Ask Me Anything: Inspiration… and “It.”

Meg and Edgar

Today I’m answering two related questions. Anne Molinarolo asks:

[W]hen you hear things “go bump” in the night, what is it? And does “it” find its way into your novels? Sorry about all of the Its.

In my life, the “its” that have gone literal bump in the night are: (1) squirrels that built a nest in the attic, (2) the fifty-foot tree that crashed through the fence into the backyard during a storm, and (3) my daughter’s escaped hamster, scuttling beneath the bed on clicky little toes.

In the daylight, none proved dangerous. (Getting the squirrels out of the house involved a sledgehammer and a samurai sword, but never mind.) At night, all these sounds were strange and creepy and shocking. The unknown. The nasty shapeless threat reaching out to attack. It.

Don DeLillo explains this better than I (or possibly anybody) can. I just finished his magnificent novel Underworld. At one point in the book a character watches kids play tag on a Bronx street. “Another player tags you and you’re it. What exactly does this mean?”

A fearsome power in the term because it makes you separate from the others. You flee the tag, the telling touch. But once you’re it, name-shorn, neither boy nor girl, you’re the one who must be heard. You’re the dark power in the street. And you feel a kind of demonry, chasing the players, trying to put your skelly-bone hand on them, to spread your taint, your curse. […]

What spectral genius in the term, that curious part of childhood that sees through the rhymes and nonsense words, past the hidings and seekings and pretendings to something old and dank, some medieval awe, he thought, or earlier, even, that crawls beneath the midnight skin.

I’ll wait while you read that again and absorb DeLillo’s brilliance. Me? I’m damned well going to put this “kind of demonry” into my novels. It’s what grabs readers on a primal level.

Joshua Arthur Ramseur asks:

Inspiration: an absurd whirlwind of all facets of being commanding spontaneous prose, or a constant state of curiosity allowing continuous laborious revisitory circumstance? Kerouac or Poe? Or both?

Inspiration can be both. Artistic inspiration is a sudden, spontaneous burst of creativity. It can come when observations and ideas collide unexpectedly in the artist’s mind. Paying attention to all facets of being, and learning to maintain a constant state of curiosity, will expand your ability — and readiness — to create when inspiration strikes.

And after you pour all your inspiration onto the page, or the canvas, or into a microphone, you get to revise. Of course. Inspiration still has to go through the refiner’s fire.

Kerouac or Poe? See the photo above.

2 responses to “Ask Me Anything: Inspiration… and “It.”

  1. Thanks for answering. Please bring back Evan, pretty please

  2. Oh yeah. The clicking of claws under the bed at night. Brrrrrr….

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