It seems like every time an author is interviewed, he or she is invariably asked the same question: where do you get your inspiration? I get my ideas from every facet of my life. One story idea started growing as I waited for chicks to hatch at the state fair. Another emerged as I listened to my two youngest boys argue. Another came to me because I spent a lot of time pondering my younger daughter’s allergy diagnosis. Even reading a sign at the zoo gave me an idea. Sadly for my friends, sometimes one of them will be talking, and a word or phrase she utters will trigger something, causing me to go glassy-eyed and start following the thread of an idea. Fortunately, writer friends will understand and forgive you for this annoying tendency.
My debut book, THE LITTLE RED FORT (Scholastic Press, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez), was a lucky convergence of ordinary happenings that became much more than the sum of its parts. A few years ago, my youngest son was in a Little Red Hen phase. If it was story time, that’s what we read, and so that story was just kind of living in my head. Well, one day while we were reading it for naptime, my other children were outside repurposing odd boards and lattice they’d requisitioned for a little ‘fort.’ Those two things—the classic tale and the kids’ ingenuity—just sort of swirled together in my mind, and I began thinking, “What if the kids were making a fort instead of making bread?” And the idea just went from there.
Sometimes the ideas don’t come as easily, and that’s okay. If I push an idea too hard, it usually doesn’t work, often because it’s lacking that necessary emotional spark that would inspire me to write about it in the first place. That’s when I take a break and let my mind go someplace else. The number one thing that helps refill my creative well is reading more picture books. If that doesn’t work, I might try doing something routine that requires minimal brainpower, like driving a familiar route, standing in a shower’s steady stream, of listening to a song until my kids insist I find earbuds. If that doesn’t work, I may get desperate and call one of those really forgiving writer friends.