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Greetings to everyone who regularly or irregularly reads this blog. As we launch into the month of May, an exciting time for me, I wanted to take the time to discuss the projects I’m working on and provide a short update on what to expect in the coming weeks.

With regard to Counted Out, the ongoing saga of Michael Hill and Marshall Ellis’ redemption in the world of professional wrestling has been a welcome change of pace. Writing it weekly has been a challenge and the format has given me avenues to write in a way that is noticeably different from my typical process.

The story will be taking a hiatus this month as I finish work on a project that I am infinitely proud of, the sequel to 2015’s One Fate for Failure.

That novel, Too Close to Kill is in the final stages of development. That means proofing, editing, revising, formatting, and designing the final print editions. I want my focus to be entirely on ensuring the success of that project, which means my other work will have to take a slight downshift in pacing. I will still be working on Counted Out, I simply will not be publishing the chapters until June rolls around. This will allow for more careful deliberation in the development of the story, hopefully resulting in a more enjoyable end product.

Expect notes and updates about Too Close to Kill to populate the blog until its eventual release this summer. You can grab a copy of One Fate For Failure now to prepare for the follow-up. The next book is bigger, bolder, and better in every regard. I can’t wait to share it.

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

10


Chapter VI

Michael Hill found himself looking at the assemblage of talent gathered in the conference room and had to push down the urge to vomit. The looks he was getting from Trent Travers and Jack Van Jones were enough to drive a murderer to confess. He had not known if Travers would have accepted his call. Of all the former guys who had worked for him, Travers had probably done the best for himself. The podcast he ran got major attention even outside of the usual professional wrestling circles. Michael Hill hoped that whatever new crossover audience his former midcard staple had been able to generate would transfer over to his new venture. He did not tell this to Trenton Travers because Travers had plenty of reasons to hate him already and he did not need to add fuel to a fire that he was hoping would eventually burn out.

Marshall sat by himself in the corner of the room, back to the wall like an old-west lawman hoping to avoid being ambushed. The others gave him a friendly nod as they entered the room but nobody approached him. They didn’t know how to talk to him. Should they act like nothing had changed? Should they tiptoe around the glass shards of the past, careful not to touch an exposed nerve? They obviously felt it was better to not speak to him at all.

The only person who had even said hello was Nicki and that had been brief and professional. She mirrored him, taking a seat at the back of the room in the opposite corner. Two loners isolating themselves and trying not to make waves.

“Alright,” Michael said standing at the front of the room and adjusting his tie. “Before our contact from the network arrives I would like to thank everyone for coming to this meeting. I know that some of you have ample reason to balk at ever being in the same room with me ever again. That’s fair. I acknowledge that. I want you all to know that I get it. In a lot of ways I failed the people in this room. My downfall was a result of my arrogance. And if it only affected me, it would have been fair. But everyone here ended up as collateral damage.

“Everybody in this room was in the building that last night. Everybody here saw what happened. You all noticed that Marshall is here too. If there is anybody on the planet who deserves to hate me to my core, it is Marshall Ellis. I am going to be completely honest here; if Marshall had not agreed to come, I probably would have called this whole thing off. What we are going to try to build is special. Unlike anything that has ever been done with our brand of entertainment. It doesn’t work without him. And because he is going to be such a cornerstone of this new endeavor I want to take the time to, first, thank him for being here, and, second, encourage the rest of you to remember that regardless of what may have happened between all of us, we share a story. Now comes the part where we write some new chapters together.”

Trenton Travers stood up and raised a hand in front of himself, like a cop directing traffic. “That’s great Mike,” he said. “I love the sentiment and I am actually happy to see so much of the old crew together. I think most of us here have at least tried to remain close. What I am worried about at this moment is opening a can of worms. Lord knows that Marshall and I haven’t always been the best of friends but I sure as hell respect him. And the last thing I want to see is him crucified by the media anymore than he already has been. I appreciate your dedication to your people, Mike, I really do. But you’ve gotta ask if you’re helping or hurting.”

“I appreciate your concern Trent,” Michael said. “But I have a handle on this.”

“You said the same thing two years ago,” Trent replied.

“Do you really want to go there?” Michael asked.

“It’s pertinent,” Trent said. “You wrote checks with your mouth that you didn’t have the capital to cash. Most of the people in this room walked away just fine. But your boy back there? He was the one who took the hits. Judging from the look of him, I don’t know if he can take those hits again.”

“He won’t have to,” Michael protested.

“He’s a damned lightning rod, Mike.”

“I don’t need to be coddled, Trent,” Marshall said leaping from his seat so fast it toppled the chair. “I appreciate your concern but let’s get one thing straight here; I’m here because I want to be. If I could have faded away and let the IWPA survive without me, I would have done it. But things didn’t work out that way. And after what happened, it never would have been the same anyway.”

“No disrespect Marshall but I think you’re just so eager to reclaim your glory days that you aren’t thinking about how dirty this could get.”

“This isn’t about glory, Trent,” Marshall said. “Not for me at least. Why are you here, though?”

“Gentlemen!” Michael shouted, attempting to wrest control back from the two titans dominating the room. “I know emotions are running high. But nobody is here against their will. And whatever reasons anyone has for coming are their own. What matters is that we are here. And if anyone wants out, nobody has signed anything yet and you can walk away right now. If you have reservations or concerns we can address them, but the only person who can make the decision as to whether you will stay in this room is yourself.”

“That is technically true,” a voice said from the doorway. The room collectively turned to see Ms. Green standing with an attache case in one hand and a latte in the other. “However the decisions as to whether you remain a part of this project are also made by me. For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, My name is Alexandra Green and I represent the network side of this project. I have supreme confidence in Mr. Hill to establish a compelling and engaging product. What I do not have confidence in is the ability of the personalities in this room to coexist peacefully.”

“Ms. Green is the one who ultimately gave this whole project the green light, no pun intended, and I trust her instincts. While you may be able to manipulate me because I give a damn about each and every one of you personally,” Michael explained. “She will be less inclined to be suckered in by your bullshit.”

“The people in this room are people who Michael or I believe need to be the foundation of our creative project moving forward,” Green said. “Marshall is the lynchpin, obviously. He’s the hook. Everyone in this room has a different part to play. Marshall can’t anchor the show himself. He needs a foil. He needs an antagonist, someone to fight over the sole spot at the apex of the mountain.”

“That’s going to be you Ace,” Michael said.

Suddenly the room buzzed with an air of electricity as Trenton Travers once again locked eyes with Marshall Ellis. Had things escalated moments earlier they may have started trading legitimate fists, and here they were being told that they would be working a main event program together. The energy in the room had unexpectedly changed in dramatic fashion.

“I hate to be that guy,” Trent said. “But we need to talk money. If I’m going to be carrying the top of your card it means I give it one hundred percent. That means I have to cut back on my personal projects. You’re going to have to be able to cover the revenue loss and then some.”

“We have money,” Michael said.

“You will be well compensated,” Ms. Green continued. “The network understands the value of your names. That is why you are all in this room right now.”

“You’re going to anchor an entire show around three people?” Jack chimed in.

“I’m here too, by the way,” Nicki interjected.

“Right,” Jack said. “But we’re not working a program together. The ladies’ roster is a whole different thing. You know you were the only one worth a damn back in the day, don’t get it twisted. What I mean is you’re gonna elevate whoever you work with. People will buy it. Me? If we’re talking the value of a name, mine doesn’t have much to the people who watched IWPA outside of tag stuff. So if I’m one of these ‘cornerstones’ you are so big on, I don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“There’s supposed to be one more person here,” Michael said. “I’m a little disappointed that he isn’t. But Jack I have to say that two years is a long time in our business. So much changes in twenty-four months. You’ve got indy cred now that you didn’t the last time you were on TV. I read what people say on the internet. I shouldn’t, but I do. And people want you to get your shot. That’s why we’re going to push you. We have to start thinking of what we do in terms of ‘seasons.’ That’s how we’re going to structure this whole thing. Year one, we do a slow build. Establish you as a contender. Make the fans want to see you succeed. We break their hearts when you get close but can’t seal the deal. We make that moment when you take your spot at the top mean something.”

“What if the people don’t buy into it,” Jack asked. “You can’t force things on these people. They will turn their backs on me outright if they don’t feel it.”

“We will make them feel it,” Ms. Green said. “You have the talent. You are going to carry the mid-card of this show until the time is right.”

“So who didn’t show up?” Trent asked. “And can you really trust them if they can’t make it to this meeting?”

“Sorry I’m late,” another voice called from the doorway.

“Thank you for coming Pete,” Michael said.

Pete “Painkiller” Patton tossed his gym bag at the front of the room and glided past Michael and Ms. Green to sit next to Jack Van Jones. Painkiller Pete had a reputation as one of the stiffest workers in the business. He was the elder statesman of the old IWPA locker room. A good handful of the wrestlers who had worked with him despised him. It was accepted common knowledge that Pete Patton was only ever looking out for Pete Patton and wouldn’t do anything in the ring that didn’t make him look good. If you were going over on Painkiller Pete, he wasn’t going to make it a fun experience. He also had been around the block long enough to garner the sort of clout that makes people overlook the fact that you’re an asshole. Doing business with Pete Patton was just something people had to do.

“It’s good to be back Mike,” Painkiller said. “Doing half-assed indy shit just doesn’t appeal to me. Big leagues or nothing, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I don’t imagine you do a lot of repeat business with indy feds.”

“You know you’re right,” Pete replied. “I’m a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of those guys.”

“You are unique,” Travers said. “Nobody ever disputed that.”

“Alright guys,” Michael said. “Listen up. If you’re in this room it is because you are going to be carrying your respective divisions. While Marshall and Ace tear up the main event fighting over our brand new world heavyweight title, Jack and Pete will be carrying the mid-card and duking it out over the Television championship. It’s a new belt that we’re going to use to replace our old mid-card title. We’re going to tie it to the fact that we’re on a paid network and so it can only ever be defended on broadcast. You wanna see the TV champ, you gotta pony up the dough to watch the network.

“Nicki will be the rock we build our women’s division around. I’m putting out feelers right now for interested workers. If you know someone that I don’t, give me their number and I’ll run a try-out. When we go to production we are going to run a four week tournament for the world championship. When someone gets knocked out of contention they fill a loser’s bracket for the TV title. These stories are going to build off of each other. Nobody is going to want to miss a damn episode.”

Trent raised his hand like a schoolboy.

“Ace?”

“How long until we go to production?”

“Two months,” Ms. Green answered, cutting Michael off before he could reply.

Marshall and Michael locked eyes from across the room. Marshall offered a raised eyebrow which was repaid with a cursory nod.

“The locations for the first shows have already been booked,” Michael said. “When we get rolling we’re going to be playing very small venues. This is a risky venture and we want to save our production budget. We’re going to focus on the stories, not selling out arenas. The two months is so we can expand the roster, pick up some fresh blood and get you sad sons of bitches back into fighting shape.”

Painkiller Pete stood and clapped Michael on the shoulder.

“Some of us kept working, Mike,” he said. “You weren’t everybody’s only option.”

Pete walked out the door and it was as if the room itself exhaled. Marshall stood up and walked toward the front, eyes following him from the back of the room. He understood that whatever happened next would be a big risk for everyone but himself. He had the least to lose. The other wrestlers in the room had managed to salvage their reputations. Just being seen with him might be enough to ruin that. He appreciated that this many of the old guard didn’t simply hang up when Michael called.

“I want to thank you guys for not thinking this is crazy,” he said.

“It is crazy,” Trent said.

“Okay,” Marshall shrugged. “It’s crazy. But it is a good kind of crazy. Maybe we’ll do something people will never forget. Maybe we make history. Maybe we flame out and get mocked until the day we die. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like that the longest entry on my Wikipedia page is the ‘controversy’ section.

“We can’t change the past. God knows all of us wish we could. But I want to make things perfectly clear; if I was put in the same situation all over again, I don’t think I could do anything differently. I did what I did because someone had to. I would like to think if that nutjob pulled a gun on me instead of on James, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I hesitated and he pulled the trigger and James is gone.”

Ms. Green turned her head to look out the window, as if looking away might shield her from having to hear Marshall speak about something that he had not spoken about publicly since the night in question.

“I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt,” Marshall continued. “So I did what I had to. And you don’t get over something like that. I play a tough guy on TV but I’m not a cop. I was never in the army. I was never trained to mentally cope with the responsibility of using deadly force. I just did what I had to in order to protect myself and everyone within the range of that lunatic’s gun.

“And because of what happened our world fell apart. The media wanted to blame Mike for that asshole’s decision to come into the arena with a loaded .45. They wanted to blame me for not taking a bullet. They wanted to blame the production for not cutting the feed. They needed someone to blame. I get that. I really do.”

Heads nodded in agreement. Michael put a hand on Marshall’s shoulder.

“Let’s give them something to really talk about.”

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

10


Chapter V

Nicki O’Neil smiled pleasantly as she posed for photos with the fans who had stood in line for what must have been hours just for the opportunity to meet her. She had always been grateful for her fans, even the ones who sometimes bordered on the creepy, simply because she knew that without them she would probably be stuck in some menial job with little to no prospect for advancement and slowly dying in a loveless relationship with some loser she found on an online dating website. You could say that Nicki was the most optimistic cynic you could ever hope to meet.

Her appearance at the Orlando CultureCon had been a last minute deal, struck in the hopes of recouping the loss of a booking at a local promotion that fell through. The payout was similar but Nicki hated to be advertised for a match that never happened. It was that sort of thing that was likely to lose her some fans and make it harder for her to get booked the next time around. She still had close to eight hundred thousand followers on social media, and she logged thousands of interactions and digital engagements per day. That meant that Nicki could still command a price but independent bookers were notoriously tight with their wallets so those able to pay the price were few and far between.

She had considered taking a contract in Japan like so many in her situation usually do but decided against it simply because she did not want to upend her entire life to make the journey to the land of the rising sun. She had enough saved from her time working in the IWPA that she wasn’t going to starve any time soon. She had been smart enough to realize that the IWPA was never going to last forever. Some of the other names on that roster would have done well to remember that.

Nicki’s reputation as one of the smarter women in the business was well established. Every write-up about her career seemed to touch on it in some regard. She had a master’s degree in Library Science and had been a national debate champion in high school; the logline for so many thinkpieces regarding her place in the industry utilized some variation on the phrase “her brain is the strongest muscle she has” or some other such tripe. Nicki hated it. She hated the very concept that you could not be viewed as simultaneously intelligent and physically strong, and that somehow it was all the more impressive because she was a woman.

She also hated when her success in the business was somehow attributed only to her looks. Calling Nicki O’Neil beautiful would be akin to calling the moon a slightly large rock. Her father was a Scottish immigrant from Glasgow who settled in the warm sunlight of San Fransisco, California and managed to live comfortably there despite his fair complexion. Her mother was a second generation Chinese immigrant whose charm and grace had knocked her father for a loop and ultimately resulted in a daughter who grew up to be considered one of the most beautiful women ever to step into the ring. Nobody else in the business looked like her, and while that was great for selling herself as a commodity, she never wanted to be reduced to being photogenic. There were very few people in the world of professional wrestling as proud of their physical accomplishments as Nicki O’Neil.

“You were always my favorite,” a young girl wearing a shirt with Nicki’s face said, holding a copy of a poster from an old IWPA magazine. “Nobody else came close.”

“That’s so sweet,” Nicki gushed.

“Do you ever miss it?” the girl asked. “Being on TV every week?”

“Sometimes,” Nicki admitted. “But I also like having the free time to do things like this. I have gotten to meet so many of my fans since I left.”

“It was so nice to meet you,” the girl said. “I’m never going to forget this.”

Nicki smiled. She wasn’t lying. She really did love doing things like this. Something she never truly was able to do while on tour with IWPA.

“If I ask to talk do you promise not to murder me?” a voice asked.

Nicki looked up to see Marshall Ellis standing in front of her in the autograph line, wearing a faded old “Darling Nicki” shirt and holding an 8×10 photograph. He had a sheepish grin on his face and to Nicki it appeared as if he had aged a decade since she had last seen him.

“Marshall?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But keep that to yourself, most of these people don’t recognize me.”

“I barely recognized you,” Nicki said.

“That bad, huh?”

“No,” Nicki said, trying her best not to appear flustered. “It’s just been so long. And there is something different about you.”

“It’s probably just months of living with guilt and anxiety eating away at me from the inside,” Marshall said in a way that the tone undermined the severity of the words. “Also I got a new haircut.”

“I don’t like it,” Nicki said. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“Nothing ever did,” Marshall replied.

 

An hour later Nicki and Marshall were sitting at a booth at the back of a pub near the convention center. Everything was a shade of brown or green and the air smelled like a pitcher of the darkest draught you could imagine. Marshall nursed a pint of Guiness while Nicki ordered herself a glass of iced water. There had been a time when neither of them would be open to drinking alcohol, but Marshall’s resolve had been tested and found wanting in the aftermath of the IWPA’s demise.

“I can see why this would be tempting for you,” Nicki said. “But I don’t think it is a good idea.”

“You are probably right,” Marshall said. “But Mike can’t do this without me.”

“You don’t owe him anything,” Nicki said, barely able to contain her disdain for Michael Hill’s name as she spoke. “And let’s be honest, if he wants the thing to work he’ll get the thing to work, with or without you.”

“I know that is true,” Marshall sighed. “But I don’t work without Mike.”

“That’s bullshit,” Nicki said.

“It is bullshit,” Marshall nodded. “It’s bullshit that my options for working boil down to Michael Hill or not working at all. So when it comes right down to it, I’ll choose Mike. I would choose Mike every goddamn time.”

“I’m sorry,” Nicki said. “I do have options. And going back to work for Michael Hill isn’t the best one for me. Not right now at least. I’m happy where I am.”

“I think this would be good for you,” Marshall said. “I think this could give you the cache to go anywhere you want for the rest of time. This lady, the one from the network, she asked for you by name. The network knows how valuable a commodity you are. I think you could ask for any number you wanted and you would get it.”

“What are you getting?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Marshall said.

“How much are you getting, Marshall?” Nicki pressed.

“Enough,” Marshall said. “Enough to pay off my backlog of medical expenses and move out of the apartment I’m co-renting with a hoard of large rats. Enough to make sure that when I die they don’t leave me in an unmarked ditch.”

Marshall sat back and let the air settle. He took a large swill from his beer and gazed across the table at Nicki. He hated that he had to be the one to ask her. He knew he had to be because Michael would have turned the whole ordeal into an argument before there was ever hope of a discussion but he did not want the responsibility of urging Nicki back into Michael Hill’s circus. He knew how Nicki felt. He knew the terms on which they had parted ways. While she and Marshall had always been very close, he did not like the idea of taking advantage of their relationship in order to push her into something she did not want to do.

“If you decide not to come in on this, I will understand. I really will. Everyone has their reasons for wanting you back. The network wants you because you’re the damn best female wrestler in the world and they know the publicity for snagging you will be worth whatever price tag they have to pay. Michael wants you back because he hopes that he can fix something that he damn well knows that he broke. He knows it probably will never be square between the two of you, but damned if he won’t at least try to make up for what happened.”

“Why do you want me to come?” Nicki asked.

“What?”

“What are your reasons?” Nicki clarified. “You said everyone has their reasons so what are yours? What dog do you have in this fight?”

Marshall hesitated. He took another drink and carefully considered his words.

“Because I miss you,” he said. “And because this is going to be hard. And most of the people walking around that locker room are going to look at me out of the corner of their eyes. I need a friendly face, Nicki. And yours is the friendliest I have ever known.”

Nicki took a sip of water. She had never seen Marshall Ellis the way he looked now; desperate, filled with a hope he did not fully believe in. She set down her drink and leaned back in the booth.

“Make the call.”

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

10

Chapter IV

“You looked larger on TV,” Ms Green said as she shook Marshall Ellis’ hand, maintaining the sort of unbroken eye contact that causes killers to confess to heinous crimes.

“Yeah,” Marshall said. “I haven’t exactly kept up with my regimen.”

“We’ll have to change that,” Ms. Green said. “The audience expects to see ‘Marshall the Mechanic’ in all his glory. Such as it may be.”

Michael Hill sat sipping from a mug of herbal tea on a black leather couch near the open window of Ms. Green’s office in Boston. The decor was modern and industrial and cold, the ambiance matching the aura of Green herself. She was young but had presence, an aura not dissimilar to a jungle predator or a bird of prey. Her hair was darker than obsidian and her eyes were a vibrant shade of her namesake. Michael Hill admired the steel of her resolve. Marshall found himself slightly unnerved by it.

“Marshall will be back to his prime by the time we host our first televised event,” Michael said. “His body is a machine and ‘the mechanic’ knows how to fine tune a machine.”

Marshall stifled a chuckle. Mike was always in promoter mode. He didn’t fault him for it because that was what made him so successful. If Michael Hill weren’t a consummate showman, Marshall ‘The Mechanic’ Ellis would never have been a household name. It was also that showmanship and charisma that kept Ellis out of prison when everything went to hell. Marshall knew that. He wasn’t sure if Ms. Green did.

“Some of our investors are concerned,” Ms. Green said. “That your recruitment for this new endeavor seems to skew in a particular direction.”

“What direction might that be?” Michael asked.

“Male,” Ms. Green said. “Analysis shows that the popularity of females in combat sports is at an all time high and yet there is nothing in your treatment that mentions a female contingent to your roster.”

“My focus is on telling a very particular story,” Michael said. “And so my focus has been on touching base with my guys from IWPA.”

“Are you looking for longevity here, Mr. Hill?”

“Of course,” Michael replied.

“Then let me paint a picture for you,” Ms. Green said. “Imagine the headlines the day after your first show reading ‘Michael Hill Tries To Regain Former Glory With Same Old Bag Of Tricks Semi-Colon Fails Spectacularly And Embarrasses Own Self Yet Again’ because you think that controversy will be enough to keep you on the air.”

Michael set his tea down and tented his fingers, his eyes displaying the tenacity of a cornered animal. “What I am building here,” he said. “Cannot be subject to the whim of fads, trends, focus-group second-guessing or the personal agendas of suits sitting back and collecting checks.”

“And what about the whims of a man too stubborn to let the past stay buried or too afraid to try something new?”

Hill and Green stared at each other in silence, the tension between them lingering in the air like the dying echoes of a sustained power chord. Marshall watched them the way an anthropologist might watch an unfamiliar tribe; with caution and just a modicum of suppressed excitement.

“This show will be unlike anything that has come before,” Michael said. “I know we’re talking about a damned professional wrestling program, but there are always expectations. Some people try to shake things up by using a hexagonal ring. Some people go for celebrity cameos. We are here to tell a story. The story of men, and women mind you, affected by the death of IWPA. Ultimately, this is a show about grief. About reconciling the process of mourning with personal growth. And I will not compromise that by using my time to fill a quota because the network doesn’t think I have enough female athletes.”

Ms. Green took a seat behind her desk and pulled a folder from the drawer to her left.

“Nicki O’Neil,” she said. “Why isn’t she part of your plan.”

Marshall and Michael exchanged hesitant looks.

“Nicki is a complicated matter,” Michael said.

“No she’s not,” Marshall said. “She’s just a headache.”

“A complicated headache,” Michael said.

“She was one of your top stars,” Ms. Green interjected. “Why are you so hesitant to bring her on board?”

“Because he wanted to fuck her and she shot him down,” Marshall said.

“That’s enough Marshall,” Michael snapped back.

“Would she be uncomfortable coming back?” Ms. Green asked.

“No,” Marshall said. “Because Nicki is a professional.”

“I’m a professional,” Michael protested.

“Yes,” Marshall said. “But you’re also emotionally vulnerable, no matter what sort of ‘all-business’ personal you want to adopt. Nicki isn’t like that.”

“Yeah, she’s a heartless bitch.”

“You see what I mean?”

Ms. Green threw her hands up. “Gentlemen,” she said. “I think it would be worth exploring the possibility of contacting her. I can’t help but feel that there is a hole in your narrative without her.”

“Yeah Mike,” Marshall said. “We need to fill Nicki’s hole.”

Ms. Green actually smiled. Michael didn’t see it.

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.

Click Here for Chapter One

Click Here For Chapter Two

10

Chapter Three

“Welcome back to ‘Ace in the Hole,’ the pro wrestling podcast that takes you deep inside the world of wrestling in ways you never thought possible. I am your host Trenton ‘Ace’ Travers and I am here speaking with someone who I have known practically my entire career, you probably remember him from our time as tag-team champions in the IWPA, may it rest in peace. He is the one, the only, Jack Van Jones. It’s good to see you again Jack.”
Jack Van Jones smiled. There was something inherently funny about “Ace” Travers recording a podcast out of his home office in Austin, Texas. The man had been an A-list talent before everything went to shit and now he was running a glorified talk show with other washed up wrestlers from a middle-class neighborhood and living off of whatever profit he made selling merch in his webstore. Things certainly had changed.
“It’s good to see you too, Ace,” Jack said, lying through his teeth. Ace and Jack had indeed been good friends once but the fallout from the death of the IWPA had taken its toll on the personal and professional relationships of anyone who had previously worked for Michael Hill. Nobody wanted to talk about what had happened. Most of the roster had managed to stay afloat, grabbing bookings where they could but a choice few never really recovered. Nobody else had fallen quite as hard as Marshall, he thought, but that was to be expected.
“What have you been up to lately?” Ace asked, taking a sip of his coffee and checking the level on his mix-board. He had gotten pretty good at this podcast game in the last six months. He had sponsors and did live shows at conventions. It was enough to pay the bills and that was enough for him. He took the occasional indy booking to put a little extra scratch in the savings account but he knew there was more longevity for him outside the ring.
“Traveling,” Jack replied. “Did a tour of the UK last month.”
“Good fans in the UK,” Ace said. “Different type of people than here.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “Vocal. Passionate.”
“But a different kind of passionate,” Ace said. “You and I both did work in Japan and those people are passionate, but it’s a different sort of vibe.”
“I think it comes down to the product they’re used to,” Jack said. “UK wrestling still feels very underground to me, you dig? Japan is this whole other thing. It’s culture there, where you look at England and Ireland and whatever and it’s just something else.”
“You’re right there,” Ace said. “In Japan I had people offering to buy me dinner every night. It was surreal. They just looked at me different.”
“Every scene is different,” Jack said. “In the IWPA days, that was something else.”
“You ever miss it?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “Don’t you?”
“Honestly,” Ace said. “Most days I don’t. It was too big for itself, you know?”
“You mean it was too big for Mike?”
“I didn’t say that,” Ace said.
“But you did, kinda, I mean, Mike was that company in a lot of ways, right?”
“No denying that,” Ace admitted. “But he handled the business fine. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, and it was no fault of Michael Hill’s by the way, I want to say that clearly, then we would probably be on a whole different level, but some things just happen the way they do and you’ve got to roll with it.”
“Then what do you mean by ‘too big for itself’?”
“Who is interviewing who here?” Ace joked.
“Hey,” Jack said. “I’m just intrigued. Because I don’t necessarily disagree with you, actually. I just want your perspective because, let’s be honest, you were the bigger draw and so you had a different experience than me.”
“Well,” Ace said. “I mean that the bubble was going to burst, right? That even if things hadn’t gone tits up the way they did, they would have gone tits up some other way.”
“But you said Mike handled the business well.”
“I did,” Ace said. “And I stand by that. This isn’t about Michael Hill. Mike was was Mike, and Mike would continue to have been Mike and kept things going as long as he could. I’m saying that culturally speaking, it was too big for itself. We were a part of a very particular zeitgeist and I just don’t think it was sustainable. And hey, it wasn’t perfect. There were tons of guys that got brought in who got zero screen time because the roster was so stuffed. A lot of people resented Mike for that. Because they could have gone somewhere else; Japan, Britain, one of the other feds, you know? But Mike built a damned leviathan of a company and they wanted their chance to grab the brass ring. I know some guys are still bitter about what happened because they feel their time at IWPA was wasted. They didn’t get over enough on that stage to justify the booking fees they would like now that they don’t have Mike signing their checks.”
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to be bitter though, does it?” Jack asked. “I wasn’t exactly at the top of the card when things went down but I turned out okay.”
“Yeah,” Ace said. “But you made your name. People remember us. We were tag champions, after all.”
“I get that,” Jack said. “But afterwards, I wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. I didn’t do well in mid-card. I had always been a tag guy, even before we hooked up.”
“I remember seeing you do tag stuff in a couple of indy promotions before you came on board,” Ace said. “There’s an art form there. It’s all chemistry and timing and really being able to tell a story. I was never really much of a tag guy, but then when you came to me and pitched the idea to tag together, something made sense because our styles work so well together.”
“I agree,” Jack said. “Which is why I’ve stayed mostly solo on the indies, because people tie my name so heavily to our time as a team that it is hard to really sell the storytelling element of it with any other partner. I’ve done appearances and tagged with some of the old timers, you know, to sell an event as truly unique or whatever but I haven’t returned to that style full time.”
“So you’ve found that direction you think you were lacking as a solo worker in IWPA?”
“I think so,” Jack said. “Yeah.”
“So what’s next for Jack Van Jones?”
“I really don’t know, man,” Jack said. “Always working. There’s still some places I haven’t been. I want to work in Mexico. That’s always been a dream.”
“I’ve done a stint down there,” Ace said.
“Really?”
“Yeah,” Ace replied. “It’s a whole different world. Different culture. Lucha libre is unlike anything else in the world, and working that style is intense.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I want that challenge.”
“I’m sure you’re up to it,” Ace said. “We’ve gotta take a break, plug some sponsors, and we’ll be right back.”

Later, after the tape stopped Ace and Jack sat on the well broken in couches in Ace’s living room, each with a beer in hand as they watched a tape of one of their old matches on the giant TV that took up most of the real estate in the modest living area.
“I heard a rumor,” Jack said, gingerly sipping his beer. “You heard it?”
“I hear lots of rumors,” Ace said. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Don’t shit with me,” Jack said. “About Mike.”
“Again,” Ace said. “Specificity is key. Mike is a damn rumor magnet. Which one is this one? Jail time? That he’s running for the senate? What?”
“He’s getting back in,” Jack said. “Hooked himself up with a network contract and plans to get the gang back together.”
“No fucking way,” Ace said, putting his beer down on the coffee table. “Nobody would be stupid enough to hand that man the money he would need.”
“Someone did,” Jack said.
“Who is your source?”
“Pete.”
“Shit.”
“Yeah, shit,” Jack said. “It is going to put a lot of eyes back on us.”
“I know,” Ace said.
“Things have been hard Trent,” Jack said. “I’ve had to do some real shit to scrape by. That UK tour saved my ass, but before that…”
“I know,” Ace said. “We all fell pretty hard.”
“So what are you going to say if the phone rings?”
“I don’t know if I can go full time again,” Ace said. “I’ve gotten pretty complacent.”
“Here’s another question,” Jack said picking his beer back up. “What are you going to do if the phone doesn’t ring?”
Ace took a long drink.
It was a good question

 

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One


10

Chapter II.

Marshall Ellis leaned his forehead against the tile of the shower and let the hot water cascade down his back. He hurt. Bad. He knew how to take a hit. He had trained. He knew how to “bump.” That was the problem with all of it; the world wanted to prove that he didn’t really know shit.

After the incident Marshall Ellis had to find a new line of work. Promoters figured it wasn’t worth the headache that employing him would bring. He wasn’t famous anymore; he was notorious. The distinction was a small one but one that resulted in a large difference in insurance premiums and media coverage. Most found it difficult to justify the cost of having Marshall Ellis around. It irked him; that something so unfathomably out of his own control now seemed to control every facet of his living situation.

He had recently taken up a job working the door at a hole in the wall tavern in Dallas, Texas. It seemed like every night someone wanted to make a run at him. They wanted to know if “The Mechanic” was as big a tough guy as he claimed to be. Everyone had the same old lines; “it’s all fake,” or  “he can’t really fight.” Nevermind the fact that Marshall Ellis had been a champion collegiate wrestler and was a black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, they simply had to learn things the hard way.

That morning as he stood in the shower letting the hot water sooth the emerging bruises and blemishes that marred his body. The previous evening had seen a cadre of rednecks rush him as a group and try to deliver him a swift and severe beating. Things had not worked out well in those men’s favor however, as Marshall ended up breaking the arm of one of his attackers and shattering the orbital socket of another. The end result of the brawl had been his dismissal from duty and the discolored flesh that throbbed under the stream of hot water.

After willing himself out of the shower and into a fresh set of clothes Marshall took a seat at the cheap Swedish made table in the dining area of his ramshackle one-bedroom apartment and tepidly began to eat his breakfast, a bowl of stale cheerios and skim milk which he choked down with an absent minded sense of purpose. He tried to tune out the headache that pounded on his skull like a timpani drum and had mostly succeeded when there came a rapping at the door.

“What now?” Marshall asked himself, amazed at life’s ability to pile on in such frustrating ways.

He made his way to the door and peered through the peephole. He couldn’t make out the face of whoever was standing on the other side. The maintenance men on staff at his apartment complex had haphazardly repainted his door and rendered the tiny window entirely useless.

“What do you want?” he shouted through the door.

“To talk,” a familiar voice answered back.

Marshall had to fight the urge to vomit. He hadn’t spoken to Michael Hill in close to a year and yet here he stood, plain as day on the bird shit stained patio of his apartment.

“I don’t think there’s much for us to discuss Mike,” Marshall yelled. “I think it best you be on your way.”

“Don’t be like that Marsh,” Michael replied. “I’m sorry things have gone the way they have for you but I’m here to make things right.

Marshall opened the door,

“You don’t have the power to make things right,” Marshall said. “God his own damn self would have trouble putting the pieces of this shitshow back together.”

“Then start singing glory hallelujah because your divine providence is here,” Michael said with a grin. “In all seriousness, invite me inside so we can talk like a couple of civilized adults.”

“You haven’t ever been much in the way of civilized,” Marshall said returning to the kitchen table, leaving the door open for Michael behind him. “Not much of an adult by my reckoning either. You’ve always just been a little boy, playing in his toybox.”

He sat and took another bite of cereal. “Only difference is most little boys care when their favorite toys get broken.”

Michael closed the door behind him as he entered the room. He glanced around the dimly lit apartment at the meager decor adorning the walls. A few framed photographs of Marshall in his prime hung sloppily here and there. Beyond that, little if anything to indicate the apartment had a permanent resident.

“That’s not fair at all,” Michael said. “I did everything I could to help us. To help you.”

“For all the good it did.”

“Yes,” Michael said, rolling his eyes. “I wasn’t successful. Not then, at least. What did you expect? We needed a damned miracle to save us. The footage was everywhere. It was national news. It was everything anybody ever wanted to shut us down with handed to them on a silver platter and you were the suckling pig with an apple shoved in its mouth. It wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry. But things happened the way they happened.”

“I was a star, Mike,” Marshall said. “A goddamn shooting star and it all went away overnight. You see how I live?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” Marshall asked, his voice tinged with a barely contained rage. “Because you show up here out of the blue wearing a suit that costs more than my rent and I wonder how sorry you really are. Or how hard you really tried to make things right.”

“You unbelievable bastard,” Michael said, shaking his head. “Do you understand the gravity of what happened that night? Do you?”

“Are you seriously asking me that question right now, Michael?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “Because you act like it was something that could be brushed under the rug, which, surprise Marsh, it can’t. I’ve tried. I have spent immeasurable stacks of cash to try to erase the memory of that night from the general consciousness of the world at large, and yet I cannot. Do you know why?”

“Why, Michael?”

“Because had it been planned it would have been the most memorable night in the history of live broadcast entertainment! Don’t act like it wouldn’t have been. If we had scripted it, if it had been part of the show, we would never be able to top it.”

“But it wasn’t scripted,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t trickery. It wasn’t a show. It was–”

“It was a tragedy,” Michael interrupted. “A wholly unavoidable one. That’s what the court said. We are not, were not culpable. Not for any of it.”

“That is so easy for you to say,” Marshall said. “You weren’t in the ring.”

“I know,” Michael said. “It is so different for you than it is for the rest of us.”

“People still book Johnny,” Marshall said. “Ace and Peter. All the guys. They still get booked. You know who doesn’t?”

Michael stood silently, looking at Marshall with a knowing sense of empathy.

“I don’t,” Marshall continued. “I don’t get booked. Because I am the world’s biggest liability. And I don’t know how to do anything else Michael, I really don’t. This is all I’ve ever done and all I will ever be good at. Until the day they throw me in the dirt, I will only ever be good at that one thing, and I can’t do it anymore.”

“What if you could?”

“And who would sign me?”

“I would,” Michael said.

Marshall Ellis looked at Michael Hill the way that most people look at a scratch-off lottery ticket that’s one match away from a jackpot. Michael looked at Marshall with the pleading look that one might give a child struggling to reach the edge of a pool in their first swim class. It was a depressing tableau enough to make an existential nihilist rigid in the pants.

“What the hell are you talking about Michael?” Marshall finally asked.

“I have a contract,” Michael said. “A new program. Cable. Never been done before. First out of the gate. But I can’t do it without you.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Marshall asked.

“Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

“Then shut up and listen,” Michael said. “The International Professional Wrestling Alliance was one of the crowning achievements of televised sports-centric entertainment. We cornered the market because we did things differently. We cared about fidelity to the stories we told in that ring and people gave a damn about those characters. They cared about you.”

“And it’s never coming back,” Marshall said. “Not the way it was before. Not after how it ended.”

“Which is why we don’t even try,” Michael said. “Have you been to the movies lately?”

Marshall shook his head. “I don’t have a lot of disposable income these days,” he said.

“Continuity is meaningless,” Michael said. “Reboots and sequels and nobody pays attention to whether any of it makes any sense. It’s all about hooking an audience with something they recognize and squeezing every last dollar out of them that is physically possible. I don’t want to bring back the IPWA, I just want to use it to open a new door for something else. What I’ve got lined up isn’t a sequel, it’s a goddamn spinoff. Like when the cop from Family Matters showed up in Die Hard.”

“That’s not actually the same character–”

“I don’t care,” Michael said. “And the world doesn’t care either. We’re going to sell the world on a lie Marshall, and I cannot do it without you. You are the goddamn key to the whole goddamn assing thing.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We’re going to call it the Outlaw Wrestling Coalition,” Michael said. “We’re going to sell the narrative that this whole thing is an underground enterprise. We’re going to sell it on danger. We’re going to sell it on taboo. We’re going to sell it on being the most exciting thing ever to hit cable programming and it is going to be centered around your return to the ring and your search for redemption.”

“I don’t need redemption, Michael.”

“Maybe not personally,” Michael said. “But your character does.”

“I am my character, Michael,” Marshall said. “Always have been.”

“I am offering you a chance to get back to doing what you have always been great at,” Michael said. “Or you can continue to let shitkickers take a run at you for two hundred bucks a night. But those guys you mentioned? Johnny, Ace, Pete? They’re all in. And I’ll build my show around one of them if I have to, but that’s not what I want. That isn’t what the viewing public wants. They want Marshall the goddamn shitassing Mechanic Ellis taking the spot that was unjustly taken from him. That is what they want to see! That is what I want to see!”

“The last time I was in a ring someone died, Michael.”

Michael Hill took two steps back and sighed deeply.

“And it wasn’t your fault,” Michael said. “You probably saved some lives that night. Is that what you want to be remembered for, though? Or would you rather be remembered as part of the greatest comeback story in the history of televised entertainment?”

Marshall looked at his stale cereal and then back to the promoter who for years had pushed him to the top of the professional wrestling world; the man who had made him a star. He closed his eyes and said a little prayer. Then he looked back at Michael.

“When do we start?”

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”


10

Chapter I.

“This is going to be different.”

The executives weren’t so sure. They had heard pitches like this before. They had seen trends rise and fall, come and go, like the ebb and flow of the tide. They had been burned many times in the past by trying to find competition for a fad rather than championing the next big thing. Nobody cares about the guy trying to do “the thing” better, they care about the guy who made “the thing” a thing in the first place.

“Mr. Hill,” one of the stoic-faced suits seated in the dimly lit conference room began, following an abrupt and not altogether polite clearing of his throat. “This network has taken chances before. God knows I have signed my name to a fair share of them. I don’t even personally have a problem when they fail. I count it as a learning experience. My accountants prefer to consider them as opportunities for creative writeoffs, but I don’t want to split hairs.

“The point is, when I see a venture like yours I don’t see a risk, I see a disaster. Especially in light of past events–”

“The past is the past,” Mr. Hill interrupted, standing and pushing the lavish, ergonomic office chair back in so doing. “We all know that the demise of my previous project was an unavoidable tragedy.”

“A debateable point.” This from the suit seated directly at two o’clock from Mr. Hill, a stone-faced, and stone-hearted woman with piercing emerald colored eyes whom he had only heard referred to as “Green.” Of the three suits in the room, she was the only one to put him on edge.

“Anything,” Hill replied, “ is a debateable point if one chooses to be bull-headed about it. And if we want to get into some sort of pontification on the plausibility of infinite universes, where any and all realities are possible, then yes, Ms. Green, perhaps there is some plane of existence where what happened that night is avoidable, but in this reality, in this here and now, what happened was nothing other than an unfortunate turn of events beyond the capability of anyone to prevent.”

“That sounds like the rhetoric of a man desperately trying to avoid responsibility for something,” Ms. Green said. “Because he knows that no company in their right mind would throw their money behind a venture spearheaded by a glorified carnival barker best known for one of the most nightmarish events ever captured on live broadcast.”

Hill rapped his knuckles on the desk; eyes darting from the woman to the man seated directly across from him. His previous objections had not been as vitriolic as those put forth by Ms. Green. If he could convince this man, it was highly likely that Green could be overruled.

“Do any of you spend much time on the internet?” Hill asked.

None of the executives offered anything in reply.

“You should,” Hill continued. “It’s like peeling back the pretense of America and staring directly into it’s slithering, unfiltered id. If you want to know how responsible I feel for what happened that night, perhaps you should look at how hard I have fought to have all video evidence of what happened scrubbed  from existence. Because I don’t want what happened glorified and I don’t want anyone, myself included, to profit from that tragedy. And yet there are corners of the internet where clips of what transpired that night, both digital copies of the broadcast or footage shot from the crowd get passed around behind encrypted firewalls. It honestly makes me sick.”

Silence from the executives, a pensive glance of intrigue from Ms. Green.

“And do you know what these people say?” Hill asked. “They ask questions like ‘Did Michael Hill orchestrate this?’ or ‘Why didn’t Michael Hill prevent this? Did he care more about ratings than safety?’ and they say that no matter what I do, until the day I die, what happened that night will always be my legacy; that when my time comes, my obituary will focus on nothing more than the thirty seconds of footage that brought an end to one of the most popular programs on broadcast television and ended the life of one of the brightest young entertainers the world has ever seen. They say that when I die, nothing else I have ever done will matter and that I am equivalent only to my greatest failure.”

He noticed some uncomfortable shifting from Ms. Green. The passion in his voice perhaps shaking loose some heretofore undiscovered empathy from somewhere within the granite cave of her consciousness.

“What happened that night is not what I want to be remembered for,” Hill continued. “I will do whatever is necessary to build myself a new legacy. I did not come here to beg you for an outlet. I came to give you the first shot, because as a growing cable network, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that is sure to grab headlines for the next six months straight should sound like an irresistible siren’s song to the bunch of you. Whether you shake my hand today and say ‘We have a deal, Mr. Hill’ when I walk out of here or not, the project will move forward. It might not be on this network, but it will go forward.”

“While your quest to redeem your name is admirable,” the center suit replied. “When I look at what you are proposing I simply do not see it being a good fit for this network. And what you say is true, for the first six months our subscriber numbers would likely blow through the roof. But the logistics of what you are proposing, coupled with the lost revenue from those who would oppose our broadcasting anything with your name tied to it; it simply does not sound, to me at least, like a viable long-term investment.”

The executive seated to the far left from Hill, who until this point has remained silent and only looked up from his tablet perhaps twice during the entire proceedings, offered his own thoughts of the matter simply by closing the case on his electronic device and casting a very deliberate gaze toward the clock above the door.

Ms. Green stood then. Commanding the room.

“What are you looking for?” she asked. “In terms of a commitment. Give me specifics.”

“Give me a year,” Hill said. “One episode per week. One pay per view special every four months. All exclusive to your network. No streaming. No syndication. People want to watch, they have to come to you.”

“How much?”

“You put up the money to lock in the contracts for my guys,” Hill said. “I stay on as executive producer. Financial burden for the events goes on me. I book the venues. I run the shows. You handle broadcast and advertising. You can decide what sort of budget you want to set aside for that. Based on how much, or little, faith you have in my ability to deliver.”

As the other suits looked on Ms. Green extended a hand across the table.

“We have a deal, Mr. Hill,” she said. “We’ll have the paperwork drawn up.”

“Send it to my office,” Mr. Hill said, shaking her hand. “I have some meetings to arrange.”

Occasionally I will try my hand at writing about my own life. I don’t ever plan on writing a memoir because a good chunk of my life is boring tripe, but there have been instances worth writing about. This is a story I wrote down as an example I utilized to show students how you can take a memory and, through authorial voice, carefully establish the whole mood of the situation being presented.

Enjoy.

-J.


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“Punch” by Stefano Carnicelli

I don’t remember getting hit. I remember hitting the ground. I remember pushing myself onto my hands and knees and being rewarded with a swift kick to the chest. The wind blew out of me like a punctured tire and again I was face down on the grass.

The thing is I had done this to myself. I had agreed to this. It was a matter of pride and honor and other sixth grade bull crap that doesn’t mean anything once you move past puberty and realize you have more important things to worry about. But at twelve years old your brain is basically just a jumbo smoothie of hormones and stupidity and the idea of agreeing to an after-school showdown because he called your pants “gay” is just the sort of thing you’re apt to do with nobody around to tell you that you’re a damned idiot for doing so.

That’s how I ended up in the back yard of my good friend Brett, who was supposed to be the neutral arbitrator of the pugilistic contest between myself and mutual acquaintance Tony who everyone just referred to as “Rocky,” a nickname that he said was due to a striking resemblance to one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but I maintained was more likely related to the fact that he was about as smart as a wet brick.

Granted, when he hit me it was not all dissimilar to being hit by a brick, so the nickname was appropriate regardless of the context of its origin.

Rocky, Brett and I all shared second period P.E. and in the locker room where the three of us changed from our sweaty gym uniform back into our civilian clothes for the rest of the day, Rocky wanted to look like a smart guy in front of everybody else and decided the best way to do so was to say I looked cute in my “gay ass pants.” This being 1997 when the level of LGBT acceptance had not reached the point that it is today in our post-social justice Tumblr world, I did as most twelve year olds would do and immediately went on the defensive, insinuating that I could always change my pants but he would be stuck with a face that looked like a horse’s puckered anal cavity forever.

Perhaps the words weren’t so eloquent, that’s how my brain chooses to remember it at least. Whatever it was that I was able to mutter it was enough to set Rocky off in a way I had not seen in many people before, or since for that matter.

Things escalated as things do but neither of us were willing to get in a fight right then and there because as heated as we were we knew that a throw down on campus meant principals and police and more headaches than it was worth. Instead, we agreed to settle this after school. We would meet in Brett’s back yard and settle things. Or as Rocky put it, he would rip a part of my lower anatomy off of my person, shove it repeatedly up the area where my digested food exited my body, remove it and then shove it down my throat. He said this in much more vulgar terms, but I went on to be the published writer so I get to phrase things the way I like.

Little, chubby, twelve year old me didn’t stand a chance in this fight. I knew it. Rocky knew it. I think Brett knew it. I think he volunteered to referee the bout so that there was a recognizable face ready to alert my next of kin when I was brutally murdered at 3:30 that afternoon. But I couldn’t back down. I couldn’t let anyone get away with insulting the honor of my pants. My mother had bought those for me, damnit. In a way Rocky was insulting my family honor. The blood of Irish nobility flows through these veins, and that meant that after school there was going to be one hell of a showdown.

Sure enough we showed up at Brett’s house later that afternoon, after I had been dropped off at home and I informed my parents that I was headed to a friend’s house to play video games but would be back in time for dinner. They informed me that we were having meat loaf. Suddenly the idea of getting punched repeatedly sounded more appealing.

The fight, if you can call it that, started after Brett informed us of the rules for the ensuing brawl which essentially boiled down to don’t kick anyone in the beanbag and no biting. Everything else was just gravy.

Upon the last syllable of instruction falling from Brett’s mouth, Rocky’s fist crashed into mine. It was so fast and sudden that I don’t actually remember it happening. I remember hitting the ground and putting two and two together, that the sudden shocking and pulsating pain in my jaw and the fact that my face was pressed against the grass were interconnected.

I tried to get myself to my feet but Rocky pressed his advantage and kicked me in the ribs with the force of a SWAT officer attempting to break down a door. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to win the fight. The pride of the fighting Irish spirit was going to die a pathetic death in a Houston suburb on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.

I figured my best option was likely to put some distance between myself and Rocky so I began a slow, prone crawl in the direction of the back fence. Rocky moved in after me like one of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. Brett, respecting the honor of mortal combat, held him back telling him to let me get to my feet first. Rocky was having none of that, as he figured that if you’ve knocked someone down it might be a good idea to make sure they stay down.

I had reached the back fence by the time Rocky was able to advance upon my person. He said something about wanting to four-letter-word me up. He never got the opportunity however, as I had grabbed a broken fence board laying in the grass and swung it as hard as I could; the edge of the board cracking against his temple.

Rocky hit the ground and I scrambled to my feet. There was blood dripping over my swollen lip. Rocky rolled onto his side and vomited profusely.

I spit a mouthful of blood into the grass and looked at Brett. The look on his face was one of confused shock, the same look you might have on your face if you witnessed a gopher sprout wings and punch the president of the United States in the nipples.

“Guys,” I said, “Can we just go inside and play Goldeneye?”

 

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When you sit down to write, at least in the greater world of creative fiction, you generally come to the table with at least a kernel of an idea; some inkling of the end result of your labors. As I sit down to write this I realize that I have none of that. I do not know what I hope to achieve by putting my words down, nor do I truly have any great grasp on my own understanding with regards to what I feel in the furthest reaches of my soul following the truly unspeakable events that transpired in Orlando over the weekend.

Here is what I know: on June 11th in Orlando, Florida. A man with a gun killed a 22 year old singer in an act of cold blooded murder. The following day on June 12th, a man with a gun killed fifty people and wounded fifty-three others in an act of terror in a gay nightclub in the very same city. Across the continent, in California, on the same day, a man was stopped by police on his way to the LA Pride festival carrying an assault rifle and materials used in the composition of an explosive device.

I am not a religious individual. The world saw fit to condition that particular element out of me a long time ago. But I pray for the families of the victims and those affected by these tragedies. I pray, not to any named entity or god, but to whatever power it is that holds existence together and I pray that those that lost their lives and those who have to cope with the loss of their loved ones may find some modicum of peace in these indelicate and trying times. Times where politically minded jackals and opportunistic vultures will attempt to strip-mine this tragedy for brownie points or capital in some invisible Game of Thrones skullduggery as we head into the fall elections in the United States.

The Lieutenant Governor of the state in which I reside, a spineless slug of a man named Dan Patrick, tweeted the bible verse Galatians 6:7;”Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Walking side-show Donald Trump took time after the attack to tweet “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

I have had to block certain acquaintances of mine on Facebook because of the things they were putting onto my feed. Statements about how a single “good guy with a gun” could have prevented the tragedy at Pulse on Sunday morning. That fifty people lost their lives to gun violence means nothing to them. The right to bear arms is somehow more important that the right to safely assemble without the fear of gun related violence. The vitriol that some of these people have spewed forth onto the internet is astounding. This tragedy should not be a platform for anyone to endorse bigotry and hate. No man should be able to build a pedestal from the bodies of the dead and preach an agenda of fear-mongering and discrimination.

That the shooter responsible for the massacre at Pulse, now being described as the deadliest mass shooting on American soil (so far), was a reported ISIS sympathizer is shaking up a hornet’s nest of rhetoric about the dangers of radicalized Islam. And yet that somehow blinds some people to the fact that the man who killed singer Christina Grimmie and the 29 year old individual with plans to attack the LA Pride festival had no ties to Islamic terror in any way, shape, or form. While it is of course logical to focus on the incident with the highest body count, if we look at the patterns of high profile gun violence in the past few years, the majority of shooters have been domestic terrorists with no ties to fundamentalist or extremist Islamic groups. That having been said, there has been one unifying factor in every one of these massacres; the guns.

Since 1982 there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States. In over half of those shootings, the weapons used were legally purchased “including various semi-automatic rifles, guns with military features, and handguns using magazines with more than 10 rounds” (Aronson, Follman, Lee). The key here is that these weapons were not appropriated under the table on some indistinct black market, these firearms were obtained legally. This was also the case in the Dark Knight Rises shooting incident at a theater in Colorado where the suspect legally purchased four separate firearms at four separate locations. “Gander Mountain, which sold an AR-15 assault rifle believed to be used in the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, said the company was in compliance with state and federal laws and that it was ‘fully cooperating with this ongoing investigation’” (Moreno). As it stands, any law abiding United States citizen over the age of twenty-one, can legally obtain firearms that are normally used in military operations. The most common argument in America used to defend the second amendment is that everyday citizens need firearms for personal protection or for the private hunting of wildlife during game season. In what conceivable way would the average citizen need access to weaponry utilized by the military for personal defense or the hunting of animals?

In 2013 following the incident in Newtown, Connecticut where twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down (Goldberg) by twenty year old Adam Lanza, legislation was drafted to once again regulate assault rifles in the United States. The bill would seek to ban “All semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel” (Feinstein). That there are groups in this country that advocate everyday citizens should have unrestricted access to the firearms that would be banned by this legislation is astounding. How could any level-headed individual argue that your average citizen needs access to a grenade launcher? The short answer is that they can’t. Despite the violent and terrible nature of these tragedies, gun ownership is still a major part of the American landscape. In 2015 following sanctions placed on Russia by the United States, the import of the famed Russian-made assault rifle the AK-47 came to a screeching halt. Demand for the weapon however meant that the company previously tasked with importing the weapon, RWC, switched over to manufacture. Spokesman for the company Thomas McCrossin stated that they had an available inventory of the previously imported Russian weapons that were legal to sell because they arrived in America prior to the Russian sanctions going into effect, “but when the inventory goes down to zero, there are no more” (Smith). So despite the frequency of assault weapon use in mass shootings and the growing discomfort that many Americans feel about the number of readily available assault weapons in the country, American companies are still dedicated to ensuring that those same weapons remain readily available.

There was a time when assault weapons of this nature were banned in the United States. However, the Federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 was allowed to expire on September 13th, 2004. Since that time, the number of dangerous weapons finding their way into the hands of criminals has exploded. In a research study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in March 1999, researchers concluded that the Assault Weapon Ban had positive consequences indicating “that the weapons became more available generally, but they must have become less accessible to criminals because there was at least a short-term decrease in criminal use of the banned weapons” (Travis). Compare this to the findings of the Washington Post who found that “More than 15,000 guns equipped with high-capacity magazines – defined under the lapsed federal law as holding 11 or more bullets – have been seized by Virginia police in a wide range of investigations” (Fallis, Grimaldi). Therefore, it can be concluded that since the lapse of the ban, the ready availability of these weapons has increased and the likelihood of these legally purchased firearms being used for criminal activities has increased as well. The benchmark by which we judge the usefulness of a law is an effective cost benefit analysis; if the cost of maintaining a law outweighs the benefit that it presents the people then it has to be adjusted or removed. The eighteenth amendment to the constitution banned the sale of alcohol, but when the law became untenable the twenty-first amendment was drafted to rectify the issue. The constitution of the United States is not set in stone and neither are the amendments. What may have been applicable at the time of its inception may not remain applicable in the modern world. At the time of the second amendment, firearms technology was limited to muskets and single shot rifles. An amendment that reflects the reality of modern weaponry may very well be entirely necessary.

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I am part of the problem. I am a gun owner. I am also a writer who has created fiction that, in retrospect, seems to fetishize or glorify gun violence. It is hard for me to promote something like Blood at Sunrise, where differences are settled with an exchange of bullets. I try to rationalize it by placing it within the context of the time period that the novel is set. The years following the American Civil War were categorically a violent time. The novel reflects that. But what my writing the novel reflects in the here and now is that we live in a culture where we glorify something that truly should be vilified. I actually feel a great deal of shame for my contributions to American gun culture. Those contributions may be minuscule but so long as there are people who treat gun violence with such a casual attitude, America will continue to wake up to press conferences with a somber president addressing another gun related tragedy.

I won’t apologize for the novels I have written. I stand by them as works of fiction and simply acknowledge that they have elements that are somewhat problematic. That is part of being involved in the creative arts; the ability to analyze one’s own work and grow outwardly based on what discoveries you make along the way. I specifically tailored the villains in One Fate for Failure against the grain, eschewing ties to Islamic terrorism because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should stereotype every Muslim as a radical. I stand by that decision.

And while I’m on the subject of One Fate for Failure, let me say this; Madeline McCallister is a strong and wonderful heroine who happens to be bisexual. I wanted to use that word in text because, as anyone who clamors to see bisexual representation in  media can attest, the term is often glossed over or sanitized or simply left to implication rather than made canon. Maddie is a bisexual woman. She is slowly coming to terms with what that means. The LGBTQ+ community is filled with wonderful people, many of whom I call dear friends, and they deserve representation. They deserve equal rights, equal representation, and equal respect. What happened at Pulse in Orlando was a hate crime, first and foremost. Whatever ties the gunman may have had to any extremist group, it cannot be forgotten that the victims of this tragedy were most definitely targeted because of their sexual and gender identities. They were targeted. The world needs to see these people as human, and part of that comes to how they are portrayed in the media and in places like our fiction. I hope that members of the LGBTQ+ community who have read One Fate For Failure know that the way Maddie is portrayed comes from a place of love and a desire to do right by them, and that it was not my intention to play her sexual orientation as a gimmick.

I know that this has been all over the place, but I felt the need to get my feelings out somehow. This weekend was an eye-opener for me. I do not hold out hope that it will have a similar effect on the bull-headed and closed-minded, but perhaps it will. Maybe hope will win in the end.

Works Cited

“2015 Toll of Gun Violence.” Gun Violence Archive. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Fallis, David S., and Grimaldi James. “In Virginia, High-yield Clip Seizures Rise.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Feinstein, Dianne. “United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.” Assault Weapons Ban Summary.Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen, and Jaeah Lee. “More Than Half of Mass Shooters Used AssaultWeapons and High-Capacity Magazines.” Mother Jones. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Goldberg, Eleanor. “How To Honor The Legacy Of All 26 Newtown Shooting Victims.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Moreno, Ivan. “Police: Colo. Shooting Suspect Bought Guns Legally.” ABC News. ABC NewsNetwork. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Smith, Aaron. “AK-47s: Soon to Be Made in USA.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Travis, Jeremy. “Impacts of the 1994 Weapons Ban.” National Institute of Justice. 1 Mar. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. 

BloodCoverHello everybody.

I am very happy to announce that my latest project has gone to print and it is now available to read on a multitude of formats.

If you haven’t been following my ramblings lately, in November I began work on a western novel that would follow a former Confederate soldier on his way home following a particularly harrowing experience besieged at the battle of Vicksburg. My intention was to try my hand at an unfamiliar genre and try to have some fun with my own writing style at the same time. That story eventually evolved into Blood At Sunrise, and now you can read it for yourself this summer in your preferred format.

There are MULTIPLE ways you can pick it up, so I’ll try to delineate them as best as I can:

E-Book:

Buy @ Amazon

Paperback:

Buy @ Lulu* (May take longer to ship, but the best way to support the writer because the distributor percentage is minimal)

Buy @ Barnes and Noble

Buy @ Amazon

Hardcover:

Buy @ Lulu

Buy @ Barnes and Noble

Buy @ Amazon