Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Writing Whiskey River

   MAMA TRIED, The new anthology from DOWN AND OUT BOOKS came out this week. The book contains a slew of stories from a bunch of authors, all inspired by Outlaw Country Music. The brief was simple. Take the title of an outlaw country song and turn it into a crime story. We couldn’t just write the song as a story for obvious reasons. The titles were for inspiration only.
   I was raised in rural Georgia, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I grew up with Country Music. Our local station WCHK, was my mom’s favorite spot to leave the radio dial and the background soundtrack of my early life is pure country. Buck Owens, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Elvis, Dolly Parton, and all the rest.
   About the time I was entering my teenage years, the Outlaw Country movement was getting up and running. Merle Haggard. Kris Kristofferson. Waylon Jennings. Willie Nelson. Hank Williams Jr. Guys like Johnny Cash, who had always been outlaws, were grandfathered in. Spurred by the restlessness of the 1960s, and 1970s, the movement began as a reaction to the over-produced, slick sound that had begun to flow out of Nashville. As country turned pop and easy listening, the outlaws went rogue. The sound was a blend of old school country, Honkytonk, and Rockabilly, with some blues and early rock & roll in the mix.
   When MAMA TRIED editor James R. Tuck suggested the idea of the anthology on Facebook, I volunteered immediately. I’d been writing a mix of crime fiction and horror in the GRIFFIN AND PRICE series with James A. Moore, and I liked the idea of using my protagonist, Wade Griffin, in a down and dirty crime story with no supernatural elements. I chose the title of the Willie Nelson hit WHISKEY RIVER as my jumping off point.
   I knew I wanted Griffin to be a ‘man alone’ in this story, cut off from his usual support system of Sheriff Carl Price, advisor Carter Decamp, and significant other, Charon. I had a vague idea about hijackers, so I started Googling ‘stolen whiskey, and turned up a wealth of information about the startlingly high prices paid on the black market for twenty year old designer whiskey and even found stories about a couple of high dollar whiskey hijackings.
   Armed with verisimilitude and coffee, I sat down and banged out a first draft of Whiskey River. It went darker places than I’d intended as I wrote, but that fits the theme. Outlaw Country music was often introspective and dark. Wade Griffin, former mercenary now turned private detective, has to call upon the skills he learned in life or death situations in third world countries to survive a bad night with some bad people. In the end, I was very proud of the story. I think it one of the better short tales I’ve written.
   Anyway, I’m thrilled to be in an anthology with so many terrific writers. I’ve read a bunch of the other stories and there’s some great, dark crime fiction in there. The Outlaw tradition lives on.
More about MAMA TRIED here:


Paul R. McNamee said...

I always like reading writer's notes about stories. Good stuff.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Me too. I'm always interested in how stories come together.