The building of ‘Falldown Church’

Ed Kurtz’s “Falldown Church” appears in the Winter 2014-15 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, our 10th issue. We asked him to tell us how he came to write the story.

By Ed Kurtz

Having grown up between Virginia and Arkansas and spent the preponderance of my adult life in Texas, I’m quite fond of writing dark, pastoral stories set in the rural South. Most of my published short work (including novellas) so far can be thusly characterized, though for some reason my novels tend to end up in places like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. Why that is would be fodder for another essay, but between novels – or indeed when I get stuck in one – I turn to briefer venues and almost always end up in small towns. “Falldown Church” is no exception, though unlike so many of its predeccesors the protagonist is not some down-on-his-luck drifter, no killer or hustler or thief, but the sheriff of an unamed Texas county. And like quite a lot of my shorts, it began with a title in need of a story.

The first part I stole from a line out of a Tom Waits song, “Get Behind The Mule”:

Choppity chop goes the axe in the woods
You gotta meet me by the fall down tree

I liked the idea of describing something that’s collapsed as “fall down” (note: all writers are thieves!), and I transposed it to something perhaps a little more substantial and significant than a random tree in the woods – in this case, an abandoned church (another trope of mine, I admit, having hung out in one way back in my Arkansan youth, once upon a time). Whereas the church in “Dog Will Hunt” (another Needle story) was still standing and home to a wretched assembly of methampetamine addicts, this “falldown church” figures in as a derelict, half-collapsed structure far enough out for local teens to deem it an acceptable locale for making out, or more…or worse.

At the risk of spoiling the story, another topic of interest to me in my writing is the broken family, here once broken already and on the verge of a second, more tragic break. In this piece I have a character who screwed up trying to make good, but there is, ultimately, quite little he can do, apart from a job that oft times is not as satisfactory as the former high school football star might wish it was. And since this is small town Texas, high school football figures into the proceedings, which meant I had to phone my mother – the most rabid Washington Redskins fan the 1980s ever saw – for fact-checking and advice on details, having never seen a football game in my entire life. (Writers bullshit rather a lot, too.)

The end result is, I hope, an enjoyable piece of rural noir with, for once, a relatively decent protagonist who nevertheless remains largely powerless in the face of multiple tragedies involving teens misspending their youth, to say the least. Horace and Polly recover and rebuilt from their own youthful indiscretions, but as “Falldown Church” illustrates, some mistakes are quite permanant.

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Ed Kurtz is the author of A Wind of Knives, The Forty-Two, and Angel of the Abyssamong other novels and novellas. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies like Thuglit, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Shotgun Honey, and Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, and he was selected to appear in The Best American Mystery Stories 2014. Kurtz lives in Texas where he is at work on his next project. Feel free to drop him a line at edkurtzbooks@gmail.com.

How ‘Blood and Pavement’ came to exist

Paul J. Garth’s “Blood and Pavement” appears in the Winter 2014-15 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, available in print. We asked him to explain how the story was written, how it came to exist.

By Paul J. Garth

The first draft of “Blood and Pavement” was written in a single night in a hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin. I had been working on another story for an open call anthology, but the story refused to come together, and the deadline was the next day. Unsure of what to do, only knowing I had to get something out, I closed the story I’d been obsessing over, opened a new document, and wrote.

Paul J. Garth

There was no outline, no plot, no characters who’d already existed in my head. Instead, just the image of a black car on a empty Nebraska road, speeding through the night with its lights off, a man dying the backseat.

That version of “Blood and Pavement” is very different that the one now available in the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Needle, but the basics were there from the beginning.

The violence, the deal gone wrong, the relationship between Jed and Ben, and most importantly, the sense of spiritual longing.

Instead of plot, I think it was the spiritual aspect of the story that allowed me to finish the first draft so quickly. I’m still a young writer, but of the stories I have put out, I think a theme of spiritual confusion is pretty clear. It’s the blank page I return to every time I begin fleshing out an idea, and in this case, it was what carried me all the way through.

I’m not sure if my interest in the spiritual aspect of criminality is because I spent a large portion of my formidable years in South Carolina, surrounded by those who had faith and who proclaimed it with vigor, or because one of my favorite writers is Flannery O’Connor, or because I simply find crime fiction more interesting when there is more than bodily harm and cash money at risk. I want my crime fiction to come from a place where the crime itself is only an ugly outgrowth of an initial Sin, committed by one who knew it was wrong, but chose to do it anyway.

I don’t think of myself as a religious writer. Or that I’m attempting to advance any kind of specific theological agenda with my stories (I don’t think so anyway, though I think it’s pretty easy to see where I come down on the topic of pre-destination vs. free will). It’s simply that mans’s natural tastes for both violence and piety – and his ability to reconcile them in all kinds of horrible constructions – is a contradiction I’m constantly attempting to figure out.

Like Ben in “Blood and Pavement”, I think it comes down to the fact that I earnestly want to believe, but in my gut I’m afraid we’ve already gone too far down that lonely road, our lights off in the dark.

Postscript: I’d like to thank Steve Weddle, Chad Eagleton, Dyer Wilk, and J David Osborne for all the editing help and insight I received in making this story the best I could make it. No one writes alone.

Needle: Winter 2014-15

Winter has come

BUY ME

WINTER 2014-15 -> Needle Magazine is hardboiled, lean and mean. Crime fiction from some of the best — Albert Tucher, Laura Woollett, Kim Bradley, Chris Rhatigan, Nigel Bird, Jeff Barr, Sarah Askins, David Corbett, Ed Kurtz, Paul J. Garth, Elahzar Rao, C.M. Beckett, Erik Arneson, and Steve De Jarnatt. Cover art by Scott Morse.

The WINTER 2014-15 issue of NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir is now available.

The WINTER 2014-15 issue of NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir is now available.

Closed to submissions

The submissions window has temporarily closed as we prepare the next issue. Thanks.

OPEN

Open for submissions:

https://needlemag.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/spring-2014-issue-available-now/

Spring 2014 issue available now

Needle Magazine – Spring 2014

Needle Magazine - Spring 2014

Needle Magazine is hardboiled, lean and mean. Crime fiction from some of the best — Heath Lowrance, Rob W. Hart, Patti Abbott, Taylor Brown, Jen Conley, Stephen D. Rogers, Court Merrigan, Sandra Seamans, Trent England, Christopher L. Irvin, William Boyle, William Dylan Powell, and Tom Joyce. Cover art by Scott Morse.
Featuring

Five Bucks Buys Some Goddamn Vodka by Heath Lowrance 

The first big mistake I made that day was giving my money to Timmy Webber to hold on to. It was a five dollar bill some college chickie gave me that afternoon because she thought I was panhandling when all I was doing really was sitting there on the curb wondering where I was going to get some money for another pint. Manna from fuckin heaven, right?

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Heath Lowrance

So I was shuffling my way to the liquor store—I say shuffling not to be cutsie but because walking hurts my hips like a cunt and I can only shuffle—when out of the store comes Timmy Webber with a big fuckin smile on his face and a fifth—a fifth!—of Arrow Vodka in his gnarled hand.

Now Timmy, everyone knows he’s got what you call anger management issues, especially when he’s drunk, which (like me) is most of the fuckin time. When I think of him now, I think of a red face, thick lips twisted in rage, his little blood eyes bulging. The guy, he’d fly off the handle over anything. He always wanted to fight somebody, even though I’d never seen him win one. He sure got the fuck beat out of him on a regular basis, though. He’d spent so long acting like the world was against him that eventually it was.

But just then he was mostly sober and so not in a blind rage. He saw me and said, “Clint, Clint, Clintie!” and tucked the bottle in his coat. “How you, my man?”

“Well,” I said, shrugging. “You know.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“You got a bottle, huh?”

“Hey, fuck you.”

“I’m just saying, you got a bottle.”

“Fuck you, Clintie.”

“Jesus, man, what’s your damage?”

“This is my bottle and I ain’t sharing it, so fuck you.”

I shrugged again and went to shuffle past him. “I don’t need you,” I said. “I got my own money.”

The A-rab who owned the store came out in the doorway right before I got in. He crossed his arms and said, “You two clear out. I don’t need that kind of language here, I have customers, decent people.”

I said, “I’m a customer, goddamnit. I got money. I wanna buy a pint.”

“Go somewhere else.”

“What the fuck!” I said. It hurt my chest to raise my voice, but I was pissed. “Take my money and give me a pint of Arrow!”

“Get out of here before I call the police.”

“You… you’re prejudiced, you asshole!”

“Get out! Every time you come in I can’t get the stink of you out of my store all day!”

Even though the A-rab was talking to me, Timmy was starting to take it personal. He stepped up, face turning bright red, said, “Hey, fuck you, you fuckin camel jockey, I’ll kick your—“

The A-rab punched Timmy in the face. Timmy stumbled back into a parked car, clutching his nose. Blood streamed between his fingers. The A-rab said, “Leave before I rip your stinking heart out, you piece of shit.”

We left.

Continue reading in print -> Needle

Two BEST OFs featuring NEEDLE favorites

Congratulations to Dennis Tafoya, whose “Satan’s Kingdom” will be included in The Best American Mystery Stories 2014 by Otto Penzler and Laura Lippman, editors. The story originally appeared in the Spring-Summer 2013 issue of NEEDLE.

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And Ed Kurtz’s “The Trick,” originally published in NEEDLE, has been selected for Best Gay Stories 2014.

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Looking forward to these publication and pleased as hell to have worked with these talented folks.