The Eisenhower Murder is done…or, perhaps, to be more accurate, I should say the Eisenhower MURDERS (plural) are done!
This foray into both murder mystery writing and performance art in the Writer’s Craft is not over yet. The Eisenhower Murder is both a story I’m extremely proud and a glaring example of the dangers of letting the general public see the rough draft. As with any good story the plot and characters came alive and directed me down pathways I never expected. But also, looking back, I can see the final chapter and denouement need to be fleshed out more. A couple of questions were never really answered:
-Did CS1 Paige confront Chief Rhyme down on the third deck and she kill him, or did she realize Knocker had finally named her by name, so she acted preemptively to protect her career by killing Paige before he could act?
-Knocker was completely surprised that Shepherd believed him at all, much less that Shepherd acted to protect him. I need to develop a scene between them before the conclusion. There is a lot to Knocker’s back story that I might explore in future stories after the IKE returns from her underway period.
This is the Writer’s Craft on display for all to see—the genesis of a story and even the author’s recognition of its shortcomings. No one pens a story in one stroke (get it—one stroke?!). We all need to let the story unfold and then see where the wrinkles are that need ironing. There is no shame in a rough draft; without that rough draft, the master piece would never follow.
Or, to quote a lieutenant I was talking to earlier today, you miss every shot you fail to take.
This performance art exercise is NOT over yet. Nope. Tonight I’m starting in on the third Isaac Shepherd adventure. This one is not inspired by any real-life events. This is the first to be completely generated from inside the dim, dark recesses of my deeply disturbed mind.
Let me explain.
Off Center was sparked by the suicide of someone I knew here on the naval station. It was not a recent event, but it was not that long ago. I was thinking about it, and about the suicide of Adm. Jeremy Boorda in 1996. Adm. Boorda was the first enlisted Sailor to rise to Chief of Naval Operations. He killed himself over the shame of wearing some medals he was not entitled too…the story goes. But there are many rumors that he was murdered. I don’t know if there is anything there or not, but the theories abound.
And suddenly an idea hit me for a murder made to look like a suicide…and then Isaac Shepherd tapped me on the shoulder. The genesis of Isaac Shepherd occurred back when I was in middle school in 1985. Yes, 1985. The character has gone through many transitions and names, but his life has always closely paralleled my own for decades now. I even wrote a few very short stories in early high school about “Michael Melendez” (an earlier iteration of the character that evolved into Shepherd). But…that was it.
I joined the Navy and thought of a murder mystery at my first command…a murder in the barracks and an admiral and his daughter involved…but never wrote it. I thought of a murder mystery while I was deployed aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in 2001…but never wrote it.
On so on…
All the back-story elements to Isaac Shepherd’s life have been in my head for nearly thirty years, and that rich history allows me to drop hints and references here and there, providing the reader with a sense that Isaac Shepherd and Abraham Gray really are living people with vibrant lives (ironically enough, Abraham Gray never existed in my world until Off Center).
I guess Isaac finally got tired of waiting and told me to start writing. Off Center was the result.
The Eisenhower Murder’s genesis was in a story told by a Sailor I worked for back on the Carl Vinson. Early in his career as a Navy Photographer’s Mate he had to document the accidental death of another Sailor. One of the armored deck hatches on his ship had been disconnected from its counterweight for maintenance. Unfortunately the wire securing the hatch failed and it dropped, crushing a Sailor’s head.
On the Rocks, however, has its genesis in nothing more than me looking out at Willoughby Bay and wondering what if…?
A good writer writes what he or she knows. I know murder mysteries; I know the Navy; I know story telling. In reality there would be no Big Reveal like Chapter 7 of The Eisenhower Murder. In reality NCIS would locate and arrest the culprit. But reality is not entertainment, and a murder mystery is entertainment. It must be real enough to allow even a criminologist to accept it, but it’s purpose is to be fun. To divert, amuse, and generate enjoyment. Part of the Writer’s Craft is taking something that would not be real (i.e., the “Big Reveal” scene) and make it feel as natural as anything that really would happen in the world. Agatha Christie was a master at this.
I also know me, but Isaac Shepherd is not me. I don’t deny our lives parallel a lot, but he is not me. I never played baseball in high school. My eyes are not sea green. He put on chief petty officer a year before I did. I never got a private pilot’s license. We are similar men, but he is a separate character. Call him my personal ambassador to this world.
Finally, I will create a lot of fictional places around Hampton Roads if I am going to cause mayhem there. However, I will also feature real places and establishments. Anyone with Wikipedia access knows every vessel I named in The Eisenhower Murder is a real ship in the U.S. Navy. Additionally, if you’re ever in Norfolk, The Pancake House and Grill on the corner of Little Creek and Granby really does serve some seriously excellent coffee, and the chain of Johnny’s Diners around here are worth a stop.