Saturday, June 2, 2018

Red Rider by Gerrit Steenhagen


I wanted to share how drafts of Red Rider changed over the course of writing and rewriting. I have included the final book version of the opening along with the very first draft of the opening. Below is the final book version of how Teacher in Red Rider is introduced. 


A priest once told him: “Tragedy teaches us life is short and there is no time for hate. Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose.”
He told the priest: “Life is long without my son and there is only time for hate. My life’s purpose is to avenge my son’s death.”
Sleeping inconvenienced him. Sleeping took time from hate. He spent his night in a cemetery, lying atop a grave, bare-chested. His pressed shirt was draped over the headstone. His head rested on a bulletproof vest. His eyes were open and catatonic. He could be dead.
His phone vibrated. He didn’t blink. His phone flashed an event: Henry’s birthday, April 20th, 4:05 a.m. His eyes dried out. His vision blurred. Tears were stimulated. He blinked.
He sat up and dismissed the event. His phone blinked the time: 4:06 a.m. He strapped the vest to his torso. His hands shook again. He pulled the pressed shirt from the headstone. The name and date on the headstone matched the name and date that had flashed across his phone. Henry would’ve been eighteen today.
He buttoned his shirt. A price tag dangled from the sleeve. He tugged at it, gone. He looked for more tags. One dangled from his waist. He tugged at it, gone. He stood.
A streetlight shone upon on a red motorcycle. A red helmet hung from one handle grip, a satchel hung from the other. He straddled the motorcycle, slid on the helmet, harnessed the satchel to his shoulder, leaned into the seat, twisted the grips, tapped the clutch, and kick-started the bike. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That opening from Red Rider took six drafts and it is only a page and a half in length. Below is the first version introducing Teacher in Red Rider.
It was fitting he taught math. Math was a manipulation of numbers; he
manipulated people. He was a sub; only math, only high school, never the same
school twice, right now 11th grade Algebra 2. He went by Mr. or teacher, but Math
teacher stuck. Everything about him was plain, dull, and unmemorable. The one
rare thing he would have had going for him was that he was left handed. Only
thirty percent of the population was left handed. It could have been a conversation
starter; it could have drawn attention away from his blandness; it could have
formed a connection with someone who also had that same rarity. But that would
have made him stand out, so he learned everything right handed. It was like
learning a new language, and now he was fluent with his right. He never wrote with
his left again.
There was nothing special, motivational, or inspiring about his teaching. He never
strayed from the book. All tests, homework, and class assignments came from the
text.  He barely interacted with the students and wasn’t interested in knowing them
because he wasn’t there for them. He would never be the teacher that would change
a student’s life.
He only applied to Sun Hill School District. It was the smallest school district in Los
Angeles, consisting of 49 schools; 17 being high schools. He would have been better
off at a larger school district; more schools equaled more jobs. He wasn’t in it for the
money or for the kids or to make the world a better place.
He had mailed in fingerprints without having to do a live scan. All he had to do was
apply out of state with an out of state license with the out of state address to prove
it. He didn’t even live out of state. When he applied, he resided in Los Angeles.
He filled out the paperwork, scanned it into a PDF, and emailed it along with
fingerprints that belonged to his name to a resident in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The resident was paid well annually for her address and to accept mail for him if
any ever came. When she received his email, she mailed out the fingerprints and
paperwork to the school district. Twice a month; the first Tuesday and last
Thursday, from ten am to eleven am, he would turn on a disposable only the
resident had. She would call during that window when the papers arrived. All other
times the disposable was off and the SIM removed.
He liked Los Angeles because it was one of the largest cities in the United States; it
was close to the border, and his name common in the area. 
He exited a corn field, collapsible shovel in hand; leather gardening gloves covering
his hands, a plastic poncho covering his collared shirt and cotton pants; plastic bags
covering his boots; soil soiling the plastic bags; husks sticking to the poncho, root
staining the shovel. It was five am and it wasn’t raining. The corn field belonged to
the high school. It was cultivated by the freshman and sophomore Horticulture
classes while the juniors and seniors landscaped the vertical vegetated wall of roses,
vegetables, orchards, and ornamental plants.
He collapsed the shovel and placed it in an empty flood table, next to a satchel.  He
removed the poncho and plastic bags and pushed them down in a trash bin. He
opened the satchel, bolt cutters, leather driving gloves, a universal USB micro
charger, and an Algebra book. He peeled off the garden gloves and pushed them
down in the trash bin. He fitted into the driving gloves, rolled his sleeve to the
watch around his wrist and buttoned the buttons. He placed the shovel inside the
satchel and snapped it. He passed the greenhouse and took the log steps up the
rolling hill side.
He introduced himself to the custodian at six am. The custodian swept the rooms
every two days. He needed his desk, chair, and board wiped every day. He had
allergies and dust made it worse. He was willing to pay a hundred dollars a week.
Of course he would pay every Monday. The custodian reminded him Monday was
He introduced himself to the main office and collected his assignment. He was
subbing for a female teacher. The person he had been searching was male.
I believe Red Rider’s first draft is slow paced, boring, and gives the reader too much useless information without triggering an emotional connection to Teacher. Teacher’s son isn’t even mentioned.
I believe Red Rider’s final version is fast paced, engaging, and gives the reader important information right away, establishing an emotional connection between Teacher and the reader: Teacher has a son, who is dead, and now he seeks revenge. What are your thoughts? Which version of Red Rider do you prefer?


Date Published: April 1 2018

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A grieving father – known to the reader only as Teacher – takes on a new identity after the brutal murder of his teenaged son. Masquerading as a substitute teacher, he tracks down the killer – a high school senior – and methodically builds a web to entrap him. Teacher does not desire simple justice or death for the killer; he wants the killer to endure what his son endured. But Teacher’s plan takes a life-shattering turn when he must save his son’s former girlfriend from the clutches of the brutal MS-13 gang.

A taut, suspenseful thriller, Red Rider explores the depths of revenge and the strength of human bonds.


Her name was Girl Gonzalez-Gonzalez. She wore bandages from her forehead to her cheeks. She wore sweats that were cut unevenly into shorts. She wore a thin, unflattering T-shirt three sizes too big. She wore depleted shoes and mismatched socks. She lay on her stomach on the last section of carpet in her room. She copied a math equation from a high school textbook into a notebook under a desk lamp. She headed her paper: page 169, #26. She wrote the steps. She boxed her answer: 3.605.
She referenced the papers in her notebook. Each had the same heading, the exact equation, using a variety of steps to get 3.605 every time. She thumbed through the book in search of the answer key, every equation in the text completed, except page 169, #26.
The key listed 2.11 as the answer. She closed the book, Calculus II. There was a window where the desk used to be. She looked out above the rooftops at the liquor-store sign, scrolling winning lottery numbers, the weather, and time. Enough time passed to remove the bandages.
There was a closet where the bed used to be. A lock and chain secured the doors. She removed a key chain from her neck and unlocked the chain. Dried blood coated the inside edges of the doors.
In the closet she kept an extra set of clothes, a towel, a toothbrush and toothpaste, body soap, deodorant, a compact mirror, and a blanket. She exchanged the textbook, lamp, and notebook for the compact mirror, towel, and soap. She wrapped the chain around the closet handles and locked it. She tested the lock. It held. She slipped the keychain over her head. She put her fingers in the hole where the door knob used to be and pulled open the door.
Looking in the compact mirror, she pressed on the bandages. She twisted the
handles on the bathroom sink. There wasn’t water. She tried the kitchen sink.
There wasn’t water. She went into the garage. The wall was opened. Copper piping
was gone.

About the Author

Gerrit Steenhagen grew up in San Diego, California. He wrote, produced, and directed the indie drama If Tomorrow Comes. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

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