July 28, 2017
Music, and the often-accompanying lyrics, has been a source of inspiration in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my dad introduced me to songs like “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean and the Tommy Sands version of “Sinner Man” (although I now prefer the Three Dog Night and Nina Simone renditions) when I would ride with him in the car on trips from the northern suburbs of Seattle to the southwestern tip of Washington State where he spent one weekend a month serving in the Coast Guard reserves at Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco. The time with my dad was priceless and the music he introduced me to on those trips began my love affair with song lyrics. The love affair allowed me to branch out into different genres of music and gave me an appreciation that threw a wider net than it otherwise may have.
I fell in love with the stories those lyrics told and the emotional impact they could deliver. As I got older, however, I started noticing that certain songwriters are poets who deliver that impact more consistently than others. Not all lyricists are created equal. Some of my favorites over the years have included Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, Johnny Cash, Brandi Carlisle, Lecrae Devaugn Moore, Bob Dylan, Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel, Jason Emmanuel Petty (aka, Propaganda,) Hank Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., John Legend, Toby McKeehan, James Taylor, Merle Haggard, Kevin Max Smith, Bernie Taupin, Leonard Cohen, Alan Jackson, Rich Mullins, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Paul Simon, Michael Tait, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Chris Tomlin, Stevie Wonder, Adele, Chris Cornell, and recently both Zac Brown and Chris Stapleton. It’s an already ridiculously long list that could go on and easily become ten times as long as it already is.
I left one important name off that list because it’s the most critical one when it comes to “The Gift of the Elements” series. That name is Vladimir John Ondrasik III.
I was in the backseat of my parents’ car on the way back to their house after having dinner and the song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five For Fighting came on the radio. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. It may very well have been the 100th. The song got a lot of airplay following its release in April of 2001 and this was at the height of the song’s popularity. However, for some reason, the lyrics impacted me in that moment more than they ever had before. Perhaps it was because “Smallville” had started airing around the same time. I honestly can’t remember if I had even seen the show yet at that point. But, whatever the reason was, I listened to the song and began to think about Superman, this being of immense power, more as Clark Kent than I ever had before. It struck me, on a deep level, how difficult and lonely that life could be.
Then I began to think about what it would be like if you had grown up without those powers but suddenly, they began to develop with the onset of puberty. That would be, in addition to lonely, completely terrifying. But, once you accepted what was happening to you, you’d have to make a choice. Do you use those powers for selfish gain? Or, do you use them for the betterment of humankind as a whole?
I was told once that my writing seems to have a common theme of redemption. Maybe that’s why the lyric that struck me the hardest was “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” It’s thoughts like that that stick with you. They give you a thread that can spin off into a whole new piece of work. It did for me.
In fact, three weeks later, I had completed a screenplay called “The Gift of Tyler.”
It wasn’t until about a decade later that I pulled the script back out and began to develop it. Through that process, I dropped the whole puberty element and also decided I liked the idea of something larger happening around the world and experiencing it through one of the few people chosen to play a major role in it. This could possibly have been influenced by how brilliant I thought M. Night Shyamalan’s concept was for the movie “Signs.”
Then I put that polished script away again and decided to write my first book, “The Four Corners.” By the time the book was finished, I had gotten married and left Los Angeles after about fifteen years and moved back to the northern suburbs of Seattle to be close to my family. With “The Four Corners” out in the marketplace, I knew I wanted to write another book. I decided to wait on the sequel to the first book and write something new. So, I sat down and developed a 7-book game plan for a series called “The Gift of the Elements” based on “The Gift of Tyler.”
Chronologically, “The Gift of Tyler” is the fourth story in the series. However, the first four books all stand alone since they are individual stories about the four people chosen to play a major part in that global event. It isn’t until the final trilogy in the series that those four characters interact with one another. So, I wrote “The Gift of Tyler” first and then followed up with “The Gift of Rio” which is chronologically the first book.
I’m finally writing the sequel to my first book while I also do the final edits on “The Gift of Rio.” But, I’m already anxious to get back to “The Gift of the Elements.” The entire series carries themes found in the song that inspired it all and they still manage to touch me deeply, the same way they did in the backseat of my parents’ car that day.
Vladimir John Ondrasik III (aka Five For Fighting) hasn’t gotten a shout-out in either of the first two “Gift” books. Perhaps, I’ll throw him a bone in “The Gift of Mattias.” After all, like the man said, “even heroes have the right to dream…”