Occasionally, people ask who my characters are based upon and where I get the inspiration for my stories. Sometimes, it’s completely random and spontaneous – like when I’m people-watching in a fast-food restaurant.

One day in late 2017, I was eating dinner in a fast-food restaurant on a Monday evening. It was the Rubio’s at Indian School Road & 44th Street, if you’re curious. I had two hours between rehearsals, so I brought my laptop along and caught up on email, Facebook, the news, etc. during and after my dinner. I eat at that Rubio’s fairly often, and I have a favorite seat along the window near the self-serve soda fountain, which I visit several times during my prolonged stay.

A young man entered the restaurant and sat at a table near me. I guessed him to be in his mid-20s. For some reason (probably boredom – or maybe because he was cute in that boy-next-door kind of way), I began to wonder what his story was. What did he do for a living? Was he a native Phoenician or from someplace else? Where was he before he visited the restaurant, and where would he go afterward? Was he gay or straight? Those sorts of things.

By the time he left 15 minutes later, I had made up his life story. I decided to write a book about him and his made-up life. He became Aaron Michael Bradbury, the main character in my new novel If I Seem Quiet…. (I prefer “If I Seem Quiet” to “If I Look Quiet” for this book.)

In the novel, the restaurant is the fictitious Wok Around the Clok in Tempe. The guy sitting where I was sitting is named Rob, and he’s wearing the T-shirt I’m wearing in the picture above. Aaron is originally from a small town in Ohio, went to Ohio State, played trombone in their famous marching band, and is now a pharmacist at a fictitious drugstore chain, HealthPro. He hasn’t played his trombone since he was an undergrad.

At first, Aaron is annoyed because Rob is sitting in his favorite seat, but he notices the silhouette of a trombonist on Rob’s T-shirt. That serves as an ice-breaker and they strike up a conversation. Rob invites him to a concert being performed the next weekend by a band he plays in, Aaron attends, and he decides to start playing his trombone again. There’s much more to the story than that, but that should give you a high-level introduction.

Okay, so that’s the inspiration for one novel. But six?

If I Seem Quiet… was the first novel I began writing. Later in the book, Aaron meets Ryan, who sweeps him off his feet. Ryan is quiet (another reference to the title) and introverted. He has a checkered, difficult past he’s reluctant to talk about, which sets up some of the conflicts in the story.

As I developed Ryan’s character, I decided that his life story warranted his own book. That turned into three books, Maybe Next Year, Instant Adult, and Open Books, Closed Sets. So If I Seem Quiet… is now the fourth book in a series of six, now named Gay Tales for the New Millennium. The final two novels will carry their relationship forward and introduce new challenges for them to address as they build their lives together.

So, to recap… a random cute guy in a restaurant + my wandering imagination + a quirky T-shirt = six novels. Sometimes inspiration works in strange ways.

And the funny thing is, if I were to cross paths with this guy again, I probably wouldn’t recognize him as the guy I saw in the Rubio’s on that Monday evening in late 2017.

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© 2023 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: Jeff McKeehan.
By the way, this picture was taken during the pandemic when I was recording my part for the remote Zoom-style video of “The Girl from Ipanema” that Desert City Jazz recorded. You can enjoy that here. It’s our most-watched video, with over 1,000 views.

The T-Shirt That Launched Six Novels

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