This is my second story about Mike. In the first story, Spin, Mike and Leslie work together on a website promoting September 11th conspiracy theories while Mike struggles with a cancer diagnosis. My process for writing People’s History, like all of my fiction, began with an idea or a phrase. I write down ideas for stories as they come to me, and if an idea appeals after finishing my current project, I write a quick treatment. In this case, the idea was, “Mike had once shot a possum in his living room in Sarasota, Fl.” Mike Summers first shoots a possum and then pursues a suit claiming right of way against several neighbors of land he owns in West Virginia. He dies of a heart attack before the settlement comes to its conclusion.
I already knew about my protagonist and his sidekick, Mike and Leslie, so my treatment focused on why Mike would own land in West Virginia and who he would meet once he traveled there. Well, one time-worn way for a fiction character to gain something unexpectedly is for him to inherit it, and if he inherits this land then that might put him into conflict with family members, which would raise the stakes. If he has trouble recovering his property, he’s going to need the help of people who enforce and interpret the law. This would put Mike, for whom the law is a form of government control to be resisted whenever possible, in a very uncomfortable situation.
As I expanded my treatment into an outline and then a first draft, that confusion became the crux of the story. I usually write the scenes or beats I feel most confident about, and then try to figure out how one beat moves into the next. For People’s History, I started with the opening scene and then wrote the confrontation with Mike’s cousin and the two nighttime confrontations with the policeman. While writing that first draft, I read more a bit about what Mike would have to do to claim bequeathed land in West Virginia, and I realized that the situation he’s facing is actually fairly common since much of the state is in fact owned by absentee landlords and corporations. That revelation brought me to Berman and his Legal History, and voila, we have a foil to Mike and his People’s History. Of course, Mike, with his background in conspiracy theories, reads menace into everyone he meets, leading to his downfall and, presumably, a long drive back to Florida.