As part of my protagonist’s backstory I included a flashback to her hitting rock bottom, which involved drinking alone in a saloon and ultimately getting thrown out. This being a tale of the old (albeit weird) west, I didn’t see any need to reinvent the wheel, and so I put a bottle of whiskey in front of the cowgirl as her rotgut of choice. It was one of those details that simply seemed to suggest itself as perfectly logical, and into the mix it went, after I did a modicum of research to namedrop a brand of whiskey that wouldn’t be anachronistic to the story.
I’ve been alluding to my upswing in creative productivity recently, and about a week ago I finished revising another story and submitted it for consideration for another small press anthology. (I should hear the yea or nay on that by the end of this month.) Once I had sent it off to the publisher, and there was no longer any point in fiddling with the details of it, I was able to consider the new story as a whole a little more rationally, and I noticed a couple of things:
1. It had a lot in common with the weird west story in terms of narrative structure, by which I mean both tales have a character on an adventure who suffers a darkest-before-the-dawn kind of setback, which gives the story a chance to pause and go back and fill in some of the character’s origins, and then ultimately return to the present action for the uplifting triumph. Adventure-setback-triumph is about as classic (read: basic) as it gets in terms of the hero’s journey, and so I hardly think it’s the worst thing in the world to repeat those beats in broad terms in more than one tale. It might very well be inevitable. Using the setback moment as a flashback opportunity is a bit less intrinsic to the formula, but obviously I find that it works out really well (and that was confirmed for me by some of the people I shared drafts of each story with) so I can accept that duplication as well.
2. But if one were to start really combing through the side-by-side comparison, one might notice that both flashbacks involve the respective protagonists hitting rock bottom and facing some kind of crisis of faith at a life crossroads. They also both involve drinking. Specifically, they both involve drinking whiskey.
It will no doubt sound like I protest too much if I swear up and down that this only occurred to me well after the fact, exactly as I’ve claimed, but it’s the truth. The only evidence I can offer is roundabout: if I had noticed, and it wasn’t too late to change the second story, I probably would have. But if the second story winds up disseminated out into the world as I submitted it, it will prove my point. Without a conscious plan, I’ve been betrayed by my own proclivities. When life gets rough, there’s nothing a generous pour of the lively water won’t cure, or at least dull the pain of. Actually, that would be one of the proto-proclivities of a much younger me, who was single and childless (much like the characters in my stories). Nowadays there’s frequently beer and wine on the shopping list but the hard stuff comes out only on special occasions. I’m pretty sure the last time I had a cocktail with whiskey in it was back in October at my cousin’s wedding, and as far as seriously getting down with an unmixed bourbon on the rocks, that has to go back to before the little guy was born. As usual, this all falls under the broad heading Life Is Change, And That’s OK.
Clearly, though, I forged a deep and possibly lifelong emotional bond with whiskey that has far outlasted the actual habit of consuming it regularly, and I like what it signifies and what it conveys enough to refer to it in fiction again and again. And again? At this point I feel like I might as well take the accidental coincidence of two and run with it, make it my thing, try to work a mention of whiskey into every tale I tell from here on out. I’m currently playing around with a couple of horror story ideas, one of which takes place at a Halloween party and another of which takes place at a nightclub, places where it would not be a stretch in the slightest to incorporate a shot or two of bourbon. I’m also working on a sci-fi pulp about space gladiators, which presents a bit more of a challenge. I suppose it depends which ones I finish and/or manage to find audiences for first (or at all), to see if the running joke continues on an unbroken streak.