One of the most interesting things about being a writer are the moments when inspiration hits you. Ideas are often born out of thin air, thoughts that spring to life in your mind as you observe the circumstances in front of you. Whenever someone asks me where I get my ideas, I sort of shrug and say, “I just live my life.” When you have an active imagination, life itself is fertile ground for inspiration that leads to ideas that lead to stories. Of course not every idea is worthwhile, so it’s up to the writer to discern whether or not a compelling story can be told. When the idea for Solitary Man came to me, I knew almost immediately that I had a winner.
In 2010, I was driving a delivery truck for a linen rental service, delivering clean linen and bringing the dirty linen back to the plant for washing. My route ran around the Springfield, Massachusetts area, and one blistering summer afternoon, I finished for the day and guided my truck up the ramp onto I-91 to head back to New Hampshire. A few miles later, the local hard rock station played Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart,” a fast driving song about driving fast (listen
here if you dare) just as I was passing through Holyoke, Massachusetts where the interstate widens into three lanes. At that same moment, as I drove in the center lane, traffic thickened, and a gaggle of cars zipped around me on both sides. As the cars buzzed around me, it reminded me of the climactic scene in The Road Warrior where Mad Max (a.k.a., Mel Gibson) desperately attempts to escape in a tanker truck while being chased across the desert by a bunch of leather clad yahoos in cars and dune buggies. In my mind, I became a Mad Max type character, fighting off villains who kept climbing aboard my truck with intent to kill me. And that’s when inspiration struck.
I started to ask myself questions. Who is this man? What kind of man is he? Who are these people chasing him? Why are these people chasing him? My Christian worldview brought faith to the table of my imagination, and that’s when the big question hit me: what would it look like for a Christian to live in a post-apocalyptic world? As I began developing and expanding the story, I figured the most logical move for an orthodox Christian in that world would be to become a missionary, traveling the wasteland, setting up churches. I also realized that my lead character might have to do some things that were antithetical to the Christian worldview, and that’s when I hit on the idea of a Christian and an unbeliever working together under some kind of mutual arrangement. I knew I’d struck writer gold, as this idea would allow me to intimately explore the dichotomy between Christian and secular worldviews while also creating an exciting, action-packed universe.
There were other creative decisions I made, such as using cannibals as villains rather than the standard zombies since modern media is currently oversaturated with zombie stories. I also decided the cannibals needed a face, a leader who would be perceived as the primary threat, and that’s when I created The General. I won’t say more about him, because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the story and all its surprises, but interestingly enough, it was the creation of The General that eventually set up the sequel I’m currently writing.
So that’s how it happened. Ideas come quickly, often in a split second, but a story takes time and thought. And sometimes, the story will turn in a direction you didn’t plan, but you realize is the best way to go. If you looked at the list of plot points I made as I was planning the story and then read the book, you’d see a handful of characters and events that weren’t initially part of the plan, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I like that my own writing can surprise even me. It allows me to enjoy these stories along with my readers.
If you’re a prospective writer, I hope I’ve offered some useful advice about taking those random thoughts and ideas and developing them into captivating stories. And for you readers, I hope these few nuggets of trivia will add to your enjoyment of Solitary Man. Thanks for reading!