When I began writing A King of Infinite Space, I was in graduate school earning an MFA in fiction writing. As is the case in many such programs, there was a good deal of autobiographical introspection in the writing going on around me, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to do something different. One of the main reasons I've always loved reading is that it takes me away from myself and allows me to experience the lives of other people. What, I asked myself, could I credibly write about that was very different from my own experience?
My father was a Los Angeles deputy sheriff, and throughout most of my youth, I wanted to be a police officer. Although my career goals changed, I was left with a considerable amount of background knowledge that I felt I could put to good use. And it didn't hurt that my favorite writers included the likes of James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly. It was settled, I thought. I'll write a police procedural--I know enough about it (with a fair amount of research thrown in) to sound authoritative, and what could be further from an English grad student’s personal experience than a story about investigating homicides?
I did decide to allow myself one autobiographical detail. My father died when I was very young, and I decided to have Danny Beckett, the novel's protagonist, share this experience. It would, I thought, give the two of us a bit of common ground and help me relate to the character.
As the writing and rewriting progressed, I felt a reassuring sense of distance from Danny, a sort of critical perspective that thought allowed me to shape and hone the character with a studied and intellectual reserve that seemed properly authorial and intellectual.
So it came as quite a surprise when the novel was finished and my friends and family began to read it. Danny sounds just like you, they said. I refused to accept this, so I interrogated them. One by one they pointed out details and ideas and jokes and phrases that they'd heard from me, usually more than once. And a few of those closest to me commented on the similarity between Danny's and my voices and perspectives. Eventually, I had to admit they were right.
But it was only recently, when I had occasion to look through an old family photo album and saw a picture of myself at age four, around the time of my father’s death. I wore a clip-on tie, a makeshift shoulder holster complete with cap gun, and an expression befitting the most serious of detectives. It was me I was looking at, but I couldn’t help thinking it might just as well have been Danny Beckett.