Yee haw

March 2, 2015 — Leave a comment
Public domain photo, 1959.

Source: Wikimedia, public domain photo, 1959.

I’m writing a Western.

And dammit if Stephen King isn’t one step ahead.

In today’s New Yorker, King talks about a short story he published in that magazine called “The Death,” set in 1889 Dakota Territory. In his interview, he reflects on a key issue I’m facing.

Whether Jim Trusdale actually did kill Rebecca Cline was less interesting to me than Barclay’s change of mind.

(Barclay is the sheriff who was, at first, convinced Jim was guilty.)

In my Western, working title “The Last Man You Kill,” I’m finding that how the man becomes a killer, and how that affects his mind, is the story. It would be easier to write about white hat/black hat conflict, but I find that boring (and phony — white hat/black hat stories are usually political statements masquerading as entertainment).

In my story, an old killer is writing a last letter to his son, and reflecting on a life defined by murder.

I have no idea if the story is a novella or a novel. As King says:

I’ve had short stories grow into novels, but I’ve never had a novel shrink into a short story, or even a novella. Sometimes, the story I’m working on starts to put out blossoms—it’s the only way I can describe it.

It’ll be fun to find out what “The Last Man You Kill” sprouts into. I love that I can just write it, publish it, and see if people like it. I don’t have to please an agent who’s focused on market trends, or an editor who may have different tastes.

ColorPurpleThe Color Purple starts with the repeated beating and raping of a teenage girl. Romeo & Juliet ends with teen suicide. Both are broadly considered literary classics. When I read them in my teen years, there was no warning, though of course I knew how Romeo & Juliet ended before I ever tried to read it. The beginning of The Color Purple made me wince, but I still finished the book, and found the experience worthwhile.

I believe that reading challenging works can develop your emotional strength. You develop sympathies that might not otherwise happen in normal life, and wrestle with questions you might never ask yourself, if you’ve never been exposed to child abuse or addiciton or war.

This, too, is the key mechanism of scripture. People read about Jesus, for example, think about his story, and relate it to their own lives. Going to church is, essentially, repeat-reading the story, with the guidance of literary critics called priests and elders. The story is enhanced with music, and you are guided through your inner world to reflect on all this through discussion and prayer. Religion is one of the most powerful examples of how stories can shape character.

Should the Bible open with a warning? Should we be cautioned at every book within it which contains a story of genocide, adultery, prostitution, or selling children into slavery?

I find warnings presumptuous. There is no single standard for sensitivity. I had a mother in law who would flinch if anyone tapped on the window to get her attention, because a Nazi soldier had done that at her home when she was a child. Many Americans regualrly watch shows which pivot on acts of horror — all the primetime spinoffs of Law and Order and CSI Whatever come to mind — yet those kidnappings, rapes, and murders don’t seem to affect the digestion of our dinners.

I’ve found that, since becoming a father, I can’t handle stories where children are abused. I don’t need a trigger warning about that — I just turn it off or close the book. It’s not something that bothered me as a young man. It’s a new trigger, a new sensitivity. As an adult, I have the maturity to say, “No thanks.” I have an internal warning, which I heed.

In America, we are particularly sensitive to sex, but flippant about violence. I find this to be a backwards morality. We are much more likely to be exposed to nipples than exploding heads in real life. Our sensitivity to nakedness is a Victorian leftover. Attacking it makes us feel proper, when actually we’re pretty sick. Rape and murder shouldn’t be entertaining — even as a setup for revenge fantasy — and pubic hair shouldn’t terrify.

Fiction isn’t the problem. We humans are a wonderful, yet perverse, species. Sometimes, our fiction too readily reflects that.

On fiction and life

February 3, 2015 — Leave a comment

linklater_still-300x169I really enjoyed hearing this from director Richard Linklater on yesterday’s (Feb 2) PBS NewsHour (fast forward to the last 10 minutes of the program). It parallels my own thoughts on fiction, and life.

“The artificiality of so much plot always bugged me… I think the three act structure is an artifice. A lot of plot points that work so well in a thriller… [don’t] happen in most of our lives.”

At the same time, he’s not an improviser. “I wouldn’t know how to turn on a camera and just see what happens.”

Here’s an extra clip where he talks about being glad his own childhood wasn’t as recorded as today’s generation, and here’s a post on the five films Linklater feels everyone should see. (I’ve seen none of them.)

61Checker_final

My latest story, a horror novella, is now available on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it.

Cade Alvarez has moved from town to town throughout his career — all 118 years of it. He knows how to fit in, how to take what he needs, and how to disappear.

He’s only been in Dallas for a few years, and his instincts are already telling him it’s time to go. But when a mysterious woman driving a ’61 Checker Cab offers him a ride, he begins to realize it may be too late.

Download The Woman in the ’61 Checker from Amazon today!

Second draft

January 3, 2015 — Leave a comment

checker

Just sent my second draft off for review. I have that early morning/delusional feeling that it’s pretty damn good.

The title I’m liking right now is THE WOMAN IN THE ‘61 CHECKER. It’s a novella (22,000 words or about 88 pages) in the Suspense, Paranormal, and Horror genres.

SYNOPSIS

Cade Alvarez has moved from town to town throughout his career — all 118 years of it. He knows how to fit in, how to take what he needs, and how to disappear.

He’s only been in Dallas for a few years, and his instincts are already telling him it’s time to go. But when a mysterious woman driving a ’61 Checker Cab offers him a ride, he begins to realize it may be too late.

Hopefully with revision and cover design, I can get it published in February.

I’m going to submit it for consideration as a Kindle Single. I think it’s the right type of story, at the right length. If it’s accepted, I get a lot of free promotion, and a higher royalty.

Wish me luck!