A Writer’s Justice

In June of 1999, prolific author Stephen King was out for his daily four mile walk when he was struck by a drunk driver. The horrific impact flung King fourteen feet through the air and deposited King’s bloody glasses in the front passenger seat of the drunk guy’s vehicle. King spent three weeks in the hospital with a gashed head, punctured lungs, and breaks or fractures in his ribs, pelvis, hip, and thigh. He endured multiple operations then attended physical therapy that lasted longer than the hospitalization. Considering the circumstances, King is lucky to be alive.

The driver pleaded to a lesser charge allowing him to walk away with a figurative slap on the wrist, despite a lengthy rap sheet of eleven prior convictions for driving under the influence. No jail time. A suspended, but not revoked driver’s license.

Most of us would be furious if we were in King’s position. Hit and nearly killed by a habitual drunk who should not have been driving, unable to work and do the thing you love for several weeks, only to watch the cause of your pain and agony let off easy. King was mad, but most of his ire was reserved for the prosecutors who allowed this miscarriage of justice to happen. As for the man who almost took his life, King was mostly cordial. In a Dateline interview five months after the accident, King said “There isn't really anything that he's got that I want except his license.” A year later the driver passed away from a painkiller overdose. Even then, King’s kindness continued. King called his death untimely and said “Our lives came together in a strange way. I'm grateful I didn't die. I'm sorry he's gone.”

Stephen King is a master of the English language. On this earthly realm, he is possibly more gracious and considerate than I would be if such a tragedy had happened to me. The fictional world is a different story; there King is absolutely savage.
image courtesy of Get Literary

King began writing the Dark Tower series early in his career. The first book was published in 1982 and the most recent release came out in 2012. Not only did King create a continuous story spanning multiple books, he also weaved in characters and settings from several of his other works, forming a shared universe connecting all of King’s fictional bibliography. In the final chronological book in the Dark Tower series, King added a new character, a hapless servant of the Crimson King – the main antagonist through all of the books. King named him Bryan after the man who pulverized him five years earlier. The fictional version of the real life Bryan was more reckless and portrayed to be dimwitted. The character Bryan is distracted by a dog while driving and kills one of the story’s protagonists, just like the real Bryan was distracted by a dog when he ran into Stephen King.

However, The Dark Tower isn’t the only fictional depiction of Bryan Smith. In 2004, Steven King created a TV series called Kingdom Hospital. The main character of the story is hit by a van driven by a person distracted by their dog. However, King made this character mirror the real life inspiration even more. The driver is seen later in the series taking pills from an unmarked bottle, referencing the real Bryan’s overdose death.

This is justice for a writer. There is a general rule with writers: don’t make them mad. If you get on their wrong side, they will turn you into a villain in their next book, or give a character based on you a gruesome death.
found on Pinterest

This is the way our brain works. Instead of allowing our grievances to become a memory between the two of us, the harm you caused becomes immortalized on paper to be published, republished, and read by our fans. Instead of your wrongs fading into obscurity, it becomes entertainment for millions. It might be vindictive, yet it is also poetic. For many writers, this literary form of revenge is cathartic. It allows us to process our grief and anger without lashing out. When justice isn’t carried out in court, our words might be the only justice served.

There’s another kind of justice, a reverse vendetta. I don’t know if there’s an actual term for it so I’ll just call it redneck justice. In redneck justice, the wrongdoer seeks vengeance against bystanders when caught committing heinous acts. They harass the person or people who reported their crime in hopes to intimidate them. Redneck justice is used get away with their misdeeds by bullying those who impede their ways, silence their accusers, and continue their nefarious life free from the penalty of consequence or accountability. Redneck justice is a violent avoidance of true justice.

Recent events reminded me of this story from the life of Stephen King. I pondered writers’ habits of basing villainous characters on their real-world abusers and make readers vicariously experience the pain we endured so they might root for our heroes and heroines. As I find myself on the brunt end of redneck justice, I feel more empowered than ever because I’m a writer. The timing of unfortunate happenings is convenient as I am working on my first fantasy novel and my book needed a second villain. While the details of the perpetrator of redneck justice will (for now) remain private, my book now has a secondary antagonist. Even if the courts fail, I will have my writer’s justice.


In a Rush?

Floating in Heaven or roasting in Hell? I don’t know and the actual answer doesn’t matter to me. All I know is deciding a person’s eternal destination is above my pay grade. I’m not the judge of humankind, which is probably a good thing because if I was, Hell would be forced to hang up a “no vacancy” sign. Honestly, I tend to be far more judgmental than I have any right to be. It’s a character flaw.

As critical as I can be for the living, I aim to be more generous of the recently departed. Not everyone shares my strategy. When RBG passed away last fall, Cd’A area pastor Paul Van Noy made a public statement claiming she’s wicked and should not be celebrated as a national hero. This week, I saw similar sentiments from the opposite end of the political spectrum in response to the death of Rush Limbaugh. It seems the people who were fans of one reviled the other.

This is where the cynical jerk who typically holds a tight grip on the steering wheel in my brain eases off the gas pedal and consults the atlas to navigate these scenarios. When half my twitter feed claims heaven gained a new angel, and the other half partied like a grim reaper welcoming Hell’s newest resident, my centrist nature ran a cost-benefit analysis between being a saint and an asshole. I found myself straddling the fence.

I don’t know what Rush truly thought about God, but I know what I believe God thought about Rush. I believe God loved him like God loves every other person on Earth. I also know Rush professed to share my religious faith. Yet, when I listened to him I did not hear the same Christian morals which guide my values. Did Rush satisfy the biblical principle affording salvation to anyone who believes in their heart and professes with their mouth? I can’t answer that. I heard his words but I couldn’t see his heart. Again, such power is above my pay grade.

All I’m left with are mixed biblical commands and wise secular advice. My religion says to avoid stuff like bitterness, wrath, anger, and malice. My bible also instructs me not to speak evil and show perfect courtesy. Social norms tell us to not speak ill of the dead. Edmund Burke once advised, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

How do we balance it all? Rush was a professional provocateur who earned millions pissing off others – either pissed at him or pissed at the people he didn’t like. He normalized misogyny, bigotry, and homophobia. He turned spite into a righteous cause. He revolutionized the American political landscape from the comforts of a radio production booth. As much as he was beloved by conservatives, he was also perceived as evil by liberals.

What am I to do as someone who believes that we should let go of anger when speaking of someone who taught us it’s OK to be angry? How do we recognize someone’s death might end the abuse of others? Is not speaking ill of an evil dead allowing evil to thrive by doing nothing? Should we criticize or honor, celebrate or mourn?


I refuse to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t have to revel in their death either. If the dead is an individual who harmed society, I believe there is a better option than saying nothing and doing nothing at all.

Which leads us back to Limbaugh.

Are you mad about Rush’s treatment of women? Did it bother you when he said feminism was created to give ugly women a chance, or claimed things started going downhill after women were granted the right to vote? Were you creeped out when he sexualized the way women walk or when he called a 12 year old girl a dog? Do you believe he contributed to rape culture by claiming consent was a tool of liberals, tried to explain how women really mean yes when they say no, or said women protesting sexual harassment actually wished they had been harassed? Did you cringe every time he called a woman a slut or a ho? Did you roll your eyes when he said women have easier lives than men?

Then donate clothes, food, or funds to a women’s shelter. Support the National Women’s Law Center. Volunteer with organizations that help women escaping domestic violence, human trafficking, prostitution, and pornography. Respect the women in your lives and treat them with dignity.

Are you offended by his treatment of the LGBT community? Were you annoyed by his sexual jokes mocking gay people? Are you mad about his slippery slope argument that legalizing gay marriage would lead to pedophilia? Did you think it was bad taste for him to ridicule AIDS victims while circus music played in the background during his AIDS Update segment?

Then locate and support a local Gay Straight Alliance club. Donate to charities and support groups like The Trevor Project or It Gets Better Project. Spend time with your queer friends and listen to their coming out stories; if you don’t have any LGBT friends, make some.

Did his views on race anger you? Were you dumbfounded when he said all police sketches of criminal suspects look like Jesse Jackson? When he played a song called “Barak the Magic Negro” on his radio show, were you enraged? Did you argue with his claim there are more Native Americans alive today than any time in history or that Columbus saved us from the Natives? Do you think he was wrong to say “who the hell cares” about black voters because they’re a minority of the voting populace? Were you mad when he said the NBA should change their name to the Thug Basketball Association and sport teams should be called gangs?

Then shop at black owned businesses. Attend events organized by your local chapter of the NAACP. Listen to and learn from black voices. Support criminal justice reform measures and other legislation that aims to end racial inequity. Donate to charities dedicated to improving African American communities like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Black Girls CODE, or Campaign Zero.

Were you enraged by his treatment of disabilities, drugs, and health? Did you want to defend Michael J Fox when Rush claimed he was exaggerating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? Did you yell at your radio when he said nicotine wasn’t addictive and smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer? Were you puzzled when he claimed fitness enthusiasts were taxing our health care system?

Then join a gym, exercise more, and eat a healthier diet. If you’re a smoker, quit smoking. If you’re struggling with addiction, seek help. Support, volunteer, and donate to organizations like The Michael J Fox Foundation, St Jude, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Truth, or To Write Love on Her Arms.

I will not celebrate Rush’s death, nor will I speak ill of the dead. However, I will celebrate the people the dead spoke ill of while he was still alive.


Like Orion on a Cloudy Night

It was a stressful day. Which is weird because it should not have been so burdened by stress. The morning started like any other Sunday: Joylyn and Annie helped me complete barn chores before we all went out to breakfast as a family at our favorite little greasy dive in Rathrum. Later in the day, Annie went out for a horseback ride with one of her friends while I relaxed and played video games. I spent some time cleaning in the kitchen while Annie prepped the dining room table for a crafting project. Then we went on some errands to get wood stain and groceries. The day ended after a walk with our Mastiff at the dog park, more housework, and bedtime barn chores.

No dire emergencies. No kids arguing. No mishaps. No perceivable cause for frustration. Still, while we were on the freeway between home and Winco my brain declared battle against itself, like there was a civil war waging between my prefrontal cortex and my amygdala. From the coattails of a relaxing Sunday, I was suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed by anxiety. My shoulders tightened, my chest was constricted, and my breathing grew shallow. Thoughts of impending dread and inevitable failure flooded over me.

There was no logical reason for me to feel the way I felt. Even in the moment I knew there was no validity behind my anxiety. It was what it was. I knew my emotional paralysis was devoid of substance yet I was powerless to avoid it. I felt better the next morning, ready to tackle a new work week and carry on as if I hadn’t been plagued by self sabotage less than 24 hours prior. But Sunday night, for causes beyond my capability to describe or understand, was rough. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of my own head.

After we returned home, and when the worst of the anxiety faded, I walked out of the house to retrieve groceries from the trunk. I briefly looked up and noticed a small break in the clouds perfectly framing the constellation Orion. The belt was shining bright. A few years of living on the farm has made those three stars the easiest for me to identify among the abundance of distant suns populating our night sky. I stood still for a moment and traced the outline of Orion up to the club and shield then down to the hem of his garment. I marveled at the unique position of my geographical location. The constellation was perfectly framed by cloud cover - grey masses above and below it, and to both sides. The overcast sky obscured all other constellations visible in early February.

I removed a few grocery bags from the trunk, closed it and looked up once more before going inside. In the time it took me to gather our purchases, the clouds shifted, blown by currents of wind. The only stars still visible were Zeta, Epsilon, and Delta – Orion’s Belt. A few seconds later and those stars also disappeared behind the overcast weather.

A couple hours later, I ventured outside once more to feed our animals and refill their water troughs. At the barn, my eyes wandered toward space again and the clouds populating the inland northwest earlier in the day had dissipated, pushed further east by the jet stream, revealing the clear and beautiful expanse of endless galaxies above us. Orion the hunter still stood proud above me, joined by his neighbors Cassiopeia and Pisces.
Orion is there somewhere

In a short span of time, Orion was the only constellation to be seen, vanished, then reappeared joined by dozens of visible constellations. Time and meteorological changes in the atmosphere alter the way we see the stars. Yet the shifts and adjustments in astronomy move slower. Night after night, Orion is still Orion. Mars and Jupiter move into and out of our night sky in long lethargic arcs. The moon cycles through its phases from full to new and back again every 29 and a half days, the subtle change barely perceptible from one night to the next.

As I pondered these quick adjustments in weather and its effect on our perception of the longer lasting existence of astronomical phenomena, I realized my struggles with depression and anxiety were much the same. My emotional state is often like the clouds, moved by circumstance and unseen forces. My melancholic disposition sways between bitter and sweet, often lingering where the two are blended. There are times my anxiety completely blurs my grandeur, other times it breaks long enough to observe glimmers of greatness. Then there are days where depression breaks and I feel as if I can shine. Regardless of how I feel from one moment to the next, I’m still me. I possess the same hopes and fears while overcome with anxiety as I do when serotonin and dopamine levels in my brain are stable. Moods come and go like the weather but my goals and beliefs remain, only to be changed through slow progression.

When I am feeling down, I know that feelings are only temporary. Anxiety comes, but it also goes. Happiness exists on the other side of these temporal adjustments. This concept isn’t an easy one to explain to someone who doesn’t struggle with depression and anxiety. If you want to better understand what it’s like to be me, just watch the stars on a partially cloudy night. Perhaps you could learn something from Orion.


The Idea

It started with an idea.

My oldest son’s favorite game is D&D, both as a player and a creator. He is often asking to DM a campaign for the whole family. He listens to podcasts and watches videos filled with tips and lore. His world rotates around school, homework, chores, and D&D. I sometimes wonder if thoughts of gaming occupy his mind at school and while he’s supposed to be completing assignments or folding laundry.

While we were all quarantined for Covid in December, he demanded a moment to talk about an idea he had for D&D. Normally, these requests involve his plans for upcoming campaigns or a world he’s designing. This time was different.

“Dad,” he said, “I want to make a D&D character who has autism. I know autism didn’t exist in the dark ages, but I want to explore what it would be like for a person on the spectrum in a medieval fantasy world.” We discussed the possibilities of what could happen, how such a character would react to the sights and sounds of a pre-industrialized feudal society. As we spoke, he grew more excited – feeling as if this was a real thing, giving bones and flesh to a figment of his imagination.

Then I had a revelation.

“You know,” I said, “This would make a good story.”
“I know, that’s why I want to use this character in a campaign.”
“No, no, no. Not a good D&D story. I mean, it’s that too but not what I’m talking about. When I say it would be a good story, I mean like an actual novel kind of story. Words on paper, printed and reprinted, sold in bookstores kind of story.”
“Oh, that.”

Then he changed the topic, reverting back to his plans of D&D campaigns but I wasn’t listening. The creative gears inside my brain where spinning like they got a fresh coat of WD-40. While Christian’s voice filled the room with all of the things he wants to do in a game, my mind was occupied with thoughts of what could happen in a book. I fell asleep pondering extra characters, sidekicks, and villains. I gave my thoughts freedom to wander through the geography of where such characters would live, queried what conflict would drive the characters to do what they do.

By the time I went to bed the next night, I had a rough idea of a plot from start to finish. I had a bare description of the main character, the party that will accompany him on his quest, and the enemy he hopes to defeat. The day after that, I pulled Christian aside while throwing hay and told him everything I had been thinking about. The inspiration for the book came from him so I wanted his blessing, permission to use his sliver of a plan to create something bigger.

His response: “Dude, you need to write this book.”

So I am. What, but what? Am I not already writing a book? Yes, it can wait though. I have several ideas for books, all non-fiction inspirational/motivational type stuff. I intend to complete them eventually. Why switch to something new? Because this is different.

I’ve previously balked at the idea of writing fiction. There were a variety of excuses preventing me from even trying. I convinced myself I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t good at it. I believed it would be better to stick within the safety of what I knew I could do well – essays about faith, parenting, politics, and geekery. Writing novels was something for others people, more talented writers. I believed these lies until Christian approached me with the idea of an autistic person in a medieval realm filled with fantasy and magic.

This is now a story I can’t not write. The other book I was working on can wait because it’s only something I wanted to do. This work of fiction is something I need to do. There is a difference. I’m now more motivated and determined to write a book than I ever have before.

Christian and Annie frequently ask me if I’ve worked on the book, helping to keep me on track. It’s a slow process considering I still have a full time job and live on a farm filled with animals who need fed twice a day. But I keep going. First was a world map in the tradition of Narnia from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Then research. Then the preparation employing Evernote to keep track of random ideas, Word to complete character profiles, and (because I’m a nerd) drafting the plot outline in Excel.

Last night I found myself doing something I haven’t done in years: sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop. Writing. And it all started with an idea.