My writing process, once it gets going, involves staring into space (on the outside) while seeing images and scenes (on the inside). Being an illustrator who writes graphic novels, this seems natural and right to me, but I realize it isn’t much help to a writer who maybe does not also draw.MattPhelan_2013_72 So let me back up a bit and talk about inspiration, specifically finding inspiration in the Past.

I prefer the idea of the Past to History, because the Past can include the mundane with the monumental. Big moments are loud and flashy, but those little moments can be just as fascinating. Because of this, I find that the simple act of looking at old photographs is a reliable idea generator. When I look at old photos, I try to take in the details (the who, what, where) but I also try to expand on that information. That boy is wearing a certain kind of sweater that was common for this time. I wonder how it felt. Scratchy? Warm? Stiff? What did it smell like? How many does he own? Was it a hand-me-down? By thinking this way about whatever I see in the photograph, I can get a deeper sense for the time and this will somehow make its way ultimately into my drawing (or writing).

Prompt #3: Look deeply. Find an old photograph that interests you and really look at it. Question everything. Think about the temperature. Think about the sounds. Think about the moment after the photo was taken. Find the story in that moment.

The internet has made this kind of research a snap (or at least a few clicks). My favorite resources include:

The Library of Congress website. This is an immense goldmine of national history and minutia:

Retronaut. Be warned: This site is extremely addictive. And fun. I guarantee that you will find something here to spark your imagination:


blogger bio iconA Bit About Matt

Matt has illustrated many books including FLORA’S VERY WINDY DAY (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jeanne Birdsall and THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) by Susan Patron, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal.  Matt is also the author/illustrator of the graphic novel THE STORM IN THE BARN (Candlewick),which won the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. His second graphic novel AROUND THE WORLD (Candlewick) received the 2012 Carolyn W.Field Award from the Pennsylvania Library Association and two Eisner Award nominations. His third graphic novel, BLUFFTON (Candlewick), is about summertime, vaudeville, and the young Buster Keaton. His latest picture book is XANDER’S PANDA PARTY (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Linda Sue Park.

To learn more about Matt click here.





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