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.
Ed Kurtz is the author of A Wind of Knives, The Forty-Two, and Angel of the Abyss, among 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.