Some of you know about this. Others may not.
For the past year, I have been working on the fourth Alvin, Alabama book, called STICKS AND STONES. in a way, it kind of resembles A THORN AMONG THE LILIES a bit. It’s about a serial killer called The Stickman who was active fifteen years before the story opens—before detective Leah Teal was ever even a part of the Alvin Police force.
Here’s a quick little synopsis:
The case was headed up by Leah’s daddy, Joe Fowler, the then detective of the Alvin Police. Fowler became the public face of the entire Stickman taskforce and, as he did with all his cases, he took this one personally. After some time, it even got more personal as The Stickman kicked things up a notch.
The MO was strange but very consistent.
The nine victims whose lives were taken by The Stickman showed no pattern. Black and white, male and female, they were all between the ages of twenty-three and forty-five. Their bodies, all found around Alvin between the years of 1973 and 1974, were always “presented” to the police a peculiar way. They were hogtied backwards, so their chest and abdomen stuck out rather gruesomely and their ankles and wrists were all bound together behind them. Each one was shirtless when discovered. At the scene, the victim was found with a wooden stake driven through his or her chest into the ground, or tree root, or whatever worked. At the end of the stake was attached a piece of paper, and on that paper was a drawing of a stickman in black, felt marker. In the cases where the victims were women, the stickman had one line of hair on its head, ending at her ears with little tips, and two circles drawn on the chest, denoting breasts.
But the stake wasn’t what killed them.
Each victim disappeared anywhere from a handful of days to hours before their bodies turned up. During that time forensics speculated they were kept bound and shirtless until The Stickman killed them with a .38 Special round to the back of their skull. So the shot was what took their lives, not the stake. The victims were dead before ever getting to the place their bodies turned up.
Fowler didn’t find evidence against Stork until after victim nine&$8212;a year and a half after the first victim was found. When Fowler had enough for a warrant, police kicked his house. Stork wasn’t there, but they did find the murder weapon verified by forensics from the two slugs the medical examiner happened to find lodged in the skulls of two victims.
After his house was raided Stork went into hiding.
A month later, based on an anonymous tip, police were led to an abandoned shotgun shack where Harry Stork was holed up. He doesn’t give up and the situation evolves into a Mexican standoff: Stork against Fowler. Stork wouldn’t drop his gun, so Fowler did the only thing he could do. He shot Stork. This particular shot sparked some controversy.
Claiming he was aiming for the man’s gun arm, Fowler said he must’ve overcompensated slightly. Because, instead of hitting Stork’s arm, Fowler shot a round right into his heart, killing Harry Stork instantly. They’d only been thirty feet apart when it happened.
Some people talked about Joe Fowler being a pretty damn good shot and wondered where his intentions really were. But, The Stickman killings came to an end, so nobody took the issue any further. Joe Fowler became a hero. Newspapers all around the state had him on their covers. He was The Man Who Saved Alvin.
Except, Fowler never let the case go. Something about it never gave him closure. Even after leaving the force a few years later to spend his remaining days at home with his family, that Stickman case wouldn’t leave him alone.
He died of cancer eventually, but not before putting his daughter Leah on the Alvin Police force.
The story opens fifteen years later and Leah Teal’s pa has been in the ground for ten of them. She is still detective of Alvin and a disturbing thing happens.
After all these years a new body turns up on the bank of Leeland Swamp in northwestern Alvin. But it’s not just that there’s a dead body in her town that concerns Leah. It’s the way that body looks when police find her.
Shirtless, and backwardly hogtied, Abilene Williams is found staked to the moor on the edge of that swamp, and on that stake was attached a picture of a female Stickman. Cause of death is determined to be a nine millimeter round to the back of the head before being brought to the swamp. The MO matches the original Stickman killings perfectly. Only thing different is the gun, but of course the original gun’s still in evidence.
It all sends chills through Leah just thinking about it. She’d already lived the original Stickman murders vicariously through her pa fifteen years ago for the whole year and a half it took him to solve it.
Now it’s Leah’s turn to tackle the Stickman. Except it can’t be the real Stickman. Her pa shot that one. He’s dead and the dead don’t come back.
Or do they?
The Stickman case was her pa’s legacy. Some consider it the high point in his long career as a cop. Could it be that way back then somehow he’d shot the wrong guy? Leah doesn’t even consider that idea. She wouldn’t be able to deal with finding out her pa had been wrong.
So it’s up to Leah to uncover the truth and hopefully manage to do so before this new Stickman takes any more lives. Only trouble is, finding the truth may involve her destroying the legacy of a man she respected more than any other she’s ever known in this world.
This book has been an arduous struggle for me (but a work of love, of course). It is twice as thick as all the other books have been. They’ve all fallen between 85,000 and 100,000 words. As of yesterday, STICKS crossed the 180,000 word mark. It’s sitting at 715 manuscript pages and I still have an entire scene to finish before I complete my third draft. And I have cut a lot. I don’t think there’s much left that can be taken out, so hopefully everyone likes long books. When I hit 115,000 words I asked my editor if I should be concerned. His response: “Go as big as you want.” I don’t think he expected this. I don’t think I expected this.
I wish I could explain why it’s so big. It’s got a huge, complex plot that really has some nice payoffs in the end. Many dramatic questions are raised in the book that, once things start getting figured out, they all fall into place like dominoes during the resolution. Until then, the questions all seem to contradict each other.
I’ve got eight percent more of the book to get through before draft three is done. Draft four will be my polish draft. I’ve never been this much up against a deadline. It’s scary.
I think it’s a solid book and quite possibly not just the best Alvin book to date, but the best novel I’ve ever written. There’s some surprising twists, and one that I don’t think anybody will see coming.
Anyway, that’s the end of my status update.
One more, sort of unrelated thing. Most of you have heard me go on about Story Bibles and how indespensible they are, especially when writing a series. My bible contains all sorts of character information and details, places in my mythological town of Alvin, along with their addresses, multiple maps of the town, demographics, literally anything I make up for one of the books has to be recorded so I stay consistent if I reference it in future books. So far, every knew book has added to my town because I needed new places for things to happen, and my population keeps growing.
Anyway, until now, I’d used a very cave-man way of storing this info. It’s written across multiple documents in a folder on my computer called Alvin Bible and I print them all out and have them in a binder that is near to bursting. Because I can’t quickly search or cross-reference anything, using it is cumbersome.
So, to revamp my technology, I have begun setting up AlvinWiki, a wiki that will have everything it that currently resides in my Bible. Well, here’s some good news if you’re a fan of my books. I’m going to make this wiki publicly accessible from my website so anyone can look at the information. In fact, I will appreciate it if astute readers happen to pick up on details facts or anything I may have missed while going through the books. Also, it would look nice if I had something to place as a picture for the major characters (who will all have their own page). So if any of you fans are artsy at all, pop me an email and maybe you can provide some art for it.
Because I’m still actively third drafting it will be a while before the wiki contains enough info to bother with putting it live. Oh, and another thing it will contain will be multiple maps of the town that allow you to zoom in for a more detailed view. Not quite like Google maps, but I’ll see what I can do.
That about wraps it up for this post. Nice to be back in the saddle. Feel like I haven’t blogged for years.