By Lisa Rogers
There’s a good reason that “How do you get your ideas?” is an author’s most-commonly asked question.
Creative inspiration is a mysterious process that teeters on the edges of a lifetime of experiences, a piece of information, a moment of observation. When that world tilts in your favor, aha! there’s your inspiration. At least that’s how it seems to work for me. A few years ago, that tilt led to the creation of my picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW.
My world shifted one morning, when, as part of my breakfast routine (see my earlier New in Nineteen blogpost Breakfast is Ready, and so is My Manuscript) I opened The New York Times’ arts section. I noticed a headline: The owner of the wheelbarrow on which “so much depends” in the William Carlos Williams’ poem had been identified.
My skin prickled. The owner of the wheelbarrow! In all of the many times I had read that poem, I had never thought about who might have hefted that barrow. I wanted to know more about him and how he inspired Williams’ favorite, and most famous, poem!
I knew immediately that I had a story to write.
It had to wait. I didn’t want to rush it. A few days later, I would be embarking on a family vacation to Venice and the Italian Riviera. I cut out Jennifer Schuessler’s story, tucked it into a folder with a tiny Moleskine notebook given to me by my closest childhood friend, and let my thoughts simmer.
Then, on a train from Venice to Parma, I began to write.
I merely outlined the story, but I knew I wanted to show the respect and caring between Williams, the doctor-poet, and his neighbor and patient, Thaddeus Marshall. I imagined the two of them, each going about their business, each filling an important role in their Rutherford, N.J., community.
Rutherford’s sense of history and community is palpable. I walked the short distance between the Marshall and Williams homes. I walked to the Meadowlands Museum and examined a room full of Williams’ memorabilia: his doctor’s bag, his straw hat, his walking stick. I stood in front of Mr. Marshall’s home and imagined his garden. I stopped to see the stained-glass window in the village church, commemorating lives lost in World War I, to which Marshall contributed.
I noticed every detail possible. Evanescent inspiration became real.
The world tilted again when Schwartz & Wade Books decided this story should become a book.
Illustrator Chuck Groenink has tenderly and thoughtfully brought this story and its people to life, enriching it with his own inspiration and making it something new. I hope it inspires you to do your own noticing.
Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian and a former newspaper reporter and editor. Her debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, will be published by Schwartz & Wade Books on September 24, 2019. She is a winner of the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Find her at lisarogerswrites.com and on Twitter @LisaLJRogers.