Monday, February 22, 2010

Do You Feel Your Nose Growing?

Last week, Paul nominated the FFF crew for the

Bald Faced Liar Award


The rules for the award are simple:
1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you.
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
5. Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

7 lies or truths.

1. I was once told I look like Ben Affleck.
2. I've played a game of pickup hockey with some members of the Philadelphia Flyers.
3. I am related to a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1979 World Series championship team.
4. I was once nearly run over by James Carville.
5. I've eaten goat, but not calamari.
6. I traveled to 30 of the 50 US states before the age of 30.
7. I spent New Year's Eve 2000 in New York City.

I always say, "If your pants are on fire, being a liar becomes less important."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Create an Inciting Incident

I recently finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, by Don Miller. (Great book. Give it a read.) For those of you unfamiliar with who he is, Miller wrote a memoir called Blue Like Jazz a few years ago which became a big hit with the "under-35, Christian but bored with evangelicalism, politically liberal crowd". Although Jazz was such a big hit, his subsequent books were less successful. Miller felt bored, directionless, and like a failure in his personal life. After being contacted by two indie filmmakers who wanted to turn Jazz into a movie, Miller learned how to tell a compelling story and applied these ideas to his life - energizing him in a way he never felt before.

Now, I'm not going to do a full book review or say that Miller has the answer on how to live a meaningful life (though some of the ideas he presents are worth trying out), the reason I bring this up is what he has to say about story. He learns the elements of story from his two filmmaker friends and also attends a Robert McKee story seminar.

Which (finally) brings me to the reason for this post. I stumbled upon a nice interview with McKee over at StoryLink. The interview, and most likely his seminar, focuses primarily on screenwriting, there is great stuff there for writers of all stripes. I've read the interview twice already and got something out both times.

McKee's got good points about Inciting Incidents, hook/hold/payoff, ground rules ("Art forms have no rules; all art is guided by principles"), rewriting ("It's absolutely critical[...]What's difficult for writers to come to terms with is to recognize that 90% of what we all do, no matter our talent, is not our best work."), and looking critically about your inspiration before sitting down to write ("Talent and time are a writer's only assets. Why give your life to an idea that's not worth your life?").

Bookmarked it. Going to read it again and again.

(FYI: If you're interested in more about Million Miles, read this cat's review).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Moment of Vengeance (FFF 21)

After a week off, I'm back with the Friday Flash Fiction crew. As I've said previously, I view FFF as a chance to get back into the groove and also to try out new stuff. Speaking of new stuff, check out this week's installment. I hope y'all like westerns.

Moment of Vengeance

In matters of life and death, one could not forever rely on the judgment of his fellow man. Augustus Poole removed the bandanna from his captive's mouth and slapped him hard. When he didn't respond, Augustus dunked his metal cup into the barrel of water and threw it in the man's face. He awoke with a spurt and a sputter. The captive squinted his beady eyes at Augustus and said, "You've got some nerve. Do you know who I am?"

"Do you know who I am?"

The captive turned his head and spat, never moving his eyes from Augustus's face. "I can tell you are a God fearing man. Do you really think you'll get to heaven with my blood on your hands?"

Augustus said, "As it says in the Bible, 'And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.' You have been judged guilty, Mr. Scott. And I am going to mete out your punishment."

***

Marshall Zeke McCoy pushed his hat back and wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. Unscrewing the lid of his canteen, he took a swig of water. He sat tall in the saddle and wore a bushy mustache and guns on both hips. Years of staring out onto the plain with the sun and harsh wind gave him a permanent squint and weathered face of a man much older than his own twenty-eight years. He shifted his weight to keep the blood flowing to his legs. He had to be ready for action at any moment.

McCoy and his Apache guide had been tracking Augustus Poole all day and felt they were close to the end. Word came to McCopy early that morning at Fort Bowie that Poole had kidnapped Rupert Scott and was planning to kill him.

"AquĆ­."

"Jesus," McCoy said, startled. Even high on the bluff with no cover nearby, he hadn't seen or heard Kaywaykla approach. The Chiricahua knew this land like the back of his hand. "You found him?"

Kaywaykla nodded his head, "A small shack about a half mile from here. Best to go on foot."

McCoy dismounted and tied the reigns of his horse to a nearby mesquite bush. He pulled his Winchester from the saddle and said, "Let's go."

The path was fairly straight, but it was on the side of the bluff. Loose gravel underfoot made the going slow and treacherous. McCoy didn't want to end up sliding into the ravine below. His sweat plastered his woolen shirt to his broad back. Kaywaykla abruptly put up his hand and pointed a gnarled finger ahead. McCoy could see a small shack up ahead. It was a simple structure of clapboard walls backed by a large stone wall. The only opening in the front was the door, but there were several wide slats in the walls that someone could put a gun through.

McCoy motioned to Kaywaykla and the Apache moved farther down the ridge. McCoy climbed down to the land below and walked toward the shack. He stood next to a large boulder and shouted, "Augustus? I know you're in there and I know you have Scott. Why don't you hand him over to me and we'll take him to see the judge."

***

"Sounds like the law's here."

Augustus glared at his captive. "You do not speak unless I've given you permission to speak."

He went over and opened the door and carefully stood to one side. He said, "Marshall? Is that you?"

"Yes, it's me, Gus. Come out here and we can talk this over."

Augustus shook his head, "There's nothing to talk about, Marshall. This man is guilty and he must be punished."

"He will be punished," said McCoy, "according to the law. If he's found guilty by a jury of his peers, he will be hanged."

Augustus's lip curled and he sneered, "This man has no peers. He is a drunk and a scoundrel and a thief. What difference does it make if I punish him or if you do?"

"That's not the way we do things, Gus, and you know that. I know what he did to Annabelle. I know what he did to your daughter and I understand how you must feel."

"You have no idea how I feel." He removed the poker he had laying in the coal stove. Its tip glowed red and white hot. "Listen very carefully, Marshall. You're about to hear what justice sounds like."

***

McCoy heard the scream and knew he had lost. He raised the Winchester and sighted at the front door and fired three shots. He heard Augustus shout, "I know now that you are on the side of the demons, Marshall. After I'm done with Scott, I shall punish you for interfering in the Lord's work."

"Shit," McCoy muttered. He whistled and saw Kaywaykla poke his head over the ridge to the left. "Remember what he did in Contention last July?"

Kaywaykla nodded and his head disappeared back over the ridge. McCoy took cover behind the large boulder and sat down. The sun was starting to set over the plain, casting its orange glow over the red and yellow sand. This must be where the locals got their inspiration for their magnificent sand paintings.

Just as dusk was setting in, McCoy heard an Apache war cry and stood up behind the boulder. He saw Kaywaykla running at the shack and sighted the Winchester at the front door. Kaywaykla approached the shack from the left and hurled a flaming torch onto the roof which burst into flames.

An eternity seemed to pass while the shack was consumed. McCoy loosened and tightened his grip on the stock of the rifle. Come on, Augustus. You don't want to die in there.

Just when he thought all hope was lost, the door burst open and Augustus came running out. McCoy aimed and shot Augustus in the shoulder and Augustus spun and fell into the dirt. McCoy put the rifle down, drew one of his revolvers, and ran toward the shack. Augustus lay on the ground, writhing in pain.

McCoy looked up and saw Kaywaykla carrying the limp body of Rupert Scott out of the burning house. The Apache nodded his head, indicating that the outlaw was still alive.

McCoy pointed his revolver at Augustus Poole and said, "I wish you'd let me take care of this. Now the two of you are going to hang together."

Friday, February 12, 2010

What's Going On?

I'm sure my legion of fans (i.e. two) noticed I didn't participate in this week's Friday Flash Fiction challenge. There are a couple reasons for that. One, inspiration struck later than normal and I was too busy with work to write it (I guess I could've stayed up to 2am to finish, but I digress). Two, there wasn't much of a story. Just a character and a situation. It probably would've just turned out to be a character sketch and not an actual story. And three, I had something else chewing on my old gray matter.

What's that you say? Something else? I mentioned a while back that I was working on a PI short story (a loong time ago). Well, there are two PI characters. One is the wisecracking first-person Marlowe/Archer type. The other is a modern day young eye - sort of a third person Jackson Donne. I've written four short stories about him and tried to get one published (notice I said "tried").

I always had a hard time finding third-person guy's voice. It's hard to maintain a hard-boiled style over longer works because you don't want the tone to get wearying on the reader. Also, lines like "Rain fell like icy pitchforks" work well in first person, but sound like the writer sticking his nose in when it comes to third person. And if Elmore Leonard is to be believed, that's something to avoid.

About 2300 words over two days, and I think this time I may have something. I hate how overused the word reboot is, but that's kind of what this story is (sidebar: can it really be a reboot if the character hasn't been read outside of me and one other person?). I'm taking elements from his previous introduction and throwing in stuff from the character bio that I haven't used before. I found a tone that works and am getting the character a bit more transparent on the page. No timelines or targeted word counts this time, I'm just going to let the story tell itself.

So....rambling? Done for now. Friday Flash this week? Playing it by ear, but I hope so.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing Quotes

(Yes, I'm borrowing from Cormac....but I like the quote)

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some [passion that] one can neither resist nor understand.


-George Orwell

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Which I Show Off

The few of you who read this blog have probably also read most (if not all) of the fiction I've published here. You know that I normally write in short, declarative sentences with the occasional flair. In yesterday's Friday Flash Fiction story, I tried a little something different. On a couple occasions, I used a device known as polysyndeton; simply put - using several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted.

How did I come to learn of this? Through Ernest Hemingway. Last week, I read his short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (do yourself a favor and read it) and stumbled upon his usage of it. It's evident even in the first paragraph:

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.


I think I may use polysyndeton in the future, but only to vary the pace a bit. I want to write good stories for FFF, but I also view these stories as a chance to try something new. It won't always work, but what's the fun in playing it safe all the time?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Luck Be A Lady (FFF #19)

Luck Be A Lady

As far as Jack was concerned, even a field of four-leaf clovers couldn’t turn things around. He was convinced that because he was born in a leap year, that he was under a secret thirteenth Zodiac sign and its symbol was a giant screw.

The bartender plunked another glass in front of him. "I didn't order anoth-"

"From her," the bartender said, jerking a thumb to the other side of the bar. She had auburn hair and wore a dark blue dress.. Her lips stood out as glowing red smears against her pale skin. Jack lifted the glass and sipped. Single-malt, just what he liked. Maybe his luck wasn't so crummy after all.

The day had been one big shitstorm. The power went out some time overnight so his alarm didn't go off, which made him late for work which made him get into an accident on the way to the train station which made him miss his train which made him miss the 9:00 meeting which got his boss mad which got him fired. Jack stood up, grabbed his glass, and went over next to the girl.

"Hi, I'm Jack," he said. "Thanks for the drink."

She didn't say anything, just gave a single nod. Jack took another sip and sat down. "Let me return the favor.'

Jack turned and started to raise his hand to signal the bartender when she said, "I poisoned your drink."

"What?"

She pulled the cherry from her Manhattan, put it between her lips, and pulled off the stem. As she chewed the cherry, she said "I poisoned your drink."

Jack shook his head. There must be some kind of convention in town. That always brings out the crazies. "OK. Really. Is this your idea of a pickup line? Did you just read The Blonde or something?"

"This is very serious business, Mr. Starkey."

Jack blinked. "OK, who the fuck are you and what do you want?"

"I'm just a woman who wants a thing done," she said. "You can call me Jill."

"Jack and Jill. Cute." Jack put some cash down on the bar to pay for his drink. As he stood up, his stomach gurgled and he paused.

"That's just the beginning. If I don't give you the antidote within two hours, you'll be dead."

Jack said, "Give me the antidote now or I'm calling the cops."

Jill shook her head. "They won't do you any good. Even if you can convince them you've been poisoned, it will take them longer than that to identify it. It leaves no trace behind. I'm fully prepared to give you the antidote if you do one small thing for me."

"What is that?"

"I want you to kill Carlo Barzini. You do that and meet me back here when it's done and I'll give you the antidote."

Jack licked his now suddenly dry lips. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He wasn't feeling well. Could it be the poison? Or was it just nerves? "How do I know I can trust you?"

Jill shrugged, "Trust me or not. That's up to you. But if you want to live, do it and meet me where before midnight."

Jack felt his bowels start to grumble. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. "This is like some sick nursery rhyme. Jack and Jill went up the hill to kill a fucking mobster. I have to be back before midnight or I'll turn into a pumpkin. The papers say he's the top mafia don in New York. How am I supposed to get close to him?"

"You sell restaurant supplies, he owns a couple restaurants. You're a smart boy, Jack," she smiled. "You'll figure something out."

"I don't sell restaurant supplies any more. I got fired today."

"Does he know that? Jeez, Jack. Do I have to paint you a picture?" Jill stood up and placed a hand on Jack's shoulder. "There's a .38 taped to the bottom of your barstool. Use it. And remember - the clock's ticking."

Jack reached under the stool and felt a lump held there by a wad of tape. He pulled it free and sure enough it was a gun. He looked around, but Jill was already gone.



"That you for seeing me so late, Mr. Barzini."

Barzini just nodded and waved Jack to a nearby chair. He was a hefty man, bordering on fat. He wore diamond rings on every finger and a diamond tie tack pinning his red silk tie to his black silk shirt. "What can I do for you, Mr.," Barzini looked at the business card handed to him by his associate, "Starkey?"

The restaurant was empty this time of night. The tiled floors had just been mopped, all the red and white checked tablecloths crisply pressed, and the cheese shakers refilled. "Tell me, Mr. Barzini, who does your restaurant supplies now?"

"We've been doing business many years with the Sollozzo brothers."

"And have you been happy with them?"

The don gave a non-committal shrug. Jack continued, "Now, I know loyalty is a great attribute. Something that has been lost on a lot of people in this day and age. But I also know that you're a shrewd business man, Mr. Barzini. If you decide to switch to American Restaurants Federated, we can save you upwards of 30% a year on all your basic needs."

Jack leaned over to get some brochures from his satchel. As he straightened up, his stomach clenched and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. Barzini said, "You don't look so good, my friend. Is something wrong?"

Jack tried to pass off his wince as a smile, "Sorry. My last stop was at a Chinese restaurant. Something I ate must not be sitting well with me. Do you mind if your restroom?"

The hefty don jerked a finger over his shoulder. "In the back."

Jack said, "Take a look through the brochures and see what services we offer. I'll answer any questions you have when I get back."

He walked as quickly as he could to the bathroom without looking like he was in a hurry. On the toilet, he had the smelliest, most explosive shit of his life. He looked down and saw the .38 he had tucked away in his boxers in case Barzini's goons frisked him. He cleaned himself up and flushed twice.

At the sink, Jack repeatedly splashed cold water on his face. Am I really going to do this? Can I kill somebody in cold blood? He's a mob boss. A criminal. I'm doing the world a favor.

He grabbed a handful of paper towels and dried off. His watch read 11:23. He straightened his hair and tie and said, "You can do this. You've seen The Godfather. Just walk in, do it, and leave."

Jack grasped the .38 tightly, threw his shoulders back, and walked out of the men's room. He approached Barzini from behind, raised his hand, and fired. He quickly turned and shot both of the bodyguards. Jack then dropped the gun and ran out the emergency exit into the alley. His knees gave out and he fell against the dumpster and threw up.



Back at the bar, Jack spotted Jill sitting in the same seat as before. He walked over and said, "It's done. Now give me the antidote."

"Good boy, Jack," Jill said. "I knew I could count on you."

"Antidote. Now."

"There is no antidote."

Jack grabbed her arm. "You bitch. I held up my end of the bargain, now you'd better hold up yours."

Jill wrenched free from his grasp. "There is no antidote because there was no poison. I only slipped a powerful laxative into your drink. Oh, and I called the cops too. They'll be here any minute."

There was a commotion by the door and Jack turned to see two detectives and a couple uniformed officers entering the bar. A detective with a smashed nose and a day's growth of beard said, "John Ryan Starkey, you're under arrest for the murder of Carlo Barzini."

"Wait, I can explain," Jack said.

"This had better be a good story," said the detective. "We found your business card and your briefcase and a gun which I'm sure has your fingerprints all over it at the crime scene."

"It's all the girl's fault," Jack turned, but Jill's barstool was empty.

The uniforms grabbed him and leaned him over the bar and put cuffs on him. Through the mass of arms and badges, Jack saw Jill by the back wall; her Cheshire Cat grin fading out the emergency exit.