Robert McCammon Tells How He
Baal is my Angry Young Man novel. It was also my first published novel, and the first book I ever tried to write. I think that in Baal you can feel the friction of shoulders being squeezed by iron walls: my shoulders, pressing against the walls of a dead-end job.
You see, I never thought I could be a writer. Write? For money? Like... really say something? That was someone else's dream. I went to the University of Alabama and majored in journalism, because that's what I figured writers did. As a kid, I played around with a typewriter, and I did ghost stories, mysteries, westerns, science fiction... but those were creations to entertain myself. I was a shy kid, gawky, not very good at sports. You know the type - they never go out of style. Somewhere there's a heaven where revenge is exacted, and all those jocks who burned bright and handsome now have beer guts and have to wait to be... the... very... last... one... chosen.
So maybe I'm still a little angry after all.
Baal is about power, written at a time when I had none. I was twenty-five years old when I wrote Baal, and working at a department store in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. My job was ferrying advertising proofs between the local newspaper and the various department heads: ’’traffic control,’’ they called it. When I went home at night, I sat down at my old Royal typewriter - long since deceased - and worked on the novel that would become Baal.
People often ask me where I get my ideas for characters. I always say that each character, whether male or female, is put together from observation, memory, and is part of the author too. I really believe there's part of me in all my characters - and not only the good ones. The character of Baal - with his unleashed wild power and his ability to do just about anything he pleases - is certainly part of what I was feeling at that time in my life. I was an electric plug, and I couldn't seem to find the right socket, until I began writing.
One character in Baal particularly stands out to me, and that's the elderly and very innocent Virga. I used to have lunch at the same place every day, a restaurant called the Molton Grill that's no longer in Birmingham, and an elderly Catholic priest would come in almost every day as well. He had his favorite table, he always seemed to order the same thing, and he ate alone. I watched the man, and I created the character of Virga in his image. I never knew the priest's name, but I have his face in my mind. And maybe some of his spirit in Virga.
You always hear this said to young writers: ’’Write what you know.’’ I wanted to write about things I didn't know, so I consciously set Baal in locations as far from the South as possible: Boston, the Middle East, and Greenland. I wanted a global scale and a story that would take the reader to the very edge of Armageddon, and I hope I succeeded.
As I said, Baal was my first novel. My first step into the unknown. Whatever I am today, and wherever I'm going, Baal started me on the path. Ten years since Baal was first published, I'm still on the journey.