November 5, 2014

Where Stories Come From: "Crossing McCausland" - TALL PULP

(Revised 03/04/2024)

And now for a new, semi-occasional feature on the blog - since I'm now seeing my fiction published, I'll write some "how-this-story-came-together" essays. (At least one of my publishers had me do that; I'll be sure to write something cool so that you're not getting a blog version of a published essay). And for this inaugural edition of "Where Stories Come From", it's easy - my first published (for pay) short story, "Crossing McCausland", in Pro Se Productions' anthology Tall Pulp.

Ironically, "Crossing" was my second pitch to Pro Se - the first was....well, that's a tale for another time. But I was coming off the euphoria of writing my first professionally pitched story. ("Out There in the Night" from Les Vamps was submitted for a contest, and that original draft....hoo, boy, remind me to always rewrite after a first draft). So in looking at the then-available anthologies, I came across the blurb for Tall Pulp - a mixture of American folklore and pulp storytelling. And so, without further adieu, I went onto Wikipedia to try to find a local, Chicago-based figure like Pecos Bill, or Paul Bunyan...

....and I failed miserably. However, I came across another figure and began developing an idea. However, the research proved too great (after all, I was crafting a pitch and working freelance and seeking work), so I shifted gears and came across an entry for Joe Magarac. At first glance, learning about this "man of steel" was a revelation - he reminded me of my paternal grandparents, offspring of immigrants who held onto values that many may consider old-fashioned. (It also meant that I could easily empathize with the character). Thankfully, I never checked out images of Magarac - in many pictures, he's portrayed as human, but I decided to pursue a route similar to Kurt Busiek's approach in the Astro City: The Tarnished Angel miniseries.

In short, Magarac was a literal man of metal, with no specific origin - I had no intention of writing an "origin" story. (Let the reader sort that one out). Plus, it made much more sense if Magarac had no idea how he came to be, or even if he had a "normal" life. (You may think of it as reality, it was merely sloth on my part to not give him much of a past). Although I considered making him a Doc Savage-type...I kind of preferred the idea of the loner who traveled from town to town, helping hard-working people and....well, living up to the "legend".

So now, where (and when) would I set it? Although tempted to set it in the 1930s, I decided that I wanted to set it in a more "modern" era. Given that Magarac was Eastern European in origin, that meant that the most logical place was the early 1950s. (Yes, I went totally "Red Scare"). Placing him in St. Louis meant that I was sticking him in an already segregated area - municipalities in St. Louis county were growing at a fast rate due to state law. Since the Metropolitan Sewer District was founded in just made a lot of sense. I even went so far as to consult my copy of E. Terrence Jones' Fragmented by Design (now available on Amazon for astronomically high amounts of money) to research the politics and policies. (Luckily, I also served as a volunteer stakeholder for Advance St. Louis, a short-lived attempt to revise the city charter and acquire home rule).

And for those who are wondering...yes, I integrated my love of dry, dusty public policy issues into a pulp story. Where's my cookie?

But after that, crafting a plot wasn't too hard - after all, it's a 1950s version of the classic "evil ranchers vs decent homesteaders" plot, complete with frequent references to Communists. Crafting a villain was easy - after all, I simply broke out a copy of classic Dark Shadows - then the original Rocky - and Thayer David was "cast" as McCausland. (And yes, there is a street named McCausland, which turns into Skinker when you move further north). As far as Rosalie, his companion in crime....well, she only became a companion in crime because I forgot to include an "enforcer", and it simply made sense to combine both characters. (As far as "casting", can guess in the comments. Winners will receive a customized e-mail message from me.)

After that, it was submitted...I went on to a third pitch (which I'm proud of, but I will write about it when it's published), and another great opportunity arose. Once I heard about "McCausland" being published, it was simply a matter of waiting for the proofs, submitting my edits....and getting word via Facebook that the book had been released.

And I'll never get used to seeing my name in print. Never.

But now, the blatant plug - if you liked this essay, go ahead and buy Tall Pulp, either as a trade paperback or in Kindle form. Either way, once you read it, you can decide for yourself whether this essay justifies the care that went into the tale....or is wildly inaccurate. Either way, having a formal document on how this story came to be is always beneficial.

You can find this and other works I've written via my Amazon Author Page. Enjoy! 

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