Sit the Strongman out, or How I wrote “The Things We Leave Behind”
I love a good Strongman character (Gabriel in HBO’s Carnivale for example) but like the Overrated PI, I tried to avoid the classic/traditional circus and carnival actors while writing my story for NOIR CARNIVAL. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these classic tropes, much to the contrary – in fact I use several of them, (even the strongman makes a cameo) but they aren’t the central focus of the story.
When I first sat down to brainstorm ideas, I tried hard to put a weird spin on the tale and pull it into The Underbelly world that began with “Charred Kraken with Plum Butter” in WEIRD NOIR. I even finished a full outline for a story entitled, “Procurer of Oddities.” After letting the outline sit for a few days, I realized I wanted to do something different. I returned to Otto Penzler’s THE BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY and reread “Spurs” by Tod Robbins and “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher.
I wrote down the phrase “Dayton, OH 1950.” I’m not sure exactly where it came from… though I think I was searching for a location to place a carnival and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds are the clearest in my memory. I lived in Dayton for a few years after college and the fairgrounds were only a few blocks away from my apartment. Write what you know, right? The 1950′s setting came from my nostalgia of the carnival you see in film and on television (Something Wicked This Way Comes, Carnivale and Freaks).
All that aside, the heart of the story is the relationship between two brothers: John, who has recently returned from World War II, and his younger brother, Charlie, who ran away from home while John was abroad in Europe. “The Things We Leave Behind” was the first story I had a real difficulty getting through. As writers we all put parts of ourselves in our work, whether consciously or subconsciously, and in this story that is especially true for me. A lot of people return home each summer during college (at least the overwhelming majority of the people I knew did) and again, after they graduate, to look for work where their family and friends reside. But I didn’t. Between studying abroad and work/internships/etc., I didn’t get to see my family much outside of long weekends and holidays. And as time passed (new job, married, moved to Boston, began writing, started a family) the visits became even less frequent, especially with my brother who was carving his own path through college and beyond. Everyone makes sacrifices to achieve their goals in life, and I’m truly lucky to be blessed with a loving family, albeit far away, but sometimes I do wonder about the things I’ve left behind along the way…
Read the rest over at Chris’ blog.