Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wilburton is not a passenger stop

Another provisional excerpt from The Hanging Man:

Patience climbed up three wooden steps and stood at the western edge of the platform, which was nearly fifty feet long from end to end. The station house was dark but for a single light in the office, shining through a small, dirty window. A man in a dark suit with a pale shirt and no hat paced back and forth along the eastern end of the platform, taking small steps ten feet in one direction, gazing momentarily at the stopped train and then shuffling ten feet the other way, to the back of the platform. Patience did not like the man or his poorly-concealed desperation. She knew that a desperate man was often dangerous. Wilburton is not a passenger stop, the porter had said. Patience wondered who or what this man could be waiting for. She remembered how, in 1933, a man in a dark suit had waited at the small station in Bamako for a train scheduled to pause there only long enough to take on water and coal. The waiting man, when the train arrived early in the afternoon, threw himself onto the tracks and slithered under one of the passenger cars. Beneath his dark suit the man wore a waistcoat made of dynamite and blasting caps, and his hand gripped a small detonator powered by a magnesium battery. In the passenger car, which was destroyed by the blast, had been the deputy minister of culture with his family—a wife and three children, the youngest sleeping in a crib—as well as thirty-nine other travelers, all en route to Dakar for a holiday. The Algerian army burned four Arab villages to the ground in reprisal, though of course no one knew who the waiting man was or from where he had come. Things were very tense in Algiers for many months afterward. Ali had been of the opinion that the exploding man was an Egyptian rather than an Algerian. Patience Quince believed, though she could not prove it, that the man who blew up the train in Bamako was a desperate lover, and he’d died attempting to murder a rival suitor to some woman or other. Patience further believed that the rival suitor was likely not on the train, or at least not in the passenger car which was destroyed. Desperate men in love, experience had shown, were rarely careful planners of violent crimes. The Algerian minister of culture, his wife and children, thirty-nine other passengers and eleven train crew as well as two innocent dogs that hung around the station, had all died terrible deaths because a desperate man had no idea what to do but found it imperative he do something. Patience scowled down the platform at the pacing man. She did not like him at all.


  1. Great scene! I like all the numbers. It gives me faith in Patience's abilities. I also like hearing about Ali.

  2. I am trying to use very specific language these days. Writing that way makes me think more about each scene before I write it. "How many tables are in the restaurant," etc. This doesn't necessarily add more realism to the scenes; it just helps me create prose not quite like that in anything I've previously written. Putting in numbers and species of wood and the names of various metals changes the rhythm of the sentences, makes everything full of hard surfaces and corners and things. Which is interesting to me. I think one whole round of revisions will be dedicated to this sort of specificity.

    It's always a good idea to trust Patience's instincts. Except when it's not. There will be quite a bit about Ali in this one.

  3. I agree with Davin that the numbers really add to this. Desperate men ARE dangerous. So are desperate women. :)

    I also love that you're sharing excerpts!

  4. You know the excerpts will become fewer the farther I get into the book. Spoilers, etc. I'm nearly at the end of Chapter 2, about 13K words along. Chatper 2 is mostly dialogue: people speaking at cross-purposes and asking unanswered questions. I need to anchor all that dialogue to the earth with some physical details, but I'll do that in the revisions.

    This novel is full of desperate men and women! A man from Patience's past has just turned up. In Kansas!