So tomorrow "A Question of Freedom" goes up on the website at Allegory Ezine. I figure, since I'm sitting in the office trying to come up with scripts for a webcomic a friend is putting out and beating myself over the head with a possible ending to a zombie story, that I might as well go ahead and post about this one.
First off, the story did not start out as what it ended up being. Garrity, originally, was supposed to be a small town sheriff in the rural areas of Kentucky. That much is the same as the original idea. The deep-down idea that formed the story, though, was supposed to be something about werewolves and vampires, along with all other forms of supernatural creatures, living side-by-side with the human populace of a small town in Eastern Kentucky, their existence known to the local authorities by way of a century old agreement. I'll freely admit that this idea was lifted, in small concept parts, from an old online RPG that used to be on AOL called "Black Bayou". The concept of a small southern town rife with supernatural beings is really where the similarity was supposed to end.
"A Question of Freedom", or as I took to calling it, "The Garrity Story", was written over the period of a month. I started it on a Sunday in early September, then, other than the occassional paragraph or two at night, set it aside until the first week of October. I had other things to do, honestly, and the story was going off in a completely different direction. I would say, all in all, it was written in about 2 long typing sessions, the first Sunday morning session and then about 6 hours alone in the living room on that first Monday in October. For those one-or-two paragraph writing sitdowns, there were about four of them that resulted in nothing big. So, what you really have on Allegory's website is a story that was written in about two days with a month between them for me to think and brainstorm.
It really became obvious that this story wasn't going to be about vampires, werewolves, or anything else that would make Anne Rice cream her jeans around the third page. Without trying my heroic, wisecracking, and alcoholic sheriff was transformed into a beaten man in a dystopic America. I wish I could say the background of this America sprang fully formed from my head as I stared at the computer screen and chainsmoked, but no such luck. Halfway through the story I realized I was writing about a different version of the same America that I had jotted down notes on during those long nights working fire watch on the steamboat. This was just a more advanced version of it.
This future was, to clarify the story a bit, one where a horrible virus with a high mortality rate had been unleashed on the American people, and not intentionally. Though the virus was never clearly determined to be natural or chemically engineered, mainly because I could never figure that out myself, it was devestating and resulted in a "Black Plague" sort of situation that cut off the American people from advancement. Enter the Senator, a politician with the charisma to advance his own agenda and the determination to make a difference even if it meant destroying half the world. To control the plague that threatened to destroy America, he instituted a new form of law, becoming less a politician and more of a dictator as he ordered bombs dropped on the cities with the highest infection rate.
Years later, America was a police state. I know, it wasn't an original idea, but I realized as I wrote about Garrity being escorted to questioning that almost all of those "America has collapsed" stories out there deal with the urban experience in despotic America. What if, instead of werewolves and vampires, this small-town sheriff in the middle of BFE, Kentucky (write me an email and ask what BFE is if you don't know!) was just trying to survive the times while keeping a hold on the traditional values that shape the country. It was halfway through writing that I realized what the most important rural value was.
The hell with the Golden Rule. The most important lesson learned in the country is "An Eye for An Eye". A country sheriff is a bringer of justice. Is that conveyed? Well...you guys be the judge. Personally, I liked the Garrity story, but I'm a biased party in the judgment of it.
One last word on this subject, then I'm off to ring in the New Year with my fiancee, my future brother-in-law, and a bar full of strangers. I never was crazy about the title "A Question of Freedom". I stuck it on there as a working title as I sent it off to my buddy, the editor, to get his opinion on what revisions might need to be done to it. His response was to circle the working title of the story and express love over it. Because I generally suck at coming up with any title not directly drawn from the dialogue, I deferred to his judgment. He, after all, knew his stuff when it came to fiction as he was not only an avid reader, but a pro at proofing manuscripts. Even so, I'm still not crazy about the title of the piece.
But hey, what do I know. As I said before, I'm just a hack.
An interesting sidenote, the last name of the character, Garrity, was an intentional nod to Ray Garrity, the main character in Stephen King's "The Long Walk", which was written under the name of Richard Bachman. Yes, I like Stephen King. I really only enjoy the work he did as Bachman. Go read it. I'm sure you'll see a few similarities between his version of America and mine, and I give full credit for the inkling that formed my version of America coming from reading his story in my 7th grade English class.
Happy New Year, folks.