I owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Weddle. When I first got online and started seeking other writers, I fell into a community of people who were all fired up with the work, getting agents, and promoting each other’s efforts (quite a list of writers from those days have gone on to publish multiple books; folks like Hilary Davidson, Chris F. Holm, John Hornor Jacobs, Dan O’Shea, and Joelle Charbonneau, just to name a few). I submitted a story to a project called “The Steve Weddle Memorial Flash Fiction Challenge.” Of course Weddle wasn’t dead at the time, nor is he yet. But my 1000 word piece about a mysterious guy named Kirby was well-received, and folks who remember still ask about him from time to time.
Another year or two down the road, I submitted a story to Needle: A Magazine of Noir, which Weddle served as editor (and founder, with Jacobs) of. Honestly, I wasn’t that thrilled with the story, but I thought I’d written the kind of thing that they — the readers, the “scene” — would want. Turns out Steve liked all of it up to the end, and sent it back. That was an important moment for me, because in the re-working of it I realized I’d made compromises to try and tell a blood-soaked tale like I thought the genre expected, rather than tell a story that was more meaningful to me. Hell, I liked it up until the end too. So I went back to the drawing board. The re-write led to me getting the story, “A Dog Named Buddy,” published in Needle.
Moving forward, I kept with the theme I was trying to pursue, and did pretty well with it, winning back-to-back contests with, essentially, the next two stories I wrote. What I was after was a kind of rural noir of my own, about people I knew, or could have known, dealing with their own demons. The “Rural Noir” genre (for lack of a better name) really took off (in my perception, anyway) in the wake of the success of the movie adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. But what bothered me about the stories so many writers were telling is that they seemed like an exploitation of those folks, as if every community was nothing but a den of meth-fueled drug running murderers and their strung out victims. That irked, and disappointed, me.
Which brings me to Weddle’s debut, Country Hardball. This is the shit I’m talking about. Not that exploitative-vibing shit, the good shit. A novel in short stories, it is set in a dying community in Arkansas. Still different from my own northern community folks, it nonetheless captures the lives and heartaches and breaks of people in a way that I haven’t seen a lot of writers do outside of the late Joe Bageant‘s nonfiction. There is some violence here, and people doing terrible things to each other while making awful choices, but Weddle doesn’t make the mistake of putting something disgustingly awful in every one of the twenty stories. I’ve known some of these people. They ain’t all bad. Some of them just need a break, and there’s only so much luck to go around.
I don’t feel much like part of any writing “community” like I did back a few years ago, pretty much by choice, for reasons of my own. I never wanted to be in a position where I felt obligated to say good things about someone’s work, mainly because I never wanted people to feel obligated to say nice things about mine if they didn’t really mean them. So believe me when I say I wouldn’t be rambling like this if this friggin’ guy doesn’t deserve it. Steve Weddle has given us an outstanding book. I hope people give it a shot. It’s better than most of the stuff out there.