Thursday, April 28, 2011

16272--A Knowledge of Heather (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.

A Knowledge of Heather is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first of 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.

Chapter 1
     It was a dark and stormy night as I trudged through the littered city streets. It reminded me of San Francisco. Thinking about San Francisco always made me glad I wasn’t there. Lucky me, The City was my home. I liked to think that all the rain helped clear some of the blood and filth off the streets. Whether it was true or not, there never really seemed to be a shortage of filth that needed attention. Still, it was a magical place that always seemed to draw in the people who thrived on that sort of craziness.
     I was making my way back to my office after one of the worst meals of my life. It looked like a collection of all the slop I had refused from the high school cafeteria years ago had been conjured back up to haunt me. My own fault for pissing off the witch that ran the diner. She did look like one of the high school lunch ladies, though. That would explain a lot. Long odds, but it’d make more sense than a lot of what went on back then. Without a doubt, though, living up to being voted “Most Likely to Take a Life” became as much of a sure-thing as a prom date with daddy issues after the weirdness that landed me here. Whether I chose a rough line of work or it chose me was something I left up to the fortune tellers. My biggest concerns were usually just shooting at the right targets and not running out of bullets.
     My office was in a five-story stack of bricks. I took the stairs to the third floor, then remembered my office was on the second floor so I went back down. Oh, how I hated magic! Every other day was cleaning day, but the crew management hired didn‘t like carrying their gear above the ground floor. Instead, at night, they shuffled the floors…or the offices or enchanted the stairs or something. Whatever, it was annoying.
     Turning the corner brought me to the end of the hall and the door with translucent glass. On the glass in bold gold and black was printed “Brick Stone, Private Eye”, my home away from home. I urged my stomach to settle as I moved to unlock the door. Then, I saw a shadow move across the glass from inside. Garbage for dinner and ambush for dessert. Story of my life.
     I reached into my private eye trench coat (standard issue) and pulled my .44 magnum from its snug leather shoulder holster. Shooting through the glass would mean I’d have to pay to replace it and who knew if the walking corpse had any cash in his pockets. It would be more fun to charge in and strike fear into this clown’s heart. I could put a hole in him later.
     Bursting into my cluttered office, I leveled my .44 at the intruder. At the windows, very much stricken with fear I noted proudly, a raven-haired beauty stood trembling. Still soaked from the storm, her wet dress clinging to her lithe body and backlit by city lights, I wasn’t going to be able to let anyone under thirteen into my office unless accompanied by an adult. As it was, I was gonna need a few seconds to get my own breathing going again. “I guess I need to invest in a better lock.”
     “Mr. Stone?” she said, almost sobbing. “Thank goodness you’re here.”
     “Dames,” I said with a sigh. I knew I was gonna regret it, but I holstered my gun and closed the office door. “Rest the waterworks, have a seat,” I told her, dropping into my chair and digging into my desk to find something to help my stomach, “and start telling me why you’re here. And make it quick. My office ain‘t zoned for adult entertainment.”
     She was obviously nervous, but she began with, “My name is Heather Morgan and I think somebody’s trying to kill me.”
     “And what would make anyone want to ice a head-turner like you?” It was a generous question. In my experience, anyone who spent enough time letting people get to know them could usually rub somebody wrong enough to draw some kind of heat. Curves and moxie added up to sex appeal, but they really weren’t any kind of protection against people with murder in mind. If anything, they usually fanned the flames.
     “My husband’s work.”
     “And what’s so special about his work?”
     “Diamonds,” she responded. “There’s a fortune in diamonds at stake.”
     “And so you came to me.”
     “Well, you are Brick Stone,” she said.
     With an attitude like that, I could probably ignore the booze smell coming off her and put up with her for a little while. Why didn’t I get more clients like this? Why didn’t I get more clients?
     She started to pull a folded newspaper from her purse, saying, “I saw you did this sort of--”
     That again. “Don’t,” I said, putting my hand to hers. “I’ve seen enough of that damned picture.” Not that I cared about that sort of thing, but it was far from flattering.
     “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, shoving the paper away.
     “The story was at least half-wrong,” I said.
     “Oh. OK.”
     “It actually wasn’t even me in the picture,” I said.
     “It was a mess. If I never hear about it again--”
     “Can you help me, Mr. Stone?” she asked. “Please?”
     “I get fifteen sovereigns a day.”
     “A-Alright,” she said.
     “Plus expenses,” I added quickly. She looked like she was used to having other people pay her way. I’d caught her off guard, but I didn’t care. Whatever world the action was in, the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) was clear about the rules of the trade. One of those major rules was: always get paid.
     “Anything you need,” she said softly. “Please, I just need your help.”

That's it for chapter one.  Look for more next week or sooner at the links above.
Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, April 22, 2011

16265--Setting the World on Fire

Let's start with the obvious: I'm a writer.  Yes, I'm writing a blog, so here's the proof I can string a few coherent sentences together.  I've also written for newspapers and magazines and produced a bunch of short stories years ago that I'm contemplating re-exposing to the light of day.  My true passion is for longer work, though.  I'm a novelist at heart.  It takes more time, but it's the storytelling form that seems to work for me.  If you haven't already, check out "The Official Private Eye Handbook", the first book in my City of Magick series.

Oh, my, blatant self-promotion!  How crass.  Well, it stems from the reason behind my even writing this blog at all.  Let's face facts: if I'm a novelist, why isn't this a novel?  Does Harlan Ellison have to tear himself away from his Olympia to resort to this?  How about Grant Morrison?  You bet they do.  Why is Neil Gaiman unleashing Tweets to tell me what he's up to from day-to-day?  Like any religion, if  it wants to build up an audience, it's all about the marketing.  That's why human sacrifice stopped figuring in at all the temple services: it's just not popular and you're dissolving your base of loyal followers.

Welcome to the 21st Century!  Just as anyone who wants to make a video or produce music can make it available to the world via the internet, writers can do the same with any chain of words we choose to string together.  Self-publishing is on the rise, but with that comes even more self-marketing.  To put it another way: you can write whatever you like, but if you want anyone to know it exists for reading, you're going to have to find a way to tell a lot of people about it.  Spreading the word and standing out in the crowd today means public speaking, promotional appearances, article writing, blogging, using the social networks and giving stuff away.  The prize, should all go well of course, is creating sufficient commercial success to not have to engage in most of the marketing grind personally any longer.  We do surround ourselves with delightful ironies to get us through, don't we?

So, along with the writing, an endeavor the aforementioned Mr. Ellison has described as one of the most difficult of human undertakings, this new age of independence has also saddled writers with the task of stimulating interest among potential readers.  Unfortunately, that stimulation doesn't come by simply producing more writings.  In order to sell the work and himself, essentially, the writer must engage in myriad supplementary tasks that have little if anything really to do with the work they want the world to take interest in consuming.  I, for example, am writing you this blog about...this blog instead of working on "Murder at Wardenclyffe" (coming soon, be patient) and then "Fire and Blood".  It's sad, but if I didn't, how would you ever know how much you desperately want to read it.

And here we are, taking part in an experiment to find out what it'll take to get the readers of the world to salute once I've run my flag up the pole.  As always, whether I actually say it or not, thanks for your time and attention.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

16263--Going down in flames

There's an interview that just came out in which Bryan Singer talked about why he felt "Superman Returns" didn't work.  My personal feelings, which he admittedly didn't ask for, are a little strong on the subject.  Let's face it, though, I have my own informed opinions.  I've watched a lot of movies, give thought to story structure and know more about Superman than Bryan Singer ever will.  I'm willing to take a look at it under my own examination light.

Part of the problem with the film was that he was trying to do a romantic tribute to Superman as though he was some icon of a lost age.  This means that he was attempting to recreate a feeling evoked from exploiting previous material.  Bluntly, he was trying to mimic what seemed to work before without committing something so obvious to film as a remake.  He even pulled bits of Brando out of the files from "Superman: The Movie" that had gone unused and made a fuss of utilizing the wonderful music John Williams composed for the earlier film.  Unfortunately, that great score was cut-up about as much as Brando's work was and ineptly applied to the newer work.

Mr. Singer goes on in his interview to talk about the christian parallels he was trying to present and then to rave about the form that the upcoming Zack Snyder "Superman: The Man of Steel" should take.  Bryan Singer's only kind of half-got-it.  Like so many Hollywood-folk, they're in love with this idea of the blessed "reboot" of a franchise.  They're concerned about money, not art, no matter what they may tell people to the contrary.  Let me say: please stop wasting our time in your efforts to take our money.  How much of the audience doesn't have the basics down on how Superman got started by now?  Hey, they're planning another Spider-man movie where they tell the world about his origin, too.  Spoiler: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and gets superhuman powers rather than super-poisoned.  Before long, I imagine they'll be starting "fresh" and showing us Bruce Wayne becoming Batman and Tony Stark crafting Iron Man's armor all for the first time.  It's a sadly continuing pattern in which safety and complacency are chosen over originality and it's allowed to pass over and over again.  They do it in television, too.  I suppose, if there were some real cunning at work in the world of publishing, some way could be found to rewrite and repackage whole litanies of classic books as "remakes" and never have to make another truly new thing.  If I hurry, maybe I can get in on the ground floor of that.  I'll be known for influential modern "retellings" of "Treasure Island", "Frankenstein", "Billy Budd"...Hold on, I think I just made myself a bit nauseous.

Singer's right: he should have (past tense) done a "balls to the wall action" flick with a little bit of romance instead of a romantic tribute to the Man of Steel presented as an exalted allegorical figure.  Superman should have been presented as the Hulk was, flexing his muscle against some villain(s) he could cut loose against.  I'm not talking about the flying ballet we were given in "Superman II".  I'm talking about hard-hitting, bone-jarring, unbridled, landscape-chewing, knock-down, drag-out action that conveys raw power and shows off the super in balance with the man.  That would be a Superman movie to see.  For novelty, they could even sideline Lex Luthor and the kryptonite for one installment.  People like Mr. Singer, who claim to only have familiarity with the movies and none of the decades of continuously published source material (aka comic books), may be unaware that there are a wealth of villainous types who've proven themselves eager to tug on that bright red cape.

Not me.  I know better.  I don't spit into the wind, either.


16262--Fire is Hot

Society is a lie.  More accurately, society is a collection of lies.  Whether it's manifest through business, politics or the multitude of other social functions.  Many of the things you read about in history are lies.  Advertising is full of lies.  Politicians lie.  Scientists lie.  Not all babies are cute.  Certainly, not all children are special.  We are not all equal, despite everyone generally looking alike.  I'm not going to accept a lot of inane arguing on this.  The differences that exist from person-to-person range from molecular to inches.  Get a little altitude, not a lot, look down on the crowd below and try to pick out Waldo.  Nope, they all look alike.  Go high enough and they all look like ants.  Genetic material is quite finite, so you're only going to get so much variety.

Nature is honest, that's why.  Fire is hot.  Water is wet.  Go ahead and check.  Natural selection works hand-in-hand with survival of the fittest.  They've worked to thin herds for eons.  Society is the new kid on the block that breeds in weakness and feeds on the stupid.

Trust me.  I write fiction.  Of course, I also don't drink, smoke or mistreat women.  I suppose that's not so much a lie as going against some of the traditional characteristics society has come to promote for writers.  Going against type, swimming against the stream of society's conventional consciousness, therefore, serves as a path to the truth.

So, strip away the clutter and trappings of a thing to find its essence, its nature.  For good or ill, find that truth and embrace it for what it is and live with that.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

16261--Into the Fire

I underwent surgery just over a week ago.  Some guys in masks cut into my leg and chopped off the top of my femur.  I'm working on getting my walk back into shape.  The docs seem to be most surprised by the fact that it doesn't hurt, especially with me having declined the pain-killers...and the walker.  For good or ill, being that stubborn is just pushing the physical therapy folks to give me more excercise to do.  Yay.

April is half-gone, but the writing goes well as thoughts of murder and mayhem spill out through my fingertips.  I usually regard that as a symptom of Life being generally good.  At the same time, though, Congress is still in session.  I usually regard that as...let's just say, not so good.  I've always found fictional human suffering far more palatable to the real thing.  Our congresspeople apparently don't share my position on that.

I don't consider myself some sort of political hack or even a know-it-all, but I really have to question them and their activities...frequently.  I wish that we, collectively, managed more effectively to hold our government's feet to the fire and had them doing the things we want them to do and live up to the promises that keep coming out of the mouths of the politicians.  That might seem odd to them, being politicians, but we do keep track of the things they say and hate their double-speak.

People are out of work and losing homes in ever-increasing numbers.  Our politicians are arguing over budget numbers and over where to apply funds amongst projects that We the People probably don't care about as much as our own food and shelter and families.  Do I want to hear about how there are record numbers of home foreclosures and that the government is not going to live up to Obama's promise to help fix it on the same day I'm hearing about $150 million allocations to the National Endowment of the Arts that'll likely go to fund obscure art projects that most of us are never going to see.  That and a lot of other money could really go to helping out in more tangible ways to help America's economic recovery.  Throwing monies to financial institutions that continue to mismanage it?  Let AIG go down the drain and cut checks to the people who need it.  Hand $50,000 to some family with employment and mortgage trouble and you'll do them a lot more good than giving hundreds of millions to an insurance company that's going to deny the family's healthcare claim the next month or embezzle their pension.

I'm going to keep on writing.  It's good for me: exercise for my brain.  Thanks for reading.  You're welcome back any time.  Tell your friends.