Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Guest Blogger: Jack Lopez on Inspiration and Fiction

My wonderful client Jack Lopez has been kind enough to agree to guest blog. Jack is the author of the YA novel IN THE BREAK (now out in paperback), which tells the story of three high school surfing friends, Juan, Jamie and Amber. After Jamie beats up his stepdad, the trio steals Juan's mom's car and head for Mexico, where they have adventures, fall in love, and search for the perfect wave. IN THE BREAK is an incredible coming of age story filled with the excitement and lyricism of surfing, and tragedy as well.

Jack is a creative writing instructor at CSU Northridge (not to mention an accomplished surfer), and his post is about the intersection of real life and literature. Enjoy!

The genesis for the novel In The Break came from a number of events that happened in and around my neighborhood when I was in high school. Some of this appears in an interview with California Readers. After that interview, I realized that I had left out a main component. Here's the gist of what I told Bonnie O'Brian for the interview and what appears on their website: When I was in high school two brothers who lived a few blocks over from me met up with some runaway girls, and they went to the mountains, broke in a cabin, and stayed there a few days. When caught, they got in a lot of trouble. When I was in high school a kid's mother shot his father while he slept. The kid's mother used the battered wife syndrome as her defense, and was acquitted. When I was in high school one of my friends had a father who was abusive. Many years later I found out that his stepfather and my friend fought when he was sixteen. Sixteen was the important detail because that was the age my friend beat up his stepfather and was no longer hit by him. The biggest influence for the writing of the book was the fact that when I was in high school, my friends and I found this bay way down in Baja California where the waves were really large and the water was full of dolphins.

Yet I somehow forgot about and left out of that interview a major component that influenced the writing of the book. On the last day of school when I was in the eleventh grade--which was a half day--I went surfing at a surf spot called Trestles with my good friend. He was a senior, I was a junior. We surfed a glorious June afternoon. In those days Trestles was part of the base at Camp Pendleton, and access was restricted; therefore there were no other surfers in the water. That same night there was a big party to celebrate the end of school, and I met up with my friend. He had a motorcycle, a 250cc Scrambler, and a station wagon in which we could take our surfboards. That night he was riding his motorcycle. Before I left the party, I told him I'd call in the morning, as we were going to surf the next day. I went home, slept, and when I awoke, I called my friend so that we could go surfing. His mother answered the phone. She was weeping. She somehow conveyed the information that my friend, her son, was dead. Run down on the Pacific Coast Highway in the early morning hours as he rode his motorcycle home from the party.

You don't ever get over a shock like that. Expecting to surf with your friend only to find out that he's no longer on this earth. As a teen, of course, I didn't know how to process it. How do you process such a thing? I know I didn't cry about it for well over a year. I just buried it deep in my psyche, where it floated then submerged and finally surfaced, becoming a part of who I am.

During my high school years two friends and one acquaintance were killed on the Pacific Coast Highway, one as a pedestrian, two on motorcycles. The character Jamie, Juan's best friend in In The Break, is, I suppose, a belated tribute to my high school friend.


Anonymous said...

High school is tough.

The best book about inspiration is by Ray Bradbury.
Zen in the art of writting.

He said:
Which family exisits where some relative has not been killed or maimed by the automobile?

He goes on to say: Writting is cure

I find that very true.

And Nathan, you said "coming of age".
No, no!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm sorry for your loss and I'm glad you were able to sort through it just a bit by writing. My husband lost his best friend in high school and years later when we met, it was the first thing he ever confided in me. I don't think he'll ever quite get over it.

Nathan Bransford said...


Is there a taboo about the term "coming of age" that no one told me about? Do you prefer bildungsroman?

sylvia said...

Funnily enough, I definitely prefer Bildungsroman and had never thought of them as referring to the same thing (I'm bilingual).

The story of JL's inspiration is interesting: I can't help but think that the timing of the events in your life were why your novel had to be YA. Writing for your friend but also to the person that you were, offering another ending?

Michelle Moran said...

Northridge! My home town :]

I look forward to reading it.

Dan Leo said...

I think "coming of age" is just one of those expressions we have to live with. Like my favorite:
"literary novel". Ouch!

Anonymous said...

Ask Miss Snark about "coming of age" for the YA.

You know butter than that.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't define my projects by Miss Snark's standards. If I did, I would drink gin instead of bourbon, wear stillettos instead of sensible Camper shoes and I'd have a Yapp instead of a chihuahua.

Dave said...

I worked with a man who's son died in a car accident while he was driving home from the last snow skiing trip of the season. The man was never the same, never again. we did our best but nothing seemed to help. My boss returned from the Funeral Home in tears. A loss like this lingers.

I might not use the phrase "comig of age" but I know the meaning of the words.

Heidi the Hick said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I'm working on a YA novel at this time and have really struggled with a detail about a tragedy. I always felt that it had to be part of the story but I never wanted anybody involved to think that I was using a friend's memory for my own gain.

But...I never use the whole truth. That's too close to the plagiarism of real life for me. Like described in this post, it's little pieces of what happened in real life that make their way into a story.

I have to say that the idea of the story as a tribute is very comforting to me.

Now I really must move In The Break closer to the top of my Must Read list.

Anonymous said...

The character Jamie, Juan's best friend in In The Break, is, I suppose, a belated tribute to my high school friend.

Mr. Lopez, please find and tell his mom that.

jack lopez said...


I love the posts! Thanks to Nathan for suggesting this forum, as it's new to me. And thanks for all the kind thoughts! I wouldn't know how to go about contacting my friend's mother, but I'm going to try to do so. The funny (odd) thing about the tribute angle is that I certainly didn't know this in the actual writing of the book. My writing teacher at UCI, Don Heiney, said that all writers are thieves. He's right on some level, as we need to have the scientist's dispassion about our subjects and just use them. I tried photography when I was younger, but I couldn't take someone's photo whether or not they wanted it taken. But I can write about anything, even if I'm not sure where that inspiration is coming from. A writer friend of mine, Bruce McAllister, says that each story we write will teach us the lesson we need to know at that time. So narrative as cure, story as therapy, writing as discovery, the very thing that Joan Didion says abvout writitng a novel: discovering what it is (boy, talk about writing as cure: THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING) is maybe what we all do when we dredge up that stuff from our subconscious minds that somehow appears in our work.


pixy said...

Thanks so much for posting that, Jack. It's a wonderful thing to be able to take something so painful and make something powerful from it.

I just started a new project that takes death and examines it through the eyes of boy/girl twins. It takes place around PCH, Ventura and LA County. I surfed out there with my husband for many years, but through Jr. High and High School he hung out, surfing Leo Carillo and County Line. You guys might have crossed paths. He said The Valley guys were nuts. ;)

I never knew "coming of age" was taboo, either. I just had an editor tell me to start calling one of my WIPs that to help it be more atractive. Just shows, you never know. Potato, potawto.

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