Thursday, May 4, 2023

Prisoner of Love from James W. Ziskin

Do you have old unpublished manuscripts that you might revive? Why did you abandon it (or them?) What would it take for you to go back to them?

Yes. Plenty of unpublished manuscripts, but none I want to revive. Those were stories and words that served their purpose. Training.

Now that that’s done, on to a different topic. 

Since I had a new short story drop this week, I want to write about that.

“Prisoner of Love” is part of GET UP OFFA THAT THING, an anthology of crime fiction inspired by the songs of James Brown. Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul. Gary Phillips edited this collection, which is published by Down and Out Books. These stories are not meant to be pastiches or retellings of the songs that James Brown recorded. Rather, the titles and lyrics serve as a jumping-off point for new creations. In my case, I built my story on the same emotions and themes as JB did in his song “Prisoner of Love.” Namely fragility, vulnerability, powerlessness, devotion, and resignation. The idea that one person may hold the upper hand in a relationship. Some prisoners of love suffer and maybe lash out, while others accept the imbalance gladly. Love is more important than power to them.

“Prisoner of Love” is set on New Year’s Eve 1954 at an—ahem—wife-swapping party. The term “swingers” wasn’t coined until later, so I must refer to the revelers as wife-swappers. Interesting fact: wife-swapping gained popularity—it seems—among Air Force couples in the 1950s. I asked my dad about this shortly before he passed away last year. He’d served in the Air Force as a captain and flight surgeon, and he said those stories were well known at the time. And, so, I chose as my murder victim one Osgood Bindler, a retired Air Force pilot.

For my wife-swapping story, I chose to keep the sex off the page, even if it was simmering just under the surface. And I wanted to try something unusual, if not daring: there’s absolutely no dialogue in this story. Not one word. My goal was to write it so the reader wouldn’t even notice. Not sure if I’ve succeeded, but time will tell. I counter-balanced the absence of dialogue with Nelson’s precious and refined narration. If his descriptions were compelling enough, I thought, maybe the reader would forget about dialogue and enjoy the ride. Here’s Nelson’s description of himself and his meager charms:

Nelson, a lecherous, pansexual doctor with loads of money and wicked intentions, is the “detective” and narrator of this story. Some readers may recall him from two of my Ellie Stone mysteries. In Heart of Stone, he and his voraciously sexy wife, Lucia, are suspects in the deaths of two men who’ve died in what at first appears to be a diving accident on an Adirondack lake. The husband and wife team also show up in Cast the First Stone, set in Hollywood in 1962, and spend all their time trying to get Ellie into bed. But in 1954, Nelson and Lucia have not yet met…

That is until the fateful New Year’s Eve wife-swapping party described in “Prisoner of Love.”

As for the rest of the shenanigans in “Prisoner of Love,” I’ll leave that for you all to read, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers here.

Now back to this week’s question. Do I have any manuscripts I might like to revive?

While I don’t have a manuscript I’d like to revive, I am planning to write a series of short stories featuring Nelson and Lucia Blanchard. “Prisoner of Love” serves nicely as the first installment, an amuse-bouche, if you will, to their enduring lust story.


Susan C Shea said...

Jim, Now that you mention it,, I do recall them in Heart of Stone, one of my favorite books in that series. Interesting decision to make them the center of a new series of short stories because they're not exactly likeable. Of course, Tom Ripley wasn't so likeable either and Patricia Highsmith didn't let that stop her!

James W. Ziskin said...

Susan, you’re right. In Heart of Stone they weren’t very likable. But in Cast the First Stone, Ellie got to know them better and grudgingly grew to like them more. Especially Nelson. But she still wouldn’t hop into bed with them…