Please join me in welcoming David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife to Lit and Life. I'm always curious to know where authors ideas come from and David has kindly agreed to tell us about his inspiration.
Where do your ideas come from? It’s a question I’ve heard before and it’s a question I often wonder about other writers. Even so, I’m never confident in answering it because the process of finding ideas is a mystery, even to me. I do not write from a well of inspiration, or a trunk, or a wheelie bag – or any other container I can unlock, lift the lid to, and search through in order to come up with the core idea of a new novel. Yet the ideas must come from somewhere, for there is evidence of them right there on the page. If my inspiration has a source, if I must identify it, I should tell you about my eyes and my ears. I look and listen for stories. I try to press myself through my day with my mind open. I am scanning the horizon for a good tale. Or a partial tale with a promising set up and no discernible ending. Like how did that puppy end up leashed to that post? Who would do something like that? That’s the beginning of a story, or might be. Or maybe it’s a memorable character who, at first meeting, is difficult to explain. You know that person at work or at school who shows flashes of irrational behavior? Most of the time we dismiss him or her as a pain in the ass. But I try to remind myself that the more creative reaction is to ask what made him or her that way? Or, sometimes, my mind has a strange ability to hold back a memory for years and then thrust it to the forefront, where I can see it freshly and evaluate it in a way I had never before. Just last night I recalled the summer job I had when I was twenty: I was a messenger, delivering packages all over Los Angeles. For the first time in years I remembered the woman who ordered three dozen lemon muffins every day and the man who tipped me twenty dollars after I served his wife divorce papers and the pair of screenwriters who messengered their revisions across town each afternoon. I don’t know what I can do with this memory, but already it feels like enough material to bend into a narrative. If there is a trick to inspiration, then that’s it: I must keep my mind open to all that comes before me every day. Of course I will never be able to do this all the time, but if I try to, if I remember to, if slow myself down to simply listen and see, then an idea will shove its way up and soon I will be on my way.
Thanks, David! I'm looking forward to seeing The Danish Girl come to life on the big screen and so glad you're doing the screenplay so I'll know it's done the way the author envisions it.