Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Gem of an Idea

Writing novels is like hunting for gems.
A few years ago, my mother and I went gem hunting in North Carolina two years in a row. The first year, we went to Hiddenite, one of those if-you-blink-you-miss-it towns, to sluice and pan for a variety of gems and to dig for emeralds. The mine was located out in the boonies, even more remote than the town itself. As I drove down the bumpy dirt road to get to the office, I passed chickens, a couple of stray dogs and a rooster.
When I finally spotted the long, covered sluice line surrounded by stacks of buckets filled with unprocessed, virgin ore, I was excited about what we might find. We sat at the sluice line for hours, sifting through the dirt and, not having any luck, decided we would try our hand at digging for emeralds. It was an incredibly hot day in August; sweat poured off of us as we trudged up hills, carrying heavy shovels and buckets. Again, no luck. We ended up sitting in the creek, panning for gems, letting the cool water wash over us. We didn’t find any “quality” gems there either but we learned a lot on that trip and had fun.
Our next trip, the following May, was to Franklin, which is advertised as the “Gem Capital of the World.” I’d done my homework and I was determined that, this time, we would find what we were looking for. We went to several different mines in search of star sapphires but, after three days, we still hadn’t found any of the precious gems and we were beginning to get discouraged.
Our last day there, it rained on and off and was damp and chilly. We sat at the sluice line, shivering, with our hands submerged in the cold, running water, rinsing off and inspecting hundreds of rocks. By the end of the day, we had each found some stones, which we thought were promising, but we weren’t certain that they’d amount to anything. So, on our way out of town the next day, we stopped at a local gemologist’s shop. Our suspicions were confirmed; we’d each found stones that we would later have cut and polished to produce beautiful, star sapphire rings!
Like gem hunters, we writers often have to sort through a lot of ideas, discarding most of them, before finding one that is worth keeping and developing into a novel but, as we write our story and, especially, when we finish it, we know that it was well worth it. And then, we do it again!


  1. This reminds me of searching for diamonds at Herkimer, NY. I settled for some that were on a shelf in a display case. They are beautiful and I love them. But as in writing, some books that are a little more difficult to find and to write are worth all of the seeming hardship. Thanks for a lovely post.

  2. Thanks, Theresa.
    To me, gem hunting is so exciting - just like writing. You never know what you'll come up with!

  3. I'm sure you'll 'dig up' a story idea to benefit again from the experience.

  4. The blog itself is a great beginning for a mystery. Imagine all the things that can result from this gem search. What if they found a really valuable stone? Plus, you have a great setting with excellent opportunities for beautiful descriptive passages. I think you hit it with the title: this is a gem of an idea.

  5. JR and James,
    Actually, you're both right. I do plan to use my gem hunting experiences for a future novel in my series - not the next one though. I think all writers are treasure hunters at heart.