Musings on Inspiration: Author Dorien Grey
An idea is salvation by imagination.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
This week’s “Musing on Inspiration” features acclaimed and versatile author, Dorien Grey, whose works include the popular Dick Hardesty mystery series. In his own words, “First came Roger Margason, then came Dorien Grey, who started out as a casual pen-name but rapidly evolved into something more. The ‘relationship’ is similar to that of a bulb and a flower: Roger is the bulb without which the flower could not exist, and Dorien is the flower. Roger handles all the day to day physical things…breathing, eating, paying bills…which frees Dorien to spend his time creating books and blogs.”
“In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a young man remains young and beautiful while his portrait ages. In the case of Roger and Dorien, it is Roger who is increasingly subject to the ravages of time, while Dorien remains forever young.” Grey’s transformation from seedling to bulb is detailed in his earlier writings, especially in the series of letters he wrote to his parents while in the U.S. Navy more than 50 years ago, which chronicle his adventures learning to fly as a Naval Aviation Cadet, then later as a regular sailor aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean during the height of the cold war.
Returning from the service to complete college, Roger moved on to become a lifelong magazine and book editor, and it was not until he determined to spend his time writing books that Dorien emerged.
Visit his website where you can read the first chapter of each of his books. The Navy letters are featured in “A World Ago,” , bits and pieces of his life, memories, experiences, and thoughts are the subject of “Dorien Grey and Me” , and he even has a photo blog featuring photographs from every stage of his life .
TSC: How do you define ‘inspiration’ for yourself?
DG: Trying to define ‘inspiration’ is, for me, a bit like trying to define a light breeze through an open window. I have never consciously tried to find inspiration…it always finds me. I see inspiration as simply an idea which catches itself in the web of my imagination and wants to be explored further.
TSC: What do you think first inspired you to become a writer/artist? Can you identify a moment or experience or influence that turned you in that direction?
DG: A from-the-cradle love of words and a fascination with the magical ways they can be put together, first through my mother’s voice as she read me stories, followed by the euphoric liberation of learning to read was all the inspiration I ever needed to become a writer.
TSC: Describe the ‘inspired’ you. What does he/she look or feel like?
DG: I like this question a lot, since I am basically two people: Roger, who is in charge of day-to-day living and who is limited to the laws of physics and time, and Dorien, who writes, with absolutely no limitations…who can be anyone or anything he wishes to be and go anywhere and into any time he chooses.
TSC: What is your most ‘inspired’ work? Why?
DG: And this is the most difficult of the questions. Each book I write is inspired by my desire to pursue an idea, and to convey my thoughts and beliefs on a given subject. Each book begins with a different inspiration for its plot and message, and each is unique. Trying to choose one over the others is like trying to ask a mother which of her children she likes best. She may have her preferences, deep down inside, but she would never admit to it.
TSC: Who or what or where is your muse? How do you invoke your muse? Rituals?
DG: The Greeks had seven muses. I’ve added my own…I call him Chuck. Chuck is in charge of never letting me get carried away too far in any direction, and never, never allowing me to take myself too seriously. He is the equivalent of the Roman slave who, in triumphal parades, rode on the honoree’s chariot, standing behind him holding an olive branch wreath over the hero’s head while whispering, over and over: “Remember, thou art but a man.”
Inspiration is like a cat. When you sit just sit there calling “here, kitty, kitty,” you’re lucky if it will even glance in your direction. When it’s ready, it will come to you. Which doesn’t mean you can’t facilitate it by offering treats in the form of a steady stream of random thoughts. Sooner or later, inspiration will spot one it likes with no help from you and come sit in your lap, purring. That’s how it has always worked for me.
TSC: What is your take on the notion that writing—or any creative work—is more about perspiration than inspiration?
DG: You can’t have one without the other, but their ratio to one another varies with each writer. When someone who has never written a book says casually, “Oh, I could write book on that,” that’s inspiration. The sitting down and writing it is persperation. No book can be written without applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of a chair. The writer is like a construction foreman, arriving on the jobsite to find huge piles of various materials he’s going to need in order to build a house. He has to must pick and choose the ones he wants in the order he wants them to be able to his story. That ain’t easy. And inspiration is in many regards an acquired skill; the longer one writes, the more easily inspiration tends to come.
TSC:. What do you think is the most common—or problematic—myth or misconception about inspiration?
DG: At the risk of offending anyone, I think one of the greatest myths about inspiration is that all one has to do to be inspired is to want to be inspired. Inspiration exists in everyone, but just wanting it at any given moment does not make it so. Inspiration, again, is born in random thoughts. Indulge them.
TSC: List a few tools or practices or methods that work reliably for you to get you in the mood to create. How do you shift into your ‘zone’?
DG: Grab a random thought. Any thought. Look at it carefully. Study it from all angles. If it holds the promise of being an inspiration, it will let you know. If it doesn’t, go on to the next thought.
When I’m working on a book, if I have any difficulty at all in picking up exactly where I left off, or if I suddenly run into a brick wall at some point, I go back several pages and start reading as though I’d never seen them before. Nine times out of ten, by the time I reach the place I left off, I can just sweep right on past it.
TSC:. What are you currently feeling inspired to do?
DG: I’m not so much inspired as I am driven to put as much of myself into words, and to create characters and worlds other people can identify with and in which they can see parts of themselves. Life is far too short, and my words are my posterity.