Finding writing inspiration… at a leather convention?

You never know when inspiration is going to cross your path. In my case, I never would have expected inspiration for my young adult writing to arrive at a leather convention.

Let me back up. Recently, we went to Chicago to visit my friend Scott. He’s a photographer and a good friend I originally got to know through blogging. Yes, it was that long ago. Blogging was still a thing, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and we all drove Model Ts. We’ve known each other for about 15 years, but I hadn’t seen him since before I went to grad school. So five, maybe six years. This is far too long, and I hadn’t been to Chicago in about as long a time, and he’d just recently moved there. So, up we went.

Amid all of our sightseeing and museum-going and dining and cocktailing (is “cocktailing” a verb? Well, it is now), Scott also was scheduled to promote a book of erotic photography that he’d published and was getting ready to publish a second edition. So he had to work a shift at the book table at International Mr. Leather.

Yes, that IML.

Even casual readers can probably guess that a leather convention is generally not my scene. I’m a relatively recently lapsed vegetarian (but only went so far as seafood, and that’s probably a topic for another essay at some point). I still don’t buy leather (because if I’m not going to eat it, I’m probably not going to wear it, either).

By the way, I still have misgivings about the fish.

Anyway, me and leather? Not so much. But! I’m game for anything, or as comedian Deven Green says, as long as I don’t bleed or cry, I’ll do it.

With some additional exceptions.

So, off we went to IML to see Scott work the book table and have a look around. As we were waiting for Scott’s shift to begin, I started talking with the guy staffing the table before him, Cesar. (He was wearing a Black Adam superhero costume, so how could I NOT strike up a conversation?) He was promoting an erotic BDSM superhero series he was close to finishing up (under another pen name) and selling copies of the first three installments. Another novel he’d written, 13 Secret Cities, dealt heavily in mythology which is something that, as you know, I’m very interested in.

Scott gave me a nudge and said, “Jeff’s a writer too.” Yes, talk about burying the lead. I hadn’t even mentioned that. When it comes to building awareness of my own work, I’m sometimes my worst enemy. That’s why it’s easier for me to talk about other people’s work.

Anyway, as we got to talking, I told him about The Unwanted and the ways it touches on Greek mythology and how I’ve been working on (struggling with, really) the sequel. The more we talked, the more I thought about that sequel, which I’ve left on the back burner lately while I revise another novel. I’ve worried about its complications, whether it moves enough, if I’m treading over ground I’ve already exhausted.

We exchanged contact information, bought some of each other’s work, and threw around the idea of doing a podcast episode about mythology and how we deal with that in our work. After we both went our separate ways, I kept thinking about the Unwanted sequel (I have to come up with a better way of saying that since it sounds like “the sequel nobody wants”) and where I left off in it. Even though I’d left my laptop at home on this trip, I keep a copy of the latest chapter in my Google docs, so I pulled it up on my phone. And I started working on it again.

Sometimes it just takes a little while away from a project to come back to it and see it more clearly. A framing device I’d considered using was just an unneeded distraction, I realized, a delaying tactic that was keeping me from getting done. A lack of movement in the chapter I was working on could be solved simply by forcing a character to make a decision and then act on it. That led to another idea, and another. I have had the end in mind ever since I started the book, and now I can see how to get the rest of the way there.

If I’d begged off of going to a leather convention, I still might have reached those conclusions. But maybe not. Maybe it would have taken me longer to get to those decisions. I said yes to a novel situation, and that turned out to be the right choice.

Inspiration isn’t something you have to wait for, of course. It’s something that I think comes more readily the more you make yourself available to it. But it can still surprise you every once in a while.

Still, I’m not about to start wearing a leather harness or anything.