Thursday, June 30, 2011

16335--In Warm Blood (Ch. 3)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.


Chapter 3

I realized a few months ago that it didn’t matter how much I tipped Fred, he was still going to snarl when I had him bring my car around to the front door. He just made you want to bottle him…and then cork the bottle and toss it in the ocean.

Saturday afternoons around my office, the streets were nearly deserted so finding a parking spot was easy when I arrived with my new entourage. It was different to look around and see the brick and glass and pavement with only about a hundred people in view instead of thousands walking and driving by. It was like looking at a familiar room with all the furniture removed.

The newsstand and the alley were less than a block away. As I parked the car near the door of my office building, looking through the light pedestrian traffic, I could actually see the little wooden shelter, surrounded by stacks of magazines and newspapers. Across the street was Good Eats Diner. It was probably the best food you could find…for the price…within two blocks. It’d do for what I needed. “Right there, DeBeers,” I told him, pointing out the diner.

“DeBrave! Forget it. Just call me ‘Homer.’”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s my name.”

“Oh, parents lost a bet, huh?”

He sighed and asked, “That place? Best coffee in town, huh?”

“Best around here,“ I said. “Mention my name, they‘ll treat you…Better yet--”

“I’ll manage,” Homer said. “Try to stay in sight, huh?”

“We will, mom,” I taunted him.

Overknight was watching every person around us on the sidewalk as I walked toward the newsstand. For a second, by the look on her face, I thought she might ventilate a couple of surly looking brutes we brushed past, but she kept her gun holstered. As we got to the first stack of newspapers, I noticed a scruffy punk leaning against the building was staring a hole through me, then nodded at me and shuffled down the alley. I looked over the menagerie of folk milling about and quickly settled on an ugly pair of customers perusing the reading materials at the far end of the stand. They looked potentially suspicious enough to be a good distraction.

“Hey,” I said to Overknight, giving her a nudge as I pretended to look through a magazine, “those two look a little…ogre-ish to you? Maybe troll-y?”

“That’s profiling, Brick,” she said, trying to sound stern and scolding as she eyed them.

“Oh, come on, basic stats out of the Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) say that’s like forty percent of our job, detective,” I said. “It saves a lot of time. Besides, the one on the left is giving me the stink-eye.”

She sighed and said, “Wait right here,” as she started moving through the crowd.

It was a long, dark alley that looked like the perfect place for a bloody ambush. Even if I’d thought I might need them, there wouldn’t have been any subtle way for me to get the night vision goggles from the trunk of the Charger. If I’d had the brain of a cockroach, I wouldn’t have walked in there, but I’d been known for my defiance of better judgment since I‘d started walking. Besides, I was bored and a little walk could really shake things up. On top of that, I really didn‘t want to pass up any shot at a lead on Whitney‘s sniper.

Entering the alley, I saw several shadowy figures moving through the darkness. Moments like that always reminded me that one of the downsides of The City was never knowing just what might be coming at you from the shadows. More importantly, I never knew what might be coming at me. Trolls wouldn’t usually risk daylight. They were too small for ogres, which was good because Ferrari had been rumored to keep a few on his payroll and they were plenty tough. Strong vampires could handle the cloudy day, but they were usually too arrogant to work in packs and even strong ones would be weak in the day. If my luck held, at least they’d be something solid. Solid the .44 could handle, but ducking behind a dumpster still seemed the best idea when a bunch popped out at once and opened fire. They were shooting guns, so that took anything spectral off the list. I wasn’t going to stay parked there all day, though. The smell was too much like the dirty dishes in my kitchen. Those chumps were going to have to be taken out of action. The ricochets were getting closer.

I waited for the idiot squad to realize that I wasn’t shooting back so they’d have to come looking for me. Lured from cover, they’d be easier targets.

“Hey! Stop shootin’. He ain’t movin’,” one of them shouted.

“Maybe we got him,” another said.

“I might’ve got him,” said still another.

“Check him!” the first one said.

I could hear shoes scraping as the wearers crept down the alley. Some of them just sounded like basic leather scuffing along the pavement, but others had a definite metallic quality. That couldn’t have been good.

“Freeze!” Overknight shouted from the mouth of the alley, holding her pistol ahead of her as she stalked my way.

“Surprise, assholes!” I called out, leveling my barrel as I stood up behind the dumpster. “Let’s hear metal on pavement!” I felt a smile of anticipation as my eyes searched the shadowy alley for punks. I felt the smile fade as my eyes saw several pairs of red eyes glowering in the dim light and heard what sounded like the cackling laughter of old men.

“I’ve got your back, Stone,” Overknight said firmly, “but we need to fall back!”

Before I could respond, a heavy iron spear flew past me and stabbed into the ground near Overknight’s feet. I was distracted long enough for another one of them to move in on me. Heavy iron boots suddenly landed atop the dumpster I was using for cover. I looked up and saw a scraggly old guy with a big nose and warts. He couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, wearing a ratty overcoat. He had a lot of curly white hair and beard, staring down at me as he laughed from behind a pair of those red eyes. He was holding another one of those iron spears in clawed hands and it was all topped off with a blood red cap.

“Really? You couldn’t spring for pants?” was all I could ask him. My distraction bought me a solid iron boot to the head, sending me reeling and abusing one of my better private eye hats (standard issue) and my only private eye head. I could feel the Fred Flintstone bump starting to rise.

“Watch out, Stone!” I heard Overknight shout as she started shooting. “They’re red caps!”

As if I couldn’t see that. I dodged a swing from that iron spear as she shot the surly little guy with her revolver. The red cap growled and mumbled something in their cranky old man language that I couldn’t understand, even flinching and acting hurt for a couple of seconds. Still, there was no blood and he kept on coming at me, swinging and stabbing with that spear. Being some sort of goblin, I remembered, they were going to take something extra to put them down. Another spear whizzed by, clattering to the ground behind me as more of the red caps closed in on us. I took a hard clubbing in my left upper arm from a spear swing.

The Lord is my shepherd,” Overknight announced boldly as she quick-marched up on me and my dance partner, “I shall not want!

The red cap shuddered, doubled over in pain and dropped to his knees. Overknight put another round in him as he muttered something, probably about her mother, and popped like a stinky soap bubble.

“Unless you’re packing magic, next best thing’s to quote something scriptural at the nasty little buggers to get rid of them,” Overknight explained. “You OK?”

“Peachy,” I told her, eyeing another red cap. “Where the Hell are their pants?”

“They’re evil fairy-types. I don’t think they have any.”

I noticed a garbage truck turning into the mouth of the alley, coming to claim the dumpster. It was crap timing, but it also meant we needed to press on into the very dark alley.

The next bare-assed red cap came running out of a shadow on a brick wall, iron boots stomping and his coat flying in the breeze. I could’ve gone my whole day without having seen that. “They’re coming through the walls! Or out of some kind of shadow portal! Watch your back!”

The Lord is my shepherd,” Overknight started again, squeezing off another shot and dispatching another red cap.

As a dog returns to his vomit,” I said, blasting at a red cap of my own, “so a fool repeats his folly.

“What was that?” Overknight asked.

“Hey, give a boy a bible,” I smiled, shooting at another one, “and he’s gonna pick out what he likes.”

She actually laughed, then fired and prayed at another goblin. Somebody fired a gun at us again, drawing fire of his own. “Let me eat some of that red stuff,” I called out, cutting down another red cap.

“You’re getting interesting, Stone,” Overknight said, ducking for cover to reload. “You’re twisted, but interesting.”

“I had a Sunday school teacher that knew how to keep kids interested,“ I told her. “All that praying and peace is fine if that’s your thing, but the first half was where the action was.”

“I guess that’s why it’s up front,” she said.

“I was always a sucker for a story with a body count,“ I said, getting a bead on the last couple of red caps. “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart;” I shot one of them in the arm and he dropped his spear, “my heart maketh a noise in me;” punctuated by a gut shot and the little killer dispersed like smoke in a strong wind, making an angry growl as he vanished. “I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard,” the last one was staggering with his clawed hands clamped over his ears as he shook his head violently. “O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.” The red cap dropped to his knees and looked up at me with those evil red eyes. One thunderous shot to the chest and our red cap problem was done.

“That was a mouthful,” she said.

“Yeah, but my friends and I thought it was about farting,” I said with a smile.

“Of course,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Boys.”

“You kiddin’ me? They’re still walkin’. Waste ‘em!” one of the goons shouted, setting off another barrage of gunfire.

Three of them dropped almost immediately as Overknight and I started squeezing off shots with practiced accuracy. It was only a few more seconds until there was only one punk left. He must’ve been one of the smartest of the bunch since he was smart enough to run. Still, he had too low an I.Q. to realize that running away in a dead end alley was a lousy way to escape. It was a short chase, with me reloading as I walked after him. Overknight followed behind me. I could hear her kicking guns away from the bodies as she followed and made sure that each one was dead.

“Stone, you alright?” she called to me as I caught up to the punk.

“Just peachy,” I answered, slapping the cylinder of the magnum back in place and raising the gun to take aim at the clown in front of me. “How are you, clown? Your day not going as planned? Don’t feel bad. Mine isn’t either.”

He ignored me for several seconds, slapping and pounding at the brick wall in front of him. His energy faded with his determination as he seemed to gradually give up on the idea of going through the wall. “You know you’re not a fairy or anything, don’t you? You‘re just a punk sent out to die.”

“A-Are y-y-you gonna kill me?” he asked me, crying a little as he turned to face me.

He looked like he was about to wet himself, but I was too angry to smile about it. “Maybe. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. Why don’t you try cheering me up with some information like you promised on the phone?”

“Y-You wouldn’t kill me, Stone,” he said, falling back against the wall. “You’re one of the good guys.”

“Spill your guts,” I told him, cocking the .44‘s hammer, “or I’ll do it for you.”

“Lady, please!”

“No, undead popping up back there, Stone,” Overknight reported.

The day was looking up.

“Found this, though,” she said, holding up a black metal rod etched with weird symbols as she came up beside me.

The punk’s eyes lit up and he almost reached out for the thick, two-foot rod, but seemed to think better of it as his eyes refocused on my magnum. “May I?” I asked Overknight as I reached out for the rod myself.

“You know what it is?” she asked as I took the object.

“Got an idea,” I said, tapping it once, twice and three times against the brick. After the third tap, a quivering shadowy circle appeared on the wall. It looked like a dark reflecting pool with ripples expanding outward from where someone had dropped a rock. As the ripples oscillated outward from the center, they expanded the circle until I was finally looking at a black circle six feet across. I reached out to tap it, but met nothing, the rod and my hand passing through the plane of the wall into cool emptiness. “Looks like he had a way out of here, after all.”

“Impressive,” Overknight said. “You have questions for this guy?” she asked as she grabbed the guy by the collar and looked him in the eyes. “I’m a cop, Stone. We have procedures, you know.”

“Yeah, procedures,” the punk said.

“So…if you need a few minutes with this wart,” she continued, “I need to go check on my partner and call in an alley full of dead bodies. I need to go count them again and see whether it was five or six.”

Oh, I was starting to like her. I gave him a couple of taps on the skull with the end of my gun barrel and said, “Now, who sent you here? I imagine it was the same bastard that gave you my phone number.”

“I can’t, man, he’ll kill me,” the punk whimpered.

“You think I’m offering you cookies?” I asked him. “Look at your buddies. They went fast. I’m offering you a field test to find out whether you lose blood faster from your colon or the big hole where your kneecap used to be. Or maybe we should find out what happens to your head when I tap this rod on your skull a few times. Something tells me that would be a lot more interesting than anything else you‘ve been using it for. How about only half of you is through this hole when it closes?”

“Alright! Alright! It’s Ferrari! It’s Ferrari!”

“Well, y’see,” I sighed, “I already knew that. Who else cares enough to send me a goblin hit squad? If you want this to be a worthwhile exchange, you need to surprise me. On the phone you mentioned the sniper. What do you know about that? Talk to me.”

“Declan Forester.”

“Forester’s a weaponer, not a killer,” I said. “I can’t see him violating customer privacy for the likes of you.”

“I just overheard him. Another guy was picking up a special order,” the punk said. “I heard him say they were accuser rounds for a rifle. That’s all I know. I swear!”

“Alright, then,” I said, lowering the magnum’s hammer and sliding it back into the holster, “I guess the filthy little S.O.B. gets to live a little longer.”

“Thanks, man. Thank you so much.”

I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his head against the brick wall. “You’re going back to Ferrari,” I told him, “and taking him a message.”

“A m-m-m…”

“Yeah, pass this on,” I said, crushing my knee into his nuts. He doubled over, nauseous and in pain. I let him fall into the filth that was his natural element and said, “Tell him to pray that he makes it to the courtroom because I’m coming for him very, very soon.” The punk curled up, retching and coughing. “And don’t ever let me see you again either or you won’t walk away.” I dropped the rod next to him and walked away.

I didn’t expect I’d see him again. Ferrari was likely to have him dead before sunset. I brushed off my private eye trench coat (standard issue) and walked back up to the mouth of the alley. Homer came walking across the street, sipping from a large foaming coffee cup, to meet me at the newsstand.

“Still breathing, I see,” my bodyguard said. “Did I miss anything?”

“A piece of action pie to go with your unmasculine cup of foam,” I told him. “A chance to weed this fine garden of the bitter fruits that lay waiting in the cold, dark shadows.”

“Stone,” Overknight snapped as she rejoined us, “I understand you’re still determined to conduct business as normally as you can, but if that’s going to include running off into shootouts, you need to speak up ahead of time. Next time the local Idiot Henchmen Union drops by to convince you to make funeral arrangements, you may not get any back-up.”

“I’ve never had any problem doing this particular dance solo,” I told her.

She grabbed my private eye hat (standard issue) from my head and said, “There are those who might disagree.”

“Swell,” I said, looking at the fresh bullet hole in my favorite private eye hat (standard issue). “DeBean gets hazelnuts and cinnamon and I get ventilation.”

“DeBrave. And better the hat than your head.”

“There are those who would disagree,” I said, rubbing my fresh skull bump. At least it wasn‘t a dent.

“I called this in,” Overknight informed her partner.

“There’s a first aid kit in the trunk of my car,” I told her, “if you need it.”

“I’m good, thanks,” she said. “Did you catch anything besides the boot to the head?”

“Nothing worth mentioning,” I told her. “I’ll heal.”

“OK, tough guy. As soon as we can hand this over to someone else, Homer, Lieutenant Cross wants us at the station with Stone. The D.A. wants to see him.”

“I need to go back home first,” I said. “I’m gonna need a new standard issue private eye hat.”

“Fine,” Homer said, taking a sip of his hot whatever. “It’s on the way, I suppose. Y‘know, in another town or another life, you‘d probably have made a decent cop, Stone.”

“You, too, Debbie.”

Tune in for more fun next time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

16332--With Great Power Comes Great Instability

I haven't said much on this subject, contenting myself to sit quietly and let people catch on and make their own decisions.  The problem is that people are fighting the wrong fight.

This writing comes a few days after New York's recognition of same-sex marriages.  People are celebrating and making plans to take advantage of the new legislation.  I imagine there are also some people complaining about the legislation.  From my own standpoint, there's nothing to celebrate because it's a decision that doesn't belong to the government to make.

The problem I've had all along with the whole thing is that people have been arguing about which way the government should legislate the same-sex marriage issue and whether that legislation should occur at the state or federal level.  I'm likely to voice this sentiment a few times before the end of this, but this isn't something for the government to legislate in any way at all.  It is flatly ridiculous to me to weigh any input from legislative bodies that are only supposed to do what they're told by the people and can't even do that.

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights way back in 1948, insisting that all people had the right to marry and form a family with equal rights in marriage to be entered into freely and with informed consent.  Before the 16th century, even western churches recognized that people had all the authority in their own marriages. A couple simply saying that they were married was good enough for everyone else. How's that for recognizing a commonlaw marriage? Despite these oddities, there are over thirty countries that maintain pretty strict prohibitions against same-sex marriage. The USA isn't one of them, but it does seem to be an uphill roller skating trip for those on the ride.
Overseeing births, marriages, funerals and religious rites are all things We the People handle on our own and do best without adding government to the mix.  Granted, marriage licenses have been used for a great many years now, but they originated to permit people to wed that were otherwise forbidden by law to do so.  In this country, such outlaws have been defined along the whole ethnic/racial lines thing.  The licenses were initially used to permit whites to marry non-whites, a tradition which extended right on into the 20th century.  Racism in the Land of the Free?  Scandalous.  Even in the great nation of "created equal", the last couple of centuries have somehow been thick with persecution based on differences.

Back in the 1990s, popular TV series Quantum Leap lost sponsors over an episode in which time-traveling Dr. Beckett (Scott Bakula) assumed the identity of a young black man secretly dating a young white woman in the American south during the 1960s.  The sponsors were obviously confused and thought that they, too, were in the 1960s.  Still, that was in the ancient 20th century.  Back in 2006, in the more advanced and enlightened 21st century, my mother (a die-hard social activist) informed me of two families she was helping in central Indiana.  Both families, in separate incidents and communities, had been burned out of their homes over some nonsense about having the wrong skin color.  Apparently, brown clashed with the plan for a more limited local palette.  In one case, the family's son had the audacity to date someone's daughter of...the wrong shade.  In the more recent time of 2009, Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, again deciding for them that they had no idea of the proper way to behave.  2009?  Are you kidding me?  2009?  2009!  This is peace and enlightenment?

What happened to recognizing commonlaw marriage?  What happened to the rights of the people?  Up until the mid-19th century, commonlaw marriages were commonly recognized, but then the state governments started crushing them underfoot.  Today, only 11 states and the District of Columbia still acknowledge this basic right of We the People.  The requirement for marriage licenses in the USA has been justified on the basis that the state has an overriding right, on behalf of all citizens and in the interests of the larger social welfare, to protect them from disease or improper/illegal marriages; to keep accurate state records; or even to ensure that marriage partners have had adequate time to think carefully before marrying.  So, it's for our own good because we don't know any better.  Our rights have been put into a blind trust because we can't handle them.

Oh, wait!  In the Supreme Court case Meister v. Moore (1877), it was ruled that "marriage is a common right" and that the state laws or statutes that have been created before or since are not legal constraints, but "are mere directives," thereby retaining the legal weight of recommendation only. Backed by this court decision, it is illegal for any state to mandate any form of license or ceremony and, technically, all states must recognize "common law" marriages of all citizens.

We don't need any state laws for or against same-sex marriages.  We certainly don't need to waste the effort of amending the US Constitution over this nonsense.  The government works for us and the protection of our rights.  The last I'd heard, there was a laundry list of better things that our governmental employees should be spending their time on. 

Stop getting misdirected by noise and colors.  We the People are responsible for our own lives and choices.  Back when I was seven years old, I had a conversation with mom about how I would go to college when I finished with grade school.  In that dialogue, I learned that I would have the power to decide which college I attended and what I studied.  I actually got excited (my mind turned to architecture for some reason).  I thought that that Freedom, the power of choice, was the coolest thing I'd ever heard.  I'm still pretty impressed by Freedoms and it baffles me that so many people blow them off.  Don't they see that there are people trying to take their Freedoms?  With all the effort, they must be worth something.  It's like those stories where the Devil's trying to weasel a deal to get someone's soul and you're just aghast at how blind the character is for not realizing that it must be a bad deal.

If you want to get married, go be married. 

If you don't, don't.  No one's forcing you into it just as no one's allowed to stop you.

If you feel threatened by someone else's marriage choices, seek therapy or a hobby to get your mind off it.  Either way, mind your own business.  Whether we actually respect each other's right to privacy or not, we all have the right.  Manage your own affairs.

Stop trying to foist your issues and responsibilities onto the government.  The people who work in government are bored and itching for things to do.  If you try to turn control of your life over to them, they'll gladly take it.  Don't expect them to stop where you expect, though.  Control over your life tastes good and they'll never never never stop at one bite.  Why?  Because with great responsibility comes great power.  Don't try to hand it off.  Deal with it.

Any questions?

Friday, June 24, 2011

16329--Still Making the Trade

Out and about in Nashville today, I saw a disturbing sight: a white SUV bearing the words "Homeland Security", "Federal" and "Police".  I'm sure this wasn't intended to bother me.  I'm sure the people responsible for the dispatch, etc. of this vehicle would much prefer that I paid no notice to it at all, went on about my business and kept my mouth shut.  I'm not likely to incite any revolutions here, but I still feel compelled to exercise what rights I have left by speaking out while I can.

My problem, for those of you scratching your head, is that the federal government isn't granted police powers by the US Constitution.  No, seeing the SUV driving around didn't make me feel any safer than I did before I saw it.  Instead, it just reminded me that there are people who continue to disregard the rules agreed upon and set down in the Constitution.  They're going to continue trading on public fear, getting people to trade away Freedom for security, overreaching their legislated authorities to implement as much control as they can over the people they're supposed to serve.

We have children failing classes and still being promoted through grades so they won't be "Left Behind", full-body scans at airports, people trying to convince us to get RFID chips stuck into us and troops trickling home from a war we were told was over years ago (there are more of our soldiers deployed now than when Obama took office).  We already have police.  They operate well enough in most municipalities without doublespeaking the public into submissive cooperation and actually answer to the people when called on the carpet.  We need Homeland Security policing us like we need FEMA after a disaster.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

16328--In Warm Blood (Ch. 2)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
Chapter 2

The funny thing about sleep was that no matter how little you got there was always some clown who’d decide for you that you’d had enough. My latest clown came in the form of a persistent knocker on my new apartment door. It was obviously someone with a death wish.

I grabbed my .44 (not some wimpy, standard issue .38), put on my private eye bathrobe (standard issue) and staggered to the door. In as swift and smooth a set of motions as the team of my angry brain and half-sleeping body could manage, I yanked open the door and brought the .44 to bear. It turned out that the barrel was inches from the forehead of a 5-foot-tall, pimply faced kid. The little brown-haired acne factory didn’t even flinch. He just stood there, chewing his gum with his mouth open.

“Who let you in?” I demanded. “What do you want?”

“Cash,” he said flatly. “Same as last time, old man.”

Last time? “Oh, right,” I said, lowering my gun. “I remember you.” Good-for-nothing kids didn’t pay attention to anything that wasn’t electronic or hocus-pocus. I had something for him, though. I dug into the pocket of my robe and pulled out a dried chicken bone with a feather tied to one end. Like the gun, I brought it to bear with meaning about an inch from his greasy forehead. “Ogo-pogo Susquehanna!

“N-N-No! Aaah!” he screamed, sprinting down the hall.

“Ha! Look at him go,” I smiled. “Hmm…He didn’t wet himself. Well, points for that.” I noticed as the kid disappeared into the elevator, he passed some joker in a brown suit and narrow tie…shiny shoes. I sighed. Cops wore shiny shoes. He looked to be about 5’10”, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds and he made my neck hairs stand up. Unfortunately, he got a bead on me before I could close the door and head back to bed.

“Hey! Hey, Stone!” he called out as he started trotting down the hall.

My keenly trained private eyes (standard issue) spotted the bulge of what I was guessing was…a .38 and gave me cop vibe that I had no interest in at whatever time of morning it was.

“Barry Cross,” he said, extending his right hand.

“Very weary. Blow,” I said, ignoring his hand.

“Detective Lieutenant Barry Cross.”

“Never heard of him.”

I’m him,” he said, flashing his I.D. The picture had the same constipated look as the cop in front of me. “I’m new downtown. Say, who was that kid?”

“Paperboy,” I told him. “The little punk keeps tryin’ to collect, but I don’t think he’ll be back for a while,” I said, tossing the chicken bone to the coffee table. “How’d you get up here?”

“Why don’t you just pay him?”

“Why start now?” I asked. “I never ordered a paper and all they‘ve done is make my life aggravating.”

“Oh,” he said, following me into the kitchen. “Oh, right, wasn’t that your picture--?”

“Not me.”

“With the naked--?”

“Doppleganger. Just drop it.”

“OK, you got a permit for that bone?”

“Unclench,” I told him. “Sometimes a chicken bone with a feather is just a chicken bone with a feather.”

“Oh,” he said. “OK. I get it.”

“So, you here to be a new piece of furniture or is this a social call or what?” I asked him as I ran cold water into a mug.

“Let me be straight with you, Stone,” he said, “there’s been a lot of bullets flying around you lately, some right here in your own apartment and the latest ones out on the streets just a few hours ago.”

“Yeah, thanks for the newsflash,” I told him, spooning coffee crystals from the can into my cup. “I’ll try not to sleep through those things anymore, then we can skip these little update visits.” I added a second spoonful and stirred the water. I had a feeling I was going to need it strong. It started to steam right away.

“That instant?” he asked me.

That was probably the limit of his detective skills. I looked at him disdainfully over the brim of my mug. “You’re still here?”

“I haven’t finished yet,” he said. “You gonna make with the Joe?”

“If it’ll get you back on your bike,” I said, getting him his own mug of water.

“You’ve been awfully lucky, Stone,” Cross told me, “for a guy known for not dealing with magic. Hell, in this town, even I walk around with a few protective talismans.”

“Rabbit feet help you sleep at night, Cross?”

“Father Craft runs this city, Stone, which makes magic its life’s blood, in case you slept through that news, too,” Cross said. “You got any cream?”

I gave him another disdainful glare.

“I like it light.”

“You want some puff pastries and bon-bons with that? This ain’t high tea. Act like a man and drink your coffee so you can blow,” I told him. “I’ve got errands to run.”

“You need to stay put,” he said, “under police protection.”

“I work for a living, Cross,” I reminded him. “Sitting in a safe house isn’t going to pay for my bullets or get bad guys off the streets.”

“The work you do for a living is threatening to get you killed,” he insisted.

“I need police protection like I need a hole in my head!”

“Without it, you may get a hole in your head!” Cross said. “I just came from a meeting with the D.A. and we think Pietro Ferrari is gunning for you. If you‘re luckier than most who cross him, maybe you‘ll only need mechanical assistance to breathe and use the toilet.”

“Well, Ferrari needs to take a number,” I told him. “I piss off a lot of people and the day‘s still young.”

“Well, this is the one we happen to care about,” Cross said. “You’re the witness who can make the case against him. We all want him gone. Without you, it‘s just not strong enough to bother taking to court.”

“Forget it, Cross. I’m a big boy,” I said. “I get dressed, tie my shoes and cross streets all by myself. This is all the babysitter I need,” I said, holding up my pistol.

“Look, Stone, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you,” he said. “This is straight from the D.A. You work with us or I pull your license and take you downtown and let you cool your heels in the graybar hotel till trial time.”

I was pretty sure I heard myself growl.

“We’re not talking about a safe house,” Cross said, “just a couple of plainclothes watching your back for a few days. How bad could that be?”

“A question presented by a limited imagination,” I said with a sigh. “Alright, but I want to pick the sitters.”

“No deal,” he said. “They’re already on the way. Does that couch fold out?”

“Sure, I use it for all my slumber parties.”

“What a shame I’ll have to miss out,” he said, finishing his coffee. “I’m sure you triplets will have a blast. They’re parking the car, so they should be up here any minute.”

“Gee, I hope they didn’t forget their PJs and toothbrushes.” I sounded cocky, but Cross wasn’t wrong: it wouldn’t hurt to have some back-up since my odds of becoming a favorite target for every local gun-for-hire were getting better by the hour.

I had recently taken the case of a client who hired me to track down his missing daughter. In the process of finding her, I uncovered evidence on Ferrari that tied him to kidnapping, prostitution, human trafficking, elfin trafficking, dwarf trafficking, faerie trafficking, smuggling, dealing in controlled magical items and murder. He liked making money and he had put together a productive organization for doing it. Whether I liked it or not, smart money was on my going face down before he did. It would’ve been a good time for me to find a bookie. If I lived through the trial I could make a fortune.

There was another knock at the door. Cross was on his feet and heading through the apartment with his gun drawn before I made a move. Suddenly, I had an unpaid butler and private security. And here I thought this was a bad day.

“Let me get it, Stone,” Cross said. “It’s probably my detectives, but it couldn’t hurt to be careful.”

“That makes you and my grandma.”

“Funny man,” Cross said. “We’re trying to keep you from an early funeral. Be quiet a second. Who is it?”

“It’s us, Lieutenant Cross,” a man shouted from the hallway. “All clear.”

“Alright,” Cross said, opening the door. “Come on in. Stone!”


“Meet the detectives who’ll be watching you: Sergeants DeBrave--”

“Good morning,” DeBrave said, dropping a duffle bag on the floor and starting to remove his wet coat.

“--and Overknight,” Cross continued with a twisted, triumphant grin.

Overknight stepped in past her partner. First thing I noticed, of course, was that she was a woman. They both looked a little young, but I figured I was getting my money’s worth. I sure wasn’t getting it from Fred. Why did he keep letting all these people up here?

“Looks more like I’m babysitting them, Cross,” I said.

“They’re young, but they’re good,” Cross insisted. “You’ll be fine.”

“Had to bring in a skirt, huh?” I asked. “Nothing personal, Overknight, it just has a track record of making things complicated.”

“Tell you what, Stone,” she said, dropping her own duffle bag, “we’ll start with you closing your bathrobe. From there we’ll just mount each hurdle as it pops up.”

“That might be a solid idea,” I pondered aloud, sliding my .44 back into its shoulder holster. “Complications do seem to occur in conjunction with the mounting of things popping up, so…let’s monitor the situation closely while I continue to act like this is my apartment and we’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, we’ll keep your closed bathrobe proposal on standby.”

“And I’ll keep reminding myself that I’m under orders to keep you alive,” she said.

“Hey, your bosses are the ones who want me alive,” I shot back. “Don’t go thinking you’re doing me any favors.” She was sharp and definitely worth a second look…even a third. I just had to make sure I didn’t let myself get distracted by the combination of long black hair pulled back tight in a ponytail and her all-day legs and the unbelievable sweeping curves between those upper and lower regions. With any luck, she and what’s-his-name wouldn’t talk too much. “Well, Cross, you’ve done your dirty work here. Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out,” I said, pouring out both cups of coffee before he tried to come back for more.

“Detectives, keep him alive,” Cross ordered on his way out. “He can be rude and offensive and he pisses off a lot of people, but he’s all we’ve got.”

How insulting. I was not rude. And after I gave him coffee. “So, who’d you two piss off to end up here?”

“Actually, she volunteered us.”

“Yeah, I heard we might have a chance at some action against Ferrari’s mob. From what I heard about you, Stone, I also got the impression you might be worth keeping alive.”

“I’ll add you to the short list,” I told her, “behind mom.”

“Wow,” she said, “an extra Christmas card.”

“Don’t get carried away,” I said. “We just met.”

“Good point. So, I’m thinking eight-hour shifts, partner,” Overknight said. “Cool with you?”

“A third person would make that a lot easier,” the other one said, “but we’ll get by.”

Third? There were two too many already. Whatever his name was, he obviously didn’t realize that I made efforts to keep my apartment traffic to a minimal level. Then, the phone rang. Someone else had decided to be a bother. “Stone here.”

“Practicing your bullet-dodging, Stone?”

“Got a name, funny guy?” The last thing I needed was some fool calling me up to push my buttons.

“Call me the guy who might have some info on snipers with magic bullets,” the voice on the phone said.

“Last time I checked, the Kennedys hadn’t hired me and no one on the Warren Commission could‘ve found out my phone number without help.”

“It’s in the book,” the joker said.

“What’s your point?” I asked him.

“I’ll be at the alley by the newsstand by your office, but I won’t wait long.”

He hung up and I went to change into my private eye working clothes (standard issue). More info on whoever plugged Whitney could only be useful. I just wasn’t expecting it to come easily. I didn’t need the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) to tell me that nothing about this smelled right.

“Hey, Stone,” DeBoned called out, “you got anymore of that coffee?”

“For you, DeBoned?”

“DeBrave,” he said.

“No, none of that instant crap for you, Debbie.”

“DeBrave,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Pretty sure, yeah,” he said.

“Whatever. We’ll go out,” I said. “I know a great place for coffee. Give me a minute to get dressed.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

16325--Drive That Truck Yourself

You're done with your story?  You've finished the rewrite, too?  Are you sure it all makes sense?  Maybe it's more of a problem with Hollywood, because we know how crazy things can be out there, and less of an issue with novels.  A Hollywood script has a lot of people messing with the final product by the time it goes from first draft to screen and most of those people won't be writers.  When you're a novelist, you're also handling the rewrites even when several people give you editorial input.  Then, you're going to want to make sure you've done all you can to make sure everything makes sense.  If you don't find the plot holes before your audience does, then someone else is going to drive the truck through them.  You want to take care of them before you unleash them on the world.

I was sitting at home this weekend and watching some of the Star Wars films.  Episode IV was running (the first film for those of you trying to keep track in your heads) and the original death star was maneuvering into orbit around the planet Yavin.  The rebel base was on a moon on the far side.  In a mere thirty minutes, the rebels would meet their fiery doom as the powerful, planet-killing beam obliterated the defenseless moon.  Or maybe they could just give the order to fire on Yavin itself.  Destroying the planet would devastate its moons.  Even if it didn't, there would certainly be a clear path for a second shot.  It had already been established that Tarkin, and by extension the emperor, had no qualms with destroying even peaceful worlds just to make a point.  What were they waiting for?  I didn't know and I shouldn't have been looking for an explanation.  That should've been covered in the storytelling.

The third X-Men film, "The Last Stand", showed us Jean Grey standing around a lot waiting for a chance to be bad.  Sure, she had already gotten rid of Scott and the professor, but those were private matters.  The X-Men had shown they were willing to deal with her mental instability internally and not hold her responsible for those lapses.  It was only after she had committed her public killing of the soldiers that her friends decided they would have to kill Jean to stop her.  Or would they?  Since the story had led everyone to converge on Alcatraz where the mutation-neutralizing boy was being kept securely, the heroic X-Men just had to turn him into Jean Grey's new BFF to get her under control.  Once again, problem solved and film ended early.  The problem, once again, was that that only happened in my head and I was left to wonder why instead of the story telling me why not.

I will repeat: You do not want the audience finding your gaping plot holes.  If that happens, you will look stupid or lazy to the people who gave you a chance to entertain them.  That will likely mean you won't get the chance again.  Granted, even though the whole Star Wars incident led to me re-plotting episodes I, II and III to do what Mr. Lucas should've done, I will continue to take chances on him.  The rest of us have a bit more work to do to build that loyal a platform.  That means we have to take the time to be thorough and aware on the front end.  No, your writing certainly doesn't have to be perfect, but your rewriting needs to show that you were striving to get there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

16324--The Stuff Protagonists' Dreams are Made of...

Protagonists come in a variety of flavors.  They vary depending upon the needs of their tales.  Some are more clean-cut than others.  Some are friendlier than others.  Whatever their natures or personalities, they have to give your readers reasons to stay for the ride from first page to last.  Are they interesting or are they merely fun to follow through interesting situations?  How do they handle problems?  Do they do something brutal, emotional or  thoughtful?  What separates them from being one of the supporting cast?  What's special about them?

One of Batman's strongest traits, be it a flaw or a virtue or some blending thereof, is his relentless obsessiveness.  It isolates him from normal people, making him something of a grim misanthrope.  It is also from there that he gets his drive to stand against the cowardly, superstitious parade of criminals that threaten the peace and his desire to achieve justice at any cost.  Of course, when you're a multi-billionaire, "at any cost" is afforded a high ceiling that can cover a lot of obsession.  An obsessed, wealthy, misanthropic loner with an open-ended mission naturally makes up a few rules for himself to fill in the gaps left by the rules of society he has chosen not to follow.
  • If you break it, buy a new one.  It may seem distracting sometimes, but cleaning up after himself keeps his own things properly maintained and promotes public goodwill when he replaces their firebombed cars and such.  Either way, it helps him continue his crusade.
  • If bad guys break it, break them.  That falls right in line with his war on crime, so he hardly considers it a distraction.
  • Be prepared.  The endless arsenal of useful gear isn't just for show.
  • Not announcing your comings and goings makes people nervous.  This keeps people spooked, never sure when he'll be wherever he is, which is great for a protagonist who likes to gather intel from dark places and shadowy people.
  • Don't hesitate to be mysterious.  Not answering every question and leaving people to use their imaginations has an effect on other characters and readers alike.  It should make an impression on all of them and make at least some nervous.
  • Make people nervous. I'm not saying that clothes alone make the man, but black looks cool on good guys, too. Combined with the whole "mysterious loner" thing...
  • Don't play well with others. He is a misanthrope after all, so it's really going to have to fall to others to play well with him, isn't it? Who doesn't like a protag who's strong enough to set his own terms?
  • Win hard. Again, it makes an impression.
  • Never let them see you sweat...or smile...or laugh... Never let them see your eyes either. When possible, never let them see you. It's a guy thing. In the right places, it has its uses. More generally, referring back to Sun Tzu, don't let others know you (or really see you) and you'll retain a big edge toward attaining victory. This makes the unknowable character appear to have a formidable strength.
Thoughts anyone?

Friday, June 17, 2011

16322--Meanwhile, at a hidden lair...

Oh, those villains..."antagonists" would be more PC, I suppose, but I'm not particularly PC and I don't have simple obstacles to the protagonists on my mind.  I'm thinking about heroes and villains and I believe in calling them as they are.  The ones I'm thinking about know they're the bad guys, so there's certainly no need to sugar coat anything.

There's been a lot of chatter on the web about Magneto lately.  It makes sense, I guess.  Marvel's mighty magnetic mutant is presently a leading player in his fourth feature film, so he's getting a lot of attention from the mainstream population that he hasn't had before.  I and many others find this odd as we, an admittedly smaller segment of the populace, have known him well for years.  Comic readers often find it surprising that non-comic readers haven't heard of some of the genre's best characters or know much about them if they have heard of them.

Magneto is one of those who stands out, not just because of his incredible powers, but because of his passionate dedication to his cause.  His best friend in the world is Professor Charles Xavier, also his greatest rival.  Tragically, both of them want the same thing: a safe world for humanity's children, the mutants, to live in.  The two men stand at odds because Xavier believes that goal can be achieved through peacefull coexistence while Magneto believes that mutants can only be reasonably safe if mutants are in charge.  So, while Xavier works on education and diplomacy and setting good examples, woe unto any mere homo sapien who gets in the way of Magneto's evolution revolution.

Another fellow who's been around about as long doing the dirty deeds that his kind love so is Darkseid.  Walking malevolence, the cold conqueror is already the master of his own world, Apokolips, and continues to use his legions of loyal followers to reach out and dominate others.  His ultimate goal is the acquisition of the elusive anti-life equation which will allow him to usurp free will and enslave every thinking mind in the cosmos.  It should come as no surprise, with all his far-reaching power and ambition, that Darkseid is a god, leader of the forces of evil in Jack Kirby's New Gods series created decades ago.  This may place him out of the realm of relatability for some readers, but he still retains a number of qualities that keep him in touch: rivalry with his distant father, shame for the lesser of his two sons, pridefulness and underestimating his enemies to name a few.  Don't fret, there are plenty of powerful forces from New Genesis fighting for the light to keep you from becoming a mindless slave.

Thanos has been seen by some as a Marvel knock-off of DC's Darkseid, but whether that's true or not, he has certainly grown into a powerful, cunning, clever and, in his own way, honorable foil for several of Marvel's many heroes.  Another alien with a lot of ambition, Thanos fell in love with the personification of Death.  To get her attention, he knew flowers wouldn't cut it.  Instead, Thanos  promised her half of all the lives in the universe.  Figuring out how to deliver on that was up to him.  It has resulted in an epic quest of ups and downs for the calculating, Machiavellian mastermind, but he's learned a lot and has never failed to entertain.

Lex Luthor is probably one of the best known of villains, having maintained a long-running vendetta against Superman himself.  For a guy with no powers of his own, Luthor has made use of his intellect, hatred and wealth to really make a cultural impact in comics, TV and most of the Superman films.  Luthor bright.png He may not have a great track record as far as wins and losses, but he's certainly proved himself to be tenacious.  No matter how many times he loses, Luthor always comes back again expecting to win.  His hatred for the Man of Steel has been shown to be so great as to drive him to help Superman against other villains to make sure that the honor of killing him remains his alone.

Doctor Doom is brilliant and arrogant, also undaunted by foes of superior power.  He is always confident that his genius will allow him to triumph over any odds.  On top of that, he is already monarch of his own country, his stepping stone to taking the world.  He has a former colleague for a hated rival and he has long-sought to reclaim his mother's soul from the demon Mephistopholes.  These layers have combined to make Doom a student of science, magic and being a general pain in the butt to anyone he decided  had some significant power that he could usurp for his own.

Manwholaughs.jpgThe Joker has always been a memorable villain.  I've always considered him dangerous, challenging and criminally insane, yet find it easy to forget he's also a sociopathic murderer.  I'd like to think he's difficult for people to relate to, because he's insane and that the audience isn't.  Still, there's this: he enjoys his work to an extreme.  Everything he does is because on some level or another he thinks it's funny.   Wow.

R'as al Ghul is nothing less than a complicated man.  Over 700 years old (the wonders of alchemy), he is a devoted family man (though despite stories presenting his children, I've never seen any of their mothers), a brilliant strategist, a respected leader and an unwavering ecologist.   He has spent the last forty years of his career alternating between recruiting and trying to kill Batman.  The deadly mastermind doesn't hate Batman.  Actually, he respects him for his keen mind and many skills.  He'd like to have Batman as his successor and it doesn't hurt that the old man's daughter is in love with the detective.  In fact, those things have helped keep Batman's cape out of the fire more than once.  Ultimately, though, Batman's basic problem with R'as is that the aged conservationist wants to save the Earth...from humanity.  That puts him squarely on the Bat's "To do" list and just helps make him a more interesting character.  He's not after money.  He's already rich.  He has power, too.  He's probably got a lot of fans over at Greenpeace and PETA.

Darth Vader has been shown to be more than just a feared imperial enforcer, given character and depth of layers by his portrayal in the notorious Prequel Trilogy.  For good or ill, depending on which fan faction you survey, one of the tools used to draw him to the dark side was the strength of his love for others.  That's classic tragedy in action, but he was also shown to be but one in a string of puppets guided by the masterful hand of Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, dread lord of the Sith.  Now there's a mastermind.  Vader had a chance for redemption, but Palpatine was dark and cunning before the movies ever even started.   That man was superhumanly patient, manipulating pawns throughout the republic for over twenty years, screwing with the Jedi, pitting armies against each other and certain that he would come out on top no matter which faction was crushed.   He was just so evil and corrupting that I never liked him as a person, but I respected him as a brilliant villain and spin doctor.  This villain represented what every politician aspires to be in the darkest darkness of that space from which they had their hearts removed.

Khan1.jpgFocused and passionate, Khan Noonien Singh ended up caught in his obsession against James Kirk, seeking to avenge the death of his wife and his lost plans of conquest.  One-time ruler of a quarter of Earth, he was accustomed to getting things he wanted through the force of his will and charisma.  He, too, was a strong leader, just not one for listening to advice.  He was certain that he was superior to everyone else and he wasn't willing to believe otherwise unless you were able to kill him and every last one of his devoted followers.  Quoting "Moby Dick" through to his end certainly didn't hurt in driving that little character flaw home.

Scorpio with Bont.pngOh, and let us not forget the one-of-a-kind Hank Scorpio, the supervillain with a heart.  Head of the Globex Corporation, he showed us compassion, people skills, a sense of humor, integrity and an appreciation for his underlings.  With Homer Simpson's help, he managed to seize control of the US eastern seaboard.  He knew how to tell off the UN with style.  He was a villain that a minion could feel wouldn't throw him into a hidden shark tank or burn him down with a laser for mixing up his lunch order.  Other villains might call his way of operating weak, but he made it work.

So how about you?  What gets your attention in a villain?  I'd love to know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

16321--In Warm Blood (Ch. 1)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.

Chapter 1
People lived and died in the streets of The City. I was on one knee over the body of one of the dying. Her name was Whitney Gregg. She and I had been negotiating over what to do with a pound of marble-sized diamonds we’d recovered from a storage locker along with a few other random-looking clues. We had talked about some of the things that had happened to others in connection with the mysterious box I was supposed to be looking for: turned to stone, shot with a dozen arrows, drowned inside a car. There had been others. Of course, the results that people remembered were the most dramatic. Whatever was in the box was supposed to be cursed was all I could figure, but there must’ve been something enticing inside, too. Who the Hell would be crazy enough to keep going after a magic thing that was just waiting to kill whoever tried to get it? Whitney had sworn that one guy had been turned into an oak tree. Thanks to the bullet in her chest, her biggest concern had become living beyond the next few minutes.

The attack could’ve been meant for me. I had plenty of enemies and they had notoriously lousy aim. Regardless of why we were in the situation, she had a bullet in her chest. I propped her head up, but she was getting paler as blood flowed from her chest. I could see her trying to focus her eyes on mine and it looked like she wanted to say something. If we were in a movie, I’d probably be telling her not to speak and to save her strength, but I knew it was ridiculous trying to stop a woman from talking so I figured I’d save my strength instead.



“Am…Am I gonna…die?” she sputtered.

“Yeah, looks like.”

“Thanks for be…being straight with me, Br…Brick,” she coughed. “Knew I…could count on you.”

“Anytime. Does it hurt a lot?”

“Like Hell. It burns…and I‘m cold.”

“Try not to think about it.”

“I…I don’t want to…to die, Brick,” she began to cry, getting weaker every second.

“Who does? Try not to be a wimp about it.”

“Sorry, Brick. One favor?”

“What do you want me to do, Whitney?”

“Get ‘em for me, Brick. Get ‘em.”

“You got it, kid. They’re as good as in the ground.”

“And take this,” she said, holding her amethyst pendant up to me. “And…don’t forget me.”

“That’s three things, babe,” I said. Then her sapphire eyes fluttered shut one last time. I didn’t even know if she’d actually heard me, but I was pretty sure I’d find whoever shot her. I figured there was a good chance they’d come to me.

The ambulance jockeys finally arrived and I got out of their way so they could take Whitney’s body. Some cops put in an appearance and said something about taking me downtown, but I convinced them that it could wait. I was about to walk off into the rain when an odd shout caught my attention.

“Hey, look at this!” one of the paramedics called out. “The blood!”

I pushed back through the small crowd that had gathered to see Whitney’s body again. Holding a corner of the sheet up, away from her corpse, so that he could show the oddity he had seen, the paramedic could only shake his head. The blood that had run from the bullet hole in Whitney’s chest had…moved on her, spelling out “thief” on her clothes. Without a doubt, odd, but it said a lot. Someone had gone to the trouble of not only shooting her, but using an enchanted bullet to do the job. Someone actually was gunning for her. It had to be a message, a warning, not to cross the Big M maybe. It had to be about that box…again. Was I gonna need to talk to a certain wizard?

I saw more work ahead. I was gonna need some rest.

     That's all for now.  More to come.  Take a few minutes to make some comments.  I love to get feedback from outside my creative isolation.  Thanks for stopping by, as always.


Monday, June 13, 2011

16318--Please, don't try this at home

     Whichever process you use to write, thoughtful planning or making it up as you go, your rewrite will call for thoroughness.  At any stage in your glorious creation, as much as your work is the product of the workings of your beautiful mind, that product will also be vulnerable to its ingrained habits.  Your job is to break those patterns and add variety to the voice that comes through your characters.

     With all due repsect your uniqueness and that of your creations, please do your best to eliminate annoying stupidities from your mind, your speech and your work.  Make yourself not use the phrase "for future reference".  You can only refer to something in the future, so there can be no other timeframe for it.  Whenever I hear that idiot phrase used, I think more about it than whatever point the speaker was trying to make and how it probably couldn't be that important anyway if the person is saying things like "for future reference".

     I would love to never again hear the phrase "close personal friend".  Whether the speaker is just trying to add words or, more likely, sound more important, it just sounds stupid.  I would rather hear fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard (officially ranked as the most annoying sound to human ears) than ever hear that phrase again.  Do you have any friends who aren't personal?  I don't.  Of course, my friends are my friends.  Your friends are yours.  There must be editors out there who are likewise being driven to madness such ridiculous use of adjectives.

     For the sake of those editors, I'll mention that there's no such word as "eckcetera" and it isn't abbreviated "ect".  The word you want is "etcetera" and it's abbreviated "etc".

     It feels good to get that out.  Anyone else have any common malaproisms or malignings of thought and word that set you off?  Let's hear about it.

     Thanks for stopping by.


16317--Write your own story

From the title, you might think I'm advocating autobiographical writing.  That's not what I'm saying.  I'm talking about working on something close to you, that has come from you.  Whatever your creation, it should be something you know and love and respect better than anyone else.

Several years back, there were some Batman movies made for the big screen.  The first two were directed by Tim Burton and the third and fourth were directed by Joel Schumacher.  In interviews given shortly after each director had been hired for their jobs, both men revealed their interpretations of and intent for the iconic main character.  Burton discussed how he didn't understand why anyone who was supposed to be 6'2" tall would need to wear a batsuit to be intimidating.  Burton was clearly a guy who had grown up as an odd, short nerd who had probably been picked on by tall, muscular people as a child.  Schumacher, who claimed to have known people whose parents had been murdered, didn't understand why Batman didn't simply get over the deaths of his parents.  The orphans he knew had gotten over this trauma and Batman should have, too. 

The common element with each director was this odd, almost-proud admission that neither of them understood the main character's motivations and core personality yet were going to begin reinterpretations based upon their misunderstandings.  I suppose that illustrates a basic difference between a movie director and a writer.  Good writers would be taught to view a misunderstanding of the main character as a red flag to learn and understand the character or else see a failed story come from their efforts.  A good writer doesn't reinterpret a story built around a main character he admittedly doesn't understand.  Burton and Schumacher came straight out and confessed that they were the wrong men for the jobs they had taken.  Instead of being allowed to refit Batman to their ideas of what he should be, each man should've moved on to work on his own story.  Look at the success that Tim Burton has with his own stories.  They are odd and unique gems, each shining in their own dark way because when he works on them he is in his element as surely as a bear in the forest.

To look at the issue from a slightly different angle, my personal belief is that Batman never got over the deaths of his parents because he didn't have to.  I blame the strength of the Wayne fortune for that--Superman's bulletproof, but Batman's recession-proof.  If the tragic orphan had been thrown into a life of state institutions and foster care, followed by even a middle class existence of working to pay his bills and afford his next meal, I'm pretty sure he would've found himself too distracted to maintain the raging obsession that fuels his war against crime.  Young Bruce certainly wouldn't have been able finance his creatively non-lethal arsenal and the world travels that provided his preliminary training.  Who knows, though?  He might ultimately have found quiet, powerless happiness in letting his obsession yield to 9-to-5 routine rather than dwelling on his single, shattering tragedy of watching his parents murdered in front of him.  We the people, however, apparently find the focused, driven character who could afford to brood and rage and learn to use that darkness as a weapon to be a much more interesting character.  Let that fellow flourish while using the shallow image of Bruce Wayne as a mask for the dark warrior and we'll pay for books and movies about that guy for years.  Measure that against all the books and movies about Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher and it should be easy to see the value of taking the time to craft your story properly.  Take ownership of it, be a part of it and make it a part of you.  When you've made it your own, then you can bring out its true potential.

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

16316--The Power of Focus

The key to finding time to write amidst the storm of all of life's utterly distracting chaos is making yourself focus and taking time to write.  Don't delude yourself into thinking that "everything has to be just right".  Start working.  Once you turn your focus to the writing, the flow will follow.  I know, a lot of people place value in multitasking.  Don't fall into that trap.

Multitasking is a myth from the marketing department.  The human brain isn't designed to do multiple things at once at optimal efficiency.  We all know it, but don't like to admit it.  If we want our computers to simulate multitasking, performing more simultaneous functions without loss of speed, we build in additional processors.  The brain's neural network has tremendous performance capacity available and does a lot of things without owner awareness, but it still works best for us when we focus on a single task.  Many people make "To Do" lists, but how many do all the tasks simultaneously?  If you've noticed, you probably turn down the car stereo volume when you're driving along looking for an address.  Whether you've thought about it or not, you're acknowledging that split focus, even among looking and listening, yields poorer results.

We still fight it, probably due to impatience on either our own part or from someone else.  Some people try to text while driving.  Others may have an employer who insists that nine tasks have to be done before lunch and there's only one worker for the job.  Still, the advice to "Do one thing at a time" continues to be offered.  In our PC times, we still use the term "savant" but have tried to forget that it used to be tethered to "idiot" like a conjoined twin.  The people these words have been used to describe live with brains focused on specific areas of life to the near-exclusion of every other.  They can memorize and recite strings of numbers or count with lightning speed or draw accurately detailed cityscapes from memory, but while they're impressing the audience it is forgotten that they may have the social skills of a five-year-old or require a caretaker to help them perform basic tasks.  Those brains are overly focused.

"Savant" individuals still seem to be treated as performing curiosities who may help us to learn more about the intricacies of the brain.  Meanwhile, were I given a choice, as much as I might enjoy upgrading the recall capacity and processing speed of the biocomputer on top of my neck, I wouldn't consider the trade worth the sacrifice of my imagination or personality.

Focus is the dfference between your notebooks and your finished novel.

Without focus, Bruce Wayne would be an orphan with emotional issues instead of a billionaire who dresses up like a bat and stalks the shadows looking for trouble.  OK, maybe that one's a fine line, but you understand.  When you're focused, you break the board.  When you're not, you break your hand.

Focus is the vehicle that will carry you to wherever it is that your ambitions drive.

So, eye on the prize, shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grindstone.  I know it's a funny position to work in, but I've heard good things.  Maybe it had something to do with yoga...

As always, thanks for stopping by.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    16314--A Knowledge of Heather (Ch. 7)

    Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
    A Knowledge of Heather is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
    Chapter 7

         Heather opened her door and let us in, but she looked upset, almost panicked, saying, “Brick, oh, thank goodness you’re back. And you brought Lance, too, good.”
         That was odd. First, she was terrified that one of dearly departed Jack’s partners made Jack depart and was coming to send her along after him, but after a little alone time she couldn’t be happier to see this guy and had gotten past her grief, too. I think this one’s in the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) under “wacko”.
         “Is Whitney here yet?” I asked.
         “No,” Heather said. “The storm must be slowing her down.”
         “Well, let’s wait for her,” I responded. I wanted Whitney and Lance to get the news together.
         “Drinks?” Heather offered.
         “Whiskey,” Boyle said. “Neat.”
         “Nothing for me,” I said. I was pretty sure I was skipping anything she was serving up. And then, the doorbell rang out.
         “That must be Whitney,” Heather said. “I’ll get it.”
         “Hey, sexy,” Boyle greeted the new arrival with a leer. “What’s shakin‘?”
         “Keep it in your pants, slime,” Whitney told him coldly. Then she looked at me with smoldering azure eyes and said, “Hello, Brick. I’m glad you made it here. Could you help me?”
         She glided over to me and opened her coat as though she was offering herself to me. I immediately noticed that she had changed from the track suit she was wearing earlier into a dress that was much more evening than gown. I reached to help her out of her coat, unable to take my eyes off her as I took the wet garment. Both catching light and glowing with a gentle warmth, the amethyst heart pendant still rested just above the cleavage of her perfect breasts. When she stepped to me, all I could smell was flowers. It was a sweet and heady scent that threatened to lift me off the floor. “Still glowing, I see.”
         “What, again?” she said, looking down at it like before. “Actually,” she whispered, “it stopped just after you left and just started again. How’s your stomach?”
         “Great,” I replied in a hushed tone to match hers. “The ginger really did its work.”
         “Well, then I’m going to need to borrow you later,” she told me. “I really want to figure out what this thing’s about.”
         “Two whiskeys,” Heather announced, handing a glass to each of the others. “Let’s go on into the study. Jack‘s waiting to see you all.”
         That was either impressive acting or very disturbing. If I hadn’t seen the corpse myself, I’d expect to see him upright and breathing when I followed her in there. I was getting a worse feeling than the one in my stomach. From the look on the faces of Lance Boyle and Whitney Gregg, I could see that they were more than a little stunned to see Jack’s body slumped over his desk in a pool of blood.
         “Is…Is he d-dead?” Whitney stammered, dropping her glass and clutching at my arm.
         “Very,” I answered. “That’s really quite perceptive of you. I don’t know why people say you’re so dumb.”
         “Oh, no, not Jack, too! How many--? Hey! Who says I’m dumb?” she demanded.
         “That‘s not important right now,” I said.
         “Yeah, for cryin’--! What about the diamonds?” Boyle asked. “I mean, I liked Jack, too, really gonna miss him, but where are the diamonds?”
         “Who did this?” Whitney asked. “Whoever killed him probably--!”
         “--has the damned diamonds!” Boyle ranted. “Where are our diamonds? And the…the…damned magic--?”
         “Oh, no,” Whitney said, “it probably killed Jack like it did the others! It is cursed! I knew it!”
         There it was again: the mystery magic thing…that was killing people, yet people still wanted it. And it had something to do with a fortune in diamonds. Somehow the whole case was continuing to make both more and less sense at the same time. People wanting diamonds, that I got. Deadly magic items I always thought it smarter to keep at a distance. Of course, the handbook said to stay clear of situations like this, too. There was a whole chapter about ten-foot poles. I think the saddest part was that the evil wizard crime lord had been straighter with me than anyone else had been in the last two days.
         “Alright,” I said, “if everyone will calm down--”
         “Do you have the diamonds?” Boyle asked.
         “No, I--”
         “So, why are you talking?” he interrupted again.
         “Because I’m not done with what I have to say,” I told him, “Now, you need to shut your hole before I ventilate your skull to let some good manners in. Anyway, turning our attentions back to the dead man, Jack had problems. He had a shiny pile of diamonds he wasn’t sure what to do with, a boosted box that other people were after and he didn’t know who to trust. You all wanted the diamonds and things were heating up so much that sticking your necks out for more didn’t seem worthwhile. As greedy as he is, even Boyle was loyal enough to Jack to be happy with just splitting up the diamonds and walking away.
         “For most people, that and being upset over Jack’s death would be plenty on their mind. Some people might’ve called the police and tried to find out who’d killed the poor guy. You were more concerned with cashing in, though, Heather. You were all too eager to get these others out of the way and get the diamonds all to yourself. You couldn’t even be bothered to notice that your husband was turning to stone or to hire a butler to pin your husband’s murder on! What were you going to do: let me find the stones, make it look like they killed each other and blow town before anyone got wise?”
         “You think I murdered Jack?” Heather asked seemingly shocked and indignant.
         “Well, yeah,” I said. “I think I can safely say--”
         “Not that safely, fool,” she said, her tone suddenly changing as she produced a black .38 from I don’t even know where.
         Wherever it came from, Whitney’s hands went up as quickly as her eyes glazed over. Boyle started to squirm and sweat even more than he had been already. It was obvious that these two weren’t gonna be any help in this. Did I mention I had a bad feeling about this?
         “How’d you figure it out, Stone?” Heather asked me.
         “I think I was just explaining that,” I said. “What does it take to get people to pay attention?”
         “She killed Jack?” Boyle asked. “You probably killed the twins, too!”
         “No, that wasn’t me!” Heather protested. “I swear it wasn’t! Jack said they must’ve opened the box. All I ever wanted Jack to do was…If he would‘ve just taken the diamonds and…we could‘ve left…He just couldn‘t forget about that box…”
         “Again with the box. What’s in that thing?” I asked. “Whatever it is, it’s gonna have a bigger body count than smallpox at the rate it’s going.”
         “I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” Heather continued. “I just want to know where the diamonds are, Stone.”
         The dame’s attic door was coming off its hinges. She was going down in flames and she was determined to take all of us with her.
         “Don’t give me that look, Stone,” Heather said. “From your reputation, I expected you’d not only find the diamonds, but shoot anyone who got in the way while you were looking.”
         “So you left Jack’s notebook behind,” I said. “You didn’t need it, but you thought I might. Anyone else would’ve taken it, though.”
         “Whatever. Bringing them here for me to finish works almost as well. Now, I just need the diamonds. Please.”
         “Assuming I know where they are,” I said, “why would I tell you?”
         “Tough guy, huh? Nothing I can do to you to make you talk? What about them?” she asked, turning her gun on Boyle.
         “Lady, you’re nuts!” Boyle told her, the fear obviously getting to him.
         “That’s your opinion,” Heather smiled. “Everyone’s entitled to a few last words, I suppose.”
         “Yeah, him you could probably make talk,” I told her. “Fortunately, he doesn’t know anything.”
         “Wait a sec!” Boyle protested.
         “Don’t make a puddle, skinny. Let your stupidity work for you. She can’t break me with threats.”
         She roared angrily and fired her pistol at Boyle, taking out his right knee. He screamed like a little girl and dropped to the floor whimpering.
         “I’ll talk! My God, I’ll talk! I’ll tell you anything you want!” he cried.
         “Y‘see, that‘s the problem with torture: you‘ve got no guarantee of getting reliable information. In your case, Lance, we’ve already established you don’t know anything,” I reminded him.
         “So shut up!” Heather yelled, shooting him in the other leg. “Just shut up!
         “That doesn’t scare me, lady,” I told her, ignoring Boyle with a steely coolness as he fell to his side and rolled about moaning in his own blood. He sounded like he was ready to sell his mother to Charnelspawn the Demented. “You were going to kill him, anyway. Hang in there, guy. Be a trooper.” He whimpered again, but just a little more quietly. That stuff the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) said on being reassuring and sincere was coming in handy.
         “You’re tougher than I’d imagined, Stone,” Heather said.
         “I know,” I told her. “I’ve heard that before.”
         “I-I don’t think I’ve ever come across…anyone else quite like you.”
         “A real man, you mean?”
         “Yes, a real man,” she echoed dreamily as she fired two bullets into Boyle’s skull.
         “Yeah, you do,” I assured her.
         “Come with me.”
         “What now?” I asked, glancing at Boyle as he breathed his last. “I don‘t think I quite got that.”
         “Nothing will break you. You’ll stand up to anything,” she said, starting to walk toward me. “Come with me.”
         “Me and you?” I asked. Heather Morgan was showing a twisty mix of moxie and madness. “That sounds like a dangerous combination, doll.”
         “So you feel it, too,” she said, still coming at me with wild-eyed calm. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth from the start, Brick. No more lies. We’ll find the diamonds together and leave this crazy town behind us.”
         She took a last slow step and pressed her warm body against my wet private eye trench coat (standard issue). Heather reached up to my neck and pulled us together into a hot, hard kiss. I could imagine her having gotten her way with kisses like that a thousand times before, but I managed to keep my wits about me well enough to wrestle for her gun. The struggle was short, ending with a muffled bang. She collapsed against me, but I let her fall to the floor like a marionette with cut strings. My luck was holding. I managed to avoid getting blood on my clothes, but that carpet was a lost cause.
         That would be the end of it. Did I feel a little bad for her? Maybe a little. Did I play her for a sucker, anyway? If I couldn’t take advantage of the mentally unbalanced, then who could I? She’d chosen a path with a bad end a long way back. Too many secrets. Too many lies. I was sure, whether she knew it or not, that she was lying right to the end.
         Like granddad used to say: women.
         “Whitney. Whitney, you can put your hands down now.”
         “It’s…Is it over?” she whispered.
         “Yeah, I think so,” I said, steering her out of the study.
         “There was a bunch of shooting.”
         “Sort of got your Clint quota in-person, huh?”
         “I guess so,” she said. “Five people go in a room and three get shot.”
         “Your math is indeed correct, miss.”
         “You saved me, tough guy,” Whitney observed.
         “All part of the service, doll.”
         “Well, thanks. Where are we going?” she asked.
         “We’ve got to find some diamonds,” I reminded her, “and a mysterious box.”
         “I like the sound of that first part,” she said. “I always wanted to be rich. I don’t think I want anything else to do with that box, though. It’s been an awful lot of trouble. I think it must be cursed or something.”
         “That happens sometimes, doll, when you ‘find’ things that belong to other people.”
         “Details, details, details,” she said. “If you’re going to cloud the issue with unpleasant facts, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
         “Well, the person you ‘found’ the box from wants it back,” I told her as we stepped back outside into the rain. “Jack must’ve been having a really wild day when he decided to go after that thing. Hey, maybe your pendant has been protecting you. You are the last one left.”
         “We can talk more about it over breakfast,” Whitney said. “I think we made an agreement to that effect.”
         “Yeah, I suppose we did,” I said. “Maybe you can also explain to me what a girl like you is doing in a nice story like this.”
         “If you’ll tell me who says I’m dumb.”
         “Never mind,” I said. “Instead, just be warned that, at breakfast, I’m going to be staring across the table to see how many shades of blue I can find in your eyes.”
         “OK, tough guy,” she said, “but if you see more than three, I’m going to have to call my mom with an update.”
         I turned up the collar on my private eye trench coat (standard issue), tugged down on the brim of my private eye hat (standard issue) and steered her down the sidewalk toward my car. We still had an hour till sunrise and the downpour was still going strong, but my stomach had finally gone quiet and life was right enough for the moment.