Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.
Today’s guest for the WHAT is Allan Wolf, author of WHO KILLED CHRISTOPHER GOODMAN? which is based on a true crime. Allan is an educator-writer-musician extraordinaire. He has literally hundreds of poems committed to memory. He is a veteran traveler through all the diverse worlds of poetry–from poetry slams to public schools, salons to saloons. He turns classic poetry into acoustic tunes as the drummer for The Dead Poets band. He put the Oh! in poetry as the educational director for national touring company Poetry Alive!
Out of the gate, I should say that I am not a writer in the usual sense. I am more of a creator. I have an urge to create. Writing and poetry is my default medium. We all have these urges to create life from the clay of our imaginations. And in that respect we are all amateur gods. (I’ve been writing a rock opera for more than twenty years now. But I didn’t even know it was a rock opera until about a year ago!) My point is that “Book Ideas” are just observations in process. The seed of my novel, Who Killed Christopher Goodman?, was planted in me in 1979, the day I learned that my friend, Ed, had been murdered.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
So I carried this confusion and grief around with me for years. How can a living person simply vanish from the world? Why wasn’t I able to stop it? I began meeting old high school buddies at the New River near Blacksburg, VA every August, which is the anniversary of Ed’s death. I started a habit of shouting out Ed’s name during my first leap from the river’s diving rock. This went on for years before it occurred to me, out of the blue, that I could turn the memories into a book.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
The plot for Who Killed Christopher Goodman? started out “firm as a church” as they say. After all, the plot was based on a real event, and facts are facts. But I found that the more I stuck to the facts, the more I failed to control the emotional pace of the novel. My personal feelings kept interfering with the needs of the story. I found myself fictionalizing the facts, changing names, altering timelines, and adding fabricated details in order to insulate myself from the pain of my personal connection.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Story ideas come to me quite easily. As a person who writes books, the perfect premise is always on my mind. Just like a painter is always evaluating what she sees through her painterly lens, so the writer does. Or the dancer. Or the sculptor. Even as a preteen skateboarder, I evaluated every remotely skate-worthy surface through the lens of a skateboarder. Once an artist identifies himself (whether by professional practice or personal habit) as “a writer,” he pretty much wears those lenses 24/7.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I’m almost always working on multiple projects all at once. But this is largely due to the fact that I work in a variety of mediums. While researching a longer novel, I can always divert myself by writing poetry or song lyrics. That said, there comes a point where I have to put in my earplugs, tie my leg to the desk, and get the project done. No messing about. I’ll get a head of steam and everything else falls away.
I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?
In my journals, I have chronicled broken bones, childbirth, potty training, car wrecks, and a botched vasectomy that would make the most unflappable of nurses run screaming from the room. It’s all in my journal. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? includes a run-in I once had with a lady police officer who threw me against her cruiser and checked me for weapons. The whole outrageous event happened pretty much exactly as I depict it in the book. I suppose everything that happens to a writer is just a dress rehearsal for the next novel, poem, picture book.
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