Professional wrestling, when you come right down to it, is sociology, but more on that in a bit. As someone who has watched pro wrestling since 1984 when I was nine years old, I’ve discovered there are three levels of pro wrestling fandom.
In the first, which is hopefully confined to childhood, the fan believes the action in the ring is an actual competition rather than the predetermined exhibition it actually is. At the second level, the fan realizes the winners and losers are known before anyone heads to the ring, but can still suspend disbelief and enjoy the action, over-the-top drama and comic book pageantry of one of the only true American art forms.
Then there’s the third level of pro wrestling fandom, in which the fan realizes, yes, the match results are planned ahead of time, but those results, and the champions wearing the belts, are, more often than not, decided by which wrestler has performed better in the ring – and connected better with the audience – over his or her career.
So, what you really see in the pro wrestling ring is very much a competition, as there are only so many top spots in a given company – and not every wrestler is capable of having the same match, or making the promoter the same money, as every other.
And that brings us back to sociology.
Once you realize wrestlers really are competing for the top spots in their federations, you realize it is the audience reaction, and the wrestler’s ability to relate to the people in the seats, which most often carries stars to the top.
Because of this fact, some harsh realities of American sociology come into play. White over black. Fit over flab. Men favored more than women. Blonde over brunette.
While there were exceptions to every rule, traditionally, the people most often to get ahead in real life were the ones most likely to wear the World Wrestling Federation Championship and the big, gold belt representing the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
While things aren’t quite as clear-cut along the above described lines in today’s pro wrestling scene – which hopefully is reflective of social change – Fight Card books typically deal with yesteryear, and my latest entry in the series, Job Girl is no different.
Given what we’ve discussed, how do you think a thirty-something redhead, who’s had a baby and her face slashed, would be received in a 1956 suburban Illinois pro wrestling ring? What happens to someone whose life has been one defeat after another when that history translates directly to the often dark reflection of society that is professional wrestling? That’s what Fight Card: Job Girl is about.
When I wrote Fight Card: Monster Man, my first entry in the series, Vicky was the secondary character who intrigued me most. Given the way her character exited Monster Man, a story which wasn’t hers to begin with, I thought, if Monster Man were to have a sequel, Vicky was the character I wanted to follow on a further adventure.
But Vicky is a woman. And I’m not.
I’ll admit, my first notion was to go for broke and write this book in first-person from Vicky’s point of view. I quickly decided it would probably come off as a gimmick at best or be a farcical disaster at worst. So, since I’ve never written a close third-person point of view story with a female main character before, I decided that was enough of a challenge.
In the end, I think Vicky and I got on well. I feel I know her. I also understand she is the kind of woman who could get me to do anything, so I hope she didn’t trick me into telling a story more favorable to her than it should be.
If Monster Man was about metaphorical losers, Job Girl is about someone whose lot in life is literal defeat. Vicky has never been anything in the ring but pinned on the canvas looking up at the lights. However, I saw that pattern just might be the catalyst to bring her all the way back, if not to where she started, to someplace she never thought she’d go.
A FIGHTER’S TRAIL TO THE ALASKAN GOLD
RUSH This week Duane Spurlock gives us his
take on writing the latest Fight Card release, Fighting Alaska…1900
Alaska…Gold, greed, and gamblers – a dangerous combination in a gold rush
boomtown. Itinerant boxer Jean St. Vrain has a lifetime of rootless wandering
behind him and ten years of knuckle-busting boxing, bar bouncing, and
disillusionment. He wants to call quits to the fight game, but he needs a way
out. Joining a mob of desperate men heading for the Alaskan gold fields, Jean
is caught between crooked judges, crooked businessmen, a soiled dove, and
infamous gunman Wyatt Earp and his cronies. With his future looking as harsh as
the Alaskan landscape, Jean has one chance left – fight again.
Fighting Alaska came to be
written thanks to several influences, which I can boil down to four: magazine
articles, North Western pulp fiction, histories of the American Wild West, and
and simplest: Esquire introduced me
to boxing. Oh,
I knew boxing was there – fights were broadcast on TV, and I recall the topics
of Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali and then his refusing to
support the Vietnam War being loudly discussed whenever the aunts and uncles
gathered during the period otherwise known as The Summer of Love. But our family was a baseball family. My father
would come home Saturday afternoons for a late lunch so he could watch some of
the Major League Baseball Game of the
Week broadcast before returning to work. During
the evenings, he would sit in the dark on the picnic table and smoke half a
cigar while listening to a game – usually the Braves, sometimes the Cardinals –
on a transistor radio. After the game he would save the second half of his
cigar in a tray on top of the water heater for a future game. He encouraged me
to play baseball starting in the coach-pitch leagues at school starting in the
summer before fifth grade. My interest in the game has continued since then. But
boxing was just something outside my ken. The closest thing to boxing I
encountered was watching the weekend broadcasts of Nashville wrestling – the
names and dynamics weren’t so different from the entertainment I got from
reading comic books or watching Tarzan movies (which typically followed the
wrestling matches). Until
I opened the Super Sports issue of Esquire,
dated October 1974. It
was in a slithery stack of glossy magazines – Sports Afield, Field &
Stream, Boys’ Life – at the
barber shop. It was a three-chair shop, but I’d only ever seen two chairs used,
one by the owner, one by whomever was his employee at the time. I’d finally
outgrown the mandatory buzz cut and had been allowed to grow my hair long
enough to comb it with a part. Clearly this was an auspicious sign for
expanding my sporting horizons beyond the baseball diamond. Among
essays on baseball, basketball, and football, the Super Sports issue carried
only a two-page spread devoted to boxing, and fewer than a dozen words, but the
two photographs by Pierre Houles represented more than two thousand verbs,
nouns, or adjectives: under a hyperbolic headline on page 144, Actual Size!, was a photo of George
Foreman’s left fist facing a photo of Muhammad Ali’s right fist on page 145.
Both were wrapped in tape. I’m sure my eyes popped like tree galls. I was
flabbergasted, gob smacked, floored. Each of those clenched hands was bigger
than my head! Such
was my introduction to boxing. Like
most of the rest of the country, I was swept along in the mass popularity of
boxing launched by the success of the 1976 Olympic boxing team and its
remarkable lineup of Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon and Michael Spinks, Howard Davis,
Jr., Leo Randolph, Charles Mooney and John Tate. Even after that boom dwindled
as those fighters rolled through their professional careers, I sought out and
read about boxing by writers like A.J. Liebling and Hugh Fullerton – the latter
better known for his investigation of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. These
pursuits eventually led me to an article in the February 1998 issue of Vanity Fair, The Outlaw Champ by Nick Tosches, which he expanded into my
favorite nonfiction book on boxing, The
Devil and Sonny Liston (also published later under Tosches’ original title,
Night Train). Second
influence: The Wild West. I’ve
been a reader of westerns since I discovered a copy of Zane Grey’s The Lone Star Ranger at the local
library. I shared a name with its protagonist – Buck Duane – and with a last
name like Spurlock, I seemed destined to be interested in cowboys. Western
fiction eventually led me to North Western fiction – a subgenre exploited by
Jack London, James Oliver Curwood, Jules Verne, Frederick Faust (Max Brand),
Ryerson Johnson, James Hendryx, Rex Beach and others. These authors anchored
the plots for most of their writing in this field with the Yukon and Alaska
gold rush. The extremes of the natural world in this setting – the terrible
cold, snow and ice, the rugged geography serving as a barrier between the gold
and men’s desire to possess it – required the writers to push their characters
to the limits of their physical and mental endurance. In cases, to survive,
characters had to exceed those limits. Hemingway’s
grace under pressure rarely appears
in these North Western narratives. Characters go to the brink and jump into the
abyss. This quality is part of what makes North Western stories appealing to me
– men and women must survive in what can only be described as an alien
landscape…Alien, yet still located on Earth…and these people willingly put
themselves into this struggle against Nature and against human nature. My
interest in the Wild West, and thence to North Western fiction, led to the
third influence on Fighting Alaska:
historical studies. I’ve
read a lot of books on Wild West history, and my stories are usually informed
by some element of my reading. The University of Nebraska’s Bison Books imprint
is a favorite resource for me. One
of the most popular topics for historians and readers in this period is, not
surprisingly, the gunfight at the OK Corral. A remarkable number of novels and
movies have used this event as a dramatic focus in their narratives. The people
involved were all, in one fashion or another, fascinating. As a result, I’ve
read a lot of books about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The
mainstream knowledge about Earp focuses on Tombstone and its famous gunfight.
But Wyatt Earp had quite a career and life beyond that 1881 shootout. And his
time in Alaska during its gold rush aligns well with my interest in North West
fiction and its natural (for me, at least) extension to North West history. The
historical record of actual people’s experiences in the Yukon and Klondike are,
in many cases, far more dramatic and violent than the fictional narratives. For
example, the audacity of federal judge Arthur Noyes’ using the law to jump mining
claims in Nome, Alaska, sounds more like melodrama than truth. But the North West
at that time was just a colder version of the wide-open Wild West towns
pictured in many, many films. Which
brings me to the fourth influence on Fighting
Alaska: movies. The
obvious Hollywood productions aren’t on this list – Raging Bull, Rocky, and
so forth. Instead, the movies that stuck in my mind for years and that colored Fighting Alaska in some fashion were
lesser-known works that still deserve viewing: Emperor of the North (1973) and Hard
Times (1975). Both films feature excellent character actors famous for
their tough-guy roles – Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Keith Carradine in the
former, and Charles Bronson and James Coburn in the latter. Charles
Bronson’s character in Hard Times,
Chaney, is a reluctant, but effective, bare-knuckles fighter who certainly
influenced the character of Jean St. Vrain in Fighting Alaska. But instead of Bronson, it was a grizzled Randolph
Scott I pictured in my mind’s eye as the physical model for St. Vrain – the
rough-featured Scott of those western films he made with Budd Boetticher in the
late 1950s. All
these ingredients simmered in my head until the idea for Fighting Alaska bubbled up – a tale about a boxer in the North Western
gold rush who meets Wyatt Earp. The Fight
Card crew certainly has my thanks for providing an outlet for these
characters and situations.
1900 Alaska…Gold, greed, and gamblers – a dangerous
combination in a gold rush boomtown. Itinerant boxer Jean St. Vrain has a
lifetime of rootless wandering behind him and ten years of knuckle-busting
boxing, bar bouncing, and disillusionment. He wants to call quits to the fight
game, but he needs a way out. Joining a mob of desperate men heading for the Alaskan
gold fields, Jean is caught between crooked judges, crooked businessmen, a
soiled dove, and infamous gunman Wyatt Earp and his cronies. With his future
looking as harsh as the Alaskan landscape, Jean has one chance left – fight
The REH Foundation Press is proud to present Fists of Iron: Round 4, the final volume
of a four-volume series presenting the Collected
Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard.
This volume features the collected Kid Allison stories and
measures in at 347 pages (plus introductory material). It is printed in
hardback with dust jacket, with the first printing limited to 200 copies, each
individually numbered. Cover art by Tom Gianni and introduction by Mark Finn.
FISTS OF IRON: ROUND
Intro: “A Boy and His Dog” by Mark Finn
The Man with the Mystery Mitts
The Wild Cat and the Star
Fighting Nerves (Kid Allison version)
MIKE DORGAN AND BILL
The House of Peril
One Shanghai Night
The Tomb of the Dragon
The Sign of the Snake
The Fighting Fury
Fighting Nerves (Jim O’Donnel version)
Fists of the Desert
Fists of the Revolution
The Drawing Card
Untitled fragment (“Huh,” I was so . . .)
A Tough Nut to Crack (Allison version)
A Tough Nut to Crack (Clarney version)
One Shanghai Night – synopsis
Untitled notes (Knute Hansen)
The Lord of the Ring, (part 4), by Patrice Louinet
I JUST RECEIVED MY
COPY AND AM DELIGHTED TO HAVE THE COMPLETE SERIES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL TOMES …