Friday, February 22, 2013

On Inspiration

Thanks to everyone who participated in last night's Twitter chat! It was so much fun to talk to everyone and answer questions--it was really great to connect with you all!

Probably the most-asked question I got was "where does your inspiration come from?" And while I did give a few answers to it, that really is a question that cannot be answered in 140 characters or less.

The thing about inspiration is, it comes from everywhere...and nowhere. There are some things that inspire me because they are: art, music, good books. And there are some things that inspire me because they are not: I could not find a book like mine, so I had to write it. I felt a void in my universe, and I filled the space with my book.

On the one hand, every little thing I've ever done or seen has lead up to my books. There was no lightbulb moment, no single spark. It was a slow burn of a lifetime of living. A lifetime of reading brilliant books I wished to emulate (such as the unreliable narrator in Megan Whalen Turner's THE THIEF) and of not reading the kind of books I wish existed (a YA version of the television/movie space operas I loved).

The same goes with themes. Ignore what your high school teacher told you: most writers didn't intentionally add themes to their stories. The only thing I know I added on purpose was that stars symbolize hope. At the time, I'd been teaching Dante's INFERNO, and I emulated that a bit by making stars equivalent to hope. When the characters can't see stars, there is no hope. When they see stars, they have hope. But even that, while intentional, was influenced by other things that were not. I cannot tap into my own subconscious mind, but I know that it certainly influenced every word of the novels.

So while much of inspiration is an intangible, indiscernable mass that cannot be explained or even fathomed, there are some things that I can touch back on as influential.

One thing is this:

I took this video the summer after I got my book deal. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was done edits, but still had more than half a year before it was released. A MILLION SUNS hadn't been started yet; SHADES OF EARTH was just a glimmer in the future. I was fulfilling my last official duty as a teacher: chaperoning a European field trip that had been in the works for two years. We stopped by Venice, which is where I took this video.

I'd seen glass blowing before, but there was something about watching this man make the glass sculpture of a horse that just blew me away. I was fascinated. It seemed almost like magic, the way sand and heat can turn into a glass horse. I remember feeling tingles on my arms as I watched, and something inside of me whispered, This is important.

I held on to that image for years--all the way to writing SHADES OF EARTH. And while the third book of my trilogy had a lot of revision and work and rewriting, one of the things that didn't change was the presence of solar glass. I took that Venetian glass blowing experience and I put it half a millennia into the future. The image you see above is the exact moment when an integral part of SHADES OF EARTH was born. I carried it in my heart until I could put it on paper and give it to you.

That is what a book is: a million little things, a thousand feelings, hundreds of experiences, all melted together and sculpted into a book-shaped vessel.
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