Doug Cornett: That Elusive Inspiration

Finally, Something Mysterious by Doug Cornett is in stores TODAY, and to celebrate the release of this debut middle grade mystery, the author has stopped by with a guest post about finding inspiration for his writing.

That Elusive Inspiration
by Doug Cornett

They say that inspiration can strike you out of nowhere, like a lightning bolt or a truck (but hopefully not as painful). For me, even though I’m a writer and words are the tools of my craft, this almost always comes in the form of some sort of intriguing image. Maybe it’s an old black and white photograph of a mysterious stranger with her face partially obscured. Or maybe it’s an abandoned drive-in movie screen in an overgrown field, glimpsed from the passenger side of a car. Whatever the image is, there is almost always something about it that I can’t explain, and that’s what makes me want to find and tell the story.

This was the case for my debut middle grade mystery novel, Finally, Something Mysterious. The picture that did it for me was from a 2007 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It accompanied the essay “Moby Duck,” by Donovan Hohn, about the wayward paths that 28,000 bath toys had taken since they were spilled into the Pacific by a cargo ship in 1991. The image, a painting, was of a group of beachgoers casually wading in the ocean while hundreds, maybe even thousands, of yellow rubber duckies floated around them. There was something playful about the duckies, their whimsical little bodies bobbing silently on the waves. But there was also something weird about them. Something creepy, foreboding, off. The duckies were…well, mysterious.

A voice inside me wondered, what if, instead of washing up on shore, these duckies suddenly appeared in suburbia? What if they were scattered all over somebody’s backyard? How did they get there? Did someone put them there? Who, and why? The process of writing Finally, Something Mysterious was the process of solving those mysteries for myself.

But what happens when inspiration doesn’t strike? What happens when you wait around all day for it but it leaves you hanging like a bus that never arrives? That’s when you’ve got to cultivate some of it for yourself. For me, that means visiting a few trusty reservoirs of weirdness that I’ve compiled over the years. First, I’m a sucker for ruins. Whether it’s a massive megalithic temple complex dating back 10,000 years, or an abandoned amusement park from the 1970s that’s growing over with weeds, I’m fascinated by vestiges of faded glory. If you’re into the same thing, I’d suggest the Instagram page @abandonedplaces.

For inspiring artwork, I turn to the gorgeously unsettling photographs of Gregory Crewdson, or the sci-fi lyricism in the paintings of Jeremy Geddes. Both artists create images that imply we’re just getting a glimpse of a story already in progress.

And then there’s Atlas Obscura. With volumes of features on places that time forgot, ranging from the surreal to the quirky, is there a better compendium of the beautiful eccentricity of our civilization?

The thread that connects each of these sources is the tingling sense of uncertainty they give me. It’s not really about what I’m seeing in the image, but more about what the image hints that I’m missing. It’s that sense of mystery that always brings me back to writing.

So maybe inspiration will spontaneously compel you into sitting down and drafting your magnum opus. Or maybe you’ll have to go searching for it. Like Paul, the main character in Finally, Something Mysterious says about his hometown of Bellwood: “Mundane on the surface, but totally bizarre once you take a closer look.”

I think that’s true about a lot of things. For me, when I need inspiration to strike, I just take a closer look.

When hundreds of rubber duckies suddenly appear on a neighbor s lawn, eleven-year-old Paul Marconi knows that this isn’t going to be another ordinary summer in his small town of Bellwood. He and his two best friends, Shanks and Peephole, are immediately on the case, excited that The One and Onlys finally have a big mystery to solve.

But rubber duckies aren’t the only things making strange appearances in Bellwood. Paul’s parents whisper about a conquistador moving into the abandoned drive-in field, and forest fires threaten just outside of town. Paul and Shanks focus in on the case, but Peephole is distracted by his anxieties over becoming an older brother. The One and Onlys’ investigation takes them deep into the eerie woods surrounding their suburb, through the hungry crowds of the Bellwood Bratwurst Bonanza, and across the backyards of their small town. One thing is clear by the end of this summer: Bellwood, and the One and Onlys, will never be the same.

Available Now: Indie Bound | Amazon

When he’s not writing or teaching high school English, Doug Cornett enjoys playing ping-pong, solving mysteries, and rooting for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Originally from Hudson, Ohio, Doug now lives with his family in Portland, Oregon. Finally, Something Mysterious is his debut novel.

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