Please welcome Gray Basnight, author of Flight of the Fox. Have you ever wondered how authors get ideas? Sometimes they take a well-known historical event and give it their own twist.
Submitted by Gray Basnight, 7/15/19
Real history is a great tool for inspiring thriller fiction. Readers generally prefer chunks of meaty non-fiction that resonate with familiarity. The Jamestown settlement, the California gold rush, the allied invasion of Normandy, and the Apollo moon launch are great subjects to start with. For writers, the task is to place the chosen event in a hot pot, set to simmer and closely mind all factual details. Gradually stir in dramatic fictional elements: protagonists, antagonists, subplots. Then, depending on personal tastes, liberally add splashes of crime, greed, murder, sex, and violence. Cook until done and serve as a novel.
If done well, it’s magical and transporting. Some titles that have inspired me include Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett; The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins; The Given Day by Dennis Lehane—to name but a few.
Enter my own latest effort to write a mash up of history. Flight of the Fox is a run-for-your-life thriller that looks forward and backward. It’s set during the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, looks back at crimes of the J. Edgar Hoover era, and simultaneously looks forward to the day when those crimes are exposed.
For the record, as a 16-year-old in Richmond, Virginia, it never occurred to me or my friends to travel north in August 1969. I’m not sure we understood that the festival occurred in a town named Bethel rather than Woodstock. What I am certain about is that if we’d asked our parents for permission, they wouldn’t even have contemplated approval.
“What?! Go 400 miles to sit in a cow pasture with a bunch of hippies and listen to crap music? Go do your algebra homework.”
Besides, I didn’t yet have long hair.
But missing the event didn’t mean missing its significance. The fact that 400,000 people gathered for a three-day outdoor concert where 32 bands delivered some of the greatest rock ever performed while simultaneously—peacefully—protesting the Vietnam War and celebrating life in America, was nothing less than miraculous.
Years later, I made up for not hitching north by putting my appreciation of those “three days of peace and music” into Flight of the Fox, which opens at the original site in Bethel, NY in August 2019. Better still, my protagonist is a Woodstock baby. Math professor Sam Teagarden was born in a tent on that crowded hillside as Country Joe McDonald was singing I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag:
And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for
don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam
By the way, according to docents at the museum dedicated to the festival, no babies were actually born during the concert. But a few pregnant women who went into labor were medivacked to local hospitals. On a related note, speculation runs high that many babies were conceived that weekend, which makes those children, now 49-years-old, the first generation of Woodstock.
Back to my thriller and Professor Teagarden. During his escape from mysterious hit men, Teagarden discovers a strangely encoded document in his email. Being skilled in the art of encryption and decryption, he decodes it while on the run from Bethel to New York City, Washington, and finally Key West. When finished, he finds a diary with entries dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. The author of the diary is Clyde Anderson Tolson, who was J. Edgar Hoover’s—real-life—life partner. Hoover, of course, was the longest-serving director of the FBI. A deeply closeted gay man, he also, ironically, ran a deeply homophobic and racist FBI. Very useful fodder for the factual backdrop.
The (fictional) diary, and (fictional) truths propel the plot of Flight of the Fox until Teagarden ultimately learns that he’s sitting on a truly incendiary discovery. It explains why teams of FBI black-ops hit men are pursuing him. If he survives and publishes the decoded document, American history will be forever altered.
Relating further details is spoiler risky. As to those historic days in August 1969, no spoiler alert is necessary. Having occurred during an era of lengthy war, political deceit, and great social confusion, Woodstock holds a legendary purpose far beyond that of any ordinary rock concert. For some, that purpose centered on peace and love. For others, it was about the need for truth. Either way, those 400,000 music fans likely did not guess they were speaking to us in 2019. But they were.
And that is the heart of my alternate history in Flight of the Fox. It’s about truth ultimately winning the day. Alas, it’s fiction.
About Gray Basnight
After almost three decades in broadcast news and a few years pursuing acting, Gray is deeply immersed in fiction writing. His books cross several genres and feature a range of voices and characters. Prior to the political thriller Flight of the Fox, he published The Cop with the Pink Pistol, a modern NYC-detective mystery, and Shadows in the Fire, a Civil War historical novel about two young slaves on the edge of freedom.
When not writing, Gray thinks about writing – while walking his dog, watching movies, traveling, and all other activities. Gray is a member of the Authors Guild, NY Writers Workshop, Mystery Writers of America, and Writers Guild of America. Having grown up in Richmond, VA, he has lived in New York long enough to consider himself a native. Visit GrayBasnight.com where you can sign up for his intermittent newsletter, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.