Inside The Mind Of A Writer: Plotting “The Czar of Wilton Drive”
For me, coming up with ideas for a new book are like making old fashion percolated coffee. I let my ideas simmer for a while, sometimes months, even years. Then suddenly my ideas have percolated enough in my head and l’m ready to sit down at my laptop.
I’m not one of these formula writers who churn out a book every three months, mostly to pay the bills. God bless ’em but l like to think my books are unique and that means writing for myself first.
Besides having an image of my main characters fixed in my mind, l’ve already outlined my plot, scene by scene in a more cinegraphic approach, right to the last fade-out. Sure, things may and often do change as l get into my writing – l write my books chronologically so that l am living my story as it happens – but l must know the endpoint for my characters and their story before l commit one word to paper.
Okay, to my blank laptop screen.
I’ve lived – and played – in Fort Lauderdale since 2002 and a few years ago wanted to write a book that focused on its dark side as a gay guy who had seen and experienced much of it. I had, at the time, written my memoirs as a hirsute gay man and the dozen or so iconic furry men l had known in my life, thirty years in NYC, mostly in the now gone West Village leather/levi scene, and the last decade in sunny Lauderdale, and l wanted to use it somehow in my book.
That’s when l came up with the idea of bringing generations together through a gay nephew and his gay uncle who had been incognito for most of the nephew’s life. In my original beginnings of a draft l had the nephew growing up on Long Island and, questioning his sexuality, coming down to Fort Lauderdale for college and to distance himself from his well-meaning but overbearing parents. That was exactly what l did when, after graduating from a commuter college in Jersey while living at home and anxious to live my life as newly “out” young gay man, l fled to Los Angeles to complete my master’s degree at the University of Southern California. In reality, USC was a G rated cover story for what became an X-rated flick – my life as a unencumbered gay man in Hollywierd.
In my original draft, Uncle just happens to be one of Nephew’s professors. In a highly charged scene, the two connect in torrid sex right on the table of the faculty room. The nephew soon after moves into a secluded gay resort the uncle owns where they continue their affair.
Then suddenly Uncle dies mysteriously, the resort is ransacked by his employees, and nephew finds his memoirs on a USB drive.
If you’ve already raised your eyebrows, you know such a story almost glorifying incest would never see the light of day with gay publishers who, perhaps a bit overly sensitive and paranoid about the str8 world that thinks we’re weird, view incest along with child molestation and forced rape as absolute story no-no’s. l soon chucked that storyline.
But that didn’t mean l had to also discard the nephew/uncle angle. What l did instead was distance them time-wise and geographically and have the uncle already dead at the beginning of my story.
I chose Staten Island, the forgotten borough of NYC and so atypical of the rest of City with its suburban and even rural neighborhoods, as the place to start my story, and had my nephew character named Jonathan growing but in the same 1920’s vintage home G, my partner, and l owned with our dogs. Jon himself was modeled after a tall, skinny, furry, twenty something guy l had tricked with in Lauderdale. I liked not just his look but also his cocky attitude and used both in developing my character.
Uncle Charlie, the black sheep of the family who had moved to Lauderdale some years back and, while working as a college prof, bank rolled two bars that would become enormously successful in the burgeoning Lauderdale gay scene was, well, me, kinda, except for the black sheep and bar ownerships, that is. My memoirs of my life as a gay man in NYC and later Lauderdale, were integrated into the book with only minor editing.
The glue l used to bring my two characters together was death, or more specifically Uncle Charlie’s will. When “Czar” opens, twenty something Jon, living with his grandfather, Charles’ brother, who ostracized him from the family decades before when he discovered he was gay, learns the uncle he hardly knew has left him his entire estate.
Quitting his nowhere job at a fast food joint, Jon flies down to Lauderdale to take possession of Uncle Charlie’s beachfront condo and the two gay bars he owns, one of which is the town’s leather bar. And it is in the beachfront condo that Jon stumbles upon Charlie’s memoirs, stowed away on his laptop, and becomes fascinated by the life he had led and increasingly suspicious about the story that he had died of a heart attack.
Having played the leather scene most of my gay life, l wanted to use my book to bring home the reality that the scene is on life support as more and more members of my generation, the Baby Boomers, are hanging up their jock straps. Uncle Charlie is determined to hold onto a strict leather dress code for his bar, the Gearshaft, modelled after Lauderdale’s Ramrod, in an era where such a tradition is almost impossible to maintain and still stay in business. The excerpt l ran on September 15 of the Celebration of Life that Charlie’s leather buddies hold in his memory tells the sad tale of the aging of Leather America.
And while some readers criticized the use of drugs in my book, l could not write a story of the contemporary Lauderdale gay scene without incorporating the current meth scourge which, like it or not, has taken hold of our sub-culture.
In an example of art imitating life, l learned much later, long after my book had been published, that the twenty something kid l had used as the model for Jon had, indeed, been a hard core meth addict.
As l’ve said before, “Czar” is more a docudrama than a piece of fiction. Its characters are men l’ve known, its story largely one l’ve lived.
“The Czar of Wilton Drive” is published by Kokoro Press and available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Next: Plotting “Not In It For The Love.”