...because I took a bullet.
"You're writing for a character that looks like you? Be careful. Remember what happened to Grant Morrison." You'd be shocked how many people said that to me this year at Comic Con. And it is true, the main character of Titanium Rain DOES look like me. Hey, if you've got a twelve part story to tell and a tight deadline, trust me, you want your reference models on call 24-7. And as for the bit about Grant Morrison, we've all heard about him developing the eye cyst after writing it happening to the Morrison look-a-like in the Invisibles. Well, for the record, I'm not worried. Sure, the guy that looks like me does take a bullet (sort of) in issue #2, but as far as me getting shot in real life? Already happened.
I was two weeks out of high school and enjoying the summer. My sister and I were cruising with our friend Matt, on our way to Denny's. It was Matt's birthday and he wanted his free meal, even though our local branch had stopped offering them ages ago. We never made it to the restaurant. Halfway there, some nut on the road snapped and started following us. After about twenty minutes of pursuit, it was pretty clear this guy wasn't giving up. Why was he following us? What was he upset about? I've read the police reports and depositions; I attended all the court dates. I never got an adequate answer. Nor do I expect to get an answer as to why he did what he did next, which was to chase us into a residential area, run Matt's car off the road, and then hop out of his vehicle wielding a 9mm. He was in his late 20's, a hick, and a wanna-be cop. He shouted something about "gonna kill you motherfuckers!" And then started shooting. Matt floored it. Three bullets hit the car. But fortunately we got away. Safe. That is until I felt the wet spot blooming on my back. One round hit the driver-side mirror. One hit the left rear tire. And one plowed through the trunk and hit me. An armor piercing round, the bullet smashed through a floater rip and became lodge in my gut. The bullet hurt. Having it removed was A LOT WORSE. If you want the full story, you can read what was reported in Riverside Country's regional newspaper, The Press-Enterprise.
So Alec gets shot in Titanium Rain #2. Two week after graduating high school, I was shot. Call it the Grant Morrison Effect in reverse, if you like. Or call it reality informing fiction. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. What is important is my role as a storyteller. My work needs to be engaging, entertaining, and in terms of violence, sincere. For some, maybe this isn't much of an issue, but I've told some pretty violent stories in my brief career. My first book was about futuristic drug culture, the second about war, and the most recent anthology piece I did features both infanticide and suicide. Am I working through my own inner-demons here? Absolutely. But despite all the politically correct hand-wringing regarding violence in fiction, at the end of the day, good fiction embraces the human condition. It pushes it to the extremes, takes the reader to the edges of the human experience, and asks us to peer into all those deep dark corners of the psyche we're all afraid to journey into. And that is probably why I've found myself writing about soldiers so much.
Honestly, I've never really thought of myself as a 'war' writer, or even a military buff. I'm a tech geek, sure...I can rattle off all sorts of ridiculous stats about aircraft and weaponry...but I'm not the kind of guy who gobbles down Tom Clancy novels, or leaves my television tuned to the Military channel 24-7. Although, I guess this has changed since beginning Titanium Rain. Anytime I tackle a project, I bury myself in research, so by this point my wife and I can recite rank structures in our sleep. But all the same, I always thought of myself as more of a sci-fi guy.
So why war stories? Why write about soldiers? This is another question I get a lot of, and for the longest time, I wasn't sure myself. I suppose the easiest answer is that its all a part of the post-911 condition, which is certainly true, but doesn't quite nail it. Really, the "ah-ha" moment for me came when I was writing issue #3 of my last book, Utopiates. In it, there was a soldier named Eckert who had been forced back into civilian life and failing at it. Badly. This was a man who quite literally had spent his entire adult life at war. And his youth ended the day his parents died in a terrorist attack, the same day he swore to enlist and fight the enemy. Now with the war over and his head full of horror, Eckert was the very definition of post-traumatic stress. Lost, paranoid, and completely out of sync with normal society.
Like I said before, anytime I write something, I tend to research the hell out of it. For Eckart, I'd been reading up on Vietnam Vets and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Which is how I stumbled across the following line from the Mayo Clinic's website...
"Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts... People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger."
"Oh crap. That's me!" That's what I said the moment I read this. There might have been a few extra added expletives to what I said. Especially after I read the next part...
"Having a loss of interest in important activities, feeling all alone, being unable to have normal emotions or feeling that there is nothing to look forward to in the future may also be experienced... This cluster of symptoms includes feeling disconnected from other people, psychic numbing, and avoidance of places, persons, or things associated with the trauma."
Christ! This second part pretty much sums up my college years, and then some. After reading all this, writing Eckert became easy. Real easy. Although that's not to say I could ever truly "know" what real-life combat does to a person. Not the way the men and women of our military do. I've only had a brief taste of that hell. The difference being, once my moment in the line of fire was over, I woke-up in a hospital bed, then a week later was sent home. The men and women in uniform don't have this luxury. They don't return home. They grab their rifles and march back into the fire. And because of that, they have an understanding of death and life which no one can. Of all the professions I've researched, all the people I've interviewed, only soldiers seem to grasp that mortality transience that's haunted me all of my adult life.
The Japanese say we live two lives. The first is the life we're born into. The second begins the moment we truly realize what it means to die. And for me, that moment came in the back of a friend's car two week after graduating when I became suddenly aware that my life was spilling out of my back. At that moment I was forced to accept that everything I am, everything I know, all the memories and moments that have converged to form Josh Finney were about to blink out of existence. Forever. And that's what I mean when I say the violence in my writing must be sincere. Death is frightening. A violent death, even more so. But it is very much a part of who we are. Death makes life that much more important. It makes sacrifice mean something. It reveals our true character. It forces the worst and best out of us. And as a writer, I believe until someone truly knows death, they cannot truly grasp the significance of what it means to be alive. As a writer, if I can communicate just a sliver of that life/death dichotomy, and keep it real, keep it honest, make it frightening and uplifting, and make you come back wanting more. If I can do that, well then I've done my job. I don't need to convince you of how smart I am, or that I am deep, or that I'm a really interesting person. That's what articles like this are for. All I owe you is a good story, and that is something I can damn deliver.
Josh Finney is a writer, artist, and trained mentat. He is currently working on the acclaimed sci-fi series, Titanium Rain, which he collaborates on with his wife, Kat Rocha. Titanium Rain graphic novel vol. 1 available right now in the September Preview, PAGE: 192 CODE: SEP09 0597.
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