by Ana Valenzuela
Cars rushing past. Pedestrians in conversation. The traffic enforcer’s motions guiding everything that moves so they don’t end in a gridlock. Faces of celebrities on every billboard along the length of EDSA. These are just some things a commuter notices on his way to work. On her way home. Going to a party or get-together.
It was under these circumstances that I found the inspiration for my first #HeistClub book, High Stakes.
A particular poster along Quezon Avenue caught my attention. It was not a billboard, but an announcement from the MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority). There it was: the face of the country’s most wanted criminal, a murderer, and the reward money for his capture.
I admit I took notice mostly because of fear. What would happen if I saw this dangerous-looking man somewhere? My imagination ran wild with the many possibilities: What if he had a gun and started to shoot everyone in sight (including me)? What if he had a bomb and, to elude capture, had taken people hostage? What if I saw him in my neighborhood? There were several more scenarios but the circumstance that bothered me most was: What if I had run into him at a street I do not frequent? Just casually walk past him, unsure if it even was him. Should I call the police? Would they even pay attention?
Thankfully, the criminal was caught before any of those happened.
The incident so piqued my interest, although not enough at first for me to write a book. But it made me want to learn more about notorious criminals. So, I researched about the most wanted during those times, a son of a renowned socialite jeweller.
This person created a character in my mind, and thus I began writing Michael Aguirre’s story. What could have driven a poor rich man to rob and kill people? There was always a motive for what people did. I had carved out an answer on why a man would do such a thing—he was desperate and badly in need of money.
But High Stakes was not just Michael’s story. It was also the story of both his sister, the conniving Natalie, and his good friend, Ramon.
Unlike the son of the jeweller who was inspired by a character I picked up from the streets, Natalie was inspired by TV actress Morena Baccarin. She guested in a couple of episodes in one of my favorite TV shows, The Mentalist. Baccarin played a scheming wife who had murdered her husband and was about to go free because of an alibi. Her character nagged on me until I formulated my own version of her: still a sophisticated and beautiful woman, but one who wouldn’t get her hands dirty and would have someone else dirty their hands. This time, Natalie is a woman who would not get caught, alibi or no, because it wouldn’t be her doing the deed. A woman who had everything planned. A woman I would love to hate (yet still love to write about).
The final character is Mike’s good friend. He was a mix of all the good guys you could have already seen and met. But the person who I drew much inspiration from for him was my grandfather, Salvador. With this character, there were no similarities with the plot points, rather more of how they both became good and honorable men even without their fathers. Some say that growing up fatherless can make a boy turn to drugs or unscrupulousness. Yet, if my grandfather turned out to be a good, rather, a great man after the loss of his father, so can others, too. This is what Ramon is about.
These three characters served as my #HeistClub story’s backbone. Each one of them had a story to tell, and how their stories intertwine is another offering which you can read about in the pages of High Stakes.
Anything to share? :)