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.
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.
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.
Mr. Robert Mangeot, Author of Shameless and Baseless Works of Fiction
Dear Mr. Mangeot:
The venerated and venerable law firm Vernon Stagg and Associates represents the selfsame Vernon Stagg, Esq., a noted figure of legal and civic stature in the greater metropolitan Nashville area. We mean none other than the capitol of the great state of Tennessee. Music City.
As you must surely know, having authored such a mistaken and misguided mischaracterization as “The Cumberland Package,” published in the May 2016 edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, you present to Nashville’s reading and voting public a grievously and grotesquely false depiction of Vernon Stagg. For the legal record and for all other records of important nature, now and in perpetuity, in his representation of Mr. Chit “Big Kick” Bowling, Vernon Stagg at no time and in no way engaged in any of the following: conspiracy to commit murder; Continue reading “Humor: In Which Vernon Stagg Self-Lawyers Up”
A manuscript actually, mine sadly, and fortunately for us all I abandoned it before the querying stage. This was 2011, early yet for me into This Whole Writing Thing. The manuscript was a sort of Westlake-ian, Hiaasen-ian lovechild romp, and no matter what I did, it came out low on cohesion but high on character.
Such as somewhere in Part Two, when one of the baddies, a gold-digger who can’t believe her luck–or abide her fiancé’s creepy attachment–needs a lawyer on her side. The chapter opens with her asking for help busting a prenup, and suddenly this Vernon character Continue reading “Behind: “The Cumberland Package””