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Just for STARR STREET subscribers, here's an exclusive inside look at my experiences writing GOTHAM: DAWN OF DARKNESS, the official prequel novel to the hit FOX TV show, Gotham. The book drops at all bookstores on January 31. You can order it now!
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WRITING THE OFFICIAL GOTHAM NOVEL
By Jason Starr ©
When I signed on to write the first official Gotham novel, I knew it would be a difficult book to write. While I was already a fan of the show and had written Batman comics for DC, I knew that in order to write a full-length novel based on an existing hit TV show I’d have to know the characters and plotlines inside-out. Also, since the novel would be a prequel, it would be a challenge to create suspense when devoted fans of the show know what ultimately happens.
While I’d written many thrillers and crime novels, I’d only written one previous tie-in novel—Ant-Man: Natural Enemy, 2015 (published by Marvel to coincide with the release of the Paul Rudd film). Writing Ant-Man had its own challenges, but the project didn’t have as many constraints as Gotham. My Ant-Man novel was a standalone story, not directly related to the events of the film. For Gotham, I would have to create a story that would lead directly into the show, without giving away any secrets to readers who may never have seen an episode. So the book would have to simultaneously work as a cool, exciting story for existing fans, and an entree into the world of Gotham for newbies.
As I began to plot the novel, I decided that the first scene of the pilot episode of the TV show would be the last scene of my book. As fans know, the series begins with the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents, which sets Bruce on a journey to find the killer. So rather than working forward with my plotting the way I normally do, I had to work backwards. In effect, I was deconstructing the series and building it back up at the same time.
I discovered that thinking about the plot in this way, created some very cool opportunities for suspense and intrigue. Sometimes mysteries aren’t all about “who done it”. Sometimes “why done it” or “how done it” can be just as thrilling. Also, the TV show resolves many mysteries, but leaves many questions open, so I had a chance to expand on these plotlines, and in some cases create them. For example, Alfred’s back story—I dramatized how he began working for the Waynes, and his early relationship with Bruce. The show alludes to details of the past, but the novel gave me a chance to really bring this relationship to life. Since Thomas and Martha Wayne are alive in my novel, I had the chance to create their relationship, as well as their relationship with young Bruce. I was also able to write about Cobblepot (before he becomes The Penguin), Nygma (before he goes psycho), and Fish (in particular, her past “relationship” with GCPD Detective Harvey Bullock). Since my novel predates Jim Gordon working for the GCPD, Bullock has a new partner in my novel. I included many other characters from the show (yes, Jerome is in this book too), and I was able to create some cool new characters who have pivotal roles.
I watched every episode of the show, some multiple times. Warner Brothers, the producers of the show, sent me scripts of future episodes. They had me sign a confidentiality agreement, so I knew how season two would end well before the season finale aired on TV.
When my outline of the proposed plot—a twelve page document—was completed, it had to be approved by my editor at Titan Books, as well as executives at Warner Brothers, who in turn consulted with members of the writing staff of the TV show. I got notes from everyone involved and did two or three passes on the outline before I got the go-ahead to begin writing.
Whenever questions came up, I consulted with my editor and, in some cases, conferenced with the studio executives and the staff writers on the show. There weren’t any major hiccups, but issues came up here and there. For example, my timeline for Alfred’s employment with the Waynes didn’t jibe with the events on the show, so I had to rewrite this portion of the book. Also, during my revisions, I wrote a few versions of the ending (I wanted to make sure I was showing this pivotal moment from the right point of view).
In the end, writing Gotham: Dawn of Darkness, and having the opportunity to create the back story for young Bruce Wayne, didn’t even feel like work—it felt like pure pleasure.
I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it!
New York City, January, 2017
BUY: Gotham: Dawn of Darkness
BUY: Savage Lane and my other novels
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Welcome to STARR STREET, my new newsletter!
Coming next month: my official Gotham novel, a prequel to the hit FOX TV show! You can receive the book on its publication date, and help it become a bestseller, by pre-ordering it. (Pre-ordering helps hugely)
In 2017, I'll have news on 3 new books so stay tuned!
Just for STARR STREET subscribers, here is my never before published short story, THE LAST OF HANK. This story will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Kannibal Cookbook. So hope you don't get queasy easy!
JOIN STARR STREET now for more exclusive content and free books!
THE LAST OF HANK
by Jason Starr ©
(Not for Distribution)
I’d tied Hank up to the bed real good after he passed out drunk—used sailor’s knots that my daddy once taught me, the best summer we ever had, when I was six years old, a few months before the men came to our house and shot him—but I guess there’s a difference between picturing something in your head and actually doing it. I mean on the news you hear about wives stabbing their husbands all the time, and they make it sound so easy, but, trust me, people, it ain’t.
I’m a big girl, but it was hard to get the knife into a man’s chest, especially a fat man like Hank, through the blubber and muscles and ribs and whatever else was between his skin and his heart. I’d thought it would be, I don’t know, like jamming a knife into a birthday cake, but it was more like jamming a knife into an inside-out watermelon—easy at first then hitting all the thick, tough stuff. I was wishing I’d used a shotgun instead, but I’d wanted to use a knife ‘cause I didn’t to just push a trigger—that woulda been too easy. I wanted to feel Hank die.
And I felt it all right. I loved the warm blood all over my hands, like one of the times he broke my nose, but now loving how it meant he was dying slowly, knowing what was happening. His eyes bulged and he screamed a lot and he flailed like a hooked fish, but I was expecting him to try to get away, that’s why I’d gone with Hank up her to his fishing cabin by the lake, telling him I wanted to get away to get away to “figure us out.” Yeah, right. I’d already figured us out and the only reason I went up to the cabin with him, same place where he’d beaten me up and raped me so many times, was ’cause when I was killing him I didn’t want anybody to hear the racket.
He was screaming, “You fuckin’ cunt..you fuckin’ crazy damn son of a bitch, whorin’ slut, I’ll kill you, I’ll fuckin’ kill you, you fuckin’ bitch,” but that wasn’t a surprise. I knew he’d cuss at me while I was cutting into his heart—what man wouldn’t? And it wasn’t nothing unusual either ’cause he’d been cussing at me every day for nine long-ass years, and I was used to it like I was used to the sound of his snoring. How many nights I wanted to put a pillow over his head and shut him up, and I felt the sameway now, except I was gonna shut him up permanently, and I was thinking about how great I’d feel when the noise and pain went away forever.
I think the blade only went in a few inches at first, maybe not far enough to kill him. The knife was stuck and I had to yank on it to get it out. When I finally did, I jammed it in again—using all my weight this time. I was kinda in shock, I guess, not by the blood—I was liking seeing all that bright red, as bright as my future—but by the thought: Holy fuckin’ shit, I’m actually doin’ it. It wasn’t just a dream no more—soon Hank was gonna be gone forever.
“This is what you been wantin’, Patti,” I said to myself as I pulled out the knife again. My hands were bright right and he wasn’t breathing much, just gurgling up blood and spit and whatnot, so just to shut the nose I stuck the knife into his neck. Musta hit some kinda vein ’cause the blood went spurting up in in my face, but at least it shut him up so it was worth it.
I yanked the blade out of his neck and stepped back a little, kinda like artists do—you know, when they’re admiring their work. That was me—just like a real Picasso. Hank wasn’t dead yet, but he was almost there. He was still breathing, but he wasn’t fighting back no more. I looked down at his eyes, the same eyes that used to scare the hell outta me, when he came drunk and angry and looking to pick a fight. But now he looked as harmless as a scared child, and for the first time ever I felt power around Hank. Now I was the strong one, now I was in control.
“How’s it feel now, fatty?” I said to him. “Huh? Huh?”
I'd said “fatty” on purpose, ’cause that was one of his favorite names to call me--fatty. Or Fatty Patti. He called me bitch and cunt a lot too.
And then I did something I wasn’t planning to do, even one of my darkest nights, when he was beatin' me so bad and I was lying there, taking it, imagining the different ways I could kill him. I'd thought about stabbing him, shooting him, poisoning him, throwing his fat, hairy ass off a bridge. But during all the dreaming I never pictured myself biting off a chunk of his face and swallowing it.
It was just an idea that came to me, like sudden-like, when he was right at the point of dying. His face was right there, his cheek, and I wanted him to see me do something sick, as sick as some of the things he’d done to me, so I bit his cheek and kept biting, like I’d kept on with knife, forcing my teeth through all the tough stuff, telling myself I had to do it, I had to make him see this, and then I had it, a big chunk of his face in my mouth. Now it was He was just staring at me, the way I used to look at him, with terror, and then it got better when I started chewing on his flesh, tasting him. Funny, it tasted good—not like chicken, like I hear people say. Actually was more like raccoon. Sweet raccoon. I chewed it up real good then swallowed it, opening my mouth and sticking out my tongue to show him that it was gone, down my throat. I wanted this to be the last sight he ever saw, and his last thought to be, Damn, Fatty Patti’s eatin’ me alive. So I jammed the knife in him, hearing something crack, and that was it—Hank was gone.
It was at weird at first—I mean with Hank gone. For years I’d been dreaming about a world without him in it, and now I got what I wanted, but it was a funny thing about getting what you want—it leaves you empty, ’cause once you get what you want, what else is there?
My original plan was to bury him. I had a grave already dug and everything. I’d been sneaking up to the fishing cabin for the past few weeks, when Hank was at work, getting ready for this day, and I’d dug a hole in the woods and filled it with leaves. That was hard work, lemme tell you, digging a hole big enough to hold a big, meaty man like Frank. But now that I had a taste of that meat myself, and I kinda liked it, I didn’t want to put him to waste.
Instead, I cut him up and put him in the fish freezer. I wrapped up chunks of him in Glad wrap. I even kept the hands and the feet, figuring there was probably some good meat to suck off from his fingers and toes. It would be kinda like eating lobster. The only part of him I had no use for was his head. I kinda liked the idea of eating his brain, having it come out in my shit, but I didn’t think it would taste too good. So I went out to the woods with the head, first held it up and looked in his dead, open eyes, and said, “Wish you could see all this, Fatty,” then I dropped the head into the hole. Then I took off all my bloody clothes and tossed them in the hole with him. I added the bed sheets—I’d covered the mattress in plastic before I’d started stabbing Hank—and I buried all of it.
After I cleaned up all the blood in the cabin, I drove the pickup home. It was nice to be back in the house, with no Hank. It was like being on a permanent vacation. It was also nice to know that a chunk of him was digesting in my body already and would come outta me next time I hit in the bowl. Then he’d been into the town sewer, floating around with all the other shit, right where he belonged.
The next day, I went back to work at Walmart, acting like nothing had happened. I knew the cops would come around eventually to ask questions and, sure enough, a couple of nights later, two cops showed at the house. I knew them—Dan Rogers and Mike Burke. They’d come by a bunch of times, when I'd called for help when Hank was beating on me. Hank got taken in a couple times, but I never went ahead and pressed charges against him. I was afraid if I did, he would get out, and beat on me even harder the next time. Now, of course, I never had to worry about that again.
Turned out Hank’s boss down at the plant had called the cops ’cause Hank hadn’t shown at work. I told them that Hank and I had a fight and then he took off for California. First I said I guess he drove, and then they wanted to know how he drive when his pickup was still here. Damn it, hadn’t thought about that. I guess I didn’t know much about how to cover up a murder, being that I hadn’t murdered anyone before.
“I guess he flew there,” I said.
I thought that would solve the whole thing, but then I guess they went and checked somehow, maybe checking with his credit cards, or called the airlines, or however they did it, and found out he hadn’t taken any plane. Besides, the nearest airport was a hundred miles away, so it didn’t explain how he’d gotten himself to the airport.
A detective—man I didn’t know, guess he was from out of town—named Reynolds, had taken over the investigating. Reynolds and some cops came back a few times with a warrant and checked out the house, taking things, I guess to get them tested or whatever. They checked the pickup too. I wasn’t worried ’cause I knew they wouldn’t find anything anywhere.
I was afraid they’d decide to check the fishing cabin, but I guess they decided it wasn’t worth it. Either they believed the story that Hank ditched his life and went off to California, or they didn’t care all that much that some wife-beating bastard went and disappeared. Hank had been causing trouble in town for years—getting into bar fights and had other run-ins with the law, so they were probably secretly as happy he was gone as I was.
Reynolds stopped coming around to ask questions and it seemed like the cops gave up. It sunk in one night, when I was alone in bed, in the quiet, dark house—it was official, I’d gotten away with murder. I felt dumb for not killin’ Hank years ago. If I’d known it would be so easy I would’ve, but like they say, You don’t know how good somethin’ is till you try it, right?
A few months later, it got to be springtime. I felt safe that the police had given up searching for Hank and the whole thing was over with. I spent my days working checkout, and my nights at home, watching TV, eating, drinking, and smoking. I gained more weight, so much I had to buy all new clothes. I was sad and lonely and felt empty inside, and I knew I had to find something to fill myself back up.
I hadn’t been up to the lake house since I’d killed Hank. I wasn’t afraid to go up there or anything like that. I guess I just didn’t think it was a good idea when the police were asking questions, but now that they gave up I was a free woman again.
So, my week off work, I drove the pickup to the lake house. I liked being there ‘cause it was so pretty and peaceful and all, but also ’cause it was nice to be back in the bedroom. I saw flashbacks, like in a movie, of me killing Hank all over again, and I felt just as I excited as I had that day.
Then I had an idea. I took out some of Hank from the freezer, put some old Wesson on a pan, and fried him up good. People who say revenge is fleeting never ate a piece of their abusing husband for dinner. Take it from me—revenge ain’t fleeting, folks. Revenge lasts.
I took my time eating Hank, savoring every bite of him. As I swallowed each bite it felt like I was killing him all over again.
The rest of the week I had Hank every meal. I was like that guy from Forrest Gump:
You name it, I ate it.
One of the best parts of eating Hank—aside from the taste which I was starting to love—was that it was my secret, my new secret. I used to keep Hank beating on me a secret. Covered my bruises with makeup, told lies to my friends—say I fell, a door hit me, I was in a car accident. Whatever shit sounded good. My friends weren’t dumb, though; they knew I what was going on. They wanted me to leave, but I never could, so I kept it a secret. I guess I was good at keeping secrets, so good that keeping ’em felt normal.
During the summer, I went up to the lake house whenever I could, to eat more of Hank. Honestly, it was the best summer of my life—well, until Hank’s brother Lloyd came looking for him.
Lloyd lived three hours away, with his wife and four kids, and I’d only met him a couple times, so I knew when he showed up at the lake house that nothing good could come of it.
Lloyd was as big as Hank and maybe uglier. He had scars, warts, missing teeth. It was hard to look at his face he was so ugly.
Of course he was all nice at first, saying he was just “passing through,” and asking how I was “holding up.”
Then he got all suspicious, wanted to know why I was so happy, how come I wasn’t grieving, and why the police never came to check out the lake house.
He was doing a lot of snooping around too, and I was afraid he’d find something—maybe some blood I missed, or whatever. I tried to act natural, like I had nothing to worry about, but like I said, I wasn’t used to this all this getting-away-with-murder shit. I tried to act natural, but I guess it wasn’t natural enough, ’cause later on, when it was getting dark, he grabbed my arm hard, the way Hank used to grab it before he hit me, and said:
“Look here, Patti. You and me both know what went down here, so there’s no use hiding it. Hank ran off to California, my fat ass. He don’t know nobody in California and he got no reason to go there. You went and killed him and buried him out back. I know ’cause I came out here last week and saw the hole you dug up. You tried to be all clever, but you’re forgettin’ I worked a cemetery three years when I was in high school. I know what a grave looks like, woman.”
I didn’t see any point in denying it. Lloyd couldn’t’ve made all that up.
“So if you know,” I said, “how come you ain’t goin’ to the police?”
He was still holding my arm, like a clamp. And by the look he gave me, I knew the answer already. I didn’t even have to hear it.
We made a deal—I had to give it to him whenever he wanted it, however he wanted it. In exchanged, he promised to never tell the cops about Hank.
So he came to the lake house every weekend, and sometimes during the week, and I had to go meet him up there. He didn’t beat me, but he made me feel like a worthless piece of shit all right.
Some meals, I fed Lloyd his own brother, told him it was raccoon. This made me feel like I was getting some revenge, especially the times he said stuff like, “Mmm, nice an’ plump, just the way I like my coon cooked,” and opened his belt another notch and washed his brother down with some beer.
The trouble was I was running out of Hank, and by Labor Day I was down to the last of him. Luckily I had an idea.
I planned it better this time—dug a better grave, figured out where to strip the car, how to do it with less blood. Since Lloyd had been lying to his wife, nobody knew where he was.
After he rolled off me that night and passed out drunk, I tied him to the bed and strangled him with fishing wire. I was getting better at this killing thing all right. As he was dying, I took a bite of his face. People say nothing’s ever as good as your first time, but, trust me people, that ain’t true.
The second time’s even sweeter.