As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to create and tell stories. In some of my earliest memories of grade school, we had a creative writing exercise called “Squiggles.” Squiggles were these plain white pieces of paper with odd, incomplete shapes on them. The goal of this exercise was to allow you to finish the shape by drawing something from your imagination and then follow it up with a story about your creation. I still remember one of these assignments in particular where the shape was reminiscent of a backwards number three with a couple of lines sticking out from it. For some reason, I saw this shape and it inspired me to draw a puffy little critter that would’ve been fit for the Rainbow Brite line. Girly, sure, but I was proud of that little puff ball and the accompanying story I wrote about him. It filled me with about as much pride as a seven year old boy can have. In it, my little puffy hero was sent to earth from the deep recesses of outer space to make friends with mankind. When we later shared our stories with the class, I was devastated to find that I was the only one that saw a puffy little alien, while everyone else had come up with much more realistic scenarios.
Looking back now, I have to laugh about it because I suppose the attraction to science fiction had always been there. You could routinely find me in the school library checking out whatever I could get my hands on pertaining to space, aliens, ghosts, and various other subject matter along the same ilk. I was probably the only second grader in my home town that saw an ad for the Time-Life books monthly subscription service featuring tales of the unexplained, and wanted it as badly as the other kids wanted a bike. To say that I was always a little different than the other kids would be a gross understatement.
When I finally had the free time and desire to sit down and begin work on my debut novel last year, many ideas were fresh atop my overactive imagination. I’d been sitting on ideas that had been accumulating over several years. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to be documenting those ideas in my “rainy day” book. So which one would it be? Which story would I tackle first? Well, as my friends and readers already know, I chose the story that would eventually be come to known as Noble.
One of the most common questions that I get asked by people is “where do you get your ideas from?” It’s not really a secret. It’s the same way that an artist gets their ideas for a painting, or a musician gets their ideas for a song. Inspiration is all around us, every day, and how we’re “wired” designates how we’ll pick up on that inspiration and apply it to our own individual craft. Would you be surprised to discover that the story of Noble actually came to me in a dream? Not all of it, of course, but the foundation from which the book is based upon, absolutely. I still remember it. It was a couple of years ago and I had awoken on a Saturday morning following a bizarre dream. It was so bizarre, that it was still running through my head as I stretched and got out of bed. I kept thinking to myself, “wow, that was kind of cool, but now I’ll never get to see how it ends.” I was legitimately disappointed. That’s when it occurred to me that I should log what I remembered, and come back to it someday when I was ready to apply my own recipe to it. The dream, as 99% of all dreams are, was wacky and nonsensical. I knew that I would have to dig really deep in order to refine something usable from it, but the potential was there. In truth, the original dream reminded me more of the Japanese classic film Battle Royale than anything else, but staying true to my predilection for sci-fi, I was able to extract the more interesting elements of the dream and create my own storyline to accompany it. It was kind of like the Squiggles from my youth. My dream had shown me an incomplete shape, so it was up to me to finish the drawing and create a story.
As I began to craft the pieces of the story that would eventually become Noble, I must confess that very literary influences actually went into my creative process. Instead, there were a few key influences from other media that played a large role in its birth. Right about the time I first put pen to paper, so to speak, Lost was ending its television run after six mind-bending seasons. Some people loved it, some people hated it, but I don’t think anyone could deny what an appreciation that the writers had for telling a story. We may not have always liked the direction they took it, but unquestionably, they crafted a masterpiece that had widespread affect. Me personally, I loved the show. I still think it was one of the greatest creations in the history of television. I am still blown away by the fact that ABC let a show like that run for six years, despite it’s rather taxing requirement of intellect. You just don’t see that in television. I think that Lost often resembled a good book more so than a TV show. As it was winding down to its final episodes, I couldn’t help but think about what the journey had been like all those years that led us to the show’s end game last May. I went back and watched the first five seasons over again in preparation. I took copious notes. Partly because I wanted to be able to follow all that had happened and what was still to come, but also to better understand the elements of constructing such an elaborate story. By the time the show did finally reach its swan song, I was consumed with emotion. I was shedding tears for characters that were not real over the decisions they made that would not affect real people, and yet I cried and I cried. That was the final exclamation point on a story well told. Any story that could impact me on that level must be dissected and understood. After I had spent weeks doing that, I felt as though I had 50% of what I needed to begin working on my own story.
The next 25% was setting. Where would Noble take place? I didn’t want to pick a real location because then it would be more like rewritten history rather than science fiction. I went back to yet another unconventional resource for inspiration: Video games. For as often as video games are referred to as the death of brain cells, I am continually amazed by the quality and craftsmanship that goes into making the games of today. They aren’t all so grandiose, but the ones that are really stick with you and lend credence to the “games as art” debate that has been ongoing for years. One such game was a little gem from the summer of 2007 called BioShock. The game was set in the 1960s, but the crux of the story took place in an intended underwater utopia called Rapture that was built in the 40s. The developers absolutely nailed the setting. Everything was designed so well that, as the player, I just wanted to walk around and look at everything. The art deco décor, the brilliantly replicated fonts and design fashions of the time, and of course, the beautiful sounds of authentic war-time radio music being played at various moments throughout the game. It harkened back to an era that I was not alive to experience, but it sure made me wish I had been. With such a strong reaction, I knew that the 40s was the perfect setting to begin my tale as well
The last 25% was folklore. I needed to craft a plot that would challenge the imagination of the reader, but also not be so farfetched that it would turn off readers who didn’t like sci-fi. I began thinking about real life stories and legends that dealt with the unexplained that I had always found interesting. One of the most titillating legends I remembered was about the famous mothman sightings in Point Pleasant, West Virginia around the time of WWII. There have been many retellings of this story over time, including the movie, The Mothman Prophecies, but if you do the research and read the real accounts back from that time, you may find them as interesting as I did. In actual publicly documented eye-witness testimony, there are many mentions of people seeing men in black suits appearing shortly after the mothman sightings started being reported. There was a woman, a reporter for the local newspaper I believe, that was working on the big story and trying to get it in print. These eye witnesses claim that the men in black suits began asking about the reporter immediately after showing up in town, then a couple of days later, they disappeared just as mysteriously as they’d arrived. No one ever saw the reporter again. She turned up dead days later when a concerned landlord couldn’t get a response upon knocking on her door. As with any good legend, there are likely some elements of truth and some elements born of fabricated hysteria, but I found it all fascinating. What if the government really did have secret agents whose jobs were to prevent widespread panic? What if they did travel across the country and attempt to silence reports of the unexplained before they could be brought to light? That sounded like a premise that I could mine the rest of my story from, and thus, with all of my ingredients, Noble was ready to be cooked.
So why sci-fi? I think it’s just a lot more fun. You’re not bound by all the rules associated with other genres. That said, I did do a lot of painstakingly dull research about the early 20th century to make Noble as historically accurate as possible. I owe the reader that much. I want them to be able to become immersed with my story and enjoy the insanity rather than be removed from the experience because something didn’t exist at the time my book says it did. I want the reader to just shut off their brain for a little while and absorb the legend I’ve created without worry. If they’re impressed about it being historically accurate as well, then that’s just an added bonus! 🙂