I’m still here, even it’s been five months since I last blogged. I’ll blame 2020 for my negligence. I’ve not quit writing, not even slowed down—except for the blog. I reckon that not doing most of those things I do away from our house has been good for me in that one way, at least. Being retired, my job hasn’t been threatened by COVID. But for months, church stopped, Kiwanis Club meetings stopped, Civil War reenactments stopped, other meetings turned into zoom episodes, and family visits decreased.
Along the way, my daughter-in-law caught COVID 19, but thankfully recovered after a mild case. Worse, my 99-year-old dad passed away a week shy of his 100th birthday, which would have angered him if he’d been aware of the timing.
Since he was a WWII veteran, the Honor Guard from Bergstrom AFB honored him with a flag-draped coffin and playing taps at his graveside.
A couple of months later, the last of my four uncles died at age 90, leaving my siblings and me as the ‘old wise ones’ in our clan. I’m not sure I’m up to that duty, since I’m no Gandalf or Moses with a magical staff. After that, wifey Nita and I are pleased to wake up this morning in the year 2021.
The manuscript I’ve been hacking away at for most the past year has nothing to do with the Civil War, early Texas, or giant flying horny toads. Nope, it’s me scratching an itch that’s bugged me since 1999. That’s the year when a couple of high school students brought guns to school, turned the school library into a fort, and murdered other students and teachers inside Columbine High School in Colorado. The first of several horrifying school shootings over the next twenty years.
I spent nine years as the principal of a high school, and nothing, I mean nothing, more disturbs me than the thought of a gun-wielding angry teenager, hell bent on murder, loose in my school. So, decades after my tenure as a high school principal ended, and having gained some degree of expertise by writing other novels, I’ve been creating a story about such a situation.
It hasn’t been an easy task, as my story unfolded differently than I’d expected. That’s a funny thing I’ve learned by doing, by writing fiction. I as the author am supposed to be in control. After all, it’s my fingers, on my keyboard, taking orders from my brain. Yet, regardless of all that ownership of the moving parts and mental effort, characters emerge who surprise me, situations play out differently than I’d intended, and the tale told winds up different from the tale first imagined. My school shooter story is no exception.
I set the story in 1984-85, during a school year when I was a new-ish principal. Those years were before cell phones, before the internet, before email and i-phones and texting. We didn’t even use radios to communicate in my school. Exterior doors were kept open all over campus, we didn’t have a school police officer. Times were different, better in some ways, worse in others, but, for sure, communication was primitive by today’s standards, making the pathway of a school shooter much, much easier than now.
Growing up in a small town in east Texas, I had guns as a teenager. My friends and I would go down to the Sabine River bottoms and ‘plink’ at cans and turtles sunning on logs in the river, although I doubt we ever hit any turtles. I’m saying that to clarify it was easy to decide what weapon I’d arm my shooter with in the year 1985—a Remington Model 66 long rifle .22, one of Remington’s most popular guns. The Model 66’s, made from 1959 to 1987, were semi-automatics, with a capacity of fourteen cartridges. The cartridges were fed through a tunnel in the plastic butt stock, similar in design to the Civil War Spencer repeating carbines.
The Model 66’s are slow and awkward to load, no clips or magazines to pop in and out, but they can dependably shoot fourteen rounds with fourteen squeezes of the trigger. I had one, and regret I accidentally left it at a friend’s place one weekend, someone who I haven’t seen in many years, who now lives I know not where. So my personal Model 66 is lost.
While the weapon was easy to choose, the murderous thoughts within the teenager on whom my tale focuses were not easy at all to sort out and set down in writing. I mean, who knows what turns a teenage kid into a teenage killer? I’m not talking about urban gangs, where the malignant influences to violence are not big secrets. I’m talking about a small town or country kid who slides into a figurative sucking whirlpool and can’t find a way out. Like I said, a challenge.
I can’t be a spoiler of my own story, and even the title is still up in the air. The manuscript is still being critiqued chapter-by-chapter by a circle of tough readers. It has been a tough story to write, a fitting story to create in the tough year 2020.
Stay tuned for an announcement about the book in a month or two.