by John McFetridge
(I'm on vacation with my family. Sorry this is late. I wrote it in time, I just didn't get it posted in time. My fault).
You can find inspiration in real life or you can find inspriration in art – both are equally valid. – Michel Basilieres, author of Black Bird.
A little while ago in a post on The Rap Sheet William Landy wrote about the terrific novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. He wrote about Higgins, a lawyer, listening to hours of wiretaps and reading thousands of pages of police reports – hearing what would become the characters in his books in their own voices.
Also a little while ago in a blog post, Matt Rees wrote about studying literature at Oxford Unversity, “and then I read Dashiell Hammett.”
So, one gets inpriration from real life and one from art – both equally valid.
As a Canadian I tend to find inspiration in a mix of both – we Canadians are the products of, well, pretty much every other culture in the world. It hasn’t distilled into a single culture yet but it’s still young.
As the blurbs on my books say, I attended a murder trial when I was twelve years old. My older brother, an RCMP officer was giving testimony. What I really remember from the day was that the two defendants were laughing and joking. These were two guys, career criminals, who had kidnapped a young boy and in the botched ransom exchange killed two police officers. And they just weren’t taking the trial seriously.
When I talked to my brother about it afterwards he said, “Well, they know they’re spending the rest of their lives in prison, that’s just their final ‘fuck you’ to the rest of us.” I hadn’t really seen that attitude from murderers in the movies or on TV so this attitude stuck with me. And I’ve seen that kind of childish defiance a lot since.
Also in that trial I saw the matter-of-fact approach of the cops. My brother testified about finding the wallet of one of the victim’s near the crime scene when he was one of the cops searching the area.
(the weird thing is I also remember the testimony of the lab guy explaining in detail about how the particular make up of mud that was found in the defendants’ boots could only have come from three feet deep in the exact area where the victims’ bodies were buried, but it has never ocurred to me to use forensics as a factor in fiction. Oh well....)
Those attitudes more than any specific actions are what I’ve used as inpsiration for my writing.
And a lot of real-life events. My wife sends me some of those, “weird criminal” stories from newspapers she finds online. Not the ripped from the headlines page one stuff, that’s usually so odd and out there it’s unbeliveable. More stuff like, Mykal Carberry, 13, was arrested in Hyannis, Mass., in March and charged with arranging for the murder of his 16-year-old half-brother, Jordan, so that, according to police, he could take Jordan's place atop the family's prosperous Cape Cod cocaine distribution ring. (The boss's job was open following the boys' father's recent imprisonment.) [Tampa Tribune-AP, 3-2-09].
But I also get a lot of inspiration from art.
As an angry teenage boy I used to spend a lot of time talking about things I didn’t like. Movies that were, “total crap,” and TV shows that, “sucked bigtime.” And music, oh man, so much music was just awful. We could talk about crappy music for hours. Now I really only like to spend time reading, watching and talking about stuff that’s good. Sometimes I do sit through a movie that isn’t very good and when it’s over I try and pull a few good things from it – pretty much the opposite of what my teenage self would have done.
At a recent family get-together, my brother-in-law, a drama professor, actor, director and writer said he’s constantly hearing conversations and “correcting” them in his head, finding better ways for things to be said, putting the emphasis in different places and so on. Me, when I overhear conversations (and I try to do it all the time) I try to remember them so I can get my writing more the way people actually talk – even if that means it’s sometimes “wrong” with the emphasis in the wrong place.
It’s really just a matter of taste, whichever one you prefer. Inspiration comes from everywhere, then it’s up to us to turn it into something.
Where do you find most of your inspiration?