Where Inspiration Comes From

By John Gilstrap

Over the weekend, on the heels of the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, I participated in a small, 20-person writers’ retreat, and I was reminded at how inspirational it is simply to be in the presence of other writers.  No fans, no industry people, just other authors who are doing their best to carve a living out of a crazy business.

I’ve been doing this a long time, yet there’s always another tidbit or two to be learned from others, even if it’s a different squint on a common problem.

Sunrise at Monument Valley, Arizona

Fired up with creativity, Joy and I joined with another couple and headed off for a week in the Great Southwest.  Our final destination was Santa Fe, New Mexico, but our first stopping point was Monument Valley, Arizona.  We stayed at The View Hotel on the Navajo Reservation, and Mother Nature presented us with the very best she had to offer.

I don’t remember the last time I had an unobstructed view of a moonless, entirely dark night sky.  The sight of billions of stars, stretching from horizon to horizon brought tears to my eyes.  It centered me.

And when I awoke the next morning, I was greeted with a sight that turned out to be photo-friendly.  The sun rose slowly against the big sky, and every few minutes the light changed again.  After a couple of snapshots, I realized I was squandering my gift from God.  Moments like that are meant to be experienced. They are meant to be savored.  It sounds corny, but something changed in me.

I’m better because of the experience.

What fleeting moments in your life have had a profound impact on you?

Fair warning: I’ll be savoring Santa Fe when this is published, so I won’t be participating much in the responses.

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

13 thoughts on “Where Inspiration Comes From

  1. My experience in the West has been much the same. I’ve taken several car trips to visit my brother’s family in Colorado (I live in Maryland) and we’ve seen Yellowstone (twice) Deadwood, the South Dakota Badlands, and lots of the spaces between. I don’t have a lot of pictures. I just soak it all in. What’s nice about it is that, while no picture can do justice to those vistas, something as simple as looking at an old receipt can bring them back in an instant.

  2. I remember a desert field trip (California) while I was at UCLA. Those taking astronomy classes were totally befuddled by the stars visible with no light pollution. They couldn’t spot the constellations .. that many stars.
    When we moved up to the mountains, our first night, we stepped onto the porch and gazed at the sky. Seeing the Milky Way was one of those “centering” moments for me.
    Another of those moments was on the drive from Florida to Colorado, coming over the pass the day after a snowstorm, and seeing the majesty of the snow-covered Rockies. It screamed “You’re home.”

  3. I’ll always remember the Florida Keys kayaking trip I took in 1995 with my best friends kids, Kailey, 6 and James, 8. We waded across the sand flats to deeper water. Not a soul or boat on the horizon. The glassy water stretched into eternity. Our destination, a small uninhabited island, was a mile or so off shore. Within a few minutes, James shrieked—two queen conchs were nestled in the white sand like gems from the heavens. The kids lifted the massive (to their tiny hands) conchs from the water with reverence and awe. I snapped a quick photo—delightful grins spread across their faces and then I watched with strict supervision as they returned the conchs to the ocean. It was a magical moment that I’ll cherish forever. I still call those kids my two little conchs.

  4. My “centering” moment came when I was staying on Abaco Island decades ago. It was a primitive little house, with only a CB radio, no AC, and a couple of rooms that looked out over a bay that was dotted with little islets that looked like green turtles perched on the glass-smooth water. I got up around dawn and went out to sit the deck with my book. A tiny yellow bird flew down and sat next to me and then allowed me to extend a finger as a perch. We watched the sun come out of the water then he flew away. The book I was reading was “Shogan.” That book, that bird, that place, all came together, in a moment of zen. Which I later found out through my book means a state of “no-mindness”.

    Have never felt like that again, alas.

  5. One night remains forever etched in my memory. When I was nineteen and a Navy ROTC Midshipman at Penn State I did six weeks in Norfolk, VA, during the summer, a summer “cruise” required to graduate to get your Naval officer’s commission. (I did not stay with the ROTC program, opted out at the end of my second year.) One clear night while we were still in port I had the midnight watch. This meant I was able to climb to the tallest part of the ship (the roof above the bridge? I can’t remember), lie down with my hands behind my head, and watch shooting stars in a cloudless sky from horizon to horizon. It was so magnificent, and so incredibly humbling. Too young to claim it as a centering moment, but it left such an impression that I remember it to this day. I have never duplicated that awe-inspiring experience.

  6. About a year ago, my husband and I were driving from a friend’s home in New South Wales, Australia back to Sydney before we caught our flight early the following morning. We decided to stop at the Blue Mountains for a quick rest and a couple of photo ops.

    We arrived nearer to sunset than we would have liked, but there was still enough light to get photos of the famous Blue Mountains (and a few selfies to send to my family in the US). The sun hit the Three Sisters, the sky split into two: a dark blue-grey on one side, and a pinkish-orange on the other. Peach-coloured clouds hovered overhead and contrasted with white haze and the deep blue of the aptly-named Blue Mountains, highlighting in burnt orange the rocks of the Three Sisters themselves.

    In the middle of chaos, with people taking photos every moment, intending to capture the magic, I saw something spectacular and singularly beautiful. There was a moment of complete centred-ness and present-ness. I was experiencing a fleeting moment of universal beauty, while everyone else was taking a photo of it.

    This one moment reminded me that I don’t need a photo of everything to remember it, and on a deeper level, to cherish the memories I do have of something or someone.

  7. My nephew and his wife live in Taos, NM. The Mountains in the Ski Valley area are jaw dropping gorgeous!

  8. Several years ago I was diagnosed with panic disorder. My wonderful husband knew how much I loved birds and bought me a Canon PowerShot. I began sitting outside on the patio swing, enjoying the breeze, the peace, and watching squirrels and sparrows. After doing three Bible studies, I began leaning on God more in my every day. And God began sending all kinds of birds to my backyard. Birds I’d never seen before. Hawks, kites, cardinals, chick-a-dees, three different types of woodpeckers. One morning I was standing in the yard with my camera and felt such gratitude for the photo opportunities God had given me that I tilted my head back and prayed my thanks out loud. And as I was still talking, I saw these little golden blobs flying toward me out of the clouds–like little pots of gold. There must’ve been thirty or more. My mouth fell open as the little birds landed in the sycamore tree in front of me. I laughed and cried at the same time as I snapped as many pictures as I could. Then they flew to another tree and disappeared in the leaves. (Our sycamore tree was in its last death throes and had no leaves.) I later learned the birds were cedar waxwings and that it was rare to see a flock in my area. I felt I was living the verse, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

  9. Sounds perfectly wonderful and awe-inspiring, John.

    I ran away to Ocracoke Island for a week alone, when my kids were quite young. The beach was on a reserve and it was off-season and empty but for the occasional ranger. It was both breathtakingly beautiful and terrifying. I go back there in my mind, often, and wish I could go there again.

  10. The beach is my happy place. When I was growing up we’d spend part of the summer at a friend’s house on a cliff overlooking Mobile Bay. Back then the house was not air conditioned. I’d sleep on the upstairs sleeping porch either on the top Army bunk or on the hammock, watch the waves, let the breeze wash over me and dream up stories.

    I always write more at the beach than anywhere else – except in my garden with the flowers, birds, and squirrels.

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