Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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'John Wayne (As Written by a Non-American)' - Aurealis #37 (Author Note Included)

Aurealis #37 has been released (though I've not yet seen it).

The table of contents, however, is Kaaron Warren, Andrew Lyall, Lee Battersby, Patricia O'Niell, Rjurik Davidson, Sophie Masson, Adam Browne, and myself, with a piece called, 'John Wayne (As Written by a Non-American)'*. ASif has a review in which Tansy Rayner Robers (cassiphone) shows some love:

"Ben Peek’s excellent “John Wayne” is the last story in this issue, a fascinating exploration of a variety of aspects of American culture, and an alternate history in which, in 1949, the famous actor John Wayne faces his demons. In case you were wondering, this is the one story in the issue where the male protagonist is not in some way emotionally limited. (Yes, the fact that the protagonist in this case is macho icon John Wayne had not escaped me.) What I loved about this story, in fact, is the depth of the titular character - the complexity of his opinions, personality and politics, conveyed in a fairly small space of time. His spiral downwards into paranoia about communists was fascinating to watch, and the anachronistic appearance of a Wal-Mart in his hour of need was both inspired and surreal. My only niggle (and it’s a small one) is that I would have really liked to see an Author’s Note on this one - to have some idea of why the author chose this subject, and which aspects were based on Wayne’s real life rather than the author’s imagination."

Author Note (I Take Requests, Call Me):

For those of you wondering, 'John Wayne (As Written by a Non-American)' is one of my Dead American stories, which is a cycle of stories named after (and sometimes featuring) Americans who are dead. I'm a creative guy, what can I say? The previous stories in this cycle are 'Johnny Cash (A Tale in Questionnaire Results)' and 'theleeharveyoswaldband'. It's a slow cycle, and one that is motivated by ideas I have relating to American culture, world politics, and so forth. I have in the back of my head a short novel bearing only half a title, Octavia E. Butler, which is built around the whole New Orleans Disaster and Butler's body of work--I reckon I'll get to write it after I've finished Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld, but who knows. The general idea behind them is to write a Dead American story once a year, maybe once every two years, and sort of chart an exploration of America over a long period of time, but you know how these cycles go: you write one or two and then the third and fourth never sell, so if you never see one again, there you go.

In the case of 'John Wayne', I was originally motivated by a story that came out a few years back, in which it was said that Orson Welles told a story that Joseph Stalin had put a contract on Wayne's life. Welles, some people will tell you, was a chronic liar, or at least someone who didn't think truth was all that much to subscribe and contribute too, but the story got a lot of play, and I used that as my starting point. I have to be honest and say that as people go, Welles is much more interesting to me than Wayne, who I never had much time for, but the idea was just too cool for school, you know what I mean? Anyhow, I let it drift around in the back of my head as I do with ideas, until I came across a second news article in which the journalist went into Walmart to buy a gun, and to show how easy it was, and how obviously ridiculous it is for a large supermarket chain to be selling firearms. In the piece, the journalist repeated the list of questions that you are asked when you want to buy a Walmart Gun, and they were the usual kind of stupidity, such as do you have a criminal record, blah blah. For some reason, from that, I thought that it would be just perfect to have John Wayne walk into a modern day Walmart and buy a gun and answer a slightly altered version of that questionnaire, and which mainly dealt with the racialised violence that seems to be so popular for American News to present.

Wayne himself was, like most people, more complex than the characters he played in film. Part of him does crossover, however, as he was politically conservative, anti-communist, and anti-homosexual, pro-military, and fiercely pro-American, labels than can be applied to a good many of his films. He is reported as saying, once, in relation to Native Americans, that nothing wrong had been done to them--that they were, in fact, selfish in stopping people who had a great need for the land. Yet, you couldn't call him racist: all his wives were Hispanic, I believe, and he was a supporter of black rights (though there is a dubious comment from him relating to Black men and women not being able to vote). At the same time, Wayne was also one of those men who believed in allowing people to say what they had to say--even when he disagreed with them. It's entirely likely that Wayne was one of those people who had problems with large groups and ideologies and ways of life that weren't his own, but who, when meeting those on a one on one basis, was quite open and generous. And, of course, in person, he was also the kind of man who slapped Frank Sinatra's bodyguards around when they gave him lip.

Wayne as a creation in this story, however, is mine. The story is about how America looks from the outside, as all Dead American stories are, and with that in mind, I played loose and fast with Wayne's actual personality. What the story needed, he got, basically. In truth, he's a mix of research and Classic America. Like Classic Coke, Classic America is believing in freedom, saying what's on your mind, loving your country, showing no fear, and slapping Communists around.

Of course, Classic America, unlike Classic Coke, was never a commodity that you should have bought outright.

* The site lists it as 'John Wayne' so maybe it has been shortened to that. I prefer the longer title, myself.
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