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.
Violet 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.
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.
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
There’s nothing like a good, old-school revolution to get a story going. Great or small, a lightning coup or decades in the making, needed change or epic tragedy. Revolution, for better or worse, is essentially human.
The idea of a revolution wriggled into my brain some time back. In my fiction usually a form of natural order wins out, often crushing a too-bold POV. Later I began wondering about the true insurgent. Sometimes the natural order wins out only because good hearts fight for it.
One idea grabbed me. Not just any revolution but the Revolution. Socialism turned to its extreme. Far too big a canvas for short fiction, unless a very personal uprising set against a revolutionary backdrop. And so, at a fictional tennis academy in the glimmering Cote d’Azur, a revolution begins.
I’m proud to announce my unabashed romp “Uprisings at Cap d’Antibes” is included with other terrific writing in Lowestoft Chronicle #17. It’s my second contribution to Lowestoft, after last year’s “La Upsell.” If you’re not reading Lowestoft, you should, but only if if you love to laugh through far-flung (mis)adventures. Consistently a wonderful read.
Back to the revolution. “Uprisings” goes back to 2011 brainstorming, insurgents overthrowing a neighborhood association. Say it was a gated community, and the association has become bloated and under the thumb of a busybody who frets over nits like shrub height. I even wrote a few thousand words of something called “May Day.” The main character came, a proto-Dasha freaked out over the revolution’s growing interest in her tennis star daughter when the new boss proved worse than the old boss. The story itself never took off, a too-easy premise and riddled with darlings and design flaws. Point is, the kernel stuck, filed under Good Try.
Last year the idea came back in fits and starts. The opening scene to “May Day” was good, so much so that it bothered me not knowing how things played out for Dasha. The “A Ha!” finally came with seeing the revolution didn’t have to occur in a neighborhood. It could happen somewhere out of Dasha’s element or somewhere she wanted anything but instability. A place. A tennis academy. In France. The Riviera. Feliks the uber-wealthy ex-pro wouldn’t pick the gloomy north to set up shop. Make it Antibes, as swank as it gets, minutes from Cannes.
So. A revolution. Sergei the son and true believer ousts dad Feliks the communist icon turned capitalist mogul. But the story is Dasha’s revolution. Unlike the Karperovs, gentle mom Dasha wants a closer relationship with daughter Hailey (parallelism alert!). She’s a happy second fiddle to her banker hubbie (up parallelism alert level to Orange!) With some massaging, the story fell into line: Dasha must rise up (Parallelism alert code red!). Against Sergei, who wants to claim Hailey as his poster child. Against her jackass husband, who wants tennis stardom for Hailey at any price. Against her meek self, who thought she wanted to breeze through life as a socialite and in the reflected glory of a phenom daughter.
I hope readers take to Dasha. She was fun to write, somebody you’d welcome at a dinner party table. Loving, well-intentioned, wry, but quick to shelther inside her privileged lifestyle. Writing Feliks was a hoot. A man of faded but not lost capability, from whom no combination of words seemed over-the-top. And Hailey is way, way up there among characters I’m blessed to have found me. Machine-focused, except for when she glances needfully at mom in the bleachers. From the mouth of this predatory child could come one-liners and an insensitivity to the contradictions and cruelties around her. She is the monster Tom and Dasha have made. Dasha and Hailey’s mother-daughter moment–after all that it took them to get there–sticks with me as the story’s best moment, maybe poignant in its way. The scene surprised me writing it.
Not to instigate, but I hope folks check out Dasha and her uprising.