Where Did G. I. Joe: Tight Spots Come From?
Ideas are all around us. The way I see it, the difficulty lies not finding one or more of them but in developing them. Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but most are slender as stilettos. Building them into something with enough hooks to hang an actual story on is where the trick lies. So where did Tight Spots come from? A hodgepodge of things, really.
One thing I had to keep in mind was the fact that I would not own any of the material I put into the story. Unlike traditional fan fiction, this was not only playing in someone else's sandbox. The story was mine, all mine until I turned it into the Kindle Worlds program, when I would lose the ability to keep my characters. This is not a problem so long as it's up front and not a nasty surprise later. That's the price of playing and getting some scratch for the playtime. This has changed for a couple of the Kindle Worlds programs. I was honored to be invited to participate in the upcoming Codename: Chandler Kindle World, where I do get to keep the rights for my own creations, but that is a story for another blog entry.
So, for the G. I. Joe story I wro, anything I make will belong to Hasbro. Simply put, that meant that everything needed to be original to the story. None of my people (at least without the serial numbers filed off). Like I said, no problem. Ideas, characters and circumstances that feed into stories can be found just about anywhere. The business person in me likes and needs to know these things. The creative person, not so much.
Yeah, yeah. But where did it come from?
On a plane ride to Okinawa in early March, 2015, I reread David J. Schow’s 1990 horror novel The Shaft. It’s a hell of a piece of work, that novel. Layered and strange and sometimes disgusting and all around cool. Yes, cool. Schow is one of the coolest writers around. He knows how to write fascinating sentences, that guy does. Well in that book, an apartment building kind of sort of comes alive. Or it has always been alive and now that it’s old and uncared for (and infested) it has been turning senile. Forgetting parts of itself. And those bouts of amnesia are having very real effects on the interior architecture. There’s a lot more going on in that book than what I’m talking about. It’s a monster story with plenty of monsters: some real and some metaphoric. And it’s a crime story about the drug industry. And it’s a book about loves lost and love rekindled. And … Well, it’s a hell of a read if you can find a copy (no easy feat). But anyway. The building is alive. Keep that in mind.
When I first glanced over the Kindle Worlds lineup and spotting the G.I. Joe property, I thought I was going to tell a Baroness story out the gate. I mean why not? I love that character. However, even while I was thinking about doing that, and reading The Shaft, I got bit by a strange little bug. What if Tunnel Rat, a character I had loved but who hadn’t ever been given much to do in my recollection, was stuck in a real tight place. That was the original title, too. "A Tight Place," until I recalled that Stephen King had used that title for one hell of a revenge story, which can be found in his Just Before Sunset collection. And what tight place was I anticipating sticking TR?
I wanted to stick him under the World Trade Center on September 9, 2011. Have him duke it out with a Cobra agent infiltration expert during one of the biggest tragic events in 21st century America. The building itself would be coming down around them, driven mad by all the madness around it, turned downright psychopathic by the knowledge of its own demise.
Even as I thought about that, I realized how much dynamite that particular story idea had. There’s bringing it with both hands and there’s blowing up your connection to an audience before you have a chance to sing your song, dance your dance, tell you joke, or spin your yarn. There are certain topics that are too big for a story, they not only add resonance that resonance will overshadow anything I was going to attempt to do. 911 still has that long shadow, and handling it evenly or properly was something I did not have confidence in doing.
So, I backed off of that idea. Created a different setup. A fictional office building in Manhattan on a Saturday morning would be Cobra's target, and Tunnel Rat would be caught in the mall beneath it. Sure, loose ties to the original, and yet not. Instead of the playing up the tragic, I wanted to put together a Poseidon Adventure on land. A Towering Inferno in an area where someone with Tunnel Rat’s skillsets might come in handy. A Joe leading a handful of wounded civilians from a place that was actively trying to kill them.
Sure, the tragic element remains. All those people in the upper floors of that building? All the mayhem happening on street level? Yeah, it’s a Saturday so the financial sector/business section is mostly closed but there are plenty of folks who go these places on Saturday morning. To get ahead or to do the scuttle work of cleaning up after other people. The tragic is there (and at key points in the story it is even considered), but not emphasized. Is that cheating? It may well be lying by omission, granted, but my characters aren’t given enough time to process the full implications of what is happening. After the end, however, the living will have that time and they will process. The news won’t let them forget, just as it did not let us forget.
So there was the idea. And it was one that came with plenty of barbs and hooks to hang a story on. Add to that a Cobra agent responsible for the mayhem (Firefly seemed the obvious choice) who was also stuck. Give the lot one escape path and a ticking clock. It should have told itself! And it did, telling itself into a painted corner.
Some stories come quickly. Some come slowly. And some come with all kinds of problems.
This one was the latter. The story had a false start. I spent days writing about 1600 words of material I thought too bland. Too on the nose and not as interesting as I was hoping for. I restarted it, had a computer glitch that killed everything I had done for a second start (another couple of thousand words). Writing days like this make a person wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something. Like: Stop. For better or worse, I don’t know when to quit.
A third version of the beginning followed and this one carried me through to the end. I dubbed this my refusing-to-admit-defeat draft of the story.
All told, I completed the tale in a little over the course of two weeks. It turned out to be a little over 10,000 words long, which makes it a short novella length piece. That gave it enough room for some character development and a nice twisty plot.
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