For roughly a year, Walt walked by a certain building on his way to work. In the rain, in the snow, ice, and sunshine, he passed it for hundreds of days without truly seeing it. Then one day, inexplicably, he stopped, turned, and looked at it.
It was a small community theater. There was nothing all that extraordinary about it. It was essentially a concrete bunker, with posters for the types of strange plays you might expect to see—not just at a community theater—but at a Portland community theater. He specifically remembers one poster that was just two eyes staring out of a sea of black.
After briefly examining the building, Walt resumed his morning commute. He arrived at work. He put in his eight hours. But the image of the theater stayed with him.
That weekend, Walt took me to the building. We never went inside, but we wandered around it, checking out the posters, shooting the breeze with some homeless people that congregated near it. Over the coming days and months, that theater would become the inspiration for our first novel, By All Means Must We Fly (available here).
We built a world around it. For narrative purposes, we transported it to Los Angeles. We demolished the buildings surrounding it and placed it in an anonymous industrial park. We filled it with characters and their hopes and dreams. We tried to provide a snapshot of the lives of actors we would never meet, but whom we came to know more intimately than the vast majority of people we meet on any given day. From the building a plot emerged, often as tangled and interwoven as the strands that drew the curtains of our imagined theater.
In the end, the theater of our novel probably doesn’t resemble the theater Walt stopped by that morning. We’ll never know if our characters bore any resemblance to the people who actually perform there. We’ll never know if the play we developed was in keeping with the types that are acted out on its stage. We’ll never know if its director is schizophrenic, if a child Youtube star is a member of its company, or if, against all odds, love might develop within its walls. But much as a seed is a poor predictor of the towering tree that one day might grow, that theater will always be special to us as the impetus of our first novel.
Who knows what made Walt stop that day. We haven’t obtained the kind of success that makes us comfortable or qualified to give writerly advice, but we might recommend just one thing:
Stop more often. Check out the things you might otherwise ignore.
Who knows—maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to catch a show.
W & W Sawday