My father painted watercolors, wrote poetry and carved large sculptures from logs. Often I watched him work in his studio. When I was five he started taking me to museums and art galleries. We discussed the work. His answer to my incessant questions was: Use your imagination. While riding in the car I turned the people on the street into story characters. I’d pick out someone, build them a house, a family, a personality, and chose their problems. I’d write a chapter in my head before my attention strayed.

Humans have told stories even on cave walls: to frighten, to glorify or vilify. Some writers stay alert for snippets of conversation and ponder the dynamics underneath. Writers write to understand, to uncover deeper truth, to untangle the mystery of behavior and personality.

Writers work with snippets. They read, watch a film, go for a hike and soak in images. One of my favorite places to watch and dream is through a window of a moving train. I jot words in a notebook or a pad by my bed. One writer keeps a scrapbook full of newspaper and magazine clippings, postcards and overheard phrases for ideas. I use a big brown file with accordion sides, dump research pages and notes into it, and label it with the book’s temporary name.

The image has always been my starting point, the route in. I watch the image and see where it goes. Ideas crowd in, get discarded or written down. Fascination grows. I’m on the alert. Research begins. I buy books and peruse the Internet. Ask what if? Why not? Characters emerge, I watch them move, listen to them talk until they deserve a name. I search for a name, pick one, sometimes change it.

This is how my book began.

Leave a Comment