Serendipity – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Hannibal Smith of the TV show “The A Team” used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I love a good plan, too. It’s even more delightful to have things come together when you didn’t plan it. That’s serendipity. I experienced a serendipitous moment with my novel just this past week.
Over the years, I’ve vacillated between setting my WWI-era novel in an actual town, using the real name of the town, and creating a fictional town based loosely on the county seat near where I grew up. In the course of years of writing, I went back and forth on this decision with some regularity. Fortunately, the ‘search and replace’ function of Word makes such dilly-dallying reasonably simple.
Meanwhile, my story developed with a prominent banker who lived in a large house equipped with electricity, a grand piano in the library, and a sumptuous buffet in the dining room.
About a month ago, as I approached the moment when my manuscript will go to the editor, I said, enough! Though the story is fictional, the location is now firmly set in a real town – Maquoketa, the county seat of Jackson County, Iowa. Having made that decision, my obsession for getting the historical details right took on new focus. I had a responsibility to those who know the town to get it right.
Thanks to the Jackson County Historical Society and willing volunteer, Don Wentworth, I was able to get the fire department maps and Main St. pictures from that era. These maps detailing the names of businesses all along the streets were priceless. Further, the Historical Society website offered pictures of historic homes. A large brick house beckoned to me as the home of the banker in my novel.
For me, there’s nothing quite like seeing things with my own eyes. So this past weekend, I returned to Maquoketa for a real-time look at places that figure prominently in my novel, The Decker House, the public library, and of course my banker’s house. Here is where serendipity came into play.
When I pulled up in from of the house of my dreams, I found the actual house is now the Squiers Manor Bed & Breakfast. The folks at the B&B were more than willing to give me a tour and here’s what I found: The original owner was a prominent banker; the house was the first in town to have electricity and running water, and there is a grand piano in the library.
While there wasn’t a sumptuous buffet laid out on the dining room table, I could easily visualize one there, with a steady stream of fresh dishes making their way from the kitchen via a pass-through door in the built-in hutch.
Sadly, there was no alcove for my character to take refuge in, but there was a large bay window area where she could be out of the way of other guests.
What a delight to find that what I’d been writing about was so consistent with the history of the building. Though I’m sure readers would have forgiven my use of editorial license in creating an alcove where none existed, I elected to stay true to the house and use the bay window. When I was given the gift of so many details, how could I do otherwise?
Have you enjoyed such moments of serendipity in your writing and life? Please share!