When I was an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College taking Educational Psychology toward my teaching credential, our professor assigned papers on topics not yet studied. “Anyone can do research,” he claimed. He wanted us to do search papers. The assignment forced us to come at our subjects from different angles, ask our own questions, find our own correlations, and assert our own theories.
When I have an idea for a book, whether fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, I start by seeking what already exists related to my theme. I scout widely: read articles and books (picture books, art books, poetry collections, and scholarly works), watch films, attend exhibits, and travel to pertinent sights. I flood myself with stimulus. I take notes. I find photos or take new ones. I mull. The process takes a long time. Ultimately, I am not looking for what is. Why duplicate that in a book? Instead I am searching for an open place or hole that I can fill, a dark place to shine a light, a different question I can attempt to answer, something that has not been written—ultimately a reason to create a new book. Then I write and I sketch.