A Tale of Two Geniuses

I am much interested in the topic of innovation. Where do original ideas come from? What sort of people excel at breaking ground? Are there ways to increase my creativity, because I never, ever want to hear from my readers that I’m writing the same book over and over.

To this end, I recently read a biography of Nicola Tesla (1856-1943),  Wizard, by Marc Siefer, and now I’m onto a sort of extended meditation on Leonardo da Vinci, Becoming Leonardo by Mike Lankford.  Though there are highly credentialed art historians in my family, I did not know much about Leonardo (1452-1519). We think of him as Italian, an exponent of sophisticated Medici Florence, the kind of erudite person who deserved the title Renaissance Man.

Well, maybe. He was illegitimate, half-Turkish (his mother was a Turkish slave and he looked after her in later life) and the next thing to illiterate compared to the learned minds of the day. He was gay and famously left-handed at a time when left-handed priests were forbidden to baptize babies.

What I find most interesting about Leonardo is his absolutely self-directed sense of what to work on when. He became infamous for unfulfilled commissions, and he was often skint because he could not deliver a work of art when promised (or ever). He worked for eleven years on a statue of a bronze horse for the Duke of Milan, until the duke gave up and sold the 60 tons of bronze to be made into cannon.

The Last Supper was a rush job, in that Leo was messing around with how to get the malleability of oil paint from a medium that had to also work with the drying-plaster aspect of a fresco. He never did get it right, and The Last Supper began flaking off the wall almost the day he finished it.

He gave up a lot. On commissions, especially, and he also tried and tried again a lot with ideas that interested him but paid nothing. We have the Mona Lisa (which he painted for his own pleasure), and all those marvelous notebooks to show for his fiddling.

I contrast him with Nicola Tesla, who invented and made practical the alternating current electrical system that modern civilization runs on. He also developed radio (wireless) communication and was determined to build a radio tower large enough send radio signals anywhere in the world.

J. Pierpont Morgan (as in JP Morgan Chase) had spotted Tesla some R&D money in exchange for a controlling interest in some of Tesla’s newer patents. Instead of using the money to turn old JP a quick buck with say, florescent light bulbs (Tesla invented those too), Tesla poured the funding and his time into his Wardenclyffe radio tower. JP was pissed enough to hold the patents hostage forever. Meanwhile, Guglielmo Marconi, using tech he’d pirated from Tesla, got the credit (and the Nobel prize) for his contributions in “developing” wireless telegraphy aka radio.

Tesla’s devotion to his worldwide radio tower cost him his biggest backer, hobbled potential revenue streams, and got him a reputation for untrustworthiness. The Supreme Court eventually found in Tesla’s favor regarding Marconi’s tech piracy, but by then, Tesla had died (broke) and the great tower had long since been sold for scrap.

Leonardo sometimes quit and sometimes persisted, often making the wrong choice from a financial standpoint.  Tesla persisted on a project he couldn’t find funding for at enormous cost to his reputation and financial security. That leaves me with a question: When should I give up? On a project, on a relationship, on a goal. When do you quit?

Special give-away this week! Author Susanna Ives has generously donated three e-ARCs of her upcoming release Amends. Let me know your thoughts on persistence and quitting!

Amends by Susanna Ives

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Trapped in a wretched slum, Sarah Ward feels powerless to keep her son away from a charismatic crime lord, whom she believes is responsible for her husband’s death. A lost letter offers her a chance to flee to her rural childhood home, away from the pounding factories and soot-filled skies. Yet escape means seeing Markham Litton again, her first love and the man who shattered her heart. She had been too infatuated to understand that he would never tarnish his wealthy family’s honor by marrying a lowly stone mason’s daughter. He had cast her aside, never learning about their child growing in her belly.

Consumed by the loss of his eldest child, widowed Markham struggles to be a good father to his remaining son. The only solace he finds is drifting in the memories of Sarah. In the late hours, he revisits the tender parts of their romance, like her gentle kisses, but not the tears she cried when he left her.

When old lovers reunite, Markham has a chance to show her that he’s changed. He can finally admit the feelings he had kept hidden for so long and try to heal old wounds. But Sarah has changed too. She isn’t the trusting, naïve young woman she once was. She knows from painful experience that some wounds can never be healed, and some secrets must never be told, especially ones that could rip her small family apart.

Leave a comment for a chance to receive an advanced e-reader copy, or order Amends (releases Nov. 8) at the links below.

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17 comments on “A Tale of Two Geniuses

  1. Hmmm, that’s such a hard question. I am currently contemplating giving up on a significant relationship, and that is SUCH a traumatic thing to contemplate. I have not yet figured out what I want to do, but hours of thought have already gone in, and even more to come, I’m sure. I think a counselor or therapist would be of great use in this scenario

    • My dad once pulled me through a Gordian knothole by asking me, “Well, what do you know you DON’T want to do?” I–who had flown exactly once my life at that point–was contemplating whether to join my family in Germany after I graduated college, and racket around for a few months with them in Europe, or get straight to the serious business of finding my first job.
      I dreaded the job hunt, didn’t want to put it off, dreaded traveling internationally on my own particularly in non-English-speaking countries… But when I asked myself, “Which will I regret more? Dodging three months in Europe, or putting off the job hunt for a few months?” I could see which way to jump. For most people it wouldn’t have been a hard choice, but I went to college in the same town where I grew up, and leaving ‘home’ was a big deal, even though my family had left that town years before.
      Best of luck with the decision, because it sound like one of those choices there won’t be any undoing.

  2. I don’t think there is a formula for determining the when and why of pushing forward or giving up. My goal is to listen to my inner voice and realize that giving up isn’t a failure, nor is hanging on when others would give up. It’s very personal!

    • I regret the hanging on–but only with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, I probably told myself it was the more honorable choice, when in fact, I just lacked the courage to move on.

  3. Ms. Burrowes, I never knew that about Leonardo!! The things Ms. Burrowes teaches you on a Sunday!!
    Try writing some stories to please yourself

      • Ms. Burrowes, wonderful!!! as a devoted reader, I appreciate your writing endeavors I have nothing else to offer you this week just keep going forward is all I can say be grateful for each day you wake up

  4. Wow interesting! Interesting that these men died broke. So being a genius is clearly not the toad to financial security. The question of when to give up is an interesting one and I think the answer is different for different objectives. For me I wanted to go to physical therapy school. It took me 3 years a bunch of classes and a whole lot of applications. During that time I did not abandon reason or care for myself. Compared to Tesla and DeVinci I am hugely boring, also somewhat financially secure.

    • Da Vinci actually died OK, financially, given his situation. An uncle left him some land, Cesare Borgia saw to it he got some other land (before Cesare’s fortunes fell precipitously), and the King of France decided that Leo and his subordinates would make a fine addition to his court. In his mid-sixties, Leo upped stakes and moved 800 miles to the French court (meaning he either walked or rode horseback that whole distance), and ended his years in relative peace. He was frequently broke though.
      I think the kind of genius these guys had would be very hard to do well. Neither man ever married or had kids, they were both far, far from family for much of their careers… Their lives look lonely to me.

  5. Thanks for the giveaway of my book arc! So kind of you. Actually, your post reminded me of a book I wanted to try but was waiting for its release day, “Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away.” I wish I could say something as equally insightful as your post, but, for me, I quit when I no longer care or feel the situation is stagnant.

    • Sometimes it’s persistence, and sometimes it’s stubborn, stuck, foolishness. I have never been very good at telling the difference.

  6. I often never get started for fear of becoming involved in the wrong project, relationship or goal. And you started “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, know when to run… “ (RIP Kenny Rogers) playing through my head.

    Go ahead and try to write the same story. I’ve read, and re-read everything, some multiple times. I’m wondering if you could possibly write the same thing twice.

    • I see parallels in a lot of my stories, though thank you for that challenge. Sometimes, I’m working on a theme–the price of revenge, self-forgiveness, family of choice–and I see it morph through several stories. I’m fine with that but when the plots begin to feel predictable, I need to shake things up.

  7. I think stopping is an unrated skill and that sometimes we see too much nobility in sticking with something, regardless of the price being paid. I’ve gotten pretty good at cutting my losses, but unfortunately learned it partially with toxic family relationships. The relief in prioritizing yourself or your vulnerable loved one and abandoning a relationship that takes too much of a toll, is very reinforcing.

  8. in my youth I was sometimes impulsive sometimes reckless and also a dreamer not a good mix.I had ideas a plenty but they soon fizzled out and forgot.I lacked staying power so achievement was hard to reach.Until in my working career people invested in me they saw something and guided me through it all,When to proceed and when to stick and most important when to stop.I somehow survived life’s challenges and now in evening years I can say to myself “I did make a difference to many in their lives.Hard work but rewarding.No regrets .I am tired now but not completely finished I still can do tasks for neighbours worse off than me.Shopping,gardening,little repair jobs.Cups of tea and a chat.For me this makes the world go round.So I’m not ready just yet to sign off.