Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where Do Maybe Babys Come From?

When a writer and a historical moment fall in love, they get together and...

Well, it's true. All Maybe Babys start the same way. An important piece of rock history that I’ve already known has entered my mind or, through my constant thumbing through books and rifling through old albums, a new idea comes forward. My neighbor, who suggested I name my sources, was startled when I told her that, really, the only source is the historical fact. Ultimately, everything is made up by little ol' me; only the spark is real.

Once that fact has appeared, the next step is deciding how the story should go. Some Maybe Babys are about things I want to happen (saving Curtis Mayfield); some are about things I'd like to stop (John and Yoko). Some are simply remarkable anecdotes I'd never known and can make into a tale wholly new (The Kinks assault, or the terrorist attack on The Rolling Stones). All Maybe Babys can be divided into four categories: it happened and was good, it happened and was bad, it didn't happen and was good, it didn't happen and was bad. Simple right?

Maybe Baby is as much about writing as about rock 'n' roll. For me, it has become an exercise in stylistic diversity and points of view. Part of the, dare I say, "magic" of it is that I can approach a story from any angle: interviews, first person reflection of the hero, third person historical. Did I interview Ray Manzarek and Paul McCartney in 1973? I was ten years old then. Do I know what Stephen Stills was thinking when he chose to be a Monkee? I couldn’t possibly, and, anyway, Stephen Stills never was a Monkee!

Once the subject and the approach have been chosen, the research begins. Library books, Rolling Stone and Creem archives are summoned. Every Maybe Baby must be grounded in historical accuracy and real knowledge of the characters involved. They must ring true to make their falseness feel real. And the music, don't forget the music. I completely immerse myself in the work of the artist in play and snippets of lyrics morph into bits of dialogue, inflection and manner of speech go from the singer to the text. YouTube helps with getting the patois just right. The reader (that’s you) has got to believe that this fanciful fiction could’ve happened.

The greatest reactions are from readers who aren’t quite sure what’s going on. I’ve been asked if I really did talk to George Harrison, or how did I know what Paul Simon said to Art Garfunkel in a private call? That’s when the stories work the best. And when I get an email from a musician in Minneapolis, or a Tweet from a London reader, I know I’ve hit emotional pay dirt.

Twists are important. A Buddy Holly story may seem to be about saving the bespectacled genius from a plane crash, but don’t be so hasty. It’s more than that. What did happen to Bob Dylan when he departed from the rock scene post-Blonde on Blonde? They end up writing themselves, in about 1 1/2 weeks from idea to final product.

The pictures help. I've found photos that fit perfectly and more than once I’ve been shocked to find a shot that looks as if it were taken explicitly for the story. If I need to change the written description of, say, Ray Davies’ clothes to make the text match the photo find, I gladly do so. It heightens the alternative reality. There’s been a small amount of Photoshopping, but no one here is very good at that.

Oh yeah, the titles are key. They’re either song names that fit, or snatches of lyrics that make the reader get a feel for what's to come. The best title is Maybe Baby itself, which came from Karen (Mrs. Maybe Baby herself). When I thought of putting the stories up as a blog, I told her I needed a song, or lyric, that reflected what I was attempting to pull off, an alternate rock world. It couldn’t be too obvious.

“Maybe Baby,” she said without skipping a beat. It was pure inspiration and just what was needed. The subtitle, You Know That It Would Be Untrue, gives a little more insight into the blog, courtesy “Light My Fire.”

Once the story is written, it’s filed away to wait its turn for posting. Emails to about 150 people provide clues as to what the coming feature will be about. Those emails are used as Facebook and Twitter updates, as well as messages to the occasional fan site. Daily Tweets highlight a piece of rock history and a link to the relevant Maybe Baby story.

And there you have it; a new Maybe Baby enters the world on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month. So far, there have been 34 offspring set free. There are many more written, waiting to be officially born.

Read on!

(Thanks to Kate Roth for suggesting this piece).


  1. It's interesting to read about the creative process behind the stories. All I can say is you pull it off extremely well, from what I've read so far. It's the kind of writing that is the most difficult for me, trying to create an authentic, realistic affect, so I always admire and (I hope) appreciate the ones who do have the knack. Ray's perspective about the Doors, in the interview you wrote, seemed very real and reasonable. The stories themselves are a wonderful niche between fact and fantasy, and more than once I'm sure, people will want one or the other detail to be true, or mistake them to be true. When I write something, it's usually filled with over the top absurdities and exaggerations, but it's all a compensation for not being able to do the opposite.

  2. Thanks. It was fun to write about the process. It really made me think about the details of getting to the details.