Notes on "I was shot by someone in a grey sedan"

Gary Clift

My story “I Was Shot by Someone in a Grey Sedan,” which appeared in NAR 298.3, is one of four I've written using hooks borrowed from pop fiction. I've always tried to vary my stories by using different methods to get them started, and I suppose I've had about five or six generation methods since I began writing for academic publications in the late 1970s.

The pop hook method works this way: I take a basic plot idea from a story or a set of stories I've enjoyed and then I translate the hook into my current notion of reality. Of course it is the application of the point of view that really changes the material. Ben Nyberg has taught that all experlightningmaniments in fiction are point of view experiments and I've found his observation to be dead on.

So I liked a story written by R. Austin Freeman, the man who wrote the Dr. Thorndyke detective stories. But this story is one of the Romney Pringle stories he wrote (right around 1900) as Clifford Ashdown. In it the not quite moral detective discovers a patent medicine scheme that is being carried on through the mail, scares the proprietor away, and grabs the order remittances until the police are ready to close in on the scam.

My version of the tale, “Can't Place the Name,” has a first person narrator being mistakenly arrested as another man. He soon learns this other fellow is a blackmailer. The protagonist uses the identity documents which caused his incarceration to make off with payments mailed to his antagonist's business office.

I then worked out some other examples of how misidentification can cause difficulties and ended with a bit of action borrowed from more recent fiction, the escape from the car trunk. That story is just about finished. So is another in the same run, “My Husband Had a Midlife Crisis,” a story which will be difficult to place because it acknowledges that some of the opportunities for adventure that women have arise from their physical attractions—the editor who takes that story will have to be prepared to hear some grousing from the army of the politically correct. “I Made a Deal with My Wife,” the fourth story in the set, is over 20,000 words long as I write this.

“I Was Shot...” got its start from a frequently-used pop fiction device—a husband coming home from work is attacked by the heretofore unknown-to-him lover of his wife. That story was transformed when I thought of the second act for it, about stock price manipulation. I think I first read this sort of “two block” story in a collection of Jerry Bumpus's years ago. I've used it myself, for example in “Suzy and I and Vandals” (which is in my Mustaches collection), the story Grant Tracey once called my “greatest hit.”

As I continue to revise these stories, I find I'm already thinking about a new generation device to use in telling a few more tales. When I stop thinking of new approaches, I'll quit writing.

Gary Clift

Gary Clift: G. W. Clift, who lives in Manhattan, Kansas, has seen stories of his published in academic literary magazines in five different decades. His collections are Mustaches (BkMk) and Everything I Learned by Age Forty (Woodley Press).  Gary Clift was featured in our 298.3 issue, Summer 2013.

Illustrations by; Brianne Burnell. Brianne Burnell is a freelance digital illustrator living and creating from her home studio in Toronto, Canada.