Sunday, July 17, 2016

Where I Get My Ideas - The Real Story Behind the Fiction

There’s one question I hear all the time. “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” or “When or how or why did you become a writer?” Here’s the real scoop.

I always wanted to be a writer but first I was a dreamer and a reader. My taste tended toward great adventures and romance: War and Peace, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Gone With The Wind, and mysteries with Nancy Drew, or the dashing heroes spun by Frank Yerby and Sidney Sheldon. I yearned to escape into those worlds. Every night when I went to bed, I dreamed up a story to be continued the next night. There would be previews first, a taste of what was to come.

I read books on writing, attended university classes, and workshops. One suggestion repeated over and over was to write what you know. Great. I didn’t know anything. I wasn’t happy with my life and I didn’t want to grow up to be normal like my almost invisible parents and their friends. I didn’t want what other kids seem to want: school, jobs, marriage, kids. That wasn’t for me. Since I was going to be a writer, I must experience adventure and romance so I could write about them and understand life.

That’s how I met my six husbands. That’s how I got to ride on the back of a motorcycle and participate in a documentary with the Hell’s Angels. It’s why I chose a bus ride to Canada to see a motorcycle race instead of staying in college. It’s why I became a go-go dancer to support myself and my daughter.

Okay, to explain, I have to go back to the beginning. I was born in 1942 in North Dakota at the home of my maternal grandparents. My mother was staying at her childhood home until my father got out of the service. He was stationed on an army base in Tennessee. My maternal grandmother was a force of nature not unlike a tornado. She turned their home into a boarding house to supplement the income my grandfather made as a mason. Her word was law and no one dared to go against her. My mother rebelled. I don’t know the circumstances of why we left, I was just a baby, but she took me and hitchhiked from North Dakota to Los Angeles and to the home of my father’s parents. She endured terrible hardships on the way.

I never knew my mother very well but I’m sure I got my rebellious streak from her. I do remember the Quonset hut the army provided where we lived when my father came home. Unfortunately, my mother got sick with cancer and we spent the last year of her life at my paternal grandparents’ home. I still remember the morning she died. I always went with both grandparents to the Lutheran church on Sundays. This Sunday only my grandfather took me. Even though I was only five, I knew already what I’d find when we got home. Soon afterward, my father left on business to San Francisco. When he returned three years later, he brought me a new mother.

Some of my happiest childhood memories were the years I spent with my paternal grandparents. Both were good, sturdy, Norwegians. My grandfather was born in Norway and wrote a book about his adventures as a fisherman in the fjords. My grandmother was always either cooking, sewing, crocheting, or knitting. I remember sitting with her in the sewing room listening to The Shadow or The Green Horner on the radio while she sewed my clothes.

I had one friend in the neighborhood my age. Vida's beautiful chestnut hair fell past her shoulders in corkscrew curls. Next to her I felt like an awkward colt. Her mother had also died young and she lived with her grandmother. Her father had remarried, but Vida refused to go live with them.

My father chose my new mother because her mother had died young and she had hated her stepmother. So my father thought she would understand me. But I never got the chance to know her or like her before she was forced on me as “my mother.” My father thought he’d fixed our family and we would live happily ever after. We all knew that wouldn’t happen.

I dreamed of living on the Left Bank of Paris and attending the Sorbonne. I would travel through Europe on a motorcycle with a typewriter in the sidecar and earn my living as a writer, like Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.

Sadly, I never got to Europe. Spent six months in Mexico, though. Almost got to Canada.
I did want to go to college. My aim was for a small liberal arts college. My parents vetoed that idea right away. Too close to Camp Pendleton. My parents picked a Lutheran college in Tacoma, Washington where there were relatives to watch over me and I could stay with an aunt.

I met my first husband when I was selling Christmas cards door to door through Junior Achievement. I was seventeen. Mark was 27, working on his motorcycle with his bohemian, poetry writer, motorcycle rider, friends, and he bought a box of Xmas cards from me even though he was Jewish. 

I was in love. He was the exact opposite of my parents. They were horrified and refused to let me see him. I ran away two weeks before my eighteenth birthday when I was supposed to be going to Washington for college. Mark hid me out with the leader of the Hell’s Angels. They only agreed because he could fix their bikes when they broke down. They kept me in a back room, where no one was allowed in, and told Mark that I couldn’t stay long. They were naturally nervous and didn’t want to get caught with an underage runaway. I didn’t want them in trouble so I went home and told my parents I was ready to go to college. My stepmother took me shopping and bought me a new college wardrobe.

I never did go to that Lutheran college after all. I arrived to stay with a cousin who would be attending same college. A week before classes were to start, Mark told me he had a race in Canada. I told my aunt that I had to leave to see him race, but then I'd be back and be a good girl and attend college. Please don’t tell my father. I got on a bus, got as far as Seattle and got cold feet. I got back to my aunt’s house and as I feared she had called my father. Sorry for me, my bags were packed, tuition refunded, and I was put on a bus back to Los Angeles and given a room at the YWCA.

I married Mark on the way to a motorcycle race when I was nineteen. I went to all his races, which were run on the same race tracks as the car races, which made it twice as exciting. Some time later he was invited to participate in a documentary with the Hell’s Angels. I rode on the back of Mark's Vincent Black Shadow. Mark had the required chain around his waist to ward off aggressive truck drivers. 

I left Mark one year later and my father arranged to get the marriage annulled. Shortly afterward, when I turned twenty-one, I met Husband No. 2.

Johnny was fifty and looked like Kurt Douglas or Burt Lancaster. He was the character out of the Frank Yerby and Sidney Shelton books. He was exciting and different. He’d been a hard hat diver and demolitions expert and freelanced for the oil companies. He knew movie stars, was friends with John Wayne, and even got to be an extra on one of his films, Red River. He’d been around the world many times. One time in France, an Arab once shot at him six times and missed. Johnny was half-Apache and could drink like no other I’ve seen and still walk straight. I met him in a Santa Monica bar. He was recuperating from a fall off a three story building and had fractured both feet. 

I move in with him and rubbed his feet and nursed him for three years until he could walk without a limp. We lived in Mexico for six months, New York City for a summer, several cities in Florida, then New Jersey. We changed our name a few times also. That’s when I figured out that his ex-wife’s Sicilian brother was in the Mafia, and was hunting him.

He delivered our daughter in a car while we were living in in the Florida Keys. We were too far from a hospital. My little girl was six months old when we left Johnny and moved to Philadelphia.
I supported my daughter by working as a medical secretary, a waitress, and a go-go dancer. The Flawed Dance became the fictionalized version of those years in the late sixties. In fiction I could be the heroine who fought the bad guys, infiltrated the mob and saved a couple of lives. Writing was therapeutic and helped me to understand those times in hindsight.

I met Husband No. 3, a bartender who gave me my wonderful son. After a rocky five years with that husband, I took my son and we left and moved back to California.

Husband No. 4 was a Hawaiian chef who took me to Hawaii where I met his wonderful family and later gave birth to my beautiful youngest daughter.  No. 4 wasn’t so wonderful. He stabbed a leader in the Mexican Mafia and we had to run for our lives and hide for a while. 

Two husbands followed after I moved to Texas. One was for convenience. The other went to prison for killing a guy in a bar fight. I decided no more marriages. I had my fill of adventure and romance. From then on, I would just write about them.

So you think that after all these experiences I would have all the material I needed to write. I had enough characters running through my head to turn any of them into whoever I wanted them to be. 

Now I watch my children and grandchildren make the same kind of mistakes and I know I can’t help them. I know they wouldn't listen to me as I wouldn't listen to my parents. But at the same time I learn from them. They introduced me to troubled teens, runaways, parents struggling with their children, and making painful decisions. 

From them and for them I write my Niki Alexander mystery series. Niki is an ex-cop turned counselor for a teen shelter. She is the champion of the runaways, the throwaways, the ones looking for a different life, seeking adventure and excitement. She knows the dangers they face and she is there for them. 

In the first book, Less Dead, Niki has to find an abandoned teenager, who might have witnessed a murder, before the murderer finds her. Lost Witness deals with a lost little boy caught in the center of a drug ring involving two brothers and the border between Texas and Mexico. Both books are available as e-books, print, and audio, and can be found on Amazon, iTunes and Audible.

The third book in the Niki Alexander series is A Matter of Revenge and is due to be released in September from Black Opal Books. This time Niki is faced with two pre-teen, runaway streets kids who have taken on as their mission to destroy a dangerous pedophile ring. More to come as the launch date approaches.

Love to read your comments.

No comments: