Sunday, October 30, 2011

16455--Charlie's Angels

Once upon a time, there were three very different little girls.  They work for me.  My name is Charlie.

Charlie: Good morning, Angels. 

Marcy: Good morning, sir. 

Peppermint Patty: How ya doin', Chuck? 

Lucy: Get on with it, blockhead.  Do we have a client or not?

Patty: Yeah, Chuck.  What's the story?

Charlie: Mr. Van Pelt is missing a priceless personal item.  He believes the theft may have been an inside job.

Van Pelt: Thank you for seeing me today.  I...I...feel so...

Patty: I think he's having trouble breathing, Chuck.  Have you tried getting away from shoelaces and switching to sandals?  There's nothing like a comfortable shoe to help you stay calm and relaxed.

Marcy: It looks like he's going to pass out.  Maybe we should get him a paper bag to breathe into, sir.

Lucy: He looks like he needs me to sock him one.

Van Pelt: No, I'll...I'll be alright.  They left me this note.

Patty: This doesn't look good, Chuck.  It's from the network.

Marcy: What could it mean, sir?

Lucy: Whatever it is, it doesn't look friendly.  This has got to mean trouble for us.

CB: Good grief.

16457--Guerrilla Marketing

Halloween is upon us and all these people running around concerned about using disguises to get treats from strangers makes me think about guerrilla marketing.  Notice that no one talks about "guerrilla advertising".  Advertising is simple.  It can be scattershot and indiscriminate so long as it gets your name, or whatever your product is, mentioned.  Marketing is more involved.  Marketing has design and planning behind it.  Marketing can be subtle or obvious, but it comes with a goal of motivating specific thought or action. 

Advertising displays the product and gets it on people's minds for a moment.  That's fine if they know what it is or it's something they were looking for anyway.  Just saying "Budwiser" might make you think of the beer. but it doesn't draw you in with a promise of a lifestyle or a history of its manufacture that sets it apart from other beers.  That's what marketing is for, turning your thoughts toward buying the beer when you weren't already planning on it.  Advertising is a reminder.  Marketing preaches to the unconverted.  Guerrilla marketing puts the message out without them even realizing there's preaching happening.  It's subtle, unexpected and done on the cheap whenever possible.

Out with a friend recently, he needed to do some shopping in...a large, multimedia chain store.  It was nearly his wife's birthday and he still needed to settle on a gift.  I waited for him in the computer department and explored the demo tablets they had on display.  Rather than shop or educate myself about the virtues of each tablet, I decided it would be more productive to find all the ones with active internet access and make sure they had bookmarks to reviews of my book and this blogsite as their homepage.  Oh, if only I could get access to the ones in the boxes.  *sigh* Baby steps, but that's the subtlety.

Writing, creating the product, is only part of the battle.  Generating interest in that product, creating an audience to eagerly receive that product, is a large part of the ongoing struggle.  Spread those business cards.  Leave bookmarks inside books at the store.  Put copies of your book in places where people can find it: coffee shops, waiting rooms, bus seats.  Catch your potential audience off-guard with your creative sneak attacks.

What are some of your favorite methods of unconventional marketing?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

16454--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 6)

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.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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 6

It was an excruciating ride in morning traffic with a pit stop at the South Riverside Train Station. I was on the fence about whether it should be my favorite or my least favorite train station, since I’d almost been killed in it a few nights ago…but only almost. One might’ve thought that I should have had greater concern about my even considering having a favorite train station.

Unlike my last visit, this one wasn’t supposed to end with my ticket getting punched. Still riding on my breakfast high, part of me was expecting on a nice, low-stress outing to help recover a camera bag from a locker. Part of me was an idiot.

“What made you decide to hide it here?” I asked her as we pushed through the bustling commuter crowds.

“I came through here that night we saw each other,” Harmony said. “There were strange people following me. It felt like they were getting closer and I didn’t want them to catch me with the bag. I lost them long enough to hide the bag and kept running.”

“I hate running,” I grumbled at her. “What’s in it?”

“What’s in your box?”

“Never looked, huh? Fair enough, though I doubt Lew would’ve handed you a bagful of danger without some kind of warning,” I said.

“Still, he was killed over it,” Harmony said, “and now his killers are after me. Don‘t let the clothes fool you. I‘m a secretary, remember?”

“Fair enough,” I said. “We’ll check it out soon.”

We arrived in a long hall, both walls lined with lockers. I called myself keeping lookout both ahead of us and behind as Harmony went to the locker. She jiggled the key, fighting with the lock.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said, clearly frustrated. “It’s stuck!”

“Let me try,” I said, stepping to her side and reaching for the key. “Look at these scratches. Somebody’s been trying to break in here.”


“No, it’s no as long as they didn’t get in. We’ll get in.”

“No, I meant, uh-oh maybe it was them,” she said, pointing past me to the far end of the hall.

I looked and saw two men and a woman, all dressed to blend with any crowd. What was that about psychos and serial killers: they looked like everyone else? I took over wrestling with the stupid locker. Now, of course, the crowds were gone and the lock was jammed and I had this feeling that we were the next targets in a horror movie. It had gotten quiet and everyone else was gone. Where had…? Didn’t matter. Why were they all wearing sunglasses? That was a better question. It was cloudy outside and definitely darker in here. What was up with the sunglasses? “Hold them off!” I tried forcing the key again.

“Freeze!” Harmony commanded as she drew her .45 and leveled it at advancing trio. “We are armed! Turn and walk away!”

They didn’t stop, continuing to walk toward us in unison, emotionless and silent except for their relentless footsteps. Still moving in unison, the three reached into their jackets and pulled guns of their own.


Harmony was sounding more urgent and more nervous, almost panicky. “Be more convincing!” I told her.

She fired a shot that hit one of the men. I saw the trio stop as he staggered and his partners looked at him for a second. They looked back at us and I grabbed Harmony by the shoulder, pulling her behind me as the two remaining stalkers each fired single shots. Frustrated, I slammed a fist against the locker and the key finally turned. I yanked the locker open and grabbed a cheap, vinyl camera bag from inside. “Here!” I said, shoving the bag at Harmony. A look down the hallway let me see that the wounded stalker was upright again with the trio bringing their guns to bear. I pulled my .44, took aim at a leg and blew a hole into another of the trio. The second man dropped as blood sprayed out of him. “Got him!” I announced happily. “We need to get moving.”

“Back to the car?” Harmony asked.

Fast,” I said. “He’s getting up again. Go.” I fired another shot and hit the babe in the shoulder. Another shot caught Harmony’s man in the arm, still more blood spraying into the hall.

“You’re not coming with me?”

“I’m covering your retreat. I told you: I hate running,” I said, watching the stalkers as I withdrew slowly “Yeah, definitely something spooky weird about these clowns,” I said, finally turning to follow Harmony. “They should not still be coming. If they’ve got more like that, we could be in for trouble.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

16447--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 5)

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.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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 5

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that that breakfast was the most purely beautiful thing that had happened to me all morning. The rest of the day was going to be hard-pressed to top it.

“You’re tipping her a whole sovereign?” Harmony whispered in surprise. “That’s almost as much as our whole breakfast.”

“That meal was the best I’ve had in days,” I told her, leaving the coins next to her pile of napkin bits that I was pretty sure were the remains of at least a half-dozen defenseless napkins. “It’s worth every bit. Plus, I scored a major clue. Didn’t you enjoy your rabbit food?”

“It was very good, thank you,” she said, smiling at me and then Carol as we left.

“Have a great day, Carol,” I said.

“Bye, sweetie. Come back soon.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile like this before,” Harmony said as we went to the sidewalk and maneuvered ourselves to dodge across the street.

“You’ve known me for all of about two hours,” I reminded her. “I’ll tell you now, don’t get used to it.”

“You’ve got a nice smile, Brick.”

“Blah-blah-blah…Come on,” I said, walking off the curb and into traffic. My charity client had me convinced she was about as stable as jello in an earthquake, which had me pondering how fast I could get rid of her.

Harmony followed and survived the crossing with no problem. Outside the pawn shop, I stopped and turned to face her. “When we go in,” I said, “just follow my lead. Don’t give your name. If anyone asks, you’re just a friend. That’s more than anyone needs to know.”

“Following your lead,” she said with a nod. “Got it.”

“Good,” I said, reaching into one of the pockets of my private eye trench coat (standard issue). I pulled a marker and name tag out of my pocket. Harmony tried to look at what I was doing as I wrote on the slick paper.

“Up to something sneaky, are we?” she asked.

“Just trying to make this go as smoothly as possible,” I said. I held the self-adhesive paper so that she could read it.

“’Hello, my name is…Jack Morgan’?” she read aloud. “Well, pleased to meet you, but do you even look anything like him or are we pretending that we just came from a convention?”

“No and no,” I said. “While magic stuff isn’t anything that I usually mess with, this fell into my hands recently. Watch.” I peeled the back off the tag’s sticky side and slapped it onto my coat over the left side of my chest. Harmony suddenly looked confused and unnerved. I reminded myself that she was probably not the best person to have sprung that disguise on, but it was done and I was just going to make the best of it from there.

“Brick? Brick?” she asked, almost panicky as she put her back to the storefront and started scanning one face after another in the passing crowd to try to find me.

“Harmony,” I said. “Calm down. It’s me.”

“What? Jack? Jack Morgan?” she asked. “I-I don’t know you. I thought you were dead. Dead! Why aren’t you dead?

“Alright, pay attention,” I told her. “Whatever you think you see or hear, I’m Brick Stone. The magic name tag just makes it seem like I’m someone else. Just follow along and we’ll get this all cleared up super-quick.”

“Well…OK,” she said nervously.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s unlikely that you’ll live to regret it.”

With that I stepped to the door of the pawn shop and pushed it open. A little bell jingled as I walked in with Harmony behind me. We had stepped into the midst of someone’s attic. There were ten thousand memories, bits of lives, on display and all of them for sale. Always seemed a little desperate to me. Finding some cute little toy or a tool you needed was one thing, but going looking for jigsaw pieces from the puzzles of other people’s lives to squeeze into your own just never sounded quite right to me. People would do whatever they were going to do, though, and that wasn’t for me to judge. I was just a guy who got paid to find stuff and solve mysteries from an external perspective.

“Ah! Hello! Welcome, first customers of the--Oh, it’s you,” the friendly seeming bearded man said.

He was a stout fellow, his ruddy complexion and dark hair standing out in sharp contrast to his very white dress shirt. His boisterous “customer service” greeting had changed to a tone of familiarity. With that, I noticed, came a hint of contempt. We walked toward him anyway, but I took his cue: as his smile had vanished, I didn’t offer one.

“You are late, my friend Morgan,” he said as he pulled a card file box from beneath the counter.

“It’s been a busy couple of weeks,” I told him.

“Still, you are…two payments behind,” he said, looking at a card in the box, “and you don’t return my calls. I am thinking that soon I will have to be trying to sell your pretty box.”

“Sorry to get you all worried,” I told him. “On the upside, I’m here to take the pesky item off your hands. Thanks for keeping it safe.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, obviously not caring much about anything else I had to say. “It’ll be…a hundred thirty.”

Sovereigns?” Harmony asked.

“Interest,” pawn shop guy explained. “Will that be cash or…cash?”

It was still cheaper than dropping a diamond on the guy. I pulled a bunch of gold coins from my pocket and counted several out onto the glass display case. “There’s a hundred and forty. Here‘s the ticket.”

“I’ll get your change and your box,” he said, limping off through a swinging door to go search his storeroom. “Gimme just a minute.”

“This is going very smoothly, Brick,” Harmony whispered.

“Yeah, that was the point of preparing,” I told her.

“But now’s when he tries to double-cross us, right?” she proposed. “What do we do?”

“Wha--? You’ve been watching too many bad movies,” I told her. “This is a business. We did the customer part. Now, he’s doing the business guy part. The dangerous part’ll come when we get the box back out in the open.”


“Worse still,” I continued, “we’ve gotta go get your sought after item from hiding, as well. Then, we get to work on keeping them both safe long enough to figure out why all these other people want them.”

“It seems pretty sad,” Harmony said, “but I’m getting the feeling that you were right before and that the deaths of Lew and all those other people have been motivated by greed and ambition.”

“And to think that most people just write me off as a cynic,” I said with a snort.

“I don’ care what nobody else say about you, Morgan,” beard guy announced as he limped back through the doorway carrying a brown leather-clad box, “your money’s always good with Sergei.”

“Thanks,” I replied as he set the box on the glass. I reached out to touch the aged, soft padded leather and caught myself wondering for a moment what life-altering treasure was contained by the unassuming box.

“You and pretty lady find something else you like in store?” he asked hopefully.

“Always the salesman,” I said. “Just the change, man,” I said, holding out a hand.

He dropped a couple of coins in my hand. I glanced to make sure they were both five-sovereign silver pieces before I slipped them into my pocket.

“Well, I could stand to take a look at--”

“We really need to roll, doll,” I told her.

“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot we were in a hurry.”

“Yeah, it feels like it’s gonna rain any minute and we don’t want to get caught. You take care of yourself,” I said as I lifted the box off the display case. I was surprised to find it almost weightless. Even empty, I figured that for its size it should’ve been a few pounds, but it was barely one. It was the sort of oddity that usually meant magic was involved, a fact which really came as no surprise at that point. Things had been going too well. “Watch my back, doll,” I said to Harmony in a low tone as we turned and headed for the door. “I think the ride’s about to get extra bumpy.”

“Right behind you, Jack,” she said.

We made it outside, the name tag’s spell expiring about twelve seconds later, and headed through the ever-thickening crowds back to my waiting car.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

16440--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 4)

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.

Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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 4

There was no helping my head, so I let Harmony drive my car. I noticed that Harmony talked a lot. I guessed that that was something she had missed out on--having someone to talk at--while being on the run for the last few days from the evil minion tag teams. She told me about how the people chasing her blah blah blah, hiding out at the late Lew Manning’s apartment. That explained her stylish wardrobe and where she’d found info on me, Brick Stone, P.I. and blah blah blah…

“So you knew Lew?”

“Just…resting my eyes,” I said.

“OK…I was asking how you knew Lew.”

“Manning and I met years ago,” I said. “We talked now and then to throw each other extra work, but he and I had different styles.”

“Yeah, Lew did like to do things his own way.”

“He was a loose cannon,” I said, “with very little regard for the standard issue Official Private Eye Handbook.”

It was a Tuesday, I had a headache that would drop a…really big animal and another case had thrown itself into my lap. At least, I didn’t have to worry about dying. No way could I have gotten that lucky.

Joe’s Diner looked just like the picture on the postcard. There were booths along the big window along the sidewalk with all of three people in them and the long red counter with spinning stools every couple of feet. The cash register was at the end of the counter near the door. There was a blonde working the register, talking to customers as they entered and left. She had her hair in a tight bun and a cute little mole on her left cheek. She must’ve liked it: she wore a lot of make-up to try to cover how tired she really looked, but she didn’t try to hide the mole. She probably called it a beauty mark. Her uniform was too tight, probably from denial over a weight gain. She was still attractive, though. She had a good smile. She probably kept stuffed animals in her bedroom, too, but that didn’t really matter. None of it did, unless she somehow ended up becoming part of the case. Breakfast was more important to me at that particular moment, though.

“Hey, sweetie,” the cashier/waitress said to me as someone else walked out past me and Harmony, “you two wanna have a seat at the counter?”

“We’re here to meet Jack Morgan,” I told her. “He said if he was running late, we should just wait at his usual booth.”

“Oh, Jackie’s comin’ back in?” she asked with a beaming smile. “Good. We ain’t seen him in days. Here’s a couple a menus,” she said, handing over the folded laminates. “Last booth, all the ways down. Get comfy and I’ll be down t’take care a you in just a minute.”

I took the menus, saying, “Thanks…”


“Carol,” I repeated. “Shoulda known. Prettiest lady here, just like Jack said.”

She blushed as we walked off to the booth.

“You’re dangerous,” Harmony told me.

“Wait’ll I get some food in me,” I said.

“Who’s this Jack Morgan we’re meeting?” Harmony asked me.

“Husband of a client,” I told her. Taking the late Jack Morgan for a cautious man, I sat with my back to the wall and afforded myself of a view of the entire diner, just like he probably made a habit of doing.

“And he’s coming here to meet you?” Harmony asked as she slid out of her private eye trench coat (standard issue) into the booth to sit across the table from me.

“No, of course not,” I told her, getting an eyeful of her in a clingy green dress that still hung every bit of just right on her even though she‘d obviously had to sleep in it. “He’s dead.” I pushed my hat back on my head as she took hers off and dropped it to the seat beside her.

“Dead? Did I miss something?” she asked, obviously a bit shaken.

“Nothing you need to worry about right now,” I said. “You know what you’re having yet?”

“Oh, no,” she said, fumbling for her menu. “Sorry, give me a minute.”

“Hi, again,” Carol said cheerily, swooping in on us with a hot pot of coffee. “Who wants coffee?”

“She does,” I said. “It’ll keep her on her toes.”

“Bottomless cup, hon,” Carol told her. “Hot and tasty. You sure you’re not havin’ any, handsome?”

“What I need, beautiful, is a big, tall glass of grape juice,” I told her, sliding my menu her way.

“Oh, that sounds great,” Harmony chimed in. “Could I get orange juice?”

“Sure, hon,” Carol said. “You two ready for some breakfast?”

“Always,” I assured her. “I have big appetites.”

“I could tell that,” Carol said, laughing as she readied her pen and pad. “I like a man with big appetites.”

“Carol, if you can hit me up with a four-egg, steak omelette,” I said, “you will make me a very happy man.”

“Who’s in need of an angioplasty,” Harmony mocked.

“Chop up some peppers and onions,” I added, “and melt in at least three kinds of cheese.”

“Happy tummy makes a happy man, hon,” Carol sang to Harmony. “You want the pancakes with that?”

“Buttermilk, real butter and real maple syrup,” I said, “as long as you’re asking.”

“Wow. Just a breakfast salad for me, thanks,” Harmony said, handing Carol her menu.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” I said. She’d been on the run for days and was still more worried about her figure than her belly. “You are aware that Carol has choices available that will provide you far more caloric energy to aid in your survival when danger bares its hungry fangs?”

“Consider my food choice a testament to how safe I feel with you,” Harmony replied. “I don’t expect to have to do any more running. If I do, you’re eating enough for both of us.”

“I do my best to avoid running and I’m not carrying you,” I told her. “That’s a service for paying customers.”

“Stay strong, handsome,” Carol said, taking my menu. “I’ll be back in ten.”

“Alright,” Harmony said, running a hand through her long dark hair, “catch me up, at least.”

“Let’s see, you want details…on a case where two dangerous clients have paid me in advance,” I said, leaning left to look under the table, “one of them is dead, along with at least five others and I’m not sure that number’s done climbing yet.” I sat back up as I groped at the underside of the table.

“Oh, now I’ve got to know,” she told me. “What great mystery is threatening the populace?”

“Nothing mysterious about greed and ambition, doll,” I said. “They’re part of the human condition. Some people try to rise above that sort of thing, but most never do.”

“Of course not, Brick,” she said. “They’re the stuff dreams are made of.”

My fingers clawed at the corner of the piece of tape I’d found stuck to the underside of the table. I pulled it toward me as I told her, “Right now, all they’re doing is keeping the gravediggers busy.” The tape came free from the table and I brought my hands back to the tabletop.

“What’s that?” Harmony asked me.

I looked at the tape and the piece of paper stuck to it. I smiled as I replied, “The stuff dreams are made of, doll. Or at least another step closer to grabbing the prize and clearing up this mystery ride.”

“Looks like a pawn ticket,” she said, “but you don’t know what it’s for?”

“A box, I’m guessing, or another clue to finding it,” I told her. “I still have no idea what’s inside it. I’m not sure that anyone still breathing really does.”


“Interesting enough for people to get themselves killed over,” I said. “I should probably find my way to this Treasure Island Pawn sooner than later before anyone else ends up with a crowd around them.”

“No rush,” Harmony said. “They’re closed.”

“Familiar with them, are you?”

“Just in passing,” she chuckled weakly, taking another sip of her coffee.

She looked at me with an odd smile, then rolled her eyes and gestured at the diner’s front window with her thumb as though she was hitching a ride. I looked to my right and saw, almost immediately, through all the passing people and cars and across the street a large sign with tall, gold letters that read “Treasure Island Pawn” as sure as the weed of evil bore bitter fruit…or something like that. “Good eye,” I said. “Double-word score on the postcard clue.”

“What?” Harmony asked, grabbing a napkin from the dispenser and starting to tear it into tiny squares. “I’m sorry. I’m so tired after the last few days that my banter isn’t at its best. I’m two-days broke and running on coffee and cigarettes. In fact, if you’ve got a pack.”

“I don’t smoke,” I told her, “and you’re not ruining my breakfast making me breathe it.”

“We’ll have breakfast and wait for them to open,” I said. “Till then, we can pass some time on the plan for getting our hands on your camera bag.”

“Fair enough,” Harmony said.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

16435--Are Original Ideas Overrated?

"If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself." -- Rollo May

Rollo May was an existential psychologist and an author.  He believed in free will and in creativity.  Do you?  I do.

With that said, Hollywood steals...No, what do they call it?  Adapting.  Movie makers adapt and recycle and remake.  Television people do it, too.  I'm sure creators in other media can be labeled as being less than truly creative when they "take inspiration" from sources outside the confines of their own skull.  Whether creators or audiences, we are awash in tributes, homages and other flat-out derivative works.

It's a short-cut to the money.  Why work harder when working less will get you what you're really after?

A remake of "Footloose" recently hit the theaters, I guess because dancing and music continue to be very popular.  Why bother to put forth the brainpower of conceiving a whole new story when you can just hang new players and songs on an already proven framework.  It was well-received so Hollywood must be on to something.  Disney goes to even less effort, simply re-releasing "The Lion King" and dominating the box office as their reward.  Even though these "new" products presented to us continue to make a lot of money and garner attention, we have more respect for original theory.

I'm in favor of effort and originality over "been there, done that".  When I was a kid, I remember one of my responses that used to get to my mother the most was "I did that once."  It meant I was disinterested in something I'd already experienced and would prefer new stimulus.  Likewise, I'd rather write something wholly original than anything I felt I had ever seen before no matter how well-received.

When Stanley Kamen was on the verge of announcing his innovative creation that would represent not just a revolutionary change but also the future of personal transportation, there was a great deal of hype and speculation that apparently got some brain cells sparking.  The boys over at "South Park" clowned around and showed us "It", a personal travel wheel that got riders from A to B at 200 miles per hour (despite a comically bizarre control system).  It was certainly much more to look at than Kamen's actual release that followed and brought the world...Segway.

I couldn't believe that he really had the audacity to unleash this as the creation that would change our lives.  People gushed and fawned, but I just couldn't (still can't) get past how lackluster a bomb Mr. Kamen dropped.  He brought to light a scooter that is ridden in a standing position.  Do I have to be the one to point out that we already had those (also available to ride in a seated position) that matched Segway in carrying capacity, range, speed and recharge time.  The only thing Segway's creator brought to the table that was different for scooters (sitting or standing variety) was its self-balancing capability.  That's right, he found someplace useful to cram a gyroscope, changing the lives of...mall cops (though I've noticed some of them now riding a pretty cool-looking three-wheel version that would obviously not need the gyroscope technology and so is probably only a tenth the price).

Ahhh...the rewards of coming as close to reinventing the wheel as I've seen in a while.

How clever to create hype for something unseen and, when finally revealed, presenting the nothing new fused with the very old (folks used to stick horses in front of Segway's and call them chariots a few thousand years ago) and still getting people to believe it.  TV and movie studios should take lessons from this.  I can see it now: Stanley Kamen hosting writing seminars on pumping new life into old classics and claiming them as your own.  Did I mention that I was going to start work on this idea I had about a man coming to Earth with superhuman powers?  Sent to us by his father, he would blend in with us while helping to save us from self-destruction.  It'll be innovative and change the future of writing and be loved by untold millions for years to come.  You'll see.  Trust me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

16433--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (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.

Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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 combed the hair, but gave up on the tie. I found my gun in its holster under the bed with underwear from at least two women. I didn’t try to make sense of it and finished dressing. In the kitchen, I found Harmony waiting…sort of.

“Wow, this is a nice kitchen,” I said, looking around the room. “So weird, though. Pulling out absolutely every single glass…cup…plate…and bowl…seems so…unlike me.”

“You’ll…thank me later?”

“I can’t imagine why,” I told her. “Is that something that happens to you on a regular basis when you show up in strangers’ homes and start moving things around?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, elbow-deep in soap suds and warm water with dishes covering the counter-tops to her left and right. “I get anxious sometimes. I tried to get a glass so I could maybe get some water or juice, but the glass had a spot and so I got out another one…and…”

“And you ended up trying to wash every glass,” I said, looking at all the open cabinet doors, “and ultimately getting every single dish from every cabinet. I assume the utensils are next? What‘s after that?”

“I…Well, if you like, I--”

“No, I wouldn’t like,” I said. “I wouldn’t like it at all. Everything was fine just the way it was.”

“I‘m sorry. I‘ll…get all this put away again,” she said sheepishly. “Hey, you clean up pretty well yourself. All you need now is a tie and--”

“No one needs a tie. You want my help or a dinner date?”

“Help, please, sir.”

“Fine, then stop all that crazy talk.”

“Sorry, Brick, I had no idea you felt so strongly about…ties.”

“Just don’t let it happen again,” I warned her. “Now, tell me what happened.”

“I’ve been working as a secretary for Lew Manning, private eye,” she began, “for the last year. A couple of weeks ago, a client hired Lew to follow his wife. She’d been acting suspiciously--”

“And was probably having an affair,” I said. “Routine stuff. What went wrong?”

“Well, it was a dark and stormy night--”

She really knew how to tell a story. At last, a bright spot. Harmony had my full attention.

“--and I was about to go into my apartment building, when Lew came staggering up to me, shoved a camera bag into my hand and then collapsed, dead.”

“Did he say anything before the big dirt nap?” I asked.

“Just that I didn’t have to come in to work the next day,” Harmony said, “and he wasn’t going to be able to pay what he owed me for the last few weeks.”

“Sounds like Lew, alright.”

“Then, these people started shooting at me,” she went on, “so I ran. I called the police but when we went back to my apartment building, Lew’s body was gone.”

“And the rain had washed away any clues. Forces of evil do love to operate under the cover of all-concealing shadows…and rain…and hail…Y’know, I guess, sometimes those evil forces are really diligent.”

“Well, the police didn’t want to believe me,” she said, getting more agitated. “They said I was just seeing things because of the storm and that I got panicked by thunder or a backfiring car or something.”

“The City’s finest,” I sneered. “They were just being lazy. When’s a murder not a homicide? When there’s no body.”

“So you do believe me, don’t you, Brick?” she asked, grabbing hold of my collar and pulling on it with crazed strength like it was a rope saving her from drowning. “I know what I saw! I know what happened!”

I pried her slender hands off of my collar. There was still a desperateness in her eyes, but I managed to stop the unpleasant choking sounds I’d started making. “What’d you do with the camera bag?”

“I hid it,” she said more calmly. “I didn’t want them to take it, if…if they caught up with me. I only saw them from a distance, but they all seemed so odd…something about their eyes.”

“The hungry gleam of evil in those eyes, no doubt. How many different people did you see coming after you?” I asked.

“Only two or three at a time, but different…teams, I guess. I don’t know how many there might be or what they want.”

“Well, I’m kind of in the middle of some other jobs, but I know a good place to go get some coffee and maybe a bite,” I said, fitting my private eye hat (standard issue) to its proper place, “and we can try to figure out what to do about your situation.”

“You’ll help? Oh, Brick, that’s great, but…there’s still something else you need to know,” Harmony said nervously.

“Why me?” I asked, bracing myself for more bad news. “What now?”

“I…I can’t afford to pay you,” she said. “Not right now. We might be able to work out something--”

“Is that all?” I asked, relieved to be able to breathe again.

“You don’t mind?”

“Oh, there was a time,” I said, remembering all the way back to last week, “when I might have hounded a deadbeat client for as far and as long as I had to to collect the money I’d earned, but I’m beyond that now.”

“You mean, you’ve reached some sort of inner peace and grown beyond your materialistic self?”

“No, I mean, I’ve reached the peace that comes with having a big, fat bank account and that my P.I. fees are chump change now.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Let’s roll,” I said, heading for the door. “Sharp outfit, by the way.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

16427--Josie and the Pussycats Ain't Shakespeare

People aspire to greatness, to make a mark, to leave an impact on the world.  The level of success, whether in their own lifetime or after, is often measured by others.  As in relativity, the position of an observer has the power to be of significance to the subject of observation. 

For writers, it seems common to set a goal of striking at deep emotional themes in an audience.  I'd be willing to wager that to have our works received as products of serious import, carrying weight and merit as timeless portrayals of the enduring human condition, is the unspoken fantasy of many, many a scribe.  It's like being seen as the coolest, most interesting person at every party or the hottest rock star breathing.

"Emotionally stirring", however, doesn't mean that we should all sit down and grind out a Russian epic or unleash hubris enough to plan on being the next Shakespeare.  There are a lot of emotions available as targets of our work that are made no less valid by not being heavy drama.  Let me tell you, I hate Iago--the one from "Othello", not "Aladdin".  The one from "Aladdin" is just an annoyance and a comic foil.  Both stories are entertaining, though.  So is "Fight Club" and "Joe versus the Volcano" and "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" and so many other varied treats on film and in print.  I'm rather glad to not have to do without them.

I recently found myself enjoying, you guessed it, "Josie and the Pussycats".  You knew I'd get around to it.  Anyway, I'm not talking about the Archie comic book or even the Saturday morning cartoon it inspired (although to be fair, even though the characters originated in the comic, it was the greedy desire to duplicate the musical success of The Archies' hit song "Sugar, Sugar" that pushed the birth of the musically themed cartoon).  I'm also not talking about the cartoon's catchy theme song, though that would be a fair guess because I can still sing it all these decades later, and I'm not talking about the rocking musical soundtrack that went gold even though its movie didn't enjoy similar box-office success.  Yes, we've hit it!  I'm talking about the movie.

Yes, I like that movie.  It's not even one of those secret shame things that I grudgingly admit and say, "I don't know why I like it.  I just do."  I like the music and the script and the performances and (once I found out that there was a secret, mad science conspiracy plot element run by a sneaky, crazy villain) I loved the story.  The biggest problem I'd originally had with it was that I didn't know enough about it.  All I heard about it at first was that it was a film about a small-town girl-band that went on to big-city success.  Well that was a failure, I thought, if they didn't have some sort of adventure to fall into and a villainous plot to foil.  I was a watcher of the show as a child and I loved the goofiness of this pop band striving for fame that kept stumbling into spy plots and mad scientist schemes.  Maybe it was a Monkees-thing.  I liked The Monkees show, too.

Still, the cartoon was impressive, managing to have only sixteen episodes and run on ABC, CBS and NBC (all three major networks in that primitive pre-cable era when there were only three national TV networks) for six years.  Well, alright, one of those seasons was sixteen episodes of "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" but it was basically the same show.  It was the earthbound version that got all the rerun mileage and sticks in the memory.  Thank goodness for cable's movie channels, otherwise who knows how long it would've taken me to give the movie a chance.

"Josie and the Pussycats" isn't something you'd ever expect to get an Oscar nomination, but I'd watch it over a half-dozen Academy picks any day.  It's fun.  It wasn't taken too seriously, but it was very well done.  It was even well-adapted from its source material.  What didn't I like about it?  Maybe that it didn't do better box office, so there was no sequel, but that's about it.  Like I said, it ain't Shakespeare, but not everything needs to be.  It makes me happy and that's plenty.  How many Shakespeare works have a gold album soundtrack that's good for dancing?  Who's a rock star?