Saturday, 25 June 2022

Character Development …

Let’s face it; character driven novels, movies, and television series are more engaging and garner the most emotional investment in the reader or viewer.  Just look at the success of novels like Catcher in the Rye or Merchanter's Luck, movies such as Raging Bull, The Usual Suspects, and television masterpieces like Breaking Bad, Animal Kingdom, Yosemite.  All of them are populated by well-developed characters who each speak in their own unique voice, have their own dreams and desires.  Here’s my method of developing characters for my novels.

Once I cobble together basic age, gender, orientation, occupation, political/religious views I move on to …


Hey, good lookin’ …

I have a mental image of my characters that I pretty much keep to myself.  I may hint at eye or hair colour, or if they have freckles or an overbite, or some other solitary physical description, but other than that I leave them blank.  That way my reader can flesh out their looks as they see the character.  A reader can come to either love or hate a character easier if that character fits with their perception of cute, evil, lovely, or handsome.


What’s so special about …

When developing a new character I often draw on people I know, usually an amalgam of a number of people mashed together.  For Carrie, the love of Denny’s life in the Gangster series, I created a gentle young woman whom the world treated badly.  Despite this, she had a naive belief that everyone was a good person, and if someone was unkind to her she internalized it as her own failing.  I had set out to create a tragic character that Denny would risk everything for to follow his self-cast role of being the white knight.  In That Dog Don't Bark, I needed a female lead who was a teenaged firecracker, so along came Angel who took no shit from anyone despite her being a hundred pounds soaking wet.


Finding their voice …

I won’t name it, but I recall a television series that sought to cash in on the success of The Walking Dead, by dropping their ensemble into a dangerous world filled with bloodthirsty zombie.  In the pilot episode they trotted out a number of what appeared to be unique characters, but by the end of the pilot they’d lost me because every character spoke with the same voice.  During one of the edit passes I perform for each of my novels is to focus on each character at a time, ensuring their speech pattern suits them, uses the same cadence and vernacular.


No one stays the same …

Not only must your main character have a personal arc in their journey, but so too must all your supporting characters.  People evolve over time and so must your characters.  You don't have to supply each of them with a groundbreaking epiphany moment, but each must be affected by the story as it progresses, plot shifts that can strengthen or rattle them, and large events must impact them emotionally.


Non-binary characters ...

I had a discussion on Twitter with a male writer who was afraid to write characters from the LGBTQ+ community.  I asked him if he only wrote about men, he said no, he had female characters as well.  Then what's so daunting about writing a non-binary character?  In Leaving Wonderland there are a number of gay male characters, and one male-to-female transgender character.  I wrote her as I would any other female character, and even included some steamy love scenes when she and the Cis man she loved came together.  I did run some of their dialogue past two trans writers I know and they gave me some solid advice that amounted to 'No trans woman would it that way', so I made the changes they suggested and it worked.  And here's the thing; it didn't hurt at all.  So don't be afraid to include non-binary characters in your novels.


Let them off the leash ...

Many times I have come to a point in a novel where I'd planned for a character to have specific reaction in response to an event, but when I got there I come to a screeching halt, realizing my well-developed character wouldn't respond the way I'd planned.  I write the scene differently by allowing them to react and behave in a way that suits their nature.  In That Dog Don't Bark, I set out to have Angel be a just another support character, but my main character Jackson fell in love with her – meaning I fell in love with her.  This worked to make the story stronger because – even though the story is told in the first person by Jackson – it is Angel who drives the story forward to its explosive climax.


Cliff hanger or wrapped in a bow ...

There are two ways to end a story; the first it to put a period at the end of the climax of the story, the other is to skip forward in time and tell the tale of where the main character(s) ended up.  Cliff hangers are great for short stories, or if you plan a sequel, but I'm a sucker for the 'and-they-lived-happily-ever-after' ending, and most of my novels end this way.  After putting the characters I've come to love and admire through adversity and sometimes a living hell, I feel I owe them that.  Most of my final chapters occur days or months after the climax.  My record was in That Dog Don't Bark; the final chapter occurs 25 years after Jackson and Angel's triumph over the sex slave gang they face off against.


That's my take on character development for a novel, and I only know what I know, so your mileage may vary.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Crimes Would Pardon'd Be



The Loathsome Trail

It was an unfavourable path that pulled Devil Brigham and Rascal far outside their jurisdiction, drawn through the winding maze of mountain trails toward an undesired lodestone - a fugitive he didn't want to catch.

Rascal had no opinion on the matter, and just slogged along wherever Devil aimed him.  But Rascal had caught Devil's dour mood like it was a common cold and – uncharacteristic for a stallion – paced along the trails with his head hung low, the iron shoes on his hooves scraping the rocks at times.  He didn't even have the desire to fight Devil to try for the tall grasses that grew on the sides of sunny sections of trail.  Both stallion and rider were sullen and uninspired as they wove through the mountain glens and plateaus, in no hurry to catch up to their prey, even though they could accomplish it in a hour's good gallop.

Rascal missed his barn, his pasture, and the sweet water of his natural spring that burbled up through the split rocks in a copse of trees at home.  He even missed the mixed wolf and dog Chance that shared the Lazy B ranch with him.  But he knew Devil couldn't risk bringing Chance along for this far ride, for she'd surely be tempted to match skill and savagery with her wild kin that Rascal had been smelling and hearing since yesterday morning.  

There was a wolf pack out there paralleling them through the woods.  Rascal knew they were just curious, for no pack – no matter their number – would dare come close to Devil or even Rascal himself.  They feared the rifle that rested in its long leather case under Devil's right leg and the sawed-off shotgun in its holster hanging from Devil's belt.  Rascal had seen what both guns could do to living flesh and it was a horror that most wolves had seen as well.  Rascal also knew that the wolves feared his hooves that could crush a ribcage or skull with a single kick.  Nothing in these mountains frightened Rascal, nor Devil he supposed.

Devil had been tracking the small party for three days and two nights, east from Arawana and up into the high saddles of the Monashee Mountains.  The party they followed were moderately skilled at hiding their trail by avoiding soft soil and trampable grass, but the small pony they had with them wasn't.  Most times the pony's hoof prints told Devil that they were using it as a pack animal, but occasionally its prints were slightly deeper, telling him that during those times his main fugitive was riding atop the packs while the rest walked.

When he ran the bitter difficulties of the dilemma he was waist deep in through his mind, he understood the problem was that the moment he went from being the Arawana Chief of Police to being a Detective Corporal in the British Columbia Provincial Police, his jurisdiction expanded to include the entire province and at the same time his autonomy had shrivelled to a dried-out crust of what it once was.  Where he once was the final arbiter of the application of law in his jurisdiction, he was now just an arm of a large police force whose hierarchy decided who was a criminal and who was not, and he was sworn to pursue the wanted no matter his personal opinion.

This whole sordid episode began with a priest laid up in the Penticton hospital with a gunshot wound in his ample left buttock cheek and the order came down through Constable Bill Brightworth of the Penticton detachment.

Through Brightworth, Detective Sergeant Locke, the head of BCPP's Boundary Division, had set Devil on the trail of the suspects because he was an experienced horseman and tracker, and the runaways had taken to the vast forests to the east of the Okanagan valley.

The trouble was, Devil didn't believe the people Locke had named were responsible for the shooting, especially not the person whose name appeared at the top of the warrant list; William Youngblood - an eleven year old boy who had run from his Residential School to live with his grandfather and cousin off the reservation near Naramata.

Devil understood the boy's desire to escape the Catholic run Residential School he'd been forced to attend, having faced the same cruelty and nonsensical rigid teachings himself during his time at a Catholic orphanage.  Like William, he had escaped in his eleventh year, yet unlike William he had no family to run to, so took his chances on the streets as a petty thief and beggar.  William had the luxury of a family, a powerless one, but family non-the-less.

With Devil, the priests and nuns tried to beat the sin out of him for being born a bastard and branded with a heretical name.  With William they were trying to beat the indian out of him for being born Syilx on the Penticton reserve.  Being an indian was near as not to being illegal, and the federal government had passed laws to turn them all white.

Devil recalled reading a tale of a knight's quest as a youngster that began; 'Beyond seven mountain ranges, beyond seven rivers ...' and later learned that the phrase was an eastern European version of 'Once upon a time'.  But though it felt as though he had followed his quarry over seven mountain ranges and seven rivers, this was no fairytale quest of a knight-errant in search of virtuous adventure, this was a moral crime in Devil's reckoning, and he was ordered to hold to his oath as a lawman and commit it.

"You're kidding." Devil had said when Brightworth had delivered the news.

"I wish I was." Brightworth had said, knowing Devil's nature about laws made to oppress powerless people, but he was firmly pressed into the same mould of obedience as Devil in the Provincial Police.

"Who got shot?"

"Father McClure."

"The fat one."

"Yeah."

"Bald as a boiled onion."

"That's the one."

"I'd like to shoot him in the other cheek." Devil had muttered and Brightworth pretended not to hear.

"So the boy is to be arrested for playing hooky, and his cousin Ruff for shooting the Priest."

"And their Grandfather for aiding and abetting."

"Dammit."

Devil had leaned back in his chair, staring at the wall.

"Ruff didn't shoot that priest.  He's too smart for that."

"You know him?"

"I do.  Run into him a few times.  Ruff's bright and has never broken the law.  His grandpa Jack raised him to follow the white man's law, knowing if it was broken by a Syilx there'd be hell to pay for the whole band."

"You'll need these." Brightworth had said as he set a pair of miniature handcuffs on the desk.

"Are these a joke?  Some kind of novelty?"

"No."  Brightworth had said, lowering his eyes to avoid the shame, "They're child handcuffs for Residential School runaways."

Devil had picked them up and dropped them into a waste bin, keys and all.

"Tell Locke to go fuck himself."

"I'm not going to do that, Devil."

Despite how he felt about the task assigned him, Devil had left Chance with his neighbour and fellow rancher Herb Donaldson, and set out with Rascal to take his time and think the entire situation through before he decided if he was going to arrest an eleven year old for truancy and his teen cousin for attempted murder.

As they rode, Devil tried to render a time that was simpler and filled with a gentle joy.  He still possessing his fresh years then, astride a mare that was obedient and calm.  He wasn't experienced enough for a stallion yet, that mastery wouldn't seep into his nature for a few years yet.

Young Devil's segmented fishing pole was tucked safely in the empty rifle case under his leg, a small creel holding his rigging and reel hanging from his belt where one day would hang a sawed-off shotgun.  The frying pan that hung from the saddle horn tapped a regular rhythm that marked time on their way to Devil's favourite spot above the Lazy B.  

Once there the mare set to exploring and sampling the exotic grasses of the meadow as Devil teased a brown trout out of a pond.  Then the trout fried until the skin was crisp as a potato chip and the bright meat was dulled to the soft pink of bubble gum.

But that was another time.  A time before the war and the horror and blood while he was still learning his craft as horseman and tracker under the tutelage of Justice Brigham.  Now he was astride a stallion that needed a sharp rider lest he forget his mission and ignore his rider.  The landscape they travelled so different from home, threading through a forest of strangers, far from the ranch and following the trail of a boy, his cousin, his grandpa and a pony.

There was yet another misery that had driven Devil out of Arawana.  He'd been doing his ham-handed best at courting Hattie Mason and had completely buggered it up.

If he was going to be miserable, he might as well do it far from other people.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Butch (Little Gangsters) ...

 


“You know Butch?” Frankie asked as we pedalled hard up the alley.

“Errol’s dog?”

“Yeah.  That’s the one.  I love that dog.”

The Peterlichans lived on 8th Avenue halfway between Kevin’s house and Commercial and had one of the coolest dogs in East Vancouver.  Butch was part Spitz, part Husky, part god’s-own-mystery.  And let me tell you; Butch was the mob boss of the dog world in that neighbourhood.  No census taker would be able to calculate how many pups he’d sired because whenever there was a bitch in heat, Butch was first in line.  The other male dogs would part like the Red Sea when he trotted up and they would keep their distance and quietly wait their turn while Butch claimed his latest bride.  None of them messed with Butch.

Butch would sneak off to the alley behind the Buy Rite Market once in awhile and peer through the loading dock door waiting for his opportunity.  When he saw the butcher go into the walk-in cooler, Butch would bolt into the store past the cooler and steal a roast or a porterhouse steak out of the meat display cabinet and tear for home.  Errol’s mom would get a phone call from the butcher telling her that Butch was at it again and sure as hell she’d look out in the backyard and see Butch polishing off a pretty expensive piece of meat and she’d tell the butcher to put it on her bill.

Once, when Errol was eight years old, he was walking home from a friend’s house when a neighbour’s dog – a boxer – got out and attacked him.  Butch came running and scared the boxer off and escorted Errol home.  Errol wasn’t hurt, just pretty scared from the boxer knocking him down and ripping at his clothes.  As soon as Errol was safely back home in his mom’s arms, Butch took off and didn’t come home that night.  Errol was worried sick about his dog and hardly slept all night.  In the morning, Errol went into the backyard and found Butch sleeping under his favourite tree, the thick fur of his bib caked with blood.  Errol screamed for his mom and together they carefully washed Butch’s fur clean of the blood, but they didn’t find any wounds.  The blood wasn’t his.

Some neighbourhood kids found the boxer in the grassy field of the 7th Avenue Park.  His throat had been ripped out.  The boxer’s owner found the pickets on his backyard gate chewed through and the gate half off its hinges.  There must have been one hell of a struggle to mess up a gate that bad.  Errol told me that when he saw the pickets all chewed up he knew it was Butch, because his dad had to replace their picket fence with a wrought iron one to keep Butch in.  He’d always chew through the pickets when he wanted to take himself for a walk or commit his particular crimes of choice.  Near as anyone could figure it, Butch waited until late at night and went down there and dragged the boxer out of his yard and killed him for messing with his kid.  

Given Butch’s talents as a thief and assassin plus his appreciation for vengeance, it was no wonder that Frankie loved that dog.

Frankie skidded to a stop behind Errol’s house and was off his bike before the wheels stopped spinning.  I was hard pressed to keep up with him as he hopped Errol’s back fence and scooted around the side of the house.  Butch was out in the front yard, keeping an eye on his neighbourhood through the wrought iron gate when Frankie and I arrived.  Butch looked at us and decided we were friends and went back to scrutinizing his domain from inside his prison.  Frankie motioned for me to crouch down and we both crawled on our knees and hid behind the bushes by the latched front gate where Butch stood.  Frankie wrapped his arm around Butch's shoulders and gave him a hug.  Butch wagged his tail, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.

“Hey, Butchie boy.”  Frankie whispered, “You hungry for a snack?” then to me:  “Denny – where’s Kevin.”

I pressed my face close to the wrought iron fence and saw Kevin walking toward us on the other side of the street.  “About three houses away – on the other side.” I reported.

With his other hand, Frankie unlatched the wrought iron gate, but held it closed.  Butch went on alert then; his ears forward, his tongue back inside his mouth, his tail curled over his butt – he knew how gates worked and sweet freedom from that unchewable fence was inches from his nose.  You could see that he was aching to be outside of that gate, his eyes fixed on Frankie’s hand holding the gate shut.  It was eerie the way Butch was in tune with Frankie – it was like a couple of hoodlums in sync with each other, waiting to pull a job.  Butch couldn’t have known the caper, but he was totally willing to participate in whatever Frankie had in mind if it meant he could have even a few moments of freedom.  The tension was killing me as I peeked out every few seconds to report Kevin’s progress to Frankie.  That’s when we heard Errol’s front door open and Beau, Errol’s greaser older brother, came out in his tight cuffed jeans, his Dayton boots, and white t-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled into the left sleeve.

Frankie turned and shushed Beau by pressing a finger to his lips.  Beau looked down at us and Butch, then across the street at Kevin approaching with his big bag of groceries and his fat bandaged fingers.  Beau looked back at Frankie.

“You’re such an asshole, Marrone.” Beau said smirking, then hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and leaned against one of the posts on the front porch to watch the show.

Frankie could see Kevin now, lumbering up the sidewalk on the other side of 8th Avenue.  Frankie was giving Butch a play-by-play;

“That’s the mug, see him Butch?  See that bag he’s got?  That’s from Buy Rite, yer favourite joint.  Here’s the deal, Butchie boy, in a few seconds, I’m going to open the gate and you can make your move, see?”

I swear to god that Butch understood him.  I could feel Butch tensing, lifting and setting his front feet, getting ready and leaning forward.  The scene reminded me of the horses in the starting gate at Hastings Park racetrack, simply known as ‘the track’.

Besides being a degenerate drunk, my dad was also a degenerate gambler.  And because my mom drove cab all day, it left my dad free to go to the track for the afternoon races on Saturdays, but he had to take me.  I was a track-rat, one of the twenty or so offspring of gamblers who went to the track on a regular basis and brought their kids with them.  My dad would give me a couple of bucks and I ran with the track-rat bunch.  We’d pick up discarded tickets and compare them with the tote board.  Once in awhile we’d find a winning ticket that some careless drunk dropped or threw away and share out the winnings.  I spent hours at the track.

I still recall the smells of the horseshit and frying onions and French fries.  And when I close my eyes I can still hear the announcer, calling out; “They’re at the post.” – meaning that all of the horses had been spurred into the starting gate.  That’s when a hush would fall over the crowd and heads would turn to watch.  An alarm bell would ring and the gates would all crash open at once and the horses would bolt outward with the announcer calling; “And there they go!”

I expected a bell to ring when Frankie pushed open that gate and Butch leapt out onto the sidewalk and across the road.  Butch was like a missile aimed right at Kevin, his four feet kicking up dust as he accelerated in a perfect straight line growling and barking at that ginger haired bastard.  If his feet had been made of rubber they would have screeched as Butch accelerated toward his target.  Kevin screamed and dropped his bag of groceries and jumped over a neighbour’s fence.  Butch skidded to a stop and buried himself shoulder deep in the overturned bag of groceries and came out with a long string of wieners that he brought right back through the gate and scooted around into the backyard, not willing to share with anyone.

Frankie pulled the gate closed then he and I rolled behind the bushes and tried to muffle our laughter by clamping our hands over our mouths.  We could hear Kevin cursing as he picked up his groceries and walked toward us.  We couldn’t see Kevin and I’m sure he couldn’t see us, but we could see Beau who lit a cigarette and stared down at Kevin standing outside his front gate.

“Your dog took my wieners.” Kevin complained.

“Yeah?” Beau answered.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I think he’s in the backyard.”  Beau said and smiled, “Why don’t you go get ‘em back, Tinkerbell?”

“Fuck you!” Kevin screamed and stomped off.

“Don’t get fresh, kid.”

“I’m telling my dad.”

“You do that, kid.  He can come by for his ass-whipping anytime.”

“Fuck you.”

“You wish, Tinkerbell.”

Beau watched Kevin disappear down the block, then looked down at us.

“You’re still an asshole, Marrone.”


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Queen Anne and the Geek ...

The rides at the Pacific National Exhibition’s Playland were the main thing that attracted most kids, but for me it was the sideshows.

There were always the assorted oddities, magicians, sword swallowers, fire breathers, all in shows that drew you in and sometimes made you squirm.  Especially the freak shows.  These were people who were physically odd in some way; midgets, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, tattooed ladies, blockheads, and reptile men with chronic skin conditions.  Even as a kid I knew that most of these people were born with handicaps and were trying to make the best of their lives, so the freak shows often made me feel sad.

On the other hand I’d see them backstage amidst their cluster of trailers as they interacted with each other like everyone else; relaxing between shows, talking, laughing, reading the paper, just living regular lives.  They looked like they were a family – not one like mine, but a regular one like Timothy’s, so I wondered who was really lacking; the freaks or people like me.

The penultimate of all the freaks was the Geek.  The Geek was a living horror show and designed to scare the living shit out of you.

See, the way it worked was; You paid your dime to the barker out front and lined up behind a red rope at the foot of a metal staircase that was shrouded by canvas walls painted with creepy depictions of a wild-eyed half-human creature biting the heads off chickens and such.  Then when the barker decided that he’d drawn as many people as he could muster up, he’d lift that red rope and usher you up the stairs with warnings not to get too close to the cage inside and that by paying your dime you released them of all responsibility for your safety and your life itself.

But here’s the thing; there was no way not to get too close to the cage – it was designed that way.  The whole set-up was built inside a trailer with a set of bars running down the length of it.  The bars formed one wall of a narrow corridor that the audience would line up in.  On the other side of the bars on a raised floor was the Geek.

These Geek shows were always dimly lit with creepy coloured bulbs so there was more shadows than light, and the corridor for the audience was so narrow that if the Geek tried to grab you through the bars, you had press your back up against the wall to avoid him.

It was getting late and the rest of the gang had hopped the bus to go home, so Frankie and I headed down the midway and I told him about the Geek and he was up for it.  We paid our dimes and lined up with the rest of the audience and it was pretty popular because the audience grew pretty big pretty fast.  When the barker was satisfied, he came down off his podium and limped over to the red rope and unhooked it.

“Straight up the stairs and turn to the right, folks!  Be sure to stay as far from the bars of the Geek’s cage as you can!” he said ominously, “And remember, you enter at your own risk … the Geek is the most unpredictable wild man ever captured in the jungles of Pau-pau New Guinea!”

So we filed up the stairs with the rest of the audience and entered the Geek’s dark lair.

It was dim inside that trailer and it stunk of sweat and stale body odour and dirty feet.  The Geek’s cage was littered with straw and all manner of ripped up crap, including some half chewed bones and some human skulls that kind of looked real on account of the creepy green lighting.

We all slid down the wall, with our backs against it until we were packed in pretty tight.  Everyone was silent as we waited for the Geek, but as we stood there and our eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized he was already there.  It was easy to mistake him for a pile of rags because that’s what he was wearing.  But I could see his eyes peering out at us under heavy dark brows.

He sat crouched and huddled in the corner, his arms tucked in against his body and his feet drawn up so his knees almost touched his face.  With his head down, he stared at us under his bushy eyebrows and sat in silence and the tension was crazy – I could feel the hair prickling on the back of my head.

“Where is he?” Frankie whispered to me.  It was then I heard a couple of adults;

“There he is.”

“Where?”

“Right over there.  In the corner.”

“Jesus Christ.” and a gasp.

That’s when the Geek charged us.

He let out an animal shriek and came straight at us, bounding across the cage like a gorilla on all fours.  His eyes were wild, his lips pulled tight across his rotten teeth, the cords on his neck standing out like taut cables.

He threw himself at the bars and I felt the trailer shake from the impact and he reached through the bars as far as he could and almost got ahold of a woman’s arm.

The inside of that trailer became chaos.  People were screaming, yelling, cursing, and running for the exit.  I got jostled pretty bad by adults as they panicked and ran for the doorway, but I stood my ground, pressing my back firm against the wall behind me, my eyes fixed on the Geek.

In the midst of this sudden exodus, I heard Frankie yell; “Fuck this!” and he ran along with the rest of them.  But unlike the rest of the kids and all of the adults who kept running, I saw out of the corner of my eye that he stopped at the doorway and stood aside, looking back at me.

I don’t know why I stayed.  I was as startled as the rest of them by the Geek’s sudden fury and wild attack.  I wasn’t frozen like I had been under the lilacs the day Kevin and his cronies wrecked the Goddess of Speed.  I stayed deliberately and let my fear wash through me.  The Geek rushed me and slammed himself against the bars once more, his arms reaching for me, his hands clawing at me, trying to grab hold of me.  I could feel his fingertips brushing the front of my t-shirt, but I didn’t move and I didn’t look away.

A weird sort of calmness came over me.  It would later happen throughout my life when I faced down truly dangerous people and situations, but this was the first time I felt that way.  I liked the feeling, or actually the lack of feeling.  Fear was gone – completely gone.  So was every other emotion.  I would later learn the word ‘dissociative’ and that’s as close as I can come to describing how I felt – or didn’t feel.  But my mind was sharp and clear as I stood there, which was a contrast to the mental confusion I felt during my episodes.

I stared the Geek down as he shrieked and slavered and strained to push his arm through the bars to be able to reach me.  I stood my ground and after a few more seconds the Geek gave up – I could see the realization in his eyes that he wasn’t going to make me run like the others did.

He calmed down and half crawled, half shuffled back to his corner and hunkered down with his face turned away from me.  It was only then that I stepped away from the wall and walked the length of the trailer to the exit, my right shoulder only inches from the bars.  Frankie was staring at me with wide eyes as I passed him.

“Jesus Christ, Denny”

I just kept walking and as I did I realized one of the reasons I wasn’t scared of the Geek was that he was just a drunk.  I could smell Queen Anne Scotch on his breath as he was screaming at me.

The same shit my dad drank.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Monday, 7 February 2022

My Bloody Clan History ...


Before William Maclellan won the Barony of Kirkcudbright by killing the Irish robber Black Morrow, his father Sir Patrick Gray, in his day the Maclellan, known as Patrick Maclellan of Bombie, was a legend of Galloway Scotland.  Sir Patrick was loyal to King James and refused to join an alliance to depose the King led by the 'Black Douglas', William Douglas, Earl of Douglas.


Douglas kidnapped Sir Patrick's nephew and held him hostage, and King James sent Sir Patrick to Thrieve Castle with a letter ordering Douglas to set the boy free.  Sir Patrick arrived and presented the letter, which Douglas refused to read until after he dined.  Douglas sent an order in secret to have the boy beheaded while they ate, and after he read the King's letter offered Sir Patrick the boy's body but would keep his head.  Sir Patrick barely escaped with his life and vowed revenge as told in this poem of the day.


The Murder of Maclellan


Now news has gone to good King James,

In En-brugh where he lay,

That Bombie's tutor pris;ner was

By Douglas ta'en away!


For brave Maclellan's loyal soul

Refused the Earl to serve,

And from his lawful king he swore

His path should never swerve.


With anger glowed King James's brow –

"Is't thus I am defied?

Is Scotland's crown a woman's courche?

"I'll curb the Douglas' pride."


Then straight a letter he has penned,

And sealed it with his seal;

"The Douglas shall release my friend,

Or else my wrath he'll feel.


Sir Patrick Gray, mount, speed away!

Maclellan's kin to thee;

Be thine the task to seek the Earl,

And set Maclellan Free."


Now to the wilds of Galloway

Sir Patrick spurs amain:

He knew the Douglas, and he fears

His Kinsmen may be slain.


No time he lost, for kindred ties

Bound Bombie to him near,

And soon he sees the Dee's fair stream,

Thrieve's towers ere long appear.


"Lord Douglas!" cried Sir Patrick Gray,

"A message from the King,

Penned by his hand, sealed with his seal,

To thee this day I bring."


The crafty Earl the missive took,

Its purport crossed his mind:

"Sir Knight," he cried, "by fair Saint Bride!

I'll not read until we've dined."


Then secretly he gave command

To slay the pris'ner brave;

And whilst they sat, the headsman grim

Maclellan's death-stroke gave.


Short time for shrift the victim had,

Scarce time to breathe a prayer;

But conscious worth possessed his breast –

For death he had no care.


The feast was o'er, and noble Gray

With eagerness exclaimed –

"Oh read, I pray, the King's despatch!

Delay is to be blamed."


With seeming awe and feigned respect

The Earl broke up the seal:

He read, and o'er his face the Knight

Saw scornful triumph steal.


"The King demands that I should set

Maclellan's person free;

For honour of this royal note,

I thank the King and thee.


Now come, the King's royal words I kiss,

Maclellan's body's thine;

But ah, Sir Knight, too late thou'rt here –

Maclellan's head is mine!"


Then to a dark courtyard they pass,

Where sunbeams never play;

There, near a bloody block outstretched,

The headless body lay.


Deep grief Sir Patrick felt, and rage;

Dissembling them, he said –

"Alas! my lord, keep you his corpse,

Since thus full low 'tis laid."


Then calling for his horse, he went

Down to the river-side,

And when without the castle walls,

His angry soul untied.


"False Earl," he cried, "thou'lt rue the hour

That wrought'st this cursed crime,

For if I live, by heaven I swear

I'll speed the avenging time!"


"To horse, and seize him!" was the cry –

It sounded not in vain;

Right soon from out the Earl's stronghold

Rushed forth a mounted train.


But good Sir Patrick has the start,

And matchless was his steed:

There's not a horse in Galloway

Can match his own in speed.


Thrice turns he back, and thrice he cries

With voice full loud and high –

"Revenge! false Earl, thou knighthood's shame

Revenge, revenge is nigh!"


Still on he hies, his foes press hard,

Till near Dunedin's tower;

Now once beneath its shade, no more

He heeds their hostile power.


Well thus it was, for had he not

Possessed a steed so rare,

The Earl had brought him back full soon,

His kinsman's fate to share.


Within a year from that dark day

The Earl himself lay low;

Maclellan's ghost it hovered near,

And nerved the Kingly blow.


To expand on the last stanza; Sir Patrick and the Maclellan clan made war on the Douglas's for a full year, slaying them almost to a man.  The Earl appealed to King James to make the Maclellans end their war during a feast known afterward as The Black Dinner.  The King asked Douglas to swear allegiance to him, and when Douglas refused, the King stabbed him in the throat.  Sir Patrick finished the job and threw his body from the Rose Window of Edinburgh Castle and buried it where it fell.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Erased History and Fostered Cruelty ...

In my novels I have often included exposure of social and cultural evils; in That Dog Don't Bark it was sex slave traffickers; in BETWIXT, the madness of religious cults; in Leaving Wonderland, the bigotry and violence against our LGBTQ+ community.  Even in my latest WIP; Mark'd With Blood - Devil Brigham's Case Files, I highlight the collective trauma of soldiers returning from the meat-grinder of the Great War, and the struggles of those trying to survive the Great Depression.  Horrors all, if one was the victim.

There is a current horror being perpetrated by the Republican Party in the United States and right-wing governments in countries across Europe.  It is the erasure of history and the fostering of cruelty and eradication of compassion and empathy.


In Poland, the right-wing government is erecting statues of Poles they proclaim as heroes of WWII, being saviours of Jews being sent to the genocide factories like Auschwitz where systematic murders were carried out to the tune of 1.1 million Jews in that site alone.  The reality of Poles at that time was that there was deep-seated hatred of Jews in Poland, and the majority happily betrayed any Jew they knew, KNOWING they would be sent a concentration camps that were nothing less that factories designed to murder people en masse and dispose of the bodies.


In the United States, 37 states have introduced bills that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.


Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia have recently passed laws to disallow the teaching of the American genocide of First Nations people; the 246 years that African people were kidnapped from their home countries, chained, and beaten as slaves by American "the land of the free"; the social crimes of the Jim Crow Era against former slaves; the bigotry, hatred, and murders of LGBTQ+ citizens that carries on even today, and the most shameful of all; Teachers are directed to avoid teaching about the Holocaust, and if the subject arises they are to present counter arguments to support Hitler's extermination camps.


Yes, you read that correctly.  Teachers are mandated to offer arguments that the systematic murder of 6 million Jews was justified.


Why would any educated and responsible lawmaker promote such a horror?  Because political parties like the Republicans want to whitewash their history and raise a generation of children who have no knowledge of historic injustices and no empathy or compassion toward ANY minority that isn't wealthy, white, and christian.  The banning of Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman is a dead giveaway on the aims of Republicans.


There have been so many dystopian novels written as warnings about horrors such as this.  It Can't Happen Here, (1935) by Sinclair Lewis, and 1984 (1949) by George Orwell come to mind.  But this is no novel, this is a living nightmare perpetrated by right-wing parties like the Republicans and it is happening across the world today.


How long before we've hit that slippery slope and moral people must go to war, or civil war to right this inhumane injustice?


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Maisie and Old Willow ...


Maisie was up walking the farm most of last night, staying close to the fences because the rows had been ploughed and the baby seeds rested as they waited patiently to grow.  She'd walked around and around, and only stopped when she saw Aggie's bedroom light on in the Lonsdale house so far away.  She sat then, near the big willow where Aggie and her would play as young girls, peering out at Aggie's lit window through the split rails of the fence, seeing them as prison bars holding her captive and away from her love.  She knew Aggie was lying in bed reading a book, and knew – that like her – Aggie missed being with her and longed for Maisie to be laying beside her so she could read to her.  Maisie loved Aggie's gentle voice.

As she sat, Old Willow began to tell Maisie the story of how her and Aggie had met.  How they each were curious about the little girl who played alone on the other side of the fence.  How they both had big brothers who were sometimes mean to them, how one girl's daddy was a farmer and the other girl's daddy an orchardist.  How one daddy had horses and the other had chickens, and in their minds none of those things were very far apart or strange.

Even though Maisie knew the story because she lived it, she felt an aching sentimental love as Old Willow told the story of the girls playing under its wide limbs, its drooping branches and the lace of its leaves forming a perfect round little house that was all their own.  Of how Aggie liked it when she lay on her back and read aloud as Maisie rested her head on Aggie's belly, feeling her breathe, feeling the warmth of her body, and soothed by the sound of her voice.  When Old Willow got to the day Maisie hugged Aggie just a little too long, and Aggie's breath caught her throat as they came up nose to nose and Maisie said "I love you" for the very first time and Aggie kissed her long on the mouth, Maisie felt a yearning inside her that made her eyes blur with tears.

When Aggie's light finally went off, Maisie continued to sit and send Aggie her love, hoping she could feel her arms around her like they should be, feel her lips on hers like they should be, and feel her breath on her ear as she whispered "I love you" again and again.


Aaron D McClelland
Penticton, BC

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