Stories & Soundtracks and a Woman Named Serpent
Every piece of fiction I craft has a soundtrack that keeps me firmly grounded in the story as I write it. My latest project, Serpent & The Prairie Fires, is a grit lit / chick lit mash-up about a defense attorney—Serpent—who returns to her tiny hometown for the funeral of a much-loved local…not because she is grieving, but because she knows one of her best friends has killed him. Serpent’s call-to-adventure unearths layers of secrets that span her lifetime and have kept her and her friends tethered to each other whether they like it or not. Theirs is a complicated and complex relationship, and though her girlfriends are well aware that at best Serpent is a criminal, and at worst she’s a killer—she’s also their oldest friend and only hope.
As I build the character who I initially called ‘Storyteller’ but who then very sharply and rapidly corrected me and said her name was ‘Serpent’, I imagine someone who is a peculiar combination of hubris and humility—and when she cruises back down that long, straight stretch of prairie highway after decades away, she is purposefully conspicuous in a sleek, splashy sports car. A song plays in my head as I write and edit this scene, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy.
Why? ’Cause the bump-’n-grind bluesy beat suits the way Serpent first downshifts into town then struts into the local grocer’s, prepared to flip the bird to anyone who might need to see it, her voice sardonic and ruthless and utterly unforgiving. Like here:
‘The stubby finger pointing at the Cheez Whiz had dirt ground in its seams. “That crap’s the reason our bodies don’t decompose when we die.”
The finger matched a voice I remembered. Darryl Miser had looked middle-aged even back when we were just kids; jowly, sideburns, and a gut apron that hung over his pants. Miser was one of those people who, right from childhood, fit in with every old shit-kicker farmer who lives here; the ones who should have been working but instead spent their mornings at Scotty’s Gas Bar, guzzling free coffee and waxing wise, each one-upping the other despite the reality that the sum total of their knowledge didn’t amount to jack shit. The shit-kickers were the type of men who fell silent as soon as someone outside their circle came inside to pay, their quiet purposeful, ruthless, and punctuated with a whoop of collaborative laughter once their target departed (ah, but remained within earshot. That was the important part). Darryl Miser was every one of those old shit-kicker farmers; a smug face and self-satisfied eyes, always trolling for anyone he could punish with all the local big fish/little pond politics that governed shitty little dumps like this.’
Serpent says the things that those kept firmly outside the circle only ever dare whisper for fear of being ostracized even more. She is acutely aware that she isn’t wholly accepted—and would actually feel insulted if somehow she were. Serpent colors both inside and outside the lines depending upon the circumstances life deals her, and while she would describe herself as the ultimate pragmatist, she is probably better recounted as a woman who is ‘situationally ethical’. I like to instill her with subtle traits and preferences that keep her well outside the sphere of her contemporaries, and that’s partly why she has a penchant for Jerry Lee Lewis, an artist way before her time—and his own. Rock n roll’s first ever ‘bad boy’, a symbolic favorite for a very bad girl. I envision Serpent cranking this track while driving
and it is no accident that her favorite artist also bears the nickname ‘Killer’. It is both telling and chilling to learn that, when Serpent has done her darkest deeds she sings a song to herself—first softly, then louder and louder as she gathers steam. Goodnight, Irene is Serpent’s theme song, a death-anthem for anyone she thinks has it coming. Well…anyone except for one person, I guess.
Serpent’s hometown is not just the setting for her story. It is also the place that has formed much of her personality. It is an area both dispossessed and disadvantaged yet not because there is poverty there per se. In fact, the location is a somewhat bizarre combination of isolation and wealth, but because desolation is the common denominator that holds sway over all, a theme rises to the surface again and again as I write this novel and it is this: this is a forgotten place with forgotten people. The residents of this region do have some services, but even these make a statement with their utilitarian, straightforward presentation. This is not a place that has ever been able to afford flights of fancy or whimsy. Case in point, here’s where Serpent goes to meet her friends after she executes a break-and-enter:
and the following is what she thinks as she walks through the door (liberties with the entrance above mine, but a throwback to how it really <i>did</i> look when I was a kid):
‘The Bar had two entrances; one that said ‘Gentleman’ and the other that read ‘Ladies & Escorts’. The ‘Gentleman’ door had long since been boarded up—way before I was even eighteen—so for many years, and by default, everyone that came in here to drink was either a lady or an escort.
I was neither, but that had never prevented the door from opening for me before and it didn’t prevent it tonight. Light spilled out onto the sidewalk as I pulled the handle and I was hit by the strong scent of draught (a stench I’ve always, and not in a good way, associated with cowboys), syrupy maraschino cherries, and an underscore of—my nose scrunched—piss.
Clearly when the new owners had ripped out the old carpet they’d left the bathrooms intact. Thus the reek of piss still plagued this place, creeping between the chair legs and over round tables still covered with the same old terry-cloth tablecloths they’d always been; threadbare and elasticized like over-sized shower caps. Red. I’d barfed on one once, long before I’d learned that booze was not always my buddy.'
A song pounds out of the ancient jukebox in my head as she goes in, another tune borne from the blues, and one with a lyric that provides me with the foreshadowing that indicates, correctly, that nothing Serpent does is going to end well: “The end is always near.”
Let it roll, baby, roll. If Serpent were forced to honestly state her vulnerability, she would admit that the highest stakes, for her, would not involve getting caught for the myriad crimes she’s committed, and certainly not for the morally questionable things she has done. The only love she has ever experienced has been that from her friends, yet she is thoroughly aware that she deserves none of it—and that some of it is not even given to her willingly. When I craft Serpent’s darkest moments, this pitch-black track accompanies my pen onto paper.
Like the sound of Serpent & The Prairie Fires? I can’t wait to share it with you! But until it is released I respectfully direct you to other pieces of my work available right now:
Divinity & The Python, my paranormal romantic thriller, introduces you to Cameron Weste, a sexy, superstitious hockey star. When Cameron consults a lovely Tarot reader named Shaynie, he is looking to peek into his future…but finds falling in love with her—and being hunted by her cruel stalker—instead. It’s linked here for quick pick-up. https://www.amazon.com/Divinity-Python-Secrets-Shadows-Randall/dp/0994026404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500397055&sr=8-1&keywords=divinity+and+the+python
…if romance is not in your cards, my novella, No Vacancy, is a short story inspired by the ghastly Elisa Lam disappearance in Los Angeles’ notorious old Cecil Hotel, a relic that crouches to this day down on LA’s skid row. See the amazon link here: https://www.amazon.com/No-Vacancy-Bonnie-Randall-ebook/dp/B01M63C2AS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Then again, maybe you aren’t wanting to part with your money, but would still like to read. Fair enough. Consider my short, magical realism romance Sweet Thoughts linked here https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1301041003349898&id=377492995704708&substory_index=0 OR another free short, about a researcher who learns he is more than he seems in How Far Is Heaven? right here. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1315223041931694&id=377492995704708&substory_index=0
Enjoy any of them or all of them and I ask only this: if you purchase one of my books, please recommend it to friends and then, I implore you, leave a review on amazon; reviews help amplify authors’ visibility more than anything else can. Or if you’ve read a short story on my facebook page, please re-share it onto your own and like my page up so we can stay connected; I always post alerts to my new fiction, free and otherwise, there!