Behind: “The Cumberland Package”

IMG_2653 (1) (2)Vernon Stagg was born from a bad book.

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””

Behind: “What Settles After the Stars”

IMG_0953One fated French night in 1700 or thereabouts, so the story goes, Dom Pierre Pérignon was stalking his Hautevillers cellar, turning his bottles, and the great monk decided then was as good a time as any to have a taste. And what he tasted went down crisp and bright and bubbly, the first modern champagne. and he cried out, his voice echoing through the chalk caverns, “Brothers, come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”

A great story, if total hokum. Yep, it never happened, but Continue reading “Behind: “What Settles After the Stars””

Behind: “First Rodeo”

If you were around a century or so ago, and you knew him well, you might call him Bill. On a legal document, William Sidney Porter. If you read any of his 300+ published stories, you knew him by his pen name: O. Henry. The name now commands a prestigious short story award, but more than anything, his work effectively trademarked a device: The twist ending, the literary tie that binds. When you or I try it, the reader calls it an O. Henry twist.

I don’t set out to write twist endings, although it is known to happen. I go for resonance, a finish that hopefully keep the reader’s creative chords humming. With “First Rodeo” I started Continue reading “Behind: “First Rodeo””

Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson”

Fleur de lisViolet Celucci is a better angel and an inner demon. A frigging genius is how Vi might describe herself, a bastion of sanity in a disorderly world, a process improvement-seeking missile. An over-obsessed stickler for efficiency is how she’d never describe herself. Sorry, Vi. The truth hurts, and so can life. Tough as you are, I see the breaks in your armor.

I can write Vi because over the years I’ve worked with my share of consultants and industrial engineers. You know the folks I mean: big-brained and unapologetic process nerds committed to life by timetable. And we need those folks. Process folks dream up boxes that fit our mail-orders just so; they reduce plant emissions and build supertankers; they took our rover to Mars. This month Vi took my story “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson” into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2015 humor edition. The company she and I are keeping there is humbling.

AHM515-finalcoverOkay, I can also write Vi’s craving for order among chaos because some days, at some level, it is also my own. 

We have a Venn diagram overlap, she might say.

Vi sprung from a high-caliber question: what if those big-brained engineers lived every livelong moment the way they worked their flowcharts and daily operating reports? How they shopped, for example, or how they cooked, how they sought–or didn’t–friends and lovers. Surely in the end that kind of quest would make life more difficult. Extra balls juggled, needless battles fought, friends and family distanced. That’s Vi. Her obsession demands she take the hard road to make it more efficient next time. And it might work, if immovable reality ever played along. Continue reading “Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson””