Saturday, December 22, 2012

Setting goals for '13

Okay, let's face it; 2012 was a bumpy ride.  Lots of ups and downs that, frankly, left me (and my writing) in just about the same place as we were in 2011.

Meaning we are still sitting in the cheap seats watching the crowd pass by.

I'm not complaining about my writing friends finding success.  In fact I'm the first to stand up and give out a big, 'HOOOORAWWWW!' to every last one of'em.  Each deserved all the success they found--and I'm hoping even MORE will come there way in the new year.

But, me hearties . . . . .

This new year coming is meant for me.  I've said over and over and over that the very first thing a writer has to be is to be confident in one 's writing abilities.  Ultimately you have to BELIEVE you are as good as anyone out there.  But more importantly, you have FIND A WAY and  PROVE IT to everyone.  Especially so to the agents and editors and publishers.

The publishing industry is a very large sea and we are, as unknown writers, very small fish swimming around with the millions of other tiny bright-eyed guppies trying to be recognized.   So I'm going to have to do something different.  I have characters that need to be recognized.  Stories that need to be told.  Series to be written.

Take for instance the artwork above.  Turner Hahn and Frank Morales.  Homicide detectives whom, I not-so-humbly suggest, are as good a duo as can be found anywhere in the genre.  They're fully fleshed out, have their own personalities; and work well with each other.  And the cases they work on  are serious whodunits.  They need a publisher who will give them some loving attention (or, at least, a generic handshake and an 'Attaboy!')  That's all they need and I'm positive they'll take off.

And then there is Roland of the High Crags.  My warrior-monk-wizard character.  Fantasy that has all the ingredients of a traditional  fantasy romp; fire-breathing dragons, magic, high-adventure.  But darker . . . perhaps more thoughtful.  Fantasy/sci-fi (sorry; I have always lumped the two together.  They just fit in the same category so well) has become blase.  Essentially the same story over and over.  A retelling of a retold tale told many a time before.  Surely there's another story--another style that might be refreshing to attempt.

I think I'm going to re-invent this potential series.  Change a few things about the character.  Start something completely fresh and see where that goes.  Make it darker.  Meaner.

One idea I've been playing around is making Fantasy slowly turn into hard Science-Fiction.  And there's a method behind my madness, me buckos!  I think it can be done.  I have the sub-plots in my head that should surprise the bejesus out of the fans who might (absolutely will!) discover this series in '13.

Goals, people.  Everyone needs goals.  But more importantly, more than just setting goals, what truly is needed is determination.  Persistent, consistent, unyielding determination to succeed.  As other pundits have pointed out repeatedly, the world is full of talent.  Our wells overflow with talent.  Entire nations of talented people abound.  But people filled with talent and determination? 

Hmmm . . . . .

If you are a writer you have stories to tell; characters to share.  If you are a writer (throw in any kind of artist here; it's the same thing)  you have a deep desire to share your talent with others.  Not necessarily for fame and glory.  That'd be nice, sure.  But deep down, any artist wants to express their gifts to those who are searching for something.  A good story; a good piece of acting, a great piece of music.  It is this desire to share that drives a lot of artists to do what they do.

And you know what?  There's not a damn thing wrong with that.  That's the way it should be.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sharing a chapter from Retribution.

In fits and starts I am writing the first full-length Smitty novel.  Called Retribution.  Essential the plot revolves around someone asking Smitty, a professional assassin, to help them track down and remove from the streets a madman who is trying to be a modern day Jack the Ripper.

Simple, right?  Naw.  With Smitty nothing is that simple.

There are plots within plots.  Twists and turns that'll (hopefully) make you giggle in delight.  And the characters . . . a lot of them . . . are not exactly what the say they are.  Yes, a complex that, for the reader, I'm hoping will be very enjoyable to read.  But writing this SOB is a pain in the ass. 

As someone once said, writing that flawlessly moves with seamless ease for the reader is very hard work.  I agree completely.

I've already shared one other chapter in the novel you can find back in the achieves somewhere.  But I thought today I might share the latest chapter.  I kinda like what came out and want to share it.   So let me set up the scene for you.

Smitty has a gut feeling a certain prostitute who works out of the Freiburg Hotel is The Ripper's next victim.  One night, when she leaves the hotel, he decides to follow her.  What he doesn't know is The Ripper knows Smitty is watching the woman.  His goal is to take out Smitty.

So here goes.  Tell me what you think.

Twenty Four


            Charlene Hicks rolled out of the rotating glass doors of the Freiberg at a little past two in the morning.  The night was calm.  Still.  Hardly any traffic moving.  The stars were out and there seemed to be this almost surreal quiet that seemed, if anyone was paying attention, unnatural. 

            She was wearing a tight fitting red dress with matching red leather high heels.  Underneath one arm was a white leather purse.  Around her neck was a necklace of white pearls with a few dark red rubies thrown in for good luck.  The low cut dress, the high heels, her perfect form, made the small blond with the long hair cascading down past her shoulder breathtaking to behold.  Men in the lobby stopped in mid conversation to turn and watch her hips sway back and forth seductively as she exited the hotel.

            No doubt about it.  Charlene Hicks was a very beautiful woman.

            Sitting in the darkness of his car he watched as the door man hailed a cabbie and opened the cab's door for Charlene.  On his face was a big grin flashing a lot of white teeth.  A grin that got bigger when Charlene slipped him a couple of bills just before disappearing into the cab.  When the cab pulled away from the front of the hotel he took his time slipping the gearshift into drive and following.

            The cabbie drove in a circuitous route.  Weaving in and out of traffic when they pulled onto a street alive with traffic; taking corners suddenly and then turning almost immediately down another street.  Wherever Charlene was going she was making an effort to ditch anyone trying to follow her.  For twenty minutes he and the cabbie played cat-and-mouse on the streets.  Sometimes he would momentarily loose the cab forcing him to begin a fast circular search.   Luckily he'd find them sliding down a quiet street a block or two away.  Settling in roughly four or five car lengths away he'd take up following them again.

            At the end of the twenty minute drive the cabbie pulled up to the curb in front of a parking garage attached to a fancy looking apartment complex.  The cement structure looked like a brightly lit fortress.  Watching her get out of the cab, bending over, ass turned in his direction and revealing a lot of beautifully sculptured leg, she paid off the cabbie, closed the door, then turned and stepped into through the automatic doors that led into the parking garage's foyer and the single elevator.  She immediately hit the up button on the elevator and waited for the doors to open.  

            He didn't hesitate.

            With a twist of the wrist he slid the lithe, black CTS-V Caddy into the ground floor entrance, paid for the privilege to park, waited for the barrier to go up and allow entrance, and calmly began the twisting drive up into the cavernous garage.  Hitting the down button for the driver's side window he tilted his head to one side to hear better.  When he started to turn onto the third level of the garage he heard the unmistakable clicking of high heels walking across hard cement.  He saw her the moment he nosed onto the third level.  She was walking toward a dark gray BMW 530i, a hand aimed toward the car pressing the unlock button on her key bob.

            She was about to open the driver's side door of the BMW when he pulled in front of the car and draped an arm out of the open window.

            "Charlene, we need to talk."

            Her reaction was visceral.  She stepped back from the car, fumbling with her purse in the process.  He slid out of the car, leaving the driver's side door open, stood up and lifted both hands in the air.  From out of the white leather purse appeared a snub-nosed .38 caliber revolver.  A calm, steady hand held it out from her and aimed it for the middle of his chest.

            "Take another step toward me and I swear to god I'll put two of'em straight through your fucking heart!"

            There was no fear in the woman's voice.  Just a hard edge of determination.  He knew she would do exactly what she said she would do.  Standing beside his Caddy, hands in the air, he almost smiled.

            "Charlene, I'm not here to harm you.  I'm not The Ripper, as the papers call this guy.  But I am here because of him.  Charlene,  I think you're his next victim.  I've been asked to stop him.  But to stop him I need your help."

            The gun in her hand wavered slightly.  He heard her suck in her breath.  Saw her take a half step back as she glanced quickly to her left and then to her right.  But she recovered.  The gun came up again steady and unmoving.  And still aimed at his chest.

            "Who are you?"

            "I'm known by a lot of different names.  The people who asked me to help them know me as Smitty. For now that's all you need to know."

            "Why should I believe you?  What makes you think I'm the next victim?"

            "You're blond.  You're petite.   You're in the same age bracket as the others.  You're very beautiful.  You work out of the Frieburg.  Think about Charlene.  You knew the others."

            She lowered her gun.  Didn't put it back into her purse.  Kept it firmly in her grip and ready in case she had to.  But her face told him she was all too familiar with The Ripper's MO.  The very same thought had crossed her mind many times before.  She looked worried.  Scared.

            "So now what . . . Smitty?  SMITTY!!"

            The attack was lightning fast.  Unexpected.  Coming from an impossible direction.  The dark form came out of the darkness from above.   From a cement cross piece connecting two cement pillars holding up the top floor of the garage.  The one space in the entire garage not lit up brightly!

            Smitty felt the sharp tip of the large knife slid across the collar of his shirt next to his carotid artery.  Felt the pull of cloth as the knife sought his flesh.  Instinctively he pulled back and twisted into the swinging blow as he used the closed fist of his right hand to drive a vicious blow into the black form's rib cage.  The creature grunted but wasn't fazed by the blow.  Landing on his feet, tucked low in a squatting position, he rolled over his shoulders, came to his feet, and started running toward Charlene.  In his right hand was a very large carving knife.  A carving knife exactly like the ones he had used on his other victims.

            Charlene tried to bring the snub-nose revolver up and aim it at the black clad nightmare.  But too slow!  The black horror was just in front of her, the knife coming up over his head for a slashing downward blow.  She screamed, stepped back, threw a hand up to protect her face.

            The blow never came.

            As fast as the nightmare was Smitty was just as fast.  Just as the knife came up for the killing blow Smitty reached out, wrapped fingers around the wrist of the knife hand, and jerked violently backwards.   The nightmare grunted in pain, whirled, faced his attacker, with a second knife in his hand!  A switch-blade with a long, thin blade of blue steel.  The nightmare screamed and thrust forward as hard as he could toward Smitty's exposed chest.  But the dark eyed man saw the blow coming and twisted to one side as he continued to grip the killer's right hand.

            The sharp edge of the switch-blade slid across Smitty's chest biting deep into flesh.  Blood began to color the now shredded shirt he was wearing with a dark smear.  The pain searing through his mind was almost numbing.  But he new the blade had missed its mark.  It was not a killing blow.  Gritting his teeth he brought his the open edge of his left hand down hard across the top of the horror's free arm in a swift chopping blow.  The blow struck bone.  The switch-blade in the horror's left hand dropped to the cement floor of the garage with a jarring ring of cold metal.

            But the horror was far from finished with his tricks.  A knee came up aimed for Smitty's testicles.  Smitty had barely enough time to partially block the blow with a leg.  As he did the horror twisted his right hand free from Smitty's grip and turned toward him, bringing the carving knife slashing out toward Smitty's chest again.  It would have connected this time if it wasn't for Charlene's snub nose revolver suddenly erupting in an outrageous loud explosion in the garage's confining space.


            The snub nose bucked in her hand as she fired.  The bullet, missing its target, slammed into one of the cement pillars and ricocheted with a loud whining sound before slamming into the windshield of a Ford Escort parked beside her BMW.  Inches away from the horror's black clad head.

            The noise of the gun going off, the sound of the bullet ricocheting and then slamming into the Ford's windshield was enough to convince the horror this was not the time nor the place to finish either target off.  Blocking an expertly aimed kick from his prey, the horror rolled across the hood of the Ford Escort, put space between him and the wounded Smitty, and ran to the thick walled barrier of the garage and leapt over the barrier and disappeared into the night.

            Smitty, feeling the pain and the blood covering his chest and stomach, came to his feet and grabbed Charlene by the arm and began pulling her toward the black Caddy.  Shoving her into the car he hurried around to the driver's side, slid in and closed the door, and started driving.

            "You're bleeding.  Is it serious?"  she said, half twisting in the leather seat of the car and reaching out hesitantly to touch Smitty's bloody shirt."

            "It looks worse than it actually is.  But it hurts like hell," he whispered softly, concentrating on his driving.  "We need to get out of here and find some place to hide you.  Especially now we know he is hunting for you."

            "I know just the place.  Here, stop the car and let's change.  I'll drive and you try to stop the bleeding."

            Smitty nodded, braked just inside the exit leading out of the garage and got out of the car.  It took seconds to trade positions.  And then, with Charlene driving, they were gone.  Disappearing into the night just as sirens from approaching police units ripped the night open with wails of despair.






Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Artwork and book covers . . . again!

Let's talk . . . again . . . about artwork and book covers.  How many times we're gonna go down this well trod footpath I don't know.  But apparently we're doing it at least one more time.
The reason I bring this up is because I'm . . . frankly . . . puzzled.  Puzzled in the sense of not quite comprehending how some people in charge of book production make decisions.  Artwork is, even for an ebook, an absolutely critical component in attracting potential readers.  What good artwork does is ask a potential reader to take the chance and buy something of an author whom they may not be familiar with.  Right? 
 I mean, it makes sense, doesn't it?  Lots of us not only like a good read.  But we like the visuals of the front cover to ignite our imaginations and generate some form of anticipation on what we might find inside.
Makes sense to me.
So take the example of the above artwork.  It was to be the cover for the next Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel called Guilt of Innocence.  I commissioned the piece to be done because I had a specific image of what the cover should look like.  I wanted a truly accurate rendition of both Turner Hahn and Frank Morales (Turner is the guy who looks like Clarke Gable; Frank is the red headed freak with no neck).
I also wanted to visual impress upon the reader that (One); there was going to be guns going off and bodies dropping, and (Two); lost of fast cars were to be found inside.  If you've read any of the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales stories (and there are several in the archives you can peruse through)  you KNOW what Turner and Frank look like and KNOW action is guaranteed to be had in buckets full.
But . . .
Some publishers take umbrage over the idea of an author taking a proprietary interest in what the cover should look like.  Actually, I can understand this.  Many publishers want to express a certain 'brand' or 'style' for their trademark's image.  And . . . if that trademark image is dynamic and dramatic, I have no qualms.  But . . . and I certainly don't want to be brutal here, or insult anyone . . .  nevertheless what happens if your trademark artwork is, frankly, a bland brand of ersatz vanilla in flavor? I give you an example.  Here is the cover for  A Taste of Old Revenge.
Examine the two.  Be honest.  If you were a reader scanning the ebook titles which two title covers would capture your attention first?  Which one generates some interesting reading possibilities?  I'm banking the one I wanted to be used for Guilt of Innocence.  Action, color, interesting characters . . . all there.  And the cover is FREE!  I coughed up the coins to get the work done.
Apparently it's not going to happen.  The best I can hope for is (if the book is even accepted for publication, which is still up in the air) maybe they'll take some hints.  Maybe not.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Richard Godwin; Wondering where Art comes from

It's like you, as a writer, constantly run across other writers who just bedazzle you with their talent.  Their talent so sharp, so clear, it forces you to consider the idea of giving up writing and becoming a plumber.  Or . . . if you're lucky . . . an accountant.  Or maybe a trapeze artist.  Or a crash test dummy.
Richard Godwin is that kind of talent.   I read his material and walk off with my head down and mumbling to myself like a Coptic monk suffering through a religious crisis.  Yeah, he's that good.  His style, the way he slings words on the screen or paper, the ability to lure the reader deep into a story, all the hallmarks of a writer with exceptional talents.
It's not that I'm jealous or envious of his abilities (HELL! Who am I kidding!!) . . . it's just that why does my friend have to be so damn talented AND so gosh durn handsome at the same time!  The world is a cruel, cruel mistress, me buckeroos.  And Karma . . . Karma is a bitch. (I must have been a very bad boy in a previous life to get the mugshot I claim as my own currently.  Very bad)
Anyway.  Richard is always a fascinating conversation to wade into so I thought I'd ask him to share some thoughts over whatever struck his fancy.  What struck his fancy is a miniature thesis on what is Art and where does it come from.  It is both fascinating and thought provoking.  So sit back and take your time perusing through the writing.  I think you'll find yourself enthralled.
(Damn!  Talented AND good looking AND an intellect!!  Karma . . . you bitch!)
THE DIVIDE, Richard Godwin.
There have been many debates about art and where it comes from and what rules govern it and at the end of the day maybe no one knows.
Friedrich Nietzsche posited the theory that it stems from a basis tension between the old Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus, Apollo representing law and Dionysus chaos.
In his first seminal work ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ he wrote:
‘...we have considered the Apollonian and its opposite, the Dionysian, as artistic energies which burst forth from nature herself ...first in the world of dreams, whose completeness  is not dependent upon the intellectual attitude or the artistic culture of any single being; and then as intoxicated reality...’.
This idea of intoxicated reality runs like an undercurrent through all the theories of creativity.
Rimbaud used it for his poetry.
Keats wrote of imagination that it was Like Adam’s dream ‘he awoke and found it true’.
There is a central issue of control.
If you paint with watercolour you have to let go of control, or you will paint shit.
The colours run.
That is why Turner is probably the greatest watercolourist and a great oil painter, he knew his media. He also cleverly created many paintings of the sea, which is fluid.
 It’s like tipping the monster out of the pot.
The ego stands in the way.
What are you evoking?
During the 1960’s and 1970’s in the US a number of works were performed which transgressed the traditional boundaries of Western genre in the arts.
Jim Morrison urged his fans to ‘ride the snake’. Morrison also spoke of his reading in ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ of the primal Dionysian art as the spirit of music.
Morrison moved his performances towards shamanistic theatre.
Interestingly Mircea Eliade, author of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy writes of shamans:
‘they express on the one hand the diametrical opposition of two divine figures sprung from one and the same principle and destined, in many versions, to be reconciled at some illud tempus of eschatology, and on the other, the coincidentia oppositorum in the very nature of the divinity, which shows itself, by turns or even simultaneously, benevolent and terrible, creative and destructive, solar and serpentine.’
Morrison’s ‘The Lizard’ took nearly half an hour to perform in concert and is an act of descent.
We’re into the underworld and back to the same divide.
 Aristotle based much of his philosophy around a basic opposition and Alfred Korzybski, the Polish semanticist argues in ‘Science and Sanity ’ that mental pathology within Western cultures stems from a basic confusion of signifier with signified, in other words thinking that a table is identified with the verbal label we attribute to it.
He used to thump the table in his lectures and say ‘this is not a table’.
He also saw the basic either/or basis for Western thinking as its primary flaw.
Hegel moved it on in ‘Phenomenology of Sprit’ where he sought a unity stemming from the synthesis resulting from the uniting of his thesis and antithesis, although his may be a variation on the Christian trinity.
Like John Cage, Morrison was drawn to the Lord of Misrule’s carnival.
David Bowie said ‘I know one day a big artist is going to get killed on stage.’
Alice Cooper enacted much of the Dionysian on stage, throwing live chickens into the audience, axing dolls to death.
The acid trip, under the influence of Timothy Leary became a religious experience a sign for the Trips Festival read: ANYBODY WHO KNOWS HE IS A GOD GO UP ON STAGE.
There is a strong sexual element to this, as Euripides’s play ‘The Bacchae’ illustrates, Bacchus being the Roman version of the Greek God.
When Dionysus sheds Eros his energy turns negative.
  He becomes the Devil, as Norman O. Brown shows in ‘Life Against Death’ as the form of excrement, waste and ‘filthy lucre’.
Then something happened at Altamont.
After Santana opened a freaked out kid tried to get on stage. The Rolling Stones had hired Hell’s Angels as body guards, they dived into the crowd with five-foot pool cues.
While the Rolling Stones waited for darkness the Hell’s Angels taunted the crowd with contempt. Then they parodied the rituals of religious cults. Sol Stern, a former Ramparts magazine editor, wrote: ‘One of them, wearing a wolf’s head, took the microphone and played the flute for us – a screeching, terrible performance; no one dared to protest or shut off the microphone.’
Why didn’t they protest?
Because they were caught up in group psychology.
Why do leaders use it?
It’s good for business.
The Mediterranean wolf cuts and the flute music of Dionysus, the wild music of the joujouka – the vestigial music of the God which had entranced Brian Jones, Bryan Gysin, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles and Ornette Coleman – had come to this, a preparation for a star.
Into the darkness of Altamont, through the protective circle of the Angels on the blood-spattered stage, came the Stones, led by Mick Jagger in a black and orange cape and tall hat.
They played well but their music spoke out the interface between savagery and erotics, between the controls of art and the controls of magic, between Apollo and Dionysus. Jagger began ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – ‘They call me Lucifer and I’m in need of some restraint’. The earlier Angels’ attacks now climaxed. In the spotlights, when Jagger went on singing this number, they stabbed to death a black youth from Berkeley named Meredith Hunter. Panic-stricken Jagger tried to cool the screaming people, but the death ritual operated as part of his own performance.
The antithesis maybe at the root of art and sexuality.
Blood may flow from its veins.
Cultures create their own paradigms.
The scientists are the new priests if you believe in their religion.
Korzybski believed that hieroglyphic sign systems are healthier than ours because they use images.
Consider flint.
Strike it and there’s a spark.
We are as Shakespeare wrote in ‘The Tempest’
‘We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and out little life Is rounded with a sleep.’
I examine the themes in Apostle Rising
and Mr. Glamour.