Guest Post From Mark Gilleo: Author of Love Thy Neighbour


Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Mark Gilleo to my blog. Love Thy Neighbour starts with an interesting author note concerning a true event, which is the inspiration for the book. So I just had to ask Mark about inspiration:

You outlined some events in the opening authors note for your book, that doubtless gave you some inspiration for the words that followed. Are there other events that have similarly inspired you to sit at the keyboard, and if so can you share something of them with us?

The toughest question I get about writing is in regard to where the inspiration comes from.  I guess there are two answers to the question.  For me, the overall idea, or inspiration, comes from real life.   In the case of Love Thy Neighbor, the inspiration is pretty clear.  But within the novel and the main storyline are a hundred little stories.    These little stories – the locations, people, events – are served up by the subconscious mind.   I don’t know how it works for others, but in my case the subconscious mind serves up the details and my job is mostly to put them to paper.  There are occasions where the conscious mind interjects, and the conscious mind spends some of its time researching whatever the subconscious mind served up, but most of the time writing is a form of autopilot.  Unfortunately, the largest drawback to the subconscious mind is that it doesn’t necessarily serve the pieces of the novel to me in the correct order.  I have yet to start a novel with chapter one and have it remain the first chapter by the time I’m done writing.  Equally annoying is that the subconscious mind takes vacation when it comes time to edit.   Editing is a lot of work and apparently the subconscious mind would prefer not to get involved.

With Love Thy Neighbor, to the extent that it is unlike anything I’m likely to write again, there were a few other real-life parallels.   When I sat down to start the novel, the idea in my head was straightforward:  an average women thinks terrorists have arrived on the street where she lives.    Simple enough.  The first snag, which I hit coming out of the blocks, was the difference in the reaction such a claim would receive in the pre-9/11 world versus the post-9/11 world.    My mother’s story was pre-9/11.    The novel is written post-9/11.   The reaction from authorities to a call from a woman claiming knowledge of terrorist activities would — I think, hope, pray– result in some sort of reaction today.    In the pre-9/11 world, well, at least a few people know what didn’t happen.

To get over the hurdle created by the difference in pre- & post-9/11, I changed the dynamic a little and gave the woman in the story some diminished mental capacity.    It seemed like the easiest way, in the post-9/11 world, to have a woman report terrorist activity and have that report discredited.    (My mother, thankfully, is still in possession of her mental faculties, though three sons probably push her limit at times.)

There are other parts of the story that are drawn from real-life events as well.   My stepfather is indeed a machinist and a model airplane enthusiast, so I tried to convey some of that knowledge in the book.  The USPS has a cave in the Midwest were they store stamps (as reported by Federal News Radio in August 2010).   I used that idea to create the cave for ICE that is in Love Thy Neighbor.   I grew up in the DC area, so both this book and my next novel, Sweat, cover a lot of local details, which can be used for inspiration.   My grandfather is ninety and he is a walking tour guide.   We can drive through DC and he can look at a building and tell you that it used to be a school, and before that it was a hospital and before that it was a brothel.