A Little Inspiration

I'll be back with vlogs as soon as I can, but for today, a little meditation on inspiration.

I feel most myself when traveling. I'm excited, energetic, creative. I often need travel for inspiration. We all have our tricks, and mine is to get out.

This is especially true for my two favorite characters, Robert Mann and Harrison. Robert Mann has to travel the world finding interesting ways to kill people. Harrison works for the foresty service and travels through California's natural places. He's the protagonist for my forthcoming collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods. I have a rule for Harrison. Each story has to have magic.

There is plenty of magic in nature, but you can't write about nature straight. I can't anyway. Not any more than I can write about love or death or happiness straight. The magic happens when the worlds of nature and man collide. So I went looking for that this weekend and ran into it again and again.

I found it in San Simeon when my wife shouted for me to stop. Off on the side of the road were zebra grazing with cattle as though they belonged on the California coast.

These are all that remain of William Randolph Hearst's private zoos, the legacy of a man's vanity. They've been let out to roam the hill and mingle with Hearst's other herds. It's magic to see zebra running around even if they aren't natural. Watching them though, I realized that they're not natural, but they feel American, just as mustangs brought from the old world feel America, just as Russian Thistles -- which we call tumbleweeds-- do too.

We drove out to the Carrizo Plain after that and watched the tarantulas playing in the grass. They're all over if you watch out for them, and they're alien and beautiful. They look so deadly, but they're harmless enough out here especially if you give them room.

Harrison's magic won't happen though until they come into our world. A tarantula in the grass is beautiful. A tarantula walking across the road has the potential for inspiration.

Ann and I were amped up after that and decided to go off to Sequoia National Park, which for my money is more beautiful than Yosemite. It's mid-October now and people are gone. Campgrounds lie empty.

There's something about a place people have abandoned. That's why we all flock to Stonehenge. It's eerie and strange, and the ghost of the people seem to be around you. It why the Greeks did all they did to create culture.

Greek culture is a result of their reaction to ruins. The Greek had a civilization in Mycenae and Tiryns. Something happened, we're not sure what, but they abandoned their great buildings built from massive stone blocks, and they entered a dark age. At some point, the Greeks looked around and saw what they lost. They were inspired by the great buildings standing empty, and they decided to rebuild. The culture we know as ancient and classical Greece was built -- and it was built as the overwhelming emotional reaction to a place that had been abandoned by people.

In the empty campground, you can hear all the summer-time noises still. It's strange to walk through the separate campsites with their tables. Here and there, people have carved their names into tabletops -- tribute to the fact that they existed and that they were bored too. What could be so magical as seeing the forest already taking back the campground. And if you know where to walk, you can find a grove of roses nearby that someone years and years ago planted and abandoned. They grow wild now, taking over the top of a hill.

It was a long day of inspiration, but how better to spend 16 hours? What about you? When you need inspiration, what are your best techniques?