Venerable LA Times rock critic Robert Hilburn recently penned Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock n’ Roll Life, a revealing memoir-style series of vignettes featuring the great rock icons of the last 50 years.
In the book, Hilburn recounts his seven-piece Times series on the most influential and prolific songwriters of the rock era, which was published earlier this decade. He chose Bob Dylan as his first subject. Hilburn wanted to learn about a songwriter’s creative process: what inspires them, how they begin to lay down the music and lyrics, if success or failure of past work influenced future songs. The interview with Dylan earned Hilburn his third Pulitzer Prize nomination. And, Dylan’s words may give other writers—perhaps even picture book writers—inspiration for their own work:
“Some things just come to me in dreams,” Dylan told Hilburn. “But I can write a bunch of stuff down after you leave…about say, the way you are dressed. I look at people as ideas. I don’t look at them as people. I’m talking about general observation. Whoever I see, I look at them as an idea…what this person represents. That’s the way I see life. I see life as a utilitarian thing. Then you strip things away until you get to the core of what’s important.”
And picture books are indeed about what’s important; every picture book features an emotional truth, whether it be about family, friendship or fitting in. If you strip away what’s on the surface—the pirates or the penguins or the princesses—what remains is a story about the human experience.
Noted illustrator Jim Arnosky found inspiration in Dylan’s music. “From the first time I heard [Man Gave Names to All the Animals], the lyrics created pictures in my mind of a land of primeval beauty,” said Arnosky. Dylan gave his permission to create a picture book, and the work was released by Sterling in September.
So that’s your inspirational thought for the day. Well, two inspirational thoughts! People and songs.
What do other people’s actions say to you? How do those actions translate to story? What music boosts your creativity?
And don’t forget, there’s much more inspiration to come when PiBoIdMo begins in November. Consider this a warm up, or as Dylan might say, a sound check.