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Posts Tagged ‘ugly and the beast’

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times, I’m a pantser. Stories tend to fall together in random pieces for me, and I work them out like a mosaic. I’ve never successfully created a story out of a linear plan. So having to create an outline for possible revisions of Ugly and the Beast, well, it involves a lot more writing than you might expect from an outline. Basically, in order to figure out what happens next in this outline, I have to write it. Not a full-blown draft, but rough sketches, snatches of conversation, a few images. Something to help my brain understand what’s happening.

Today’s Teaser is a product of this process. How I produce two sentences in an outline looks like this:

***

When we come up over the hill, I seen why all the folks down by the river said we oughtta steer clear of the place. It was fucked up. Like where a tornado comes in and flattens a whole town. Or like them pictures you see of when we nuked the Japs. There wasn’t not one building still standing didn’t look like it hadn’t been shot up, blowed up, or stomped on by Godzilla.

Annihilated

The whole city was that way, big as Dallas by my guess. Miles and miles of jacked up shit, as far as I could see looking down from that hill. Maybe there wasn’t no dragon, but whatever had happened was some kinda serious bad. And whatever it was hadn’t happened real recent either. There was grass growing in the streets and trees coming up outta buildings. I could see how in maybe another twenty years, it’d be fields and woods with bricks poking out of it.

The whole way, as we come down what’d been a big highway, Shona cried and left this trail of sparks behind her. I didn’t care much except as we got further into the city, I could tell people lived there, and I wasn’t crazy about folks seeing her sparks. Nobody come out to talk to us or nothing, but there was little gardens and what looked like rain barrels and tools. The people was either hiding from whatever had did that to the city, or they didn’t wanna be around a filthy fecking crosser like me.

The crying was getting to me so I grabbed Shona’s arm and gave her a shake.

“What the fuck’s your problem?”

“I–I destroyed this. All this,” she said. Leaned into me like she didn’t mind me holding onto her arm.

“Yeah, you and what army?”

“I and my sisters.”

“Your sisters must pack some heavy fire power then, ’cause you wouldn’t hardly kill a mosquito if it was biting you.”

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There was a point in my writing life when I dreamed of seaside cottages and isolated mountain cabins.  Some quiet place to spend a week or two writing with no interruptions.  It seemed like I would really be a writer when I could take a vacation to write.  (Sure, there was the whole “getting a book published,” but that was a given.)

I was wrong.  You don’t have to go to some isolated place surrounded by nature to have a writer’s retreat.  You just have to go somewhere different and give yourself permission to write.  I knew this on some level.  After all, I occasionally go to a coffee shop to write, because it separates me from the internet and my soul-sucking cats.

When my sister was very ill, I went to spend a few weeks with her.  I never expected to get any writing done, but that first afternoon while my sister slept, I sat down at her dining room table and opened my notebook.  I didn’t expect to get much done, but I started writing down a scene that had popped into my head a few days before.  A small ugly girl  was alone in a forest at night, chopping wood.  I didn’t know why, but I needed to find out.  That’s how things always start for me.

Three hours later, I had written seven pages of what would become Ugly and the Beast.

The next afternoon, I repeated it. The day after that, I started in the morning and worked all day.  My sister slept through most of it, with me waking her up on schedule to eat and take her medication.  With only one patient, though, the nurse had plenty of time to write.  By the time I went home ten days later, my sister was on the mend and I had 50,000 words of the book, plus a rough sketch of the remaining pages to be written.  Voilà.  A writer’s retreat.

I did it on a much smaller scale with my recent trip to California.  I went out to visit friends, who are also writers.  In the lulls between eating, drinking wine, and chatting, there was writing.  I didn’t write an entire novel, but I did manage to squeeze in 6,000 words on Lie, Lay, Lain.  (Of course, to be honest, most of this writing took place in a cottage by the sea, but hey, I never ruled that out as an option.)

It’s all about taking opportunities where they come.  What’s your favorite unofficial writer’s retreat?

By the sea

By the sea

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I promised I’d try to run a teaser excerpt that shows Axyl’s alleged softer side.  In the scene just previous to this he and the ugliest girl in the world have sex in the backseat of a stolen Lincoln Continental.  Despite how ugly she is, it goes just fine until Axyl has a pretty sickening thought: is she really willing?  She’s his prisoner and less than half his size.  Maybe she thought saying no wouldn’t do her any good.  This unpleasant realization produces a rare twinge of guilt for Axyl and a rarer emotional outburst. Or as he puts it:  So I was that pathetic loser, who cries when he shoots his wad. I buried my face in her hair and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

***

Stolen Lincoln

Stolen Lincoln

We sprawled across the back seat for a while, not talking. I tried to smooth her hair out, thinking I oughta say something, maybe, “Was that okay?” or “Are you okay?” Before I could, she got herself untangled from me and sat up.

“It’s very messy,” she said. “The book didn’t say anything about that, either.”

“Sorry about that. Here.” I got my t-shirt off the rear dash and handed it to her. It was sticky when she passed it back to me, but I pulled it on, cum stain and all, and did up my pants.

“My hair is wet, too.”

“Like you said, it’s messy. So, what book d’you read?”

“Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Holy shit. No wonder sex wasn’t quite how she figured it’d be. To have something to do with my hands, I got my cigarettes out and lit up. Still naked, Shona leaned over the front seat, gave me a good view of her ass in the moonlight. Nice but reflective white.

“I got your pants here and I think your t-shirt’s in the other floorboard,” I said.

“Thank you.” She took the pants from me, but didn’t put them on. Instead, she sat back down, brought something to her face with both hands, and started in nibbling.

“Hey, Squirrel. You got another apple?”

“No. This is the last one, but I’ll share it with you.”

She gave it to me, and I chomped off a big bite–about a third of the apple–before I handed it back to her. It was weird how she could say something without a word. The way she shifted her head, I knew she was giving me a look like, “You greedy bastard.” After a second, she took a grumpy sounding nibble that made me laugh.

“Why did you do that?” she said.

“I figured I better take a big bite, in case that was the only one you give me.”

“You can have another bite.”

She held it out, as trusting as the first time. I leaned over, but didn’t take the apple, just steadied her hand in mine and took a little bite. Her shoulders softened, the way they did when she smiled. Sitting there naked in the back seat of a stolen car with a convicted killer, eating an apple and smiling. Hell, I liked her.

“Maybe your idea is a good one, too,” she said.

“What idea?”

“To take the biggest bite you can. I always try to make it last, in case I cannot eat for a while.”

“You go hungry?” I said, thinking about how skinny she was. Her wanting the other half of my sandwich but not asking for it.

“Sometimes.” She took two big crunches and tossed the apple core outta the car. “You’re hungry, too.”

“I am?”

“That’s why–.” She reached for my hand and cupped it over one of her little tits. “That’s why you want to do that, to nurse on me.”

When I laughed, she let go of my hand, but I kept it there. Rubbed my thumb over her nipple until it got hard. She shivered. Got me to thinking I was good for another go round.

“Sugar, you got it all wrong. I don’t wanna nurse on you.”  I pitched my cigarette and went to lay her back on the seat, but she had to keep talking.

“Then why do that? I think because it reminds you of your mother.”

“It ain’t nothing to do with my mother. I do it ’cause it turns me on. Besides, I got news for you. All men like to do that. Not just me.”

“But your mother–.”

“You need to shut up about that.” I said it in my serious voice, but she didn’t take the warning.

“You’re angry, but it wasn’t her fault that she never came back.”

“Shut the fuck up, you crazy little bitch. Don’t you talk about my mother like you know anything about her.” I grabbed her chin, turned her toward me, but I couldn’t see her face in the dark and I didn’t know why I wanted to.

“I know–.”

After I popped her on the mouth, she didn’t say what she knew.

***

Hmmm…so that didn’t turn out so nice.  Oh well. That’s Axyl for you.

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In today’s teaser excerpt, Axyl goes to visit some old friends.  And by old friends, I mean people who testified against him and whom he would like to kill.  Only problem, this all takes place two weeks after Axyl’s execution.  People act funny when you’re supposed to be dead.

***

Big Bruno’s Tattoos was off the main drag, in an old firehouse with brick floors in the truck bay. One corner had racks of tattoo flash and in the other corner was a couple couches. Some college kids sat there looking through flash books. On the back wall was a counter with a curtain behind it and from back there come the buzz of a tattoo gun. When I walked in, a woman stepped out and said, “Hey there. Can I help you?”

She was pasty white like Shona, but covered in tattoos. She woulda been pretty enough, except she had about a dozen things pierced through her face and she talked with a lisp from the stud in her tongue. As many nuts and bolts as a hardware store. Made me think fucking Shona wasn’t bad. Hell, I’d put a bag over tattoo girl’s head if I was gonna fuck her.

“Yeah, I’m here to see Scott. I think me and you talked on the phone.”

“You must be Axyl. I’m Monica. I’m Scott’s girl–I was going to say that I’m Scott’s girlfriend, but we got engaged two weeks ago. So I’m Scott’s fiancée.”

“Congratulations. Which of them is your engagement ring? The one in your nose?”

It was an asshole thing to say, but she laughed and flashed me a diamond on her finger. She leaned toward me over the counter and said, “So, you knew Scott in high school?”

“Yeah, we go way back. Knowed him almost twenty years.”

“What was he like back then?”

See how we was already buddies? Me and Scott’s fiancée having a little chat.

“He was a geek,” I said.

“Oh my god. I knew it. He won’t show me any pictures from back then. He says he doesn’t have any. You have to give me all the dirt on him, okay? Promise?”

“Yeah, sure.”

She grinned. “Let me go tell him you’re here.”

BuzzBuzzBuzz

BuzzBuzzBuzz

A minute later, from behind the curtain, I heard Scott say, “Don’t fucking joke about that, Monica. You think that’s funny? Can you see I’m trying to work here?”

“I’m not joking. He said he was a friend of yours from high school. Is there a problem?”

“Yeah, some asshole is trying to mess with me and he’s going to get his ass kicked.”

I woulda loved to seen that, because Scott couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. I was always the muscle in that crowd. Him and Joel liked to talk shit in bars, but whenever some pissed off guy come over to shut them up, it was my job to stand up and scare him away.

The tattoo gun went quiet and then Scott pushed open the curtain and stepped around the counter. He said, “Which one of you fuckwads is calling yourself Axyl Witt?”

That was my first look at him since my trial. He looked about the same, a little heavier. His hair was less blond and he was starting to lose it in front. Had a ring through his nose like a bull.

Scott, though, he went from tough to pudding in the time it took him to figure out it was really me. He staggered back against the counter and knocked a styrofoam cup off. It popped open and chunks of ice scattered all over the floor. Reminded me of how Jenny McClure dropped her Big Gulp cup after I shot her boyfriend.

I stepped up and grabbed Scott, hugged him like he was my long lost brother. Like I wanted to break his fucking back. I squeezed him so hard, I felt his heart pounding against me, felt when his knees went weak and I was actually holding him up.

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I’m playing along with Teaser Tuesday this week, so here’s a little excerpt from Ugly and the Beast. A rare moment in which Axyl restrains himself.

***

“Oh, things is bad here, too. The water coming out that tap right there, it don’t be fit to drink half the time,” Aquena said.

“It’s all them chemicals,” I said. “You got any idea how much pesticides and fertilizers farmers put on crops? When I was a kid, we had a whole goddamn barn full of them chemical drums, and we’d spray it on like you wouldn’t believe. Then every time it rains, that shit runs right down into the aquifer. That’s what’s in your water.”

The kid leaned over to Mervin and whispered something. Mervin smiled and said, “That just the way he talk, little man.” Seeing that I’d caught him, he said, “He think it funny you talk whiter than his daddy. You know, cuz yew tawk lack uh cowboy.”

“How come that’s funny, kid?”

“You not a real cowboy,” Wynton said.

“How do you figure? I can ride a horse and rope a steer. Can you?”

“No.”

“Well, I guess that makes me a real cowboy, don’t it?”

“But you sound funny.”

“You know what, Wynton?” I put down the rib I’d been gnawing on and wiped my hands off. “I killed guys for less than that.”

Mervin, Wynton, and Aquena laughed, but Smiley didn’t. Neither did I.

“Really?” Wynton said, his big brown eyes going back and forth between me and Smiley.

“Yeah, really.”

Still laughing, Aquena swatted my arm and said, “Don’t you scare my baby.”

“I’m just shitting you, kid. I never killed nobody for making fun of how I talk. Thought about it a time or two, but I’ma give you a pass, seeing as how you ain’t even outta grade school yet.”

I laughed and everybody else did, too. Except Smiley. He knew me. Maybe I never killed folks over that, but I sent a few guys to the hospital and the dentist.

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It’s spring break here, which means nothing is happening at work. To pass the time, I decided to borrow Vanity Fair‘s “Proust questionnaire” and see what the main character from Ugly and the Beast had to say.

***

Long suspected of being an enforcer for the Caridad drug cartel, Axyl Witt was convicted of five homicides in 2002, including the murder of a young woman and her unborn child, a case that later led to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Witt was sentenced to death for those killings, and has spent six years in H-Unit, Oklahoma’s death row, pending the outcome of appeals. On the eve of his execution, the 33-year old shared his thoughts on friendship, death, and true love.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Not being here waiting to get dead, that’d be a start. I guess a good day would be like a day where you do some work. Nothing too hard, but just so you felt like you’d done something worthwhile. Then come in and have some supper, have a beer, listen to some music, get laid. Not just, you know, getting laid, but being with a girl who’s into me. This girl I know, if I could be with her one last time, that’d make me happy. She knows me and I think she still likes me, which prolly just means she’s crazy.

What is your greatest fear?
Ah shit, I ain’t afraid of much. This stage of the game, I ain’t even all that afraid of dying. Wouldn’t do me no good if I was.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Genghis Khan. He’s a bad motherfucker, right? What’s that supposed to mean anyways? Who I’m like or who I wanna be like?

Which living person do you most admire?
Muhammad Ali. Even though I think he was stupid to change his name. Cassius Clay was a kick-ass name. He’s an old man now, but I like how he didn’t take shit off nobody. He pretty much did what he wanted and everybody else could go hang.

What is the trait you most dislike in yourself?
I dunno. Prolly not the one I’m s’posed to, which is why I’m here. Wish I had a better handle on my temper. Shit gets me riled that I oughta be able to walk away from.

What is the trait you most dislike in others?
I fucking hate backstabbers and people who are two-faced. Folks who say one thing, do another. They act all like they’re your friends, and then turn right around and screw you over.

What is your favorite indulgence?
Uh, sex. And not just ’cause I been locked up in here so long. I like to fuck. Every which way. Shona, the girl I told you about, now she ain’t nothing to look at, downright pug ugly, but she’s crazy in bed. She don’t go for all that romantic bullshit or make me jump through hoops or nothing. A lotta girls got this whole deal, like I gotta figure out what’s the magic word to get them in bed. They act like hookers, like you gotta say the right thing even if it’s a lie, or you gotta do the right thing, or buy ‘em something nice. And it’s all about paying them for their trouble. Shona, though, like if I say, “Let’s fuck,” she just shucks outta her clothes and gets in bed. Plus, she’ll try anything and she ain’t ashamed to say what gets her off.

What is your favorite journey?
I like driving, don’t matter where. Just being on the road is good, eating up the highway.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
People who think just ’cause they’re polite or got good manners that they’re good people. These assholes who talk shit about you behind your back, but then they’re all, “Oh, Mr. Witt,” and “thank you,” and “please.” What’s the point?

On what occasion do you lie?
Whenever the hell I need to. I’ll lie to anybody I think don’t need to know about my shit. And that’s most folks these days. Lawyers, shrinks, reporters, cops. I mean, what’s it benefit me to spill my guts?

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I never had no trouble getting women, so I guess I look alright. Or is that s’posed to be some kinda deal where I tell you how I wish I could pass for white? ‘Cause I don’t give a shit. I guess a few times, mostly when I was in court, I wished I didn’t have these tattoos. People look down on you for that kinda thing.

Which living person do you hate the most?
The most? Oh, fuck, there’s a whole shit-ton a people I’d just as soon shoot as look at. Hard to pick one.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Fuck shit fucking fucked goddamn motherfucking shit. Had a girlfriend once tried to get me to cuss less. Didn’t work out.

What is your greatest regret?
Aw, Christ. For real? I guess I’m supposed to say, ‘I wish I hadn’t killed them people,” but it ain’t like I was killing nice people. A guy like Vince Marquardt, that was a what-do-you-call-it, a fucking public service, me killing him. I wish I’d done better by Shona, that’s about it. Wish I hadn’t let myself get used by people like Anthony Caridad.  There it is, I said his name.  What’s he gonna fucking do to me now?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
No sense talking about bullshit like that. You know, Shona, she’s worth more than everybody I know put together, and I’d do anything I could for her, but “love of my life” don’t mean shit. If I could still do anything for her, I would, and I guess that’s love.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I was smarter. Maybe I wouldn’t be here if I had more brains.

What is your current state of mind?
Pretty calm. They tried to give me a pill a while ago, guess they thought I’d be feeling antsy, but I don’t really.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t guess I got one. I figure after I’m dead, nobody much is gonna remember me. Except for the folks who want me dead, and the way I see it, they’re headed for disappointment. Killing me ain’t gonna fix whatever’s wrong with them.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
That’s a dumb fucking question. I don’t really believe in that shit, but probably a dog. Which wouldn’t be too bad. I like dogs okay.

What is your most treasured possession?
Nothing. You looking at everything I own right here. Clothes on my back. Hell, I guess they ain’t even mine. Property of the State of Oklahoma.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Ever reached a point where there wasn’t one person in the whole fucking world who cared if you lived and whole lotta folks who wanted you dead? Yeah. That’s about all I got to say on that.

Where would you like to live?
Just about any place that ain’t Oklahoma or Texas.

What is your favorite occupation?
Same as the other one: fucking. I like to read okay, but give me a choice between a book and pussy, I’ll take pussy every time.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Depends who you talk to. Prosecutor at my trial said I was a dangerous, violent psychopath. I guess I am violent. Dangerous, okay, but I ain’t a psychopath. I been told I’m a smart-ass.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
I like a guy who’s upfront. Don’t jerk you around or stab you in the back.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Nice tits and ass. And I like a woman with a soft voice. Somebody you can listen to talk. And I like a woman who’s honest. A girl who ain’t afraid to tell me what’s what. She don’t gotta to tell me what I wanna hear, as long as she don’t bullshit me.

What do you most value in your friends?
When I had ‘em, I liked folks who was loyal. People you could trust. Which is why I only got the one friend left, because all the rest of ‘em used me like a fucking doormat.

Who are your favorite writers?
I like reading National Geographic. I like Norman Mailer. Stephen King and Elmore Leonard. And the guy who wrote that book Marathon Man, and that other one about the kids who go crazy on the deserted island. Sucks to your ass-mar. I don’t remember his name, but those was both good books. You know what I hate? Books about lawyers and serial killers.

Who is your favorite fictional hero/heroine?
James Bond, ’cause he’s always got shit figured out. He ain’t really a nice guy, but he does okay. And I like the woman in those Alien movies. She’s fucking tough, but it was stupid to go back for the goddamn cat.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Hell, I dunno. Abe Lincoln, I guess. I can’t think of nobody who’s alive.

What is it that you most dislike?
Bullshit. Screwing around, wasting time with bullshit. Just like this. Why’d I gotta sit around for five days, waiting to die? Oughta just walk me outta my cell and take care of it.

How would you like to die?
You trying to piss me off? Not by lethal injection, I’ll tell you what. I wish I was in a state that still had death by firing squad. I’d rather take a bullet than get a fucking needle full of poison. As long as it was a good shot, I’d take that anyways. Better than getting cancer or something.

What is your motto?
Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

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I’m rarely surprised when I encounter writers who say, “I would never write a sex scene. Just fade to black.” I’m sometimes a little surprised by readers who say, “I won’t read anything with graphic sex.” (Because frankly, reading a sex scene is easier than writing one, let me tell you.) I’m not even that surprised when I come across an article that decries the tawdry new trend toward graphic sex in books.

Surprised, no. Disappointed? Oh yeah.

Who among us does not love sex? Oh, sure, there are those rare fern-like creatures who shy from the very suggestion of their genitals coming into contact with another person’s genitals, but aside from that, the vast majority of humans like sex. Love sex. Obsessivly think about sex. How to get it, where to do it, and what to do once they’ve got it.

We did not reach a global population of more than 6 BILLION people by saying, “Ew. No, thanks” to sex. Nor did we get there because everybody wanted a baby. We got there because sex feels good and people don’t just like it. They use it as the answer to all kinds of physical and emotional needs they have.

For that reason alone, writing about sex seems important to me. I think a lot of squeamish readers come to the idea with the presumption that every sex scene is erotica. Most writers who write sex outside the erotica genre, however, approach it as they do any other activity, as another opportunity to reveal character. If you look back on your sex life, you know it’s true. The way people have sex says volumes about what kind of people they are and what kind of relationship they have with their partner(s).

Sure, the goal of sex for most people is primarily pleasure, so a lot of sex scenes are arousing, but they can also be awkward, uncomfortable, sad, angry, humiliating, funny, just like sex is in real life.

I ended up having to tackle this issue a lot in my most recent project, because my main character has been in prison for seven years and five of that in solitary. Freed, he has sex on the brain. (Not that it’s exactly a departure from his personality before he went to prison.)

More difficult, he’s a beast. (Hence the title, Ugly and the Beast.) One reader said, “Axyl is Conan, only without the PG-13 rating. Dude is straight-up NC-17.” (One intrepid reader, whose personal life I wonder about, said, “Am I the only one who wanted to date Axyl?”)

Writing the beastly part was easy. Put him in a cheap motel room with a girl he previously deemed “too ugly to screw on a dare,” and he changes his tune: Honestly, from behind she was better than lots of girls I’ve fucked. Nice little ass and no ex-boyfriend’s name tattooed on her.

Easy enough to write a guy whose outlook on the world is this: In my book, a girl gets in bed naked, she’s open for business. I wasn’t so tired I was gonna turn down the invitation, but she slapped my hands away.

Except nobody is that guy all the way through and through. Axyl is an asshole, but he’s not some cardboard cut-out baddie. He’s fighting this feeling of worthlessness and an emptiness he’s been trying to fill up with sex. As much energy as he puts into getting laid, he’s rarely completely happy during sex.  Even with the ugly girl, he wonders if she really wants to be there.

I wanted to kiss her, but when I got the hair outta her face and got her mouth under mine, her lips were tensed up, closed. When I tried to get my tongue into her mouth, she turned her head away. Axyl’s first thought isn’t the obvious one: no one’s ever tried to kiss her before. His mind automatically jumps to the conclusion that she doesn’t want to kiss him.

These are all rather tame examples, since I didn’t want my blog to turn into a NSFW pr0n-fest, but they get at the heart of why I think sex, and explicit sex, is valuable in novels. If characters are going to have sex, why hide it behind a curtain? It leaves a gap as surely as narrative summary in the place of dialog can. Don’t tell me, show me what the characters are like in bed. I swear, it’s only about 19% prurient interest. ;o)

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As soon as I found out about it, I become a fan of the blog Shrinking Violets.  It bills itself as “Marketing for Introverts.”  Just what I need. I’m sure all the teenagers and felons who watched me do condom demonstrations over the years wouldn’t believe that I’m an introvert, but I am.  The condom lady–that was just a role to play.  Me, the real me, is a quiet, reserved person.

Shrinking Violets recently had a guest blogger, C.J. Lyons, who writes medical suspense novels.  She also has some interesting observations about identifying and solidifying your “brand” as an author.

We’ve all watched commercial properties go through branding changes with varying degress of success and failure.  Remember when Phillip Morris changed their name or when Coke changed their recipe?

It’s strange to think of my writing in this light, but it is a product.  I am trying to sell it.  It has left me wondering what my brand is.

Obviously, I’m not flashy, as you can tell from the plain design I picked for my website.  Nor is my writing flashy.  On occasion I engage in verbal pyrotechnics, but those darlings usually end up drowned in the bathtub of revision.  I like my prose to be solid, practical, and easy to understand.  Primarily, I think that’s because I want people to think about the ideas behind the writing instead of the writing.

My website design reveals another aspect to my “brand” that I haven’t given much thought to.  Apparently I’m a “regional writer.”  I’ve written plenty of stories that take place outside of Kansas and Oklahoma, but I do find that my best short stories develop out of the rather narrow locales of my childhood.

Even when I step outside of Kansas, as I do when I write fantasy, I find that the dry pragmatism and deep passions of the place sneak into the cultures I make up.  The abolitionists who fought in the border wars and the people who stayed through the Dust Bowl crop up in places I never expected.

Also, I love intimacy.  (And by intimacy I don’t just mean sex.  Although I don’t shy away from including it where it fits and where it develops the characters.)  It’s more that I like stories told in close-up, to use a camera analogy.  I quickly lose interest in stories, reading and writing them, that are told in the long view.  Although I prefer third person to first, I like a very close third.  In stories of grand scale, I want the main action to play out in a narrow room with two or three people intensely interested in that moment.

There’s a dark element in my writing, too, that surprises a lot of people.  Betrayal, isolation, disappointment, and cruelty all make their way into my stories.  It’s what I always think of as the Peyton Place Factor.  In isolated places, people become dark, strange, secretive, and intent on their desires.  Yes, even the wholesome young men who stop to help when you have car trouble, and the little old ladies who cook at church suppers, and the nice neat Christian families who eat across from you at those same church suppers.  They’re all hoarding secrets: meth addictions, shameful lust, decades-old jealousies, crushing disappointment, daily revenges on petty slights.

In some ways, it all comes together in the novel I currently have out with a few agents.  I call it Ugly and the Beast on the days I love it.  Blackneck on the days I hate it.  Depending on who reads it, the book is perhaps urban fantasy that takes place in rural Oklahoma.  Or it’s literary with elements of magical realism.  Cormac McCarthy smokes a bong with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Despite my original intentions, it has a deep vein of politics on the issue of the death penalty and a parallel track of folkloric whimsy.  The Executioner’s Song meets  Snow White.

Its main character, Axyl, could be my half-brother: a boy who grew up isolated among well-meaning people, with a basic notion of decency that hasn’t stopped him from killing people.  Carrying secrets and longing to find someone to tell them to.  Trapped in a cycle of betrayal and always looking for the joke that will make it okay.

Austere, dark, funny, in close-up.

What’s your brand?

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