How Did You Come Up with That?
by J. Gabriel Gates
As an author, one of the most common questions you get about your books is “where did you come up with that idea?” That especially holds true with “Dark Territory” and “Ghost Crown,” the first two books of my new paranormal romance / urban fantasy series “The Tracks.” It’s a wild mash-up of kung fu, star-crossed love, vengeful fallen angels, and a class-based gang war all set in the city limits of a small town in the middle of nowhere in Kansas.
The tale begins with a young man named Ignacio, who comes to his new home of Middleburg hoping to escape the gangs and crime of his home in South Central L.A. Much to his surprise, on his first day of school he finds himself in the middle of a gang war between the wealthy, preppy Toppers and the underprivileged, goth Flatliners. The leaders of the two gangs, Raphael (Flatliner) and Zhai (Topper) used to be best buds, until the death of Raphael’s father in Zhai’s father’s factory caused a rift between the two friends. Add to that the fact that Aimee, a Topper girl, has just fallen for Raphael, and it the stage is set for a battle royal. And I haven’t even mentioned the supernatural evil that’s descending on the town yet…
So how did I come up with such a wild concept for a story?
It started when I was hanging with some friends back in L.A. At the time, I was taking Wing Chun Kung Fu and they were into watching teen shows like Degrassi and the O.C. One day I came home from training and sat down on the couch to watch Degrassi with them when I thought to myself: you know what would make this show way cooler? A kung fu throw-down! My friends laughed—little did they know that this little offhand comment was to become the seeds for such a big idea!
The initial kernel of the idea was a teen drama with kung fu—but I knew the story needed some more elements to be successful; it wasn’t ready for prime-time yet. I’ve always loved Romeo and Juliet and Westside Story (in my other life as an actor, I played the character Riff in a community production of Westside, and Tybalt in a crazy, re-imagined version of R & J during college.) I always thought gangs were interesting, but I felt that the mindless, macho brutality of modern street gangs is just awful. So, the gangs in “The Tracks” live by the Wu-de, a code of conduct set out for martial artists. Their battles are brutal and violent for sure, but they adhere to a code that requires honorable behavior above all else.
There are few reasons that I chose to bring the gangs into the story. First, the fact that the gangs are divided along economic lines is important and, I think, timely. In this era of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, when the masses are stirred up against the proverbial 1% and everyone on either side of the argument seems concerned with ideas of fairness, it’s important to examine the things that divide us—and the ideas that might unite us again.
Martial arts, in addition to simply being bad-ass and interesting, provide a backbone that seems to stretch all the way back to the beginnings of human history—a history which, so often, is really a history of conflict.
At the same time as the gang war is brewing, another force is beginning to infiltrate Middleburg—a dark and malevolent evil that seems to emanate from the abandoned railroad tunnels at the edge of town. As the crisis worsens, the gang leaders must choose whether to continue their war, or to unite and face the evil that threatens their town.
With these other concepts in place, it was my co-author Charlene Keel who provided the next ingredient by insisting that we add ever more magical and supernatural elements into the story. This opened the door not only to the inclusion of all sorts of cool villains and unique powers for the story’s protagonists, but also gave us as authors a chance to examine the spiritual underpinnings of human relationships. The magic in “Dark Territory” and “Ghost Crown” is based on real, Eastern metaphysical traditions—Tao, Buddhism, and even mystical wings of Christianity, such as Gnosticism. So the story’s heroes, rather than relying on magical items or particular teachings to increase their “shen,” or spirit powers, develop their abilities through meditation, fasting, trials and experiences. As a Christian who has always been interested in a variety of spiritual traditions, I felt it was important to tie the story’s magical elements to real practices of personal growth and, hopefully, inspire readers to examine the real forms of magic that are available to all of us, if we simply look within ourselves.
Once all these seemingly chaotic ideas are laid out, the job of an author is to weave it all together in a way so seamless and natural that the reader simply says “of course!” As Charlene and I work on book 3 of the series, “Shadow Train,” we’re bringing all these seemingly disparate elements to a conclusion that should leave readers amazed. By the end of the series all these opposing story elements that seemed so opposite—kung fu, fallen angels, class wars, gangs and romance—will all fit together in a perfect harmony. And with any luck, perhaps the Flatliners and the Toppers will find a little harmony, too.
Thanks to J. Gabriel Gates for stopping by to tell us about the Tracks Series, and for giving away a set of the Tracks Series (books 1 and 2)! To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter below. Only one entry per person (per option), sadly, I do check entries now.