Monday, December 7, 2009

Crime Fiction and Gunners

By Steve Weddle

I showed up late to being a soccer fan. I grew up in the South, where pigskin football rules, so soccer was just foreigners in shorts kicking and diving. Most of that was pretty much a non-starter in these here parts, fella.

(NOT ME: Hey, you gonna be writin about soccer, fancy boy? I thought you said "Sock her." This here's a crime fiction blog, sissy.
ME: Um. Sorry. We're gonna get there.)

I started watching Premier League games, but didn’t have a rooting interest. In terms we can all understand, I liked the genre, but didn’t have a favorite character or author. So I could pick anyone I wanted. Kinda like walking into the bookstore after you’ve convinced everyone to give you cash for your birthday.

So I browsed around the league. I couldn’t pick Manchester United for the same reason you couldn’t pick the Chicago Bulls in the 90s or the Dallas Cowboys of the 80s. I mean, you don’t just go for the NYT #1 bestseller, right? You gotta find your team, someone you can pull for. As Mike mentioned yesterday and Russel added – you gotta find your own people, the folks who speak to you.

I also came late to being a hockey fan. (Foreigners in shorts PLUS ice skates. I mean, c’mon. Try selling that in a bar in Texarkana. The Arkansas side, I mean, not those namby-pamby dilettantes on the Texas side.) I started watching with a dude from Michigan, who introduced me to the Dead Wings. My guy was Dino Ciccarelli, a scrapper with a brutal backstory who hung out in front of the net, took sticks to the back of the head, and terrorized goalies. He never won a Stanley Cup, but it sure as hell wasn’t for lack of trying.

Watching soccer I started pulling for another scrappy guy, Gilberto of Arsenal. He wasn’t the greatest player, but he was a great midfielder with some fancy moves and a brutal backstory. He had to quit soccer in his teens to work in a factory. He didn’t really get back into soccer until his 20s. And he worked hard when he did, standing out for Brazil and Arsenal. No, he wasn’t the greatest player. But he was up there in the conversation.

So those were the two teams I picked as an adult when I had the whole store to choose from – Arsenal and the Dead Wings. The Wings weren’t great, but they were good. They lost in the playoffs every year. (I mean, it’s hockey. Everybody makes the playoffs. Except the Islanders. They stink.) Eventually they won the Cup while I was a fan, a year after Ciccarelli left for Tampa Bay. Oddly enough, Tampa Bay won the Cup after Ciccarelli left. Hunh. Weird. And the Arsenal Gunners are one of the top teams, but have spent the last few years not getting it done, falling to Manchester United and Chelsea and other top teams.

But Arsenal is my team. Oh, they were my second pick. I probably should have mentioned this a second ago since this is pretty much my point. OK. My first pick was Fulham. Yeah, I know. Fulham, right? I dunno. I just saw a couple of games and thought they looked scrappy. But they kept losing. And losing. And bumping around being relegated. Then what am I supposed to do? Watch the Champions League? I don’t even think I get that channel.

No. I don’t mind having a team that loses big games. But I gotta have hope. I have to believe in my team. They have to fight and scrap and make me believe they can win. They have to fight their way up. I can’t root for Manchester United or Chelsea because they dominate. They’re the best. I can’t root for the team that starts out the winner. And I can’t root for the team with no chance of winning. I just can’t. I have to root with hope, with pride, hanging on the edge of the couch with each nutmeg and through ball I see.

Which brings us back to crime fiction. (Thanks for waiting. Need another drink? Hello? Hello?) I don’t want to spoil any of it by naming the book, but I read a novel recently in which the main character needs a car. So he sleeps with a Hollywood hottie and she gives him a car. I know, right? But it totally works in the book because of the context, because the character doesn’t start out a winner. And he’s not a loser.

He’s a guy who has abilities, but who finds himself in way over his head. We’ve talked about these sorts of characters before, right? He’s a pretty ordinary guy asked to do extraordinary things. And maybe he can. But maybe he can’t. And that’s the character I like.

I don’t want to read a book where some Manchester United private eye just hires everything done by using the best stuff he can find. The Man U PI would just peel some cash off his roll and buy an assault team to retrieve the MacGuffin. Oh, and I don’t want the Fulham PI either. She’d just go to the bar to get some info, make a good show of it for a bit, then trip on her way to the can and crack her skull open.

I gotta root for the Arsenal PI, the Gunner. The guy who was maybe expected to do better than he has, who’s been a bit of a disappointment for a bit, kinda underachieving. But he doesn’t give up. He’s scrappy. Sure, he’s a bit of a frickin idiot sometimes and kicks it into his own goal, but he keeps at it eventually makes his own luck. I can root for a team like that, for that kind of character.

Heck, I can even root for a character who has been a loser for decades, but who doesn’t give up and keeps at it, then gets a couple of good breaks and finishes by drinking champagne out of the Vince Lombardi MacGuffin. Geaux Saints.


Have you read someone who wins too much or not enough for your liking?

Have you had to add small wins or small losses to a character you've written to make things believable?


pattinase (abbott) said...

In life, I am surrounded by people who win too much, who have things too easy. In some cases, they are unaware that their good fortune is not due to their own hard work. (Don't take this to mean family members). But in my stories, the characters always are losers. I never thought about it before now.

John McFetridge said...

(I can't see the picture)

The Red Wings are the perfect crime fiction team - with Bob Probert not being able to cross the border for years. Maybe the Devils, there were always rumours about Russin Mmafiya connections there...

But I recently read a book about Terry Sawchuck, the Red Wings goalie in the fifties and there was a story about young Wings players getting cheap rooms from an Irish landlady in return for helping with some "rent collection," from some of her other properties. I pictured early Elmore Leonard novels and these sticthed up goons in cheap leather jackets.

And I've also come to soccer late (even though it really is just socialism). The game can be quite hypnotic with the constant flow of action.

It may be better when more Canadians get involved and divers get their shirts pulled over their head and punched out, but maybe we're all too mature for tha now...

(and I'm old enough to remember Mike Bossy, Billy Smith and the great Islander teams. Hang on while I while I put my teeth in, I'll tell you more...)

Steve Weddle said...

Patti, maybe we like to see winners lose, too, as much as we like to see losers win. Kinda evening things out.

John, Some folks get touchy about linking to their pix apparently and decide to block poor, harmless bloggers from using them. Fine. And we gotta get to writing some hockey good stories soon.

Jay Stringer said...

Always about the Wolves, Weddle. Glorious history, tarnished by decline and bankruptcy, building a comeback on nothing but work rate and commitment. Always one foot in the gutter and the other on the red carpet.

The perfect team for crime fiction.

Bryon Quertermous said...

No soccer. American football. And my team is the Detroit Lions. If other lovable loser teams are like Dortmunder novels where good plans go to hell, the Lions are like a poorly written, self-published Dortmunder tribute novel. No talent, no organization, and only one person making any money off of it.

John McFetridge said...

I see the appeal, Bryon.

I grew up in Montreal int he 70's and the Canadiens were winning the Stanley Cup every year - it was boring.

On the other hand, the Expos were loveable losers, trying so hard but just never catching a break.

But hey, didn't some Canadian guy just buy the Silverdome (for less than my next door neighbour paid for his two bedroom house) with plans to put a soccer team in there?

Mike Dennis said...

I saw a great cartoon titled "The First Attempt To Bring Soccer To America".

Columbus and a couple of his associates are wading ashore in the New World for the first time. Columbus is holding a soccer ball. Three Indians stand on the shore, arms folded. Columbus says, "It's a ball, you kick it..." And the Indian says, "No thanks."