“Storytellers inspire me. I listen intently then let my imagination take over. Characters need to be fully rendered in my head before they make it into any story. I try to read new writers, but there are a few books I return to again and again. When I want to analyze ways to portray dysfunctional family bonds and relationships, I revisit Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is full of delightful inspiration.
In this online exclusive we ask authors to share books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired them in their writing. We see this as a place for writers to turn to for ideas that will help feed their creative process.
“I’m teaching a class this term on Dirty Realism, the fiction movement that may or may not have existed twenty or thirty years ago, and my own syllabus has brought me to Jayne Anne Phillips's Black Tickets, an amazing collection of short fiction that pushes hard against the boundaries of what I’ve typically understood stories to be. Phillips's writing is visceral and shockingly alive; no doubt many readers out there know how incredible a writer she is, but for me, her work is new, and does what all good fiction does: It makes me want to learn more.”
“A good soak in a bathtub invigorates the senses, relaxes the muscles and allows the mind to wander. Like Rostand, I often escape the world by hiding out in the bath, and I find that the leaps and associations I make while immersed in warm water are often more surprising than any I’ve made on dry land. I haven’t yet leaped from the tub like Archimedes, crying ‘Eureka,’ but I have on more than one occasion gone straight from the bath to the desk, brimming with new ideas and a (pardon the pun) more fluid sense of language.
“Listen to the soundtracks of Giorgio Moroder. Visit the Rubin Museum of Art. Open to any page of The Mariner’s Dictionary. Sit in churches that watch over cities. Stand in trains that run under rivers. Swim on the Greek island Ikaria, whose hot springs are among the world’s most radioactive waters. Read Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary and feel encouraged by the fact that a genius worried about bad reviews. Read Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and learn that after lightning strikes, ‘the immediate area of the wound is colder than the rest of the body.’”
“I am permanently inspired by Gavin McInnes’s book Dos and Don’ts: 10 Years of VICE Magazine’s Street Fashion Critiques. Under a photo of a guy wearing a Japanese flag do-rag: ‘While chickenshit hipsters desperately cling to their jeans and blazers...there are real scientists out there taking risks and trying out dangerous experiments, like “What if I put a bunch of Japanese stuff on my head?” Scoff all you want, but this is exactly how they found a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease.’ McInnes reminds me to include everything in everything, and not to be afraid of freedom.
“Mickey Hess’s self-published creative nonfiction masterpiece, Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory, was recently reprinted by provocative indie press Garrett County in November 2008
“One of the most important books ever to me is the glorious New Directions Collected Poems, 1912-1944 by H. D.
“What I find most inspirational are large masses of birds—any kind. Geese, blackbirds, crows, etc. I also find some birds inspirational in singles, particularly these three ducks—wood, harlequin, hooded merganser (especially!!) The surf scoter is okay too.
“Also I like wildly colored reptiles and amphibians, particularly poison ones, like poison-dart frogs. Can be: in the wild (best), in books, in zoos, even with the sadness associated with captivity. And those tanks of drapey lingerie-like jellyfish: yow!
“If I ever get stuck writing a poem, I will play some Talking Heads. That band is the poet I want to be! The album Stop Making Sense is especially meaningful to me. Although pop music might not always be clever or complicated, it is deeply honest and open. Like the band Vampire Weekend sings: ‘First the window, then it's to the wall / Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth.’ Lately, and not only because our names look weirdly similar, I have been reading Matthew Lippman’s The New Year of Yellow again and being deeply moved and jealous.