Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Somebody Named Steve Dies in All My Books

The Girl Who Cried Wolf is dedicated to my close friend, Steve Plesa, who checked out of the Hotel Flesh way too soon. We  worked together at The Register, a daily newspaper in Southern California, where I got to write about anything I wanted, usually beach culture, fast cars, gun nuts, and petty crooks, and Steve stayed in the office and edited them. Everybody liked Steve and nobody liked me. I thought it was a fair deal.

One day I was standing with Steve in the Register stairwell while he smoked a cigarette and he told me that he hated his job, but having a pal like me there to laugh at the same crazy stuff made it tolerable. I then had to tell him I was giving my two-weeks notice so that I could finish my first novel, The Horse Latitudes. We stayed friends, but he made me promise that I would put him in the book so that in the unlikely event it got published, he would have a bit of immortality.

So I did. I wrote a character, Stevie, who died ugly. Steve thought it was hilarious. He sent a copy of the book to his parents. He told his friends. So in every one of the twelve books I've written, there's a character called Steve, or a variation of Steve - Stevie, Baby Steve, Stefano, Esteban  Stephanie - and in each book this character is murdered, often in embarrassing and pointless ways.

Wilson sidled over to Stevie. "Think fast," he said as he pressed the barrel of the .38 under Stevie's jaw and pulled the trigger. The shot was muted by the soft skin, but the top of Stevie's head hit the ceiling with a wet splat.
-The Horse Latitudes

Great White smiled as the bodyguard struggled against him, their faces inches apart, the two of them almost dancing, the surprise on Stefano's face giving way to fear now. Like all strong men, Stefano was used to being dominant in any physical confrontation, and his helplessness now was startling to him. Great White could smell the onions on the hamburger Stefano had eaten for dinner as he bent the man's hand back until Stefano's pistol was pointing at his own face. Great White watched the bodyguard's expression as he slowly forced Stefano's hand to tighten on the trigger, searching for something in the man's eyes, waiting to see what would rise to the surface.

Probably the highest praise I ever got was Steve telling me a few years ago that he had sat with his two teenage sons for a whole evening, reading the passages where his character got whacked.

This one's dedicated to Steve, and the next time I use his name in a book, he'll do something heroic. Maybe.

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