Leon Marks on Writing “We Three Kings”
Unfortunately, “We Three Kings” is the most personal piece I’ve ever written. I say unfortunately because the slow death depicted in the story, and its attendant emotional conflicts and contradictions, were taken directly from the non-fictional world, albeit more than fifteen years ago. The characters of Will and Manuel were very loosely INSPIRED BY real people, but the character of Tom is one hundred percent BASED ON a very particular person. This story, in many ways, is an attempt to immortalize Tom, whose vision of human life was both extremely practical and extremely sensitive, and keeps me inspired to this day.
There is also some guilt associated with this story. Who am I to put words in the mind of a real man who is/was dying and unable to speak coherently? If Tom were a fictional character, then sure, that’s what we writers do. We create people. But Tom lived. In fact, he was desperately alive, observing and reflecting from his bed, occasionally communicating through gibberish or groans, and his final days and moments, however silent, should remain his own, shouldn’t they? I was not inside his mind or his heart. I will never know if his final thought was a sigh or a laugh or a scream. Still, I needed to imagine what he was feeling. I suppose that makes this story about me, really, not about Tom.
Which is strange. Because as a writer, what usually attracts me is the “other,” the strange, the creepy, the extreme. This story is none of those things. It’s a very human story about a fate we all share: death. If Tom’s story is inspiring, it’s because we would all be lucky to die surrounded by so much love.
“We Three Kings” was distilled from a novella I wrote after Tom died. That novella was awful, the earnest product of an immature writer. This story focuses the emotional energy of that novella into a couple of scenes. And I think Tom would have liked it.