Winter’s Quarterly: Overpass

jan2015small“Overpass” begins in what the narrator Alex thinks is the final moments of his life. He is staring over the edge of a bridge with a busy freeway below it. He also realizes it’s cold out, and no one should have to die freezing. He spots his regular hangout, the Funky Perk, and decides he has time for one last cup of coffee.

There, he has a seemingly casual chat with Emily, the owner. She notices he’s depressed and tells him about the worst time in her life, which was the end of her marriage.

This story started out as an academic assignment, much like “We Be Cool” and “The Confessor” began life. Those stories, however, were much easier to conceive of than “Overpass.” For “The Confessor,” I had the option to rewrite a short story we studied from a different character’s point of view. Well, who the hell was Montressor talking to in Poe’s “A Cask of Amantillado”? That spun an entirely different character and a twist of irony. Plus I had a month to pull it off. From the same class, I had the option to write a story about a poem we read. “We Be Cool” gets its title from “We Real Cool” and was one of several stories I’d written about Rufus and Ralph, two characters from Holland Bay. “Overpass”?

I had taken a class in Modern Short Story to polish off my English requirements. Our teacher did not know until the morning she announced it that we had to write a short story for our final. I had a week to come up with something. And then I heard the line every writer who goes to college later in life hates hearing: “Oh, well, you write. This should be easy for you.”

Yeah… See, I generally sketch out shorts ahead of time, maybe outline the longer ones. A story may sit on my hard drive for months before a draft is written. This story needed to be mainstream and apply to our class.

OK, at least it was under 2000 words. I can do that. Right?

Confession time here. Once, when I was 19 and my life had hit rock bottom – no job, no car, no girlfriend – I had contemplated jumping off an overpass near my house. It was about a mile away, and I often took a walk out there to clear my head. By the time I walked back home, I’d realized that, if I was having thoughts like that, I had no place to go but up. Not everyone pulls back from it like that, so let’s agree that I got lucky with beating back depression.

For some reason, that incident returned to mind, so I pictured an overpass closer to where I now live and thought about it. I also thought about a coffee shop I used to go to called the Pleasant Perk (now Coffee Exchange.) I’d gone to that shop through three owners since about 2009, and it was a happy way to start my morning before heading to work downtown or on the westside. So the Perk/Exchange became the model for the Funky Perk. Emily bears a striking resemblance physically to one of the previous owners, but she is based on several women I’ve met who owned places like that. They always seem to be rebellious free spirits, which probably infuses such places with their atmosphere. (The Exchange is now run by a suburban mom and her family, but it’s still a nice place to stop first thing in the morning.)

Alex is at a point lower than I’d ever gotten, and it was fifty-fifty when I started the story as to whether he’d jump or not. In fact, when I read it to the class, one lady interrupted me and told me I was a sick bastard for writing something like that. By the time I finished, everyone had warm fuzzies after Emily reset Alex’s mental state just by sharing her own problems with him.

Winter’s Quarterly: Ault Park

Winter's Quarterly - Jan 2015The second story in this season’s Winter’s Quarterly stems from a novel called Under the Bridge that never made it past the outline stages. Part of the story concerned Mike Dufford, a Cincinnati police officer who is injured off-duty in a stupid hit-and-run. The events of the book take place while Dufford is on disability recovering from a torn ACL. He lives in a suburb called Mt. Washington, which is, in the real world, part of the city of Cincinnati. I lived in Mt. Washington for ten years, always liked the place, and thought it never really seemed like part of the city. I even had a conversation with Alicia Reece, once the vice mayor. Even she said it was exasperating having to remind city employees and even her fellow elected officials that Mt. Washington was part of Cincinnati.

But I like the idea of it being this isolated small town on the East Side, a bedroom community not all that different from where I live now. And so the wheels began to turn.

Dufford owes his existence to a lady named Jane Chelius, a well-respected agent whose son Mark had taken me on as a client. Jane and Mark could not shop any Kepler stories because, like an idiot, I signed with a small press before Jane had Northcoast Shakedown to read. So I came up with Dufford and tried to do a new story set in the city where I’d lived, at the time, for 13 years. The story didn’t work. I did Road Rules instead. Shopped that with another agent. Went back to Dufford. Still couldn’t get it to work. Wrote Holland Bay. Quit writing. Rewrote Holland Bay. Started writing SF as “Dick.” Dufford still wanted to tell his story.

Over the years, I’d written about other Mt. Washington denizens: The alcoholic and oddly named police chief Tom Jefferson, the corrupt Sgt. Ed McNeely, and even grafted my sexy young lawyer Anne Ripley into the growing mythology around this alternate universe where Mt. Washington is its own town. So finally, I settled on Dufford’s injury and the internal politics that ultimately would push him off the force. And it had a basis in reality.

A few years ago, a Cincinnati assistant chief got into trouble for damaging his city-issued car and improperly reporting it. Newsworthy, but not controversial. Usually, if a senior official makes that kind of mistake, the force just quietly eases them out of their job with a little dignity, keeping the Thin Blue Line intact. Unfortunately, the next guy in line for the job was the commander of Internal Investigations. Can you say “conflict of interest”? Plus there was a racial component to it. The chief in question was the city’s only black senior official.

So I reversed it. I set it up so that the political calculus would leave the Internal Investigations as potentially the only black senior officer. The assistant chief in question? Tragic and in need of a little dignity as his personal life unravels. The II chief? Likeable, shrewd, definitely someone you’d want in charge, but his ethics slipping a bit in the face of his clear ambition.

The real situation sorted itself out with the city hiring an outside replacement under a new law allowing external recruiting. This one? Well, it exists primarily to put Dufford on a collision course with the politics that tangle any police department.

And Under the Bridge? May still happen. We’ll see.

Winter’s Quarterly: Violet

Winter's Quarterly - Jan 2015The original plan for Winter’s Quarterly was to post a story every month under Get Into Jim’s Shorts, then take the previous three months’ stories and publish them in a quarterly zine. That’s still the plan, but since I started in September, I thought it’d be a bad idea to give you stories for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in a zine published in January. As a result, “Violet” is the only short that appeared on this site. The other two shorts are originals that I’ll talk about in the coming weeks.

“Violet” is a harrowing tale that has some strange beginnings. Part of it comes from my habit of starting with song titles as the germ of a story, possibly the title. I once recall a rather obnoxious fanficcer who demanded everyone one the usenet forum change all the titles based on songs because “That was clever exactly once.” To which I said, “OK, sweetie. When you’re Kurt Cobain or Patty Smith or Paul McCartney, you can lecture me on clever. In the meantime, why don’t you work on your writing, such as it is.” For this story, I found myself putting Hole’s “Violet” into playlists quite frequently. The lyrics do not sound like a woman trapped in anything more than a relationship she’s clearly putting behind her. (In this case, Courtney Love was venting at former boyfriend Billy Corrigan, a man with no love for Nirvana or the Foo Fighters to begin with.) But the chorus sparked an idea.

When they get what they want, they never want it again

In other words, the singer feels disposable, at least in the eyes of someone else. Around this time, a coworker at Medishack told me about her husband, a Cincinnati Police officer who had worked a couple of prostitution stings around town. These were starting to make the news quite a bit then. Both WXIX and NBC ran stories about women coerced or lured into prostitution as virtual slaves. Song title plus dark lyrics plus horrific situation = really dark short story.

And this one really is dark. The situation Violet finds herself in is one repeated over and over around the world. One local church has partnered with an organization in Mumbai, India, to get girls there out of that system. It has a side benefit of leaving a trail for the police to come smashing in doors. So sections of Mumbai are getting cleaned up. Unfortunately, it happens all too often here in America, and they use the cover of “slavery ended in 1865” as one weapon to hide it all. You might have seen the ads. They disguise themselves as personal ads, get the johns to come to a hotel where they think the girl they’re about to sleep with is no different than the one on the web cam. We still, in our society, have visions of call girls pulling down thousands of dollars a night (and they do exist) or street corner girls in short skirts kicking back a cut to a flamboyantly dressed pimp. The latter seems to have gone the way of the VCR and Plymouth cars. In reality, some girls are lured by men who “have a job.” While the most common scenario is a woman illegally in the country and little fluency in English (or even Spanish), women who would otherwise lead a normal life find themselves as easily trapped. The modern “pimp” uses blackmail, coercion, and even outright abduction to force the women to perform. And how much do these women make?

Zip. Nada. These women are slaves. Which last time I checked, had not been legal since, as mentioned earlier, 1865.

So I put the girl Violet into this situation, tried to get into her mind. There’s an Irishman named Paddy, whom her captor clearly fears. Violet decides to let Paddy do whatever he wants because he treats her decently and whispers promises, however false, of taking her into his home for his own. It’s still servitude, but she sees it as a way out, or at least a way to something like a normal life. She fears John more, the man who “owns” her and holds her captive in a place where she can’t tell what part of town she’s in. He’s already killed a girl and made Violet help dispose of her body. So imagine her joy and horror when her father finds her by posing as a john and carrying a pistol.

The ending is horrific. The story, set in a section of the fictional Monticello, may be incorporated into the follow-up to Holland Bay as Paddy is a planned character for the next chapter. It’s dark. That’s why I put it first in this issue.

Happy New Year! Here’s Some New Stuff!

Hey, I know I’ve been slow putting out new work. Well, wait no longer. I’ve got three – Count ’em! Three! – new offerings as of today.

Winter's Quarterly, January, 2015Winter’s Quarterly – January, 2015

Three tales and an essay from crime writer Jim Winter. Violet: A young girl is trapped in the modern world of prostitution and witnesses a violent confrontation between her captor and her father. Ault Park: Office Mike Dufford, recovering from a hit-and-run accident, has a promotion to sergeant waiting for him. All he has to do is say an assistant chief drove the car. Overpass: A man contemplates ending it all. But first, he wants a damn fine cup of coffee. Politics: A Carlinesque Rant: You can sum up politics in one word. What is it? Well… The first of a quarterly magazine from Jim Winter. 99 cents. Cheap!

Available now at Smashwords.

Gypsy's KissGypsy’s Kiss

Gypsy is a call girl and one of Nick Kepler’s best informants. When she decides to leave the sex trade for good, however, someone gets angry. As in they destroy her apartment. Nick must hide Gypsy on an island in Lake Erie during the off season while he prowls the streets of Cleveland in search of her attacker. But her stalker holds a grudge against more than just Gypsy. Before it’s over, one of Gypsy’s “clients” and Nick himself will be attacked.

Available now for pre-order! Coming February 1.

Boxer briefs

CC 2008 Luis2402

And as always, it’s the first of the month, which means you can get into my shorts for free.

This month’s short is “Brunch,” which goes a long way toward explaining why I don’t write literary fic much. (“Overpass” in Winter’s Quarterly Jan 2015 comes close to real lit fic.)

So bad it’s good. Or at least mediocre.

The Short Challenge

Boxer briefs

CC 2008 Luis2402

A few weeks back, I announced my plans to offer a new short story monthly and to release a quarterly magazine called Winter’s Quarterly. All the while doing this, I’m writing novellas leading into the SF novel and writing short stories to send to science fiction markets, all under the name I refer to here as “Dick.” I’ve also been asked to revise Holland Bay and need to plan its follow-up. A lot of work on top of a day job and college, right?

Already, I devote my early mornings to writing original material. Get 500 words written, and I’m off to work. But Winter’s Quarterly and the page Get Into Jim’s Shorts will need material, too. So I issued myself a challenge.

Last time I sketched out potential shorts to write, I came up with three potential crime stories for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The challenge? Start one story each weekend and finish the first draft in that weekend. When those three are written, come up with three more stories. And so on. And so on.

Part of this will be to come up with original material for the first few Winter’s Quarterly. The stories, including “Trick or Treat” that was finished this past weekend, are timed for the season, so I’d rather they be held back until next fall when they’ll be more timely. So the first Winter’s Quarterly in January will be have mostly new material never before published.

There’s another component to this. As I do more and more around writing, I have to be able to keep up the pace of creating new material. It’s a frequent complaint among writers I know that it’s hard to move on after the first draft of a novel is finished. “What do I do next?” they complain. One publishing maven whom I was friendly with for several years said she would come down with some sort of bug every time she finished. Plus, I’m being two writers: Jim and Dick, who will have his coming out very soon. So I need to be in a mode where I can shift gears from short to long work, from crime to science fiction, from Jim to Dick. The challenge of writing every weekend will make this easier to manage. If I stockpile enough stories, I can devote more time to long work without worrying about an empty pipeline.

Perfect? Nothing is perfect. Anyone who says there’s a perfect way is lying or in for a shock.

Mind you, it took me a long time to reach this point. Just as writing a novel is a learned skill, so is writing a high amount of material and writing it well. That second part of equation is very important. Because you don’t shoot for quality, there’s no point to quantity.