I recently had an e-mail from a reader who asked where I get my inspiration for my stories, especially Turning Idolater, which seemed unique to her — genre defying and yet satisfying genre need. In Turning Idolater, I literally take the protagonist, a young internet stripper who is yearning for something indescribable, and beach him in a world that makes him squeamish. The sleaze of the porn world smashed into the preciousness of the literary world creates a tsunami for all the characters. That the two main characters are as noble as Ishmael and Queequeg, taken from Moby Dick, grounds Turning Idolater in a genreless world, despite the echoes of gay-themed and whodunit. Is it a murder mystery? Is it slice of life? Is it a gay romance? Is it a romance, period? Yes. Like tofu in a pot, this novel is meant to appeal to every imagination it infects. A fish out of water in every genre in which it swims.
However, this doesn’t answer the prime question. Where do I get my inspiration? Well, here’s a state secret. I imagine a story that interests me, perhaps topically; perhaps it’s the character development possibilities. I think on that story and its possibilities and then I lay it out in a plank — simple and direct; an anchor for my writing. It stays with me for a long time — years perhaps. THEN, and this is the Patterson family recipe, I add an element diametrically oppose to the simple line; a kettle of fish out of water. Thus, a study of gay activist meetings becomes a satirical comedy on human frailty (Cutting the Cheese). A love story teaming with deceit becomes a super-charged ghost story (Bobby’s Trace). A simple coming out tale becomes a contemporary poster for prejudice (No Irish Need Apply). A memoir of the gay experience in the military in 1967 becomes a marathon run by a fat man (Surviving an American Gulag). A simple porn boy meets snob man romance becomes a high-powered murder mystery (Turning Idolater). A quest story becomes a Dickensian epic (The Jade Owl). A sedate exposition of a Chinese official’s life in the twelfth century becomes an historic epic (The Academician and Swan Cloud – the two parts of Southern Swallow). What happens when you tell a prosaic military tale set in Germany during the 60’s and smash it up again the Brothers Grimm? You get The Road to Grafenwoehr. Mix time travel and alternative worlds with the history of the Cherokee nation and you get Belmundus. How about gay discrimination in the workplace mixed with a cocktail of the biblical triad — Jonathan, David and Saul. That would be Green Folly. And it goes on and on in my works.
Take a fish out of water and let it swim in snow and everyone will want to know whether the snow is cold enough to preserve the fish, or the fish large enough to swallow the snow. Nothing is ever too simple to be riveting or too complex to repel.
Happy reading, dear readers.
Edward C. Patterson