Anatomy of a scene (3 scenes, actually) . . .
I always enjoy behind-the-scenes or anatomy-of-a-scene features for movies and TV shows. Now that my new historical novel GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE has been out for a while, and some folks have actually read it, here’s a short look at the origins of 3 personal-favorite scenes:
1) Chapter 9 – The unusual slugfest!
After big brother Jake (all of 17) decides he wants to partake of Civil War “adventures,” 16-year-old Jamey declares he wants to go, too. Jake and mama Cara both think Jamey’s too young and not tough enough. So Jake challenges Jamey to a fist-fight in the alley behind Mama’s saloon -- if Jamey can lick his brother, he’s tough enough to go.
While fictional fisticuffs are nothing new, I wanted to make this brawl unique. We know that Cara’s school lessons each morning at her saloon include her beloved Shakespeare in the curriculum, and Jamey brags how he and Jake had memorized colorful insults peppering the Bard’s plays. Those led to this twist -- Jake and Jamey’s trash talk consisting mostly of Shakespearean contumely:
Jake seized on my hesitation and taunted me, waving insults like a bullfighter’s red cape. “Hey, Jamey-boy . . . ‘thou lump of foul deformity! Out of my sight—thou dost infect my eyes.’ “
It took me a second to realize . . . he was hurling Shakespearean slander my way. Well, two could play that game. “ ‘Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.’ ”
Jamey’s narration notes their mother’s reaction: “As appalled as she was at our brawling, she couldn’t help feeling a little proud of our scholarship.”
2) Chapter 17 – Preaching for dollars!
Early in the story’s R&D process, I found the vintage but well-researched TIME-LIFE book series on the Old West, strewn with a wealth of archival photos and true-life stories. Among those nuggets: the tale of a man dressed in “ministerial black” who appeared at Dodge City’s Gold Rooms saloon and asked for the owner’s permission to preach a sermon at 8 that evening.
With a throng of curious gamblers, drinkers, and saloon girls on hand, the preacher did his thing, passed a collection basket, and departed with a tidy sum. Only later did they learn this preacher was actually a “roving cardsharp down on his luck” who’d invented a clever way to raise enough money to resume gambling . . . elsewhere.
Talk about striking narrative gold! That true tale became the perfect way for Jamey and Jake to raise some fast cash after they’re cheated out of a fortune on a Mississippi riverboat, leaving them broke in St. Louis.
3) Chapter 26 – Jake’s wild ride!
Back in the 1970s, my college roommate Ross Lally and I (that's us below, circa 1975, Ross on right) occasionally went horseback riding at a stable in the Connecticut countryside not far from our University of Connecticut. In less litigious times, the stable owner took our word that we knew how to ride and let us rent 2 horses to roam the trails for an unsupervised hour.
We may not have been skilled horsemen, but we could get the horses to go where we pointed ‘em and canter without falling off. Both of us grew up on westerns, and with the then-new BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fresh in our minds, we’d trade movie lines back and forth. As we’d let the horses mosey, we could enjoy the woodland scenery around us -- until we’d reach one open stretch of dirt road, with tall, leggy pine trees lining both sides, where we could safely ride fast. One day, as we kicked our horses into high gear, Ross’s horse veered into the trees -- with lots of lower branches just at the rider’s face level.
By the time Ross managed to regain control and steer his satanic steed out of the woods, I turned back to find him with red scratches and welts on his face (fortunately, not otherwise injured), spitting out pine needles and bits of bark, and swearing at the horse. While I can’t remember whether the horse was laughing, I know Ross was not. And that became the scene where superior horseman Jamey leads remedial rider Jake through pine woods in an effort to stop Jake from launching a singlehanded, suicidal assault on the villain’s ranch.
You can read those 3 fun scenes -- and all the rest -- right now in GALLOWAY'S GAMBLE