Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

What Inspires You?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 20•23

We’re blanketed in fog on the hill where I live in Oregon. The roofs are coated in frost, the tall Douglas firs at the end of the block are muffled and spooky, and the kettle is boiling for my second cup of Earl Grey.

For months now I’ve been pondering the question of what inspires me. It’s a long list. Everyday magic always does–like Roz, who was in Trader Joes yesterday shopping with her mother on her birthday. She wore a pale pink sequined top and skirt and pink cowboy boots and glasses that kept slipping down her nose. I left the store with groceries and yellow tulips, my heart lighter and came home and made a pot of Italian sausage and vegetable soup, brimming with fresh herbs. And ate a bowl topped with a hearty mound of parmesan. Cooking has always inspired me along with travel, art, gardening, old forests, and skies. Naturally this is a partial list and includes a lifetime of reading.

As these wintery days wind down and storms whip through the region, I’m often reading fiction tucked under a cozy throw. After a few months of devouring and analyzing dystopian, post-apocolyptic novels and series, I’ve moved onto less grim fare and just finished Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.  Don’t let the pink cover of the US publication fool you–this story isn’t a bit of fluff.  It’s a marvelous tale, winding and witty and inventive. It  wraps around protagonist Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant chemist who is struggling to work in her field in the 1950s and 60s when female scientists were not taken seriously despite their contributions. Or paid fairly.  Desperate to provide for herself and her daughter she’s hired in the unlikely role on a TV cooking show, ‘Supper at Six’ and teaches chemistry to her audience. The pragmatic Zott, wearing a lab coat with a number 2 pencil tucked into her updo is a grand success. But a cooking show is not a longed-for chemistry lab.

Writers beware–beyond the extraordinary and endearing Zott, Garmus has created an array of fabulous supporting characters that will make you envious. The cast’s artfully crafted backstories will only enhance that envy, but do study how she’s pulled off this realistic ensemble. And glory be, the family dog, Six-Thirty also has a viewpoint.  He’d flunked out of being part of canine bomb detection team, but as you might have guessed, is no ordinary pooch.

Am I the only one who adores canine fictional characters? Did I mention the wit? Make that hilarity.  I cannot recommend Lessons in Chemistry enough although I’ll warn you, you’ll hate it when the story ends.

What inspires you? Travel? Art? Music? I’d love to hear from you.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, stay inspired.



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