“Step off the runners!”

My mixing my writings and travel on this site is no coincidence. Every writer’s inspirations are uniquely his or her own. In my case, had I never traveled (especially outside of the US) I don’t think I would have ever taken up writing fiction.

[View of the Rhone River, Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by me, 2018]

And that combination continues. A few months ago I wrote here of how a new character and new story possibilities for the Conventions follow-up had hit me: “Ana Sánchez” came into existence thanks to seeing a single Instagram post coupled with recollections of our spring 2017 trip to Puerto Rico and the ideas that latter visit had put into my head. As soon as possible upon having that “epiphany,” I had tapped tapped tapped out that brainstorm.

I had a similar experience last week. At one point, I found myself thinking about the amazing beauty of the Alps…

[On Beauregard mountain. La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, 2018.]
[In the bubble. Beauregard mountain. La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, 2018.]

…which my brain suddenly contrasted to the seashore. That led me to remember my Long Island, New York upbringing and its beaches – particularly those on the island’s south shore, on the smaller barrier island of Fire Island.

That led me next to recall a mid-1990s summer visit to a beach there with a girlfriend, and a side trip we took to a nearby historical site – the coastal estate of one of the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776: William Floyd.

During a house tour that included about ten visitors (including the two of us), while standing along a roped off area in the sitting room listening to the National Park Service guide sharing historical background on the room, my then girlfriend, “Isabelle,” forgetting herself, had momentarily stepped off the modern protective walking rug and put a sneaker-wearing foot to the original wood floor. Noticing her do that, the guide, who was a “mature,” bespectacled woman, stopped her talk mid-sentence and blurted out at “Isa” in the manner of an angry schoolmarm: “Stay on the runners!” We were caught totally off guard at the guide’s harsh tone and sheer volume, and felt like misbehaving teenagers and thought “Isa” would get detention at least.

That incident became a humorous memory for us. From then on, occasionally and unexpectedly whenever we were sauntering around in public, and especially when we were sightseeing, impersonating the guide “Isabelle” would comically shout at me, “Staaaay onnnnn zuhhh runaaaahs!” Understand, hearing that demand fly your way is also even scarier when offered with an unforgiving French accent – although a smile, a laugh, and an eyeroll, always followed it.😂

Floyd’s home was occupied, along with the rest of the Long Island, by the British during the revolutionary war (from 1776-83); he spent the war mostly in Philadelphia and upstate New York, and his family fled from Long Island to Connecticut. (Knowing it was the home of a leading “rebel,” British soldiers did a lot of damage to the house.) After the war, Floyd became the first congressman from Long Island’s east end (what is today still much of New York’s 1st district) in the brand new United States House of Representatives. Later he moved upstate to Oneida County, where he died at age 86 in 1821.

During the mid-1780s, his daughter, Catherine, known as “Kitty,” captured the romantic interest of a young politician from Virginia named James Madison. When Madison first met her, Kitty was age 15 and Madison was 32 (and, frankly, he seemed older). Two hundred and thirty years ago, her youth was far more socially acceptable in such a pairing than it would be now of course; but especially given her age they were never permitted to be alone together regardless. (William Floyd made sure of that, and Madison never expected it.) It was a formal “courtship” with an eye on “the future” – meaning marriage after she turned age 18. Madison probably spent more time with William trying to “impress” his hopefully future father-in-law than he did around Kitty, at least early on. Eventually, though, Kitty found Madison just too serious and “old” for her and she married a man closer in age. And James went on famously to marry Dolley, and would become the fourth president of the United States.

Suddenly, I had thought, surely William Floyd could have had fictional, much younger, relatives? And what about Geneva? After we got back here to Britain from our French holiday last weekend, the brainstorm tapping tapping tapping began yet again, and another new character has appeared: “Edward Floyd”:

[Sneak peek from untitled follow up to Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Click to expand.]

I have learned over the years that some of the best writing ideas can hit you by accident. There is no need to be fearful of heading down a path you hadn’t anticipated. In writing at least, feel free, whenever possible, to… “Step off the runners!”

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂