Monday, March 21, 2011

Inspiration and the Free Will of Non-living Beings

Ok, so in preparation for the novel's release, I think I should be clear about one aspect of the novel's genesis. Many of the characters, and a few of Trey Kauffman's experiences, are loosely based on my experiences with Pi Pi Rho Literary Society at Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL. Many of the people who have read the book have spent a great deal of time asking, "Is (insert character's name) actually based on (insert real person's name)?"

The short answer to the question is yes, but it's not nearly that simple. While a person may start as the inspiration for a character, over the course of writing the novel, those characters quite literally take on a life of their own. Very quickly, they begin to make choices. They start to walk down side streets and dark alleys that I never saw coming as the author. Like the young college students in the novel, as soon as they taste freedom, they change very quickly.

My friend, Bart, once asked, "Which one am I?" I couldn't really answer the question. The truth is that parts of Bart can be found in any number of chapters. He, like many of my Rhoer brothers, provided the background to several characters, the starting point for one story or another. My friends from those days will read the novel, and they will recognize this physical trait, or that old story, but none of the characters are strictly based on any one person. They are more like shadows from the past. As an author, I chose a few shadows, gave them a voice and an independent spirit, and they each became whatever they wanted.

Whipple Hall is more concrete example of inspiration within the novel. During my time at Illinois College, Whipple Hall was the home for Pi Pi Rho, a literary society at Illinois College. It isn't a fraternity, as anyone who has ever been a member of a literary society would tell you, but it's the easiest way to describe it. Though I could spend an entire post describing literary societies, I will just say that for the majority of my time at I.C., and for some time after I graduated, Whipple Hall was a second home.

In the novel, Trey is drawn to "The Hall." It's a place where he finds acceptance, it's a place where he finds deep friendship, and it's a place of tremendous growth and change. In that respect, Whipple is more than a physical inspiration for a place in the novel. I have always said that I learned a lot more outside of the classroom than I ever did during all of the lecture time combined. During the days I spent at Whipple, I met a group of men that I still consider dear friends to this day, but I also learned how to be a better person. Pi Pi Rho was a society filled with men of very diverse backgrounds and many very different personalities. In order to function as a society (to put together literary productions, service projects, and, yes, parties), we had to learn to get along. We had to put aside our differences and function as a single group. In doing that, I not only gained a group of fiercely loyal friends, I also grew up and deeply changed as a person.

In the end, it is impossible to separate my experiences with Pi Pi Rho from the characters and events in the novel. I can, however, assure you that the illegal activities performed by "the brothers" in The Price of Loyalty are complete works of fiction. As I said, the characters made choices all their own, and I really had no idea where the dark alleys would lead. Though there were some literal dark alleys when I was at Illinois College--and certainly a few bad decisions--nothing came close to the actions of the brothers. We were, however, a very loyal and protective group. A girl at I.C. once called the Rhoers "scary" because we were too loyal to one another. That comment served as the starting point for the conflict in the novel.

A few years ago, Illinois College moved the Rhoers out of Whipple Hall so that they could renovate the building. Like many of the structures on Illinois College's small campus, Whipple is a historic site. Eventually, someone decided that it could serve a better purpose than the home to weekend parties and mid-week diversions for a small group of college guys. Perhaps they were right, but if the novel says anything, it is that there are more to the parties than beers and loud music. Those parties are the proving ground for young people who are very slowly becoming adults. I'm glad that I had Whipple for my proving ground, and I hope that a part of it lives on through the novel.