Where did it come from?

When I talk to nonwriters about my project – heck, even when I talk to writers about it – I’m asked any number of things, but “Where did you get that idea from” has got to be one of the things I hear the most.

It’s a question that’s easy to answer, because the idea came in a sudden instant. One moment, I was just my old me going about my life. The next, I was gifted with an idea I instinctively knew would grow into something fantastic – if I let it. If I nurtured it. If I loved it and tended to it and cared for it like the little lupins in my garden I keep (trying to) grow year after year.

And it’s a little embarrassing to talk about, because it’s geeky as hell, but here goes.

The year was 2007. My online friend, who I knew as Killian, and I were getting ready to take part in an online roleplaying game. An online vampire roleplaying game. But before we could start, I had to create a character. I knew I wanted to do something different. You couldn’t swing a bat – the winged kind – without hitting a gay, French vampire wearing leather pants and a laced-up poet shirt. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But my guy was going to have to be something different.

My family is Dutch on my dad’s side, and practically Dutch on my mom’s (her family is German, but they come from a village within walking distance of the Dutch border). I’d never heard of a Dutch vampire before, much less one from the Dutch Golden Age. So off I went to do some research.

Specifically, I was curious about whether there was much of a Jewish community in the Netherlands at the time, and what they might have been doing. And that’s when the clouds parted, the muses sang and my world changed.

Not only was there a Jewish community in Amsterdam at the height of the Dutch Golden Age, but they were hella active. Around the start of the 1600s, refugees from Portugal arrived, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. They quickly became an asset to Amsterdam, setting up businesses that were instrumental in the sugar trade and diamond cutting business, among other industries.

And then there was Baruch Spinoza. I’d heard of him, of course, and knew he was a philosopher, but not known much more than that. I quickly learned that he had been ejected from the Jewish community for mysterious “abominable heresies and monstrous deeds.”

But then – then – the thing that got me hooked. Not only was there this fascinating Portuguese community in the heart of Dutch Amsterdam, not only was there this intriguing rebel philosopher, but at the very same time, in the very same place, living on the very same block as Spinoza was the painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

Yes, that’s right. Spinoza and Rembrandt were neighbors.

I don’t know why, but something about that sunk its teeth in me and it still hasn’t let go.

It’s been nearly 12 years since that revelation fell on my head. I’ve lived with the characters I’ve created since then. I’ve had conversations with many of them – usually in the shower, sometimes as I drive in the car. I’ve made about five runs at writing down this monster, and I know I still have a way to go.

The roleplay thing that set off this whole grand experiment is long over, and that’s a story in itself. Killian, my online friend? Is now my wife. And that one great idea is still my dream, and hopefully my future. You never know where one good idea might take you.

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