F3, Cycle 104: Ain’t No Friend of Mime

It’s been a long while since I participated myself in a Flash Fiction Friday prompt. Flannery and Joyce have been doing a great job keeping the site together and coming up with great prompts. I started a story a few weeks back from the prompt Is Anyone There? that I plan to expand and finish for an anthology later this year. This week’s prompt by Joyce was a word list: gunshot, train, mime, balcony, monkey, rain. So this is my contribution to Words, Words, and More Words.

Normally I would give a few rewrites on a story before letting out in the wild, especially one like this that is a little left of what I usually write. So consider it for what it is, a rough stab at story about a mime and a murder. I hope you enjoy it none-the-less.

Ain’t No Friend of Mime

I got the call on the squawk, a 10-55 with units on scene and coroner in route. I was 20 minutes from the end of my shift, ready to call it a day when McGrady invited me to the show.

McGrady met me at the bottom of the stairs outside the complex. He had a fresh pack of nails, pulling away at the cellophane with nervous fingers. He took one out and offered the newly open box. I waved off, reminding him I was nearly a year into redemption. He thought better and tucked his unlit burner behind his ear.

“So what do we got, Bill?”

“It wasn’t ours at first. A lady across the yard called in the complaint. A 288. She told dispatch there was a man in the apartment across from her spanking his monkey.”

I didn’t know if McGrady was having me on or not. He liked to be a joker, but he managed the delivery with a straight face.

Bill continued as he led me up the stairs. “Another call came about five minutes later, a shooting with a 10-54. Patrol arrived on scene and confirmed, upgrading to a 10-55.”

We passed through two officers, probably first on scene, both seemed to be having a laugh, and entered the open apartment. They acknowledged us with a nodded, “Detectives.”

It was a sparse apartment, a worn out couch to one side against the wall, a beat up coffee table a leg length away, and directly across a kitchenette with a small table and a single chair. You could cross the room in three long strides. Only two other doors in the room. One next to the couch was either to a bathroom or a bedroom. Based on how the pillow cushions were positioned on the couch, I was going to wager a bathroom. The other was a glass door, shattered, that lead out to the balcony, the sheers wafted open in the night breeze, and I could see an old biddy with binoculars across the way. The only decoration was a framed picture of some clown with what appeared to be a splatter of shit across the glass.

I hated clowns.

These weren’t the first thing you saw when you entered. No, you couldn’t help but see the dead clown–sorry mime–in the middle of the room with his outstretched arms choking a monkey. A gunshot both, possibly from the same bullet based of the placement of the bodies.

I liked mimes less than clowns. I grimaced.

Bill, with a stone face, pointed to the bodies. “If it weren’t for the bullet holes, I’d say it was autoerotic asphyxiation.”

I patted him on the back as a smile cracked his lips, “Yeah, Bill. I’m sure you can tell that to the Captain.”

“I would, but he’s the one who gave me the line.”

“So do we have anything? What’s the story?”

Bill flipped open his notes, “Yeah, the mime here is a Marty Marceau. Changed from Martin Mullen. Occupation, well, mime. He worked down at The Green. And..” Bill looked around the room, “must of done pretty well for himself.”

“We got a timeline? He and the monkey look pretty fresh.”

“Yeah, rigor hasn’t set yet. Probably about 45 minutes. Girl downstairs, says she’s the girlfriend, she found  ol’ Marty here choking the monkey. She called 911 moments after the initial complaint.”

I rolled my eyes. “Girlfriend have a name? She still available?”

“Yeah, she’s in her apartment with an officer. Her name is Angela Lansbury. She’s a…”

“Don’t tell me, a writer?”

“Well, actually…”

I turned to head out, “Never mind. Let’s visit the girl.”

She was down there with the officer, mascara bleeding down her face.

“Angela?”

Her apartment was more decorated in oranges and pinks, the furniture was new but looked comfortable, entertaining. On the walls hung evocative prints of fruit in a pop art style. She wore pink hot pants that I was sure had the word JUICY on the backside, the top was a white halter that didn’t leave much to the imagination with a new set of Double Ds. Her hair was professionally bleached with a streak of pink, and her lipstick matched her shorts. Being a writer must be a lucrative business?

She looked up, the rain of mascara couldn’t hide her sweet face. She hadn’t lost all her innocence. I’m sure she fooled more than one editor with her school girl wiles.

“Angela, could you tell me what you told the officers earlier? What happened upstairs?”

Her lips quivered and she squeezed her fist white knuckled. She began to cry again.

I sat down beside her. The couch was soft, yet firm. I imagined that would be useful for a writer. Angela turned away and grabbed her large shoulder bag, trying to slip her hand inside to snag a tissue. I saw the glint of metal.

I stood quickly, “What do you have there, Angela?”

She started to pull the tissue out, but slumped into the couch and let the bag fall to the floor, the barrel of .22 slid out.

“I did it” she said practically in audible.

I grabbed the gun and the purse, dumping the remaining contents onto the glass coffee table. House keys, vibrator, condoms in various sizes and colors, an extra pair of panties, a wallet with about $300, some loose change and a train ticket. Everything a woman on the run needed.

The officer who had sat with her pulled her to her feet and cuff Angela.

“Why? Why did you do it?”

“The monkey. That bastard was cheating on me.” She saw our strange looks, “Not the monkey, you dopes! Marty, Marty was. He hated that monkey. It was that stone bitch, Bella’s monkey. She’s one of them human statues, did her bit across from Marty day in and day out. I knew it was only a matter of time. She wasn’t the only one, there were plenty of others.” She fumed, raging, then continued, “he had the monkey and I knew. For sure. No way he’d watch that monkey, unless…”

I thought back up to the corpse laying on the floor, and as she was escorted out the door I had to ask, “What did you see in him?”

She softened and smiled through her mascara stained face, “He was a good listener.”

Tom Piccirilli and a Pack of Thieves

I’ve never had the pleasure, as they say, to meet Tom Piccirilli. At least not in the traditional sense. We’ve bumped virtual shoulders through Brian Keene’s forums and on Twitter, I’ve followed him on Facebook. He and his work have always come in high regard. Tom is a working class writer who seems easy to admire. Because of that I’ve always intended on reading his work, to make that call for myself, and like several writers I intend on reading time always seems to stand in the way. I often imagine myself like Burgess Meredith in that episode of The Twilight Zone where all he wished for was time to read, and what happens when time is no longer a factor? He breaks his glasses. And with twenty odd years of eye strain from working too close to monitors, I need those glasses now to read.

When Tom’s The Last Kind Words was released in June to solid reviews and internet buzz, at least in my circle of influence, I wanted to run out and get the book. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t in a position to drop $18-$25 on a book, any book. So it was shoved off to my to my TBR list and I would be able to pick it up who knows when? Then the unfortunate happened.

Tom Piccirilli was diagnosed with a near tennis ball sized tumor in his brain, and he would have to have surgery and follow up treatment. If you’re in my circle of influence, you probably know all this and have been following updates from his wife, Michelle, on Facebook. If you haven’t, even if you have, you should read Tom’s guest post on writer and friend Brian Keene‘s website. It encapsulates the unique experience of facing death, fear, hope and love. Go read “Meeting the Black” and I’ll be right here when you come back.

Powerful stuff, wasn’t it?

Since the announcement there has been an outpouring of support from the community, and any doubt that Tom is loved, respected, has been overshadowed many times over. From notes of well wishes, offers of publishers to donate proceeds, to a rise in sales, and the many donations Tom and his wife have received.

Being in a little better place, I purchased The Last Kind Words and contributed a small token to the Indie Go Go campaign set up in his name. What better way to show your support for a writer than to buy his books?

I don’t know if the The Last Kind Words is the perfect introduction to Tom Piccirilli, to his his catalog of work, but as a first time reader I am sold on Tom the writer. I am hopeful that my stockings will be filled with several of his past novels this year, and that I’ll have years more of new material to read once Tom has put Cancer under his thumb.

The Last Kind Words is the story of Terrier “Terry” Rand a rehabilitated thief who is drawn back to his family, a family of thieves, when his brother Collie asks to see him weeks before he is to be executed for a killing spree he committed five years earlier. The same time Terry decided he was done with the life and with his family, putting his past behind him and heading out west to live a quiet life of anonymity. Despite his resentment of his past, of his brother, he is drawn back hoping to answer questions and to have a glimpse of a life he left behind.

Piccirilli deftly tells a story of family, fractured by unexplained and unforgiving murders committed Collie the eldest son. Then he presents us with a mystery when Collie recants to one of the murders, a mystery that would weave its way through the family story to either stitch them back together or unravel them completely.

The story is multifaceted, creating as many questions as there are answers. And I will admit that by the end I wanted more. There are stories yet to be told about Terry and the remaining family in this pack of thieves, so perhaps wanting more is exactly what Piccirilli was going for and I suppose time will tell.

This won’t be the last book I read by Tom Piccirilli, I look forward to reading more and letting him know in person one day just how much I enjoy his work. Maybe next time I’m out in Colorado visiting the in-laws I’ll take an afternoon and drive up for a sit down.

Everybody’s Not Kung Fu Fighting

As a writer and an editor of crime fiction, I unavoidably have to deal with the fight scene. What is a crime if not the result of violence or violation? Both can and probably will result in a fight. A conflict. How escalated the conflict becomes is determined by factors of the situation and the creative vision. The interpretation of the writer to cast the scene to paper.

To paper.

I think this simple aspect is the failing of many attempts at writing the fight scene. At least a believable one. For me personally, the bulk of my early writing was an attempt to break into comic books and as a result I learned to write lean and visually, because in writing for comics unless you are both the writer and artist you have a collaborator, a co-writer who translates words into images. Since it was a visual medium, I drew inspiration from movies, and growing up in the 80s there were no lack of action movies. Over the top and inconceivable.

So I understand the urge and inspiration to write scenes that put your protagonist under impossible odds. You’re playing that scene out in your head like it’s on the big screen. You’re embracing your inner Road House and kicking all kinds of Swayze. I get it. But, the reality is the protagonist usually ends up like Sam Elliott.

I know you’re thinking, Ron, Ron Earl this is fiction, it’s not supposed to be reality?

That’s true, and if you lay the groundwork and handle the action just right, the reader is going to follow right along with you. After all, how many times did they ask Swayze’s character “I thought you’d be bigger?” before he actually had to throw down some serious hurting? They laid the groundwork that he is a badass.

Most stories I deal with as an editor are of the 700 word variety, so not a whole lot of room to lay down your protagonist’s greatest hits before he throws the first punch. With such short stories I favor stories that anchor themselves in the plausible, creating scenes that are not only dynamic but feel real as possible.

So now you ask, Ron Earl, how do I make it feel real?

Funny you should ask, but I’ve got 3 simple things to consider.

  1. Only Human – Unless stated otherwise, or you’re holding out for the big twist at the end, your protagonist is only human. And the human body can only endure so much damage before it has to shut down. Your protagonist is not going to endure constant abuse and suddenly come out the victor. And if your guy does go down, it’s going to take time to before he’s up to even facing the Tooth Fairy.
  2. Knuckle and Buckle – Fights aren’t even. They’re the product of adrenalin and temper, and rarely do the fighters square off before the first punch is thrown. Once that first knuckle lands, it’s only moments before a stinger hits and the advantage is won and legs begin to buckle. Real fights are short and one sided. Even in a professional match it’s going to take more than the Eye of the Tiger to go 12 rounds.
  3. Everybody’s Not Kung Fu Fighting – Do you know why those fight scenes in movies look so awesome? They’re choreographed. If your protagonist is put in the middle of multiple combatants, I’m sorry, he’s going down. They aren’t going take turns. Three are going to hold your character down while the other two beat his face and balls and they’ll be calling him Arsefaced Sally by the end.

There are not fast hard rules, and even if there were, rules are meant to be broken. Just remember how ever you write your fight scene it has to first serve the story and then entertain the reader.

Oops…

Have to love waking up in the morning and finding your website is gone. Bamf! Disappeared just like Nightcrawler. I know I looked at it last night? I started to write a story for Flash Fiction Friday. But that was before noon or somewhere around there. So what happened?

A real mystery. The entire file structure was gone?

Wow…

First thing’s first. Create the public folder and install WordPress again. Cross fingers that the database is still intact. It is! Yes.

Reinstalled, but all my plugins and themes are gone. Have a lot backed up local, wasn’t that a bit of luck. Nothing from this week. Joy!

So a couple hours, the majority of the content is back. None of my images. Totally fubar. Lost to the ether. Fuck.

Oh, well. How could this have happened? Did someone hack my site? No, though it probably wouldn’t be hard… What did I do yesterday?

Ah yes, something totally out of my normal behavior. I used the 1-Click function to set up a blog for a future project. Usually I’m a 100% on hands, do it manually. But I was at work, and I can’t access my server’s shell because of the firewall. I’m bored and impatient. So might as well.

Huh? Must have been bored before. I have an installation for a site I’m not currently using. Delete installation? Sure, why not?

Click!

It’s really taking a long time for a site I really didn’t do any work on? Weird?

Oh well, 1-Click install for new mums-the-word project. Hmmm… seems stalled?

Ah, got to get back to work work. I’ll do this later.

This morning. WTF? Where’d my fucking site go? FTP in? No won’t work. Check other websites. Shotgun Honey? There! Flash Fiction Friday? There! Wife’s site? There! Client demos? There! An obvious trend. RonEarl.com? Fubar!

What did I do? How’d my site get deleted? Deleted? I wonder? Oh yeah, I was parking that unused site on RonEarl.com until I had time to work on it. So of course it’d follow the file path redirect and delete everything…

Oops!

A Dash of Style

Tomorrow up on Shotgun Honey we are hosting our fifth story from Jersey native Kieran Shea. It’s called “Going All Shatner.” I have to admit I was sold the moment I saw the title. Quirky titles get me, and I get them. All of the stories we’ve hosted for Kieran have been in what I’ve come to call a “Morse Code” style. Nearly pure dialog, little if any narrative, accentuated with dashes and dots.

Excerpt from “Man Full of Stones” on Shotgun Honey:

-Hey, Morgan.
-Well, well.  Look at what the tide dragged in.  S’up, Mikey?
-That him?
-Who?
-The guy in the corner.  Watching Vlatka on stage.  Bony-looking dude with the glasses.
-Yeah.  That’s him. Guess who gets to take that creep to the airport in an hour?
-You?
-Yup.
-Atlantic City?
-Nope.  Philly.  God, I’m looking forward to that like a punch in the nuts.

-So….
-So what?
-Is it true?  I mean, what they say about him?
-Believe it or not it’s true.
-That’s hilarious.
-But hey, he’s good at what he does and Mr. Donofrio likes him so what do we care if he’s a freak?  To each his own, that’s my motto these days. To each his fuckin’ own.  Throwing some deadbeat clown a beating is one thing but that other nasty stuff?  Do me a favor and leave me the hell out of it.  If Mr. Donofrio wants to contract those grisly details out to some Rain Man-talking sideshow from Boston, he can be my guest.
-Providence.
-Whatever.
-I’m going to go talk to him.
-I wouldn’t do that if I was you, Mikey.
-Why not?  What’s the worst that could happen?

-Come on.  I just want to see what he’s like.  Where’s the harm?

Each line of dialog is marked with a dash. Quotation and attribution are absent. The conversation is a rapid flow of give and take, the conversation carrying the tone and direction of the story. Clustered together and broken up by the pregnant pause of single lined ellipses, building tension with each returned line.

It isn’t often that style is used to build the story. I have seen writers created their own styles, but not to manipulate the reader and not structure the pacing. Of course I may not be as well versed or read as I like.

The first time I saw the use of the dash to signify dialog was with Charlie Huston. I thought it was unique and I like the dialog separate and alone, not depending on exterior events to give weight to the words. The dialog is an event in itself. Especially with how Kieran manages it to flow free, fresh, natural.

Cormac McCarthy is often lauded, and he does tell a hellava story that blends genre into a sprawling literary narrative, but I have to admit I struggled following his dialog, quotes painfully absent. It was something I had to adjust to, but end the end was transparent to the power of the words he had written.

Kieran’s “Morse Code” style is easy to digest, to understand. If it’s not his own, I don’t want to know, because his ability to talk through a story and create tension without descriptors is unique. I read so many stories that struggle with dialog surrounded by well written narrative. I myself have to write dialog multiple times until I think it’s half worth to see the light. Even then…

I’m not asking anyone to adopt this style–Kieran’s Style–I don’t think I could ever accept a story that did. I do encourage people to experiment with their writing, to explore what makes a story from voice to style, narrative to dialog. Creativity is how you manipulate the reader.

Be creative.

Writing About Wrongs

If ever there was a perfect slogan, short phrase that told you everything you needed to know in a soundbite, it would be Thuglit’s “Writing About Wrongs.”

The other day in my interview with Joe Clifford I mentioned I was remiss about not stumbling onto this community crime sooner. I missed the first round/generation of Thuglit who published the likes of Frank Bill (Crimes in Southern Indiana) and Hilary Davidson (The Damage Done) within its pages. I could list names upon names of the talented writers that have graced its pages, established and rising stars. Alas there is only so much time, so I recommend you go out and discover them on your own.

When I was coming onto the scene Thuglit was just about to an end, and then the world went a little (a lot) sideways for me. So I missed the last hoorah. But you know what, just like in comic books, death isn’t the final chapter. Big Daddy Thug, Todd Robinson (Hard Bounce) resurrected Thuglit in a new format fit for the Kindle and a POD print companion.

Because dimes have been hard to put together of late, I opted for the Kindle version. Even money hard, I would happy to scrounge around two bucks for a digital copy of Thuglit, at 99 cents it’s a steal. Either way, worth every penny.

The first issue brought in some ringers; Hilary Davidson, Matthew C. Funk, Jordan Harper, Jason Duke, Johnny Shaw, along with Terrence P. McCauley, Mike Wilkerson and Court Merrigan. Then topped it off with a preview of Hard Bounce, Robinson’s new novel being released from my favorite crime imprint, Tyrus Books.

8 stories and preview.

Second issue followed the same format, 8+1. It was a smash, with stories from Shotgun Honey contributors Nik Korpon, Jen Conley and Katherine Tomlinson. Mike MacLean was the only other name I was familiar with. It introduced me to the fine words of Marc Fitch, Justin Porter, Patrick Lambe and Buster Willoughby. I don’t know if these are new voices, or ones I have yet to discover. I find I discover new voices all the time due to fantastic outlets like Thuglit, Needle and Plots with Guns. Not to mention the flashzines that have become my daily diet.

This issue was no different, like a Siren calling a chorus of crime.

I really do hate to pick favorites in this last issue, between 8 so varied stories, but Tomlinson’s “Participatory Democracy” about a woman on an economic down slide really hit on all cylinders for me. Perhaps it was the political heat of the day? “Just Like Maria” burned really bright as well, and I need to talk MacLean into contributing to some version of Shotgun Honey in the future. Porter’s “The Carriage Thieves” was a funny turn.

I’m glad that Thuglit is back and the brass knuckles are packing the punch once again. Look forward to issue 3 in January. I expect to see a lot of writers bring the boom in the months to come.

Goodbye Grandpa

Today is my Grandpa’s birthday. He would have been 97 and if you had asked me 6 months ago, I would have said he’d live to 107. His illness and passing were relatively quick, though I know he would have preferred to spend his last moments in his recliner in the solemn comfort of his home.

My biggest regret is allowing his stern and reserved notions to prevent me from sharing my passion for writing. He knew about it, but he never pried and I never offered. He was a strong, powerful man who lived with regrets like the rest of us. He could have been so much more and at the same time he was more than he ever imagined.

At the time of his death I spent weeks trying to compose the perfect goodbye, and I felt too much time had passed, so I left it and let it languish in my draft folder. I can’t hold onto it forever.

 

I want to thank my many friends for their condolences and their sympathy on my Grandpa’s death.

My grandpa decided long ago he didn’t want anything made of his passing, so no reception or funeral was held, aside from a gathering of family. So that moment family is given to say a word about the deceased never was, and I never got to tell what he meant to me.

I would like to indulge you a bit more, and my apologies for taking a personal moment.

Genetics aside, the creation of an organism, lineage and ancestry forgotten, without Grandpa I wouldn’t be here. He was important to my current life as the doctor who delivered me, his daughter who birthed me and the specialist who saved my week old life. Without Grandpa I would have been a footnote, a sad end to a failed marriage and a brother to a sister who may never had been. When doctors were ready to let life, and death, take its course my grandpa intervened. He was not a quitter. Never in his life had he given up on anything or anyone — not to say he was never disappointed – and he wasn’t going to give up on his daughter’s first child. Grandpa was a reputable man and through his actions was well respected in the community and the state, and he was able to reach beyond his grasp to achieve his goals. My life was his goal and his friends deep, so after a few calls he had my mother and me in his Buick driving us from Charleston to a specialist in Cincinnati. He watched after me and has his entire life and he has my entire life.

Grandpa taught me that family — despite disappointment — is the most important thing in life because family is life.

With my life or death, my mother and father did end up divorcing and my existence was not the glue that would mend their fractured marriage. The result would be a fatherless childhood, but I was never without a father.

Grandpa would be one of three men who stood in the place of my father, something I wouldn’t realize until years later and I suppose I through a good bit of teenaged angst his way when it wasn’t necessary. Kids are stupid, I was no exception. He taught me responsibility, to accept — not submit — life as it was given to you, and if what you got wasn’t what you wanted to work harder. I was slow to learn that, as with many of life’s lessons.

If I had been a quick study, I would have followed his footsteps and became a lawyer or maybe even a doctor. Grandpa wanted the best for us. Or I would have worked harder at my desire to be a writer, even though he didn’t believe creative arts were a responsible path for an adult to take. He would have been proud either way.

I’m going to take the time spent with Grandpa — now lost — and utilize it to further my goals, to make the choices he made for family count, to focus on family and provide them with everything I can.

When I think of Grandpa, I will remember riding downtown on Saturdays with him, all of 6 years old, as he ran errands to the bank, the grocery store and finally before heading back home to stop at The Diamond department store where he’d have coffee with his friends. I would get a doughnut and a chocolate milk, and if I were especially good we’d go up to the third floor to find me a toy.

Goodbye Grandpa.

A Titan they say…

So today I was interviewed over on the Flash Fiction Offensive by Joe Clifford, he’s like my carbon copy over at FFO except handsome and really-really fit, also a likeable and fast growing friend. Really, he sprouted practically overnight with little maintenance. Best kind of friend aside from the inflatable closet Cloe who’s always there for you in a pinch… though I’m not sure pinch is the applicable word?

He called me a titan and then I answered a whole bunch of questions. Well, not a whole bunch. Joe promised a bunch of questions but I got to rambling and he cut me off at five. In those five questions I talk about the give and take of our crime writing microcosm, then jumped over and explained how social media is expanding that microcosm, next was a history lesson that uncovered that Shotgun Honey is in fact the inbred second cousin bastard child of Out of the Gutter, Both Barrels was mentioned and I explained how I jumped the gun, and finally it got personal, revealing my future projects that assuredly doomed now that they are out in the world.

All and all, I globbed up all the attention like toast plunged into a thick bowl of beef stew. And Joe called me a titan. So does that mean I’m going to be cast out, locked away because I’m too powerful?

I do want to thank Joe who has been gracious beyond words, and that does not end with inviting me to play in his playground. It’s appreciated. Though between you and me, I’m no titan, I’m just standing on the solid shoulders of those who came before me.