Kickback – the backstory – by John Knold, lead author (writing as Tracy Gunn)

For the second time, and for the second author, the book came to a point where inspiration trailed off. Where to turn?

Morris and I had become good friends. We shared a number of interests. Both of us had been teachers. (Morris was a retired UCLA professor of psychology. I had taught grades 9-12, and at the college level.) We both were intrigued with psychological theories of self-actualization as compared to underachievement. After retiring, he had operated a custom woodworking shop; I had been a woodshop teacher. And we both enjoyed reading and discussing murder mysteries.

One morning over coffee, Morris mentioned that years ago he had started writing a murder mystery, but he lacked the inspiration to finish it. The setting for his novel was a woodshop. This got me interested; I asked to read it. “If you like it, and if you want, you can have it. Perhaps you can find the inspiration to finish it,” he told me.

I started writing, not knowing where the story would lead.

Olympia became the setting. The woodshop at Capital High School would be the murder scene. Soon, the storyline was charging ahead. Yet I felt that something was missing. On occasion, for character development, I would think back to my days as a shop teacher. All of my students were incarcerated teenage boys. Some of them were “murder ones.” My teaching memories provided valuable insights for the unfolding story. Yet, as I say, something was missing. Like Morris before me, I had reached a point where I wasn’t experiencing “active inspiration” (as described by best-selling author James Clear). And then—as though providential—one day the missing element revealed itself to me.

On a morning walk, I crossed paths with a neighbor of mine. Seemingly from out of nowhere, I found myself asking if her son, a student at Capital High School, would perhaps like to critique my draft YA murder mystery. She responded that he might be interested. Then she noted that if the storyline included a traditional high school romance, because her son was transitioning, he probably wouldn’t care much for the book. At that very moment, something told me that my missing inspiration had found me. Kickback’s lead protagonist would be taking on new definition as a high school-aged detective in search of truth, and as a trans man. By story’s end, he would become a hero.

Indeed, in the days ahead I would be presented with a real-life hero. A young man who was engaged in an arduous process of self-actualization. In the conversations we would be having, I would learn of the hugely challenging life experiences he had been facing . . . so courageously, and at such a young age.

1 thought on “Kickback – the backstory – by John Knold, lead author (writing as Tracy Gunn)”

  1. It’s so interesting to get into Tracy’s/John’s head and to view and understand the development of this plot line. I especially appreciate the fact that his protagonist and his neighbor both have struggled with the same issues. I’m sure this gave the author deep insights into the struggles and triumphs of transitioning youth. Getting to know a transitioning youth through reading will be an expansive learning experience.


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