Saturday, August 06, 2011

I Never Forget a Good Idea

Last week on this blog, our own John Corrigan wrote an entry in which he tells how he keeps a file of interesting newspaper clippings for inspiration. I (Donis) do exactly the same thing. I'll clip any story that catches my fancy and file it away. The stories that interest me always have an element of poignancy. Sometimes I'll use the idea right away, but I never discard a tale that intrigues me, and I've been known to use ideas that I gleaned from a newspaper story many years earlier.

My third book, The Drop Edge of Yonder, is a book that was thirty years in the making. There are at least two pivotal scenes in the book that owe their existance to newspaper articles that stayed with me all that time. I read the first story when I lived in Lubbock, Texas, back in the ’70′s. Two women, an elderly mother and her grown daughter, were out shopping together, walking down the street and minding their own business, when a crazy person ran up and attacked the daughter out of the blue. The old mother saved her daughter when she jumped on the crazy man’s back and pummeled him and bit on him and basically beat the heck out of him.

Somewhere around the same time, I read an interview with an old British soldier who had fought the Massoud in Palestine after WWII. He described a fighter who came at him tooth and claw and absolutely refused to be killed, even after he shot him and stabbed him and beat him with the butt of his rifle. The fighter finally sunk his teeth in the soldier’s foot and the soldier had to decapitate him to make him let go. The soldier said it was the scariest thing that had ever happened to him in his life. I took both these images and put them together to create one of the climatic scenes of the book.

The opening scene of Drop Edge isn’t quite as old an image in my head as the other two, but it is also a tale that took me a long time to tell. Seven or eight years before I began writing that particular book, I did a family geneology for my sibs for Christmas, which as you regular Dear Readers may know, is one of the things that inspired me to write my Alafair Tucker series in the first place . One of the things I learned while doing research on my family was the story of one of my a great-great grandfathers and three of his companions who were returning from the Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge when they stopped a few miles from home to rob a bee hive in a tree. While they were smoking the hive, they were ambushed by bushwhackers and killed. They were found by their families a few hours later but lay dead in the field over night, guarded from wild animals by their wives until morning, when they were buried where they fell.

On another topic, I recently received an invitation to a depressingly high-numbered high school reunion coming up in October. I graduated from Nathan Hale High in Tulsa in a class of nearly 700 people. (Nathan Hale is the guy who, while about to be hanged by the British as a spy during the American Revolution, said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” which I always thought was one of history’s great instances of bravado in the face of death. If it had been me, I might have done my patriotic duty like Nathan did, but when it came time to die, my last words would have been along the lines of , “For the love of God, please don’t hang me.” Of course, nobody would have named a high school after me, either.) I’m sorry to say that I won’t be able to go to the reunion. However, one of the organizers is an old high school friend of mine, and she asked me to send her some posters and promotional material about the books. I’m overjoyed for the opportunity. It always surprises me how one’s past keeps rearing up.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Really interesting the way stories heard or read finally come together years later to form a scene in a book. I have one of those files too.

That story of the soldier having to decapitate his attacker to make him let go -- that would be enough to leave one traumatized for life.

I have yet to go to one of my high school reunions. I have the good excuse that I live in another state, but you make me wonder what it would be like to go to the next one.

Donis Casey said...

Reading that soldier's story rather traumatized me, which is why I've never forgotten it, I'm sure.

I live in a different state now, too, Frankie, I've never made a reunion since the tenth. I must say I wasn't that happy in high school, anyway.