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The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
OK, where was I? Ah, getting the idea for my new book, Hitler in the Madhouse, which should be available on Amazon as soon as they finish “reviewing” it, whatever that means (“Four Stars!” “A Triumph!”). Here is the book’s cover, designed by Craig “Kif” Sanborn. Craig has laid out and designed all of Mr. Bruce Campbell’s books. Craig was the production designer on my film, Running Time (1997), in another life. Anyway, I think Craig did a great job and really caught a feel of the era – the Weimar Republic in Germany during the 1920s – which had a terrific sense of design (Bauhaus came out of there).
So, I initially conceived the Hitler story in the late-1990s as a Playhouse 90 TV play with Captain Harry Truman, Lt. George Patton and the gassed and dying, Cpl. Adolf Hitler, together in a farmhouse during World War I. As I said, logically, the three of them could never end up in a farmhouse together. But I never wrote it anyway, so it didn’t matter.
Then about fifteen years later I met this fellow Chris, who loved Bulldogs. Chris showed me his movie, Zeitgeist, where his Bull Terrier, Happy, steals a sandwich from a two-year-old Asian child. Happy inhales the entire sandwich in one breath. The little boy realizes what just happened, then bursts into tears. It’s real and funny, and I immediately fell in love with Bull Terriers. Upon further research (meaning, more than just watching Happy steal the kid’s sandwich), I found out that a few former Bull Terrier owners were Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, George Patton and Adolf Hitler. Ding, ding, ding. There was Hitler and Patton again. What was the deal with both of them having Bull Terriers?
The breed of Bull Terrier is fascinating. Originally bred in Manchester, England, in 1862 by James Hinks, specifically for catching rats and fighting. Bull Terriers are the world’s best rat catchers, and one of the best fighting breeds, back when they fought dogs. Bull Terriers instinctively know to catch rats, yet have no inclination toward fighting unless they are taught. Left to their natural dispositions, they are very possibly the dopiest dogs on earth. They were known as the “clowns and kings” of fighting. Happy’s other big scene in Chris’s movie, Zeitgeist, is Chris and his friend walking home with Happy, who decides she doesn’t want to walk anymore. Chris, who is luckily a big guy, has to carry Happy the rest of the way home, and Happy weighed about 65-pounds. Chris and the other guy have all this dialogue as Happy is carried, her tongue dangling out, her expression saying, “Now this is my idea of a good walk.”
The original Hinks’ “Staffordshire Bull Terriers” didn’t have the distinct “egg-shaped” heads that they have now.
For 50 years it was highly fashionable for British army officers to take Bull Terriers with them to their postings in India. While the British were there occupying, and the Indians were doing all the work, the British soldiers were mostly killing time. That when they would fight the dogs. They also had ratting competitions – which dog could catch the most rats in the least time. Bull Terriers were unbeatable at this.
In my second try at the Hitler story, my approach was, “A boy and his dog.” I used a Walt Disney-like font for the cover. This part here is true. One day in the German trench in Ypres, Belgium, in 1916, a 65-pound (that’s about their usual weight) Bull Terrier ran from the British trench, across No Man’s Land, jumped into the German trench and landed on Adolf Hitler’s lap. Hitler had always wanted a dog and never had one. Now he did. He named him Fuchsl, which means “Little Fox” in German, but I have come to find is the ugliest word I’ve ever had to type a few thousand times. Four consonants in a row — it’s unnatural — and the S is in the wrong place. And my book was entitled, Hitler’s Dog Fuchsl.
I spent years writing and rewriting that book. It was two separate stories – Fuchsl’s and Hitler’s – that came together, then they’re together. It made perfect sense in its own way, and it was fun to be in a dog’s point of view for the Fuchsl side. But as I wrote and wrote and wrote, going deeper and farther down the rabbit hole of research, the story of young Adolf Hitler was far more interesting than my made- up story about this Bull Terrier before it meets Hitler. Being a true artist, and following in the footsteps of many great writers, I turned to alcohol. After copious amounts of vodka, and several more rewrites — one time expanding it all the way up to 500 pages — I did what most drunks do — I gave up. Fuck it. I’ll never get it right.
Eight years went by. I get sober. Strangely, writing got easier, not harder (I can now both see and find the keys much easier). And I’ve got two books that I’ve written that both stink. I’ve sent my books to professional book editors and paid money to hear them all say, “You’ve got an interesting idea, but it’s not written well.” And I knew that it was true because in both cases – the other one, BTW, is The Gospel According to Judas, which is forthcoming – I had not taken the proper point of view. I had taken the omnipotent point of view, the third person. However, with a much clearer perspective, both stories now hollered at me, “Try first person.”
Considering that one of these books is called The Gospel According to Judas, and I didn’t write it from Judas’s point of view, now seems idiotic to me.
But writing Hitler in the first person seemed like it might possibly even be bold. That’s not the end of the story. I’ll finish this story tomorrow.
Is that the Nightengale? No, it’s the Lark.
Have a fine day. I will certainly try.