You almost never get to know about the core experiences that drive and shape a writer's work. Some writers refuse, on principle, to provide that information: if the writing is good, it will speak for itself. Others leap onto the backs of their high white horses: their lives are their own business and they owe nothing to readers but books. Most others have secrets they fear to reveal--though disclosure would certainly bore us to tears.
I, on the other hand, do have a handful or whoppers. But I don't kid myself into thinking you really want to hear about the time when, in Japan, I hit on a Yakuza's lady...or my steamy train romance...or my mile-highing with a pair of stewardesses...or my accidentally kicking my Aikido sensei in the face. No, no, none of that! We need to stick to the high ground.
Which core moments are the keys to the heart of Reb MacRath?
1) Issue: I moved to Canada in 1968 and renounced my citizenship for "personal reasons" (mostly grief over the death of RFK). Though I'd intended to take out Canadian citizenship, I remained stateless without knowing why. Without knowing why, at least, until July 4, 1976. On the U.S. Bicentennial, I broke down completely--understanding what I'd done...and what I needed to do. I spent years fighting for the return to return home: finally receiving a Green Card to return. Five years later, I became an American again after having been stateless for half of my life.
Expressions: In The Suiting, Victor Frankl is an American expatriate who became Canadian, but only on paper. He's footless, without any center or abiding sense of self.
In Nobility, the broken Ray mirrors my own damages in his stateless plight. He too returned from Canada, a Man Without a Country, unable to adapt or get the feeling of being a Yankee. He speaks of the cumulative horror of answering 'I'm nothing' whenever asked what was (American or Canadian).
In The Vanishing Magic of Snow, old Jay Penny seeks salvation in the present by recalling his past glory days as a draft dodger in Canada. He's never found anything equal to his Seventies life in Toronto...as close to Twenties Paris as a rebel could have hoped.
2) Issue: I studied martial arts--primarily Hapkido and Aikido--for over fifteen years. In that time, I broke so many bones that I'm hard put to write a book that doesn't have a fight scene or a man forced to take a bad smack down.
Expressions: In Southern Scotch, Pete McGregor shows up in the wrong part of town at the worst of all possible times. Mistaken for somebody else, he's beaten, crucified and half-blinded. He returns as Boss MacTavin, a rough-and-tumble Southern Scot who takes another beating while gunning for revenge.
In Nobility, Ray's beaten nearly half to death while taking on six pickpockets--to reclaim his lost honor at Christmas.
3) Issue: Love of Asian culture--and exotic beauty. I spent good time in both Japan and China and have read about Zen since my school days.
Expressions: The early books I wrote as Kelley Wilde run over with young Asian women: especially Makoto and Angel Kiss. The Reb MacRath novels are far more racially balanced. Ray, in Nobility has a Chinese lover. Jay Penny, in The Vanishing Magic of Snow, loves a beautiful black singer. Boss MacTavin, in Southern Scotch and The Alcatraz Correction has Filipino lovers.
Asian martial arts figure strongly in Mastery, Makoto and the Boss MacTavin novels.
4) Issue: Love of trains. A whole team of shrinks could have a field day with this one. But when I think of heaven I think of cross-country travel by train with a beautiful girl at my side.
Expressions: In Mastery, a train full of present-day Americans lands, with some help from a comet, in 1906 San Francisco. They're stalked by a fellow traveler: a vampire who thirsts for the blood of his day.
In Nobility, a gang of thieves set out on Christmas Eve to pick the Amtrak Crescent clean.
In April Yule, two ruined Yuppies recover their hearts on a train.
Now, wasn't that more fun than reading about my mile-highing with two sinfully sexy young ladies?