Split Personality: The Author

3inOne

Bad guys must make quite an impression on me, because Through the Dark, my remembered version of Eyes at the Window, painted the villain in pretty much the same colors as the original manuscript. The names changed. He was Mathias Payne in the beginning, and that name will be resurrected as I polish off the third version of this old idea. But to my ear, that name has a similar ring to the one I made up from memory: Harlan Hunter.

Both men liked to preach about the evil of guns, since that was, and is, a pivotal plot point. The only real difference is that thirty years ago I was at least partially a believer that armed citizens was a good thing, while now I am mainly a believer that upholding the rights of gun ownership has gotten way out of control. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I need to try to find a way to reflect that difference in the latest version of my story. Here’s what I’ve done in the past.

ORIGINAL
Her uncle paused when he caught sight of her .45 automatic on the mantle. “Where did you get that gun?”

“I bought it.”

“Now, Sarah, you know I don’t like firearms. They’re dangerous.”

“I’m ready to go,” she said to distract him.

Sarah’s hope that her uncle would forget his lecture on guns was disappointed. Once in the car, we went on at length about the evils of all firearms. In self defense, Sarah reverted to an old habit. She appeared to listen intently but was actually light years away.

“The way the crime rate is rising, something positive as to be done. The jerks in office now, some of them, anyway, beat around the bush with petty bills that will do absolutely no good at all.”
She blanked out his words, staring out at the roadside daydreaming.

“That’s what I’m basing my platform on this election. There are plenty of people who agree with my point of view. Once I win, even though this is only a small office, I’ll be on my way. I have connections, you know, and that’s all it takes these days. Connections and people who think the same way you do.”

Sarah imagined coming across a handsome hitchhiker along the road, convincing her uncle to stop to give the man a ride.

“Yes, soon there will be enough politicians like myself in office to get things done the way they should be done. It’s just a matter of time before all guns are banned. Imagine it, can you? No guns. What better way to insure peace? The whole country settled down to domestic bliss with no fear.”

REMEMBERED
Patty cut a piece of pork chop and ate it, speaking around the food. “I saw you on your soap box there, Harlan. What is it this time?”“The usual,” Sissy answered. “Politics. Gun control again. Harlan is trying to make pacifists out of all these NRA members sitting around the table here.”

The mayor and three of the men laughed, but one woman said “He’s right, though. Just last month a six-year-old over in Riverside accidentally shot his little sister playing cowboys with a loaded revolver. His daddy had a whole room full of rifles and hand guns. What’s a man
need with so many guns? Poor baby could have been killed.”

“Now, now,” the mayor said, wiping his mouth and then laying his napkin neatly across his knee again. “Guns don’t kill people—”

“Yes, yes,” Harlan interrupted. “We know. People kill people. But guns make it a lot easier to kill people and you can’t deny that.” He leaned forward again, jabbing his finger to make his point. “You can’t tell me there’s any good reason a man needs an assault rifle as his personal weapon, for Pete’s sake. If I had my way, all guns would be illegal, but at least—”

The debate they’d interrupted took off again full throttle. Someone argued that any move to ban the personal acquisition of assault weapons was just the first step toward banning all weapons.

“That tired old argument?” Harlan countered. “That’s like saying establishing a police force in town means we’re going to live in a police state. Ridiculous. Did banning public smoking lead to arresting everyone who buys cigarettes?”

“Not yet,” someone said to a spattering of laughter.

“You talk like guns are some kind of pathogen,” one white-haired man said. Miranda tried to remember his name. Doctor somebody. “As if getting rid of guns would eliminate violence like penicillin cures syphilis. Violence is the disease if you ask me. Until we find a cure for that, let me keep my aught-five.”

“Statistics show the crime rates go down when households are allowed to own guns for self-protection,” someone else argued.

“And I can show you data that the number of accidental deaths goes up in those same neighborhoods.” Harlan pointed a barbecue-sauced finger around the table at his listeners. “500,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. Who do you think they get stolen from? Law abiding citizens too stupid to be allowed access let alone ownership of a dangerous weapon.

“Take this little girl here.” Harlan jabbed his finger toward Miranda who flushed in anger at being called little girl. “Know what she had on her the other day? A handgun. That’s right. She came to greet Sissy and me at the door with a gun in her hand. What kind of training do you think she had, city bred girl that she is? What if she’d accidentally discharged that weapon? Or mistook us for trespassers?”

REVISED
I haven’t yet written the scene in this final version that shows Sarah’s uncle as an advocate for gun control. I suspect it will include a lot of the same arguments I wrote for the remembered version. How the theme is handled now needs to rely on more than just what the villain of the story has to say about it. He’s an unlikeable character, so naturally the reader is going to be inclined to think I’m saying his opinion is the wrong one. In fact, that was my original intent, when I leaned toward painting advocates for gun control as zealots with untrustworthy ideas.

Any message this version will contain about gun control will need to be written into the fabric of the story itself, into the mindset and growth of all the main characters and how the whole gun-specific plot is resolved. For that to happen properly, I’m going to have to draw some lines in my own mind about my thoughts on the subject so that I can be true to my own vision. I write stories not only to entertain, but to communicate. Whether people will agree with me or not, I write to extend my understanding of the way things are, and the way I feel they ought to be.

The Resurrection of Charlie

Poor, forgotten Charlie.  I’m not sure why he completely escaped my recall when I rewrote Through the Dark from memory.  It probably has to do with my one-time fascination with the bad boy, wounded male image.  At that time, Charlie didn’t fit my subconscious mold for what sexy was. I perceive it as a sign of my growing up that I now find scenes like the one below at least as enticing as the scene where Sarah first meets Luke.

Charle meets Sarah

Charlie downshifted his Harley and cruised by when he saw the open gate.  Peering up the lane for some sign of life, he drove past the place once, then turned around and came back. When he pulled up to the entrance, he stopped and sat for a while, chewing his thumb and thinking.

The gate had always been closed before. Luke’s main reason for choosing this place was because it had been empty for years. That, and the fact that Mathias Payne’s private property bordered the back of the timber.

Was that who was up there?  Mathias Payne? That didn’t sound too good for Luke. Maybe he’d better go see just what was going on.

He laid his bike  down in the ditch by the road for anonymity and walked up the lane.  Approaching quietly he could arrive unannounced and back out without being noticed if necessary.

He saw the car first, parked by the house. Not Mathias Payne’s vehicle, which was a relief. Then he heard a grating sound coming from the back yard. Just as he recognized it, an Irish Setter who had been sitting on the porch jumped up and began barking in alarm.

Charlie froze. When a woman walked around the side of the house to see what was going, he felt relieved for a moment until he noticed the gun belt strapped her hip. “Hello,” he called from a safe distance. “Boy, I can tell you don’t like strangers around here.”

She put her hands on her hips, which made the gun and holster even more visible. “What do you want?” The dog continued to bark, interspersed with low growls.

“Well, a friendly smile would be nice, but I’d settle for a cease fire.  I’m not sure what to worry about more, that vicious animal or the gun your fingers are itching to pull on me.”

“Quiet, Paddy.” The dog obeyed instantly and dropped to her haunches, but remained watchful.  The woman, however, did not back down. Every muscle was still tense and on the alert.

“Hey, relax, will you?” Charlie laughed nervously and put his hands up to show he was harmless. “I promise not to bite if you don’t. How about a peace treaty? After all, I look like a nice guy, don’t I? Blond hair, blue eyes, a mild, unassuming manner.  Just an all American guy.” He put his hands down and walked slowly forward. “Got a good solid name, too. Charlie Brice.”

“That’s far enough,” she said after he’d taken a few steps. “I’m Sarah. And you still didn’t tell me what you’re doing here.”

“Actually, I should be the one asking that question.  I happen to know that Mathias Payne owns this property and that means you’re trespassing at least as much as I am.”

“Wrong,” she said bluntly. “Uncle Mathias never owned this property, as much as he would like to. It was my mother’s place and now it’s mine. And I intend to keep it.”

“Uncle?”

“My mother was Mathias’s sister,” she snapped as if he had called her a liar.

Charlie shrugged. “Far be it from me to argue with a porcupine.”

“Porcupine?”

“What else would you call it? You’re so bristled up you’re liable to shoot quills at me any minute.”

The corner of Sarah’s mouth twitched like maybe she wanted to smile. “Porcupines don’t shoot their quills.”

“They don’t shoot guns either. Any way you look at it, you are one dangerous looking lady right now.”

He saw the tightness of her shoulders release a little.  She lowered her hands, although she didn’t look any less prepared to shoot him if he gave her reason.

“You know how it is,” she said. “Stranger danger.  It’s drilled into kids from early on. I had a scare here last night and don’t plan on getting caught off guard again.”

“A scare?”

“Someone was snooping around my car last night.  At least…” She frowned. “I think there was. At any rate, it seems like a wise move to know more than just your name and hair color.” She cocked her head, obviously waiting for an answer.

“Well, if my good looks and charm aren’t doing the trick…” He grinned, but she didn’t smile back. “Then I guess you should know I’m just here brown nosing it, is all.  I’ve been looking for some part-time farm labor and Payne is the largest land owner around here.  When I noticed someone was on his property— What I thought is his property,” he added hastily when she seemed about to protest. “I thought maybe I’d earn some points if I did the responsible thing and made sure no one was trashing the place or otherwise engaged in illegal activities.”

“So, just being responsible?” She narrowed her eyes at him and Charlie nodded.  “Why do I get the feeling that’s a new thing for you?” She sighed. “You do seem relatively harmless, but if you’re hoping for a job reference from me, you’re out of luck.  My uncle and I don’t exactly get along and he doesn’t even—”

Charlie waited for her to go on, and when she didn’t, said, “I accept your apology. On one condition. That you offer me something to drink.  I’m dying of thirst.”

There, she definitely smiled, just for a moment.  “I don’t remember apologizing.”

“You just said I’m harmless. Shows you’ve got good instincts. Now, if you happen to have some water. Or coffee. I’d kill for a cup of coffee. Not, you know,” He held up his hands again. “Not literately, of course.”

“I only have instant.”

“Hey, I’m not picky.  Instant is fine.”

She hesitated and Charlie thought he’d lost her.  Then she sighed and pointed to a rusted metal chair on the porch. “Wait here.”

Compare that to Sarah’s first encounter with Luke.  At this point in the story, she has come to realize there is someone living in her barn, but she has done nothing about it.  In the original draft, in fact, she feels drawn despite herself to this stranger she has glimpsed only from a distance, a homeless trespasser who lives in her barn and has tried to make friends with her dog by giving Paddy a rabbit carcass he poached illegally on her property. Earlier in the day before the scene below, Sarah’s foot had been caught in an animal trap someone had put in her timber, and Luke had been shot for snooping around Sarah’s uncle’s house.  When Sarah enters the barn, he is up in the loft tending to the wound.

Luke meets Sarah

He didn’t hear the noises until someone began ascending the loft ladder. Wincing at the pain, he pulled himself up and moved out of the light. Scarcely breathing, he waited while the dark shadow came closer, waving a flashlight beam back and forth to search for him. When it came within striking distance, he leaped. The intruder came down with a muffled cry.

There was a struggle, but Luke was the stronger despite his injury and he pinned his victim beneath him. It was then that he realized he had tackled a woman.  A rain-soaked woman, her breasts flattened to his chest, perked nipples against his bare skin.

“Sarah?”

“Get off me.”

She tried to release herself, but Luke held her down. Defeated, she stared into his eyes defiantly. Instinctively, he crushed his lips to hers. Hungrily he tasted her mouth, forgetting his wound as he pressed closer to her. Her shock gave way to a moment of surrender, her body warm and melting to his touch, her mouth responding to his.

Then the fight was back. She hit at him; her hand pushing against the bullet wound sent an explosion of pain through him. He fell away, curled into a ball, and bit down hard on his lip to keep from crying out. Blood seeped into his mouth as he waited for her to run off.

Except she didn’t. Groping through the hay, she felt for the flashlight that had fallen during their struggle. “Damn you,” she raved. “You ruin my watchdog, shoot rabbits on my land, and even set traps to hurt me and now you think you’ll try rape?  I’ve had it with you.  I’ve had it.”

The beam of light caught him full in the face and he put up a bloody hand to shade his eyes.

“You’re hurt.” The tone she used now was quite different from before. Flashlight still trained on him, she moved closer and Luke could see that she had pulled out her gun, but the point was lowered. She knelt beside him, still wary.

Quite a contrast between the two men, right?  The friendly jokester and the dangerous bad boy.  Their personalities will remain the same in this new version of the story.  What will change, however, is Sarah’s reaction to them.  We shall see, shall we, if this time she will see sense or end up trusting the one most likely to be a bad guy.