Tag Archives: Kentucky

Location, Location, Location

This past week I managed to get the first season of Justified. For those of you unfamiliar with this show, it’s the story of Raylan Givens, US Marshal. At the opening of the series, Raylan is stationed in Miami, and he’s about to kill some drug cartel hit man he’s given 24 hours to get out of town.

Of course, this doesn’t go over very well with his superiors, who remind him that the Marshals haven’t done that kind of thing in about a hundred years. So he’s shipped out of town—back to Harlan County, Kentucky, his home and the one place he didn’t want to go.

I won’t tell you everything about the series. If you want to watch it, I’d hate to ruin it for you. Suffice it to say there’s plenty of crime going on in Harlan County, which is situated in eastern Kentucky and is in the heart of coal mining country. Of course, the coal mining companies don’t drill holes in the ground anymore. Instead, they take the top off the mountains and let the pollution roll downhill into the streams and creeks. There’s plenty of room for stories in this setting, and I’m a big fan of it because of its authenticity. Enough of a fan to forgive them for using areas of Southern California to stand in for Eastern Kentucky. They go to great pains to make it look right (the pilot was shot in Kentucky), and they have to do it for budgetary reasons, so I’ll let ’em slide on this one.

Besides, the stories are just too damned good.

Here’s the thing: I watch it as much to get pointers as I do to enjoy the show.

My major story is set in Arkansas, as you well know if you’ve followed me, but I believe I have trouble keeping it authentic. And I think maybe that happens because I’m too close to the setting.

Years ago, when I made some rather lame attempts at writing horror, I wanted to follow Stephen King’s lead of setting novels in his home state and set my stories in Arkansas. I also made an attempt at writing some paranormal/post-apocalyptic stories that took place in Arkansas. I didn’t feel like I was doing the surroundings justice when I wrote them, and I spoke to a great aunt who was a writer about it. She told me that she wasn’t able to write properly about the hills of Northwest Arkansas until she got away from them, had some emotional distance.

Maybe there’s some merit to that.

Part of Lyle’s initial story is set in Santa Monica. I used it for two reasons: 1) I knew the territory I was gonna write about and, 2) I figured it was a place a drug lord like Chapo Guzman could sneak in and out of fairly easily. I ended up going what I think might be overboard on the descriptions of places like the Santa Monica Pier and the 3rd Street Promenade, and I was able to do it because these areas held fond memories for me and because I had some distance from them.

One of the authors in our group, Pamela Foster, has at least two books set in her home turf of Humboldt County, California. Now, while I can’t speak for her reasons, I suspect loyalty to home was one of them, along with the fact that these stories involve Bigfoot, and Humboldt County is one of the epicenters of sasquatch activity—whether you believe in them or not. I also suspect it was easier for her to put in her descriptions because she’s got some distance from the place (Pam, feel free to agree with or contradict me here; that’s the whole purpose of my posts: to invite comment. Hint, hint). Her descriptive passages are so spot on that I can feel the cold fog roll in off the ocean at night, and hear the drip of water off the eaves.

I’m not sure if I’m capturing my surroundings as well, no matter how hard I try.

How do you do justice to some of the white trash trailer houses here? Or the still prevalent feeling that this is an agricultural state, and that as a result farming is still a major thing?

How do you include apt descriptions of the rolling hills, the dark, mysterious hollers, the way Spring feels so damned welcome after a long, gray winter?

What’s the secret to telling you how it feels to be somewhere and feel like you’re about the only person for miles around?

How do I include that subtle feeling of menace you feel when you’re in certain parts of the countryside, when you just know there’s likely some marijuana moonshiner or meth cook watching you really closely?

I mean, there was a time when, if you spotted a pot patch out in the woods, it was probably a good idea to retrace your steps exactly for fear of tripping a booby trap. There are probably places out there where this is still true.

How do I capture the fandom for the Arkansas Razorbacks that permeates the area? Even if you don’t care a whit for


the Hogs, you can’t escape the bumper stickers everywhere and the Go Hogs boosters that pop up around every corner.

For that matter, how do I capture the atmosphere of Fayetteville, a college town with all the usual liberal trappings of a college town, set amidst a sea of conservative farmers and rural people? Fayetteville—along with Eureka Springs—is a local refuge for neo-hippies, and you see them all over town, driving their Subrarus and Priuses, Love Mother Earth stickers screwing up the appearance of otherwise nice looking vehicles.

And there’s so much more. I’ve not even included the way country music and the lifestyle it describes are pervasive here. It’s hard to go anywhere and not see some 4×4 pickup without a Rebel flag or maybe something across the top of the windshield saying Stone Cold Country By The Grace of God. And I’ve lost count of the number of stickers I’ve seen that say Why, Yes, I AM clinging to my GUNS and RELIGION.

This is the South, baby. Live with it.

So what’s your solution? How do you capture that local feel, whatever your local may consist of? Any words of advice for me or other writers on how to do this when you’re really close to your subject?



100,000 and Counting

Yep, I went over 100,000 words last night, and boy did it feel good. Did it right in the middle of another shoot-out, too, this time in Kentucky (those pesky Johnsons showed up in the storyline again).

As of now, I have no idea how long this thing is gonna end up being. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, so 120,000 might not get it. And it might. I kinda doubt it, though.  What I have in mind is an awful lot of stuff to cram into 20,000 words. I’m afraid it would feel rushed.

Right now, though, it feels good to have passed that mark. to me, that means it’s definitely a sustainable novel (though I’ve had very few doubts on that front anyway). What feels even better is that the people in my writing group liked the first five pages. They like the voice and that the story is told from the opposite side of the law. Sure, my guy is working as an informant, but he’s still not the heroic DEA/FBI/add-your-own-agency-here agent. He’s a guy who’s gotten wrapped up in big events, things he never imagined he’d be involved in.

But isn’t that the definition of a hero? I mean, we see these anti-heroes these days, as though we have reached a point where we’re too good for honest heroes. Well, there’s a principle in modern writing that says we need to portray our antagonists as real people who don’t really stand around in outlandish costumes thinking of themselves as Ming the Merciless, furthering the cause of evil. And it makes sense. As an example, do you really think even Hitler considered himself to be evil? I’m not rationalizing what he did, just using an extreme example (and it is extreme). He apparently thought Jews were evil, and Gypsies and anyone else who didn’t agree with him. But, in his mind, what he did made perfect sense. As writers, that’s what we’re supposed to do with our antagonists, because then the reader understands why they are doing whatever it is they’re doing. It’s not just some blanket reason of “Oh, they’re evil.”

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that sure, maybe my protagonist is a law-breaker, and now he’s getting even deeper into that mindset (that was what he was thinking about in my writing session last night). But he’s still Everyman, caught up in things larger than he ever thought possible, and he’s just starting to realize it.

As I see it, the question I have to answer is: what will he do with that knowledge?

Not sure if I can answer that in 20,000 words LOL.

So there are my Deep Thoughts for this week. I know it’s short, but I have to get on the road shortly for writer’s group.



And the Road Goes Ever On…

Well, since I haven’t updated in a couple weeks, I suppose I should. Pipeline is still going well. I’m over 70,000 words as of last night and I think I’m around halfway through, maybe a little more. I find I have to take breaks, but never more than two days in a row. That means that I’ve managed over 62,000 of those words in 26 days of writing. Probably a record for me. No, no “probably” about it. It is a record.

Feels good to have one rolling along like this. I’ve had so many ideas that seemed to be good and then fizzled out after 50 or 100 pages (or whatever). The downside to writing the way I do. But, the outline method just doesn’t really work for me. Takes out all the spontaneity and I get bored with it. Yes, I still need to have an idea of where I’m going (though I may have had a change of heart on how this one will end), but I don’t need detailed MapQuest directions to get there. If I’d had that, I may not have had that shootout with a whacked-out Kentucky family show up in the story. It just popped up in my head and I used it.

I am getting a better handle on where this story will go, too. The alternate ending I’ve come up with gives me the opportunity for a sequel of sorts if this one is successful (and if I feel like writing one LOL). It will involve different characters for protagonists (yes, more than one). But at this point it’s just something I’m toying around with. The ending for Pipeline could still change back to the original or to something else entirely. Hey, I’m just taking dictation here LOL.

I also am working on an idea for a dystopian novel set in the near future, maybe fifty years or less. Right now I’m just getting ideas that flesh the world out and give it some authenticity. Basically, I started putting a lot of news items together, like the mandate for ObamaCare and several other things the government, and this administration in particular, seem bent on doing to add further restrictions and mandates to us everyday people. No, I do not like the Obama Administration. I didn’t like Bush, or Clinton, and I highly doubt I’ll like whoever replaces Obama (at least I hope somebody does. I’d hate to see him pull a Micheal Bloomberg and get the law changed just so he can serve more than two terms).

Personally, I think authors should do that: make you think. We should come up with “what-ifs” and then imagine some possibilities. I don’t think we should write allegories. If I write this one, it will be primarily for entertainment. Sure, someone could come along and say, “Well, I don’t believe our freedoms will be taken away like that.” If that’s your opinion, you just go right ahead believing that. It’s your right. History will show otherwise, though.

Enough of that. This isn’t a political blog. The point is, for me it makes good material for a dystopian story. Yeah, it’ll probably come out sounding like some kind of conspiracy theorist’s wet dream, but isn’t that what most dystopian novels do? Starting with 1984, all the ones I’ve read have some sort of repressive governmental system in them. And, for all I know, it’ll never get written. Just something I’m toying around with for now.

Other than that, not a lot is going on. I’m still shopping my urban fantasy around. I have two rejections so far, but I think I’ll see a lull in those during the holidays. I got one request to resubmit after the first of the year, and since a member of my writing group was able to sneak one in to a small press mag that was closed to submissions till the first of the year, I get the feeling a lot of them might sort of shut down this time of year. All that egg nog, I would think.

I’ll keep you updated, and you can bet that, if I get a bite, I’ll announce it here.