The Roots of Inspiration

What Led to the Writing of That Novel?

My boyfriend and I took a side trip to the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn this morning to enjoy the early 19th century ambience and superb menu at the Clover Club. We talked about the Mary Poppins sequel we had seen the night before, which had inspired him to introduce some innovations to the TV show he directs and produces. I also caught him staring at the end of the subway car, and I was surprised to find he was suddenly intrigued by the view of the subway car behind us through the window of our car’s rear door. He often shot subway scenes, and it opened his mind to new angles for approaching those scenes.


Those are the more obvious precursors to creative inspiration. You see or hear something that offers a solution to a long-pondered problem, and you incorporate it into your art. As a writer, I am often asked about the inspiration or origin of my various stories. There is always an easy answer:

When I was planning Cursed and Blessed, I was evaluating my lot in life and recognizing that I had experienced both good and bad luck in my life.

But I was recently reminded how the vicissitudes of fate had become a major theme throughout my entire life, not just in that moment. I mentioned that my birthday was on Christmas Day to a coworker, and he remarked how that seemed “a blessing and a curse.” Yes, I’m often around my extended family when my birthday is celebrated, and, at least as an adult, I get a whole bunch of gifts at the same time. But it was sometimes an excuse to shortchange me in my youth, I can count the number of birthday parties held in my honor on one hand, and it is often a tense and depressing wait on Christmas morning for someone to remember it’s also my birthday.

santa birthday cake

Those trials might suffice for someone writing ordinary literary fiction, but in writing speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror), I believe my audience wants me to make my points more dramatically. I can’t just report on someone whose birthday falls on December 25. I have to give the character a blessing twisted by a curse he must cope with the entire year, knowing that the next year could bring something better or worse.

As I approach 60 way too rapidly, I find that my character in Cursed and Blessed was likewise saddled with a frequent reminder of his limited mortality. In his case, he has reason to believe he might not make it past 50. My growing thanatophobia couldn’t let him get away with a long happy life. He also gets sent to federal prison. His body becomes crushed and disabled.

Part of the family curse the main character struggles with is that he can never get married. That is such a strong theme in the novel; it is even part of the ultimate plot resolution. The New York Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act only seven years ago, and the Supreme Court recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry only three years ago. Imagine a public ritual as important to human culture as marriage being denied to you for the first fifty or more years of your life. Then suddenly you open yourself to the bridal showers, the church ceremonies, the wedding registries, and the public recognition of your commitment to the person you love. I have vowed to put the exercise of that right on my bucket list. It is no wonder the curse blocks my fictional character from getting married through most of his life.

I’m sure readers who know me personally will see even more correspondences between my life and that of Rupert Rocket, the gay ballet dancer, arts administrator, model, actor, and international spy in Cursed and Blessed.

leap male dancer

And now my answer to what inspired that novel becomes a bit more complex than the conscious decision I made earlier this year when I started writing it:

Cursed and Blessed reflects all the challenges I’ve had to face in my life as a white American gay male in his fifties: my fear of dying too soon, my belief in the remote possibility of marriage, and my certainty that luck is neither good nor bad–it is ever an opportunity for using what life brings to our best advantage.

The latter is the concept of wuwei in Taoism. Look it up.

And Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and Awe-inspiring Mawlid al-Nabi to everyone celebrating in this time of year!

puppy eating


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