Monday, March 14, 2011

How Do We Get Ideas?



How do we get ideas? On occasion, they come full blown in a sudden flash of insight. More often, though, they evolve a little bit at a time. My recent book, Global Warming and the Dinosaurs: Fossil Discoveries at the Poles, was a project that developed slowly. At first, all I had were random bits of information. These facts, fascinating though they were, did not make a book. I did not have enough and I still needed an organizing principle. But by keeping all those interesting bits floating around in my mind, over time, an idea for a book on polar dinosaurs began to gel.

This is the opening paragraph of my article Evolution of a Book Idea: From Percolation to Publication published in the Spring 2011 issue of Kite Tales, the newsletter of SCBWI-Los Angeles. In the article I discuss how the book grew out of my natural interests in fossils and dinosaurs, how conversations with librarians gave me valuable new material, how other book research added to what I already knew, how experts in the field helped answer questions, and finally, how a chance encounter propelled me to start writing and finishing the book. Click here to read the full article on page 31.

Global Warming and the Dinosaurs is illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings by Laurie Caple. Laurie has illustrated five other books of mine about prehistoric animals and has done a fantastic job on all of them. Her naturalistic style is perfect for these books. She does as much research as I do to make sure that everything she draws is as scientifically accurate as possible. This is a challenge when most of what she draws has been extinct for millions of years. By creating whole environments for the animals, she truly brings them to life.

I am often asked, why don’t I illustrate all my own books? After all, I’m trained as an artist. The truth is that I don’t want to illustrate all my books. My style does not necessarily always suit the subject matter I write about. I am delighted that artists like Laurie Caple can illustrate my books. It takes just as much time to illustrate a book as it does to write it. If I did all my own illustrations, I wouldn’t have as much time to write. I enjoy illustrating my own books, but only when the concept of the writing and the art work together for me.

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