Here’s a question I’ve been asked by several people who’ve read my debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION: Was the police shooting of a teenager ripped directly from the headlines of the past couple of years?
It caught me off guard the first few times because I'm not an overtly political person. Sure, I follow the news and I have strong opinions about certain issues, but you won't usually see me posting tirades on Facebook or getting on my soapbox at a dinner party.
So while the answer I want to give might be a definitive “Hell yes!”—because that seems like a pretty badass thing to write about—the truth is probably something a little more complicated.
I first sat down to write “BCC” five years ago. At the time, I knew the protagonist, Greg Salem, was going to be a beach cities punk singer who had grown up to become a police officer. I also knew that he would lose his badge, but I wasn’t exactly sure how.
It was probably a year later, and deep into the first draft, when I finally decided to make his fall from grace an on-duty shooting involving a kid. This wasn’t specifically in response to anything I’d seen in the news, but because it seemed like a good metaphor for his relationship with his own troubled youth.
Sadly, police shootings are not a new phenomenon, but in this case I used it more for dramatic effect. The political implications of choosing that kind of tragic event were not lost on me, but it wasn’t the focal point. That’s just not how I approach my writing.
So I had to think about whether or not to submit a story to Eric Beetner's anthology, UNLOADED: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns. I dug the idea and I loved that the proceeds from sales would benefit a worthy cause (ceasefireusa.org). I just wasn't sure that I was the kind of writer to participate for all the reasons stated above.
My knee-jerk response was that it would be much easier to move on and put my energy into another writing project, but that didn’t sit well with me either. Then it dawned on me: Gun violence isn't really a political issue for me, it's a moral one.
Somehow that made it easier for me to wrap my head around the opportunity. From that point forward I focused on the interesting challenge of writing a compelling crime story without using guns.
The result is “Itchy Feet,” the story of a suburban family that’s hosting a yard sale while their lives fall apart. You can cut the dysfunction with a knife, but everybody is pretty much holding it together until a psychotic clown turns up. That’s when the wheels fall off the circus wagon.
“Itchy Feet” is the latest version of a short story I first started three years ago. The inspiration came to me while I hosted a yard sale of my own. I watched the strangers dig through piles of my old stuff while making up stories for them in my head—because that’s what I do.
Whether this anthology will make any difference in the greater debate is beside the point. For now I applaud Eric Beetner and Down & Out Books for putting this anthology together, and thank them for letting me be part of it. I know for sure that there’s a least one person that was challenged by the concept.