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The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark

My reading back list is notoriously long, only accounting for the books I have bought, so finally reading a book I’ve known about for nearly a year is a small feat. I hadn’t even bought The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark until the week before Christmas, so it should have sat in my stacks for another 2-3 months, depending on my life as I know it. The purchase, however, was spurned by an Op-Ed take over of Heath Lowrance’s Psycho-Noir blog where Clark discusses the erosion of Hollywood, LA, creative markets, et al. It wasn’t so much the context, which thoughts I was inline with, but the cadence of the voice. The harmonics of language. If Clark wrote this lush one off commentary, I could only imagine what his novel, which has garnered notable praise, would be like. I bought Clark’s The Science of Paul that day.

Aaron Philip Clark doesn’t disappoint as he slips the reader into the life of the eponymous protagonist, Paul Little, slowly unraveling the truth about Paul, an ex-con walking the precarious edge of freedom with his parole winding to an end on the streets of Philadelphia. Paul’s story starts out bleak, in true noir fashion, at the bottom of the proverbial barrel with nowhere to go but up, to freedom and to a new life, but Philadelphia like Paul’s past doesn’t want to let go. All Paul wants to do is escape his present life, to head down to his Grandfather’s farm in North Carolina and live a simple life again. Unfortunately, it feels as though the city, Philadelphia, conspires against his every actions, met with violence and consequence.

Had this been written by a less deft writer, The Science of Paul, would have been a fast paced, high action Saturday popcorn flick type of book. Paul has moments of intensity, but Clark doesn’t make a dance of the violence, a spectacle to entertain the masses. The conflicts are moments of action and reaction, preceded and followed by contemplation and characterization. Carried through the thoughts and actions of Paul, Clark creates an effortless dialog with the reader to which by the end imbues the regrets, self-doubt and the want to relinquish to the fate Philadelphia holds for men like Paul.

Lyrical, emotive, abrupt, and defiant, The Science of Paul is definitely one of my favorite books from 2011. I wish I had read it sooner.

You can learn more about The Science of Paul and where to buy from the publisher, New Pulp Press.

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Holiday Havok, New Years to All and Happy B-day to me

Hey all, how was your holiday?

Mine was odd and busy. Things change, dynamics change. Nothing like it was as a kid. I guess that happens when you grow up.

We got a new kitten, a part-Bengal Cat terror we call Devlin. He is a constant source of entertainment, except when he decides your leg or arm is the toy he wants to play with. His transition with the older cats has been better than we expect. They tolerate him at least, and they’re getting a little more exercise when they become his next toy.

The New Year was no big shakes. Diner alone with my Granddad. Kelly had to work, and Kassy was off at the Farm with my Mother. I cooked a rack of lamb with couscous and a vegetable medley. I’ve become a better cook since my Mother got cancer, moving out to care for herself, and I’ve become his evening caregiver most nights. It’s been a team effort. But sitting alone with my 96 year old Granddad was a little different from New Years gone by. Things change.

My daughter, Kassy, turned 18 on the 4th. How did that happen? Eventually she’ll act 18, eventually. We did finally have a big family meal on Saturday as my Mom made us, Kassy and I, dinner for our birthdays. Yep, I had a birthday too, winding away at the death clock. 43 for me. How did that happen? It was a nice prime roast with polenta and vegetables. A really good meal with family. I miss that.

I want to thank everyone for the many birthday wishes on Twitter and Facebook. Makes those 43 years worth it, having so many well wishes. It wasn’t a bad 43rd birthday — I did manage to catch a cold — it could have been better.

I want to give Glenn Gray a big shout out for the unexpected, though solicited as a lark, gifts of various eBooks I had been remiss of getting this year. A gift of books in my house will always welcomed.

My wife gifted me with SATAN IS REAL: THE BALLAD OF THE LOUVIN BROTHERS by Charlie Louvin with (my buddy) Benjamin Whitmer. It’s a biography, which I don’t read often, the last being AMERICAN REBEL: THE LIFE OF CLINT EASTWOOD. Plan to crack that open this weekend.

I thought about rambling on a bit more, but I guess it can wait for another day.

Happy New Years to all, and I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Type at you later.

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The Greenhorn Redux

Five months ago, just shy, I participated in one of writing zenfoodu Chuck Wendig’s writing challenges. A string of five words which included: “Figure”, “Dusk”, “Flirt”, “Mobile Phone”, “Wig”. Minds being the way they are, and mine meanders quite a bit, I instantly thought of writing a Western.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the Western, at least in the TV and Movie format. I even took a stab at Louis L’Amour because I had a serious man-crush on both Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. And of course there was ol’ squint-eyed Clint and his Spaghetti Westerns, and then his astounding The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Unforgiven.

From F-Troop to the Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, I was mesmerized by the Western in all its forms.

I had never written it. Not a Western story in my repertoire, until Wendig’s challenge. And even then due to the word usage, I turned it around at the end and cheated.

Ever since though, especially with the original comments, I’ve wanted to revisit writing a Western. A true Western and not something with a fandangled twist at the end. The thought lingers.

This morning those thoughts were amplified when a good friend, Ray Dillon, who in his own right is a talented renaissance man who can write as equally well as he can draw and perform miraculous feats of digital art, sent me a link to my story, The Greenhorn, that he on a whim narrated.

I know I might be biased, but it’s a pretty good story to hear and Ray reads it well. Well except for pronouncing Godot. 😉 And his natural Kansas twang was perfect for this reading.

Go have  a listen. It’s a good 5 minutes.

Leave him a comment and then come back and let me know if I should tackle a Western story head on?

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Crimes In Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

From the day we are brought into the world until the day we are unceremoniously kicked out, we are marked by each passing moment. We are carved like soapstone into our ever growing imperfection by intrinsic, personal events. A map of personal history. We are but the lives we live.

As a toddler, my family lived outside Covington, KY on a horse farm. My memories of that time are most likely manifest from stories told and pictures seen, though some seem so crystal clear when I think upon them.  Too clear not to be my own. I don’t know, I wasn’t much taller than a knot on a log.

What does this have to do with CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA? Nothing and everything.

My folks split when I was three and through out my childhood, bolstered by mom’s venomous hate towards my absent father, it marked me more than it should have. It grew from a scratch to gash to near abscessed pain and anger. By the time I was 15, I didn’t much like either of my parents.

Frank Bill‘s book CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA is chock full of wonderful stories about people marred by experience, circumstance and isolation. Most have little vindication or happy resolve, but each carves a dark image of life in southern Indiana.

I was 25 when I met my father again for the first time. At the insistence of my young bride, I called him from a hotel room just outside of Cincinnati. I half expected him to have horns and a tail or eyes pitch coal black and filled with evil. I was awash of emotions, all including hate, disgust and anger. That all but melted away when I opened the hotel room door. He was my blood.

I had gotten about halfway through CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA when I read “The Old Mechanic” which depicted a young Frank meeting his estranged grandfather for the first time. It immediately pulled at those old scars. The memories of a fatherless youth and reconnecting with a past I never really had. It reminded me that we are very much the definition of our past, but our past doesn’t have to define our future.

CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA is rich with local experience and setting, but the characters’ lives are very much the stitches of an unraveling patchwork Americana. For better or worse we are the lives we live.

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Breaking the Fourth Wall

Women are weak.

Powerless. Defenseless. Victims.

Right?

In fiction their only purpose is to act as a catalyst for our strong male protagonist to either save or avenge. They are props that get killed, raped and mutilated. Titillating pieces of  meat, flesh, that are vapid set decorations to high testosterone storytelling.

Right?

I’m co-editor of an online flash fiction magazine called Shotgun Honey. We specialize in short crime, hardboiled, noir fiction. Talking about gender roles or submissions in general puts me front stage, breaking the fourth wall. But, I think it needs to be done.

It is easy to make women the victims. Most atrocious crimes committed by men are against women, generally acts of passion, rarely pre-meditated. I am not opposed to reading or receiving  stories that harm, maim or kill women. What I find appalling are stories whose only purpose is to glorify the act(s) and make no attempt to tell a story. The act itself cannot be the story.

Horrific violence happens in real life. Yes. Crime fiction for the most part is violent volatile fiction. Often to an extreme. Good crime fiction takes the foibles and tells a story.

I can’t speak completely for my co-editors, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a story where the typical gender roles are reversed. Yes, at Shotgun Honey we’ve published stories with female protagonists in the past from Matt Funk’s Det. Jari Jurgis and Fiona Johnson’s undercover cop Gemma.

We’ve also published John Rector’s “Folded Blue.” The ultimate culmination of degradation and depravity towards a woman, so it sounds hypocritical to call out stories who parade such violence. Rector’s story stands alone, it tells a story of depression and rejection. It burns slow until the reveal. The story isn’t about the act, the murder or the post-mortem interaction. It’s about the character, not the victim.

The question as a writer that has to be asked: Is the violence for the sake of the story or the story for the sake of the violence?

I’m not asking for a spate of stories where women who dole out some desperately needed comeuppance. Variety is the name of the game. And on that note, as a writer considering to submit to Shotgun Honey or one of the other many venues, think about how broad crime fiction can be? Violence is easy, telling a good story is harder.

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The Short Story Serial Returns

My grandfather grew up in a time where watching a movie was a luxury, talkies were a fad, kids went outside to play and reading was his window to the world and entertainment. Recently he told me a story about delivering and selling Collier’s Weekly as a boy. The magazine sold for 5 cents and he got 2 cents of every sale. A lot of money for the time, but he would have delivered them for free just to read the articles, columns and short story serials.

The serial my grandfather enjoyed were ongoing tales of the mysterious Fu Manchu. I could see the twinkling memory of the anticipation he had as a young man, waiting for that weekly installment in the back of Collier’s Weekly.

For decades up through the golden age of television, readers young and old entertained themselves with short story serials like Fu Manchu from both variety and genre based magazines. Eventually, technology and television won out. The need for written entertainment dwindled, variety magazines dropping stories and genre based ones just vanishing all together.

The short story serial became a lost market.

Until recently, I wouldn’t have believed it could be revived. And the very thing that killed the short story serial is now breathing new life into the dead relic — Technology.

Less than two years ago most technologist saw the e-book as a burgeoning technology that would take at least a decade to take hold of the market. At least.

Reality — Amazon sells more e-books than print. Both seasoned and first time writers are finding new readers and selling thousand of books, and writers are starting to revive the short story anthology and serial market place. Readers are reading.

Me particularly, I’m reading THE DEAD MAN SERIES created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, and I just finished DRUNK ON THE MOON by Paul D. Brazill.

THE DEAD MAN series started this last Spring, releasing a new book roughly once a month. The initial book FACE OF EVIL debuted at 99 cents. A price point I couldn’t turn down and one that got me hooked on the series.

In a nutshell, THE DEAD MAN series is about Matthew Cahill, a man who comes back from the dead to discover he has returned with the ability to sense evil in a very physical way — sight, smell and taste. Matt is now on a quest to discover the source and why he was chosen to face evil.

Each installment is written by a different author and comes in roughly somewhere around/under 20,000 words. Nice edible bites of evil and mystery.

Subsequent issues sell for $2.99, but what a deal that is as the first 4 books I’ve read have been a roller coaster of fun.

DRUNK ON THE MOON is another series to keep an eye on. The initial story, release under the same title and written by series creator Paul D. Brazill, introduces former cop turned PI, Roman Dalton, as he comes to claw-biting grips with his new reality as a were-wolf.

I purchased the first installment of DRUNK ON THE MOON for a whopping 99 cents and less than an hour latter I was gnashing for more. And like THE DEAD MAN series, Paul has put together a team of authors bring us more of the were-wolf PI, Roman Dalton

Now these two series lean towards my taste, but it’s my hope that other short story serials are testing the e-book market and finding success. E-books are a fantastic outlet all genre of short story serials and the readers out there to consume.

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The Streak

Last night I spent 9 hours at the ER. It was an arduous long wait. Nobody likes an ER, nobody.

In my 42 years I’ve been to the ER on numerous occasions for my wife, my daughter, my great uncle and myself. When I worked home health care. I’ve seen all types of injury and sickness while waiting. The long wait. And of course it is never fun to be the patient. Poking. Prodding. Waiting.

I wasn’t a patient. I was a loved one. Family. Grandson. I wasn’t alone. My uncle and my cousin were there as well. 9 hours. Waiting.

The man to our left was dying. Every breath a potential gurgling last. He waited. I think the nurse said he was 65. He looked much older.

The woman to the right. A bladder infection. Only a few years older than myself. 47. There with her senior mother. She peed frequently. Or tried to crying.

There we were in the middle. Waiting.

The center of our attention, my grandfather. Half-way to 96. The doctors. The nurses look at this near centenarian in disbelief. Not only does he not look or act like a 95 year old, they have absolutely no record him ever in his system.

They ask if we are from out of town. No we are local. But they have no records. No they don’t have records. Why would they.

My grandfather, 95, half-way to 96, has never been hospitalized. Never.

He confides, several times over, with the lucidity of a 60 year old, he hoped he would never be hospitalized. That he’d die with his record unscathed.

He blames us for insisting he go. Insisting that he needed an EMT. But he’s injured his leg, he can’t stand. He’s upset. We broke his record.

Today he lays in the hospital more worried about his family. About the ribs we bought for the Memorial Day cook out. We stayed up almost all night. Waiting with him. We come back at 7am. He’s more worried that we are tired. That is is our day off. He hasn’t slept either. But he worries about us.

After a couple hours or so he insists we all go on. Enjoy our day off. Get rest.

My grandfather was born in 1915 and never hospitalized. I don’t know anyone else who can say that. I can’t. My wife can’t. My daughter can’t. We’ll never beat that streak.

His streak is broken. He was upset, but now takes it in stride.

He worries about ribs on Memorial Day.

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The Killing – A Season of Lies

As writer, I tell lies.

Stories.

Creative truths.

My job is to entertain you and the biggest tool in the box is my ability to deceive you. I will juke and cut the story from side to side until you’re not sure what is what, but if by the end of the story you, the reader, aren’t satisfied — I failed.

AMC has been good to me. They have delivered the goods and kept me entertained with shows like BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN and most recently THE WALKING DEAD. I will admit when I saw the early previews of THE KILLING, I wasn’t ready to be sold. A series devoted to solving a single murder. Okay, that might drag a bit. Such a singular focus over a single season. That wasn’t entirely true, was it?

Maybe, I overlooked something, but the early indications pointed to this being a limited series. When they announced that THE KILLING had been picked up for a second season I should have suspected something. Something.

Who killed Rosie Larsen?

The series was slow, calculating. Building and twisting, keeping me and other viewers off balanced. For some it just turned turned them off. I can see that.

I was invested though. I wanted to know who the killer was. AMC wanted me to know who the killer was. They wanted me to play along. To track the killer along with agents Linden and Holder. I had an early pick with Councilman Richmond. So obvious, that just had to be crazy.

After a few more episodes — playing along — I almost bought into Ahmed. They played me, but I wasn’t going to fall so easy. It was Belko Royce, creepy sidekick to Rosey’s father, Stan Larsen.

I can understand the frustration. There were so many little stories and distractions interwoven into the long con — I mean story — that it was easy to be dazzled and lose focus. What is that saying? You know the one, surely?

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

I think I was dazzled with bullshit.

The whole purpose — the promise — of the series was to find out who killed Rosie Larsen. How many commercials promoted that goal?

I knew going into the last episode that everything from the previous episode(s) was a lie, a deception. I knew the killer wasn’t the killer. I was ready for the big finale. The big reveal. Somehow this was going to twist around once again and payoff. Payout.

It didn’t happen. Somewhere between commercials I bent over and got one up the ass. We all did.

Hype and hyperbole. All we got for our efforts — not even the kindness of a reach around — was the question.

Who killed Rosie Larsen?

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BITCH SLAP by Josh Stallings

I’m standing at a bar. I’m sixteen. It is a teen club. Eighteen and under only. I am the bouncer. The man in the Pimp Yellow suit looks in his late twenties, and that’s generous. He is eyeing the faux cocktail waitress’ ass as she walks away. She is little my sister.

It is 1975 my siblings and I run a teen disco. My best friend Tad and I had visited a place called the Cherry Pit, an under age joint; and in a very Mickey Rooney moment we all convinced my mother to back us in building one ourselves. She had single-handedly raised our family fortunes from broke ass ‘no you can’t have a name brand soda’ to ‘yes kids I can help raise some money for a disco,’ she and her boyfriend Perry each ponyed up.

To mom’s credit she hoped having a mission would stop the hard drug use, violence and inappropriate sexual liaisons. To her downfall she lived in a Doris Day fantasy world with a suit of ironclad denial. But really how was she to know we were building a clubhouse for all kinds of debauching.

“There is an age limit. Have to be under eighteen.” I know he knows; I just don’t have any better lines up my sleeve.

“Fuck your age limit bitch.” His voice is soft, like he doesn’t even need to add edge to deal with a punk like me. His eyes roam the room sliding over every girl on the dance floor. He’s a pimp on a scouting trip.

“You really have to go.”

“Really.” He smiles flashing a gold incisor.

He moves his hand up under his jacket. My heart stops. Fucked. “You know what I got up in here.”

“No.”

“Smith and fucking Wesson .357. Wanna’ see it?”

“No, I so don’t. Really.”

“Think I’m lying?”

“No.”

“I pull this shit out, I will start blasting. You go first white boy.” I look at my brother working the door, my sisters serving drinks, Tad chatting up a bounce-able bunny. I don’t want any of us dead. It would really fuck up the night’s vibe.

I start to ramble, moving my lips and hoping words will come, “I believe you have a piece. Believe you will use it. Maybe you’re going to leave. Or you’re going to pull out the .357 and try and shoot me.”

“Damn straight.”

“Ok, follow this down, just logic it out. You take out your .357 and shoot me. A white boy in Palo Alto? Dude you’re done. No way you hide from that. They take you in and after years of appeals they fry you. Or, you pull that .357 and I pull an amazing kung fu move, disarming and bitch slapping you in front everyone. It could happen, not likely, but it could. Or the waitress calls the cops, I mean there is just no way this will work out for you.”

“Man you talk too goddamn much. Bitches are nasty, no booze selling punk club. Fuck this noise.” I watch him walk out. Only when he is out of sight do I take a deep breath. He made me feel like a child. He bitch slapped me without ever raising a hand.

What does that memory have to do with writing? Everything. Violence, the hint of it, the fact of it. It runs though all I write. I grew up in a chaotic violent home. Children were choked and slapped and tossed around. Violence. Ghetto high school, violence. If I was the inflicted or the inflictor of violence it always left me feeling sick and weak. I have never felt the desire to raise my fists over my head and let out a Stallone style yell. Then again I also don’t believe that jumping in slow motion will keep a fireball from singeing off all your hair.

I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino, I mean I dig his style but it feels shallow. Give me Peckinpah, give me The Wild Bunch, where bullets rip flesh and men die screaming each other’s names. Deal is, we all, writers and civilians alike carry our own scar tissue, like tattoos from a life well lived, they make us colorful and different. I read Ken Bruen because his personal scars mesh with mine. Jack Taylor is as dark a character as you’ll find, and yet I get him. Reading about Jack Taylor makes me feel less alone. I read Charley Huston because I get his fucked in the head dark world view. Shotgun Rules could have been written about my brother and me. I read James Crumley because no one this side of Chandler can paint pain so poetically. I don’t read Cozies, not because they are bad or poorly written, they just don’t speak to the voices in my head.

“Son, you write about what you know, right?” Mom is speaking to me from her almond ranch in Northern California. “ Do you go to strip clubs?”

“Yeah, I go to strip clubs. I also hang out with mobsters and criminals and I interview hookers. And I read a lot. It’s the job.” I’m slipping across LA in my Mini Cooper.

“So have you ever gotten a lap dance?” My mother’s has no sense of personal boundaries. But she is not the only person to want to know if I do fuck or have fucked strippers, she’s just the only one unfiltered enough to ask. Why doesn’t anyone ask if I shot someone in the face? Moses does that too. I suspect Mom doesn’t ask about that because she knows the root of the violence.

A shrink told me that I write about violence as a way to relive and learn to conquer it. True or not, doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, Moses McGuire’s world is blood soaked and smells of resent fornication. I write about what I know, not what I’ve done and I know some fucked up shit.

Back to the bitch slap. Thing about a bitch slap is, it says ‘I don’t even need to punch you, you are that ineffectual, bitch.’ It makes you feel small by intention. Violence works the same way. And sometimes a person stands up in the face of it and acts, knowing the internal price. Those are the people I write about. Moses is damaged good, but he is willing to rise above it to try and do what must be done. So where the hell was he when the pimp fronted me? Probably off getting a lap dance from a smoking hot Russian stripper.

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this letter to Norman Court by Pablo D’Stair – Part 16