Behind: “Death or Taxes”

Behind the Writing Scenes of “Death or Taxes,” published in the July ’14 issue of Mysterical-E.

Summer 2011: it was that purplish state of dawn. My eyes flew open. My breath caught in my throat. Inspiration had come. It was ready to bubble out, like it or not.

And I liked it. In short order I had finished 1800 words of unabashed crime fiction/ dark comedy, with the requisite twist-em-ups and even a gun. In it a hit man whacked a mob accountant in order to assume his identity and then whack the real target: the U.S. Marshal coming to bring in the accountant. Good tension, wry voice, some turns of phrase, and oh yeah, the gun.

In all It was brilliant…ly inspired crap.

Of course, in 2011, I didn’t see that for what it was. I just didn’t have the experience yet. Which was why off it went to a wonderful outlet I’d just as soon not name (Surely they’ve forgotten, right? Why remind them I did it?). BAM! Rejection.

So I paid Writers Digest to critique it. They said I had the wrong protagonist, that my hit man had no arc. But the Marshal Holden character, that guy had legs. Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of that. So I back-burnered it, convinced the tweaks of brilliance would come.

So convinced was I that I never submitted it anywhere else.

For three years.

By 2013 I had mostly tabled the idea for good, busily writing other and better stories. The witness story could serve as an artifact, of early lessons to draw from and of a happy time in my writing. Thinking back on the first versions now–and I won’t re-read it; no one should–the story did achieve a sort of dubious single effect: the entire thing was a giant darling built to show how clever I and my characters were.

But a funny thing happened. Inspiration has a way of sticking around. It had stored itself in my brain somewhere and slowly leeched back into my consciousness. In stages it occurred to me what was wrong: the whole idea made no damn sense. The hit man had to be a moron to expect such a contrived plan to work, what with the internet and modern law enforcement tools. Then there was this: sure mobsters and hit men are fun to write–which is why too many people write them.  I’m supposed to be creative, right? So go create something fresh.

The story didn’t need tweaks of inspiration. It need to excavate past the crap into what was truly good about idea.

So earlier this year, I tried it again, with a new main character, a new narrative voice and a new story name, “Busy Season” and finally “Death or Taxes.”  Now center stage was Gullett, the even-dirtier partner in the firm and a bumbler with far more depth for arc and potential to connect. Marshal Holden was left as is–why mess with a great character?–and together they made for what I’d always wanted: a claustrophobic showdown leading, as such things do, to disaster.

Sometimes inspiration arrives as a lightning bolt. Sometimes the idea waits as static until properly channeled. For this one I needed three years.

Writing. Most days the most important decision is never to give up.

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