>> Sunday, December 30, 2012
Well this is damned odd.
This morning, lying awake in the predawn hours--the ScatterKat has given me some foul virus she picked up, probably from the ScatterKat's adorable but germy toddler niece--I had one of those epiphanies you have when you're tossing and turning and it's too late to really get back to sleep and too early to get up.
It concerned one of the abysmal drafts I've been working on of late. A short story that may not have a story, I'm sort of afraid; it concerns, anyway, this bank robber getting shot up in front of a bank and not going down easily, and perhaps supernatural awfulness that comes drifting out in the course of an investigation; well, you know, all I really have is that this guy gets shot up coming out of a bank.
But this epiphany I had: maybe, instead of writing it as a short story, I ought to write it as a true-crime piece. The sort of thing that might show up under Skip Hollandsworth's byline over at Texas Monthly, f'r'instance. The idea that came to me was that the piece could be sort of like some of Lovecraft's better efforts, where the whole thing is unspooled as an absolutely true tale with little implications of horribleness creeping in from the edges, more imagined than explicit, etc. Old technique, but it spares you from having to have something unreasonably obvious and laid out on the table (or even of knowing everything about your plot, frankly), and, besides, it might be a fun thing to write, a challenge.
But by Crom, I feel terrible today. I thought I could get a few words down, but I barely feel like moving my fingers.
But what I decided I could at least do was re-read some old Skip Hollandsworth pieces, try to get a feel for what kinds of things he puts into one of his stories, which really are well-written yarns.
Old readers may vaguely remember me mentioning Hollandsworth here. Regrettably, it wasn't exactly flattering: back in March, I wrote about how I'd accidentally discovered that a fine piece of writing Hollandsworth had done about convicted killer Charles Albright, "See No Evil", used a bogus, invented detail to pump up the story's impact. Specifically, Hollandsworth's angle was that the victims' eyes had been stolen from the corpses, and Albright allegedly had an obsession with eyes. And this obsession went so far as these chilling closing paragraphs in Hollandsworth's article:
"Oh, really, I have never touched an eyeball," Albright declared again, for the first time becoming indignant with me. "I truly think--and this may sound farfetched--that the boys in the forensics lab cut out those eyes. I think the police said, 'We want some sort of mutilation.'" Almost cheered by his reasoning, he returned to his psychologically impenetrable self. Whatever secrets he had would remain with him forever.
Weeks after that conversation, I remember Albright’s comment about wanting the first issue of Omni magazine. Intrigued, I went to look for it at the library. I opened a bound volume to the cover of the first issue, which was published in October 1978. There, staring out from the center of a dark page, was a solitary human eye, unmoored, as if floating in space. The eyelid slid down just to the top of the eyeball; the eyeball was lightly shaded; the eyelashes were curved like half-moons.
It was, I thought, exactly the kind of eye Charles Albright would wish he had painted.
The problem, I discovered, was that the cover of the October, 1978 Omni featured no such illo; the cover of the issue in question depicted a car's tail lights glowing red in the near distance, adjacent to a wall or fence running from the infinite away towards the viewer. Nor were there any issues of Omni from the time period that matched Hollandsworth's description; several issues of Omni over the years did feature eyes and faces, but none of them quite matched Hollandsworth's description, either.
This depressed me.
Because Hollandsworth is really, really good. He's a helluva good nonfiction writer, and I admire his work, and discovering that detail at the end of the story was bullshit was a lot like discovering your favorite athlete was doped up on steroids during his golden years or your favorite singer's star performance was entirely the result of studio magic, or some other letdown you might pick. I like Hollandsworth's work. I still like Hollandsworth's work. I didn't want to read everything he writes wondering what he might have fudged.
And it was a regrettably timely discovery, seeing as how "nonfiction" writers playing loose with the truth was a subject du jour around the time, a book about fact-checking having recently made the rounds and some controversy attending several writers who'd been accused of fastness and looseness. So I wrote a piece about it in March, and had a nice dialogue with some readers, and went on with my life.
And then, today, nine months after writing that piece, I was filled with the urge to re-read some Hollandsworth, comfort food for the virally afflicted and "research" after a fashion if I start reworking this fictional "true crime" story as more of a first-person-fictional-journalist thing and less of a traditional third-person-omniscient thing. Spent most of the afternoon reading and re-reading various pieces and enjoying them. And "See No Evil" was the first tab I opened and last tab I closed on the Galaxy Tab, because that kind of story--back-and-forth past-to-present, historical reconstruction, the journalist as implied character, etc.--was exactly what I think I might do with this accounting of a bank robber who dies in a fundamentally wrong way, plus "See No Evil" is simply a chilling, gruesome tale. And if there was a factual inaccuracy, that didn't matter, because what I was looking for was the kind of things Hollandsworth attends to in his writing; I don't plan on making my thing a pastiche, but I want his influence in the story's DNA somewhere.
So I re-read "See No Evil". And something was wrong. I remembered my dismay at the Omni thing (partly because of a coincidence: a friend recently asked me on Facebook if I was looking for the issue, which she'd stumbled across while housecleaning; it may be that's why Hollandsworth was on my mind this morning in the first place; "With one breath / With one blow", etc.). But Omni wasn't mentioned in "See No Evil". Not at all.
I reread the end of Hollandsworth's article again:
But then I’d lock on the image of an eyeless young woman lying faceup on a neighborhood street. Why would such a kindly, lighthearted man want to cut out a prostitute’s eyes? Why was he so plagued by eyes, that potent and universal symbol, the windows to the soul? In the ancient myth, Oedipus tore out his own eyes after committing the transgression of sleeping with his mother. Did Charles Albright, a perverted Oedipus, tear out the eyes of women for committing the transgression of sleeping with men? Perhaps he removed their eyes out of some sudden need to show the world he could have been a great surgeon. Maybe he dumped that third body in front of the school to show his frustration over never having become a biology teacher. Or maybe a private demon had been lurking since his childhood, when the eyes were left off his little stuffed birds. Just as he long ago wanted to have a bagful of taxidermist’s eyes, maybe he decided to collect human eyes for himself.
“Oh, really, I have never touched an eyeball,” Albright declared again, for the first time becoming indignant with me. “I truly think – and this may sound farfetched – that the boys in the forensics lab cut out those eyes. I think the police said, ‘We want some sort of mutilation.’” Almost cheered by his reasoning, he returned to his psychologically impenetrable self. Whatever secrets he had would remain with him forever.
The end. Copyright info. Limited license. Print and close links. Whaa?
So I thought to myself, "Self, maybe that's just an artifact of your reading this on a tablet." And I went over to the computer and found the article. And that's how it ends. Now. And then I thought, "Self, maybe that's because this is print view", and I went and told Texas Monthly where I lived and how old I was and how they could e-mail me, wondering deep down if I was going to find myself visited by an angry, eyeball-collecting publisher or journalist (hey, my sole published story is about a couple using zombi powder to take turns practicing necrophilia--I'm prone to thinking deranged and disturbed shit that doesn't make any logical sense, okay? I thought you knew that about me by now). And the official version up at Texas Monthly ends the same way (registration required).
They've edited it. I'll be damned. They edited it.
I'm not complaining. Not in the least. The bit about Omni, too good to be true and turns out it wasn't, shouldn't have been in there in the first place. Power to them for making the change, though I can't help thinking maybe there should have been some kind of editor's note at the end, however benign.
Indeed, I'd love to think Skip Hollandsworth called up Texas Monthly and said, "Goddammit, you can't leave this up like this," and I can polish the smudge right off the imaginary statuette of Mr. H. on the little shrine in my head.
But I also can't help wondering....
You know what I'm wondering. The ego thing. Did somebody see my piece here at Giant Midgets back in March and say to themselves, "Gahddammit"? Some editor? Maybe Mr. Hollandsworth his esteemed self? Some notes checked, a little bit of work on Google? And now this nobody blogger, yours truly, has pushed a tiny thing in a tiny way so it hangs a little straighter on the wall, and it's a tiny thing, but damned if it don't make the house a little nicer, somehow?
I guess that's another secret forever.