How far would you go to tell the perfect story?
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
My therapist, Dr. Raymond, has cleverly deduced that I suffer from mild paranoia. But what the simple doctor does not understand is that I am not paranoid, I am prepared. You see, it is all a matter of perception. Dr. Raymond’s reality was a linear one; he saw things in the first person, subjectively, in a straight line. I, on the other hand, saw reality in the third person, objectively, as the narrator, with a birds-eye view, scanning the entirety of reality’s infinite depth and possibilities. And that being the case, along with the knowledge of the sins in my past, my fear of being tracked down and plotted against was not one of paranoia, but of sound logic.
Much of that fear drives from guilt, I am sure. It is the little bit of human feeling left in me that clings to man’s etiquette, believing I should answer for the crime I committed. I saw a priest who told me that feelings of paranoia are signs of the guilty soul screaming for confession. But God has seen what I have done and on my day of judgment if He cannot see the reasoning to my actions, well, then He is just as short-sighted as Dr. Raymond.
Until that day I remain, Grant Hull–New York Times Bestseller. The author of “Held Up”, critically praised as, and I quote, “The most realistic depiction of the life of a bank robber in our time.” My book has given me literary recognition, public praise and wealth beyond my wildest expectations. Does this not prove even as we punish and imprison the thieves, rapists, and murderers that society secretly has a passionate yearning to swim in the dark thoughts of society’s most evil creations?
The publishing industry knows this and year after year they publish weak attempts to capture the life of society’s darkest. The books are penned by authors who pull their research from dramatic fiction or Hollywood movies. But when these “authors”, if that is what they choose to call themselves, draw upon inauthentic sources like Hollywood they produce an inauthentic story. Then the game of broken telephone begins and author after author draws upon the inauthentic stories before him, creating an even more far-fetched attempt to capture the essence of the bank robber, the rapist, the murderer. But those books will come and go quickly, making a small profit but quickly forgotten by the minds of society. I wished to be not another waste of paper but one of the great writers of our time–Of all time.
If you look at the great authors of the past, such as Charles Dickens with Oliver Twist, or George Orwell with Down and Out in Paris and London, two undeniably honest commentaries on economic, social and moral abuses of the ruling class–these works only achieved such high levels of authenticity from the authors actually taking to the slums and living with the down and out characters they would eventually reflect in their books. To write great literature it is imperative that you know your characters intimately.
When I first created my protagonist, he was so far from my country boy persona I couldn’t relate. Jimmy, my bank robber, was a down and out kid from the Bronx who could no longer stand his bottom-of-the-list place in society, and so, turns to a life of crime. I didn’t know a thing about city life or desperation–so I researched. I read every book on bank robberies I could find, I watched every heist movie there ever was, I listened to every gangster rap album I could get my hands on. I learned much about the topic and it helped me to create much more depth and authenticity to Jimmy and the characters around him.
For example, I had originally intended Jimmy to burst into the bank guns blazing, wearing a gorilla mask and telling everyone to, “Get the fuck on the floor!” while shooting off a couple rounds into the ceiling. In the movies, this seemed pretty standard, but in real life Hollywood’s portrayal of the bank robbery is heavily flawed and out of date.
Bank security has come a long way over the years. Maybe in the 1920s John Dillinger and his gang could burst into the place with guns drawn and shoot it out with police, but not today. In today’s banks each teller has a panic button under the desk, so it was imperative that at all times throughout the robbery the only person who knew the bank was being robbed was the single teller, and only when Jimmy was close enough to her to monitor her hand and knee movements. The best way to achieve that would be with a simple note handed to the teller once he was called from the line.
Do you see how much research helps create authenticity?
But these were things any and every author would do in preparation for their story. I didn’t want to be just any author. I knew I needed a more aggressive approach if I was to be remembered with the likes of an Orwell or a Dickens. Over a scotch in a hotel lobby, I came to terms that the only way to capture the raw energy of a bank robbery was to actually rob a bank.
I chose a Royal Bank across town as the target. At first, I just stood in the lobby and watched. I watched the customers, I watched the tellers, I watched the cameras–I even watched the half-dead security guard habitually putter about back and forth before he eventually found peace in a plastic seat next to the front entrance. Nowadays, banks don’t carry much cash in the drawers and I did not have the equipment or the manpower to try and successfully take the vault. But again, from my research on bank security measures, I knew that most tellers kept a “robbery bag” around that they were to give to the robber if ever faced with the situation. That’s what I wanted to leave with.
I knew the bills were marked but I didn’t care, I wasn’t going to spend any of it. It wasn’t for the money; it was for character research. I needed to witness the look of fear in the teller’s eyes when I handed her the note threatening to kill her if she did not co-operate. I had to document the doubts and second-thoughts that would race through my head just before handing her the note. I needed to experience the pounding heartbeat and surge of adrenaline I would feel as I walked out the front door with that heavy bag of bills.
And so, on a chilly day in September, I walked into that Royal Bank on Main St. and stood in line. I wore a hat, sunglasses, and a fake mustache to disguise myself from the recording cameras.
One by one, I watched the person in front of me break from the line and approach the teller until, all too quickly, it was my turn to step forward. I kept my hand steady while handing her the note that warned her I was armed and would shoot if she made any signals or reached for the panic alarm. It instructed her to give me the robbery bag and everyone would be safe.
The moments from when I handed her the letter to when she gave me the bag under her desk were the most intense. The fifteen or so seconds it took seemed like an eternity. I thought my heart was going to beat right through my chest and land in her lap.
It was not so much the teller that had me so on edge, she was scared and I knew they were trained to co-operate. It was the customers behind me. I was sure one of them had seen me hand over the note and would attack me from behind, but I couldn’t look behind me without arousing suspicion from security and I couldn’t risk taking my eyes off the teller’s hands.
Finally, she reached over the kiosk and handed me the unmarked bag, holding in her tears to the best of her ability. I turned and, bursting with elation and disbelief, quickly walked through the front door, passing the senior security guard who may or may not have been taking a quick midday nap. I couldn’t say for sure, all I could see was the street outside–complete tunnel vision.
Once outside, I walked around to the back of the building where the taxi I had arrived in waited for me on a back street, completely unaware of what had just happened. He dropped me off at a McDonalds a few blocks down where I disposed of my disguise in the bathroom garbage before hopping on a bus back to my neighborhood to count the score.
Now that I had experienced the rush of criminality I was ready to translate my recent enlightenment to paper and bring Jimmy from the Bronx to life. I understood him now.
As I wrote the novel I was constantly expecting the police to come to my work, or come to my home, and take me off to jail…but they never came. Three months after the book’s completion, with a little luck and a great agent, “Held Up” became a New York Times Best Seller and I had hit the big time. I did not need to spend the cash from the robbery; I was selling millions of books. Why? Because readers recognize authenticity. They really do.
I had trouble during the book tour though. I was forced to grab a pushy fan by the throat to remind him of who he was disrespecting. I don’t deal well when dealing with the readers. The ones who read my story, living my experiences vicariously, never having enough guts to go out and do what I did. They used my experiences to escape their dreary, safe, and pointless lives. How I loathe them.
But it was this incident, during a book signing in Los Angeles, that my publishers came together and decided I needed to see a therapist, throwing Dr. Raymond, uninvited, into my life, to accuse me of this paranoia.
Things are better now that the book tour has ended and I am back in the comfort of my writing studio. Just the other day I received a call from my agent letting me know the publishers have green-lighted my next novel proposal.
With the recent popularity of the murder mystery genre, I have decided to create a story from the point of view of the killer. Genius, is it not? I am happy to say, I have already begun my research. And I swear, to both myself and my readership, that I will pen the most authentic look into the mind of a murderer that mankind has ever had the privilege to gaze upon…