I sat down to write "Killer Smile" as an out-and-out suspense story.
I enjoy thrillers. The late Roderick Thorp, whose book Nothing Lasts Forever became the film Die Hard, was a favorite of mine.
It seemed to me I could do something in that vein with my charactersthe ticking clock, dire jeopardy, quick changes of fortune, small acts having huge consequences.
So I tried to fashion a fast-moving story, something Concrete is not exactly famous for.
I planned it to be serialized in Dark Horse Presents, in eight-page increments, so if you read carefully, or just count, you can spot the cliffhangers that would've ended each chapter (at least in the early part of the story - I realized it was a miniseries some ways in).
It surprised me how much I hated putting Larry through this trauma. For me, he symbolized the optimistic, clueless but happy-go-lucky part of myself that once saw the world full of possibilities only, not threats. By the end of Killer Smile, he's something quite different.
I think everybody in the world goes on this journey. Trouble, disappointment, loss, terror come to even the most blessed of lives. We divorce and become addicted and lose children or the use of our legs. Living is hazardous! We just don't appreciate death's six-inch-away quality until we've lived a while. In the beginning, it's all golden.
The Adam and Eve story is the most famous formulation of this idea.
In a way, I was making Larry more like Concrete. Concrete's very starting point is trauma: kidnapped by aliens and transplanted into a new body, for crying out loud!
And, as abused children learn to numb themselves, and acquire a flat affect and the ability to go out-of-body in painful situationswell, Concrete is practically a walking lump of scar tissue.
It was his invulnerability that made him so attractive as a vehicle for my imagination in the first place. I wouldn't like to be an ugly freak, but I wouldn't mind being free of pain, and the threat of pain.
Anyway, it was a wrench to kick dear Larry out of Eden and into the knife-edged world of Good and Evil.
At the same time, it was guilty fun. Twisting a plot, laying on the pain, from bladder pressure to the thousand deaths of self-regard that Larry experiences, appealed to the devilish story god in me. I still smile to see that Larry's one moment of national fame involves taking a leak all over his tan pants.
We're grouping stories thematically in these collections, so this one's heavy on crime and darkness. A few observations:
"Under the Desert Stars" finds Concrete, with the slightest provocation, spinning a morbid fantasy and getting way ahead of himself with imagined trouble to come. This is one of my bad mental habits.
"Visible Breath" was an attempt to write straight from the subconscious. The symbolism is ample (speaking of Eden), but it's not especially intentional. Even I don't know quite what this story's about.
"The Four-Wheeled Sleeping Pill" makes me wonder why I haven't used Maureen as a protagonist in more stories. What's the matter with me?
"King of the Early Evening" recycles some of my Halloween memories, fondly held, in a darker way. In a sense, it's the Eden story again; innocent past, crueler present. Readers of Vonnegut's Jailbird will know where I stole the title.
"Enough World," though touching on Concrete's painful origin, is the one incongruently light story - if it's even a story. I was asked to do a short introduction to Concrete for some giveaway comic, I think... and this pretty well sums up how I envisioned the series in the beginning: much globetrotting. I still haven't taken Concrete up into the tundra, where he'd be immune to both winter's icy desolation and summer's mosquito purgatory. Like the story says, though, there's time yet.
"Family Night" echoes the famous beginning of a Sherlock Holmes story that reverberates in my mind whenever I travel through, or over, a city. If one could pry off all those roofs, what unspeakable dramas one would find.
"American Christmas" was originally done for Mike Friedrich's Within Our Reach, a benefit anthology with a Christmas theme that raised money for AIDS charities and Environmental charities. Dark Horse and other publishers all solicited it, generously, in their sections of Previews, essentially giving it free advertising. It was a success.
Probably the dumbest idea I ever had was to name, and number, my weird tale backup stories "100 Horrors". If I ever reach 100, I'll probably so shock myself that I'll die of a heart attack. Then again, maybe this series (for which I have a fat folder plot outlines) will keep me alive like a Dorian Gray portrait until I paste the last "The End" on number 100, at age 126. I'd die happy.
Friday Harbor, WA