The inspirations that have driven my career as a writer slide sideways when they speed into the turns of the purely creative and brilliantly artistic. Sure, my writing—like everyone else’s—is a wondrous personal and emotional outlet; it’s mental comfort food when nourishment is needed in the endless, ever-righteous battle against outside forces and stress. But as far as being over-the-top creative in a plot-crafting sense, or wildly artistic simply to entertain—no.
That’s not me.
I write nonfiction.
I dive into mud and blood and fear and fun and the seven deadly sins and everything else non-vicarious.
There’s the turns and twists that drive me.
There’s my inspiration.
I always have my eyes wide open, looking for ways in which I can tie the world together with the good and the bad, with strength and cautiously-measured meekness, and with all the wild-true juxtapositions that make readers shake their heads, slap their foreheads, sweat, wish, dream, cringe, be thankful for who they are.
This is why I write.
All of those twists and turns and reasons and inspiration came together when I skidded into Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction. This was an end-over-end careening through the guardrails of everything else I have written. I—again, like everyone else—generally enjoy the safety of “writing what I know.” And what I know has taken me in the direction of some pretty interesting stuff. I’ve authored books about outlaw motorcycle clubs, the Black Panther Party, international crime, and the backstage of the radio and music business. Triumphs and Tragedies, however, took me over a cliff and down a sharp rocky drop that caught me a little off-guard.
But what that wild ride showed me was that going beyond what you know—expanding yourself—is the perfect reason to write. Knowing that you can intensify that head-shaking and forehead-slapping even more in readers is another; and that was more than apparent right from the beginning with this book.
The subject matter and focus here is brutal: drug addiction. Okay, I’ve dealt with dark and narrow ledges of life before, but not like this. This involved a different kind of research. Immediately, I had to wallow neck-deep in the filth-gutter grip of hard drugs (a place, thankfully, I’ve never been); while at the same time learning what it’s like to roll with people who carry as much money in their pockets as I make in a year (a place, unfortunately, I’ve never been). This made the horror of substance abuse even more snagged in the confusion of questions that have no answer, and a paradox more difficult to convey.
I also had to get into the minds and emotions of an entire cast of characters—the slight problem here being that two of the main principals were dead, and drawing information out of some of the living was not a whole lot easier.
But there was a challenge; there was expansion.
And this is why I write.
I clawed deeper.
I had to struggle for weeks with box-puzzles of police records, personal journals, tear-stained handwritten letters from prison, photos with smiles that had long turned sour, and a timeline of triumphs and tragedies that all begged to be tethers tying together a very stark part of life.
This is why I write.
Then it got personal. Because of the era and the setting and the place, I had to go back into my own youth, a growing-up that just happened to coincide with the main action in the book. I had to push—once again—through the Southern California haze of the crazed 1960s, where the beauty of the beach could quickly turn into the bowels of social hell. I was well into the heads of the people (and victims) in this book, and they were burning in mine. We were one.
This is why I write…
Working the “triumphs” in this saga against the tragedies was vital; it was a balancing act that absolutely couldn’t end in a fall. The drug downside in this book is not the whole story; the honest climb up to a mountain of wealth, hampered by the obstacle-course hurdles of drugs is quite a journey in itself. The mix had to be just right.
So was this learning experience.
I worship being able to slide into curves like these. They are the hairpin switchbacks that represent life in all of its glory and ignominy; with its horror, laughs, tears, wonder, and confusion. And, really, what is better than life—real life?
This is why I write.
Bill Hayes is an author, musician, and co-owner of Old School Kenpo Karate in Torrance, California. He has written four bestselling books about the “outlaw motorcycle” culture and has co-authored five others with his partner, Jennifer Thomas. He is regularly featured on television documentaries that deal with the biker world and is considered one of the primary experts in that field. More about Bill’s work can be found at www.billhayesauthor.com and www.triumphsandtragdediesthebook.com .