I’ve been thinking a little recently – thanks to my fellow Black Ink White Paper bloggers – about inspiration. Not exactly what inspires me on a global level – art, music, theater, books of all kinds – but rather what inspires me specifically. Story starters, you might call them.
For me, they’re very specific, and almost always visual.
That visual might include graffiti or a sign on the back of a car. It might be a couple walking down the street. Or something unusual or interesting, an odd juxtaposition. I have an image in my head, probably 15 years old, that I know one day I’ll use to write a story.
But it won’t be the story, it will be the first line of the story. And somehow, the way my creative brain works, I will take that image, the sentence that image spins for me, and the story will begin. It will unfold from that image though I know, even without writing the story, that the image won’t be anything more than a way to start the ball rolling. The specific image I’m thinking of is walking in New York late one evening (I think, though I can’t be certain, that I was going back to my hotel from a concert at Carnegie Hall) and there was a man rolling a grand piano down the street. The street was pretty much empty except for us and him and…
I’ve written a book of stories based on a piece of graffiti I spied on a temporary wall surrounding a construction site. Naked for Jesus. I know there was more to it than those three words, but those three words grabbed me and they stayed with me until I finished the stories, all of them linked by those three words.
My first book – Dragonflies and Dinosaurs – began with two separate images, years apart. A walk on the Seawall here in Vancouver, low tide, and, because I think of herons as good luck, I counted them. Lots of them. And then years later, I drove with my sister from Edmonton to the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum. There were dozens of red-tailed hawks sitting on fence-posts, on telephone wires.
But for me, that first sentence or phrase, that image, is everything. Because the way I write, as best as I can figure it, is that I try to capture a feeling. The trouble is that I never know (or can’t put into words) what that feeling is. It’s all very vague and ephemeral and it’s taken me almost 30 years to figure out even this much. The image, the feeling. The story.
There’s something about this bear, a spirit bear in the British Columbia rainforest surrounded by color, that tempts me. I don’t know what it’ll be about, partly because it seems to be mystical and whatever that means, it’s not clear enough for me yet. But it will stick in my head and I will, one day, write a story starting here.
This image, which I took because I’m a huge fan of Rafa Nadal, is another image I’ll remember. But despite his gorgeousness (a word? or not?), this image doesn’t only mean that for me. There’s something about the size of it, the person in front of it with the camera, that will some day, probably many years from now, turn into the start of a story.
And maybe that’s the trick of it. It takes years for the image to percolate in my creative brain and turn into something, whatever it will become.