February 27, 2011

Scarry Night Challenge

Below is my entry for Patti Abbott's Scarry Night Challenge. For details go here. For the other entries, go here

For my story, keep reading...

The Pit

The tall man with the weak shoulders raised the hatchback, stooped into the car, caught her dark eyes in the rearview and said, “You sure about this?”

“Is there a problem? I filled out the paperwork and passed the home inspection.”

“There’s no problem.” He shook his head and then stopped abruptly. “If you’re sure. I mean, you’ve seen him though, right?”

“I paid the money didn’t I?”

“Alright, then.” He straightened and whistled. The rear door to the vet’s office opened and two techs lead the pit bull outside. One held the thick, mesh leash taunt while the other put himself between animal and parking lot. When they reached the car, the tall man giddy-upped. After the pit jumped into the back, he slammed the hatch.

She lowered the window. “We done?”

All three nodded.

“Thanks,” she said. The pit pressed his scarred muzzle against the glass, watching them as she pulled away.


She waited for 3E to unlock her door and grocery-bag home before opening the entrance. The dog followed, walking slowly by her side, pacing her down the hallway. He sniffed the door while she unlocked her three locks. When she pushed it open, he looked up at her for the first time since the vet. His black eyes were expressionless. Hollow.

She breathed quietly and said, “Go on.” Make sure it's safe, she thought.

He did and she followed.

She shut the door, locked it, and unhooked the leash from his wide collar. Once free, he sat with rump pressed against the door. He made a noise she didn’t understand. She draped his lead on the coat rack.

She clucked her tongue. The dog didn’t move. She watched him for some sign of fear or aggression. Nothing.

She chanced a touch. It was slight. Just a brief brush against a ragged ear nub. His jowls raised and revealed sharp, yellow teeth. The brindle fur rippled down his broad, meaty back. Her hand hovered. The dog’s nose quivered. He stilled and she petted him again, firmer, running her hand up and down his back, over fur, skin, thick scars, and uneven muscle bulge.

“You hungry?”

The dog stood, stacked and entered the living room. She resisted the urge to watch, to follow, to make sure. Instead, she entered the cramped kitchen to prepare his food. Yesterday, she had divided the 40 lbs bag into individual servings. She filled the deep, metal bowl with kibble and opened one of the cans. She spooned the wet pungent mass on top of the dry food, mixing both before sitting the bowl down on the puckered linoleum.

She turned and found the dog watching. “Food,” she said.

The pit sniffed.

She sat at the kitchen table and opened her purse. She lit a cigarette. Reached over and closed the long vertical blinds that hung over the backdoor. When she looked back, the dog stood over the bowl. “Go ahead,” she said.

He looked at her, at his food, then back at her. His eyes narrowed. She nodded. He lowered his head and ate loudly.

She worked the mace out of her pocket, sat it by the cigarettes, and removed the gun from her purse. She checked the safety. Still locked. She dragged twice and dropped her cigarette into her breakfast Coke can.

The dog twitched and growled when she walked around him. She ignored him and went down the hall to the bathroom. The pit’s feeding echoed through the small apartment like some ancient beast in a distant cave.

She sat the gun on top of the toilet, turned on the water and fished for a clean towel under the sink. She hung it over the shower and pushed the door closed with her foot. She waited for the mirror to steam over before she undressed.

She stared at the white towel rack as she stripped, avoiding sight of her own body.

The dog nosed the door open.

Breath caught in her chest. Her tummy tightened and quivered, gooseflesh raising with the light, downy hair on her arms.

The pit didn’t seem bothered by what he saw. He wagged his tail stump and cautiously, paw by paw, nail click by nail click, entered.

She reached over him and pushed the door closed. He sniffed her foot. Slowly, she lowered her hand. He licked her arm, rough tongue against her own raised scar. She said, very quietly, “I really don’t mind the scars.”

His head tilted in reply.

“Yours, I mean.”

He tilted the other direction.

“Do you?”

The pit blinked and brushed past her, circling the rug twice before collapsing with a heavy sigh. She took that as a yes. For once, for the first time in a long time, it was enough and brought some comfort.

February 26, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: Tending Bar

The Corner Bistro is still standing. In 1973-1974, you could find Shane Stevens there at night, tending bar. It still looks rough, but my understanding from the person I spoke with, is that back then it was even rougher.

I wonder if he's been back? The Bistro's claim to fame is that it's supposed to have the best hamburgers in New York City.

February 19, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: The Anvil Chorus

The Anvil Chorus is a chilling police procedural set in Paris and the final novel to appear under his own name. It's a brilliantly paced study of obsession and revenge as Inspector Cesar Dreyfus investigates the brutal murder of a former Nazi war-criminal and confronts the true face of evil.

Coming off the big payday of By Reason of Insanity, Stevens researched the book in Paris, working closely with members of The Criminal Investigation Department to keep the police work authentic and interviewing several famous Nazi Hunters in his unending quest to understand evil and the price of power.

Paris has been the one place I haven't been able to track him.

Maybe someday.

February 18, 2011

Drapes vs. Squares

This past Saturday, one of our favorite local bands performed at The Player’s Pub. I’ve dug the
Swingrays and their rockabilly sound for years. The guys have tremendous stage presence, know how to get a crowd energized and play a nice mixture of original material and covers. Long before Maria and I were ever married we spent many a Monday at The Bluebird during Cigartini Night.

Maria has always taken going out seriously, especially when weather and other circumstances prevent her from going anywhere other than the grocery store for almost two weeks. Preparing to go out is a ritualized process that takes a good deal of time and preparation. Saturday, while she was getting ready, we streamed the John Waters’ film, Cry-Baby.

Cry-Baby is Waters’ spoof of 50s era teenage rocksploitation flicks. Johnny Depp plays Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, a bad boy greaser (called Drapes in the film) who’s been raised by his aunt and uncle after both his parents were sent to the electric chair. One day at school, Walker falls for Alison Vernon-Williams, a cute Square girl. Somehow Walker convinces Alison’s grandmother to let Alison accompany him back to Turkey Point. This enrages Alison’s boyfriend, Baldwin. He descends on the Drape’s hangout spot with a gang of Squares. A massive brawl ensues that, of course, ends up sending Walker to prison.

Further complications keep our couple apart before everyone sings their way to a happy ending. A jealous Drape girl pretends she’s having a Walker’s baby. Alison goes back to Baldwin before realizing how much she loves Cry-baby. There’s a jailbreak and a dangerous game of chicken with Walker and Baldwin rooftop riding on hotrods.

I’ve never particularly cared for musicals. Something about breaking into song at random intervals has always bugged me. It ruins any sense of immersion I have in the narrative. And yes, I know that’s the point. Musicals operate in a reality where singing is the norm and the songs are as integral to the narrative as the dialogue. I know that; it just doesn’t work for me.

But I don’t mind it in Cry-Baby for some reason. Maybe it’s because of the types of songs. I’ve always liked rockabilly. To me it’s the epitome of cool and one of the few things my father and I have in common. Though, I suppose it could be the comedic aspects. I’m more than familiar with the type of films Waters’ is spoofing and know that I’m not expected to accept the musical world of Drapes vs. Squares with any sort of conviction.

There is one thing that I’ve never understood about the film. Sure, I know girls like bad boys and you can't help who you love. But why does Cry-Baby Walker fall for Alison Vernon Williams when he could easily date fellow Drape gangmember, Wanda Woodward?

I mean sure, Alison Vernon-Williams is cute and all. Who doesn't like ponytails and bobby socks.

But I mean, come on now. Wouldn't you choose Wanda Woodward over a poodle skirt? Is just me? Is it?

February 13, 2011

The Personal Lives of Authors

It's no secret that I've been working on a lengthy non-fiction piece about Shane Stevens. I'm finally nearing the close and trying to sum up my thoughts on what I've learned about one of my favorite writers.

This got me wandering something. You see, the more I've learned about Shane Stevens, as a person, the more I've grown to like him and respect him. What about you?

Is there an author you liked even more when you learned about about them as an individual?

An author you liked less?

February 12, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: All Power To All The People

Shane Stevens' signature on the letter where he finally addresses his view of race, politics, and the perception that he pretends to be black.

"All power to all the people"

February 11, 2011

New Coat of Paint

In preparation for "Down By The Water" appearing in Kung-fu Factory, I've done some re-tooling over at The Dogfight.

You should check it out and maybe even re-read what's come previous in preparation for the 13th chapter.

The Dogfight

February 9, 2011

Blame Netflix For My Tina Fey Obsession

Maria had been trying to convince me to accept the free trial of Netflix for months. “They give you a month free,” she’d tell me. “You can stream moves instantly across the Playstation and its only $8 a month to keep it.”

It all sounded good, but I kept putting her off. Since we live in the boonies I was expecting a long download time, poor picture quality, and sputtering playback. All for a poor collection of viewing options.

When the weathermen predicated the Great Snowpocalypse of 2011, knowing we’d be homebound for a while, I finally caved and discovered my expectations were unnecessarily low. Netflix “retrieves” your pick fairly quickly. The picture quality has been good. Every now and again, it’s been a little pixilated during the first few seconds, but it clears up quickly (probably our poor internet connection). The playback has never been jumpy.

The big surprise has been the options of things I can watch. Currently, and much to Maria’s chagrin, I have things like Hickey & Boggs, Breakheart Pass, The Bodyguard (the Thai Action/Comedy, not the Kevin Costner movie), classic episodes of Doctor Who in my part of the instant queue.

And all the Tina Fey 30 Rock I can find
Because Netflix has been feeding this tendency I have to obsess over things. Oh do they have that movie? What about that movie? I almost forgot about that movie, do they have it? For the last two days, I've been obsessed over Tina Fey 30 Rock. She's cute It's funny. She librarian sexy Its such a quirky show. Luckily, there aren't that many seasons of the show, so I should be over my  Tina Fey 30 Rock obsession shortly.

As soon as I'm done, I think I'll try to write something.

Maybe something about a woman who wears glasses...?

February 5, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: Harlem

With the lack of readily available information about Shane Stevens, I've been looking for clues in his books themselves. One of the main things I wanted to know is why a white guy grew up in Harlem.

Does this passage from Go Down Dead offer a clue:

Nobody here like the whites. They was a white family move in over on Fifth avenue over Stevens bar.

February 3, 2011

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

The wife and I have been watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Created by Steven S. DeKnight and produced by Sam Rami, the show is a Starz’s attempt to compete with the original programming consistently drawing viewers to HBO and SHOWTIME.

The first series focuses on the early life of Spartacus, prior to the more “documented” events surrounding his slave rebellion against the Roman Empire. The show opens with Spartacus as an unnamed Thracian allied with Roman forces to push back the invading Getae. When the commanding officer, Legatus Glaber, breaks the promises he made to secure Thracian aid and orders his combined forces toward an entirely different war on an entirely different front, Spartacus refuses.

His refusal ignites the rest of the Thracians. They turn on their Roman masters, attack Glaber and retreat back to their lands, hoping to return before the Getae can rape and pillage with abandon. Spartacus arrives in enough time to save his wife, Sura, but not their home. His village burns. His people’s blood wets the surrounding earth.

Desperate, he and his wife flee.

They outrun the Getae hordes, but cannot escape Glaber. As punishment, the Legatus sentences Sura to slavery and Spartacus to execution. The Thracian "traitor" will face four gladiators in the Arena. Death by spectacle.

And so, Glaber unknowingly sets a man on his path to becoming a legend.

On first impression, the show was…okay. The first two episodes were shallow. The writing was weak. The focus was all gore and sex. Fighters spit blood and teeth. Severed limbs flail while stumps gush. Blades split heads wide, revealing quivering skull-meat. The sexual content is just as explicit with full frontal nudity from both sexes and frequent simulated-sex shot from “tasteful foreign film angles”. I don’t mind either one of those as long as there’s enough depth in the material to give them the punch they should carry.

The cinematography and the acting were really the two things that kept us watching. The show obviously doesn’t have the budget of a blockbuster film and for some reason American productions never allot enough time for action choreography. Spartacus gets around that. The show is shot with a nice mixture of real sets and digital effects. The fight scenes are heavily stylized and visually stunning. 300 is probably the closest comparison, but I think Spartacus succeeds where the big screen Frank Miller adaptation failed.

The cast is exceptional. John Hannah is wonderful as Batiatus, the owner of the gladiator school with dreams of greater glory. He relishes his role and stops just sort of chewing scenery while delivering easily the best lines of the entire series. Lucy Lawless sheds Xena for good, delivering a nuanced performance as Lucretia, Batiatius’s wife. She’s a regal woman who supports her husband by any means necessary, yet she’s desperately in the love with one of the gladiators and underneath her polished exterior she's terrified that she will remain childless as middle age approaches. Somehow, Andy Whitfield manages to be a vulnerable badass, a naive and world weary Spartacus.

This may not sound like enough reason to keep watching, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The writing finds its voice around episode three and the show never lets up. The dialogue improves. The characterization remains solid and consistent, nothing wish-washy in order to artificially create drama. The pacing is always perfect. The plotting ingenuous.

After finishing Season 1, if I had to fault the show with anything at all, it would be the continued reliance on gore and sex. Even with stellar writing, at times, it feels a little forced as if inserted by rote and mandated by producer edict. One particular episode, "The Thing in the Pit", almost carried the gore a little too far. But overall, it's a minor quip compared to everything else.

You can purchase it fairly reasonably on Amazon or stream it on Netflix like we did while trapped in the Snowpocalypse of 2011.

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