The world of The Girl from Oto is made up of fragments—bits and pieces of real and imagined people and places all woven together in a crazy fictional quilt. As a longtime writer and editor of nonfiction I felt a heady sense of freedom creating this imaginary world. I was also propelled by a strong urge to ensure that my fictional world was "within the realm of possible." This might have simply been an excuse to conduct research into ever-deeper rabbit holes, but I found that the more I learned about history the more creative I became with my story.
Who and what inspired The Girl from Oto?
Mont-Ste-Odile in the Vosges Mountains of France was one of the original inspirations for the story.
The legend of Saint Odile is as follows, according to the gurus at Alsace Tourism:
"At the end of the 7th century, Adalrich, a great Alsatian lord, was desperately hoping for an heir. But when his wife gave birth, it was to a girl, and what’s more, she was blind. Adalrich refused to accept this fate and ordered that the infant be killed. Protected by her mother, who hid her, the child was saved. When she was 12 years old, her sight miraculously returned when she was baptised. She was then renamed “Odile”, meaning “child of light”. Soon after her christening, Odile expressed the desire to go back home. Her brother Hugues responded quickly, inviting her to his castle. Wild with anger, the father killed his son. But Adalrich was remorseful and called his daughter back to him, provided that she would agree to marry one of the powerful men in the kingdom. She refused. Then a second miracle occurred in the forest. Fleeing from her father, Odile struck a rock, which opened up to protect her. Adalrich, convinced of the miracle, had his Hohenbourg castle converted into a monastery, and this is how Odile became the first abbess of Hohenbourg."
But wait, there's more!
Not only does Mont-Ste-Odile have a stunning location and compelling legend going for it, there is something even more mysterious about the place: ancient rock structures that were constructed, some contend, as far back as 3000 years ago. That's right, we're talking ancient pagan cultures erecting gigantic stone walls. The Druids? The Celts? No one knows for sure.
Another bizarre scrap of history about Mont-Ste-Odile involves a local schoolteacher who stumbled across a medieval map in the city archives showing a secret route into the abbey's library. He subsequently snuck in via the clandestine route and stole hundreds of books from the room. When he was caught, he was forced to return all the books and do community service to repent for his crime.
How could this place not inspire a writer? The entire Vosges region was the original inspiration for Mira's world. It was not until much later, when I visited Oto in Aragon, that I knew exactly where Mira's life had to play out.