This is a running commentary, trying to get inside my own head on how this book took shape. Art is part craft and part mystery, and here I get to talk about both. Read these as little chapters as I wander through the world of One Woman’s Vengeance as it took shape and took on its own life.
Max Brooks: What Writers Influenced You?
Sitting in a booth in the quiet, lovely Lamb’s Creek restaurant, Max Brooks, author of World War Z and I were talking about the writing life. “What writers influenced you?” he asked. I’ve thought about this all my life but I was surprised when he asked me.
“Twain and Hemingway,” I said. “Twain because he was audacious and funny, insightful and incisive. Hemingway for his compactness.” But later I realized that Henry Miller, the noir writers, Jim Harrison, Anais Nin and dozens of others have had an influence not only with their writing style but their thoughts, characters and rebellions. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee was huge. I remember reading the series in Pennsylvania, New York and San Diego, admiring this character who will live forever.
And of course there was the Bible. The Old Testament, the poetry of man and God, good and evil, love, betrayal, faith and faltering.
When someone asks who influenced you, you can never answer fully. This goes for writing, family and life in general.
But thank you, Max, for asking.
Who Is Peter?
As I work on the Vengeance sequel, I’m wondering, should Peter Clawson remain the stoic, mysterious retired bounty hunter who loves Nora but knows he can never have her, or should he have his own back story? I’m really wrestling with this. What do you think?
Ban My Book
This week is Banned Books Week. I was part of a discussion with MU librarians today about the subject. One of them noted that when a book is banned, the attendant publicity causes sales of the book to go up.
I asked them if they would ban One Woman’s Vengeance.
What do you think? Should we start a campaign to ban Vengeance because it’s too violent?
Or ban it because a woman traumatically hurt by men has the strength to learn how to hunt them down, outsmart them and kill them?
Or because she took the law into her own hands?
Seems like there are a lot of old white guys who would like to see this kind of thinking disappear.
MU Library Director Scott DiMarco said in the discussion that if Vengeance was banned it would guarantee sales.
Okay, we’re running out of time. During Banned Books Week, let’s ban One Woman’s Vengeance.
Just say on your Facebook page, “One Woman’s Vengeance is really good but it should be banned in the Western World, the Eastern World and all developing countries. Its ideas are seditious and dangerous to all men everywhere.”
Just copy and paste.
A Scene Deeply Felt
This happens to many writers. 10:30 p.m., tired, longing to passively watch a TV show, I have to open my notes because there is a scene so strong it throbs. It’s an emotional scene revealing Nora’s despair. Her drunken words speak to the male-female human condition. I don’t have to think. I just feel her rage and let her talk.
When she is done, I stop. We both stop and it’s a good feeling.
I’m at an age in my life and at a stage as a writer that I can say simply: there is nothing more satisfying to the soul than a scene cleanly written and deeply felt.
I have characters. A couple are minor ones that readers have picked up on and I have developed them. I have scenes that I love and have written and rewritten. Scenes between Nora and Peter. Scenes of violence which are always the most fun and challenging because they show our continuing struggle toward peace in our souls.
I am developing Jimmy, who haunts me, based on my cousin, a wayward, lovable musician who loved women.
Every piece of art, whether it’s a painting, song, poem, movie script, novel, goes through many drafts. And there are always sections, scenes and lines that are tossed that cause the author agony. In my case, saying the most in the smallest amount of space, is very important. As I go through my drafts, I find things that I deleted for any number of reasons. If I had it to do over again, I’d still delete them, but they do speak of the character or plot.
This is one of those deleted lines.
The man was in his 30’s, unshaven, balding, skinny and sipping a whiskey with a mug of beer. He stared into the mirror behind the bar. “This Nora, she don’t smile when she’s shootin’.”
The man on the stool beside him nodded thoughtfully. “The men she’s shootin’ don’t smile either.”
I really don’t remember which came first, the character or the title. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to write a western. I wanted a female protagonist for several reasons which I’ll talk about in the next post.
Once I decided on the female, I knew it had to be a revenge novel. Being a revenge novel, it had to be violent.
I set it in New Mexico because I love that state. My wife and I have traveled several times and have seen a lot but not all of it — the plains, the deserts, the mountains (though we did get lost in the Cerro Grande for most of a day and wound up in Los Alamos).
The name of my hero came fairly quickly. Nora is a soft, almost velvet, full sounding name. Whisper it at night and the breeze will carry it to the angels.
Hawks brings up the image of the graceful bird with deadly talons and razor sharp beak that can attack in an instant. Hawks rarely miss their prey.
Nora Hawks, welcome to the world.
Prepare to suffer.
What Makes A Woman Seek Revenge
Once Nora was on the scene, the first question was: what makes a woman seek revenge? What makes her enter a man’s world of violence, greed and destruction with the sole intent to kill?
Well, the loss of everything in her life. Her husband, their farm, her future.
When Nora realizes that any dream she ever had in this life is irrevocably gone, she is in a world where nothing matters.
She has nothing and will never have anything in this life but nightmares of watching her husband die, being gang raped and left for dead.
When you have nothing –no laws, no fear, no artificial morals — then nothing stops you.
You can do anything, even kill.
Now she must learn how. She must find someone to teach her.
Enter Peter Clawson, retired bounty hunter.
Retired Bounty Hunter Reloaded
For Nora to seek out a retired bounty hunter just seemed to be natural. I don’t remember even thinking about it. It was just there. And so was Peter Clawson.
A tall, laconic man with a mustache, Peter is a man who has survived on his instincts, on reading the eyes to see the man’s history and his nerve. He reads Nora immediately.
Peter has spent his life tracking men, and sometimes, when forced to, killing them. To him, bounty hunting was a business. No emotion, just strategy. He understands that a thin line separates the law enforcers from the law breakers. Both, as he sees it, are corrupt and dumb.
Outwardly, Peter is laid back and doesn’t waste words. He likes the quiet life of a small ranch, cheap cigars and horses. Inside, he is as cold-blooded as those he hunted, as Nora will find out.
Almost immediately his quiet and Nora’s intense personalities clash. He forces her to tell her story. It is violent and tragic, and one he has seen or heard a hundred times.
In the end, Peter agrees to teach Nora how to track, defend herself, and kill, in exchange for money and the one thing he’s never been able to master.
It’s an exchange of worlds, one of warmth, comfort and satisfaction for one of coldness, calculation and death.
Clash of Wills & a Culture of Death
Vengeance is very much character driven. Nora is determined to get revenge on her own terms. She’s willing to suffer and even die to carry out her revenge by herself.
Peter is quiet, practical. He’s lived by instincts and common sense. On top of being a loner, he’s retired. Nora enters his world with, in his view, an outrageous goal. For a woman (and in the 19th century women aren’t quite considered full humans) to enter a man’s world is unheard of. For her to want to learn in months what a man has been doing since he was old enough to hold a gun, make no sense.
Peter has lived a life of violence and death. I hadn’t thought of it until now, but to Peter, only one life is valuable — his own. He tracked and occasionally killed men, not because he was good or bad but because it was his job. Wanting to kill men out of revenge is completely outside his range of thinking. He doesn’t, at first, understand it.
Add to this the fact that Peter has no understanding of women.
The fun comes with the clash of these two personalities, and Peter comes up on the humorous losing end every time.
Until the one confrontation that nearly destroys Nora’s iron will.
A Barren Landscape for Lost Souls
Someone interviewed me recently and asked why I wanted to write a western. The first, most obvious reason, is that I love the West and its mythology.
Secondly, the 19th Century West is a vast land, not yet developed. No buildings cars, windmills. There are no distracting props, giving me a chance to really study characters, what made them who they are and where they are heading. Character helps define one’s destiny. In the first half of the book we see the sometimes contentious, sometimes tender relationship between Nora and Peter as get to know each other and learn to live with each other.
In the second half, we see Nora test her physical strength, her new found skills, and yes, testing the endurance of her very soul.
It’s a western, but more, I think, it’s a story of revenge that is set in the West with no distractions.