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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction This Whole Writing Thing

Stagg, For The Little Guy: Behind “Lord, Spare the Bottom Feeders”

You never hear much about river mussels. That’s even in comparison to other bivalve mollusks. While a river mussel sits in that stream bed cleaning gallons of fresh water daily, water you and I and countless animals straight out of a Disney film depend on, who gets the attention? Clams. Clams have restaurants and packaging named after them. Clams have frigging Venus springing ashore from their shells. And then there’s oysters. To be an oyster is to offer the world. Did you know that river mussels also form pearls? Now you do. Kind of makes you reconsider the river mussel, among the littlest of gals and guys in our ecosystem.

Some may find glory, but there’s no glory or drinking water unless the bottom feeders do their job. Enter Vernon Stagg, attorney for the injured and aggrieved. Vernon’s role in our ecosystem is to land his clients a buck or two upon quick settlement, whether or not their pains and mental anguish are legit. Only a fast buck or two, but it’s a volume business.

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Unless the filtering system gets clogged. In Vernon’s case, a long-term accumulation of ethics sediment in his revenue stream. Oh, there was a heyday when Vernon could go on punching that lawyering ticket. But heydays pass as they do, and here’s Vernon in a reputation-damaged fees crunch. Counsel for the little gal/guy is in trouble–and in that sense, so is the little gal/guy.

This is my second go at Vernon, after 2016’s “The Cumberland Package.” That first try was about force of will, its forgings and its failings. Spoiler-free version: Vernon went through a wringer of his own vacillating will and lack thereof. Choices and his reasons behind them: It’s as good a guess as any for why Vernon works on the page. He’s a bloviating moral compromise–but only so far. Vernon has a code. For a second try at him, I was after his particular sense of right and wrong.

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction

She Who Must Be Seen: Behind “Star of Zoe”

I just have to see her.

How “Star of Zoe” first got going, well, it was without Zoe. Not technically, I mean. I was riffing on this idea, this phrase: I just have to see her. So right there comes a She Who Must Be Seen. A proto-Zoe in the mix. My first riff, though, opened with our point-of-view “I” in the equation, our man-on-a-mission. Jimmy.

He’s banging at a door, desperate. In love, still in love. Being denied entry. What door? Who’s blocking it? Didn’t know, but questions like that are why we riff.

I just have to see her.

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction

When Consequences Are Skunk Apes: “Problems Aren’t Stop Signs”

I like writing about problems. As in, you know, their problematic nature. It’s the stuff of a great story. And I had this idea for a writing challenge: take one self-inflicted problem and make every next sentence add a specific complication. Why, transgression zero’s blowback would mount and mount and surely hit a sublime ridiculousness. In the end that’s what crime and punishment often are, aren’t they? Sublimely human things we did to ourselves.

To be clear, I’m not meaning that each next sentence would deepen a plot element or characterization (or both). Such writing craft proven over the millennia would’ve made too much sense. No, I would daisy-chain every next sentence with a direct new complication to or consequence of what came before. 

The set-up: A small town mayor (eventually our Tori) embezzled taxpayer money as a down payment on snatched-up Panhandle scrubland she believed would skyrocket in value. There’s a water management project set for state funding that will keep her land high-and-dry from the rising Gulf levels. Well, state revenue shortfalls nixed discretionary waterway plans. Open then to Tori in her swamp and hatching a skunk ape craze bound to draw in beaucoup sun seekers and cryptozoologists. She’ll flip that land to resort developers yet. Tori, though, can barely keep her half-brother in the shaggy costume (she’s in charge of whipping up media interest), and mud and snakes and owls abound, and her local paper contact wants to investigate the town finances.

Problems stopped the works. Not Tori’s. Mine. Oh, I

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction

Old Time Religion: Behind “Let It Burn”

First, a numbness. A chill that says you shouldn’t have gone and bit in, that something wicked this way comes. The heat does not flood in, yet. It builds. The nose starts to run, and your voice catches. Your body knows only to sweat. Because it’s too late to run. With Nashville hot chicken, the flames pause just that moment before they consume.

Prince’s hot chicken, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Lately, hot chicken has gone from cult food to kind of a thing. Even KFC is in on it–not authentically, mind you. Lest you think I’m the latest bandwagoneer, my 2015 “Let It Burn” submission to Alfred Hitchcock  beat KFC to the punch by some months. The publishing world is itself a sweet, slow burn.

 

I digress. Lester, the sorta-hero of “Burn,” describes hot chicken thusly: