he basic elements for Riding with the Queen
came to me in 1999 on a seven- or eight-minute drive from where I worked, at the Dream Café in Morrison, Colorado to my home at the time, which was in the foothills west of Denver. I wanted to write about my hometown and I wanted to write about a musician coming home from the road. I've been a working musician since age 16 (though far less successful even than Tallie) and I thought it would be an interesting lifestyle to explore.
I knew Tallie would be a little rough-and-tumble, a little worse for wear, but also vulnerable. I knew she'd swagger around like she owned the world, but that inside she'd feel lost. Mostly I knew that she'd be a lot of fun to be around for the year or so it would take to write the book (little did I know it would be more like three years).
I also knew why she'd left home in the first place. I've been writing about my mother (who suffered from bipolar disorder) for most of my adult life, but this book would be the first time I'd allow myself to fictionalize the situation so that I could work it through to a different conclusion than real life provided. My mother's mental and physical states grew progressively worse until she died at age 57 in 1990.
In a way, I started out looking to write a fairy tale to console myself: What if my mother had found a way to become healthy? A friend of mine's mother had done just that and was now an artist. So, voilaLee Jackson was born. While she obviously can never become truly "healthy" (bipolar disorder never goes awayit just occasionally gets medicated correctly), Lee has the will and desire to do the best she can, which to me feels miraculous. Of course, it's not up to the people who are ill to change so much as it's up to the healthy people around them to deal with it in the best way they can, a lesson I rediscovered as Tallie discovered it for the first time.
Big Gal Sal surprised me, much in the same way she surprised Tallie on that ride across Kansas. She popped into the story, and I thought, "Why not?" I'm a huge fan of the Delta blues, introduced to me at an early age by Bonnie Raitt's music. I think of those old blues musicians as elders, the wise ones, so I was happy to have Sal fill that role.
Sometime before that, I'd saved an article from the Rocky Mountain News about a singer at Sing Sing, a sing-along piano bar in LoDo. I loved the fiery look she had in the photo, and the idea of the camaraderie of working in such an environment. I also understood, as a musician, that it couldn't possibly be all that a young singer would aspire to, that she'd have a burning desire to move on to better things.
I knew the general course of the storyline from beginning to end, but I didn't know exactly what would happen in between. The wonderful thing about writing a novel is the journey. You'll often hear fiction writers say their characters are real to them and that they do things of their own accord, which is truly what it feels like. I realize, of course, that it's my imagination, my own experiences sparking the activity, but it's incredibly fun to sit down each day and see what will happen next.
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