This week’s guest writer is Edward McKeown. Some of his previous works include the Robert Fenaday/Shasti Rainhell series, the “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess” shorts, the “Knight Templar” fantasy series.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Victory Lap Lyrics
And they say, “Don’t forget where you come from
Don’t die holding on to your words
Cause you know you got a whole world to change
But understand who you got to change first”
We’re all part of the place we come from and it’s part of us. You’ll be a Tarheel forever. You’re a New Yorker no matter how long you are gone for the five boroughs. Other places become part of our identity. We may even come to love them more than our birthplaces, but that initial imprint and those childhood memories stay with us. For a writer, the past is prologue and a rich vein for drawing out the blood of our stories, the background and places through which our characters move and live. They supply a verity to our tales, a point of recognition and attachment for at least some of our readers.
When I decided to do a series of noir-comic detective stories set in the future, I could have created a new world for it. Instead I went with a my old hometown of New York, linking my “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess” series to the tradition of noir films of the 40’s and 50’s such as “Where the Sidewalk Ends” directed by Otto Preminger and starring the well-known noir stars, Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, or Hathaway’s Dark Corner”, and countless others.
New York is one of the cultural capitals of the world. I can capture the context and subtext of all that has gone before in the way of shadowed alleys, trench-coated detectives, hard-boiled cops and the beautiful and mysterious femme fatales. I inherit the mantle of expectations of anyone sitting down to Cain’s “The Postman Rings Twice,” or the Brooklyn Noir series launched by Tim McLoughlin that has spanned most of the major cities of the US and some beyond.
Here’s an example:
Mars Needs Men! By Edward McKeown
Midnight found us with a freshly scrubbed and outfitted Freddie, flouncing happily in a black mini and a red silk top. We ate a mercifully quiet meal at an Irish pub and then headed into the West Village on foot. Many of the old three-to-five story brick homes remained, hunkered under pedestrian walkways leading to larger, modern apartments. The old meat-packing district sat near what had once been the West Side Highway. In the late twentieth century, it turned from honest mob-run butchery and money laundering to sex, drugs and rock and roll. The party had raged one hundred and fifty years, so far.
Then I can twist the tale of the noir genre and have genuine fun with it all.
It was a different ride with Charlotte. True, it’s the biggest city in either North or South Carolina, but Charlotte, for all it is an outrageously pleasant place to live, does not bear the burden or distinction of New York’s reputation for toughness and creativity, nor meanness and character. To the extent that Charlotte has an identity, literary or otherwise, it is for banks, Protestant churches, and a culture of politely pursuing wealth and advancement. Even that is to the limited extent that there is an original culture here. Charlotte is a city of transplants with most of the “new people” coming from the North and diluting the original flavor of the small town it once was.
George Washington famously referred to Charlotte as a “trifling place.” In truth there really doesn’t seem to be a particular reason for there to be a Charlotte. Had it not been for the discovery of gold nearby I doubt that a large city would have developed here. So Charlotte has had to make it without the help of a deep harbor, frowning mountains, or a mighty Mississippi.
Then the focus goes from the macro to the micro. Okay fine, we are not San Francisco, L.A., or N.Y.C., but we are a place with almost one million people. Each person has that capacity for good or evil, for greatness or the dire poverty of the soul. From that web of interactions a city’s character grows, perhaps more subtly, or better hidden, than in the older, more established metropolises.
In a way , Charlotte is a blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled out, without the classic Southern character and Gothic characteristics of Charleston and Savannah that framed “Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil”, or the small towns of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or Norman Jewison’s ”In the Heat of the Night.”
Here a couple of examples of how I had fun doing it.
“Jeremy Leclerc, Knight Templar, ducked behind a pillar to get away from the cold drizzle blowing into South Park Mall’s parking deck. He shivered under his black leather raincoat, but could not close it for fear of slowing the draw of his blood sword. Nor did he want to stand in the shadows with a 30-inch blade drawn. Security at the mall wasn’t good, but the weapon reflected any glimmer of light.”
And another example in the same work, I went further afield, all the way out to the wilds of Dallas, NC, which preserves far more of the original flavor of the area. I was fortunate to have a local guide.
Kudzu Jesus Photo by Schelly Keefer
Samantha Jean looked up at the telephone pole in disbelief, brushing golden brown hair out of her face with a frown. “Rub, you dumb ass. You dragged me out here at nine in the evening to see this?” She folded her arms and glared up at the lean, cigarette-wasted man in his fifties, his faded blue shirt tucked into worn jeans. In the distance a car drove by; its lights briefly illuminated the empty parking lot and the woods beyond. Crickets chirped. Overhead a few bats swooped past the lone sodium light hanging off the abandoned factory building.
Ronald “Rub” Finger shook his head. “‘There are none so blind as those who will not see.’ Open your heathen eyes, girl, and see our Lord.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Rub. It’s a bunch of foliage hung on a pole and some wires.”
“In the shape,” Rub said with some heat, “of our Lord on his cross. Look girl, look.” He gestured upward. “See the head, the spread of the arms and the feet, as if nailed. It’s a sign. A manifestation of the divine, right here in Dallas, North Carolina.”
“Oh, Rub,” Samantha laughed. “Jesus come to Dallas, population 3,200, as a plant? Please.”
“It’s a sign, Samantha,” Rub said sternly. “We are living in the final days. Wars and rumors of war. If Jesus decided to come to Dallas and use the humble kudzu for his body, who are we to question?”
Samantha flashed a rueful smile. “I hate to rain on your Apocalypse, while I grant it kinda does look like a man on a cross, that ain’t kudzu, looks more like poison ivy.”
So should you find yourself as a loss for milieu and your brain strained for a setting, look around, think of your favorite diner with vampires lounging in it, or aliens trying to figure out alternate side of the street parking in a truly gentrified neighborhood two hundred years from now. You will find verity flowing from your metaphorical pen.
For more information on Edward McKeown, find him on Facebook and at http://edwardmckeown.weebly.com or http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004NM9ZU2.