bit mysterious and it's interesting to hear what inspires people. New England in general always did it for me. How did you fare in the latest snowstorm? Love your blackbird find!

  10. Just watched Paranorman for the first time last week. Loved it, and thought of you the entire time!

    As a fellow creative, I can totally appreciate how the inspiration and surge of action on a beloved project can be so energizing and uplifting and just plain wonderful!!! So happy for you!

  11. Looks like you had an amazing time. I long to go back to Salem, as we didn't get to spend a lot of time when we were last there due to a huge traffic jam getting into town! I do adore all your wonderful photos. I love that pillow! Much good luck to you on writing your novel. I cannot wait to read it for myself!

  12. Alyson, my daughter is
    a huge fan of Laika Studios
    and Paranorman! She graduates
    HS this year and will be going
    to a college on the West Coast
    to major in Digital Art and
    Animation. She was SO bummed
    that Paranorman lost to Brave
    for Best Animated Picture at
    the Oscars, this year. Love that
    this little film inspires you, as well!

    Happy Belated B-day. How
    fantastic that you are writing
    a book, drawing on your own
    life experiences ~ both good
    and not so good.

    xo Suzanne

  13. I've just stumbled upon your blog this morning. I'm in love with your beautiful pctures!

    When I was at school, I studied The Crucible, and your tour of Salem reminded me of how much I loved it as a 16 year old. I shall be rooting out my copy this evening to re-read.

    Leanne xx

  14. You are still as beautiful as I remember. And is that handsome curly headed boy your baby? Wow. Growing fast. Your photos are incredible. You have such a great eye and the area you live is truly lovely.

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