For the first six months of 2013, my family and I lived in London; I was teaching a semester abroad. Professionally, I had just completed my second academic book and was at work on another one: a study of a rather obscure eighteenth-century poet. I had secured a reader’s card to do research at the British Library. At least once a week, I spent hours delving into the archives; I had amassed nearly 500 pages of typed notes.
One day, probably sometime in early March of that year, I said to myself, “The hell with this.” I tossed my notes aside and abandoned them; I haven’t returned to them since. Academic writing, I concluded, amounts to very little—unless you’re, say, Stephen Greenblatt or Stanley Fish. The rest of us are pretty much engaged in intellectual masturbation. So I began thinking about a different sort of writing project.
I always knew I had a novel inside me, but the muses never descended. That changed on one of the many days my family and I spent in Hampstead, just north of central London, visiting the historic home of Romantic poet John Keats and rambling around Hampstead Heath. Tory and I were discussing the similarities between Keats and Jeff Buckley: Both were immensely talented, sensitive artists who died too young (members of the so-called “27 Club”). Then my wife asked the question that paved the way for the muses to descend: What if Keats were alive today, and what if he were a rock star?
The premise of Golden Notes was born. I remember other conversations with Tory, developing that premise, exploring possibilities. One of those conversations—perhaps the most seminal conversation—took place on the Ladbroke Grove tube platform, while we were waiting for the train to Hammersmith. Somewhere along the line, Keats became a girl, coming of age in the early 1980s. And so Cali Sky Braithwaite was born.
I kept my reader’s card and continued my weekly pilgrimage to the British Library. But I was no longer researching an obscure eighteenth-century poet. I was creating a world, populated by a misfit musical prodigy; a charismatic punker called Brodie; a Gothic pixie named Zoe; a belligerent, nameless menace referred to merely as Green Mohawk; an erstwhile heavy-metal drummer called Chris; a set of parents with hidden, mysterious pasts, among many others.
Before I knew it, this world no longer needed any help.
So thank you Tory. Thank you London. Thanks to John Keats and Jeff Buckley. Thank you Ladbroke Grove tube platform and British Library. And thanks to everyone who supports me as I near publication of Golden Notes and share this world I created with others.