Monday, August 17, 2009

Finding inspiration far from home

My family and I are on vacation in Washington D.C. this week, tromping through all the major museums and monuments. Despite 95-degree heat and 100-percent humidity, I'm having fun seeing everything with my art-major daughter. The two of us--she with her sketch book, I with my notebook--have been recording our observations of the city. Most of my notes have little to do with the impressive sights all around us. They have more to do with the rhythm and flow of the city: The jazz quartets that seem to be playing on every street corner, the surprising curtness of the service people who work in this tourism-oriented town, the scary speed of a subway train as it rushes through a long, black tunnel. In the Natural History Museum, I spent an inordinate amount of time in an exhibit about forensic anthropology, taking notes about every aspect of how scientists can determine information about a person's life from his bones, even hundreds of years after his death. Someday I'm sure, that information will come in handy in a story.

I love they way leaving home helps me jar loose a little creative inspiration. It seems so easy to see foreign locales with fresh eyes. How about you? Have you been anywhere this summer that has served as an inspiration for your writing? Have you ever gotten a story idea from a trip you've taken?


  1. It wasn't the story idea, but a familiar route from Ohio to Florida is part of my WIP.

    I will be going to the Smokey Mountains in a couple of months. I'm sure it'll spark something noteworthy.

    About the forensics: I explain to Hubby that it's research when I watch Dr G.

  2. Lily, I think you will definitely find inspiration in the Great Smokies. I certainly did--they were featured prominently as a setting in my book, A KILLER WORKOUT!

  3. First of all, if you can fit it in, go to the Newseum. It's fantastic and I wished we'd have more time there.

    For me, it wasn't so much the sites or the city, as the people. When we went to see Mount Vernon, there was a woman maybe forty-ish wearing a tank top. She was in outstanding shape, broad shoulders, muscle definition in her arms and legs--and the same scar my dad got when he had a bypass.

    And, of course, the experience of Arlington National Cemetery. The morning we went was overcast and drizzly, which was a perfect backdrop for the location. There was a funeral going on that day, with a caisson and a 21-gun salute.

    Those things stick with me.

  4. I'm putting Newseum on my list for today, Chris! I also loved Mt. Vernon. I was standing next to a man from another country, and we were both studying the scale-model of George Washington's home. He said, "It's just a simple design, nothing outstanding about it; nothing special." I looked at him and said, "What's special about that house is what came out of it--a national leader." I was surprised by how that burst out with such vehemence.

  5. Welcome to DC! I haven't been there yet, but I've heard good things about the Museum of Crime and Punishment on 7th Street NW.

    If you're down around the NASA Headquarters on C Street SW, look up at building next door and give a yell. I work on the Second Floor.

    Enjoy the trip. You're right about the service people. For a tourist-oriented town in a recession, the service industry doesn't go out of its way for you.

  6. We'll be the tourists walking around with silly-looking parasols, Dana! Had to get them after spending an entire day walking around in the sun.

  7. I got my idea for my first completed manuscript after a trip to Egypt. It was great! Now, I have several new ideas based in a variety of locales, and I'm hoping to plan trips there to get further inspiration... so we'll see! Being away from home definitely sparks the imagination... it's the mystery of the unknown!

  8. Kathryn, you're in my home town. Welcome.

    If you have any interest in things espionage-related, you must, must, MUST go to the International Spy Museum. (It's between Ford's Theater and the Verizon Center.) You wouldn't believe the stuff they have, and it's all interactive. Go early in the day for some hope of avoiding crowds. There's a charge to get in, but it's worth every penny.

    John Gilstrap

  9. DC, man what memories. I lived in Laurel for 5 years in the early 90's and did a lot of work in DC. Wish I had been a visitor though and got to see more of the sites. They certainly do hold a lot of potential for information.

    But living there, sorry Dana & John, sucked. At least it did for this Alaskan country boy for whom it was the first big-city experience. Up here you smile at strangers on the street and they will likely smile back, maybe even strike up a conversation. I nearly got mugged several times down there before I figured that it doesn' work the same in DC.

  10. Have fun Kathryn. I always get inspiration from far flung places. The Orinoco. The outback of Australia. Iceland...It's much more fun travelling for inspiration that sitting at home:)! I agree with John, the spy musuem is terrific. Of course if i was in DC the boys would have me staring at command modules and rockets all day...I think that's the Smithsonian (or one of them) musuem.

  11. Egypt sounds like a fabulous place for inspiration, Faith! John, I did see the Spy Museum a couple of years ago, and it's still my favorite museum! Basil, I'm from LA & we're not very smile-y on the street, either, but more so than DC, lol! We don't "do" public transportation much in LA, so my daughter & I had to get used to not making eye-contact while getting around on the Metro.