Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Assassin’s Tale

Someone asked me recently why I chose to write a story from the point of view of an assassin. I’m saying that more delicately than it was asked. The tone was scathing. Maybe even a little shocked. The implication: why would anyone -- any nice person -- choose to stand on the uneven edge and look at life from a place where emotional collision is the only possible option? (I paraphrase, of course. You’ll have guessed that. The words the questioner asked were different than these.)

The answer is: I don’t really know. There must have been a moment when it was clear to me. When something fueled the question; pushed me forward to find an answer. But then, as always, the story swept me away. I became involved with the character/her special problems/challenges. And the genesis of that story becomes lost in the mists of memory, though -- truly -- it was not so very long ago.

I keep a notebook of… well, of snippets, really. Some of them are ideas for story. More of them are pieces that just fall out of my head. I write them down to keep them from drifting off. Then -- ideally -- when the time is right, I go back and harvest the snippets because sometimes they’ve taken root.

For the story that became “Hitting Back” there are two of these entries. The first:
With practice joy could be prevented. There often wasn’t far to go.
Meaningless, right? Yet it painted a whole situation for me. A whole chill feeling. It created the essence of the she who would become her. And another:
You can’t predict the moments you’ll remember. They’re seldom the ones you’ll think they’ll be. The grand gestures. The big bangs.
Neither of these lines are in “Hitting Back,” but they spoke to me about this character; about the spiritual desolation she felt.

Who was she? Someone who has hit her own bottom and does what she does in an attempt to find her own path out.

If you’ve read the story, you know the main character -- the nameless character -- in “Hitting Back” is broken and is possibly beyond redemption. Her circumstances create her as a somewhat sympathetic character, but it’s an uneasy sympathy for the reader. After all, she’s a hit woman: she kills people for money. There’s only so much sympathy we can spare. She seems to know this, too, and doesn’t ask for it, as she tells us early on:
It’s more of a temperament thing. That’s what I’ve found. More of life lining up in a certain way, showing you what you’re made of. And this probably isn’t true for everyone, but for me it was also a combination of rage and desperation. And, obviously, there’s no road back. Once you’ve taken a life for money, it’s not like you can return to whatever you were doing before. You can’t just go back to being a stockbroker or a gardener or someone’s secretary. For so many reasons, once you turn that corner, you can’t ever find your way home.
So back to the original question: why write about an assassin? I don’t know. I still don’t know. But she’s made an impression, both on me and on her readers. That much I do know. And I feel her larger story stirring. I’ll let you know about that journey when it begins.

1 comment:

Donald V. Phillips said...

I would love to se "Hitting Back" road into a novel!