The other day, somebody asked me, “Wes, you are exactly like Mike in your robot books. Is your wife anything like Patience?” My answer was “My wife is pretty damned patient, but she’s no Daffodil.”
Mike is a lot like me, but I would say not 100%– 75 to 80% tops. Still, many of the little stories and events in the books are taken from life. In His Robot Wife, Harriet (Mike’s daughter) mentions the time that her father scared the crap out of a kid trying to bully her at the risk of getting fired. Yup, that’s right from my life.
There’s a tidbit in the book where Jack (Harriet’s husband) is cleaning the puke out of his car because a neighbor he was trying to help vomited and caused a chain reaction. This story comes from real life– thankfully not mine. My brother-in-law experienced this. His wife, like mine (they’re sisters) is always getting him to do something for people he hardly knows, and unlike me, he’s too nice to say no. He ended up having to clean vomit from three or four other people out of his car.
In the new book, so far, there are fewer little tidbits from my own life, although I am channeling a few cruise vacations as Mike and Patience go on theirs.
I’ve only just begun detailing Astrid Maxxim and all her friends in Maxxim City, but I have a very clear idea about what her world is like. I am trying to evoke a world that is futuristic and yet is nostalgic, like the 1960s versions of the future from classic sci-fi, and of course my memories of reading Tom Swift.
When Astrid’s friend Austin (who is the only one of the gang who didn’t grow up in Maxxim City) stays over, he is surprised to find that Astrid doesn’t have his favorite video games– Killer Pimp Showdown and Cannibal Apocalypse. She plays Tetris and Ms. Pacman.
When Astrid wants to plan an escape, she watches both Chicken Run and The Great Escape. I thought this was pretty funny because of course, Chicken Run is a take-off of The Great Escape– and both are great movies. (I love Aardman). Astrid’s favorite move is Princess Mononoke. (I love Miyazaki too). I wouldn’t say Princess Mononke was my favorite movie, but it would be in my top ten list.
In case you’re interested, my list of 10 favorite movies might look something like this… in no particular order…
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (It really is one movie)
Star Wars Trilogy (The real one. It’s not one movie, but oh well)
Snow Falling on Cedars
Romeo and Juliet (1962)
The Iron Giant
Astrid Maxxim and her parents live in a mansion in Maxxim City. It is three stories high and huge, with an observatory, a laboratory, and a music room on the unused third floor. Only a part of the first and second floors are used, the former having a series of unused rooms where servants were once housed.
The inspiration for this mansion comes from two sources. The first is the house that my grandparents lived in when I was born. It was a huge, two-story house made of red brick, that had been built over a hundred years ago as a hotel. About forty years ago, my grandparents sold it and it went through several owners. A few years ago, it was gutted so that it could be rebuilt, but the owners apparently ran out of money. When I visited it last, it was just an empty hulk. The other day I looked for it on Google Earth and found only an empty lot. I have often dreamed of this house, all the way back to when I was a kid. Back then, in my dreams, it often appeared as being much larger than in real life. In recent dreams, it is always in decay.
The second inspiration comes from just a few miles west of the first, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I used to live in a crappy apartment building next to the freeway in Tulsa. This was back when I attended second grade a Paul Revere Elementary School. Across the road from my apartment was a row of stately mansions. A school friend of mine lived with his mother in an apartment above the garage behind one of these large, lovely homes. I believe his grandparents lived in the big house. I remember going inside one time and seeing a sweeping staircase like something out of Falcon Crest. A few years ago, I took my kids on a trip through Tulsa, looking at all the places from my childhood. The row of beautiful old mansions was gone. Paul Revere Elementary School was gone. The crappy apartment building I lived in– still there.
I enjoy reading my own books. I guess most authors do. I’ve been blogging, and still am, about characters in the various books, but I thought I would start writing about all my favorite “bits” that I’ve put in my books– events and people inspired by things that happened in my life, things meant to illustrate a character that someone might have missed, and inside jokes (some there for the reader and some just for myself, until now).
My first item up is Maxxim Industries– the home of Astrid Maxxim’s lab and workshops. Maxxim Industries has two inspirations– Swift Enterprises in the Tom Swift Jr. books, and Disneyworld.
In the Tom Swift Jr. books, Tom worked on the grounds of Swift Enterprises, a four mile square (as opposed to four square miles) complex of factories and airfields and laboratories. Since Astrid is a Tom Swift-like character and the story is essentially my take on that type of book, she needed someplace similar.
I remember being fascinated by Disneyworld when I watched Walt Disney talk about it on TV when I was little. Disneyworld, unlike Disneyland, is not just a theme park. It’s basically an entire county in Florida (80,000 acres) run by the Walt Disney Company, with theme parks sure, but also private residences, a Disney police force and Disney fire department, and undeveloped land.
I wanted something more like Disneyworld for Astrid– some huge county-sized place, dotted with installations, so I sat down and mapped out 180,000 acres of the southwest, in a nondescript part of an undisclosed state.