December 21, 2010

Exorcising the Demons



I’ve been writing for some time. For far longer than it would seem based on the work I have out there. It took me a while to get serious about it, to throw away all the artistic pretensions and delusions. I struggled through a lot of those misconceptions before reaching this point, before finally approaching writing as a task requiring careful and considerate work. Only at then can you ever produce anything worthy of being called art.

Foolishly, I had thought I was done with the struggles. I don’t mean with money or recognition. I don’t even mean finding my voice—I’m always learning something new. The struggle is with myself.

I’ve always been my harshest critic. I can never fully exorcise that voice in my head. It’ll disappear for moments only to come roaring back. It pushes through the successes, ripping doubts from my skull-space and forging them, beating them into a vicious Möbius strip of nigh self-loathing. Sure, it whispers to me, you had a story published, but that’s it—it’s the most you can ever hope for. You won that contest—so, what? Someone raved about your story—so, what? Now, you’ve got pressure to produce, you fucking looser. Good luck with that.

The dystopian undulations of the Möbius Strip of Shame starts me thinking too much. I start doubting. I start second guessing everything: paragraphs, sentences, dialogue, grammar, and even the goddamned comma. Story construction and dialogue feel forced and hollow. My brain traps itself in a Catch-22 circuit. I write and re-write the same paragraph, aching for one sentence that sounds…not good but just right. Hours tic away. I get nowhere. That one sentence twists and further feeds the angst circle—see, you’ve been here for hours and what do you have?

One poorly written sentence.



Rationally, I know it’s all bullshit. I know it’s in my head. I know I can write. I know I can construct a sentence. Away from the keyboard, I can even step back and be objective. Work has been stressful the last several months. We’ve had a tremendous amount of students in crisis. A number of personal medical appointments have eaten free time and mad money. Remodeling the kitchen has, until very recently, been the focus of every weekend for almost two months. Thursday will be the start of the first real vacation I’ve had in well over a year. Stress has been stoking these fires and choking me with black smoke.

I know all of it.

And I know I’ll get through. It’s just frustrating—I wish I could discover some easy means of pushing it all away when it starts, cutting the Möbius Strip so it unfolds and unfurls into multi-dimensional sides.

What do you do?

December 20, 2010

You Like Me, You Really Like Me



On Day Labor, the Crime Factory blog, Keith has been running a feature called "The Best of Whatever." Writers have been weighing in almost daily on their picks for 2010. Recently, he posted his own list of the best short stories.

I'm very proud to see that "Ghostman on Third" made the cut. I think it's one of my best stories. It's nice to see that recognized, especially by Keith. My companions on the list just make it sweeter.

December 13, 2010

What I'll Tell Everyone and What I'll Tell Someone



For a while now, I've been working on a non-fiction article. It's required a great deal of research and tested the strength of my google-fu.

Rather than text books and articles, suprisingly, my main source of information has been correspondence. The letters I've found have easily cut straight through the immense amount of bullshit I've come up against, giving me a very precise portrait of the man I'm researching, and suggested avenues of exploration that I wouldn't have thought of on my own.

Today, however, I realized that soon researchers won't have this for a resource. No one writes letters anymore. Not honest-to-goodness letters on paper tucked into an envelope, sealed, and then mailed. It's all e-mails and tweets and Facebook statuses.

For me, an e-mail has never carried the same sort of personal weight and attachment; even with my generation probably being the last to remember what it was like to write and mail a letter, and wait for a response. Beyond any question of weight, emotional or personal, there's the problem of conservation. I know I don't save e-mails the same way I save letters. Unless it's a bill receipt or some important bit of information I know I'm going to need again, it get's tossed.

What does that mean for future researches?

I suppose the argument can be made that blogs will provide the same source of information that we get now from reading someone's personal correspondence. But I still think those are two very different beasts. There's a stark difference between what I'm willing to tell everyone and what I'm willing to tell someone.

December 8, 2010

More Discount Noir Love



Curious about how some of us came up with our stories for Discount Noir? Then head on over to Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade and read our interviews.

Pulp Serenade Interviews

November 27, 2010

The Sunset Blonde At The Salton Sea





The Sunset Blonde At The Salton Sea
by
Chad Eagleton





Here’s what he never told you that night in the bar—

She's a neo-noir waiting to happen...driving down lonely two-lane highway, a trunk full of insurance money, and a pawnshop .38 under the seat, Miles Davis on the radio and she keeps kicking the half-empty bottle of Jim Beam with her boot heel as you steer toward The Salton Sea, where she made you promise to take her because the night before her brother died, the two of them watched The Monster That Challenged The World on late night TV and it was only a month ago she made you buy that Val Kilmer movie at the video store even though you thought 10 bucks was a little much for a used DVD. She’s been talking about it ever since like her brother will be there waiting for her, all that salt and water keeping his spirit earthbound like a magician’s circle…

Driving in her burnt-orange, 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner, the car she inherited from her brother, smoking Pall Malls, the only cigarettes you can smoke in the car because they were her brother’s brand, and the floorboards still smell a little of vomit from that friend of hers who always has a bottle of gin and gives away open-mouthed, drunk kisses; driving there because you promised and Southern California is still in the direction of Mexico and there's that ex somewhere back North, Portland last you heard, and you know he's out there driving that lime-green Dodge Dart and he knows and he's the type of guy who'll make you hurt real bad; you heard he killed a man in high school but his uncle happened to be the sheriff, so you’re a little scared but now you can see the sign that says Welcome to West Shores of The Salton Sea and she’ll want to drive from here and she does...

Walking the beach, soundtracked by the slow slap of water against rotting timber, when she looks out toward the salt flats and the brilliant whiteness blinds her and she looks away quickly, grimacing, and you put your arms around her as she says, “I saw him.”

And you know she means her brother, that she saw him in the brightness, that small span of time before your eyelids slam shut to save your retinas from burning, that brief instant when you see things that aren’t there. But her hair smells like green apples and her lips taste like cigarettes and strawberry Hubba-Bubba and you pull her down to the sand and her perfume is all salt and sea and she mutters “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” by TS Elliot in your ear...
That’s what he never told you that night at the bar.

But that’s okay because you never told him—

You already owned a gun, and knew all about her brother, and she’s never liked Val Kilmer except when he played Doc Holliday, because dying is sexy, and you’d already given her a copy of Linkin Park’s Minutes To Midnight anyway. You never told him you’d already been there to the Salton Sea or about the body the two of you dumped in the alkali flats on the south shore and the way the sand and salt looked on his eyeballs as you buried him or how the tide had started to come in and you’d been afraid he’d get washed out, carried away into the sea where he’d bob and rot and fester like a memory.

You certainly never told him about afterward.

How right before you kissed her, she’d said “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floor of silent seas” and then, in the abandoned bait shop that was slowly sinking into the sea with the patient, inevitability of a drunkard’s death, you’d laid her down on the long, grey coat your mother gave you and her hair had smelled like green apples and her lips had tasted like cigarettes and strawberry Hubba-Bubba, but she hadn’t muttered anymore of “The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock” by TS Elliot in your ear.

Or maybe she had?

Maybe you just didn’t hear it as the setting sun spilled through the ruined walls, thick and white with salt, rushing over her hair and you’d noticed for the first time that it was the color of sunset and the sound of the boards, creaking with every thrust into her, grew and rumbled like the surf until you felt it thundering in your ear and it didn’t stop until she came.

You laid there with your head on her chest and you noticed the flecks of blood on her hand and you wondered if it was from you or the body you left on the other side of the beach. But none of that mattered, because then you knew that you would do anything for her, your Sunset Blonde at the Salton Sea.

So, you told him to watch his mouth.



Originally published at The Pulp Pusher

November 17, 2010

Dancing With Myself







For some reason, Nigel Bird asked me to be a part of his Dancing With Myself interviews. I'm humbled to feature on the same site with writers more talented than myself. If, for some reason, you're curious about me, then go check it out.

October 28, 2010

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, I did the smartest thing I've ever done--married my beautiful Maria.

I love you, Babe.

And you have no idea how much I'm looking forward to the next ten.

October 22, 2010

Discount Noir Now Available



Discount Noir is now available. And it's on sale. For a measely $4.50, you get a ton of quality fiction. So go ahead and buy it.


October 6, 2010

Discount Noir



In just a short amount of time, Untreed Reeds will release Discount Noir. I can't begin to express my excitement to be included in this collection. I never dreamed of an opportunity like this so soon in my writing career, appearing alongside authors like Ed Gorman and Dave Zeltersman. Sharing it with a whole list of eager up-and-comers, colleagues whose work I greatly admire and envy, only sweetens the deal.

I offer an immense thanks to the editors, Patricia Abbott and Steve Weddle. To the Super Agent, Stacia Decker, for her tireless efforts in making this happen, I offer an extra-special thanks.

September 30, 2010

Forgotten Music: The Groovie Ghoulies



The Groovie Ghoulies took their name from an animated series called Groovie Goolies. The show was a spinoff of a spinoff: The Archie Show—Sabrina, The Teenage Witch—Groovie Goolies. In the cartoon, the classic, Universal Monsters were all hip and cool. And, naturally, being hip and cool meant that at least once an episode you found the time to play a catchy pop song.

If you remember the cartoon, you can grok the band. I love hardboiled crime and noir, sure. But some of my first loves were monster movies and bad sc-fi flicks with BEMs chasing girls in bikinis. The Ghoulies gave that to me, crafting lyrics about flying saucers, vampires, and werewolves, singing in fast tempo, pop-style melodies backed by punk guitar riffs.

I’ve listened and still listen to “real” punk rock: the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, Black Flag, Fugazi, Fear, The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Specs, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, and all the others. When I was younger, I went to my share of basement shows and drank cheap beer and smoked too many cigarettes and listened to local kids playing with a lot of energy and very little talent.
But I grew out of most of that and, besides, my weakness has always been for "pop-punk". I believe when it functions at its best there is an art to writing a good pop song. Regrettably, it's usually dismissed with the same air that some people dismiss poetry that rhymes. Both can and usually are done badly, but if you have the skill, there is nothing better. Plus, I've always liked melody and now, unless I'm in the right mood, I'd much rather hear something other than the lead singer screaming.

Even with the specific bent and subject matter to most of their songs, The Groovie Ghoulies excelled at broad-appealing, bubble-gum punk and worked their asses off to bring it to you. I was never disappointed with a Ghoulies show and I've always thought they were better than their well-known counterparts, Green Day and The Offspring.

Music has always been important to me and I wish I could share some heart-wrenching lyrics or post the link to some visually stunning music video or tell you a long story about something in my past that a Ghoulies song conjures up as clear as today. But I can't.

Like how I could tell you about the first girl I ever had a crush on in college and the first time I saw her she was wearing a Ghoulies shirt. Or I could tell you the the first time I ever saw the Ghoulies was because I saw a cute girl stapling flyers all over town. (I don't have a picture of the first girl, but the one with the flyers also was the bass player and you'll find on the left in the photo above).

But, truthfully, none of that has anything to do with why I like the Ghoulies. It's all really simple. Sure, they may not have screamed, they may never have educated you about politics, or chronicled the beatings handed down by fascist, LA police officers, but what they always did was something just as important.

They make me happy.

They remind me it's okay to like weird stuff and monsters and girls in day-glo bikinis and reved up Chuck Berry covers and paint my nails and feel different and want to be different but not have to put a safety-pin through my cheek and scream threats to burn the trailer park down.

But beyond all that--they make me happy.

And isn't that really the best thing you can say about anything?

September 3, 2010

Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. America...




Soon, the tentatively titled Discount Noir will go to e-press. A big thanks to the editors, Patti Abbot and Steve Weddle. And, of course, a huge thanks to the Super Agent, Stacia Decker.

Check out the official announcement here.

Then you might go, if you haven’t already, over to Gutter Books and read David Cranmer’s interview with Keith Rawson. Keith spills the beans about the lineup of the upcoming Crime Factory anthology.


Why I No Longer Watch SVU Even Though I Think Mariska Hargitay Is Hot




I used to like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The writing was decent, if sometimes a little ridiculous and plot-twisting. The acting was good, especially for network television. I like Christopher Meloni (not as much and in a different way than Maria does). He was amazing on HBO's Oz.

And Mariska Hargitay?

Well, she's just absolutely stunning.

But I can't watch SVU anymore.

Alright, maybe I shouldn't say can't. I should probably say, I haven't watched it in a while and don't think I will again...

On Monday, the Sexual Assault Resource Guide I wrote came back from the printers and was distributed to floor RA's, Residence Managers, the Health Center, the Student Advocates Office, and others on campus. I spent more time sweating over this thing, rewriting, having meetings, arguing about word choice (survivor or victim), and learning more than I ever wanted to know about the topic of sexual assault.

All I've ever wanted is to write. If you work out the time I spent on the guide at work, I got paid more for this than anything else I've ever written. More people will read this than anything I've written so far. But, while I do feel proud that I wrote this, that my words might actually mean something, I wish that no one ever had to read it.

I've never said that about anything else I've written, but it's true—I wish no one ever had to read this.

Ever.


August 25, 2010

The Blasters



The Blasters rocked their way onto the California scene with a stunning lineup that consisted of: Bill Bateman on drums, John Bazz on bass, Dave Alvin on lead guitar, and Phil Alvin on rhythm and vocals.

Starting in the late 70s, they played with bands like Black Flag, The Cramps, and Queen before going on their own solo tours. In Walter’s Hill’s rock fable, Streets of Fire, they performed “One Bad Stud” and “Blue Shadows”. Tarantino and Rodriguez followed Michael Mann’s Miami Vice lead and used “Dark Night” for their first collaboration, From Dusk Till Dawn. And Dwight Yoakam scored a hit with their tune “Long White Cadillac”.

But for some reason, The Blasters have always been one less album sale and one more review away from being reduced to hipster favorite. We all know that talent and fame aren’t anywhere close to being synonymous, but The Blasters prove the two are so fucking distant that, assuming you could bribe them into a date, talent and fame could marry and reproduce without fear of six-fingered and one-eyed offspring.

I’ve never understood it. Even if he weren’t one of the most underrated songwriters of the 20th century, Dave Alvin would still be one of the best guitarists around. And Phil Alvin’s vocals are pure powerhouse. Maybe it is just the bad luck that seems to haunt the most talented of musicians. Through the years The Blasters lineup has shuffled and changed, brought on by arguments only brothers can have, time off for a variety of solo projects, and several tragic deaths.

I’ve heard their music described a number of different ways. I believe they always referred to their mixture of blues, rockabilly, and country with a dash of punk as “American Music”. If I were pressed to offer a genre label, I’d probably stick with rockabilly, but mostly I’d just call them badass.

Just listen to“Marie Marie” with its driving rockabilly riffs, smoky juke joint undertones, and the anxious, pleading, vocal croon. Man, oh, man, if that doesn’t convince you and you happened to live in California, go see them live.

August 4, 2010

The Last Cigarette



It's been a busy summer. Regrettably, not one full of writing. At work, we've been preparing to move offices and we keep track of an inordinate amount of paper files, student deaths and disciplinary records. Often slow stretches at work is where I'll ruminate on plot ideas and maybe write a quick page that I'll work into something when I get home.

At home, the summer is always full of projects, holidays and yard work. The riding lawn mower was in the shop for far too long and, since I had no desire to use a machette to get from front door to car door, it meant I had to push mow our acreage.

There have been a few things I've fooled around with as time permits. And now the first of them is up at the always excellent Thrillers, Killers & Chillers.

So check out The Last Cigarette and let me know what you think.

June 27, 2010

Once More, The Factory Floor...And Some Baseball



Just when you thought Keith, Cameron, and Jose couldn't bust their ass any harder, they prove you wrong and put out  two issues of Crimefactory.

If you haven't already, go check it out. As always, you can download it, save it and read it. Or if you've got one of those fancy e-readers, you can shell out a measely dollar and appreciate it on the go.

******

The results for The Second Annual Watery Grave Invivational are now in. I didn't manage to claim first, but considering the competition and, after reading the other stories, I'm pleased with third. Especially since I really loathe baseball.

So, if you haven't already, you can check out "Ghostman on Third" at The Drowning Machine.

June 23, 2010

Forgotten Music: Gene Vincent And His Blue Caps




Vincent Eugene Craddock originally considered a military career. In 1952, he enlisted in the Navy. Three years later, he used his reenlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph. During July of that year, he suffered a horrible motorcycle accident that shattered his leg. He refused to let the doctors remove it. The rest of his days would be spent with both a limp and severe chronic pain.

This was the start of the bad luck that would follow him even after he reinvented himself as Gene Vincent.

A year after his accident, Gene wrote "Be-Bop-A-Lula", a pleading rock hit (hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 greatest rock songs ever) that secured him and his Blue Caps a recording contract with Capital. Despite this massive hit, and becoming one of the first rock stars to act in a film, The Girl Can’t Help It, lasting commercial success, like it did for most of the rockabilly pioneers, evaded Gene.

A tax dispute with US authorities sent Vincent packing off to Europe. In a typical twist of fate, he found a much wider fame and a broader audience. But his bad luck would return.

In 1959, he was involved in a car accident. Vincent broke his collar bone and re-shattered his leg. After being thrown from the taxi, his friend Eddie Cochran suffered massive brain trauma and died the next day.

Vincent spent the rest of his days trying to duplicate the modicum of success he found before. But continued health trouble and more legal disputes kept fame at far more than arm-length.

It’s no surprise that Vincent died in 1971 from a ruptured ulcer.

Vincent is proof that talent and fame don’t necessarily go hand in hand. If the only song of his you’ve ever heard is "Be-Bop-A-Lula", you’re missing out. A performance of "Woman Love" supposed got him arrested for indecency. I keep waiting for someone like Tarrantino to use "Race With The Devil" in a film and give it the fame it deserves. "Lotta Lovin’" is a brilliant earworm with infectious handclapping and a catchy chorus. "Say Mama" sums up teenage desires better than any other rock song ever written. And the fact that no one remembers "Pistol Packing Mama", written with Eddie Cochran, is one of the great tragedies of music.

May 25, 2010

Forgotten Music: Johnny Burnette's Rock N Roll Trio






Though you’ve probably never heard of The Rock And Roll Trio, I guarantee you've heard at least one cover of Train Kept A-Rollin'. Regrettably, like most of the rockabilly pioneers, they never managed to land a huge, national hit and, as evidenced by their influence on the British Invastion, achieved more success abroad.

If mentioned at all, it’s usually just the Elvis connection. Johnny and his brother Dorsey grew up in the same projects as Presley. Dorsey and Paul Burlison both worked for Crown Electric where Elvis drove trucks. When Dorsey finally quit the Trio prior to their appearance in the Alan Freed film Rock, Rock, Rock, he was replaced by Johnny Black, the brother of Presley’s bassist.

Frequently their lack of big success is dismissed due to their “Elvis” similarity. But none of them were ever ripoff artists and ripoff artists don't have the lasting effect on a generation of muscians they did. In fact, the Burnette Boys wrote “Rock Billy Boogie” in 1953. Their mistake was not recording it until 1957, after Elvis hit. While surpassing him in skill, The Rock and Roll Trio always lacked both Presley's luck and his charisma.

They only had two recording sessions together before breaking up in 1957. During their incarnation they left a body of rocking and often covered songs like “Rock Therapy”, “Midnight Train”, “Tear It Up”, “Oh Baby Babe”, and “Lonesome Tears In My Eyes”.

After the dissolution of the band, Burlison left the music world for a reliable paycheck. When he finally returned in the late 1980s, he discovered a fan base of guitar gods clamouring to know how he achieved the Trio sound.

The Burnette Brothers stuck it out, but would never produce anything with the same influential force. The two of them headed to California and landed a gig writing songs for Ricky Nelson. It worked well and this success spurred the pair through a number of different incarnations (The Burnette Brothers, The Texans, and The Shamrocks) on a number of different record companies.

Eventually, they again went their separate ways. Dorsey and Johnny both pursued solo work. Johnny had the better luck. Capital picked him up and marketed him as a teen idol. However, even a saccharine pop hit like “You’re Sixteen” wasn’t enough for a contract renewal.

Afterward, Johnny released two singles on his own label: “Fountain of Love” and “Bigger Man.” We’ll never know where he might have gone from there. On August 14, 1964 a fishing boat hit Johnny’s cabin cruiser and he drowned.

I try not to dwell on any of it. Because, for me, it’s always about The Trio. About Johnny’s frenetic vocals, Burlison’s distinctive fuzzed out guitar stylings, and Dorsey’s driving bass. Especially on one of my favorite Rockabilly songs ever, "Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track)."

I never get tired of that song.

But my wife does.

May 13, 2010

Needle Magazine's First Flash Fiction Challenge





The folks who run Needle: A Magazine of Noir issued a flash fiction challenge. For the details of the challenge, head on over there.

Keep reading below for my untitled entry.

***


“I’ve never been here before,” the girl said.

“The Space Needle? You live in Seattle.”

“It’s a touristy place. We never go—went to touristy places.”

The woman put the menu down and smiled with white teeth. “You never had the money. Now, you’ll go to a lot of touristy places.”

“When everything’s paid back,” the girl said and she smiled.

“You need to use the Crest Strips I gave you,” the woman said. “They don’t want to see yellow teeth.”

The girl closed her mouth and watched the city spin below her. She felt dizzy. “The yellow doesn’t really bother me,” she said. “I never liked the gap and the chip right here in front, but St—“

“They don’t want to hear about other men.”

“Oh.” She nodded.

“You’re nervous aren’t you?” The woman asked. “Do you want a drink?”

“Yes.”

Like the devil, the waitress appeared. The woman ordered and when the waitress was gone, she patted the girl’s hand. “You’ll get used to it.” She opened her purse and handed her a pill. “Take this,” she said. “With your drink when it comes.”

The girl started to smile. She stopped and swallowed the pill dry. “It’s hard.”

“The money helps.”

The waitress brought their drinks.

The girl raised hers. Her mouth tasted bitter. “When it finally comes,” she said and then drank.

The woman laughed. “Something always comes.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever be doing something like this.”

The woman sipped her wine and then said, “Eating here?”

The girl sucked on her Long Island. She swirled the ice with her straw. “Both,” she said.

The waitress brought their dates.

She expected the older one to sit by the woman. He didn’t. The younger one did. The older sat by her and touched her back, her neck and the sweep of her hair.

“I see you’ve already started with drinks,” the younger one said. He snapped his fingers and the waitress appeared.

The girl wondered how she did that. Maybe I’ll ask, she thought.

When she left, the girl hiccupped. “I was nervous,” she said.

The back rubber smiled. “No reason to be nervous.”

She grabbed his hand and scooted her chair away from him but closer to the window. She leaned her face to the glass. “I’ve never been this high up before,” she said.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.” The young one said.

“Don’t tell me—you know this because you’re an architect. I’ve never met an architect. I was starting to wonder if they were real. I’ve never seen one or known anyone who was an architect, but it seems like there are tons of characters on television who are architects. You must not do a lot as an architect, it seems like they’re always home.”

“I won’t know,” the young one said.

She craned her neck at the old one.

“Oh,” he said, “me either.”

“You know,” the young one said, “I heard, there’s some group that claims to have plans from the ‘62 World's Fair. Apparently these plans show the Space Needle was designed to send transmissions to aliens in other galaxies.”

The girl laughed and looked back out through the glass. “It’s nothing that interesting,” she said. “Do you know what it is?”

No one said anything.

She scooted her chair back. “Do you know what it is?”

The old one shook his head. “What?” He asked.

She was aware of him watching her mouth. He's probably thinking about me—she killed her thoughts by saying, “It’s simple. No aliens. No secret plans. It’s just—we’re always trying to fuck something. That’s it.”

“Yes, we are,” the one old said.

The girl smiled and waited for the pill to kick in.

May 12, 2010

Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest





For details of the contest, head here. And if you're wondering, then I'll tell you.

Yes, Jason Duke is that crazy.

***

Flash Drive

I've put a price on things you wouldn't believe. Now, I can tell you how much my conscience is worth...

Callard rubbed the flash drive like a lucky rabbit’s foot. “Your name’s Defoe?”

It wasn’t, but that’s how Hargrove knew me. Hargrove arranged the meet and it was Hargrove’s boat that took us up the coast. “It is,” I said.

“And you’re like a middleman?”

“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”

Hargrove came from below with two bottles of Stella Artois. He said, “I did.” He handed Callard his beer, then the tall man moved across the deck.

Callard stuck the flash drive in his shirt pocket. His face read late 30s. His clothes read maybe 20. He tipped his beer then said, “I want you to explain it to me.”

“I get people things.” I lit a smoke. Hargrove clinked his bottle against the railing. At the gesture, I opened the ashtray in the armrest. “Things they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

“Like what?”

“Services, collectables,” I said.

“Comics and toys? Classic cars? What?”

“No.”

He waited for more. He would have kept waiting if he hadn’t said, “Alright, I get you.”

“Your turn,” I said.

“I have pictures for sale.”

“What kind of pictures?”

“Didn’t Hargrove explain it to you?”

“I want you to explain it to me.”

Hargrove chuckled. Callard eyeballed him until he turned to laugh at the sea. We both watched his shoulders moving, his laugh lost in wave slap and gull cry.
“I work airport security,” Callard said. “Monitoring the full-body scan.”

“The pictures are from the scanner?”

“Yeah.” The way he said it, it sounded more like a noise than a word.

“Those images aren’t secure?”

“By me and that’s just enough to make an argument for maintaining privacy.”

I nodded.

Callard sat. “It’s like this.” He conducted his word flow with the bottle. “I sit in a room away from the scanner and work the monitor. I can’t see the person in real life. They walk up, step in the scanner.” He made science fiction noises. “Then, image pops on my screen. I push a button—green or red, proceed or detain.”

Callard leaned against the rear of the boat. He stuck the bottle between his legs and lit a cigarette of his own. More for the necessary pause and our accompanying wait than any urgent nic-fix. His transparency was contemptuous. I ground my own cigarette out and closed the ashtray. His bench didn’t have one. I laid my hand across mine.

Cultivating a long ash, he hid his smile in the smoke from the hotboxed cigarette. I saw it even before he ashed over the side and a breeze rolled over Hargrove and across the deck, scattering the haze. “The machine blurs faces,” he said. “Used to blur your junk until that guy in London smuggled the pea shooter next to his pee shooter.”

“It saves the images?”

“They’ll tell you no. But it does.”

“Evidence,” Hargrove said.

“Yeah,” Callard said. “We’re just not supposed to access them.”

“They don’t monitor—“

“Honor system.” He finished the smoke in two drags and sailed it over the side. “I passed a psych exam and a background check—I wouldn’t steal.” He laughed, finished his beer and sent the bottle after the cigarette. He started below deck.

Hargrove stopped him. “I got it.”

“Alright.” At me, he said, “Your turn. You get people things, huh? Why does that mean I should sell what I got to you?”

“I work for people with disposable income. They spend that income on the sorts of things people usually spend that income on—cars, clothes—“

“Boats?” He asked the returning Hargrove.

Hargrove ignored him and returned to the railing.

“Over time they grow bored,” I continued. “They want something no one else has.”

“And you get it for them?”

“Or people approach me with things. Usually, I’ll know who’d want what. If not immediately, I can always find someone.”

“So you’re a salesman? A deal maker? A gopher? What do you call yourself?”

“Just Defoe,” I lied.

“He’s like a concierge,” Hargrove said.

“Then you’ll like this, Mr. Concierge. Go ahead and ring the goddamned penthouse suite.”

I expected the flash drive. I got an envelope.

Callard mistook my pause for excitement. “Go on,” he said. I unfastened the clasps. The bottle clinked against his teeth. “Bet you always wondered if her tits are real.”

I removed the photo.

I hadn’t and they weren’t.

“You thought you’d never see her naked.” He waved Hargrove over. “Have a look at what it takes to pull down 15 million a picture.”

I handed Hargrove the photo.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” he said. “No clothes. Skin ghostly. Faint lines of musculature underneath.”

“Her abdominals,” I said.

Callard took the photo back. “Fuck the core. Look at those thighs.” His eyes raced to his favorite spots. “Just wish the scan left the hair. I want to know if she shaves.”

“Not usually what I trade in, but I can sell it,” I told him.

“How much?”

“Not as much as you’d like.”

“Why the hell not?” Callard said, looking at Hargrove.

“It’s not enough of either.”

“What’s that mean—enough of either?”

“You have a naked picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. But you can eliminate the scandal rags and the news media.”

“Why? Cause I don’t need you for that shit?”

“Because you have a picture of the biggest female movie star in the world. There will be lawsuits and a criminal investigation. This technology has yet to spread to every airport. Her travel itinerary is well documented. Only a matter of time before they’d track down which airport and which machine took her picture.”

“And which tech,” Hargrove said.

“That’s leaves us with two options.” I took the photo back. “It’s too weird to appeal to the average pervert. Like you, they’d want to know if she shaves.” I shrugged and passed it back. “It’s not weird enough for the true deviants. Maybe if she looked like she had been skinned or something. So—it’s not enough of either.”

“There’s one more option,” Hargrove said.

We both looked.

“Sell it to her.”

“You two are on your own for that,” I told them.

Callard looked at Hargrove with that Happy Meal look. But Hargrove drove on past. “And that option?” He asked me.

“Look, it’s a nudie photograph. That’s it. Not damning enough to guarantee her payment, but with more than enough victim potential to send her to the press and the authorities. Give her a cause to get involved in that doesn’t require any real effort.”

“Fuck, man!” Callard threw his beer against the deck. “You said he’d set me up.” The bottle didn’t break. It rolled over the side.

Hargrove was in insurance, mostly. His company specialized in the big ticket. The items you hired an expert to appraisal and knew even he was guessing. Once a year, one of his clients got robbed. Hargrove sold the loot on the black market, officially wrote it off as a loss, gauged the client on higher rates, and recommended new security measures.

Hargrove owned the security company too.

We met a year ago when his crew found a human skull in a wall safe. Hargrove’s first thought was blackmail. But when the skull dated at 100 plus, he didn’t know what the fuck to do. He asked around and someone recommended me.

I was still living off the cash from Butch Cassidy’s skull when Hargrove called about this new deal. I lit another cigarette. “What else you go?”

He caught the look and lifted the flash drive from his pocket like one of those rigged, prize cranes. “This,” he said, “I don’t need you for. I’ve got a buyer for this. He pays every time.” He stroked the drive with his thumb. “You think the day Ms. Actress’ ass wiggled across the terminal was the first time I ever walked out with pictures? Fuuuuck—no.”

“More pictures then?” I said.

“More pictures.”

“Of children?” I asked, figuring those were the only other pictures worth something.

He smiled. “Just more pictures. Pictures you don’t want.”

I drug hard on the smoke and looked at Hargrove as he headed back to the wheel. “It’s his property.”

The boat started moving.

Callard stood and watched the foam.

I watched his back.

I've sold a lot of heinous things. But, it only took me two cigarettes and seeing the dock on the horizon before I made the offer. “I’ll buy it.”

Callard turned.

“Buy what?"

“The flash drive.”

“You don’t know what’s on it.”

“I think I do.”

Callard shrugged. “You’re money,” he said. “Let’s see.”

“Don’t have it here.”

“Yeah, fuck you then.”

“I can get it with time. If you walk to my car, I’ve got 40 thousand.”

“I'm not fucking walking to your car." Callard made a gun with his fingers and pointed it at his head.

"Then wait here."

"40 ain't enough.”

“How much?”

Callard named a price.

“Bullshit,” I said.

The boat stopped. “Seems fair,” Hargrove said.

“Fuck you, Hargrove. It’s his property.”

“And I’m still the middle man.”

“Fine,” I said. “It’ll take me some time.”

“No, now.”

“I can’t materialized it out of thin air.”

“I thought you got people what they wanted—I want money. So, get it.”

I lit another smoke to keep from hitting him.

Hargrove said. “Wire transfer.”

“Anything over ten draws attention.”

“Not in my account and not from yours.”

I looked at Callard. "You trust him with your money?"

"More than you," he said. “Switzerland?”

“Switzerland is fucked,” I said.

“Somewhere safe,” Hargrove said.

“Fine.”

“Excellent,” Hargrove said. "We'll use my satellite phone."



When the deal was done, I walked back to the car and took the laptop out of the truck. I booted it and waited. They were both still onboard the boat.

The computer chirped.

I stuck the flash drive in the USB and lit a smoke.

I checked the boat and double-clicked the icon. A new window popped up. I watched the contents load and caught Callard walking along the pier. Hargrove was casting off again.

The green bar finished. The computer dinged.

I double clicked on the folder.

Callard hit the far parking lot. Hargrove walked back to the helm.

Motherfucker. I drummed the side of the screen.

A car pulled in for Callard. The boat’s engine rumbled and chewed waves.

The folder opened—one picture.

Ash fell on the keyboard. I double…triple…quadruple clicked the jpeg. The picture opened and a middle finger filled the screen.

The car sped off toward the highway. The boat chugged out to sea.

Only the finger remained.

Everything has a price. But I’ll tell you something--my fucking conscience is too goddamned expensive.

***

For more of the Concierge check out:
The Double D

Lord Knows

May 6, 2010

Distressing Thoughts




The main danger of blogging is the possibility of alienating others.

Years ago, there was a particular science fiction author I used to enjoy quite a bit. Then I discovered his blog. After getting a taste of his political and religious beliefs, I found the man so abhorent that I have never purchased or borrowed a single thing he has written since.

That's why I don't read biographies; generally, I want to continue liking the people I like.

Sometimes, though, it can happen when I don't think you're really considering the risk.

Case in point, earlier this week I was reading the newsletter of another author. Among the usual lists of appearances and publication dates, this author puts little bits of personal stuff. Most of the time, it's nice and makes the author seem a little more human and not so much like a thing or a product. This time he included a short movie review.

It happened to be for a movie I really enjoyed.

I don't think that everyone must like what I like. Constant agreement is not a factor on how I feel about you unless you can best be described as an argumentative prick. However, this particular author's critique was so off, so wrong, and so stupid that it was offensive to my intelligence.

It just pissed me off.

It lowered my opinion.

And it made the author seem like a cheap commodity.

It made me notice other little things; comments, opinions, and reoccuring themes that made me wonder about the author's political beliefs.

For a good fifteen minutes, I actively disliked this person.

But the guy wasn't setting out to offend anyone. He wasn't trying to force anything he thought on the big things down my throat. And I think he had no idea that anything in there could possibly irritate anyone.

But what's interesting to me is that the science fiction author had to know. He had to know if he talked about his feelings about god/God and politics that he was going to irrevocably piss some people off. Especially since that seemed to be all he ever talked about on his blog.

Maybe he's just that out of touch? Maybe he thinks he has enough readers that he can afford to lose more than a few? Or maybe he doesn't give a fuck?

Maybe to a degree that's a good thing? Though, it's still not much of an excuse for being an outright fucker.

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that for a while. But it's a thought I don't find very comforting when all I really want to do is write.


April 20, 2010

There, But For The Cape, Go I



Below, you'll find my attempt to score some free Gischler from Chad Rohrbacher. For details, go here.

****




Before the meeting, I share a smoke with Joey, the kid who drank toxic goo. I don’t smoke, but no one else ever comes back here and stands along the wall by the medical waste containers with their view of the crumbling monolith of the Galt Housing Projects.

Joey chatters at me while he smokes. I can’t understand a single thing he says; it’s all gurgles and wet pops. But my being there makes him happy. He doesn’t know I’m not listening. That I’m looking for some sign of Dr. Athmos, the criminal mastermind expelled from the hospital two months ago for crimes against humanity.

Joey grinds his smoke out and we head inside. We share an elevator with Reggie and Polly.

Reggie fuses with his hair all the way down to the basement. Poor guy used to get 1000 dollar haircuts, but he squandered everything buying some scarab ring off eBay he thought would give him mystical powers.

It didn’t. It just turned his skin a little green on his forefinger.

When the elevator dings, I let Polly out first. She smiles and I can tell my little act of kindness makes her happier than she’s been all week. Poor girl spent millions of dollars trying to make herself look like Lady Wonder. She hoped looking like a superhero would make her one.

It didn’t and she’s still not even pretty at a distance.

Twitchy Tom is already in the room when we arrive. He sits in a chair near the front, the one underneath the big, glossy poster of Captain Swagger reminding us all that we don’t need powers to be super.

I pat him on the back and can feel his muscles jerking and bunching and twisting underneath his shirt. Poor guy fried his nervous system purposefully getting himself struck by lighting.

All for super-speed.

Someday, I might have Mr. Zoom tell him it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Doctor Morrison walks in and we get started. We begin, like always, with his affirmation. A self-help mantra to remind ourselves that we have something to offer even if we can’t fly or see through walls or move planets.

When we’re done Polly starts. “I saw the photos in The Inquiry of Lady Wonder out with The Alien Detective. Her hair looked really nice…”

I know how it’ll go from here: what she’ll say next, what the Doctor will tell her, what she'll say, how Twitchy Tom will chime in, and when Polly will cry. I’ve been coming here ever seen Doctor Athmos’ experiments were discovered. The clues dried up two weeks ago, but I keep coming even though they all say the same thing and none of them seem to be getting any better.

Even if I told them, I don't think they'd believe how scared I was when my accident happened.

When we were out having dinner last Saturday, Lady Wonder asked me why I still bothered. “Isn’t it depressing? All those people who wanted—“

“To be us?”

She looked away then and the hurt in her eyes cut me deeper than a blade of sharpest orichalcum. I wanted to atomized the table and scatter the molecules across the skyline in a blazing apology. Instead, I told her, “It’s another mystery.”

“Why someone would drink radioactive waste in the distant hope of garnering a super power?”

“No,” I told her. “Why me? Why me and not them? There were hundreds of rescue workers, cops, firemen, and soldiers there that day the Zathra'zi ship crashed north of the city and turned Triton Bay into steam. Most of them died. Either during the explosion or right after from Siegel’s Fever. But I didn’t--why me?”

“Does it matter?”

“A little,” I told her and now, without thinking, I say, “there, but for the cape, go I.”

“Do you have something to add, John?” Doctor Morrison asks.

“No.”

April 16, 2010

Me and the Gaga





When I write, I often listen to music. Sometimes for the background noise. Sometimes to achieve the right mindset for what I hope to accomplish. And, depending on how the day job went, sometimes to strangle the morning in it's cradle before it matures and ruins my night.

So, here is a list of some of the specific things I remember listening to while writing-

"The Double D"
A lot of Tom Waits; especially, Small Change. Bits and pieces of Bite Your Tongue by The Sex Slaves.

"Lord Knows"
A lot of Tupac; including, the entirety of Me Against the World. Some Geto Boys.

"Six Bullets For John Carter"
The soundtrack to Blade Runner. A mix of Eurotrash techno.

"Not A Single Penny For Your Eyes"
A mix of my favorite Springsteen songs. Some Neko Case; especially "Thrice All-American". And a little Iris Dement.

"Mascara Contra Mascara"
Los Lobos. Chingon (Robert Rodriguez's band and the name of my luchador). Latin Playboys. Some Cesar Rosas solo stuff. Big Sandy's Latino Doowop album, Dedicated to You. And some Marty Robbins.

"The Day The Music Died"
Buddy Holly. Bob Dylan. Tom Waits. Leonard Cohen. Led Zepplin. The Band. Basically, a mix of everything I could think of that I'd want someone to hear if they'd never been able to listen to music.

"The Method"
This story hasn't been published yet, but it will soon. When I wrote it, I listened to a lot of Lady Gaga. Especially,Paparazzi.

March 30, 2010

Working the line...





Have you checked out Crimefactory since Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Liam Jose brought it back?

Unbelievably, the second issue is even more stunning than the last and not just because I'm in it. CF features first rate fiction, insightful reviews and some amazing design/layout work. It just proves why Keith is the hardest working man who isn't getting paid for this shit and why those Australians are the coolest people I know who I haven't' actually met.

This issue is a monster of goodness that clocks in at 126 pages. I'm always excited to appear next to Patti Abbott and Jimmy Callaway; neither has ever turned out anything less than amazing; but, to be there along with Reed Farrell Coleman, Charlie Stella, Craig MacDonald, and Dave Zeltersman...are you fucking kidding me?!?!?

So go there now. Save it and read it at your leisure, or print it out and take it with you. You can download it as a PDF or formatted for the Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader. Do you see the work these guys are putting in?

Be sure to check out my review of Jason Aaron's Scalped.

March 17, 2010

The Day The Music Died




For Dan O'Shea's Let Us Prey: Flash Fiction Challenge, Christopher Grant, the editor of A Twist of Noir, wrote a story called Reverberations.

It's an outstanding story that makes you wish that Christopher Grant wrote more often. In the piece, he introduced the character of an unnamed hitman who is deaf.

We wanted more.

To spur Christopher Grant on, Jimmy Callaway wrote Closed Captioned featuring Grant's hitman.

This was followed by J.F. Juzwik's tale, Blind Date.

And here, with a far too kind introduction from Christopher Grant, is my tale, The Day The Music Died.

February 28, 2010

Let Us Prey: Flash Fiction Challenge




My story is below.

For the initial trigger pull that started this whole thing,vist Going Ballistic here.

To sample the follow up shots, head here

****
The Lock-In

Harlan couldn’t sleep.

The Veggie Tales blasted from the far side of the church where the youngest slept in their Transformer and Disney Princesses sleeping bags. Somewhere over by the snack table, Pastor Evans snored. Over by the pulpit, Old Lady Lawton sat in her Purdue chair knitting and farting with abandon. While the kid with the bowl haircut was in the toilet shitting again.

Harlan blamed the pizza.

He had come for the pizza. His mother would never make pizza and she, sure as shit, wouldn’t stop and buy any.

Normally, as much as his mother hoped he would go, he hated these things and refused. But when he heard there was pizza at the lock-in, he asked for the five bucks.

He had hoped for Papas—either Murphy’s or John’s. Instead, Mr. Lawton showed up with something nasty and local. Cheap, cardboard boxes wet with grease. Pizza topped with ingredients that tasted like those awful canned mushrooms his mother bought at Aldi’s.

The kid with the bowl haircut had gulped down nearly a whole one all by himself. Harlan stuck with the chips and the vegetable tray, even though the carrots tasted dry and old.

Now, he sighed and checked his watch—11:23 pm.

Fuck.

He rolled over and noticed the lights.

His father had helped remodel the Church of John The Revelator after two years of donations bought new siding, paint, and doors. Harlan figured that was why there was a two and half inch gap between the floor and the bottom of the doors. But what he wanted to know is why a light burned in the storage room.

Harlan looked back at Old Lady Lawton.

“One knit, pearl two,” she said to herself, her dentures sliding around in her pinched mouth. She farted again, as Harlan slid from under his green sleeping bag and crawled over to the door. He rose to his knees, opened the door and slipped inside where he found two of the Mayhair boys.

For the first time that night, Harlan prayed to God, thanking him for only two of the brothers being in the backroom. When the father wasn’t in jail, and the mother wasn’t giving birth to another Neanderthal-browed thug, or the whole clan wasn’t busy harassing the young women picking up their birth control pills, some combination of the male brood was terrorizing someone...somewhere.

“What the fuck do you want?” Josiah Mayhair wrinkled his pig nose.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime, Harlan?” Judah Mayhair cackled, laughter wheezing through his tooth gap.

I should have stayed out there with Old Lady Lawton. Geriatric gas was better than all the Mayhair—

“Who is it?” A soft voice asked from behind the back shelves stacked with the slate grey, folding chairs.

—except for Jodie Mayhair, the only one who ended up with a full, a very full, set of genes. She glided between her brothers and looked at Harlan.

“What are you doing?” He asked her.

“She’s pussying out,” Judah said.

“From what?”

“We’re gonna take the money,” Josiah said.

“From the lock-in?”

“Sure as shit. Five bucks a person—what is that 700 bucks?”

Harlan didn’t correct Josiah’s math. He did say, “But this is a lock-in.”

Judah looked like he had just gotten a whiff of Old Lady Lawton. “Yeah, that’s where the money comes from.”

“It’s a lock-in—we’re locked in. They’re gonna know it was one of us.”

Judah shrugged.

“That’s why, I’m getting out of here,” Jodie said. She looked at Harlan, “I almost got the back window open, but it’s painted shut.”

Harlan looked at Judah. “How you gonna do it?”

“You gonna help?” He said.

“Maybe.”

Josiah reached under his sweatshirt. “With this if we have to.”

“Is that a gun?”

“It is,” Jodie said.

Harlan stepped back toward the door, shocked at the full brunt of the sort of deadly stupidity found only in a boy so poor that in third grade he had to wear a blue Goodwill shirt with Debbie written across the front.

“Where you goin’?” Josiah asked.

“Making sure no one was at the door.”

“So, you in?”

Jodie sighed and disappeared behind the shelves.

“I am—and I have an idea.”

“We’re listening.” Judah said.

“First, give me five bucks.”

“What the fuck for?” Josiah asked.

“It’s my five bucks. And I’m helping you, right? So, I’ll get a cut. Part of my cut should be my own five bucks.”

The Mayhairs looked at each other. Judah shoved a hand into his peg-legged jeans and pulled out a crumpled 5 dollar bill. “Here,” he said.

“So what’s your plan?”

“A hostage?”

“One of the little ones?” Judah asked.

“No. Each other.”

The Mayhairs were confused.

“The money will be like a ransom.”

They nodded.

“But you don’t want to accidently shoot someone else, right.”

Josiah shrugged.

“If it goes badly, that’s get us all more time…in jail.”

They nodded again, vigorously.

Harlan looked at Judah. “If you’re the hostage, and we do get caught, you won’t press charges against your brother, right?”

Josiah eyeballed his brother.

“No, ‘course not,” Judah said.

“So, no of us will be in real trouble.”

They nodded…again. “So, what do you do?”

“I’ll stay here with your sister.”

Now, they both eyeballed Harlan.

“To get the window open—escape route.”

“Oh, okay.”

Harlan opened the door a hair. “Now, get going.”

When the Mayhair brothers disappeared through the door, Harlan locked it and leaned his head against it. He exhaled and tried to stop his leg from quivering.

“You’re not as smart as you think,” Jodie said.

“No?” Harlan stared at the grain in the door. A thick run of stain over a knot in the cheap wood looked like a face.

“They’re just that stupid.”

“Yeah,” Harlan said. “You know, we’ll have to explain what we were doing in here.”

“You got something in mind?”

“I do,” Harlan said.

“Is it making out?”

Harlan closed his eyes again and prayed for the second time that night—Thank you, Jesus. “It is,” he said, turning around.

February 15, 2010

I Hate The Snow, But I Like Black Christmas


Today, I join the crew over at Let's Kill Everybodyin their attempt to review every single slasher film in existence.

So, check mine out here.

Then go rent Black Christmas (1974). Or buy it.

But please, please, skip the remake.

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