Thursday, July 3, 2014


I knew from my first complete outline of "The Leather Man" that I was facing an uphill battle, and that's never good news. From Gettysburg to Iwo Jima to Korea's Heartbreak Ridge, fighting gravity and an entrenched enemy simultaneously has always turned out to be a bitter experience. One of the reasons Pickett's charge up Cemetery Ridge fell short is that the Confederate artillerymen, needing to elevate their cannons, overshot the Union riflemen on the brow of the hill and tore up a lot of trees, tents and food stores in the rear. Without effective artillery, only 900 of the 12,000 men Pickett led up the incline were able to answer roll call the next morning.

For all we know, David may have been aiming downhill when he unleashed the stone that killed the mighty Goliath.

Writing a novel set almost entirely in southern Idaho is nowhere near the kind of ordeal involved in warfare, of course, but I cite the comparison because trying to popularize such a book certainly runs against the grain in the publishing world. The general idea is that populous states not only have more readers due to the law of averages. They also have more doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs. athletes, police officers and scientists _ occupations that are a staple in literature _ not to mention the fact most of the major publishers in the United States are concentrated in New York City.

Idaho does not rank last among the least-popular states used by authors as the setting for a novel-length work of fiction. In fact, it is tied with Utah for sixth from the bottom _ each with 12 titles on a list compiled by Wikipedia. The lowest is Delaware (4), followed by North Dakota, Rhode Island and South Dakota (9 each), and Arkansas (11).

But the southern part of the Gem State does carry another liability for would-be authors _ you can't write honestly about the stretch from Boise to Idaho Falls and points south without having a Mormon character. Put simply, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest religious denomination in that part of the state. And, you can't write honestly about Mormons if the intent is to demonize them. Their unorthodox theology and focus on the importance of families and family trees aside, most Mormons are as hard-working, honest, law-abiding and giving as Americans anywhere. The literary problem is that those qualities don't translate easily into exciting characters.

So it was with some unease that I began writing Chapter 5 and brought in Sam Moody, the Canyon City police chief and the bishop of a Mormon ward, comparable to a parish or congregation. I knew Moody was ideal for the situation because of his acquired background in counseling on the one hand and interrogation on the other. He also was just right for a book trying to steer as far as possible away from the brutal top cop of "First Blood," who goes 180 degrees the other direction in pursuit of Sylvester Stallone's troubled Vietnam veteran. The question was whether non-Mormon readers would accept Moody, a real concern given the way some Republicans turned against Mitt Romney because of his religion in the 2012 presidential election.

I also was aware that I'd hit a home run with Chapter 4, explaining the arrest of Quintus LeClaire because of his war-related nightmare aboard a bus stopped in Canyon City, and I wanted the succeeding chapter to be at least of that quality. So I began:
Sam Moody had a feeling it was going to be an unusual day when he awoke. Feeling that way on a Sunday morning was not usually a good omen. Moody liked Sundays because of their predictability.
The reader is told that Moody had a future as a college lineman, but chose a two-year mission before his career got off the ground and never back to football. Instead, he was drafted before he could enroll in college and saw combat in Korea. Moody has just finished toweling off to prepare for his day of presiding over a series of meetings when the phone rings and he learns that a passenger went "Looney Tunes" on a bus and injured a patrolman before being arrested. After learning LeClaire's name, the police chief tries to figure out who will question the detainee.
Moody's mind went into full gallop, trying to remember which of the department's three detectives was on weekend call. Blankenship worked last night, so he's out of the picture. Duda? Crumb, he's on vacation. Rizzati? That's a no _ today's his anniversary. I guess that leaves me. Why do buses always arrive in the middle of the night in towns this size?
Moody's discomfiture takes him to the city-county lockup and an eye-opening meeting with the Cajun prisoner in the next chapter.


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