By Tall Poppy, Tina Ann Forkner
Some people like to spend their vacation time traveling to faraway places, and some of us just want to go home again. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading on the beach as much as the next person, but my first choice is always home because where I grew up still inspires the stories I write, whether they are based on home or not.
I know, I know. According to the author Thomas Wolfe, we can never go home again, but I think we can. Sure, the sleepy little town featured prominently in my memories will never be the same as the last time I saw it, and certainly nothing like it was when I was a child, but I think that’s okay. It’s still home to me, and I go back to it often, in my memories, and in real life in order to mine details and experiences that make their way into, or at least inspire, the stories I write.
I live in Wyoming now, but for years I’ve spent part of my summer vacations revisiting the place where I grew up in the northeastern part of Oklahoma. Not all of my books are set in Oklahoma. In fact, to date only one, but aspects of how I was raised in a small town make it into every single story I write. My original hometown is a kind of muse to my writing and I like to go back to it again and again to see what has changed and what has not.
Some things haven’t changed at all, of course. The town, Colcord, is still right next to the Ozarks and is nestled in the corner of what we like to call Green Country. It’s not too flat like the rest of Oklahoma, which is one of the many things I love about it, and it’s still small. The post office is bigger and the old gas station I remember isn’t there anymore, but the school I graduated high school from stands sturdy and the football field where many of the town’s residents still convene every Friday night in the fall hasn’t moved. In fact, if I close my eyes when I’m in Colcord, I can still hear the roar of the little crowd when the Hornets scored a touchdown.
Occasionally, I still drive through the town just to see what has changed, because every year something is different. Some of the structures I remember are abandoned and verging on dilapidated, and a few new structures have been built. It always both sad and surprising to see the change, but to me the contrast of both, the old and the new (mostly old) are like shadows of the past that can’t quite be illuminated without some imagination. The contrast stirs my memories, intermingles with the past, and new stories unfold. This is why the home I came from is my muse.
I have never written better than when I am at home, and my inspiration always lasts when I am back where I live in Wyoming after having spent time where I grew up. In fact, this Summer I didn’t even write when I was home. I just drank it all in and enjoyed visiting my family. Like the structures in my hometown, and the families who have always lived there, the people in my family have changed too, but in many ways they are also still the same. I’ve changed too, and I’m always reminded of this when I’ve spent time in my hometown.
It’s the changes in my town, in my friends and family, and inside my own heart and mind that teach me about life with its ups and downs, its old and new, its shadows and new structures, and that ultimately inspire the best stories to flow from my pen.
Tina Ann Forkner wrangles words on the pages of her novels and kids in the classroom as a substitute teacher. She lives in Wyoming with her husband, who knows when to wear a cowboy hat, and three teenagers who never do (even if she thinks they should). She is the author of five novels including Waking Up Joy, The Real Thing, and Rose House. Learn more about Tina at her website: www.tinaannforkner.com