Not quite sure where I was or what I was doing. Probably just going about my day. I wasn’t the biggest fan of westerns—strange for a native, working class, Texan—but I didn’t really live in the Lonestar State until was a teenager anyways (I was born there, so I still count as a native!). I was a fan of gangster films and eagerly read books about Asian organized crime, so it was probably while thinking about the genre and its conventions that I thought of the concept of a “Redneck Gangster” screenplay. My interests, background and surroundings merging to create a story!
I thought it had great potential. I heard of the “Cornbread Cosa Nostra” and “Redneck Mafia” before but couldn’t recall if the concept had been fully exploited in film (I can’t speak for novels). Walking Tall and Rush were the closest examples I could think of. I imagined a Redneck version of a Yakuza movie. I got excited.
But Down To Sheol isn’t close to that. It isn’t even a movie. What happened?
A lot. So, where to start?
Before I even sat down to write the screenplay, I started thinking about the area where I lived in Texas. Started thinking about something my dad said when I was a child, about the hating the word, “Redneck”. He felt it was too much of a pejorative; an insult to the men, he believed built Texas, and built the country. Even as I wrote, and re-wrote, I started to read about the people—my people—that primarily inhabited the south (and Texas) until just recently. And things were changing, not just demographically, but economically, for better and worse. I felt, an uneasiness, like something was getting lost. Since I didn’t live in Texas at the time of writing, maybe I was just homesick, maybe nothing was missing…
But it affected my writing. Recalling incidents of corruption by local city governments, the protagonist of the novel, Clayton McGregor, could no longer be himself a gangster. Rather, he had to embody the Redneck ideal. To this day, working class whites from the South, primarily of Scots-Irish descent, make up a good portion of military enlistees—including those in my family. They are the ones serving and dying in wars initiated with not necessarily the best of intentions by bureaucrats. So, I thought, what if a returning vet were to return home and face local corruption head on?
I had my screenplay, entitled Redneck. It was the last screenplay I ever wrote. It was very different from the novel but the spine of the story is fairly similar. I even got a rave from reader calling it a “Kentucky Fried Epic”, which is kind of what I was going for. But I didn’t get any bites. I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t live in Los Angeles, and after listening to a podcast with Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, I realized if I didn’t live there, I would never have a career as a screenwriter. I had felt it for a long time but now I realized I needed to make a change.
So, systems over goals, I kept writing, just focusing on novels instead. It was an easy decision to make the transition: I preferred the control I would have and no matter the end result, I knew it the final product would be mine, not changed at the drop of a hat by producers, directors or actors. And I could write novels from anywhere. So I wrote.
But that novel I wrote was not Down To Sheol. It was something totally different. Where is that novel? Who knows? You might see it one day, you might not.
But the process was a baptism by fire of novel writing and learning about the publishing world. I won’t go in to details but it burned me out writing that particular novel. I needed to make a change.
I remembered Clayton McGregor and Bree. Thought that Redneck screenplay really had a lot of untapped potential that could be fully exploited in a novel. But I thought, the concept was a little ridiculous. Maybe I was a little too over the top. Then the Bundy Ranch Stand-Off occurred. I then realized maybe I didn’t go far enough in my story.
So I wrote…and wrote…several drafts.
I submitted to agents, hoping to hit it big in legacy publishing, hoping to become a “novelist” but got nowhere. Honestly, I felt it was a degrading process, like I wasn’t really being myself. I was just begging for someone to look at my work. I hated it. Then I heard these words from Mike Cernovich: “Our definitions dictate our mindset.”
I realized all the tools were available to me. I decided to self-publish.
However, one positive came out of the process of submitting this book to agencies. Since I was getting refused time and time again, and considering those in publishing live in a bubble, I thought that maybe the title Redneck was too impolite, too politically incorrect. I floated the idea to my wife about using a bit from the Bible verse (Isaiah 14: 14, 15) in the epigraph: “‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” She thought it was a better title.
Thus, my debut novel became titled Down To Sheol.
And it is available now.