June 27, 2011


I've been working on two stories that I'm excited about. Think both are good ideas. Think I've executed what I was trying to do fairly well. The problem is: I'm stuck.

Stuck on plotting.

I had no idea how either one would end when I started writing them. I hoped as I wrote I'd figure all that out, answer all the unanswered questions. I bounced back and forth between them whenever I came to a tough spot and they were just flying along.

Now both are grounded and I have absolutely no idea how to bring either one to a close. This is especially frustrating because one of them is a mystery—not a crime story, an actual mystery with clues and a puzzle to unravel.

What do you do? How do you get through this? How do you move forward? Sometimes, I think it would be easier if I were an outliner or hardcore plotter who knew exactly what was going to happen before I ever sat down at the keyboard. Neither of those work for me. I think, I mull over, and then I go. Usually, it all works out.

June 25, 2011

Elegy for April

Found this at the library booksale this past Thursday. I'm not familiar with Black's work or the work he does under his real name, John Banville. I love the cover image and the title. The premise appeals to me: a man helping his daughter search for her missing friend. It seems, at first glance anyway, to be a crime novel that's not just about the crime.

Those are my favorite kind and I'm looking forward to starting it next week.

Anyone out there read Black before?

June 22, 2011

The Playboy Club

The obvious inspiration from Mad Men.

NBC has been running a trailer for a new fall show called The Playboy Club. Set in Chicago during the early 1960s, it centers on the employees of, you guessed it, The Playboy Club. It vibes Mad Men—slick hair, thin ties, neat suits, drinks, cigarettes, coifed girls. A vibe even more blatant thanks to the Mad Men episode that featured the New York Playboy Club and introed Lane Price’s “chocolate bunny”— a plot that just sort of trailed away (Mad Men always lets the racial plotlines peter out). NBC’s teaser trailer suggests big money, easy cash, murder, girls in skimpy outfits and illicit sex—as tawdry as network television can get away with.

NBC is desperate to try to recapture viewers after the Leno debacle and this makes it clear. It’s like they’re  screaming—

“Look! It’s like Mad Men!”

“There are hot girls in skimpy outfits! Bunny outfits!”

“Look! It’s different than Mad Men! There’s crime! Maybe even murder!”

I realize I haven’t actually seen the show yet, but it irks me. Not for being tawdry or even being connected to a “porno” mag. Not even for how blatantly it’s attempting to draw the audience of AMC’s big gun.

This show bothers me for two connected reasons:

  1. It’s blatant advertising for Playboy. I’m certain the use of the club was approved by Heffner and all scripts will be screened by Playboy Execs just like the scripts to their so-called “reality show,” The Girls Next Door. As desperate as NBC is for viewers, Heffner is more desperate to keep his over-priced and dull magazine featuring his decades long obsession with young blonde girls relevant in a society that now has naked women at their fingertips thanks to the world's largest porno-emporium—the internet.
  2. It’s not going to deal in any way, shape, or form with what it was really like to work at a Playboy Club (see 1).
I think it’s sad when corporate ass-kissing dictates entertainment—not just sad, it pisses me off. Am I the only one who ever read Gloria Steinem’s article “I Was A Playboy Bunny”?

If you haven’t, you should. You’ll quickly see what I’m referring to. Regrettably, I couldn’t find the article online, so, I’ll settle for this excerpt from Gloria Steinem: A Biography by Patricia Cronin Marcello, “…she wrote in diary form that her feet ached like rotten teeth and were swollen so much that she could not get her shoes on. Each night that she served her own station, she traveled between tables and bar 16 times an hour on average, and on the first night alone had had three drinks spilled down her back. She had lost 10 pounds and was paid for the nights she had waited a station, but not for her work in the checkroom, as the club considered that part of her unpaid training. Her first week’s wages amounted to $35.90 after taxes.”

$35.90 after taxes? There’s some glamour for you and that’s just the dull, working grind part of it. For a glimpse at the misogyny, the racism and the unfair treatment, look at this youtube clip as Steinem recalls her experiences.

Now, go read, the Bunny Manual for a detailed explanation of how the club ran your life if you were “good enough” to be chosen as a Bunny.

Okay, finished?

Now, go to your local library and check out a copy of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions to read the full text of what she went through when she worked for Playboy.
Does this look like a "drama" to you?

I doubt we’ll see any of that in this so-called “period drama confronting society’s changing sexuality” — usually bullshit tv code for soap operaesque affairs, sexy lipstick lesbians, and maybe some hot swingers. It’s a shame because I think it would be fairly easy to keep this same premise and truly deal with some things like sexuality, actual changing societal norms, misogyny, and racism while still managing to be entertaining.

There is a place for pure fun and escapism, for lite fair. That’s fine. I do like that too; I really do. There’s nothing wrong with watching some hot people do bad things. I just find it abhorrent when you knowing turn away from the opportunity for more depth and then don’t even have the nerve to cop to what kind of show your making.

Most of all, I guess, it’s a little disappointing to see another instance of women being reduced to meat. This isn't me being a prude. I'm not afraid of sexuality. (In fact, I think it's just as repulsive that a Salt Lake City affiliate of NBC is refusing to air the show because of its "sexual content" — not the type of sexual content, mind you, but sexual content in general.) I don't think a woman has to pretend she's not an attractive and sexual being to be a "strong woman." I just think our portrait of women in entertainment has been very piss-poor of late with the prevalence of reality shows. Those programs not only aggrandize the worst in human behaviors, but they giving an entire generation the idea that women are either drunk, dumb whores or manipulative, dumb whores,  I'd like to see some strong, female characters on television; vibrant women in charge of their lives and their bodies and their sexuality.

June 20, 2011

Full Gallop

The winning stories in this year's Watery Grave Invitational have all been posted now:

To read mine, go here

To read Eric Beetner's 2nd place story, go here

To read Chris La Tray's 1st place story, go here

Again, for a full list of entries, go here


Also, today, you can find my contribution to Patti Abbott's How I Came To Write This Story series. I tell you more than you ever wanted to know about how I came up with the idea behind "Six Bullets For John Carter." If you're interested, you can find that here.


June 19, 2011

Watery Grave Invitational Winners

The Watery Grave Invitational Winners were announced today.

Congrats to Chris and Eric on first and second place. I managed third for the second year in a row. I am, if nothing else, consistent.

June 17, 2011

Blue World

See what I mean?

I’ve been re-reading Robert McCammon’s Blue World. It collects twelve short stories and a lengthy novella for which the collection is named. It’s not even close to compiling all his short works, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality, representing the amazing breadth of his fiction. Sure, there’s some horror standards here and a couple of straightforward terror tales, but McCammon’s ability to write engaging introspection and tap into our shared human experience elevates even his most trite plots.

However, the true standouts are when he abandons familiar horror territory and finds his own path.

“Nightcrawlers” opens in rural Alabama during a raging thunderstorm. A Vietnam Vet stops at a roadside diner for a few moments of shelter and a cup of coffee to keep him awake. Staying awake is very important. Bad things happen when he falls asleep—terrible and unbelievable things.

“Chico” is a sad tale of a special needs child’s quiet revenge against his mother’s boyfriend, the latest in a string of abusers.

“Night Calls The Green Falcon” is an adventure story broken into ten chapters, each with a daring cliffhanger. Years ago, Cray Flint was an all-star athlete recruited by the Hollywood serials to play a masked avenger named The Green Falcon. Now, he’s a nobody, a has-been who lives in a flophouse. His only friend is the young girl next door, a runaway who prostitutes herself to feed her drug addiction. When he witnesses her murder, he knows no one else will care about her death. Cray does the only thing he can think of—he dons his faded costume and sets out into the heart of the crime-ridden city to find her killer.

“Blue World” is a character-driven, crime thriller. Father John Lancaster understood life and his place in it until a porn star came to his confessional. Lancaster falls in love with the tragic beauty and to save her from a deranged killer intent on carving her up, he must battle his baser desires and descend into world darker than he ever imagined.

There’s some good stuff here and some great stuff. My only complaint about the book is the cover: a full moon and clouds above a cemetery, ugly grave stones, and a gargoyle statue come to life. The title and author are written in spoooooky script. Everything is tinged blue and the gargoyle looks like a deformed midget.

It's a shame. I hope it doesn't turn you off from giving the collection a try if you've never read McCammon. I'm not certain whether it's still in print, but I would be surprised if it wasn't readily available on the cheap from somewhere like Amazon. If nothing else, you can visit his website: http://www.robertmccammon.com/. There you can read both "Nightcrawlers" and "Night Calls The Green Falcon" for free.

June 14, 2011

Fear and Old Friends

Until a couple of months ago, I was a voracious reader who devoured up to two novels a week. Recently, I’ve been lucky to eek out a book a month. There’s just too much going on. Some of it, I’ve talked about. Some of it, I haven’t. Some of it, I can’t. All of it, however, has left me tired and with very little free time. The extra grains I wring from the hourglass go to either writing or sleep.

I have a confession to make. I actually don’t buy a lot of brand-new books. I don’t. I think they’re too expensive in pretty much every format. The only new books I buy are from authors I know I like. Instead, for new fiction I rely on the library.

The problem is—I’ve had to return things before getting to finish them or I’ve kept them out too long. Both of which make me feel bad. It’s silly, I know, but it’s the way it is. Part of it is my over-developed sense of fairness—which often gets me in trouble. Another part of it is just the nature of suffering. I'll skip a large part of the Buddhist philosophying and just focus on the role of fear. Krishnamurti said,

"Fear is always in relation to something; it does not exist by itself. There is fear of what happened yesterday in relation to the possibility of its repetition tomorrow; there is always a fixed point from which relationship takes place. How does fear come into this? I had pain yesterday; there is the memory of it and I do not want it again tomorrow."

Fear of the other things I've been going through was turning something that should be no big deal into another source of stress. I should recognize that my reading slowing down was nothing to worry about. It wasn't indictative of anything other than a lack of time and being tired. It too, like everything else, is transient.

Sometimes it's easier said than done. Since I have absolutely no control over either Maria's health or my job stress, I decided to exercise control over this. To combat it, to regain control of my thoughts, I decided not to pick up anything new from the library. I own a ton of books. These are books I know I like, that I’ll enjoy reading again, and won’t have to finish or return by a certain date.

Stress eliminated.

The question was—what do I read?

I scanned my shelves. That’s when I remembered Robert McCammon.
Robert McCammon

I don’t know if you do. McCammon was a part of the horror boom that gave us Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and a host of others now mostly forgotten now. McCammon’s first horror novel, Baal, was published in 1978. It sold well and he followed it up with two more books, both written and published in 1980—The Night Boat and Bethany’s Sin. Those three set him off on a very successful career.

McCammon was always my favorite from that period. His fiction always felt far more human and genuine than the aw-shucks act King drags out over hundreds of bloated pages; not to mention, he’s a much better plotter. His Bram Stoker winning novel, Swan Song, is often compared to The Stand, but McCammon's is a better book. Both the good and the evil feel far more real than King's heroes and villains. Plus, there's no literal hand of God coming down to save the day.

I realized a long time ago that Koontz just keeps confronting the same theme over and over again with the same characters dressed in new skins. His attempts at nostalgia and introspection, at all those big things literary fiction attempts to claim as its sole possession (love, hope, loyalty, despair, death, regret), don’t compare to the briefest of McCammon’s genuinely moving passages.

And Barker? While Barker is capable of works of stunning and imaginative brilliance, he’s also capable of writing some dull and long-winded, pseudo-intellectual garbage that’s about as appealing as giving yourself papercuts on your tongue before drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade. McCammon’s never written a bad book. Not all of them are brilliant, but none of them are bad.

The extraordinary thing about McCammon, besides writing and publishing two well-written horror novels in a year, was that his first book published was the first book he ever wrote. (Take a minute to let that sink in—the first book he ever wrote was the first book he ever published. No trunk full of failed attempts. No boxes of rejected manuscripts. He decided to write a book and it was published—done deal.) If you read those first four books you can see him figuring out how to focus his raw talent…while getting paid.

Yeah, I know.

The sad thing is talent proved to be his downfall.

You see, as McCammon learned to control and focus those gifts, his work drifted away from straight horror. I would never call Mine a horror novel, even though I remember it being billed as one. Boy’s Life (one of my all time favorites and a book that every father should read to his son) is a genre onto itself—unless Dandelion Wine is a genre. In 1992, after the publication of Gone South, McCammon fully turned his attention to something different. He began researching and writing a lengthy historical mystery called Speaks The Nightbird. It should have been his best book to date, instead it was the first book no one wanted. He was supposed to be the horror guy. The horror guy shouldn’t be writing historical mysteries set during Colonial times.

So, that was it. He retired. He was done with being told what he should be writing. It’s my understanding, too, he was exhausted and burned out. He missed spending time with friends and, most importantly of all, his family. McCammon wanted to assume a more active role in raising his daughter.

Thankfully, it wasn’t forever. Almost ten years after he wrote it, Speaks the Nightbird finally saw publication; first in limited edition, then in a larger mass-market run. It sold well. Well enough there is now a series featuring Matthew Corbett, apprentice problem solver in Colonial America.

The Corbett books are good. Like I said, McCammon hasn’t written a bad book ever; they’re just not my thing. I can’t say there's anything wrong about them. I can’t. I just don’t really care for that sort of fiction. If you like richly detailed, character-driven historical mysteries than you need to go read them.

He's back now and last month, McCammon released a modern novel, The Five. But I don't need to worry about that now. I've got Baal, The Night Boat, Bethany's Sin, Mystery Walk, Usher's Passing, Swan Song, Stinger, The Wolf's Hour, Blue World, Mine, Boy's Life, and Gone South. They're old friends. And old friends never let you down.

June 9, 2011

Crime Factory: The First Shift

I'm in this.
Looking forward to this finally hitting the shelves.

Though it's been a long time since I wrote or read "The Method." Hopefully, it's not too embarassing.

June 8, 2011

Ideas Are Like Girls

These girls are catty.

Just got back from my lunch break.

What I do is: I cut through the alley across the street from People's Park, stop in the little co-op grocery store that hides back there, and head over to the Public Library. There's some stone benches in the northeast corner with a decent amount of shade, depending on the time of day. I camp out, eat, read, smoke a cigarette (I'll quit soon I promiseit's the one vice I have left) and attempt to unclutter the brain mess.

After finishing and sending off my entry for the Watery Grave Invitational, I quickly went back to work on two pieces I had started just prior. Alternating between the two has worked out well so far. I hit a wall on one and I jump to the other. I've been producing a decent word count on something every day without getting bogged down in my own headspace, angsting about word choice, plot points, or structure.

The problem hit yesterday. I was mulling some things over and smack-boom-banga brand-spanking new idea!

It's a good idea. It's clever. It offers some mileage  and I think more than a little bit of originality. I'm excited about starting work on it, but I'm already working on somethingtwo somethingsand I'm resisting the urge to jump ship and hop on board the shiny, new one.

It's hard.

Does this happen to you? To everybody? And if so, why?

Why are ideas like girls? You like them. You want them around even if you don't really know what to do with them. You certaintly don't understand them and, worst of all, they don't want anything to do with you until they see you with another one.

June 7, 2011


I’m certain we all have stalled pieces. Stories that never went anywhere. Unfinished novellas. Maybe two or three first acts of a novel. You know what I’m talking about—those great ideas you could never get to gel no matter how hard you tried and how many times you wrote and rewrote.

Do they ever go anywhere? For you, I mean. Has anyone ever gone back to one of those promising but unfortunate false starts and picked it up again and started writing and everything just clicks and you’re thinking, Holy shit, why didn’t I think of this the first time?

This morning I was paging through the file folder where I keep all the stillborns. I read a couple here and there (they still frustrate) and it occurred to me—I don’t think I ever have gone back to one of these successfully. I couldn't think of a single thing I’ve consigned to that region of hard drive hell that's ever made it back out for another breath. I usually chalk it up to my own inexperience; the idea is great but I’m just not the writer I need to be to pull it off successfully—yet.

Now I wonder if maybe it’s not that at all, if some things just never come to fruitition.

June 3, 2011

Excerpts From A Fractured Mind

For better or for worse, my Watery Grave Invitational story, went out today after a final read through. We'll see what happens. I have mixed feelings about it, honestly. I usually do about pretty much everything I write, so that's nothing new.

However, what really struck me this time as I waited for that little attachment bar is how strange it actually feels when you send something out. I'd never really thought about it before. All these conflicting emotions: excitement, fear, pride, relief, apathy, worry...

It's one of those moments I don't think they really talk about in creative writing courses or how-to books.


Anyone else think China "not" hacking Google has anything do with all the problems people have had with Blogger and Gmail?


I really appreciate everyone's thoughts and well wishes on yesterday's post. I do, I really do. I don't share those type of things often. Despite being here on Blogger, over on Facebook, and showing up on Twitter, I've really never been a social butterfly. I tend to keep things to myself.

But, at the risk of starting a trend or giving away too much of my politics/religion/philosophy/code--it's nice to be reminded that we are, in fact, all in this together.


A Noiseless Patient Spider
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them. 

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

June 2, 2011

A Personal Post

My wife is blind in her left eye.

She’s been that way since she was a little girl when she lost her sight due to an illness. The procedure to save the eye itself left the pupil misshapen. I don’t think you notice it unless you look close. Even then the difference is so slight most people just think she has really interesting eyes.

I still do and I know the truth.

About two years ago, she started having terrible headaches. The headaches were centered on her left eye. Eventually the eye began to hurt. We went to see a specialist in Bloomington. He examined her, ran a number of tests and discovered the pressure was off the charts. High enough that if it kept rising her eye would burst. The doctor prescribed a retinue of eye drops and referred us to another specialist in Indianapolis.

It was expensive. We didn’t have insurance. At the job I had, insurance was so cost prohibitive that I would have been working just to pay for it. I didn’t care about the money though. I just wanted my wife to be healthy.

Finally, after more visits and more tests and even more eye drops, her pressure finally came down. Along the way, we discovered why she had lost her sight in her left eye. Both her parents are dead, have been for some time, so we never knew the culprit. Turns out, her mother gave her an infection in the womb that eventually attacked her eye.

For some time now, she’s been okay. She sees the specialist in Bloomington several times a year to ensure the pressure doesn’t get out of hand. I have another job now, a better job, one with insurance I can actually afford. The cost is not longer a burden.

Everything was fine until a month ago.

Her right eye, her good eye, the one with sight, began to hurt. Then it was headaches and feeling dizzy a lot. Finally, came the floaters—little swirling motes of black that blurred her vision.

The Bloomington doctor got her in quick, ran a host of tests and couldn’t find a cause.

Back to the specialist in Indy. He examined her good eye and he couldn’t find anything wrong. He couldn’t discern a single reason for this eye to sudden start troubling her. He suspected a return of the original infection, but prescribed a whole range of new tests for her to have done at the hospital.

I’d never heard of most of them. Apparently, the hospital hadn’t either. They had to look them up before beginning the blood work and running the scans.

The worst part was the waiting. For some things, I have the patience of Job. I shit you not. I can wait out almost anything with a calmness that’s often alarming. But this? Waiting on tests results to come back? This was a fucking nightmare.

Last week, my wife called me in tears. The doctor had called. The results had come back. She tested positive for some form of Vasculitis. Now that he knew what to look for, the specialist scheduled a follow-up appointment for this week.

On Tuesday, I worked a half-day and drove her up to Indy. They took her eye pressure and injected her with a dye so they could look at the entire eyescape in detail. Thankfully, her eye appears to be healing. He couldn’t see any lasting damage or anything that would require surgery. She’s to continue her current prescriptions for the next 6 weeks and then follow-up with her doctor here in town.

The bad news is that the most likely culprit is Behcet’s disease. Sometimes referred to as “The Silk Road Disease” due to its prevalence in areas surrounding the ancient trade routes and its rarity here in the United States, it carries a whole host of terrible symptoms she has not experienced. We won't know if she will until she’s able to see the rheumatologist.

My wife has been devastated. She’s frightened and scared. She’s afraid of becoming very sick. She’s afraid of hurting. She’s afraid of dying.

Last night she was mad at me. She didn’t think I was taking this seriously. She didn’t think I was worried. She didn’t think I was scared.

But I am.
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