In response to Roz Schanzer’s hilarious post “Writing Right, Right?” about Rules for Writing, Jim Murphy commented, “You have to have some fun writing if you expect me to still be awake when I get to the conclusion.” That reminds me of a funny story.
Most of the books I do with Sandra Jordan begin with a field trip. But not all field trips turn into books. A few years ago Sandra and I had what we thought was a great idea. We set off for the
Where do you get your ideas? That’s the question I’ve been asked hundreds of times for the last thirty years. Some of my ideas seem quite interesting when I come up with them, often in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. But in the light of day (is that a cliché, Roz?) in the midst of researching, I get so bored I end up eating lunch at 9:30 in the morning or writing frantic e mails to my daughters about nothing.
Here are some of my favorite field trips that did work out:
- A drive out to
resulted in our book “The Sculptor’s Eye.” Storm King Sculpture Park
- On a visit to the National Gallery in
, Sandra and I stood transfixed in front of Jackson Pollock’s painting Lavender Mist and featured it in “Action Jackson.” Washington DC
- A trip to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation in
to see his stage sets for dances by Martha Graham sparked our interest in doing a book on collaboration that resulted in “Ballet for Martha.” Long Island City
Going to a party doesn’t constitute a field trip but it may inspire an idea. I once met the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude at a cocktail party and she and I struck up a conversation about …no not art…but her Issey Miake dress. She was so charming that when Sandra and I decided to do a book about the Christos, I knew we would enjoy interviewing them.
Although I usually don’t get ideas for books at parties, social events seem to produce a multitude of suggestions by well meaning friends. It usually begins like this: “I’ve got an amazing story that would make a great book for kids. If I had the time, I would write it myself.” Here are some recent offerings:
A children’s book about the Bhagavad Gita from my friend Maxine who’s a Buddhist.
A story about Lucy’s schnauzer Morgan, who recently ran away and went missing for 19 hours.
And so on…
Occasionally, I’ve felt compelled to explain that I write nonfiction about the arts. This pronouncement is sometimes followed by blank looks, which prompt me to discourse on the dearth of arts education in the schools and the fact that perception in the arts encourages abstract thinking skills and inspires creativity. More blank looks. Perhaps I’m preaching to the wrong audience, which is why I’ve vowed to avoid parties (except on Halloween) this month, and stay home and write (and have fun doing it).