Why and How I Wrote The Imagination Warriors

Illustration by Odessa Sawyer

Illustration by Odessa Sawyer


By trade and choice I am a professional photographer. It’s essentially the only job I’ve ever had. A famous photographer, now in his 80s that was a sort of mentor to me, was once famously quoted as saying, “To be a photographer is a license to steal experience.” I believe what he meant, or at least how I’ve interpreted it in my life, is that when you are a photographer you have the unique ability to dive into and out of other peoples lives and passions. If you are receptive, you glean little gems of knowledge, experience and perspective while you actively, creatively observe. My personality dictated in large part how I would approach a photo shoot. There are all sorts of shooting styles and the one that has always suited me best was a spontaneous approach that involved a loose, fluid style that would allow me to pivot when I wanted, change direction if I thought that was called for, and in some cases simply react to what’s happening without agenda. I always trusted in my innate sense of direction and whatever marshaling of resources that was called upon to complete the assignment.

And then things change.

“The world is change, change, change”, is an apt Buddhist quote. Winston Churchill said it another way,  “History is one damn thing happening after another.” I decided to personalize that axiom and re-channel my creative energies.

I decided to write a book.

Why would I choose to upset my apple cart this way? We are always told that writing a book is an immersive labor of love, and to not expect to make a single solitary penny from your efforts, except if you are blessed enough to be JK Rowling. I realized that I was quite practiced at the art of telling stories for years to my children as we took the long drive from Lamy into the “big town” Santa Fe as I delivered both of them to their respective schools. On these drives, I’d come up with spontaneous stories about Captain Hook, his sea serpent Agamemnon, Shark Bite Pirate Ships, the Titanic steaming it’s way to disaster on the north Atlantic sea and horrid, nightmarish aliens with giant lobster claws that could rip arm from torso in a heartbeat. I’d develop dialog to support and enhance the stories. People in other cars coming towards me would stare because I was so caught up in the stories that I’d be gesticulating wildly with my arms. So, in a sense, writing a book is a natural progression from aural story-telling to my kids.

I discovered that writing a book is akin to being a lawyer and trying your case in front of a jury. Every step of the way you are building your case, brick by methodical brick. I literally walked the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the arroyo with my dog, at times muttering to myself, “What would Philomena say about this?  Would she say that now and what would her body language reveal about her feelings?” As long as I gave the poor dog some treats as a bribe I knew she’d never divulge my curious behavior to my family. It was a kind of physical and metaphorical journeying on those tracks. I would envision each railroad tie as a small but important building block on which the entire book stood. Slowly and inexorably building my case for the jury, my reader. But then I realized that this was a trap I could easily fall into. Why you ask?  To answer, let’s go back to my native creative style of photography, which is shooting from the hip in a fluid and spontaneous way. I came to realize in my nascent writing efforts that I was doing the exact opposite of my natural creative bent. You must allow for serendipity and spontaneity. You must cultivate and program your senses and intuitions to be on the prowl, to be receptive to the world as it relates specifically to your creative mission. An example of this dynamic that jumps to mind and always gives me a smile is the time I was driving back to our home in Lamy, NM. I was chewing on a section of the book where I was stymied. Something had to happen and I didn’t know what it was. I had a character in the book called Rama, who was an old soul Llama who had had many past lives and was wise and introspective. Though a beast of burden, he knew that this particular life was a penance for all the lives he’d led when his motivations were impure and hurtful. Well there I was lost in thought, knowing that I wanted direction regarding this llama character that I loved writing about. “Should I flesh out this character I love so much…is there more I can write about his motivations and actions?” And then as I turned a corner, there, directly in front of my car was a llama standing uncomfortably in the bed of a beat up small pick up truck, making it’s way slowly in Lamy.

Seeing the Llama confirmed to me that my direction was clear and in an instant I was inspired to make Rama the llama a more central character in my children’s book. I acknowledged the literary gods and resolved to work harder to “find” my Rama and tell his story more fully. I held these spontaneous receptions of inspiration as important markers by which to navigate, to trust and even to rely upon as they pertained to the overall arc and minutia of my first book.

As I described it to anyone who’d ask, the sensation of dropping out of the world even for a moment and slowly enter into a place of silence and focus is quite pleasurable. The predictable linearity of those endless railroad ties as they stretched to the horizon was a welcome counterpoint to freeing the mind from the endless loop of concern and engagement with the admittedly dysfunctional rapidly swirling world we all inhabit.

Truth to tell, just simply walking with your dog has amazing therapeutic benefits and perchance you will allow your mind to wander. If you start talking to yourself and I happen to pass by, I’ll give you a knowing wink of the eye.

In retrospect, a miraculous transformation was occurring. I was accustomed to being a creature of instant gratification. In a five hundredth of a second I’d capture my “prey” with my camera and then I’d move on. In a fraction of a second, I’d press the shutter, secure in the knowledge that I’d accomplished my goal. Writing this children’s book has taught me some hard won lessons. Slow down. Listen. Receive what the world has to offer you. Be inspired. Be still. Some of these life lessons I’d thought I’d learned through my photography. Ultimately, what writing has taught me is patience. It’s a very long road from concept and execution to publication and I’ve had to develop a turtle’s perception of the world and not the hare’s. I am stronger
for it.

You may download more information about The Imagination Warriors, here.