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When I was a little girl, the tales I enjoyed most were always adventure stories. Both my parents read aloud to my brother and me from our infancies, and before I could read, when my mother was tired and trying to skip a paragraph of the bedtime story in question, I'd point out the error she'd made and demand she go back, pointing at whatever passage she'd tried to abridge (I was then, as now, somewhat notably direct). So by the time I was ten, I was devouring the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, plunging into the worlds of Treasure Island and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, utterly entranced by a play about a sad prince and his quest to wreak revenge upon his uncle for "murder most foul."
Later, when I'd been writing my own stories of derring-do for years, a phrase stuck in my head that would halt my creative efforts -- at least the written ones, as I was singing and dancing all that while -- for more than a decade. That phrase was "write what you know." I don't recall where I heard it. It was just out there, in the atmosphere, like a whiff of exhaust...write what you know. Okay, I thought, that's the way to write. I will thus in my non-musical theater hours write the next Catcher in the Rye, only featuring an eccentric female lead from southwest Washington State (yours truly). I shall pen a sad ballad of a time in the nineties when the music was gritty and beautiful, and our group's madcap schemes were jotted down on paper napkins only to be cleared away by weary diner personnel the next morning.
Anything about the above sentence strike you as unbearably dull and self-interested? Yeah, me too. The trouble was, I couldn't write what I knew. I tried half-heartedly on occasion, believe me. But that wasn't what I wanted to read, anyhow. I wanted to read about small hobbits making enormous sacrifices and twins separated by tempests washing up on the same magical island. Doesn't that sound like more fun?
Another problem: for the record, I like moments of truth literature as much as the next bookworm, but I had read so much classic genre fiction as a very young kid, so many pirates and Scarlet Pimpernels, that I thought as an adult, literature had to be somehow more important. Important how? Well, important, you know, thematically or something. What's that you say? The Lord of the Rings is full of powerful, universally human themes? Well, that may be so. But to be important, just...no dragons, all right? Also no detectives or heroes of any kind. Only antiheroes and moments of sudden, inescapable truths that wash over the reader like a spray of finest Superbowl champagne.
So I continued to read what I liked and I stopped writing what I didn't like, which meant I stopped altogether. And then I encountered authors like Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon, authors who not only provided me with steaming hot plates of genre fiction, but who wrote -- sometimes in essay form, no less -- that I had swallowed a big fat lie. It's okay to write what you don't know. Detectives are acceptable. Spies are cool. Heroes exist in the world, do they not? So why not write about them? Thus, I wrote a novel called Dust and Shadow, which is the story of Sherlock Holmes solving the Jack the Ripper murders. And the moral of the anecdote is that I felt much better.
The Gods of Gotham is the story of Timothy Wilde, the very first police officer of the inaugural NYPD in 1845. He's the first because I think origin stories are mystic and compelling, and I love comic books, and I'm not going to apologize for any of that anymore. He loses everything, and then he finds it again, because I am fascinated by humanity's resistance to despair. It's a hero's journey, unabashedly, because I love reading hero stories. It's a dark narrative, but also a positive one, and one I very much hope you'll enjoy. Because it helped to bring a good missing piece of me back to myself, and after all...isn't that what stories are for?