Biff was the dead man in seat 10C. Eyes shot wide open. Yet he saw nothing as the shadows moved past. One arm, dangling into the aisle, swung with each sway and surge of the bus. An old, crumpled fedora lay in his lap.
There was the grit of sand in his gums. He licked at it with a lazy tongue, tasting the desert.
That bloody desert…
It haunted him.
Turning to his right, Biff stared out the window past ol’ Snore and Snot. The old codger in the window seat smelled like medicated powder. Somewhere around West Haverstraw, his nose had become a leaky faucet. Despite being fast asleep, he would snort several times, sucking the bile back into his nose, and then return to snoring loudly.
Clouds coalesced into denser forms, choking the sunlight. It gave the air a heaviness, that feeling of a drawn-in breath unable to be released.
…and this bloody sand!
The sand was always there when he thought of the desert. It felt as if pins and needles had been jammed in his gums. Hiding in the nooks and crannies between his blackened teeth. He scraped at them with a long fingernail.
If only Biff could sleep and forget it all. But sleep never came. Instead there was a fog. The past few hours were a haze. It was a millennium, but it was a second. Somewhere in the haze came the dream.
“Welcome to Knob’s End—The Holiest Town in America.”
So reads the sign that greets a mysterious stranger as he steps off a bus one dark night in upstate New York. But life is not so great in the small town of Knob’s End. The economy has tanked, jobs are drying up, and people are losing their homes. Led by their local pastor, Father Balano, the citizens’ only source of pride is an award-winning community display—“The Graveyard of the Innocent.” Once the stranger arrives, however, life in Knob’s End begins to unravel. Soon, a child is missing and the sins start stacking up. As the stranger stirs the pot, he can’t avoid confrontations with menacing old ladies, anarchic metalheads, pugnacious Christians, and the ghosts of his own past…
No Tears for Old Scratch is a dark and humorous literary tale about an outsider who suddenly finds himself lost in a veritable dead-end.
I first discovered the concept of a “Graveyard of the Innocent” while living in Medina, Ohio. A local Catholic church, St. Francis Xavier, used to put up the display every Halloween (see the photo to the left). The crosses were supposed to represent the total number of fetuses killed in abortions in one week in the city of Akron. Needless to say, I’m glad I don’t live in frickin’ Medina, Ohio anymore.
That image of the mini-tombstones, so like the cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets, always stuck with me as a symbol of small-town religious lunacy. So when it came time to start writing No Tears for Old Scratch, a novel set in the Holiest Town in America, I had knew there would be a Graveyard of the Innocent in there somewhere.
As I wind down on the final rewrites for No Tears for Old Scratch, as if on cue, another Graveyard of the Innocent jumped into the public eye. This time it was a drawing by Scott Roeder, the man convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller because he performed abortions. As Bill Hicks said, “Pro-lifers murdering doctors, it’s irony on a base level, but I like it.” Apparently, supporters of Roeder decided to auction off some “drawings” from him on eBay (rendered in that wonderful 5th grade style). One of which showed a biblical David holding the severed head of a Goliath George Tiller (again death obsession). And sure enough, Roeder had drawn a Graveyard of the Innocent. Ironically enough, in a move that Bill Hicks would have cackled at, Roeder included the inscription, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” Like convicted murders and their Christian supporters perhaps.
I have officially started on book #2. Without giving away any details, one of the main characters in the book is everyone’s favorite mischief maker and all around swinging guy, Satan. The idea for the book actually came to me one morning while listening to “Up Jumped the Devil” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Those pounding piano chords, Cave’s voice growling at that low register, the overall vibe of the dark one lurking mischievously up the street — the plot of the book laid itself out instantly in my head.
On the rare occasions when I do finally plop my ass in the chair to tap away at the keyboard, I always listen to music. Some folks find this odd as they usually require peace and quiet when writing. But I prefer to have music blaring, preferably something that gets me in the mood of the story. When I wrote The Love Book, I listened to really heavy Doom: Black Sabbath, Cathedral, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, St. Vitus, Grand Magus, Candlemass, Trouble. The music fit the dark stories I was firing out. Continue reading →