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The City of Muses

April 22, 1999

With the L.A. Times Festival of Books taking place this weekend, Calendar asked several local authors who will be appearing at the Festival how--and where they go--to get inspired.

Octavia E. Butler

"A Parable of the Talents"

(Seven Stories Press)

I read. I pay attention to other people. I eavesdrop. The people I watch are usually on buses; I ride buses a lot because I don't drive. I used to go to the beach to people-watch, but don't now because it takes three hours by bus from my home in Altadena. I also do a lot of traveling, so I observe people on airplanes and in the places I visit.

I write in one area or other of the house. I used to go to the library because it gave me a feeling of going to work and because I love the feeling of being surrounded by books. I wrote my first book in the L.A. Public Library; now I have so many books at home that I can write there. I'm particularly addicted to specialized dictionaries and one- and two-volume encyclopedias as well as Oxford Companions. They're a great place for getting ideas, and you never know what you're going to get out of them.

Yxta Maya Murray

"Locas" (Grove)

I write compulsively every day for three hours, except for Saturday. Since I usually start off with characters that come with a feeling, I have to hack on their doors until they open up. The inspiration builds out of what I find in that process. There will be times when I don't even know what I'm going to write and then it just pops out. Music and poetry and food are the drugs.

I also go back to my memory of Millikan High School in Long Beach, and I remember all the angst and glory of Long Beach when I was growing up there. My first love and all that crap, how ugly my hair was.

Michael Connelly

"Angels Flight"

(Little, Brown)

I drive around the city. My books are all based on L.A. so I drive to places that are new to me, or that I haven't been to in a long time. I'm also inspired by reading other books about L.A., such as "Day of the Locusts" and architectural books.

Usually when you put yourself outside, rather than in an inward and meditative state, you can observe people behind a secret mirror or window. No one can see you, and ideas spring up. That's what happened with "Angels Flight" when I was downtown hanging around the Bradbury Building, which I knew about from working at the L.A. Times. I go there a lot; it's my favorite building in L.A. The beginning of the book is set around the Bradbury Building and the Grand Central Market across the street and Angels Flight, the little train that takes you up to Bunker Hill.

Sara Davidson

"Cowboy" (HarperCollins)

I don't think writing is about getting inspired, I think it's about writing consistently, getting to your desk or your room, even if you're not feeling well, even if you don't want to. If I'm really blocked, I'll go out into the natural world, and there are great places to do that here.

I'll take a walk in the Santa Monica Mountains or along the beach. I also love to ride horses and I love the desert. Sometimes I go to the desert and hike, and around my waist I always wear a water carrier with a zipper pouch where I keep pieces of paper and a pencil. I never go anywhere without paper and pencil.

Sometimes an idea, a subject, a love affair can happen when you least expect it.

Martin Smith

"Shadow Image"


I'm a creature of the news. I was a newspaper reporter for 15 years and a magazine editor for four; I don't think my books could be inspired without a toehold in the real world. I can't imagine making stories out of whole cloth could be any better.

I live in a home in Palos Verdes Estates that overlooks the sweep of the Santa Monica Bay. I can see from Point Dume to the Hollywood sign, and the view recharges me endlessly. I'm very fortunate to live in that spot.

I also love the L.A. Central Library; every time I walk in, my spirit just soars. You realize the reverence this culture has for books when you see that building. It's thrilling, and I never fail to walk away without saying, "Boy, I'm lucky to be a writer."

Wanda Coleman

"Mambo Hips & Make Believe:

A Novel" (Black Sparrow Press)

I get don't inspired anymore; I think inspiration belongs to my youth. But if I'm blocked or stuck, which is rare, if I need to take a break and relax, and get my energy level back up to face the monitor, then that's music.

I'll put something on the boombox, anything from the Rolling Stones to rap to Debussy, or play some LPs or old 45s, do some bop steps and get back into the groove.

I also like going to art galleries and museums in the afternoon without anyone there. It's the best time, very relaxing and stimulating. Seeing a play, theater is always good.

Sandra Tsing Loh

"If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home by Now"


I don't ever have time to get inspired. I just get up in the morning and go to the computer. Sometimes, I'll play solitaire until it starts going.

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