Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing THE RED HIGHWAY by Robert E. Dunn so check back for that. In the meantime, Robert was kind enough to provide this guest post which gives us some insight into his book and the ways in which his ideas come to him. Enjoy.
Where Do Your Ideas Come From? Or, Are You Always Thinking About Monsters and Murder?
by Robert E. Dunn
People always ask about the origin of stories, where the idea came from. Very often, for me at least, books come from one small idea, a scene or image that has meaning enough for me to wonder, how did things get to that point? Sometimes I encounter a story that I love but it needs something, fleshing out or more action, more or less reality. THE RED HIGHWAY began from one small idea. I’ll tell that story another time. This story is about how an idea festered until it met some other influences.
A long time ago I lived in LA writing screenplays that got nice comments but no sales. I worked for a couple of companies in post-production. Drove the highways. Ate at little shops with Korean signs that sold only hamburgers and burritos. That was before the riots. Years later, when driving through a barren landscape that took me over a bridge I imagined a scene that became the climax of The Red Highway. At the same time I had the theme of running from what cannot be escaped in my head. I let it sit and stew.
A long time later I was working with a friend that wanted to write a screenplay with me. I’d had the idea, what happens when an action hero character goes to hell? Think, Schwarzenegger in hell. The friend copped out and the story languished for another long time. I was pulling it out and tinkering with that thought when I picked up a book that pissed me off. Richard Kadrey had already written my book. It was titled, Sandman Slim. Not the same story or idea exactly but a guy that went to hell and kicked ass until he gets out looking for some payback. Not the same but close enough to cause me anger and despair and a lot of jealousy. He’d done it so much better than I could have hoped.
I tossed my idea aside. I kept one thing though. He had rekindled my love of Los Angeles and for some reason my thoughts about the bridge and running were much clearer than they had ever been. So I stole his city and added a dash of reality. LA had been remolded and tempered in fire and riot. That was a story I wanted a piece of because it was twenty years after and everyone seemed to have forgotten. The nation was still making the same mistakes with its citizens. So I got to work.
I wrote The Red Highway. I rewrote it. I added and took away all the while, the images of the bridge and the city were in my head. That and my bitter disappointment in the loss of my journey to hell story. I didn’t even have anger to help me though that because you can’t be mad at someone that does it so well. Still, I had my own version of the city and got a little revenge. One of my characters, a small but central role in The Red Highway is a Dr. Kadrey. He dies horribly. When I was editing the book for my publisher, Necro Publications, I took to social media and told Richard Kadrey that I had killed him in my book. Damned if he didn’t turn out to be an entirely decent guy. That was the last straw. I finished up Red Highway and wrote another book to clear my head then I turned to my final revenge. I finally wrote my own version of the hero in hell story. It was so different from Sandman Slim I felt silly for hesitating. I hope to have that out to tell you about soon.
My long winded and rambling point is, ideas are never born fully formed. They are like kids I guess. No matter how you try to insulate them they grow up with their own friends and watching TV you don’t approve of. Writing is kind of like farming stories. You never know what’s going to pollenate your brain. Just be thankful for all the other people tossing their ideas out onto the wind.
Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about THE RED HIGHWAY, with a nod of thanks to Richard Kadrey. I’m a fan.
In January of 1992, the fading life of Paul Souther, a homeless veteran, is changed by two events. He witnesses a murder committed by a big black man who, for a moment, seemed to have wings. And, as Paul hides from the man in a XXX theater, Mary Prince, the adult actress on screen, begins to speak directly to him.
On the other side of the country, the real Mary encounters the same big man when she visits the site of the Rodney King beating. He infests her life and her mind then traps her in a mental health ward, impossibly, pregnant.
In LA, two other black men, a tabloid reporter, and a celebrity TV preacher, are on the trail of the same mysterious man. They follow the tracks of rage and race leading throughout the city. At every hot spot the man is seen pulling strings and spreading the message of race war.
Paul and a mix of outcasts is called to Mary’s side just as the baby is born. None of them have any idea that the city of LA is sitting on a ticking bomb of anger. As riots explode, the big man, who now claims to be a god, reveals himself to be an ancient, dark power using the rage of the people to stoke his own, literal, fires. He demands the child as sacrifice to keep the city, and perhaps the nation from burning. It falls to Paul, a faithless man, and a drunk with blood on his own hands, to make the impossible choice between a child or a city and to save the people he has come to care about.
Twenty years later, as the grown child is spreading her own message of practical faith, as protesters picket and shout a new hate, a mysterious man shows up in the new crowds. This time his message is, God Hates Fags.
About Robert E. Dunn:
Robert E. Dunn was born an army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven, stealing, or novelizing, as he called it at the time, the storyline of a Jack Kirby comic book.
His college course of study, philosophy, religion, theatre, and film/TV communications, left him qualified only to be a televangelist. When that didn’t work out, he turned to them mostly, honest work of video production. Over several years he produced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. Still always writing for the joy of it he returned to writing horror and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
He lives in Kansas City with three daughters, a young grandson, and an old dog. He tweets sometimes as @WritingDead but makes no promises how interesting those little posts will be.
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