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Sunday, May 4, 2014

THE MONSTER INSIDE US

THE MONSTER INSIDE US!
 
JASON CHIREVAS ON WRITING FIGHT CARD: MONSTER MAN 

I’ve always found losers more interesting than winners. Let’s start there.

Fight Card: Monster Man is a story about losers.  Losers of varying degree, but losers nonetheless. The only character in the book who may be doing what he wants to do, who has achieved what he set out to achieve, is the villain of the piece.  That should tell you what to expect in this story.

But then, that’s noir, isn’t it?
 
And noir is one of the things that drew me to Fight Card
 
Pulp and noir – two terms thrown together a lot, but which don’t really have much in common – collide head-on in the traditional Fight Card books. When I pitched Monster Man, I knew three things – I wanted it be noir; I wanted it to evoke pulpy Hollywood B pictures of the 40’s and 50’s; and I wanted it to be about losers.
 
Another thing I’ve always found interesting is the good guy trapped in a hulking body. It’s easy to write and envision a big, muscle-bound, guy as a thug or a villain – but what if Goliath is the good guy? That paradigm shift was what I wanted to explore in Monster Man. It was also the biggest challenge – how to take a big, hulking, boxer and not only make him the hero, but also make him a loser?
 
Enter Rondo Hatton.
 
Rondo Hatton was an actor in several second and third-rate horror movies in the 1940s. Hatton had a disease called acromegaly – essentially a form of gigantism­­ – which gave him a menacing, distorted appearance.

RONDO HATTON
 
Hollywood exploited this characteristic, casting Hatton as some variation of a monstrous character called The Creeper in most of his movies – with little more than lighting needed to make him look like something underworldly. Hatton’s success, if that’s what it was, was short-lived as he died of an acromegaly-releated heart attack in 1946 at the age of 51.
 
A big, hulking, boxer with acromegaly. The idea fascinated me. But, as Fight Card guru Paul Bishop asked, was it possible for such a person to actually box?
 
My answer – Primo Carnera was the heavyweight champion of the world from 1933 to 1934. He was 6’ 7” tall. He also had acromegaly. 
 
Now, if you choose to read up on Primo, you will find his rise to the title may have had some influence from the mob, but the real reality was Primo Carnera was a huge guy, with acromegaly, who got in the ring and banged it out with guys like Jack Sharkey and Max Baer.
 
Plus, mob influence – how noir is that?
 
So, with a real-world precedent in place, Ben Monster Harman was born. Ben is a big, hulking guy who learned the disciplines of fitness and boxing from Father Tim at St. Vincent’s Asylum for Boys in Chicago. Like a lot of Father’s Tim’s boys you’ve read about, Ben looks to the pro ranks for his salvation when he’s old enough to leave the asylum.  However, World War II and then the illness – which he comes to call Hatton’s disease – puts an expiration date on Ben’s time as a boxer.
 
So, that’s Ben. But he’s not the only desperate noir loser trying to fight his way through Fight Card: Monster Man.
 
The person just past his or her prime is another facinating concept for me. In Monster Man, we also meet Victoria – a never-quite-was movie actress who settles uncomfortably in the harbor village of Mamaroneck, New York. 
 
Sparks fly when Victoria meets Ben, who is in town to perpetuate an underground boxing scam with Pete – who is Ben’s manager and also a fellow refugee from St. Vincent’s. 
 
The idea of two losers – both fallen from different walks of life, which might have granted them some celebrity – trying to use whatever they have left to get ahead, really interested me. It made me care about the characters and what would become of them as they make choices that put them on a slippery path to disaster.
 
At their best, I think B movies and the kind of fiction Fight Card represents are great for two reasons, both arising from their brevity. First, the short running times and page counts force writers to power the plot along at lean, stripped-down pace. Second, events move so quickly, and circumstances are usually so dire, it forces the characters to expose their raw, base selves. Crisis is when you learn who someone really is and humans in crisis is what Fight Card is all about. We put our fighters – and the people who love them – through hell, turning the story on its head before you, or they, have time to react.
 
Monster Man was a fun book to write and I hope some measure of that enjoyment will carry over when you read it. I’m proud to be part of Fight Card. It’s exactly the kind of fiction I always wanted to write and I’m happy to see I wasn’t alone. 
 
Keep punching, Ben. You and Vicky may find a way to win yet.



 
 

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