Friday, July 12, 2013

The Story Behind the Story:
“Hard Bite,” by Anonymous-9

(Editor’s note: This 44th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series comes from Los Angeles-based freelance editor Elaine Ash, better known to crime-fiction readers as Anonymous-9. While helping David Cranmer launch the Webzine Beat to a Pulp back in 2008, Ash wrote short works of fiction, 11 of which were gathered into the 2011 e-book The 1st Short Story Collection. Her storytelling has earned her a variety of commendations, including Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Short Story on the Web Award in 2009, the 2012 Readers’ Choice Award from The House of Crime and Mystery, and a couple of Derringer Award nominations. With Cranmer, Ash edited Beat to a Pulp: Round One [2010]. She currently pens a blog, Ashedit, and is the author of Hard Bite, which New Pulp Press released in June, and about which she writes below.)

Why did I write this book, my book, Hard Bite? I ponder this while sitting in the smoldering ruins of my modest back-house rental (an illegal garage conversion; this is the new California). As smoke coils in the corners it occurs to me that I wrote Hard Bite because I had to. Because I’d be branded a dilettante and a failure if I didn’t. “Writer” is what I’ve always called myself, feeling a fraud but nevertheless categorizing myself with a label the world understands, and at some point you’ve just got to put up or shut up. Something readable must be produced. So I flung myself at the task like a spawning salmon braving the rapids, refusing all the paid work I could afford to turn away while researching and revising and obsessing ... until the barest minimum word count eked onto enough pages to qualify as a novel. Manuscript in hand, short though it was, I knew it could move faster. Fifteen thousand slow-moving words were excised and replaced with 10,000 words that moved, ripped, exploded, cried, and howled. Now I had something.

What’s the story behind the story? I formulate an answer while perspiring in the humid California gloom of June, glowing embers from the most recent fire illuming my one-room house here and there--never fear, a pan of water is at hand in case a fire flower blooms, and they do occasionally. ... Still, turning on the battered air conditioner isn’t an option, even though power is included in my meager rent. My writing desk is positioned too close to the A/C unit and cold air blows across my vulnerable neck while the rest of me threatens heat stroke. I live in this hovel because I write. Because I write, the book finally came. Gentle reader, is a picture coming clear?

I had an idea for a character and the voice of a character, and it was all good fun until I committed to writing the book full-length and discovered that I knew nothing about serial killers and police procedures, the Mexican Mafia, or “life on wheels,” as people in wheelchairs call it. Research was called for, and in Los Angeles every scruffy screenwriter has exhausted normal avenues for conducting it. Talking to cops, dropping by stations, going on jail tours--all that stuff is out-of-bounds to any L.A.-based writer with less than a three-picture deal with Paramount or at least a two-book deal with Random House and an agent at Trident. So I had to be inventive and sly and do things such as lie my way into the coroner’s office and pretend to wait for a friend with a freshly dead relative, so I could eavesdrop on the staff and catch snatches of phone conversations. I can’t tell you what else I did or the Fifth will have to be invoked ...

So why did I write this story? Because I had the voice of a paraplegic man in my head, and he was struggling for recognition, struggling to prove he was still a man who stood for something. Although Dean Drayhart’s body was damaged, his free will and sense of justice were unscathed. His voice was so strong that I needed to create a whole world for him to shout from. Dean pushed me on and on, stumbling through the dark, scrambling for research to flesh out the chalk outlines he drew in my head.

But back to the questions implied at the beginning of this essay: How did I come to be sitting in my own home while it burned? Who set the fire? What about 9-1-1? The answers lie in four simple steps to concocting noir fiction that came to me some years ago. I always employ them before writing anything that has to be good. Good and original. Not only good and original, but something more on top of that. An energy thing, a truth thing; a driven, raw quality that threatens to go off the rails at any moment but holds on by its fingernails as the plot twists and careens--BOOM! Perhaps sharing my helpful hints will solve the mystery ...

Author Anonymous-9, aka Elaine Ash

Step One: In solitude, I organize my writing area. In case the computer crashes or worse, distracts me, two pens are laid out, just in case. A pad of lined paper is also helpful.

Step Two: I set fire to the area. The room must get good and scorched--dousing too soon drowns the muse. Smoldering embers in a few places are OK--there’s nothing like the threat of combustion and smell of smoke to inspire a noirist.

Step Three: Sifting through the ashes of my possessions, I grab whatever material is left to write upon. I am prepared, if the computer and pens are destroyed, to open a vein and write with my own blood on the sooty wall--blood and grime contribute mightily to noir. Anything I write at this stage pulses on the page because it contains the four five essential elements of the genre: loss, pain, desperation, and the will to live. Let’s not forget a glimpse of mortality.

Step Four: These preparations have linked me in spirit to lions of the genre such as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson--if not in talent and craft, then in willingness to reduce my life to ashes for the sake of art. Smoke swirls and I hold a cloth over my mouth as the three enemies of noir are banished from my consciousness: levelheadedness, dignity, and esteem. Reckless abandon courses through my veins. The computer is a charred lump, so I pick up a pen ...

And those, dear reader, are the conditions under which I wrote Hard Bite. Or at least it felt like those conditions. Every word here conveys a kind of truth. At this juncture you may feel some sympathy for me, even pity. Please save it for those who want it. Instead, click this link and read a few of the 43 rave reviews (mostly) for Hard Bite at Perhaps you’ll then click the “Buy” button and acquaint yourself with the paraplegic Dean Drayhart and the characters who people his world. It’s a deal at $4.99 for digital, or splurge on a paperback for a trifle more.


Austin Carr said...

Having read A-9's extremely entertaining book, and felt the heat licking up around my feet while doing so, it's enlightening to find out why. Please be careful, A-9. I want a sequel!!

Elaine Ash said...

Hello Austin! Aren't you the fictional creation of Jack Getze, co-founder of Spinetingler Magazine? Thanks so much for the kind words and hope you had a chuckle.

Austin Carr said...

Getze reads the slush pile. He's no co-founder.