I got a piece of oral tradition when I returned to my home town Denver in 2009. I did research on the Columbine shooting (which is a thematic part of my story, RED AS BLUE). I grew up in Colorado, so this tragic incident hit very closely to me because I understood it. I understood how something like that could happen even it if seems nonsensical.
I was taking a Tai Chi class and one night, my teacher and I decided to go to Denny’s for a late night meal. We were talking about kids, drugs, pharmaceutical medicines that control the minds of children. We got off on a tangent and he told me that the kids that did the shooting were on these drugs. Then he tells me that his nephew was there when the shooting happened. I knew that time was of the essence so I asked him for his nephew’s contact info. If I wanted the truth, I had to get it NOW.
So I had to frame my story. I had to tell this kid why I needed to talk to him. But I had to give him an incentive to want to meet me. It was hard for me to figure this out because the interesting part was, I was hoping to meet a victim.
It turns out he wasn’t a victim but was friends with some of the guys that bullied the two shooters (Dylan and Eric). And I thought, “Well this is interesting! You’re going to interview the bullies?” Wow. How was I going to make that work? How am I going to identify with him?
So I got to meet him at a restaurant and bought him dinner. He told me the complete stories of the ins and outs of that day; everything—from the days leading up to it, the news part, to what the kids were going through afterwards, the state of consciousness at the high school to what happened behind the scenes. I took notes…and later, I started to rewrite RED AS BLUE to fit in some truth; not the whole truth, not the literal truth—but to make it touch upon the truth.
What that experience taught me as a writer: was compassion. I had to understand the bullies as well as the “so-called” victims. Everyone is a victim, even the bullies. And this makes the story less stereotypical, less black and white or “us against them.”
To add to more weirdness, while I was in Denver, I randomly met a high school teacher who was able to give me access to Columbine High School—the kind of access that press can’t get. Since the shooting, the school has been highly protective of letting outsiders in. He was able to do that for me—but I didn’t take him up for it. But all these things are amazing. And what’s weirder was that this teacher lived right across the street from the school and rode his bike on this way to work in another district RIGHT BELOW THE WINDOW of that infamous scene of the boy “falling out window” in the news coverage. I asked him “Couldn’t you avoided it?” He said “No, the path is right under it and I hated it but I have to cross it everyday.”
The guy I interviewed told me all about the kid that fell from the window. He told me about all his friends. There are incredible things I learned about these “children.” I call them children because they felt like very young souls, like brilliant new creatures on this planet. Young but enlightened beings. He had a spiritual transformation—as most of the kids at the school did. And you wouldn’t expect that from a so-called “jock.” I wanted to capture that in RED AS BLUE—to hint toward what we’re destroying in our society—which is the way we channel potential energy, and that bullying isn’t what it appears to be.