MINING THE STORY
When Paul invited me to contribute to Fight Card, it was a good day. He had said very nice things about my work prior to his invitation, and it felt like a nice payoff after almost 20 years of effort in the writing game. Of course I said yes, but then blind panic set in. I’m not a boxer. I know nothing about boxing other than what I’ve seen on television. I’ve only ever been in two fist fights (in junior high) that I suppose I won. Then I remembered something Harry Whittington (not the guy Dick Cheney shot, but the author of such amazing books as Fire That Destroy) once said – He said he was able to write any story in any genre because he understood people more than things.
With that in mind, I dipped into my personal and family history for the story. I struggled a lot growing up. I hated being young, couldn’t wait to be an adult, and the complications of that dichotomy fuel the book.
My protagonist, Alex Slayton, is a young World War II vet trying to readjust to civilian life and dealing with some PTSD. He argues with his family and has few friends. He’s in his own world trying to find his own way and nobody’s helping.
Instead, they’re telling him what he should be doing with his life and not taking into account he’s his own man. They want to put him in a box with everybody else, but he knows he’s made for more.
That initial conflict gave me my characters, but what about the boxing content so important to this series? I may not know boxing, but I know martial arts, and how you can use the martial arts to discover your potential. So instead of kung-fu, Alex would learn how to box, and learn the same lessons my teachers taught me.
With those bases covered, I needed a greater conflict to complicate Alex’s life even more.
My family is from Butte, Montana, which is famous for copper mining. Three generations of my family worked the mines to dig up the copper, and my grandfather and great-grandfather were the ones who dealt with the early struggles to unionize the miners.
Those struggles often got bloody. You didn’t go to a meeting without a baseball bat or brass knuckles (or a pistol if you could afford one) because there was always the possibility of a fight with company union busters.
Dashiell Hammett, who wrote Red Harvest based on his time in Butte as a strike breaker, chronicled the insanity of those days very well, though the things he left out were even more insane and – I suspect – he left them out because nobody would have believed him.
So, I had my characters and my secondary conflict, but with so little space to work with (25,000 words is not a lot), I had to find a way to compress 60 years of union battles into very few words.
The Butte in my story is not the Butte my family knew. However, there are obvious parallels and I used a lot of family history in coloring the town and characters. In fact, one character and one location is specifically named for my grandfathers. Still, there is a real-life example of everything taking place in the story.
Those battles happened.
A lot of guys died and many more were injured. However, while my story takes place over two weeks, those real-life events happened over a much greater period of time.
So, Alex, a miner trying to save enough money to move himself and his girlfriend out of town, must deal with union problems, a company out to put the effort down by any means necessary, his family, and his own struggle to find himself.
There’s boxing woven throughout, and it’s in the boxing ring where Alex will have to save himself, his future, and the town. It all comes together in a package of which I’m very proud.
It wasn’t easy to write. I had to fight the words instead of having them flow. I felt I was in the ring against the toughest bruiser I had ever faced. I wanted to go down for the long count in every round.
This story was so different from my usual action/adventure fare, I didn’t think I could finish. However, Paul took a chance on me and I didn’t want to let him down, so I pressed on. I had become the fighter in the ring I was writing about…Alex had become me… and I wanted the victory.
Copper Mountain Champ helped me grow as a writer. I learn a lot about finishing what I write – I learned to keep punching. I am renewed as I return to writing my usual fare of blondes, bombs, and wannabe-Bonds – where things get blowed up real good and the baddies are trying to take over the world.
It’s much easier writing about heroes and villains than about yourself.
FIGHT CARD: COPPER
BRIAN DRAKE WRITING AS JACK TUNNEY
ANOTHER TWO-FISTED FIGHT CARD STORY
Butte, Montana. 1951…Back from the horror of World War II, Alex Slayton started working the copper mines of his hometown, but it’s hardly the life he intends for himself...or his girlfriend, Liz. However, when long festering problems at the mine force a union strike, Alex finds himself up against the mining company’s notoriously tight-fisted owner – a man who believes in violence as a first resort.
Based on his raw fighting talent, Alex learned the sweet science from his mentor and fellow miner, Pete Kovich – hoping boxing would get him out from underground and on to a sunny future. Now, caught in a web of town intrigue, violence, and sudden death, Alex is forced to face the mine owner’s son, a top boxing prospect, in the ring. Alex knows he’s not ready, but the only way out is to fight – not just for himself, but for the whole town…