More well-known authors answer the question of why they write and what inspires them most.


W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Journey and A Dog’s Purpose, writes:

“I literally can’t NOT write.  I always wrote on my vacations, it was how I relaxed.  Now I get to write full time–it’s like always being on vacation.”

“Well, my answer to this has evolved over time.  I used to try to write thrillers, but never sold one.  Then I wrote humor, which was
very successful for me, but I love novels and wanted to get back to fiction. I was searching my heart for a new genre, and decided to write a dog story
that came into my head.  But inspiration is never my problem–my head is always filled with stories.  I will never have time to write them all.”


Author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See, told us this:

I have so many reasons.  1) My mom is a writer and my grandfather was a writer.  I had a lifelong apprenticeship to become a writer. I doubt there’s anything else I could do.  Sometimes I tell myself it’s a good thing they weren’t plumbers. 2) I don’t dream very much when I’m working on a novel. I think that’s because I’m in a kind of dream state when I’m writing, so at night I just get to sleep. But when I’m not writing, I have terrible nightmares. When I finish a novel, I always have a few days or even weeks of solid sleep, then the nightmares arrive.  Once that cycle starts, my husband always says, “Looks like it’s time for you to get back to work!” 3) Writing takes me away from “real life,” while putting right at the heart of real life.  4) I love stories. 5) There are stories I feel compelled to tell. Hidden or lost history has always fascinated me. In a novel, you can connect to people who lived through that history. What I hope is that readers will put themselves in my characters’ shoes and feel what it was like to live through these historic episodes.”

Some writers start with a relationship — a mother and daughter, sisters, a father and son — and I’ve done that. Sometimes writers start with the idea of exploring an emotion — love, hate, jealousy, envy — and I’ve definitely done that too.  Sometimes writers start with a time period — World War II, the Depression, the Great Leap Forward — and I’ve also done that. Some writers start with an intriguing subject — the secret women’s writing of China, the so-called “lovesick maidens” of the 17th-century China, the building of the Three Gorges Dam — and I’ve written about all of those.  I guess what I do is take a little bit from here and a little bit from there. For example, I was inspired by several different things when I started Shanghai Girls. (I’m sorry, but I seem to be in a numbering mood this morning.)  First, I’ve been collecting Shanghai advertising images from the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties for many years.  The so-called Beautiful Girls, women who posed for commercial artists, were right in the heart of the excitement in Shanghai. The charming and captivating life illustrated in advertisements is one thing, but I was curious about what real life was like for those women.  This brings me to Shanghai as a topic.  Shanghai was the Paris of Asia—very glamorous, very diverse.  Shanghai Girls starts in 1937.  This was the final moment before things really started to go bad in the city.  The Japanese invaded in August. The Sino-Japanese War rolled right into World War II.  As soon as World War II ended, the civil war began.  Then Mao took over the country.  He took a very dim view of Shanghai.  The city went from being the Paris of Asia to being very gray, grim, poor, and depressed.  It stayed that way until the mid-1990s.  Today Shanghai is once again a glamorous, beautiful, and wealthy city.  So again, I really liked the idea of this final moment.  Third, I wanted to write about what it was like for Chinese women who came to America in arranged marriages.  (I had a lot of aunties in my family who came here from China in arranged marriages and I felt I knew a lot about what life was like for them.) Fourth, I wanted to write about China City, a short-lived tourist attraction in Los Angeles.  Fifth, I wanted to write about Angel Island and the Confession Program, things that most people don’t know about America.  I wanted to write about the natures of sisters.  And, of course, love.”


Her book, Pay It Forward, was adapted into a movie and now author Catherine Ryan Hyde talks with us a bit:

“Human nature is a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m fascinated by who we are as individual humans. I’m fascinated by why we do the things we do and why we don’t the thing we don’t. Why do we say we’re not angry or hurt when we clearly are? And why is it so easy to tell where we stand with other people in the face of verbal protestations to the contrary? A novel, to me, is always an exploration of a deep and complicated question. For example, when I wrote Pay It Forward, I was noticing that we all say we want to live in a kinder world. And I began to observe how easy it is to be kinder. We can wake up on any day and do more for the people around us than we did the day before. It costs nothing (in most cases), and it doesn’t hurt. And we say it’s what we want. So…if we all want to live in a kinder world, and it’s easy to be kinder, why don’t we? Why doesn’t somebody just start? Questions like that about human nature turn into novels in my brain. The goal is not to answer the question, because if it wasn’t an unanswerable question I doubt I’d get a whole novel out of it. The goal is to explore a question in depth. Then, when the novel is published, there’s some chance that I can actually get others to ask themselves the same question that was rattling around in my own head. So it’s a fascinating form of communication, the writing of novels. If people all started telling the damn truth, meaning what they say, and not hiding what they’re feeling, it would be a wonderful world. But I’d be out of a job. In the meantime there are plenty of quirks of human nature to assure I’ll never run out of subjects to write about.”


Gene Yang, author of the graphic novel, American Born Chinese, finds inspiration:

“Everywhere. 🙂  My stories have been inspired by things that make me happy, things that make me sad, my friends, my brother, my kids, my parents, books, newspaper articles, movies, video games, trips to the museum, food that I ate, the way my office chair creaks when I lean slightly to the left.  My first graphic novel was inspired by my lifelong struggle with sinus problems.  The world is full of inspiration. You just have to be alert enough (or maybe bored enough?) to look.”


Phyllis Naylor, author of such books as Shiloh, writes: “Because a story in my head is like a rock in my shoe; I just can’t wait to get it out.”


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