My piece, Sanctuary, initially was born from regret. I once was a crime reporter, and there are times I wish I stuck with it. The current state of affairs, more than ever, underscores the need for journalists—these guys and gals are doing God’s work. But I found myself closing out Sanctuary with the gut feeling that led me to close out my old career. In the final paragraphs of the work, Pete Gaskill, a byline-seeking journalist with more ambition than talent, finds peace in becoming part of a story he’s covering. He’s inside things for the first time, stuck with a small role that holds no acclaim—but he has something at stake, and feels as though he’s returned to middle C.
In terms of character, Pete Gaskill is the byproduct of a thousand gripes. There are many adventures to be had in journalism and, like Pete says, it’s one of the last noble professions. But there’s a particular drudgery that wears on its practitioners. Frenetic deadlines, daily disrespect, abysmal pay. Then there’s the library of traumas you acquire, most of which aren’t any of your business. So Pete Gaskill is a reaction against all that. He obeys no journalistic creed, he’s numb to the very core, and isn’t afraid to make shit up when it suits him. Maybe he’s the reporter’s id. Anyway, once I got him, the other characters were born. They sort of budded off, like you see in asexual reproduction.
There’s a political aspect to the story, which isn’t an accident—maybe it’s the fulfillment of a responsibility. Mr. Gaskill, after perpetrating a dozen deplorable acts to further his own goals, ends up springing undocumented immigrants from the backseat of a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle. In doing so, he reunites parents with their children. So you’ve got a guy who feels nothing but anxiety, narcissism, and self-hatred for twenty pages, and you’ve got a situation where this same guy only feels good about himself in the final paragraphs, after putting aside everything and protecting the sacred bond of family. In a different time, this would be an “um, duh” moment. It’s a new world.