About my story "Silence of the Stone Age"

In preparation for tonight's event at Murder on the Beach in Delray, I put together the following notes on the genesis of my story "Silence of the Stone Age."

Most of the time, writers don't talk much about the process behind a particular story. But because this one has an unusual angle, I'm guessing people might be interested in how I developed the idea. Take this opportunity to peek at the scaffold behind a published short story!

Check out Akashic Books's Miami Noir at Amazon.com or your local independent bookseller.

About "Silence of the Stone Age"

The question I've been asked most often, after "What the heck is an atlatl?" is probably the question every writer gets asked: "Where did you get that idea?"

There's not often a simple answer to that question. Luckily, for this story in particular, I can talk about where the idea came from.

When I was researching my novel A Partial History, I educated myself on archaeology. I read textbooks and monographs and magazine articles and tried to absorb everything I could. This was so I could learn about my two main characters, who are both archaeologists.

I became fascinated with stone-knapping. That's when you whack rocks together until you form a tool. I learned that archaeologists can look at a spear point, say, and determine the number of strikes that were required to make it. They can even tell the precise order in which the strikes were delivered. This amazed me.

I learned that most of the stone points I always called arrowheads were really the tips of atlatl darts. Atlatls are spear throwers -- just a stick with a little hook on the end, really, that allows one to throw darts much harder and farther than one could with arm-power alone. An atlatl is a lever.

I read theories that the extinction of North American Ice Age megafauna, the giant ground sloths and cave bears and saber-tooth tigers, might be credited to the atlatl.

This was the very first piece of technology with which the impact of humans on their environment became out-of-proportion to their actual number. Everything else was downhill from there.

But where did the story itself come from?

I learned about the World Atlatl Championships -- that seemed too good to pass up. Initially I worked with Dr. David Harper, the archaeologist who's at the center of my novel. He met Eustace Green at this particular event, and Green was killed by an atlatl dart. Maybe the first person in several thousand years to be slain by this particular piece of technology.

But that wasn't a good story. There wasn't a plot. And I've heard that stories need to have those. Green's death was just an accident. Whoops. And the end is a quasi-Joycean moment wherein the main character, Dr. Harper, stares into a stand of trees and imagines how much longer the life of an atlatl's stone tip is than a human being's.

Yawn. I put the story in a drawer with all my other masterpieces.

When Les came to me with this anthology, I dusted off the atlatl and showed it to him. He mentioned its lack of plot, its massive amounts of deadweight, and gently urged me to revise it.

Over the process of multiple revisions, the story is as you now read it. A tale of jealousy, betrayal, and stone-age weaponry.

I'd like to leave you with two fun facts: first, atlatls are still being made today. Just go online and google atlatl and you'll find a couple of reputable manufacturers -- one of them's called Atlatl Bob.

Second, please take note: the only legal methods of taking game in Florida are rifles, shotguns, pistols, longbows, compound bows, recurve bows, crossbows and birds of prey. Please contact your state representative today.