Since I'm in grad school the majority of my writing goes to professors who then grade it. It's almost like getting paid, except I don't get paid and at the end of the trail I'll have a nice government loan waiting to be repaid. This semester is particularly troublesome because I fucked up and took a history course as an elective. My English professors "get me." They give me the grades my writing deserves. My history professor is rigid and has new expectations every week. As a result, I've actually gotten 2 Bs in that class and if it continues, I'm going to have to drop it and flush the thousand bucks it cost to take it down the toilet AND take a class next summer after I march. I've learned my lesson, trust me. Never stray from your appointed field. Folks in other disciplines got diff'rent ways of looking at the world...
In addition to all the strain the classes put on my writing, I am working on a thesis that is a collection of short stories. Since it's for the university, I have to write "serious" or "literary" stories, stories that don't have fun stuff like guns and dames and screams and murders. That leaves very, very little time to work on the fiction I truly love, the kind that used to be printed on paper that turned yellow and smelled like apples.
Regardless, I have managed to crank out some rough drafts. The first is a nasty story about an ex-convict who plays poker regularly with a group of his brother's friends. One of them can't keep his mouth shut every time he beats the ex-con with shitty cards. The ex-con has to teach the idiot a lesson. Since it's my story, you know the lesson is gonna' be brutal.
The second story I am putting the finishing touches on is my first western. It's short, about 1500 words. Most of the lingo in it I picked up from listening to Johnny Cash's "True Songs of the West" (I think that's the title, it has "Boot Hill" and "25 Minutes to Go" on it). The story has card players (seems to be a current theme of mine), a dandy from the east trying to be a gunslinger, some nice billiard girls, and a protagonist who fought for the south despite having been sprung from the union of a slave from Africa and an indentured servant from Ireland. An All-American, in my book!
Where these stories will find a home remains to be known. I'll pass word as soon as I get it.
The next issue of All Due Respect will be up Monday. November will feature a fantastic short story by Garnett Elliott. I'm looking forward to reading reactions to it.
Speaking of All Due Respect, I've contacted a couple of women writers about contributing as I don't want it to be a male-dominated situation. One has promised to contribute in the future, the other appears to be too damn famous as she didn't get back to me at all. Anyway, I'd like to put the word out that All Due Respect respects all due writers, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, etc., etc., So if you are a woman writer, or if you know a writer who is a woman and writes good, tough, hardboiled fiction, please let them know they are welcome at All Due Respect.
Just ask the sons of bitches who took my money last night at the poker table-- Luck don't sit in my lap too often. Even when I offer her a dollar! I entered my name in the drawing over at The Rap Sheet for a copy of the new Beat to a Pulp anthology and wouldn't you know it, I actually won.
Now, just as soon as I carve my way through this amazingly boring David Foster Wallace book I have to read for school, I'll read the BTAP anthology and publish my thoughts here.
I recently watched a documentary on the slasher pictures of the late 70s and early 80s. It gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling. My introduction to the genre was John Carpenter's original Halloween. I saw it at a screening at Butler University on October 30, 1981. I was nine, going on ten-years-old. I had just started working, throwing newspapers in the afternoon and spending my money collecting comic books. It was a glorious time. Ronald Reagan had yet to turn the clock backwards and there was a general feeling of freedom and goodwill. How the hell the slasher genre made its mark at that time is beyond me. As many have noted, it was basically a conservative genre. Kids smoking dope and screwing around were cut to pieces and virginal girls were allowed to live. As most of the genre's pioneers will attest, however, that was merely by chance. In a famous Siskel and Ebert special, the normally rational Siskel went so far as to claim the genre was a reaction to feminism. His left-wing reactionary, ah, reaction, failed to account for the "last girl" motif present in virtually every film. How a genre that celebrates women fending for themselves against phallus-wielding, patriarchal maniacs is anti-feminist makes absolutely no sense. Then again, Siskel and Ebert had a tough time making sense. Let's never forget that Ebert penned the late 60s sleaze-fest Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I recently read a collection of his movie reviews (Your Movie Sucks) and every other review referred to semen, whether it had anything to do with the movie or not. I'm guessing that a movie critic obsessed with semen doesn't care for any genre that celebrates the strength of women.
But I digress.
We all have vivid memories from our childhoods. Most of them involve real activities with real people. In the United States, some of those memories involve movies. The two most vivid for me are: The day in 1977 that my dad picked me up from my day care and took me to a matinee of Star Wars. I remember looking behind the movie screen to figure out the secret to the great magic trick that motion pictures represent. It was that moment that I knew, one way or another, I was going to become a story teller. The other vivid memory is the night I saw Halloween.
Nine is probably too young for a movie like that. At least, it was in 1981. I was in the fourth grade and I had discovered what I called the "free movies" at Butler University just before the semester started. They showed the films at 4, 7 and 9 (or 10, depending on the length of the movie.) They were 35mm prints projected in Jordan Hall, room 131 (which is now, for some reason, 141), on a wide screen. It was normally a lecure room with stadium seating. The first few movies they showed that fall included Take the Money and Run (my introduction to Woody Allen), the hysterical Seems Like Old Times (my introduction to Neil Simon) and the amazingly boring Ordinary People (my introduction to the unreliability of the Academy Awards). Usually, the theater was half full at best. Absolutely nothing prepared me for what I experienced the night before Halloween (the holiday, not the movie).
The first thing I noticed when I entered the theater/lecture hall was that it was packed. The only seating was on the floor, right in front of the screen. I sat down with Billy Boyd, the neighborhood bully who insisted I had to see this film (Billy died mysteriously a few years ago in Kentucky, the state John Carpenter spent his childhood in. Nobody knows how he met his personalized boogey man...) We were surrounded by gorgeous sorority girls who screamed at every calculated scream-moment. As soon as the music started and the ominous yellow credits, next to the suddenly terrifying image of a jack-o-lantern, washed up over the darkness, I knew I was in for a nightmarish ride. I put my hands over my face, opening my fingers enough to see but having them ready should I need to cover my eyes. Watching the POV shot of young Michael Myers moving in to kill his sister was a revelation. I had never seen a movie where someone just killed somebody for, seemingly, no reason at all. It was like a crowbar bashed right into all the ethical sensibilities society had tried to instill in me up to that point. How can stories like this exist? I thought.
The entire movie was like a nightmare that wouldn't end. When it was over, I walked back to my house with Billy Boyd, looking in every direction to make sure some masked freak didn't jump out of the darkness with a knife. My parents were at a party. There was a babysitter at my house watching my younger brothers who were five and two-years-old. We turned on a small black and white television set in my dad's study and, wouldn't you know it, the network television premiere of Halloween was just starting on NBC (Channel 13 in Indianapolis). So we watched it again (with added footage, which confused the hell out of me). When PJ Soles and her boyfriend got out of the van and entered the (hohoho!) 'empty' house, Billy said, "This is where the movie starts to get really scary."
When the movie was over on television, my youngest brother, only two-years-old, refused to go to sleep. I thought it was amazing that even he could sense we had watched something terrifying. Billy Boyd went back to his house across the street and my other brother and I stayed up to watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the Sammy Terry show. My parents finally came home and insisted we go to sleep.
I couldn't. I went into my brother's room and tried to sleep and couldn't. Finally I went into my parents' room and slept there. Halloween played over and over again in my nightmares. I kept hearing Billy say, "This is where the movie gets scary," and then the second half of the movie would play out and I'd wake up and go back to sleep and see it all over again.
I didn't sleep well for two weeks following the movie and wouldn't you know it, two weeks after Halloween, it was Friday, November 13th. Can you guess what film they showed at the free movies that night?
I didn't sleep well for the remainder of 1981.
I saw most of the famous slasher movies of the early 1980s. Most of them I saw on Cinemax when my dad finally got cable television. I was "lucky" enough to see the two movies that brought the golden age to a screeching halt-- Silent Night, Deadly Night and April Fool's Day-- in the theater (in those days you could get into an R-rated movie if you looked old enough to walk without diapers; on the off chance that you had some self-righteous jerk in the ticket booth, you just bought a ticket to a PG movie and snuck into the R-rated movie). The best of the genre were hardcore, politically "incorrect" gore-fests. In time I learned not to be afraid and enjoy the amazing special effects (most of which were done by Tom Savini). I find it odd that now, almost thirty years later, these are the movies that spawn affectionate feelings for my childhood.
The hard-working editors of Beat to a Pulp have put together an anthology with an outstanding line-up of writers. It's called Round One and anyone who gives a damn about independent publishing should get a copy ASAP!
Chris Rhatigan reviews EVEN SVEN at Death by Killing. I'm glad to see Toomey's story getting some attention. When America wakes up from its post-9/11 slumber, we're gonna realize that this kind of fiction was way, way ahead of its time (and yet, I'm sure old Jim Thompson would have gotten a kick out of the story as well...)
Please be sure to read the latest story in All Due Respect and let the writer know what you think. This month's story is a pure example of creativity unhinged to the foul odor of false politeness that has taken over American society. Some people call it "political correctness," but I would like to move beyond that disgusting term and ideaology and recognize the plastic shine of arbitrary niceness for what it is: PURITANICAL FASCISM.
One of my missions, as well as the mission of All Due Respect, is to ram sledgehammers through this phony attempt to make everyone feel "secure" by making sure nobody talks or writes about anything "unpleasant." It is the writer's job to bring the attention of the masses to reality, even if it means dragging them, kicking and screaming the whole way.
And if you missed any of the previous stories, please make sure you give them a day in court as well:
For a hallucinatin' good time, read my update of the old Chester Himes tale, Marihuana and a Pistol. It's called Methamphetamine and a Shotgun. It comes dangerously close to what my contemporary literature professor calls "postmodern" fiction. But don't let that scare you. It's really just about drugs, jealousy and murder.
Then, don't miss the most popular story All Due Respect has published, The Great Whydini by David Cranmer. It's the kind of crime fiction you'd find in the old pulps; no morals, just crime.
Finally, if you grew up digging On the Road, chances are you'll dig J.J. Kinni's Open Roads and Freebirds. It's a story about getting involved in all the fun, illegal activity America has to offer and eventually finding a place you can call home with people who like to raise hell just the same.