It doesn't feel like the first time, but still...
Yeah, I know. Anyone who glances at my "writing" web site and sees all the reviews and columns and articles I've done over the years, or have wandered through the Thrilling Detective Web Site, and counted how many of those entries were done by me, may be surprised that I feel that way.
But that's all non-fiction. For some reason -- even though it's ridiculous -- for some reason, that writing doesn't feel like "real" writing to me.
It just doesn't count. Not the way fiction does. At least to me.
Ten or so years ago, after a few years of futzing around with reviews and Thrilling Detective, I sucked it up and submitted a story to Kerry Schooley for an anthology called Iced, a Canadian noir anthology. I was gobsmacked when "Two Fingers" was accepted. I was ecstatic when "People Skills" was snapped up by Matt Firth for Grunt and Groan, another Canadian anthology, a short time later.
Yessirree, Bob, I was on my way.
But then my life hit the fan.
When the dust cleared, I was living in California, 3000 miles away from my beloved Montreal and my kids. I was divorced and remarried and broke, stuck in a strange place where grown men put fruit in their beer. Unable at first to find work, I threw myself into whatever work I could get: web sites, editing, and writing for places like January Magazine and Mystery Scene. Turned out I had a knack for non-fiction, or at least could fool editors enough to get paid for it.
But the desire to write fiction burned deep. Diane, my long-suffering wife, aka The Girl Detective, aka Diana Killian, aka Louise Harris, aka etc., etc., kept pushing me. She started a monthly mystery writing group at the local Barnes & Noble as a way to get me (and her father) to write.
So I wrote. Short stories. Novellas. A novel without an ending. More short stories. Some were short and nasty. Some were whimsical. Some might even have been noir, and more than a few were hard-boiled. Some were playful character studies; others boasted tricky O'Henty-style twists. I even created a couple of series characters: a Montreal barfly private eye with a thing for beer and strippers, and an ex-pat Montrealer turned unlicensed Palmdale private eye (Gee, where did I get THAT idea?) and his sometime partner, a millionaire former television cowboy star well into his eighties. The stories came pouring out. and the critiques from Diane and the rest were invaluable. As was the act of critiquing. (If you want to learn to write, critique other people -- and let them critique you).
But I was a chicken shit. I never really completed anything. I never submitted anything. People pushed me, and I resisted. There was always something else I had to do first. A review for The Rap Sheet. A column on biking. An interview for Mystery Scene. The lawn. Running to the bank. The post office.
Then the digital boom came. Everyone was making out like bandits, self-publishing their stories. Most of them were crap, but hell, they were making money. The tales of success were encouraging, and the lack of quality of so many of them was inspiring. Because if they could make money with this stuff, why couldn't I?
I figured ten years was enough. It was time to shit or get off the pot.
David Cranmer had just released another Beat to a Pulp anthology, and it was full of names I recognized. Even some whose work I had edited myself for Thrilling Detective. I got the anthology, and enjoyed it.
"How can I get into one of these," I tweeted. David told me to submit for the next one. The theme was superheroes.
"Yeah, people who dress up to fight crime," he explained.
Ah! That was different. An idea popped into my head. A story of long delayed revenge, revolving around the never-forgiven childhood theft of a stack of beloved comic books, and what happens when victim and thief meet up forty years later.
I scrapped it.
In trying to figure out why the stolen comic books were so beloved, I recalled my own youthful passion for comic books and superheroes. and realized I didn't want to write about a couple of middle-aged fanboys, no matter how homicidal one of them might be. No, I wanted to write about children.
A new idea slowly came into focus. But as I started to write, my generic setting and placemarker kids faded away, and I realized I wanted to write about me: where I grew up, and what it felt like. About a time when kids were allowed to be kids, and parents would let them; a time when kids weren't plugged in 24/7 to one electronic nipple or another. When kids played baseball; not a Wii baseball. When nobody had to arrange play dates, because it was a given that everyday was a day to play with friends. When "friend" was a noun; not a verb, and a best friend was the best thing in the world.
Part of it was homesickness, an affliction I've suffered on a daily basis for about ten years. Part of it was simply nostalgia, and no doubt part of it could be put down to a prolonged mid-life crisis. But there was something in this story that needed telling. Or that I needed to tell.
"The Revenge of the Red Avenger" is my first published fiction in ten years. It appears in Beat to a Pulp: Superhero, edited by David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker. It's available on Kindle for now, although you don't need a Kindle to read it. You can download the Kindle app and read it on your computer or your phone of your iPod or even, by now, your toaster oven. I hope you like it.
Now that the dam has burst, there'll be more.