I think I might do this for all my releases going forward: a post on why I wrote what I wrote. For good or bad, a look into the creative process — like a piranha frenzy or a garter snake breeding ball — that results in the grim and gory birth of fiction. Here, then, is a look into why I went ahead and wrote SHOTGUN GRAVY. If you feel like picking up the book (and I’d obviously appreciate it if you did), your procurement options are as follows:
Kindle (US): Buy Here
Kindle (UK): Buy Here
Nook: [Still not available, razza-frazza B&N]
PDF (Direct): Buy Here
So. SHOTGUN GRAVY.
It’s like the Pirandello play, in which I have a character — and, also, a title — in search of a story.
Way back when, when writing one of the many drafts of the script for HiM (Hope is Missing), our producer was talking about screenwriting and, in particular, brevity of description. Description in a script needs to be kept lean. Functional without being flashy, yet retaining that most elusive of things: voice.
And in this discussion he mentioned the script for Gone with the Wind, which reportedly relegates the scene of the city of Atlanta burning to a simple two-word description: “Atlanta burns.”
At first I was struck by the simplicity of that as a descriptor — I don’t know if that’s how it is in the script, as I don’t have a copy, but the lesson is still a powerful one…
You can get a lot of mileage out of short, sharp language.
But then I had a second thought:
Man, that’s a great name for a character.
So, I tucked that away in my brain the way a chipmunk squirrels away an acorn in his bulging cheek.
(Can a chipmunk squirrel something? That seems wrong somehow, like I’m flagrantly punching Mother Nature in her leafy, verdant vagina. It also seems doubly unfair to the squirrel, as he can not “chipmunk” anything. Though perhaps the squirrel should just take it as an honor that his actions have earned him verb status? Well. Greater minds than mine will have to ferret out the truth. OH SHIT FERRET never mind.)
Cut to later on, where I was eating at a little breakfast joint in Bethlehem, PA, and I saw on the menu a delightful-sounding item: “Shotgun Gravy.” Sausage gravy over biscuits and home fries.
And again I was like, “Yum,” but then, “Hot damn, that’d make a fine title for a story someday.”
Suddenly, Atlanta Burns — a character without a face, a voice, a life — popped up and I was like, “Ooh! Me me me!” Waving her hands in the air like a needy student. Jumping up and down. Oh-so-eager.
Atlanta Burns and Shotgun Gravy married together in my mind. Fused together.
Character and title.
But no story.
That was, mmm, I dunno. Almost two years ago, I figure.
Over the course of those two years, my brain did its thing, which is basically rolling around my environment like a giant whisky-sodden katamari ball, collecting whatever insane detritus and idea lint with which it comes in contact. Rolling, rolling, picking up crap. Lots of things started to get stuck to my brain-ball: the “It Gets Better” movement, Veronica Mars, Glee, gay-bashing, Neo-Nazis, kielbasa, cyber-bullying.
It was the “bullying” that kind of crystallized for me.
I was bullied as a kid. I think most kids were — you’re either predator or prey in grade school, and your role there is by no means a fixed position. A bully who throws you around at school might get the snot beaten out of him at home — the “kick-the-dog syndrome” laid bare, a cruel infinite leminiscate loop of use and abuse. The bullied often become bullies themselves, and sometimes the bullies end up as the victims.
What I’m saying is: the worm turns.
Any bullying I suffered was never epic — I got jacked against a few lockers, got called names. Early on kids will bully you for anything: I remember someone making fun of the way I chewed in like, 5th grade. That became a thing for a time, and it was nonsensical (turns out, I chew just fine, though that maybe gave me a slight neurosis for a good year or two, thanks, assholes), but it was what it was. Eventually I grew up — literally, as an early-bloomer I got tall for awhile until I got shorter again what with everyone springing up around me — and for the most part the rough-and-tumble bullying fell to other victims.
Thing is, you don’t have to look hard to find bullies. It’s there in the workplace. In the political process. Hell, women, homosexuals, transgendered, developmentally disabled folks, overweight kids, they all end up as the target of some mean-ass shit. Sometimes just hard, cruel words. Sometimes it goes a lot deeper and gets a lot worse. We live in this sort of… predatory world, right? Where the strong try to abuse the weak. Psychologically, physically, sexually. And in a lot of cases, it’s damn near okay. Kansas decriminalizing domestic abuse? The so-called “Protect Life Act?”
Hell, look at the rhetoric often surrounding rape cases: rape victims are forced to run a rough gauntlet wherein they must effectively prove that they weren’t somehow deserving of getting raped. That whole, “Well, what were you wearing?” question. Would it matter if she were naked? Does a low-cut blouse signify a rape beacon, drawing bad men like moths? “She was asking for it.” Yeah, not unless she was actually asking for it, thanks. Nobody ever asks this of murder victims, you’ll note. “Huh, what kind of shoes were the murder victim wearing? Can we just label this a ‘suicide’ and move on? Those are suicide shoes, jack.”
All this stuff came swirling together in my head — and then came the discussions around whether Young Adult books were getting too dark. I wrote a post back then (“Adolescence Sucks, Which Is Why YA Rocks“) which cuts to the heart of it: if YA is reflective of troubled teen culture, then we should embrace that. Because kids want to talk about this stuff. They want to acknowledge it and find power to shine the light of that acknowledgment and bite back the shadows of ignorance, because I promise you that ignorance is far more damaging. Seeing what hides behind the shadows steals the power from the darkness.
And suddenly, Atlanta Burns had her story.
Her story comes from it all: troubled teens and bullying and DADT and whatever. It’s about taking back some of that power, about turning the table on the bullies — but at the same time, that’s not an easy path, and not necessarily a sane path, either. You fight fire with fire, you might burn the whole house down, you know what I mean? Therein lurks a moral complexity and a darkness framed around a teen existence.
Does that make it YA? Does that make it noir? Probably not. I dunno. I’m not sure those terms are even well defined anymore. I know that Atlanta is, in her own way, a bit of a loser — and the book damn sure doesn’t have a straight-up happy ending, and it definitely deals with teen issues. Which is why I think of it as noir-flavored YA, or YA-flavored noir. Or maybe it’s just a story about a girl, her shotgun, and how she tries to protect a couple of friends from bullies.
It’s a bit dark, but I think it’s got some lightness in there, too. Humor and hope, not always completely realized. But in there just the same, struggling to come out. We’ll see if they do.
Because this is only the first novella, as I’ve mentioned. I’ve got more on the way — er, provided this one sells okay. (I won’t lie: the first couple days of sales were okay, but fairly low compared to my other e-books, even compared to Irregular Creatures.) I will ask that if you like the book, I could use you to spread the word. Maybe leave a review somewhere. Hopefully the story works for you. Her story just… tumbled forth, like apples from an overturned bag, and usually I like to think that it means there’s something there, something people might really respond to, but that’s up to you to say, not me.
Hopefully, BAIT DOG — which deals with animal abuse and dog-fighting — will find its way to the light. It’s a hard book to write, but again, one that refuses to be contained.
Thanks for reading.