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****Michael J. Sahno’s Whizzers is #224 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? Oddly, I began this novel sometime around 2000, but then set it aside. I had the first few chapters of Whizzers and Miles of Files going around the same time, and eventually put all my effort into finishing Miles of Files. It wasn’t until I’d finished and published my first three novels—Brothers’ Hand, Jana, and Miles of Files—that I committed to completing Whizzers. So even though the first few chapters date all the way back to 2000, the majority of the book was written between 2018 and 2019.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? Since I began running Sahno Publishing full-time in 2016, I’ve worked entirely from my home office on an iMac. With the exception of those first few chapters mentioned above, written in another location, all or Whizzers came to being here. Not much to describe, either. It’s a pretty bare-bones setup facing away from the window in order to avoid distractions!
What were your writing habits while writing this work—did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I listen to instrumental music almost all the time when writing fiction—typically jazz, ambient, or electronic. If it’s morning, I might be drinking coffee; afternoon, anything from water to Thai tea. Although I composed my first couple novels by hand before transferring them to print, I wrote both Miles of Files and Whizzers entirely on iMac.
My wheelhouse for composition runs from afternoon through mid-evening, but I do my best editing in the morning and have been known to write the occasional bit of a scene right before bedtime.
Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. This scene runs from pp. 163-68 of Whizzers. I feel like it should include a trigger warning: bullying, homophobic slurs, profanity, etc. It’s the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever written, but it was even more heartbreaking when I experienced the abuse in the scene.
I can’t see any point in hanging around here longer than necessary, so I just go for the door right away. It opens onto a scene I never expected. Instead of a generic parking lot for a standard issue hotel, outside the door is a church. The room I’m leaving is within a school, as if it were a classroom. It makes no sense, but then, not much seems to make sense anymore. I haven’t even shaken off the experience in the hospital, and now this.
Even more shocking, I’m instantly aware it’s winter here and I’m dressed in a heavy coat, pants, gloves, and hat. I wasn’t wearing them a moment ago—was I? I don’t think so. The jarring effect of the view of the church and the school behind me almost makes me dizzy. I feel sick. I try to open the door again, retreat into the room, but it’s locked.
I know the school, of course. I know the church. It’s St. Joseph’s, Bristol, Connecticut. I don’t even have to guess the timeframe or reason: it’s late 1977 or early 1978. This was my junior high. That church, St. Joseph’s, has a small cemetery attached to it. I can see a few headstones from here. Another six or seven years from this time and my grandmother and grandfather will be buried here.
My breath comes in short bursts of steam as the wave of sadness and rage comes over me. I already know exactly why I’m here, although there’s not a soul around. I’m going to see, and maybe try to somehow comfort, the thirteen-year-old version of myself.
Early adolescence can be the hardest, most turbulent time in life, and mine was no exception. It was incredibly painful because I made a simple error in judgment: after I discovered masturbation, I told another kid about it.
He took my confiding in him as some kind of sexual threat. He decided I must be gay to make such a confession. And when he told all the other boys in the class, they believed him.
This is the time I’m revisiting now. I’m sure of it. Within the space of a few days, I go from a friendly, popular kid to an absolute pariah. Every boy in that class knows me as the masturbator—none of them do it, of course—and they’re convinced I’m gay as well.
Denying it means it must be true. Denying it only makes things worse. I’m attacked in class, attacked on the blacktop basketball court.
I have to fight for my life.
When another of the building’s metal doors flies open and boys pour out onto the cold blacktop in their white shirts and green pants and ties, I stand watching in silence. I’m not usually invisible in these visits to the past, but today I can’t help thinking I must be. What purpose could it serve otherwise? I doubt I’m going to be the adult breaking up children fighting.
Sure enough, this is it—the day I’m attacked on the playground. Ironic word in this situation. There’s no play here, and the ground is covered by this hard, icy blacktop beneath our feet. The boys spill out into a whirling dervish of malice. The shape of this mob is like that of an octopus, swarming and falling in on itself. I hear the words, words misapplied to me, and my outrage rises far beyond just for myself. It’s for all the abused, all the broken, all the damned.
“You’re a fucking pussy, man.”
And then I see myself, the teenaged me, in the middle of that savage group of thirteen. The dreadful bowl haircut so popular to the time, and a look in my eyes that I can’t describe as anything other than devastated.
“Leave me alone,” I hear Michael say. “You guys are full of shit.”
Not a single adult around, not even a nun. They have turned this little mob loose outside without a thought of supervision. This must be their only respite from them, a fifteen-minute recess where the little monsters can do as they like. The girls in our class are nowhere to be seen, and I suppose that meant they had a separate recess from us boys. I don’t recall anything about it. So much my mind has blocked, mercifully.
The mob swirls around, and at length I see a boy hit me. My own adult body winces in sympathy pain. It was horrific enough to be that victim, surrounded by a group, in the full knowledge there wasn’t a single friend among them. Yet watching it happen is somehow worse. The outrage in my heart makes the ringing in my ears jump from an eight to a ten.
Michael hits back, but without success. The kid is rangy, taller, longer arms. He’s outmatched, like a boxer with a shorter reach. The mob is almost irrelevant, I can see, though I know it didn’t feel that way.
I step forward, meaning to intervene if I can somehow. And in that moment, I feel a small hand up against my leg.
It’s David, appearing to me for the first time in this brutal tableau, though I have no idea how long he’s been here. He holds up the hand and shakes his head no. I see him mouth the words, It’s okay.
It’s not okay. But I understand now—I can’t move. I’m frozen here, powerless to intervene. I can’t change the course of history one iota. For once, I can’t even talk to any of them.
My heart pounds as I look back to the awful scene before me. Like so many teenage fights, the mob is egging it on, but no one cheers for Michael. The kid hits him again, and then they tussle, an ugly flurry of hooded jackets and flying arms. I know what’s coming, but when it happens, it’s still a shock: the bully pulls Michael’s hood, my hood, over my face. Blows rain down, blows unseen.
But now I see them as they happen. And I see what I couldn’t have seen at the time: the ugly mob of jeering boys cheers the bully on as he fights dirtier. Fists pumping into the air.
“Yeah, get him. Fuck him up.”
I watch the small body sag as little Michael surrenders. He falls, every last bit of fight bullied, beaten, out of him.
The crowd scatters. Back to normal. Who cares? Forget that kid.
At last, David’s hand drops. I look at him and notice that he’s translucent again.
And so am I.
David nods, and I understand somehow what I have to do. It’s the only thing I can do.
I walk to the boy, the small, crumpled figure. His face is red—distorted with rage, shame, silent tears. I hold my translucent hand up and wipe the tears from his eyes. I wrap my arms around him in a hug that he can neither feel nor return.
Then I, too, begin to cry.
By the time I finished Whizzers, I’d already completed three novels and a short story collection, but never with an autobiographical scene as potent as this. When I finished the first draft of the scene, I broke down and cried. And when I first edited the book from start to finish, this scene made me cry again. For context, I don’t typically cry more than once or twice every few years.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything like that. My editor made a few punctuation suggestions, but nothing that would really be interesting to see.
Anything you would like to add? I appreciate the opportunity to share this, and I'm always happy to answer additional questions from readers if I can.
Before he became a publisher or even a writer, Mike Sahno was a speaker. "I started talking at a very young age, and would engage strangers in conversation from my perch in the shopping cart," he says with a chuckle. "They'd look at my mother and say, How old is he?"
Sahno began reading before he'd even been taught his ABCs, much to the surprise of his family.
"My parents were always great about reading to me, and I guess I decoded the language from looking at the words," he explains. "This was in an era when they didn't teach you to read until first grade – it was See Spot run, 'Dick and Jane,' all that stuff.
"One night my grandmother was reading the newspaper, and I started reading an article about the Cincinnati Reds out loud to her. She thought I was making it up until she looked down and saw I was reading it word for word. That got everyone's attention."
Sahno also began writing stories at an early age. In high school and college, he was Editor-in-Chief of the campus literary magazine. The quality of his work led to multiple awards and honors. After earning his Bachelor’s from Lynchburg College, he went on to complete his Master’s in English from Binghamton University at the age of 24.
Sahno served in management positions for several companies, including Director at a market research firm, and Assistant Vice President at a Tampa mortgage company. He also taught composition at the college level.
He became a full-time professional writer in 2001 and, in the following years, wrote more than 1,000 marketing articles on a wide range of topics. His delivery of quality copy put him in high demand across the southeastern United States, and several of his articles won Addy Awards in 2008 and 2010.
Since founding Sahno Publishing in 2015, he has gone on to achieve national and international recognition, gaining over 25,000 followers on Twitter and publishing and selling three novels both in the U.S. and abroad. Sahno has ghostwritten books for entrepreneurs in the U.S., and continues to electrify audiences with his story and his natural gift for entertaining while informing. He is available for professional speaking engagements upon request.
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