Today’s story started out with the basic idea that it frequently takes someone crossing the proverbial line to get people to care about anything. I wanted an entire city to be outraged by something a small group of people did, but ultimately I wanted what was done to be a rallying cry, and draw attention to their issue.
Furthermore, I wanted to make the setting my hometown of Detroit. I was born and raised in Detroit and I currently live here. I’ve always loved the city, and, honestly, I’m very sad about its current state. I hate that I was woken up by gun shots very close to my home last week, and heard more late Wednesday night. I hate driving by abandoned houses and burned out buildings as frequently as I’m driving by occupied ones. So how do I honestly portray what I see around me without dumping gasoline on the proverbial fire and spotlighting it for the world to see?
Well, until now I simply avoided it. With the exception of one story that I wrote for a friend many years ago, I never set a story here before. I might have characters that were from here or mention it in passing but I never had anything that took place here. The reason is simple: despite all the problems, all the hell that this place has seen and sometimes represents, this city is my city. I’m as much a part of this city as it is a part of me. It’s shaped me into who I am, and though I am not a dangerous person, I represent a not insignificant part of its population. I represent who Detroiters are and can be even as I myself am discovering who I am. I am incredibly defensive when it comes to my city, as are all Detroiters, against all outsiders, including those that live on the city’s borders. Yet we, me and other Detroiters, will be frank and honest with everyone about those very problems within the city. If nothing else, we’re honest people, and most of us are hardworking even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it.
So why set a story here, now? Well, it’s complicated as most things are. There are certain things that are going on within the city government that really aren’t fair, and someone needs to bring attention to them. A certain city organization is getting shafted by the city, and no one seems to realize they can just walk away. So I wrote about that; the organization, in defense of its members, just walks away when the city crosses the line one too many times. And what makes it so poignant is that I was able to use actual events and statements, changed just a bit, to underscore the reality and absurdity of the situation.
This was very therapeutic. I submitted it to The New Yorker as soon as I finished it.