Cecco Angiolieri (see, told you!) and I figured that if I could research and write about him, I could research and write about anything. I sent some sample writing to a children’s nonfiction editor, and she assigned me a book.
Yes, she assigned me a book. Not too inspiring, huh? Sounds like homework! But that’s how it often works with unknown nonfiction writers. This specialist in medieval Italian poetry was asked to write a book for second- to fourth-graders about Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. A fascinating topic, but not one that had ever caught my imagination as the subject of a potential book. In other words, there was no inspiration.
My four-book series The Sherlock Files also came from someone else’s inspiration. The packager Parachute Publications had wanted me to write a series for them for a while, but none of my ideas really struck a chord with them. Then someone else sold them a concept: Two American kids living in London discover that they are descended from Sherlock Holmes. They’re given their ancestor’s cold-case notebook and set about solving his unsolved mysteries. Did I want to write a book outline and a chapter based on that premise and see if they could find a publisher?
Did I ever! I loved the idea, and once again, as soon as I got into it, enthusiasm hit, and inspiration for the mysteries, characters, and everything else followed.
In mainstream Western society, first comes love, then comes marriage. But in many cultures, arranged matches frequently lead to love and successful marriages. In the same way, inspiration sometimes comes to an author only after she lives with and learns about her characters and their story for a while.