Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yukon Jack Gallagher

When faced with a blank page and the start of a new story, every writer has a series of decisions to make. One of these is how much detail to include and what to leave out. Another is whether to tell the story in first person or third person.

When I wrote my novel The Red Scorpion, I wrote the middle section of the book several different ways. It's a haunted house story with a supernatural twist. In the story our teen hero finds a journal under the floorboards in this long-abandoned bed and breakfast. This was the culmination point for the first part of the book. The second part of the story takes place in the late 1930's. Being a diary, I tried to re-create this diary and tell the story from that point of view, all first person but in the form of notes. I found it limiting because I wanted to include more backstory on the motivations of the youth Chuchui who betrayed his clan. So I re-wrote the whole thing in third person. Eventually I even changed the order of the book's three sections and made this backstory the lead or Part I of the novel.

Yukon Jack Gallagher is an example of how first and third person approaches create a different feel for readers as well. I came across this file the other night, the beginning of a story about a guy who throws a television set out a third story apartment window. See what you think.

Yukon Jack Gallagher

As Jess Phillips lay in the back yard, his mind drifting, eyes wide to the clear summer sky, he became acutely aware of the quivering movements of his eyes. He shifted his focus and a pattern of shapes, like indistinct protozoa or a swirling archipelago of molecules, shifted and danced before his face.

It is a phenomenon he had noticed before. Through deduction he concluded that his retina was perceiving material on the very lens of the eyeball itself. Much like the white noise of a room which his ears were trained to tune out so, too, these little spots, splotches, and in his case a pair of scars on one eyeball, were automatically filtered by his subconscious in order that the skin of his eyes might achieve its pellucid purpose.

He had noticed this phenomenon on other occasions. What he had never thought about until this day, however, was that this might have been the phenomenon Yukon Jack was trying to ask him about. He hadn’t thought about mad Jack Gallagher in fifteen years and it amused him to do so. Jack was a crazy one for sure, but not because of the spots he saw in front of his eyes, though Jess thought that was pretty crazy, too, at the time. He met him during the years Jess painted apartments in South Minneapolis.

When the caretaker gave him the assignment to paint the living room of apartment 309 he knew it would be an interesting day. That was Rhonda Wilkie’s apartment, a wrinkled redheaded woman who looks sixty, is probably forty and acts twenty. First time Jess met her he was walking down the back stairwell with his painting equipment. She called out, “Come on in and have a beer!” She was the only one in the building who kept her door open all the time.

They were always loud in there, the television perpetually blaring as they laughed, drinking and carrying on.

Yukon Jack Gallagher

As I lay in the back yard, my mind drifting, eyes wide to the clear summer sky, I became aware of the movement of my eyeballs. I shifted my focus and a pattern of shapes, like indistinct protozoa or a swirling archipelago of molecules, shifted and danced before my face.

It is a phenomenon I have noticed before. Through deduction I have concluded that my retina is perceiving material on the very lens of my eyeball itself. Much like the white noise of a room which our ears are trained to tune out so, too, these little spots, scratches, and in my case a pair of scars on one eyeball, are automatically filtered by my subconscious in order that the skin of my eyes might achieve its pellucid purpose.

As I said, I have noticed this phenomenon on other occasions. What I’ve never thought about, however, until this day was that this might have been the phenomenon Yukon Jack was trying to ask me about. He was a crazy one for sure, but not because of the spots he saw in front of his eyes, though I thought that was pretty crazy, too, at the time. I met him during the years I painted apartments in South Minneapolis.

When the caretaker gave me the assignment to paint the living room of apartment 309 I knew it would be an interesting day. That was Rhonda Wilkie’s apartment, a wrinkled redheaded woman who looks sixty, is probably forty and acts twenty. First time I met her I was walking down the back stairwell with my painting equipment and she called out, “Come on in and have a beer!” She was the only one in the building who kept her door open all day.

They were always loud in there, laughing and drinking and carrying on, the television perpetually blaring.


Great literature? Nah. Just an exercise, and upon review here I can see why I'd abandoned it. There's better stories in the pipeline, and this is one has turned to tumbleweed.

Oh, while we're talking books though, I started reading Ghost Burglar last night, by Jack Burch and James D. King. It's a compelling read and I didn't want to put it down. If you need one more Christmas gift for 2012, this could be the ticket.

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