Monday, March 16, 2015

CROOKED ROADS -- The Stories Behind the Stories vol one

So I thought I'd write a few posts about how the stories in CROOKED ROADS came into existence. Here's the first one.

The collection begins with "The Space Between." Those who know me well know that I'm not partial to writing fiction in the present tense. This story, however, is not only in the present tense, it's also written in second person. It was written, originally, as an experiment while I was held captive by an MFA cult in Mankato, Minnesota. Mankato is a city filled with angry white dudes. They're so angry they drive around town all the time shouting horrible things at people walking on the street. I would always challenge them to step out of their cars/trucks and say those terrible things to my face. Never had a taker. Surprise, surprise. I once saw a group of young white guys shout at a homeless man. Real classy. I started thinking about all the slights you get in life, all the breaks that don't go your way, and how that makes someone become a horrible person. I chose the story as the lead-in because it's quick, it's unusually written (for me), and I think it sort of explains how people end up making the wrong decisions that most of the characters in the rest of the stories unfortunately make.

The next story is "Columbus Day," which was written during one of the darkest times of my life. It's based on a joke I once told about Columbus Day -- For Columbus Day, white families cross the street and break into their neighbors' houses and pretend it's theirs.  Since I lived in Minnesota at the time, I thought I'd give everything a twist and make it some nice yuppies who get invaded by the descendants of Columbus' original victims (I'm not a huge anti-Columbus person, but I'm not going to pretend for a second his 'discovery' of America didn't have some awful consequences for a whole lot of people). It's a very violent, nasty story. I put it second to basically allow the squeamish to bow out of reading the rest of the collection. I don't want someone wasting that much time of his or her life if the end result is just going to be, "I don't like stories like this..."

That bit of nastiness is followed by "No Hard Feelings," a lighter-hearted story about an unfortunate meeting between two dimwits in northern Indiana, a region I like to write about because a lot of my family is from there and it's part of the Rustbelt, which has taken hit after economic hit for the last forty years. I think it's somewhat humorous and tragic at the same time. I like to call this sort of story "brutal comedy."

"American Chivalry" comes next. It's a story I worked on for a few years before finally sending it out. It's about a guy I knew in Koreatown in L.A. He was homeless because of his drinking. He was a very smart guy who'd had a lot of tough breaks in life. Every now and then he'd disappear from the streets and I'd worry something bad might have happened, but then he'd turn up again and tell me about a job he'd been offered, how hard he tried to make it work, and how the bottle wouldn't leave him alone.

The first group of stories ends with "Dumb Shit," a story written in dialect (something that annoys the shit out of the literary crowd and, therefore, is great fun to write). It's a thinly veiled counter-argument to the idea that Mexicans are "taking our jobs." I also borrowed from my experience as a teacher at Crenshaw high school. One of my students was treated the way the Mexican in the story is (my student was a Crip who pissed off some Bloods from Dorsey and paid a horrific price for it). While the student was not a particularly good student in terms of doing homework and studying, he was very mellow in class and never gave me any hassle when I'd ask him to take his seat (he would occasionally just get up and walk around). When my other students told me what had happened to him, I was so devastated I began looking for a new job.

I will continue discussing the stories tomorrow or the day after.

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