In my previous installment in this series, I talked about the major influences on my forthcoming novel Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Here, I'm going to talk about the way those influences came together to form a story.
From my misinterpretation of The Matrix (see Part One of the series) came the idea that certain people could have the power to see approaching danger and sidestep it. It seemed like one of the most interesting milieus we could have to explore that idea would be a crime family — in other words, an environment where people court danger constantly.
GoodFellas provided a ground-level view of what it felt like to be part of an organized crime syndicate. The drama encompassed thirty years of rise and fall, with the fall taking about as long as the rise did. What caught my attention was how tenuously everyone clung to their favored way of life even as they knew it was becoming impossible to sustain. It was not just that it was all they knew; it was all they ever wanted to have. A straight life was unthinkable.
To that end, the main thing GoodFellas provided me with was not just the setting, but a framing for it: This crime family is on its last legs. The power they command, fantastic as it is, doesn't so much get them out of trouble as provide them with ways to postpone it. Eventually, trouble shows up at the door with a candygram (and the FBI smashes its way in through the back).
One other way the family might try to postpone the inevitable is by way of technology to enhance their edge. Strange Days and Brainstorm both had things to contribute here. The former embodied the cyberpunk ideal of how the street finds its own uses for things; the latter was about how the potentials for a given technology are always far in advance of our conventional expectations for them. I leaned a good deal more on the former rather than the latter, but both were useful.
Finally, we have John Wick and Rurouni Kenshin. There's one obvious way these two fed into AONO: If you have people who can see a short distance into their future, sense an imminent danger, and counteract it, that leads to some really nifty fight scenes. Something both of those properties (and The Matrix as well) have to offer by the wagonload.
But both Wick and Kenshin had other things to offer. In the first case, it was the presence of a whole mythology of the in-universe criminal underworld. I didn't use the idea directly, but I let its implications inform what I was doing whenever I could.
In the second case, it was a thesis about Kenshin as a story that has stuck with me ever since I first read and watched it — the idea that in times of great social upheaval, there are people who straddle the cusp between the old, dying world and the new world still being born. The new world will require a new kind of person, someone who can guide those from the old world to the new as gracefully as possible.
This last sentiment turned out to have an impact on the story that far outstripped any of the others I've discussed here. What that impact is, you'll have to read AONO once it's released to fully appreciate, because I hate spoilers, wink wink.
Next time around I'll talk about the roster of characters I created. This installment may be delayed, as I'll be quite busy the next few weeks with other things.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind