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The S.P.E.A.R. books started as a question: what could make the world a more co-operative and planet preserving place? I had ideas.

I felt that those ideas would have their best shot at effecting change if I turned them into a film or a streaming series, to have more eyeballs see them than any book or articles could rack up.

That would require scripts. I had never written a script.  So my first step was to call a friend I’d had since high school, Jake Byrum, to get him to do it. Jake is  a successful director and writer with some wonderful films under his belt.  I was sure that he  could do a great job writing this and, just as importantly, he would know how to get it made.

So I gave him the elevator pitch.  He listened, which was a big favor actually, and then he said those fateful words: “Ellie, you are the only one that could write this.”

Okayyy.  But the next step was not obvious to me so I asked him to tell me how to start. He said I should start with the characters, and write up a background on each of them, at least three generations deep.

Sure, fine — if this were a biography or a history. I had done science writing. I had written about cases for grand rounds. I had written for magazines and underground newspapers. But  all that was about factual, practical, real subjects, supported by research and interviews. How in the world was I going to get a made-up character come out of my brain and onto a page?

As someone wise once said, I think in Alice in Wonderland, it’s best to begin at the beginning. I started with the president, who would be part of the story no matter what the story actually turned out to be.  I wrote up a character named Elaine Reynolds. I had no middle name at first, because I wanted her to have Ojibway relatives and I had no idea what Ojibway middle names I could use.

I wanted her to be from Illinois because I’m from Illinois. (Always best to write about what you know, right?). I started writing that she was the daughter of a family with a fortune from metal. I didn’t even bother to change the name, it’s not patented and I had nothing bad to say about them. I looked up some history of that company to figure out where she might have lived and how she could meet her husband.  Then I emailed a woman who was a well known or at least well linked professor of Native American studies in Wisconsin. I thought she would help me with details on an Ojibway middle name and background.

It didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d hoped.  The reply I got from her was more or less that only if you have membership in a tribe and  10,000 years of Native American heritage could you ever understand this, so buzz off. I wrote her back as politely as I could, though I was feeling really snotty about it, that if she wanted her people to be understood better, then helping people like me create realistic accounts of them was a pretty necessary step.

So, having got that off my chest, I had to proceed on my own. The one thing she told me that was extremely useful was: all female Ojibway names end with -KWE.  I started looking for some Ojibway history online and kind of hit a jackpot. It turns out there was a widely known and respected Ojibway woman warrior named Wabikwe, who theoretically could have been the great grandmother of a presidential candidate in 2016.  (Without ever mentioning 2016, all the details in the book are based on electing a president in 2016 other than the one who actually got elected in 2016.) Then I wrote the four generations for Elaine fairly easily, because I was using the details I found via research and my own Illinois experience.

I proceeded to go on to the chief of staff, Arn Schaumburg, keeping Rahm Emanuel front and center in my mind, and I made his family basically my family.

Then I got really whimsical writing Louis Hayden Trudeau, giving him a long family history of criminality before the nefarious Trudeau’s married into blueblood respectability.  I was still researching a lot, to get plausible miscreance for each generation of Trudeau’s, and fact checking historical details.  You may ask why.  It’s not like there would be a pop quiz later.  I’ll write about the “why” in a future blog.

The next character was Art Giordano, the husband of the president, and he was named unapologetically after one of the best pizza places in Chicago.  I thought they wouldn’t possibly have a patent on the name or feel any disrespect in the brilliant Art.

And so on and so forth.  These characters just appeared. As I was writing I had two streams of thought going.  One was what I was writing into the character description, and the other was thinking how the hell do I know how to write a character description?  But it was effortless. It was also only the tip of the iceberg for the research that I would do over the next six years to finally have a published book about these folks.

Amazingly, I pretty quickly had eleven characters alive and well.  Now what?


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