Saturday, April 25, 2009

Where Do Ideas Come From? BASHED's Origins



It doesn't matter what you write, whether it's crime, suspense fiction, literary fiction, or some other genre where you make stuff up, the most frequently asked question writers get from readers is: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Usually, I give them some smart ass answer, like "Off eBay. Some guy there sells plot ideas, six for a hundred bucks, minimum bid." Or, "The dollar store. It's all I can afford." But the truth is there's usually a different inspiration for every story or book I write, so the question is one that's truly difficult to answer, without sitting down and taking it on a case by case basis. Ideas come from all over. It seems the more of them I get, the more of them I have. Inspiration comes from dreams, snatches of conversation overheard on public transportation, a news item on the 'Net or in the paper, and asking myself the one question writers ask themselves more than any other: "What if..."

And sometimes, ideas come from real life. Such is the case with my new novel, Bashed, from MLR Press. For many gay men and women, hate crimes are a fact of life. Many gay people have either themselves experienced the terror, violation, and persecution of being attacked simply for who they are (and whether the attack took the form of words, fists, or something more lethal) or, at the very least, they know someone who has. I've been lucky. I have no permanent physical scars. But I did come very close to experiencing a hate crime up close and personal (and I suppose one could argue that what I did experience was actually a hate crime) and that formed the basis for the inspiration of my novel, Bashed. The title, of course, refers to being fag-bashed.

My close call came one October night several years ago back when I still lived in Chicago. I was once into what's affectionately called the "leather scene" and owned chaps, biker jacket, boots, and other accouterments that passed the dress code in either a gay leather establishment or a biker bar. That particular night, I had been hanging out at the Eagle, one of Chicago's foremost leather establishments. I had stayed late, arriving after midnight and leaving near closing, at close to four o'clock in the morning. I had made a new friend and we were making our way to my car, which was parked on a side street that ran parallel to St. Boniface Cemetery. It was a very dark and quiet side street, made all the more so by the late night hour. My companion and I weren't thinking about things like fag bashers or hate crimes. But we suddenly were when we noticed an idling old car parked just opposite from my own. The car was a souped up muscle vehicle of some sort and inside it, we could see several dark figures, all turning their heads, alert, as we approached. Both of us tensed and quickened our pace. Even in the middle of a metropolis like Chicago, it was easy to feel vulnerable and alone. And we felt even more vulnerable when the still of the quiet night was broken by the sound of car doors opening. Suddenly, my friend and I stopped, feeling exposed in our leather gear, as four young men emerged from the car. To the man, they all sported shaved heads and were dressed in uniforms of baggy jeans and hoodies.

And one of them was carrying an aluminum baseball bat.

They didn't call us "fags" or "queers". They didn't say anything. Their silence was perhaps more frightening than if they had hurled epithets our way. To reach my car, we would have to walk right by them...and it didn't appear as though they were planning to let us pass.

It was like being confronted by a Grizzly in the woods, or a lion in the jungle. What do you do? Run the other way, knowing that four strong men are on your heels? Try to get to your car and hope that the baseball bat was for a late night game of sandlot?

We froze. The four, as a unit, moved closer. One of the guys, the one with the bat, grinned, swinging the bat slightly.

This was a moment of irrational fear. My heart pounded. A trickle of sweat ran down by back.

In books, they call what happened next predictable or deus ex machina, but at just that moment, one of Chicago' finest rolled down the quiet street, very slowly, toward us. The men got in their cars quickly. And so did we.

Thankfully, I do not know what the outcome of that night would have been had not the police come along on such a fortunate patrol.

But the incident did stick with me for many years, until I got around to dramatizing the incident as the opening to Bashed. But in my fictional world, no police car came to the rescue and the pair of guys emerging from the leather bar end up bashed very badly...with an aluminum baseball bat. Its chilling to think that one of your characters could have been you, a you that might not have survived to tell a tale again.

BUY your copy of BASHED.

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