"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Monday, July 13, 2009

August Hanrahan is Dead. Long Live August Hanrahan

Not long after my short story “Pandora” appeared in Thrilling Detective, I began taking a fresh look at it and wondering if it could be expanded upon. I was mostly pleased with the story as written, but felt there might be more to it. So I sat down and started diddling with the thing. After a couple of days, the realization crept up and kicked me in the nards: I’d begun turning “Pandora” into a novel.

For those of you who haven’t read the original story (you bastards!), August Hanrahan was a private investigator until he lost his license for interfering with a police investigation (and inadvertently causing the deaths of two people). His left hand was also maimed during that final case and can no longer play guitar. He’s embittered, angry and prone to violence. A couple of old hippies convince August to search for a missing child, goading him into it by mentioning his murdered nephew. Wind him up and off he goes…

Now. Here’s the problem.

I hate August’s name.

Sure, I came up with it, but I’ve come to hate that fucking name. It sounds like I tried too hard to give him a unique moniker, something along the lines of Elvis Cole, Derek Strange, Harry Bosch, Easy Rawlins, etc. I like those characters, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that August sounds gimmicky.

Before he was called August, the character’s name was Gideon “Giddy” Cross. Yeah, I know that’s even worse. I was going to keep it though, until I discovered it had been the name of an obscure comic book character from the ‘70s. But Gideon Cross wasn’t the character’s original name, either.

The character who later became Gideon Cross and then August Hanrahan began life in a story called “The Western Gate,” which was published in issue #53 of The Iconoclast (1998). He wasn’t a detective then, but crime was a central element. The character’s name at the time?

Harris Tilton.

The idea was that he hated the name Harris (and hated being called Harry almost as much), so he always insisted that people call him Tilt. I’ve mulled it over for a while now, and I’ve decided to reinstate the character’s original name. Does it matter to anyone but me? Probably not. But writing Pandora-the-novel feels much more natural in Tilt’s voice than it did in August’s…even though the voice is essentially the same. “It’s all in your head…it’s all in your head…”

So I’ll leave you with a treat (depending on your idea of a “treat”). What follows is the opening page of “The Western Gate,” the very first Tilt story, as published in The Iconoclast eleven years ago. Warts and all. The title, by the way, is taken from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Luke Havergal.”


My father sits there smoking a Lucky Strike, watching Rollo State Penitentiary and the eight grid-patterned streets of Rollo, Wyoming getting smaller in the passenger’s-side mirror. When finally there is nothing behind us but mountaintops and nothing ahead but rolling pasture and the arrow-straight macadam, he looks at me and says, “Thanks.” His first word to me since I picked him up outside the gate. Hell, his first word to me in my whole life as far as I can remember. I’d never even gotten a letter from him until about three months ago.

He’s clean-shaven with a fresh haircut to match. His hair’s mostly gray and his skin’s surprisingly tan for a guy who’s spent twenty-three of the last thirty years in prison. Other than the hair, a few wrinkles and a small fish hook-shaped scar below his left earlobe, he looks just like me. No wonder my mother couldn’t stand the sight of me. She saw in me the man who’d left her, seventeen years old and eight months pregnant, in the middle of the night; the man who’d run off to the west for God knows what reason, only to end up killing some stranger in Wyoming. She saw in me the man who drove her to the bottle, to Jesus, and back to the bottle. Walter Tilton. What could she do with a baby who was the spitting image of Walter Tilton but dump him on her older sister and crawl deeper into booze and religion.

“Harris,” Dad says. We’ve been traveling about two hours now. “Harris, I got to make a piss stop.”

“Nobody calls me Harris.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause I hate it.”

“It’s your name, the one your mother liked best for a boy.”

“It’s a faggoty name. Sounds like a character off Mawsterpiece Theater.”

“So what do people call you? Harry?”

“Tilt. Just Tilt.”

“Izzat what your Aunt Polly and Uncle Ray call you?”

Ray’s still snoring in the backseat, too overwhelmed by the idea of being out from under Aunt Polly’s thumb to take in any of the sights.

“Uncle Ray calls me Tilt,” I say, pulling onto the shoulder. “Polly usually just refers to me as You or That Boy.”

Dad snorts, gets out of the car to do his business by the trunk.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

Amazing what gets tied up in a name. Hey, if it works it works. Glad to see you moving forward with it.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Exciting news about the novel. "Pandora" was great and I'm looking forward to see how you expand it. Please keep us updated with the progress.

Naming a character is one of the things I have great difficulty with. I have a story in mind that I'd like to write, but haven't started because I can't imagine his name yet.

Keith Rawson said...

What's in a name?
But at least picking a new one has got you moving on writing a new book.

Kieran Shea said...

I hear you. You want a mind-screw? Get this. Never, ever make this mistake. I was dumb enough to put someone I actually knew in a story, name and all. His job, his disaster-ridden life habits, etc. When he found out he said if I ever sell a book with him in it he'd want a piece of the action (obviously blindingly unaware of that negative cash suck for the vast majority of writers). I loved the character, and while based on this guy it wasn't 100% him. I sooooo regret using his name. Totally wanted to kill him off in a head crushing scene. I say do what you instinct tells you, P.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

There's a dead hit man in BITTER WATER BLUES named after my friend John Florio. John's a writer too, so he knows the score, money-wise. And he's made me a corrupt boxing commissioner in his WIP.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Cullen: "Progress" might not be the right word (at least, given my output the last couple weeks), but I'll post updates every now and then. Thanks.