The Story Behind the Story: “Original Sin”

20 Oct

 

The Story Behind the Story: “Original Sin”

 

“Original Sin” was a story I had wanted to write for ages it seems. Within my family, which is an old, southern family that can supposedly trace the McCord roots all the way back to Boonesborough, Kentucky, we had our own Chicken George.

Many who are too young to have watched the television mini-series “Roots” or to have read the book will not remember Chicken George, but he was a black man famous for the gamecocks he raised.

My goal was NOT to get on the bad side of all the animal lovers and animal rights activists or to get into a drawn out debate over the political, legal, and criminal realities that deal with cock-fighting. But I have always wanted to write something about the sport just to acknowledge that it was a part of my family history.
Sometimes, history is ours whether we want it or not. We can acknowledge it and recognize the differences in the times and the thinking of the participants, but simply ignoring our history because it isn’t politically correct is foolish.

Daddy had a cousin who raised fighting roosters. This cousin had two wooden legs and lived like a nomad. He travelled in an old school bus with pens in the back where his roosters travelled with him. I remember once as a child traveling to his house and seeing the pens of the gamecocks lined in rows in the bedroom. The house described in “Goat and Dumplins” that will be part of the next book of stories to be published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing is based upon my childhood memories of a visit to this home.
I have friends still involved with raising gamecocks, although they are no longer involved with the sport. These friends proved to be invaluable sources of information, with one providing a copy of the pit rules last printed in 1961.

I have also always been fascinated with the concept of Original Sin. In high school I once wrote a paper about what would have happened if Adam had eaten the apple first. If you are familiar with the story, you remember reading in the Bible that God cursed man to work by the sweat of his brow, that women would suffer labor pains, and a few other ignominies. One of the greatest compliments I have ever been paid was when my teacher, Mrs. Anderson, kept my essay for years to show other students of an example of the creativity she expected.

These ideas had been floating around for years in that murky world of potential stories that all authors carry around in their hip pockets. Then I was fortunate enough to be paired with Chicago photographer Jennifer Moore for a prose/photographic collaboration for Flying House 2012. Ms. Moore had a collection of photos titled “Original Sin” and a detailed caption of what she thought was Original Sin. These pictures were of severed heads of chickens. Here is a link to those pictures:
http://jmooreart.com/section/316227_Original_Sin.html

After Flying House, Jennifer and I agreed to continue our collaborations, and we created a short manuscript titled “Original Sin” now submitted for consideration for publication in Europe. But that is getting the cart before the horse.

I knew I wanted to create a story about Original Sin, but I still wasn’t sure exactly where to go with this. About that time, a few other things collided that helped give shape to this story.
An article I read from somewhere—I likely could never find it again—discussed the concept of nudity and nudist camps and lifestyles. The author claimed the interest in nudity stemmed from a desire to return to the Garden of Eden, to a time when all thoughts were pure and mankind still held to its innocence. He claimed, however, that once the serpent was allowed into the garden, and sin had been committed, that we could never return. He argued that nudist lifestyles should be outlawed as they promoted a hedonistic life that denigrated God and promoted sexuality. I believe this person was part of Michelle Bachman’s failed presidential campaign.

I also had a conversation with a good friend, Shawn Boone, who suggested that the Original Sin was not the eating of the fruit, but the desire to be god-like. This coveting led Eve to eat the fruit. The idea fascinated me, and I had to admit I had never considered it before.

            And of course, the issue of sexuality comes to the forefront. I was raised in a Pentecostal church where if you woke up with morning wood, you had sinned and would burn in a Devil’s Hell! If you touched yourself longer than it took to go pee, you would also burn in Hell fire! The churches I attended had no concept, no frigging clue, of how to approach sexuality with the budding teenagers. They preached about how evil it was and how dangerous it was, and they made it sound so good I couldn’t wait to try it. If the preacher’s wives were as wild as the preacher’s daughters I have known, it was no wonder they preached about how evil sex was.

But humans, after eating of the fruit, were no longer like the animals in the garden. Animals give in to their mating instincts: salmon travel thousands of miles and die in order to spawn; buck deer will not eat for days as they relentlessly chase does during the rut. Nature is filled with examples of animals whose instinct to procreate far exceeds their instinct for survival. I guess it can be argued that procreation is the most important concept of the instinct for survival. After all, if a species became too lazy to procreate, they would be doomed to extinction.

            But after eating from the fruit, man was elevated above this animalistic need for sex and required to make sex a sacred act. I believe this was the cruelest penalty god imposed on mankind. Adam and Eve covered themselves after they realized they were naked, and God cast them out from Eden and cursed mankind for eternity as a result. And we have been seeking a return to the garden ever since.

Now I had a story.
The first marriage was between Adam and Eve, and they were naked in the

Garden. I wanted to create a couple that yearned to be married as Adam and Eve had been, in a nude ceremony in a tropical paradise. I wanted to explore the raw yearnings experienced by teens. I wanted to show that conflict with religion, and the silly compromises we make.

            But I wasn’t sure how to make this work with the images Jennifer Moore had created for her concept of Original Sin. Sometimes I think writers think too much. I like to have a blueprint for my story. I used to insist on having the whole thing plotted out precisely before I ever sat down to write. But my problem was that many stories I had were not getting written. Somewhere along the line I learned to sit down and write the scenes you have, and don’t worry about the beginning or the ending, just get started writing, and allow the characters to take on a life and ideas will come. So I got started.

            I wrote about my couple and I planted the seeds for their marriage in a tropical paradise. I did research on nude weddings, and much to my surprise discovered there is a whole industry that caters to nude weddings. My idea was not as original as I thought it would be. I even found a tropical paradise—a swinger’s resort along the Quintana Roo Coast—that performed these weddings.

            I love when things get churning and research provides more ideas and you find yourself never wanting to get up from your chair, typing along until you realize you have missed breakfast, and it is 2:00 PM and too late for lunch. I had several days like this while researching and writing this story.

One of the scenes caused me problems. I had written the scene where my virgin couple had arrived at their swingers resort.  They had stepped out on the back veranda and I mentioned the “lush tropical foliage” that surrounded them. I remembered some advice from John Dufresne that such a statement would never do. I had written a story that he critiqued at the Seaside Writers Conference where I’d described the “beautiful wildflowers along the edge of the woods” in south Alabama in December. He told me to name those flowers. Do some research. I followed his advice and by accident found a botanist’s website who taught at Auburn University. She even read the story and suggested the flowers that would be blooming along the edge of the cemetery that time of the year. So I started searching the net for plants native to the Quintana Roo peninsula that would be blooming during the time my couple were there for their nude wedding. Not only did I find names and flowers, I found two special gifts. One was the La Cieba tree, a tree of mystical significance to the Mayans, and the other was the Golden Shower Tree that would also have been in splendid bloom at that time.

            For those who don’t know what a Golden Shower is, I guess an explanation is needed: urinating on one’s partner during sex.

So I found a way to name the tropical foliage and found plants and trees that fit with the themes of the story. But I still had to figure out a way to fit the themes of Jennifer’s pictures

I remembered discussions about the pit fights with the game cocks, and how they would destroy the birds right in the pits if they ran and refused to fight. The handler could not leave the pit with the bird because the bird’s genetics were inferior. The bird had to be destroyed there in front of the audience to demonstrate that it would never be used for breeding. This was done by wringing their necks, or pulling off their heads and tossing them from the ring. Now I had a way to work this into my story.

But now I faced another challenge. How can I work a cockfight into this story without it seeming gratuitous? I had my couple in Mexico, where cock-fighting would have gone on out in the open. But how could the scene fit into the themes and plot of a story about Original Sin?

The more I thought about this the more elusive the answers became. I sat and wrote the scene, thinking that maybe I could learn the answers as I went along, that perhaps the answers I sought would be more organic if they came after writing the scene.

I went back to my main character. I had created a female character based upon a composite of several different women I had known. She was beautiful, sensuous, oozing sexuality. And she knew it. She had learned at a young age how to use these gifts to manipulate men to get anything she wanted. We all know someone like this, and they are the most dangerous people alive on this earth. Someone once told me a man should never make a promise when he has a hard-on. He doesn’t have enough blood left to allow his brain to function properly. My character used this against the men she encountered, taking advantage of that animal lust that humankind is supposed to rise above to get whatever she wanted. I knew several just like her.

It occurred to me that the Original Sin was giving in to lust. Eve had yearned to be like God. The serpent took advantage of that lust—using it against Eve to get her to eat the fruit. Then God, with his cruel sense of humor, cursed us and sentenced us to an eternity of battling that lust. People believe that pit bulls and gamecocks are trained to fight to the death. This simply is not true. That bloodlust comes from genetics—years of careful, selective breeding. It is nature. The lust that drives men also allows them to be used and manipulated by women. This was no different from the handlers of the gamecocks, using the inbred fire for battle to test them in the pits. I had my connection.

The problem then became one of showing that connection.

I remembered a story titled ‘Weight” that I saw Richard Bausch read at Burkes Bookstore in Memphis. Within the story, a black man is lynched, and Bausch gives little detail of the lynching. Later in the story, an elephant escapes from a traveling circus. No one in the town has a gun of a sufficient caliber to slay the rampaging elephant, so they use a crane and mange to lasso the elephant and suspend it, in essence lynching the elephant. The scene describes in horrid detail how the elephant screamed and defecated and finally died. Bausch had given no indication of the connection between the two. He simply inserted the scene, and the connection was obvious. I love this technique. Although many will read such a story and never make the connection, the connection is there for the close reader capable of looking for such things. Bausch and his writing had a tremendous impact on my own approach to fiction.

So I wrote the scene, and placed it in the story. As I added more details, it became more and more clear to me how the handlers of the gamecocks brutally took advantage of the bloodlust inbred into their birds. The connection between the handlers and my character also became crystal clear. This was no different from the manipulation of her boyfriend by my own version of “Lolita.” By simply allowing one of the cocks to run while in the pit, I could show what happened when a bird did not suit the will of its handler–it was simply destroyed and cast aside.
I needed an image to end the story with, so as she is leaving, I have her look back and see the dead birds being pitched into a barrel outside. She never makes the connection. A character as flawed as she is would never recognize her own short-comings, no matter how obvious.

This story was one I never believed would see print outside of my story collection. It contains graphic, detailed sex-scenes and detailed descriptions of the cockfights set in Mexico, along with drug use as they smoke pot while watching the fights. But Story South maintained by the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, published the story. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of a literary journal.

 

 

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