The Evolution of "Peppermint Breath"

Somewhere between the years 2004 and 2005, I began working on my first novel, which had several working titles, including The Wishing Game, The Relevance of Morality, and The Completely True Story of Reed Jackson.  As it goes with many authors and their debut efforts, this first novel of mine was not very good and, ultimately, went unpublished.

Fans of Inside the Outsidemy official debut novel—might be surprised to know that there is no blood or death or horror of any sort in that unpublished novel. It was an earnest attempt on my part to write something literary, in the vain of The Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby, only with strippers, prostitutes, and a morally conflicted middle-school teacher named Reed Jackson. The most difficult part about writing that novel was the fact that I had no idea how to write a novel. I'd been writing short stories for years—a couple of which I was even proud of—but, despite having been a reader and lover of novels, I quickly learned that writing one was a wholly different animal.

So, I did my best to learn on the fly and what followed was a mostly mediocre manuscript with flashes of potential. Despite my overall dissatisfaction with the novel, there were a handful of sections that I felt good about. One such section was the opening paragraph, which you can read below:

"I’d been stealing my students’ money for almost six months. Technically, it wasn’t their money and technically I wasn’t stealing it. That’s the truth — just not the honest truth. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, my story that is, trying to figure out where to start and what to tell. There’s just so much and it all seems so random. There’s the brothel in Mexico and the whore who reminded me of my mother, the pornographer named Luscious and the movie he coerced me into performing in, the fight in front of Baby Doll’s and my first introduction to Burgundy, my missing wife and our unborn child, my road trip to Graceland, the three bald cannibals, and the stripper who rescued me from the depths of loneliness before single-handedly ruining my teaching career, which brings me back to my students’ money, which I’d been stealing for almost a six months."

There were two things that came out of my unpublished novel that I was later able to make use of. The first (which fans of Inside the Outside may have noticed from the excerpt) was the character of Billy D. Luscious, who, in that novel played a relatively minor role. I found a new home for Luscious in Inside the Outside where I fleshed him out, making him a very important central character.

The second thing that came out of my unpublished novel was a scene in Reed Jackson's backstory. It involved Reed as a little boy, growing up in a small apartment with his mother who was a prostitute; Reed, of course, didn't know what his mother did for money. In the scene, he wakes up in the middle of the night to the phone ringing. He goes into the kitchen where he finds his mother talking. She later takes Reed with her to a 24-hour diner where she is meeting up with a client.

That was one of the last scenes I wrote for the book and I became quite fond of it, so I was always sort of sad that it would get thrown out with the bathwater as a result of the book not being published. Sometime later, I decided to extract that scene and salvage it into a short story. I didn't spend too much time on it, however, and, as it was with the novel it came from, I eventually scrapped it. I didn't look at it again, until last year when I was approached by Will Entrekin, Creative Director of Exciting Press, who wanted to know if I had any unpublished work sitting around.

One of the stories I decided to show him was that former scene from my unpublished novel, which I hadn't even titled. Right before I sent it to Will, I titled the story "Peppermint Breath." Will said he wanted to publish it, along with a few other stories, so contracts were signed and my once-scrapped-story was about to get a new lease on life.

A few days before Exciting Press was set to publish "Peppermint Breath," I re-read it and decided that it wasn't quite ready for public consumption, so I asked Will if he wouldn't mind letting me toy with it a little bit before he published it. With Will's blessing, I spent a day or two adding about 2,000 words to the story (amongst those 2,000 words, the character of Luscious makes a cameo along with Timber Marlow, the heroine of Inside the Outside).

I sent Will the updated draft and on December 16, 2012, "Peppermint Breath" was officially introduced to the world.