aNewDomain — When you’re a writer, eventually people start asking you where your ideas come from. It hasn’t really happened to me yet because barely anyone knows I’m a writer.
But it happens all the time to Matthew Boroson.
Boroson’s The Girl With Ghost Eyes is a story about sorcerers, monsters and spirits in the closing days of the 19th century. San Francisco’s Chinatown creaks and groans, a fully-realized place through which the characters roam, race and chase.
The story is a bit like an old Run Run Shaw movie if said movie were written, directed and produced on synthetic Mescaline.
Boroson has to answer The Question pretty frequently. And the answer isn’t very sexy.
Sometimes writers get tired of The Question. Maybe these writers are just spoiled with enthusiastic readers when really they should consider a quick count of their blessings. But folks come up with pat or pretty answers because reality, well, it isn’t that interesting.
If reality were great then we wouldn’t read stories in the first place. So they say, “Oh, my Muse comes along when I bribe her with chocolate.” Or, “My Mom died in 1975 and I do it all for her.”
Or, “I had a dream…”
Writers are usually lying when they tell you these things. It isn’t easy. Our heads are rarely brimming with subject matter. Inspiration doesn’t happen on a morning walk and then last through the weeks to decades it takes to get the words down on paper.
Ideas come to those who work hard on them.
As for Matthew Boroson, he reads a lot.
He reads all sorts of obscure books on Chinese mythology, culture and history and no few biographies. Hundreds of books, tens of thousands of pages. He talks to people about their folklore and mythology, religion and belief systems. All the stories, all the time. Sometimes he even watches Run Run Shaw movies.
“Write what you know” is easy advice to bandy about. But what do you know?
No, really. What do you know that is interesting, that you are passionate about, that you are an expert about?
Boroson wrote this crazy story about a young Chinese exorcist in San Francisco’s Chinatown; he wrote what he knew.
His ideas came from a little bit of inspiration. His passion drove him through enough research for a couple of masters degrees. No muses that need bribery with chocolate. Probably a few dreams induced by living in dusty books. No tragedy or trauma meant to create sympathy. Hard work.
The result is actually a pretty great book.
The Girl with Ghost Eyes reads easily. The stakes are clear in the first few pages and keep escalating all the way. The lead character (Xian Li-Lin) is heroic not because she is imbued with super powers but because she is willing to risk everything. The story even has important existential dimensions.
Most readers identify with a ghostly eye who looks out for Xian: Mr. Yanqiu. My favorite is a man who was born a tiger. He is doomed to forever be haunted by the last person he has killed, much like poor David Kessler in An American Werewolf in London.
But the last person he killed turned out to be a Buddhist living saint who has, over decades, helped the tiger ascend from his baser being into something more noble.
This is the result of work and it comes with my hearty recommendation.