Ok. I know, I know. I haven't posted an update on my first attempt at a novel in quite a while. My writing time has dwindled the past two weeks due to a sick wife, then a sick son, then the ever present day-job deadlines.....Ok, fine. Those are excuses everyone has so I'll throw those out the window. I do have a problem that I'm sure everyone else has had but I don't know how to handle it.
My story has....blossomed from the original idea and I want to run with the new concept. It's nothing extremely major but my main character's motivation has changed. I feel like I should rewrite the majority of what I have and shuffle a few things around to make it work. I know, I should just write everything and then rewrite later but the beginning of the story really needs to change. (Plus, I hate the stuff I wrote in the beginning. It's amazing how even a little experience can really make you a better writer.)
I've been debating how to proceed for about a week and it's time I just make a decision and get back to writing. How do you handle a change to your story that affects everything that preceeds your current train of thought?
Sometimes it seemed like the boys had been put on earth to torment her. She didn't know where they came from or where they went when they tired of their pranks. Today it was white rice in her bird feeders and she hurried to get every last grain out before the light faded. Birds choked on rice. Apparently, the boys were not uneducated.
Of course, none of this would be happening if her husband were still around. Hank had died last fall from long undetected skin cancer that eventually ravaged his body. After surviving two tours of Vietnam and a heart attack, a small brown dot on his lower back finally brought Hank to his knees.
She had been against moving out to the Virginia countryside, preferring something less isolated, but Hank was a quiet man who valued reading alone more than neighborhood dinner parties. It had hardly been a year since that first Friday night. Hank had woken her up when he racked his shotgun at the foot of their bed. “Evelyn, I heard voices outside. Stay here,” he whispered. A moment later she heard the shotgun roar in the night, barely making it to the window in time to see the two boys run into the wall of trees in the backyard. The youngsters left them alone after that but, like a dog smelling weakness, they slowly started again after Hank died.
She spent this night like most others, lying in Hank’s mattress dent, long gone cold, watching the trees sway in the breeze; the insects finally putting her to sleep with their monotonous banter.
* * *
The five high school graduates stood on the edge of the tree line watching the front of the house, known throughout school as an easy mark for late night fun. They’d decided to go on a camping trip out in the woods, drinking warm beer stolen from their fathers’ supply and talking up their latest female conquests. This was the last night they would all be together before each went their separate ways.
Johnny Turner was the real star of the group. Before football had become his life he dreamed of being a doctor, so when every college football coach in the country offered him a scholarship, he shocked some when he chose the University of Virginia. His senior year English teacher, Ms. Robinson, had guided him at every turn, offering advice and support when ever he asked for it.
“What the hell are we doing Derrick?” Johnny asked.
Derrick handed him two rolls of toilet paper and a can of shaving cream. “Loosen the fuck up Mr. Perfect,” he said softly. “What’s so scary about throwing some fucking toilet paper?”
On Derrick’s signal they scattered through the yard, adrenaline coursing through them. Johnny joined in, throwing his toilet paper over a large dogwood in the front yard, wrapping it up like a child’s mummy costume on Halloween. Derrick was spraying “fuck” and “cock” in shaving cream on the car parked in the driveway. They all quickly ran out of toilet paper and ran back to the tree line to admire their work.
“Dude, look at the hairy balls I sprayed on the car,” one of the other boys said as they all quietly laughed.
“JT, I dare you to spray a smiley face on the front door,” Derrick whispered in the dark.
Johnny rushed across the driveway, shaving cream in hand, the high of the adrenaline still with him. He reached the front porch and softly stepped up the five wooden steps to the large oak door. Just as he lifted the shaving cream from his hip, the front door flew open and a brilliant white light engulfed his vision.
* * *
Evelyn Robinson pulled the heavy front door open intending to fire a warning shot that would scare off those damn boys once and for all. Bringing the shotgun up as she rounded the opening door, she was startled by the dark figure standing in front of her. The shotgun blast pushed her back into the dark house as she tripped and fell over the threshold, the gun skittering away across the hard wood floor.
She lifted herself back up and walked slowly back to the front door. She saw a foot in the doorway before she turned the porch lights on. As she stepped through the doorway more of the body came into focus. Suddenly, she stopped, staring at her intruder’s blood spattered high school letter jacket and the name “J. Turner” printed over the left breast pocket. When she recognized the raw and bloodied remains of Johnny Turner’s face, she wailed into the quiet night.
She stumbled back to the foyer and found the shotgun laying next to the coat closet door. Laying her back against the wall, she slowly slid down to the floor. Her hands trembled as she reached for the gun, pumping a round into the chamber. The smell of gunpowder was still strong but the barrel had already cooled when she placed it under her chin, the trigger just barely within reach. She closed her tear filled eyes and saw Hank, waiting.
(This is my submission to the Flash Fiction Challenge started by Patti Abbott, Gerald So, and PowderBurnFlash. I'd like to thank Patti specifically for encouraging me to participate and giving me a paragraph of her own to work with. This is my first finished story since I've started writing earlier this year so any advice, good or bad, would be much appreciated! I had an absolute blast doing this!)
One of the first books I picked up when I began exploring the world of Crime Fiction was They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Written in 1935 by Horace McCoy, it was a short book that I found on someone's "Best of List" at Amazon.com. I had no real idea what the story was about, it just seemed like an interesting title, but it was written in the early period of the genre and I wanted to start there.
More of a novella than novel, the story begins with the main character, Robert, standing trial for murdering a woman named Gloria. Each chapter begins with a snippet of Robert's trial and finishes by explaining the path that brought him there. Robert and Gloria were two wannabe actors trying to make it big in Hollywood during the Great Depression. Robert is fresh faced and determined, while Gloria has been run through the grinder and tires of the rat race. (Gloria is not some you take home to mom.) after a random meeting on the street they become hesitant friends and decide to enter a couples only Dance Marathon to earn some cash. A Dance Marathon is exactly what is says apparently; couples must dance, (or be in some sort of motion,) 24 hours per day with only a 10 minute break every two hours.The fact that these Dance Marathons were real and the misery the contestants go through just to make a buck was the most horrifying part of the story. Crowds came to watch these things which make it seem like the first real seeds of reality TV.
At the time I had never read anything quite like it. Thinking back now, and having a broader base to compare to, I would say it is in the same vein as James M. Cain's work, meaning it's completely dark and brutal. If you are looking for an old school, black as night noir, pick this up and enjoy. It's definitely a classic that should be mentioned up there with the greats.
(This story was turned into a Sydney Pollack film bearing the same name starring Jane Fonda as Gloria. I've never seen the film but judging from the trailer below it sure seems to capture the tone.)
When Donald Westlake passed away recently I had only read one of his stories, The Hunter, which was absolutely fantastic. Since that was written under his Richard Stark persona I went in search of a true Westlake stand alone. After reading numerous blogs dedicated to remembering Mr. Westlake I found his story The Ax was highly regarded by nearly everyone. So I ran out to my local library and scooped it up immediately.
Although it was written in 1997, the basic premise of the story is extremely relevant to our current economic climate. Burke Devore is a married, father of two trying to find another job in the paper manufacturing business after being laid off nearly two years ago. After becoming disillusioned with the resume/interview process, he devises a devious plan to improve his odds in locating a new job. He will kill those that he considers his competition. Then, he will kill the man who currently holds his dream job, giving himself the inside track.
I loved the premise of the story but I think the style with which it was told turned me off. I think it may have been too heavy on the first person internal dialogue for my tastes. I would estimate about 90% of the story is told from inside Devore's mind, which is probably fine for most people, but I found it boring to be honest. I'm usually a big fan of first person narration but I got tired of hearing his rationalization for each murder. I understand Mr. Westlake was trying to get the audience to empathize with Devore's state of mind but it just came off as self pity rather than empathy.
The other problem I had was the ending. I kept thinking the wife would be a major factor in the ending but instead she's left to a rather dull subplot. I was just waiting for some twist or something to turn what seemed like a straight forward story, upside down. That never happened and I was a little disappointed.
Now I'm sure that for those that have read The Ax, and loved it, I'm going to be burned at the stake. Maybe I don't have a refined eye for good writing yet. Maybe I haven't been in that situation and therefore couldn't connect with Devore. Maybe I wouldn't know great storytelling if it crawled up and bit me on my ass. Whatever the reason I just could not force myself to like the book. Let the flaming commence!