As someone who writes crime fiction it seems a natural question to ask – the creative process being as much a mystery as the books themselves. Having never been a journalist the notion that a story can come out of a headline or research is an alien idea, not a bad one by any means, just one that is beyond my field of experience. Trying to base fiction on fact feels like putting the horse before the cart. And the old idea that you write what you know is probably one that came from a harassed teacher spending too many days staring into the faces of students who expected to actually learn something. One doesn’t have to go any further than a bathroom mirror to realize that relying on the sum of your own knowledge would rarely get you past page five, and that would be on a good day.
Or at least that is what I thought until I began thinking about NEVER FEAR. OK that’s not entirely true, but it is a little bit true. While it didn’t exactly come from something I know, it did come from memory – one very specific one in this case – that happily had little to do with the events and characters that unfold in the book.
I was eight years old, give or take, watching an old black and white movie on television one summer afternoon at my grandmother’s house in upstate New York. It was a monster movie, to be specific a low budget, badly made B-movie entitled War of the Colossal Beast.
I was happily sitting on the couch, eating popcorn, (though I may have added that part over time) when the monster, a creation that looked oddly like a cycloped Walter Mathau grown to gigantic proportions, began attacking the Griffith Park Observatory. As the city fought back, the screen cut to a lone police dispatcher desperately calling on all available units to respond to the monster. The dispatcher was my father. I stared in disbelief for a moment, then jumped off the couch and started screaming, ‘that’s dad,’ and then he was gone. Eight seconds of screen time at most that turned into forty years of memory and, eventually, the opening scene of the book where Alex sees her father, an actor, who disappeared from her life when she was a child, in a film.
Late in his career my father played George Castanza’s father-in-law to be on Seinfeld. In one memorable moment he rode around Central Park in a horse drawn carriage driven by Kramer who had just fed the horse a very large can of beans. I can’t wait to find out where this memory will end up someday in my writing. So write what you know, or at least remember, because you never know where a book is hiding.
© 2006 Scott Frost