Friday, October 21, 2011

October Theme: Inspiration (Alan Gratz)

Like other authors, my inspiration for stories comes from all over the place.

For Samurai Shortstop, my inspiration came from a deep abiding interest I had in Japan. I'd been reading everything I could get my hands on about Japan--adult fiction, kidlit, manga, essays by people who had been to Japan, and travel guides to Japan, hoping that one day I'd be able to go there. In one of those travel guides I saw a picture of Japanese playing baseball in kimonos--their traditional robes. The caption told me the picture was taken at the 1915 National High School Baseball Tournament in Tokyo, and I was intrigued. I knew the Japanese were mad for baseball, but as early as 1915? I'd always thought Japan got baseball after World War II, during the Allied Occupation. I went to the library, got a book about baseball in Japan, and learned they'd gotten it very early indeed, sometime in the 1860s--just about the time they were going through a radical cultural and political shift from their middle ages to their modern age. There were samurai running around with swords while people were playing baseball? I had to write a story about that! Samurai Shortstop became my first published novel.

For Something Rotten and Something Wicked, my inspirations came from two favorite authors. I wanted to do something with the character of Horatio from Hamlet--a down-to-earth character I admired and thought didn't get enough face time in his play. I updated him, turning him into a snarky, smart teenager, but I never could find the right story for him. Then I thought, "Well, I've already stolen the character from Shakespeare. Maybe I'll steal the plot as well!" For the atmosphere and banter between the characters, I went back to the works of noir writer Raymond Chandler, who's another of my favorites. I put Shakespeare and Chandler and my own teenage years growing up in East Tennessee in a blender and hit frappé, and the result was Something Rotten and Something Wicked.

The Brooklyn Nine was always going to be about family, American history, and baseball. I had the idea to break the novel down into nine "innings," or short stories, inspired of course by the nine innings of a baseball game. The stories too were inspired by real events from American history and baseball history. Some of the family elements, however, were inspired by my own family. I based the character in the second inning, Louis, on my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Louis Alexander Gratz, who came to American in the 1860s, joined the US army, and made his name and his fortune fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. For the inning set in the 1950s, I called up my dad and asked him to tell me about his childhood. And of course the inning set in the early 1980s I was able to base on my own childhood, talking Atari and Indiana Jones and Star Wars with my friends.

My inspiration for Fantasy Baseball came from an odd source: baseball jerseys. My then-five year old daughter wanted to wear jerseys like her dad, but she didn't really care about the teams or the sports. For fun, my wife and I came up with fantasy baseball teams, as though there were teams in famous kids' books: the Wonderland Hearts, the Oz Cyclones, the Emerald City Wizards, the Neverland Lost Boys. Wendi designs and sews clothing, so she made up the baseball jerseys for our daughter. I joked that "Fantasy Baseball" would make a funny idea for a book, and from that point on it was always a story I was going to write. The result was Fantasy Baseball, a book about a boy from Atlanta who falls into a fantasy world populated by all the characters from classic kidlit, all of who, apropos of absolutely nothing, are playing in a huge baseball tournament.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing variety of books you've written, Alan! I love how the baseball setting is so different in all of the books where it appears.

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