I've posted songs on facebook. I've posted key memories associated with David Bowie's records on twitter. Hopefully, this will be my last word on the matter. I hate celebrity worship and I hate how teary people get when famous people die. Bowie was a bit different, however. He was a hero to me and a whole lot of other people in this world who feel they somehow don't fit in with "regular people."
For the record, I was adopted six months before I was born. My biological parents were poor kids from the east side of Indianapolis. In the days before Roe v. Wade, social services encouraged girls like my biological mother to give their babies up for adoption. My parents, the people I call mom and dad because they cleaned my dirty diapers and have been putting up with me ever since, were post-WWII European immigrants. I grew up schizo, torn between my "white trash" inclinations to get wasted and listen to heavy metal music, and the influence of my parents (the ones who raised me), who wanted me to be an "intellectual," who exposed me to classical music and Kafka and all the "refined" things in life. In school, when I told kids I'd been adopted, they'd take three steps back and treat me like an alien. When I started listening to Bowie's music in the sixth grade, I realized lots of people are "strange." I learned to ignore the conformists and show them my middle finger if they ever got too obnoxious. For that alone, I should be grateful to Bowie.
But David Bowie taught me something more important than not giving a shit about the conformist fatheads in the world--Bowie taught me what it means to be an artist. The key word: Evolution. An artist must always move forward, never wallow in a particular style or genre simply because they've experienced some fame or notoriety for that particular work. I love how he made "Low" when the Sex Pistols were stomping around putting down anything that wasn't three chords and a cloud of dust. I love how that record pissed off executives at RCA and how, allegedly, Bowie didn't give one ounce of a shit what they thought."Low" is my favorite Bowie record and serves as a constant reminder that an artist must never do what others expect, only what he or she feels is right at the moment.
With all my rantings about Hollywood's lack of creativity, Bowie's life and career serve as a vital reminder what the responsibility of an artist is: Again, EVOLVE. Rather than say, "our prayers are with his family," or shed tears for someone we (most of us) never met in person, let us take advantage of this moment to remember what we love about being artists, why we are artists, and how commercial expectations have shit all to do with creativity. For those who are like me--broke as joke and in possession of hardly any audience to speak of, as well as those who have "made it" and have an audience, let us tell the suits and ties who insist on producing the same shit, over and over again, NO MORE. Let us take this moment to have a revolution in the 21st century, let us return to the times of anti-materialism, when the stock market didn't determine what artists would produce.
Let us take the power back from the greedheads and provide the world, once more, with art that is both entertaining and meaningful.
The problems started with Jaws. Stars Wars cemented them. Hollywood had lost control to a bunch of snot-nosed boomers who showed the studios just how dark and cynical American audiences could get. These kids produced films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver. One of them came up with the perfect cinematic retelling of 1984--THX1138. Another couldn't quite get that originality thing down, but still produced a hell of a Bonnie & Clyde ripoff called Sugarland Express (hey, even Scorsese's name is on a B&C ripoff [Boxcar Bertha], so give Spielberg a break).
Two of those youngsters went off the adult course and made a monster movie and a science fiction western that grossed so much money the hacks in the studios couldn't help but notice. And so the lights on adult cinema (not porn, you pervert!) slowly faded. By the mid-1980s, "comic book" movies (as William Goldman called them back in '82) had taken over. These were drive-in movies with big budgets. The early ones, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter's The Thing, are masterpieces compared to the processed bile Hollywood produces today. "Comic book" is no longer a figurative expression--every other film released today is based directly on a comic book. Thanks to Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Hollywood thinks producing a Howard the Duck "reboot" in which Howard broods over the existential angst of being an alien duck passes for "serious" entertainment. And so we've come to a point where Hollywood makes exactly three (or more, depending on how much you want to split hairs between sequel, "reboot" and remake) types of movies: Comic book movies--movies that insist on taking stories originally written for six year olds seriously; Sequels, reboots, and remakes--the most blatant proof there is that not one fucking scum sucker in Tinsel Town can produce an original idea; and closely-monitored "independent" films about middle-class liberals coping with the extraordinary pain of being affluent and somewhat concerned about lesser people (so long as those lesser people don't live in trailer parks). Independent films, in fact, are nothing more than the modern versions of Kramer vs. Kramer and On Golden Pond that used to be considered mainstream until Hollywood decided they couldn't market them to twelve year-olds.
And so we are left with the current state of motion pictures in America: There are no original films being made. Thanks to studios monopolizing the "independent" scene, there are no independent films being made. Too bad, because a really, really good drive-in movie, traditionally, is both original and independent.
Which brings us to the new Star Wars movie.
I've waited long enough to have a thorough say on this topic. I saw the movie the night before it opened. I did so because I'm a sucker. I saw the original Star Wars movie opening day and have made it a habit since then to see all the sequels on opening day or as close to it as possible. I already knew in 1983, when I was in the fifth grade, that the series had run out of ideas. Return of the Jedi was about a bigger, badder death star. The characters spoke to each other in winks and nods to the fact that they were now part of a giant franchise that cared less about storytelling and more about toy marketing. Nothing like The Empire Strikes Back, which took the awe from the original film and knocked it out of the park with a logical extension of the story and great dialogue and character development to go with it (not that I understood all that in the second grade when it was released, but I knew I wasn't being cheated--this was a definite, linear progression from the first story). Lucas decided, appropriately, to stop making Star Wars movies after episode XI. Even as a child I understood this was a good thing.
And then Lucas discovered CGI and eventually made the prequels that a lot of people seem to hate. I've never been a fan of the idea of a prequel since there can't possibly be any suspense, but I watched them and was mildly amused. I was almost moved by the nostalgia generated at the end of "Episode III," at that point having been in my 30s and on the way to a midlife crisis nostalgia merchants love to cater to; And then along came "The Force Awakens."
This movie was probably doomed, in my mind, from the get-go. There's no way Disney will ever do anything daring or original at this point and I've never been a fan of J.J. Abrams. The film had two strikes before the camera had even started rolling. But as the release approached and the hype reached its fever pitch with brainless jock football announcers getting in their required plugs on college and professional broadcasts, I decided to step back and let the film speak for itself. Right away, however, I knew I'd been duped again. Something important lodged in a robot, an adventurous young person on a sand-covered planet called into action for a bigger cause, and, of course, a bigger, badder death star. I tried like crazy to give in to the special effects spectacle, which I'd been promised, over and over, would be primarily optical effects, and then that giant evil guy with the big head showed up, worse than any CGI in the "prequels," and I slumped in my seat and waited patiently for the movie to be over. I made one comment on facebook, but mostly kept my opinion to myself. The country (and the world, it seems) is going along with the mirage; you've seen the comments yourself:
"There's just enough old stuff to balance the new stuff"
"It's nostalgic and ground-breaking at the same time!"
"I couldn't stop smiling and crying!"
And so on...
There are grinches out there worse than me--they've seen the film several times to make solid arguments about plot holes and other issues with the movie. I don't have the time or the money to make such a thorough investigation. As I walked to my van after the first and only time I'll watch it, I felt a kind of rage, that I live in a time when Hollywood can't do one fucking thing original, when, as a middle-aged man, all the shit that was new and exciting when I was young is being recycled and the stars of that shit are being asked to put aside their walkers and Depends for a moment to don their old costumes and make everyone feel good about the fact that 1977, or 1982, or 1992 once existed and was a hell of lot more fun and creative than 2015/16. We're getting X-Files and Twin Peaks reboots because, yes, those series were awesome when they were new, and Hollywood has no ideas, so now we see an aged Mulder and Cooper going through the motions so that old farts like me won't have to think about, well, how fucking old we are!
You know what would be better? Something new. Something the young generation can call their own and something us old farts who ARE creative can help create.
I remember when Harry Potter books became popular. My baby sister was twelve or thirteen at the time. She read and loved those books. She named her first email account after a character from them. I was thrilled that her generation had something as meaningful to them as Star Wars was to my generation. I haven't seen anything since then for today's twelve and thirteen year olds (or younger). That's a fucking shame.
But I digress, as I'm apt to do when complaining about the senior citizens on my lawn...
Perhaps I would have liked The Force Awakens if I had seen it at a drive-in. My tendency over the last ten years has been to watch the "comic book" movies at the drive-in. It makes them so much more tolerable (and I can see two or three of them for less than the outrageous price they charge at the multiplexes). They're turds, which a lot of traditional drive-in movies were, but they're polished turds. And since they're essentially continuing the tradition started by Jaws and Star Wars of aping drive-in territory with bigger budgets, the drive-in is exactly where they belong.
And if ever there was polished turd, The Force Awakens is it.
Let me just get to the point: Uncle B's Drive-in Fiction was a labor of love that didn't get a whole lot of love. I've always suspected the main reason was that the novellas were too long and the entire volume looked too damn intimidating (not one reviewer I sent it to ever took the time to read it and review it). It was a great idea that didn't quite get executed properly. Two of the novellas in it have gone to become novels by their respective writers and a third novella won a Spinetingler. So, obviously, something good was going on. Thus, for the long-awaited sequel (at least by the five or six people who actually read the original collection), I will be having an open call for novellas of (about) 10,000 words in March. I'll look at queries first and then, if the idea sounds right, I'll ask to see the full manuscript. So, if you have an idea for a novella that would have made a great drive-in picture somewhere between the 50s and very early 80s, go ahead and write it and when I make the call for queries, let me know what you've got. If you have any questions, post them here or send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
So I've contemplated whether or not to continue publishing Pulp Modern because it takes a LOT of my time and I just don't know if enough people read it to make it worth it (despite the fact that many stories end up in various other anthologies).
HOWEVER, in light of recent debates and/or arguments (or really just insult matches) I've either had or witnessed regarding censorship, I've decided it's my DUTY to continue publishing Pulp Modern.
As stated earlier this year, Pulp Modern is now a CRIME only journal. Let it be further stated that NO SUBJECT is taboo. Too many journals have taken the cry-baby route of prohibiting stories with unsettling subject matter. This is NOT the case at Pulp Modern. You have a story that involves something horrible happening to animals or children? If it's relevant to the story and the story is well-written, send it over. You have a story about rape? If the rape element is relevant to the story and the story is well written, send it over. Your story has a liberal slant? Great, send it over. Your story has a conservative slant? Great (and rare), send it over.
I want to see the most shocking, outrageous crime stories ever written. Fuck the wussified masses. Those who remember the guidelines I posted on the All Due Respect site way back in 2011, multiply those convictions by a thousand and send me something drenched in blood and bone fragments and scar tissue and all that other good stuff.
Pulp Modern shall be the only literary journal that truly exercises freedom of speech.
Reading period for the winter issue will be December 1 to December 31. I look forward to seeing what writers produce when all the shackles are removed.
As George Harrison and some religious folks said, "All things must pass." While the "themed issues" period of PULP MODERN has been interesting, it's time to move on. From now on, Pulp Modern will be a strictly crime fiction (crimes, NOT mysteries) journal. I am taking things back to when I started the All Due Respect website four (or five?) years ago. From here on, I want to see nothing but hardcore crime stories. Because of my busy schedule, I will not be able to open Pulp Modern for submissions until December 1, 2015. The reading period will be from December 1 to December 31.
If you haven't already read Manifesto Destination, now's your chance to do so at a very cheap price. The definitive edit of the book is available at Amazon thanks to the folks at All Due Respect.
When I wrote this damn novella back in 2001 (about two months before September 11), I had no idea I was predicting what a big baby the American population was about to become. I had no idea kids were going to start mixing and matching chemicals to create newer, more dangerous highs. So when you read it and say, "Wow, this guy predicted the future!," just know that I did not. I wrote the fucking thing in a hurry to meet a deadline and fucking rodents were chasing around my tiny, one room apartment while I did so. And in a fucked up way, I miss those days.
The fall semester has started. I've been busy teaching college freshmen how to write essays and sophomores how to write about reading. I had forgotten my original topic for the fifth and final installment of my brief but pretentious writing tips series. No worries, my students have provided a replacement topic.
When I delivered my style presentation, a lecture I've been giving students for three years now, a mini-riot broke out. My livelier 101 class did not like the idea that flowery language was frowned upon by contemporary writers like me. The presentation consists of long, convoluted sentences with giant, thirty-cent words, and rewrites of those sentences in a more minimalist, rational phrasing. I finally explained that I was not forcing them to write in a nice, concise manner, merely showing them how to do it. They worried that if they wrote long, convoluted sentences with flowery language, would I dock their grades? I explained that their primary obligation was to make claims, support them with credible sources, and do so in an orderly, structured manner.
It seems to me that the "maximalists" have gotten to my students. You remember "maximalism," don't you? This was a movement started in the late 1990s. Short story writers were worried that movies would wipe out fiction (an alarmist cry I heard as recently as 2012, when a jaggoff film professor from Minnesota State University told me I was wasting my time writing fiction). In effort to combat the "damage" film had done to fiction, "maximalist" writers rejected the tidy, efficient minimalism that had been developing in fiction since Hemingway. They decided to cram as much as they could in an 8000 word short story. Or maybe they were just trying to get paid more by writing more. Who knows? The result was/has been nearly twenty years of The Best American Short Stories volumes crammed with excruciatingly long, boring narratives about upper class twits pondering the mortality of their belly-buttons.
I suppose young people, having grown up with "maximalism" being the dominant form of fiction, have developed a myopia that prevents them from seeing the value of concision.
Well, I do recognize the value of concision. Readers don't have time to count the fibers in the lint of a writer's belly-button. So get to the point.
I've read numerous mystery novels where the patterns on the drapes of a room are described before it is revealed that there is a dead body on the floor. This is problematic. I realize fans of the genre are detail-oriented. There's nothing wrong with that. But let us know essentials before you delve into the architecture of the room (UNLESS, of course, the architecture is crucial to solving the murder).
I don't know when the war on adverbs started. I know it made me paranoid as hell for many years. During revision, I would weed out any and all adverbs until there wasn't a single -ly word to be found in the manuscript. It eventually polluted my ability to enjoy older fiction by the likes of Jim Thompson and Phil K. Dick. Holy shit, those guys used a lot of adverbs!
In recent years, I've backed off my own fear of adverbs. What it comes down to is this: How relevant is the action you're describing? If it's not terribly crucial to the plot, if it doesn't add some insight to the entire story, an occasional adverb isn't such a terrible thing. Of course, it's always better to be concrete, to say, instead of:
She balanced on one foot precariously.
She balanced on one foot.
If she's on one foot, we know it's a precarious situation.
If you're describing a character's attributes, it's always better to be specific rather than general, mostly to help illustrate the character for the reader. Thus:
Her face twitched nervously.
Should probably be:
The side of her lip looked as though someone had attached a fishing hook to it and yanked it upwards every other second or so.
BUT, if that twitch isn't so important to the rest of the story, if it's not going to reveal more about the character, then go ahead and use the abridged sentence.
The key to adverbs is like the key to just about everything else in life -- Moderation. Don't overdo it, but don't ban them from your work completely.
(I will do one more post in this series next week and that's it, I'm not giving away all the secrets!)
There are various crooks on Amazon trying to sell Manifesto Destination for absurd prices. The best way to combat that is to make the book available once again. All Due Respect will be putting out an edition similar to the Full Dark City version that was published a couple of years ago. This is the definitive version of the book. The editing is top-notch.
Here's something I see quite a bit of-- Pages of fiction with so many character names repeated that the whole thing looks more like a screenplay than a short story. Somewhere somebody got the notion that there's something wrong with pronouns. This is incorrect. If the reader knows who's speaking, we don't need to see the character's name. This is especially true when a conversation is taking place between a man and a woman. He said and she said are perfectly fine (I'll get to that adverb I just used in a future writing tip). Once a character's actions and place in a scene have been established, we only need to be reminded of his or her name if another character's actions have interrupted and momentarily dominated the scene. So, let's try an example:
Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. Bill found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime." Marissa disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop Marissa from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, Bill had complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.
Now this is all off the top of my head, so I may not be providing the best example. But in the first paragraph, we've established right away that this section is about Bill. Even though Marissa's name is mentioned, we don't need to remind readers that the male in the conversation is Bill unless something major changes. In the second paragraph, nothing major has changed. In fact, the first paragraph has set up the second paragraph so that no names need be mentioned at all, hence:
Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. He found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime." She disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop her from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, he'd complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.
Now that last sentence is tricky. There are some hardcore grammar folks who might say the three different pronouns violate some rule. They may be correct. But we're not writing for the elite. We're writing pulp fiction for people who actually have a pulse, and that sentence makes perfect sense to the average person.
When dealing with more than two people, or two people of the same gender, things get more complicated. Just remember, only repeat a character's name if not doing so will confuse the reader.
So last week we talked about attributing thoughts to your pov character. Let's continue that line of discussion. I am especially fond of third person close. It's almost first person but without the hassle of seeing the word I all over the page. Remember: Third person close means just that--We don't EVER know the thoughts of other characters, only the protagonist (or whomever you've attached your third person close to).
How do we know what other characters think? By their actions, of course. Our protagonist witnesses what the other people in the story do. He or she might even develop an opinion about those actions. A clever writer, of course, will allow the protagonist to develop an opinion that may differ from the reader's opinion. The important thing is, those actions are observed only.
It is tempting to write something like:
John saw her put the bottle of cough syrup in her coat pocket.
But since we are, essentially, the mind of the protagonist, there is no need for the John saw.
John walked past the aisle of cold remedies. He saw Cassie open a box of Robitussin DM. She put it in her coat pocket.
Now, for those paying attention, you'll notice that there's still too much information in that sentence. Thus, it should read like so:
John walked past the aisle of cold remedies. Cassie opened a box of Robitussin DM. She put it in her coat pocket.
There's no need to ever tell us John saw, or looked at, or heard anything. Simply state what the protagonist is witnessing as a matter of fact.
I'm not the biggest fan of writers telling other people how to write, but I figured I might offer up a tip once a
week or so, and so, here's the first one:
If you are writing in third person close pov, you don't need to tell the reader your protagonist "thought" something. For example:
Bill thought Felicia had a pretty mouth.
If Bill is the POV character, than any commentary on anything else will be attributed to Bill since it's his mind we're in. I see this quite a bit as an editor at Pulp Modern. POV characters constantly telling the reader they thought this and that. It's wasted words. Just make the observation, the reader will figure out it's the POV character's thoughts. Sometimes I'll put the POV character's thoughts in italics, especially if the character's speaking voice and narrating voice are different (i.e., unreliable), hence:
Felicia spoke in a French accent. She asked Bill what he was doing in New Jersey. "Visiting my nephew," said Bill. "He's a leprechaun from Hoboken." You sure got a pretty mouth. "Fascinating," said Felicia.
In fact, POV characters often get too many attribute phrases and sentences. I'll go into that more in a later tip.
I wrote a Drifter Detective novella. It's called Between Juarez and El Paso. It's now available here. This is a link to the paperback version, which I hope you'll buy. There's a kindle version as well.
Thanks to David Cranmer and Beat to a Pulp for letting me write a chapter in this excellent series! And if you haven't read the other books, they're by Garnett Elliott and Wayne Dundee, so, you know, get to it!
Dangerous women populate the pages of this super-charged, double-sized issue of Pulp Modern! From little girls luring old perverts to their deaths to shape-shifting women in the wild west, your appetite for new, engaging fiction will be thoroughly satisfied! Including work by the following writers: Math Bird, Monica Clark, Jen Conley, Janna Darkovich, Christopher Davis, Coy Hall, Michael McNichols, David Rachels, Melody Reams, Mike Sheedy, Max Sheridan, Deborah Sheldon, Parnell Stultz, Liam Sweeny, and John Teel. Edited by Alec Cizak (author of CROOKED ROADS and BETWEEN JUAREZ AND EL PASO). Now available at Amazon, for those of you who feel comfortable ordering from a place you've heard of on television. It is also available at createspace, for those of you who want to really help support the Uncle B. cause, as createspace pays twice the royalties that Amazon does. FYI -- The next theme for Pulp Modern deals with The South. I'd like to see stories where the hillbillies don't sleep with their relatives and eat poor, "innocent" city slickers whose cars just happen to break down in the country. Pulp Modern will open for submissions again from October 1 to December 1.
Beat to a Pulp has just put out a collection of short fiction by the writer who, in my opinion, sets the standard for all contemporary crime writers. Garnett Elliott's Scorched Noir rounds up eight tales that take place in the southwest, mostly Arizona. I've seen a lot of people attempt to compare various noir writers to Raymond Carver, but I think only Mr. Elliott actually lives up to that comparison. While Carver made the bleak lives of lower middle class and impoverished Americans fashionable with the latte' crowd, I always got a sense that Carver looked down on his characters. Garnett Elliott does not. He presents these desperate folks--prison guards, holdup artists, junkies, and even the small night staff of a local hospital--as they are, without judgment. The 'scorched' part of the title of the book is well represented throughout. One feels that a slight change of environment might help some of the characters. The sun is always present, always beating down and increasing the odds against them. As usual, Elliott's prose is darn near flawless, something I really value in a writer's work (it shows the writer has taken the time to carefully revise and think about the job each word performs in each sentence). If you want a crash course in writing contemporary noir, this collection might well be a good place to start.
Well, it's been a rough spring and a cruel summer so far, but after going through the greatest batch of stories I've ever received for PULP MODERN, I've selected work by the following fifteen writers (and anybody who had a story rejected, take heart, I had to pass on A LOT of great, great stories)--
Look for issue nine in paperback and kindle in July!
Some updates, links, and shit you need to know if you're an avid follower of Mr. Cizak (or just a casual, weekend fan) --
I am in the process of finishing a Drifter Detective novella for Beat to a Pulp. It's set in 1956, on the border between El Paso and Juarez, and has a cameo by someone I dearly hate. Look for it later this year.
I have been invited to read at the Kellog Writers Series at the University of Indianapolis in 2016. I earned my MA from UIndy and had an excellent time doing it (as opposed to the horrific time I spent getting my MFA at Minnesota State in Mankato). It is a tremendous honor to return to the university and read for the students and anyone else who shows up. That will be on March 7, 2016. A Monday. If you're in the area, be there, or be publicly humiliated by me on social media!
I got sick just before my 25th high school reunion. Thus, I have yet to attend a reunion. My former classmates should not take it personally.
In case you missed some of the reviews on the web of CROOKED ROADS, here are some links:
The razor-sharp noir writer William Wallace explores the disparity in the book with regard to subtle violence and all-out gore (something I struggled with as I decided on which stories to include):
If you haven't bought and read the book yet, you're missing out. According to Amazon reviewer Mary Effertz, "someone should give" me "a Pulitzer." I've been saying it for years, and finally, the public agrees!
(For the record, Mary is the biological mother of my old friend Chuck Yates, so there is slight bias).
CROOKED ROADS is now available at Amazon on kindle for 2.99 and good old fashioned print book you can hold in your hands and smell ink and paper and all that for 8 bucks. Please let the guys at All Due Respect know what a great job they did putting this collection together by buying and reviewing the book. Thanks!
So CROOKED ROADS will be available May 15. The official launch party, however, will take place in Indianapolis about a month later, on June 12, at Indy Reads on Mass Avenue. This is a classy joint working for a classy cause, so I strongly recommend you attend if, for no other reason, to support the book store. I'll read a story from the book, answer any questions anyone has, and sign copies of the book for anyone wishing to have an autographed edition.
By the way, CJ Edwards is working on putting together a Noir at the Bar the following week (June 20). I'll be in town for that as well, so that will provide another opportunity to hear me read live and in person (something I don't do very often). He's still looking for a venue, so I'll post more info as soon as I have it. By the way, I've seen the list of the other writers who plan on attending. Let me just say, you want to be there. You may not know it now, but you definitely want to be there.
So I put together a song list of music I think somehow matches or evokes or the spirit of each story in my upcoming collection, CROOKED ROADS. Here's the list:
"The Space Between" -- Where I End and You Begin / Radiohead
"Columbus Day" -- Scene of the Crime / The Stooges
"No Hard Feelings" -- Mansion on the Hill / Bruce Springsteen
"American Chivalry" -- Drinkin' Ain't Hard to Do / Hank III
"Dumb Shit" -- Dumb / Nirvana
"Spare Change" -- Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me / Duke and Pops
"State Road 53" -- Seed of Memory / Terry Reid
"Patience" -- Shitlist / L7
"Katy Too" -- (duh!) Katy Too / Johnny Cash
"My Kind of Town" -- (duh again!) Chicago / Frank Sinatra
"A Matter of Time" -- How I Could Just Kill a Man / Rage Against the Machine with Cypress Hill
"Methamphetamine and a Shotgun" -- Nite Flights / The Walker Brothers
"Little People" -- Shadowplay / Joy Division
"A Moral Majority" -- Get Back / The Beatles
"The Ralphs at Third and Vermont" -- We Had to Tear This Motherfucka Up! / Ice Cube
If you're like me, you're anxiously awaiting the May 15 release of CROOKED ROADS, a collection of my crime stories that have haunted various publications over the last six years. Here's a review over at Regular Guy Reading Noir. This writer seems to understand the collection pretty well. His choice for his favorite story in the book is interesting because it happens to be one of my favorite stories as well, but I debated whether or not I would put it in this collection. It's a bit on the Rod Serling/O'Henry-side of story telling, something I've tried to move away from over the years. But it's entertaining and I really enjoyed writing it back in 2008.
If you're like me, and you just can't wait for that big fix of Alec Cizak stories, you might grab a copy of Indiana Crime Review 2014. James Ward Kirk has produced a really nice collection of stories and poems and other oddities. The collection includes a very, VERY nasty story I wrote called "Polite Society."
The last group of stories begins with "A Matter of Time," a flash fiction piece inspired by a horrific moment I encountered at the 24 hour Internet cafe on the corner of Normandie and Wilshire, way back in the early 2000s. I sat down at a computer, put my card in, and when the screen came up, it was filled with child porn images. I looked around for who might have been using the computer before me, but couldn't find him or her. I thought about what I might do if I actually caught someone looking at that shit. My thoughts weren't too pleasant. The inspiration for the character in the story who gets followed by the protagonist came from this asshole who started threatening me in my own damn neighborhood in Koreatown. He had all these peace stickers on his backpack and was talking about how I needed to get out of his neighborhood. I told him, "I pay rent here too, motherfucker," and that pretty much shut him up. Lesson for those who don't know -- fuck with a writer, you will end up looking stupid in an obscure piece of fiction somewhere down the road!
Next up is "Methamphetamine and a Shotgun," the story that kicked off the All Due Respect blog. It's an homage, I guess, to an old Chester Himes story called "Marihuana and a Pistol." Fans of The Searchers will get a kick out of the names of the characters in the story. It's hallucinogenic and seems to have fans and haters (I've gotten multiple hate emails over the story, not sure why).
"Little People" follows. It's another story folks seem to love or hate. It's one of the first stories I wrote where I tampered with the narrative structure (just a little bit in this one). The initial inspiration came from this douchebag I used to work with at Markey's Audio/Video in Indianapolis, way back in the 90s. His name was Don, he was a frat boy from Ball State, and he constantly harped on how he thought "midgets" were "inherently funny." I'm not a PC-type of person, but I didn't need to be reminded of his opinion every day.
The next story is "A Moral Majority," which is set in the fictional town of Haggard, Indiana, in the late 1960s (probably, chronologically, just before "State Road 53" takes place). The title is, of course, a joke of sorts. I've always been fascinated by how quickly the powers that be squashed any social progress made in the 60s and 70s in the 80s. Like, overnight. Now, I refuse to label myself a conservative or a liberal (I'm probably a Classical Liberal, when pressed to identify politically), but I do find it curious that the most vocal conservatives often tend to get caught doing precisely what they're preaching against. That's what drove me to write this story.
The collection ends with "The Ralphs at Third and Vermont." This story was written during my dark period last year when I was being persecuted at Minnesota State University for teaching a Kurt Vonnegut story that made the English department chair nervous. When I lived in Koreatown, on several occasions, homeless guys I'd spoken with at the 7-11, or Ralphs, or the Hollywood Video on Western and Wilshire, or other places, were burned alive by rich kids who didn't live in the area. I have no idea why these assholes would do this kind of shit. In my furious state of mind last year, I came up with the narrative for this story, tying the riots of '92 into it along with the Vietnam War, which is relevant since a great number of the older homeless guys in L.A. are Vietnam vets.
So there it is. The book will be available on May 15. I'm putting together an appearance in Indianapolis right now. I might also have a release party in Florida, I don't know yet. Regardless, please buy a copy, review it, even if you hate it, and let me know what you think.
The next set of stories in the book starts with "Spare Change," which was called "Diseases From Loving" when it was published back in 2009. It's fairly standard noir stuff--pissed off wife, strange man in a bar who thinks he can save her from making a mistake, etc.-- very brief and, I think, has a nice, touching conclusion, which is a rare thing for me.
That's followed by "State Road 53," a story I once described to a French dentist who claimed she loved literature. When I finished explaining the story to her, she said, "That sounds like a novel!" That's either a good or a bad comment, I don't know. "State Road 53" was one of several stories I wrote with the intention of someday having a story cycle about the fictional town of Haggard, Indiana. Someday I may still complete that cycle, who knows?
"Patience," the next story in the collection, is a little Twilight Zone-esque yarn about a police officer and a girl named Patience. I wrote it back in 2008 after hearing a colleague of mine in L.A. talk about his youth in the city, how he often saw police officers taking advantage of women in alleys and other discreet locations.
The story behind "Katy Too," which follows "Patience," can actually be found here.
And the last story in this cycle is "My Kind of Town," the only story I've ever had at Thuglit. It's almost a soap opera. It's the first actual story I wrote about Haggard, Indiana, and I think it harbors some of my dislike for Chicago, a city I always have bad luck in.
So I thought I'd write a few posts about how the stories in CROOKED ROADS came into existence. Here's the first one.
The collection begins with "The Space Between." Those who know me well know that I'm not partial to writing fiction in the present tense. This story, however, is not only in the present tense, it's also written in second person. It was written, originally, as an experiment while I was held captive by an MFA cult in Mankato, Minnesota. Mankato is a city filled with angry white dudes. They're so angry they drive around town all the time shouting horrible things at people walking on the street. I would always challenge them to step out of their cars/trucks and say those terrible things to my face. Never had a taker. Surprise, surprise. I once saw a group of young white guys shout at a homeless man. Real classy. I started thinking about all the slights you get in life, all the breaks that don't go your way, and how that makes someone become a horrible person. I chose the story as the lead-in because it's quick, it's unusually written (for me), and I think it sort of explains how people end up making the wrong decisions that most of the characters in the rest of the stories unfortunately make.
The next story is "Columbus Day," which was written during one of the darkest times of my life. It's based on a joke I once told about Columbus Day -- For Columbus Day, white families cross the street and break into their neighbors' houses and pretend it's theirs. Since I lived in Minnesota at the time, I thought I'd give everything a twist and make it some nice yuppies who get invaded by the descendants of Columbus' original victims (I'm not a huge anti-Columbus person, but I'm not going to pretend for a second his 'discovery' of America didn't have some awful consequences for a whole lot of people). It's a very violent, nasty story. I put it second to basically allow the squeamish to bow out of reading the rest of the collection. I don't want someone wasting that much time of his or her life if the end result is just going to be, "I don't like stories like this..."
That bit of nastiness is followed by "No Hard Feelings," a lighter-hearted story about an unfortunate meeting between two dimwits in northern Indiana, a region I like to write about because a lot of my family is from there and it's part of the Rustbelt, which has taken hit after economic hit for the last forty years. I think it's somewhat humorous and tragic at the same time. I like to call this sort of story "brutal comedy."
"American Chivalry" comes next. It's a story I worked on for a few years before finally sending it out. It's about a guy I knew in Koreatown in L.A. He was homeless because of his drinking. He was a very smart guy who'd had a lot of tough breaks in life. Every now and then he'd disappear from the streets and I'd worry something bad might have happened, but then he'd turn up again and tell me about a job he'd been offered, how hard he tried to make it work, and how the bottle wouldn't leave him alone.
The first group of stories ends with "Dumb Shit," a story written in dialect (something that annoys the shit out of the literary crowd and, therefore, is great fun to write). It's a thinly veiled counter-argument to the idea that Mexicans are "taking our jobs." I also borrowed from my experience as a teacher at Crenshaw high school. One of my students was treated the way the Mexican in the story is (my student was a Crip who pissed off some Bloods from Dorsey and paid a horrific price for it). While the student was not a particularly good student in terms of doing homework and studying, he was very mellow in class and never gave me any hassle when I'd ask him to take his seat (he would occasionally just get up and walk around). When my other students told me what had happened to him, I was so devastated I began looking for a new job.
I will continue discussing the stories tomorrow or the day after.
I'm very excited about my short story collection Crooked Roads, which is scheduled to be released on May 15. I went through the two dozen or so crime stories I've had published since 2009 and chose what I think are the best fifteen. Three flash pieces and twelve 'normal' short stories. They tend to take place in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, or the fictional town of Haggard, Indiana.
When Chris Rhatigan asked me to put this collection together, he said not to worry about having any theme or anything else tying the stories together (aside from being crime tales). That was liberating. In the last five years I've written two theses for both my masters and my mfa and for both projects I wrote inter-connected short stories. It was a pain the ass and I'm not sure either attempt really works. For Crooked Roads, I just placed the stories in an order I felt was logical. Over-analytical folks might find some thread running through them. Most folks, hopefully, will just dig on a natural rhythm between the stories. However you take your entertainment, I'm confident all readers will get a kick out of this collection (with the possible exception of people who don't like profanity or violence or sex. You know, fucking puritans!!!)
Many thanks to Mr. Rhatigan and the rest of the All Due Respect crew for taking this project on.
So I just finished reading Tom Pitts' new novella,Knuckleball. It's a quick read that manages to pack a lot of information in its limited space. We are thoroughly introduced to a handful of characters whose lives will unfortunately intertwine as a result of a tragic shooting. The drama of solving the murder of a police officer unfolds and is then brought to what seems to be a satisfactory conclusion. Except, of course, this is not a glossy version of reality. This is the kind of fiction where truth intrudes more than it ever could in non-fiction. The novella ends on an ambiguous note appropriate to the tone of the entire story. Justice has many faces, and sometimes, those faces don't fit so well within the parameters of the law. If you're like me, if you can't stand tidy endings where little birds land on a windowsill and sing zippety-fucking-doo-dah, you'll enjoy Knuckleball.
So for some reason, Blogspot won't let me comment on my own fucking blog. Someone asked about rates for GRINDHOUSE FICTION, here's the deal: We're doing the commie, profit-sharing method. Everybody involved gets an equal cut of the gross profits for a year. After the first year, any profits will go toward the production of future issues.
This is based on my experiences with PULP MODERN. When PM started, I came up with the profit-sharing idea. I made the mistake of writing into the contracts that PM would go out of print after a year simply because I couldn't imagine dividing pennies on a back issue five years down the road. The result is that nobody can get the first four issues of PM now, which has led to some harsh criticism of yours truly. After a year, profits on a particular book die down to almost nothing, so it seems best to put whatever profits come in toward the project itself.