Sunday, July 08, 2012

How I Came to Write This Story: Joe Clifford

The novel RED BAKER by Robert Ward is free today for Kindle.

From Pulp Ink 2: Joe Clifford

With the Occupy movement in full swing out here in San Francisco, I’d read an article where protestors had been granted entry into a bank lobby. This is the Bay Area, after all; we support our counterculture. I don’t recall how long they were allowed to stay inside, but as a writer I didn’t need much more; I had the premise of a story.

Politically, I am a left-leaning, pinko commie bastard. I support progressive causes and think FOX News is the Devil. Still, having lived on the Left Coast for almost half my life now, it’s tough not to roll your eyes at some of the things Northern California permits. I mean, if you get the occasional headache, you can get a prescription for weed out here (not that I mind; I believe all drugs should be legal. Except meth. That shit will fuck you up), and the idea that protestors would be allow to stage a demonstration in a bank struck me as a little silly. But the criminal in me thought, Wow, if I were a bank robber and saw that, I’d be all over that shit.

For “Occupy Opportunity,” I wanted to comment on the Occupy phenomena, which, frankly, I found myself torn over. On the one hand, I am always game for sticking it to the Man, the Johnny Cash middle finger Fuck You to the world—“What are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?” It’s pretty hard to look around these days, see the disproportionate distribution of wealth, and not feel enraged. The interesting part, however, was how little sympathy I found myself having for Occupy. For years I’d wondered when were the masses going to get fed up with the privileged few owning so much, and here it was happening, and I couldn’t help but feel ambivalent to the cause. Even now I am not sure why. I have a little more money these days, am a bit older, a husband and father. I don’t think that’s it, though. I suppose it’s like my friend Jenny Dreadful said, and I’m paraphrasing here, but the people who are really hurting are too busy working their three crap, minimum wage jobs to take the take off to join a bunch of college kids pissed that Mommy and Daddy aren’t footing their tuition anymore.

I don’t know if that is true, but I liked the line, or at least how I recalled Jenny saying it, and I believe I use it almost verbatim.

I conceived the basic plot while jogging, which is where I come up with most of my ideas. It’s a simple turn, a “twist” of sorts, a man finally seeing the light; it let me achieve a political end I was after.

In the story, two lifelong criminals, the narrator and his childhood buddy/partner-in-crime, Eddie, have moved to San Francisco, where they have been laying low because of a promise they made each other. When someone was killed during a Midwest bank robbery, they swore: no more guns. After reading about the Occupy protestors being allowed access to the lobby of Wells Fargo (in my story this occurs before the fact), the two crooks decide it’s time to get back to work.

Now, I am no fan of hippies. Liberal socialism is cool. Burning Man and hacky sack, not so much. I hate their food, their music, and they smell bad. You can’t say this stuff in fiction, unless it’s in the mouth of a character. Both my characters hate hippies. They also hate their not-too-distant cousin, the hipster.

When my bank robbers attend the protest, they see nothing but a whiny bunch of hipsters looking for handouts and shortcuts. They serve as the mouthpieces for “the other side,” those who see Occupy as malcontents, the side that might say “the world needs ditch diggers too” (I had fun with this concept, criminals spouting moral absolutes). Then something happens. One of the men, Eddie, starts actually talking and listening to the protestors and begins to understand fully the struggles of the disenfranchised, the inherent injustice behind a health-care-for-profit system, capitalist greed, etc., and he has an epiphany and decides he has to take a stand.

What happens next? Well, for that you’ll have to read the story…


Anonymous said...

Nice piece. My wife and I discussed many times why we felt so little sympathy with Occupy Wall Street protestors (their lack of leadership and a coherent message didn't help either) instead of being on their side. My basic feeling (as someone who protested the war in the late 60s-early 70s) was along the lines of the George Thorogood song: "Get a haircut and get a real job."

Good luck with the story.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just hope they know enough to stay off the streets this summer. It can only hurt Obama if they don't.
I think back on the fifties when MLK and his protesters were dressed like they were going to church. That's the right tactic to take.

Joe Clifford said...

Thanks again for letting me post this, Patti. I was fun to work through the steps again, logically, since so often we write stories internally, without such conscious acknowledgment to the source (at least that's how I do it). Anyway, appreciate the...opportunity.

Charles Gramlich said...

I get a lot of ideas while walking. I don't jog much unless I'm running from something! :)

Erik Donald France said...

Ooh, this is wicked funny. "Je n'aime pas les hippies . . ."

I like the premise.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting Joe.

Joe - I just love the mix of your politics and serendipity as you got your ideas for your story. Thanks for sharing!

Andrez Bergen said...

Great observations, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Rhatigan said...

I feel exactly the same way about the Occupy movement.