The Inspiration Behind
(Part Of The Author Interviews Himself Series)
Have you ever wondered what it takes to write a novel? The answer might surprise you. Alan’s novel took him over twenty years to write and in this interview he reveals the backstory that comprises its creation.
“I don’t know that I really set out to learn what it takes to write a novel, at least not in the beginning. I knew I wanted to write a book that began with a teenager in a band, but I wanted that book to be about something more. I wanted some grand lesson about life in there, but the truth of the matter was that I hadn’t thought of myself as having lived through that many extraordinary situations. I mean, 'How does one write about something he knows little to nothing about?'
“I had once experienced what it meant to be in a small band in high school that had a big moment (at least it felt that way at the time). When things go right, there is an energy that is symbiotic between those playing and the crowd. The feeling and experience is incredible. But I never saw myself as that strong of a player and bowed out before really giving myself a chance to fully follow what might have been a wonderful opportunity.
“I felt I let some people down back then, some of whom went on to have very successful careers in music as well as other things. I thought I was done with music and found myself a few years later dropping out of college and settling into a routine in which I thought life was going to be an endless repeat of one week after another. I still worked on a manuscript, but there really wasn’t much of a story. If I’ve learned anything about life, it’s that something will come along if you continue to work for it.”
Several years later Alan was invited to work as an audio engineer for a country music band.
“I believe there are people you come across who bring purpose into your life, people who show you that you are capable of much more than you could have imagined. I was fortunate enough to spend just enough time around people like that in country music, who reminded me there is more to life than a weekend off from work. We are all capable of so much more than we realize, but it takes effort, persistence, education, practice, and above all patience.”
Patience can be a difficult virtue to follow when a year seems like a lifetime.
“By age 26 I was realizing how little time we have on this planet to contribute something. My eyes were opening up for the first time in a long time. A year could be just another year, or it could be a lifetime. I was involved with archaeology at this point. Vacations were no longer about sitting at home but instead included trips that would change forever the way I approached the rest of my life. Because I was so busy, I couldn’t wait for the sunrise and rarely paid attention to a sunset. I was making notes and practicing writing regularly in the background, but finishing a book wasn’t at the forefront of my life. It was something that was just there, like breathing. It was that important, but not something I thought about all of the time or even discussed with others.”
Eventually Alan moved from Texas to New Mexico to study and work in the field of archaeology, but as it turned out, studying the past would mean having to re-live it.
“While I was in high school, my father had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I had seen first hand the damage disease does to a person's mind when he feels his planned future has been compromised. My father and mother pressed forward to build a good life with what remained, but years later, just prior to my moving to New Mexico, my father was diagnosed with cancer. I think I lost my patience with time or maybe was fearful something like that could happen to me. In any case, I set out to work and live like I never had before. By age 27 I had stood atop a Mayan ruin over looking the Yucatan, hiked and backpacked into and out of the Grand Canyon twice, worked with descendants of some of those Native American ruins I once only read about and had worked alongside some archaeologists that I had seen interviewed in such magazines as National Geographic or in documentaries on PBS. Destiny seemed as close at hand as it had ever been. I had never called so many people friends as I did at that point in my life, nor had known what it meant to feel so isolated when my mind began to fail following the death of my father that same year. By age 28, my life was turning into a catastrophic, self-destructive failure and my writing was going nowhere.”
Alan returned to Texas to be closer to family and went back to work at a previous job.
“As anyone with bipolar disorder can tell you, the face you put on everyday for everyone else is not the one you see when you look in the mirror. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t know with certainty what was wrong. I went from thinking I was suffering from grief to experiencing extreme depression. There were days when I was either manically inclined to work for hours, if not days on end. Other days I only wanted to stay in bed for a week with barely an eye open. I stopped talking to people outside of work; I stopped exercising. Eventually, at the advice of a family doctor, I tried to re-establish connections but everything was confused.
“No one knew what was wrong, and unfortunately everyone seemed to have their version of what they thought was wrong with me. During those first few years after my father’s death, I had watched from within this ailing mind of mine as friendships fractured and society changed with events like Columbine and a church shooting near where I lived. A presidential election split the voting world in my country almost perfectly in two. Then came the catastrophic day known as 9/11.
“The world, as well as my world, seemed upside down and inside out. The life that was full of harmony and happiness was now one gigantic crevasse. In my mind I was no longer standing atop that Mayan ruin admiring the Yucatan Peninsula or some remote abandoned village discussing the world with friends from all over; I was now at the bottom of my own Grand Canyon with no trail in sight to lead me out and no soul within hearing distance, except for one — my mom.”
So, home is exactly where Alan moved to.
“I found some bit of distraction moving to the country from the city and eventually quitting my job, another instance in my life I am not particularly proud of. I used to run to opportunities, but I had been walking away from them for so long at this point that I think I forgot how to do anything else.
“I continued working on my novel. I drove across the western half of the United States. I went back to college for a few years, but these experiences were merely distractions. The illness and negativity that began the day my father died were still there and had been getting worse all along. After years and after almost all relationships had been severed, I voluntarily sought help from mental health professionals who diagnosed my condition as bipolar disorder.”
It would be another nine years before Alan’s novel would finally see a publication date. Which brings us back to the question of what it takes to write a novel.
“I’ve given you a very simplified version, a short short story of what I went through in order to write this book. But there is a far richer story in the longer version: a tale as high as hiking to a mountain peak and low as it can feel when staring into the depths of an ocean trench while scuba diving. My story is as much about the battle one faces from within, as the battle we humans must overcome when dealing with our misunderstandings between each other.
“Now, at age 45, when someone asks me what it takes to write a novel, the simplest answer I could give them is "time". Follow every reasonable opportunity that presents itself and make notes along the way. Where there are no opportunities, make them. Accept the ups and downs in life with open arms for there is a lesson in every moment. Most importantly, find a way to turn negative aspects into something positive. The world needs positive voices now more than ever.”
Alan’s novel, Misunderstood, isn’t just a tale of a young man who starts out as a musician and ends up in a world he never expected to fall into, this novel is the beginning of a much larger story of how a society that has fallen into its own crevasse can climb its way out with, as Alan says, “...effort, persistence, education, practice, and above all patience.”