Wrestling Inspires The HARDWAY

HectorLet’s get this out of the way—yes, I know pro wrestling is fake.

Get a few wrestling fans in the same room and they’ll inevitably share the moment of when they first realized this.  They noticed how the punches being thrown rarely connected, or spotted a heel and babyface (wrestling parlance for bad and good guy) eating together at some diner, when just hours before they were swearing to do violent and unnatural things to each other.

But I don’t have a story like that. Much like Spencer, the main character of my novella, Hardway, I always just sort of knew.

And just like with Spencer, knowing this only makes me love wrestling even more.

Unlike him though, my love for wrestling never lead me into starting a wrestling federation in my backyard. Not that the thought didn’t cross my mind a couple of times. If I had a couple of more friends, or an impetuous older brother like Spencer has in Billy, maybe I too would have stories of getting hit in the head with lightbulbs and executing shoddy versions of famous wrestling moves on other teenagers too amped up to realize how close they came to a broken neck.

Then again, considering the trouble Spencer and Billy get into because of their love of wrestling, it’s probably a good thing I stuck to just watching it, talking about it, writing about it, playing videogames about it, and even doing online roleplays about it. What’s that you ask?  Imagine Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of throwing magic bolts, you’re suplexing other people’s characters through tables, and instead of using dice to determine the winner of a battle, the outcome is decided by the person who can write up the best match descriptions. I could probably write up a whole separate article about how online roleplaying kickstarted my desire to write my own fiction—Crimespree, call me!

Like all great entertainment, there is something wonderful and amazing about becoming so invested in wrestling you forget the outcome is pre-determined. Yes, a lot of the storylines can be silly, the dialogue stilted, and the acting worse than the stuff you’d catch during a Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon, but none of it matters once the wresters are inside the ring and have a chance to tell their story.

That’s something which can often get lost on people who don’t follow wrestling. There’s so many stories taking place at any given time, and not just the ones presented through backstage skits and promos (speeches wrestlers give intended to sell the audience on a match). There’s the stories which take place in the ring itself, where wrestlers face off and are tasked with making the audience care about what’s happening. Plus the stories after the cameras are turned off, of what wrestlers do to keep their top spots, and the clandestine dealings some make as they jump from one company to the next.

One of the most fascinating aspects about wrestling to me is that at any moment, all these different types of storylines can converge, merging the real world with the pre-determined world and setting up matches with just enough of a wrinkle to make one question what exactly is real and what isn’t. It’s like Charlie Kaufman’s movie Adaptation, except with more steel chairs to the head.

As writers, everything we consume on a day to day basis informs us, be it by books we read, television and film we watch, or things we experience. Wrestling is definitely in my writing DNA, sometimes in apparent ways—such as writing an entire novella centered around it—and sometimes in subtler ways.  When I’m building a story, I tend to think of my favorite matches and how they’re paced.  Every match tells their story differently, be it through large, showy moves such as diving to the outside of the ring or by making a raised eyebrow the highlight of the match. It’s rare when a match a starts with two wrestlers immediately going for their finishers—those big, showy moves the audience have been trained to know usually finish a match. They build them up to them with a little of brawling, maybe a couple of submission moves, etc.  When a match DOES start with a finisher (such as Rock vs Austin II) it works to shock the audience and signal to them that this match is different, that it’s going to more intense than what they’re used to.  I apply the same idea to my stories. Hardway is a bit of a slow build, and that’s on purpose. I wanted you to get to know Spencer, Billy, and the rest of their friends before all I ramped up the action. As I was writing the end though, I felt like I was throwing finishers left and right, and they felt earned by
that point.

There was something surprising which happened as I developed Hardway. It became more than just a story about wrestling.  It was somewhat unavoidable that some of me would end up in Spencer, and because of that, Hardway touches on some of the things I experienced growing up. Of how lonely and isolated that can be, and the lengths kids, especially shy ones, will sometimes go to fit in. It’s also about the stupid decisions we often make, the consequences they bring with them, and the love siblings can have for each other, even while hating each other’s guts.

But let us not forget. It’s also about wrestling.

-Hector Acosta

Hector Acosta’s short stories have appeared in Weird Noir, Thuglit, and all three volumes of Shotgun Honey anthologies. HARDWAY is his first novella and will be published by Down and Out Books on 2/17/17. He lives in New York with his wife and dog, and is working on his next book.