Friday, March 7, 2014

Choose the novel: Lyon's Den

I'm in a bit of a pinch. Turns out, I occasionally have quite a few ideas for stories, like I'm sure most people do. I rather enjoy writing them, but there's only so much time in a day. While I await the coming of iTime apps, I'm experimenting with having the internet decide which book I actually put pen to paper and finish. Of Hidden Shadows plays with the tropes and timelessness of high fantasy, putting a whole world in peril and hope slumped on the back of a small band of outcasts. In Times of Cold Rain puts the noir back in, um, noir. A dislikable hero, a plot with enough twists to satisfy a pretzel enthusiast, and all the other hallmarks of the genre. Women, Weed and Weather features three distinct narrators, each adrift in a life spent wondering, each called west to where the waves end. Lyon's Den, the new one here, is a romp of a genre mash-up, combining detective fiction and chick lit for a contemporary voice, and a change of pace from my other, generally male-dominated works.

Lyon's Den

My name is Jennifer, but everyone calls me Jenn, except for telemarketers, spam bots, and my mother when she is in one of her moods.

                “How are you?” I ask, covering my annoyance with the kind of smile you only have if your mother was able to browbeat your father into six years of orthodontics because he doesn’t want his only daughter “looking like some British person” does he?

                “Look, Jenn, I’m in trouble.  At least, I think I am.  I assume I am.  They’ve got a cop sitting outside my house right now.  Unless he’s stalking me.”

                I don’t think anyone is stalking her.  She doesn’t put up with it.  I remember she had a secret admirer in junior high.  She found out who he was, walked into one of his classes, decided he was cute enough, kissed him, and broke up with him two weeks later.  As far as I know, that’s pretty much what she does with every guy who acts interested.

                Studying her thin face, I see signs that she is genuinely freaking out.  Her normally bright blue eyes are rimmed with dark circles that make her look like she lost a bar fight, and I can see that she is either ridiculously high or she’s been crying.

                “What the hell is going on?” I say with as much we’ll-get-through-this as I can manage.  She was the one who flew home to Florida from Minnesota when my incident happened.

                “Three of my students are gone,” she explains, and I watch a hint of a sniffle.  Her whole face seems to wrinkle when she cries.  That’s probably why she doesn’t do it very often, late night Tom Hanks marathons aside.  I have a lot of questions, but I’m not stupid.  I don’t have a case right now.

                “Do you have a lawyer?” I ask.  Not many people would.  I dated a guy who worked in the Bureau doing all of the things that I used to read about.  He taught me a few things.  The most important of which involved not believing it when he tells you how big he is.  I should have learned that much earlier, I’m sure Laurie did, but like I said, I spent most of my time reading books.  Written by guys.  So other than one Hemingway novel, it never occurred to me that it mattered, or that they lie about it.  I really do weigh one forty.  Ish.

                He also taught me that most people don’t act right when they get caught in an investigation.  In fact, one way you can catch a lot of bad guys is to figure out which of the suspects is already setting up their trial defense.  As surprising as it was for me to learn, innocent people tend to act innocent.

                It didn’t shock me when she shook her head.  She was alarmed.

                “Do I need one?”

                It’s my personal opinion that everyone might as well make friends with a lawyer.  There’s really no better person to call if you need to get bailed out when the officer who pulled you over takes your refusal to flirt with him as a clear sign of being drunk.  But, I don’t know yet.

                “If you have a cop posted, you are probably just under protection, if they think there is a chance that there is foul play involved.  The guy could be coming after you.”

                She bites her lip when she tells me, “Would he be hiding around the corner in a white van?”

                Now it’s my turn to be alarmed.  I feel my eyebrows arch and the smile slips.  “You need to tell the cop if you think someone is watching from an unmarked van,” I warn her.

                “No, uh, the cop is in the van.  One of my students is dating an officer and she recognized the detective when she came by to drop off her final.”

                Laurie is at least a person of interest then.  I don’t want to tell her.  But this is the same girl who was the only one honest enough to explain to me that a bikini wax isn’t just for when you are actually going to the beach.

                “Yeah,” I say after running through a number of scenarios in my mind, only one of which involved a hot police detective in a trench-coat watching me undress at night trying to build up the courage to call me while he distracts himself in his car in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t suffer from the same problem my FBI boyfriend did.  “Laurie, you should probably get a lawyer.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Choose the novel: Women, Weed and Weather

So, yeah. Still stuck with a bunch of stories that at least mildly intrigue me, and only enough time to really focus on one. Hence, crowd-sourcing. Whichever of the six or seven novel openings I post racks up the most comments will be written in full on this here web log here. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy evil-is-coming and only one slightly less-than-believable orphan can stop the end of the world. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit, with a curmudgeonly lead and enough cliches to start a store. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. It's the story of three guys and their journey west, populated with plenty of pop culture-laden bromides and a healthy dollop of, wait a second, this book has three first-person narrators, wtf?

Women, Weed and Weather

First off, I'm sorry.  This wasn't supposed to be like this.  I tried really fucking hard to write a simple god-damn love story, and it kept turning into a crazy science fiction adventure involving orangutans and James Franco for some reason. 

Mostly, I think I wanted to explain how I ended up staring at a wall the color of file folders, sitting on a borrowed chair, sleeping on a borrowed bed, fucking a stripper I've known since she was eight years old.  It all had to do with the screenplay I couldn't finish about a life I thought it would be pretty kick-ass to live.  

Maybe if I had finished it, she and I would be together and I would never had woken up in a crack house, bleeding from the knee and with the growing sense that I was about to get shot.

But, we aren't, and I did, and since I no longer know what the hell is going to happen, this story is going to get told the way it wants to be told.  Apparently, that involves a lot of digression and more than a little magical realism. 

Speaking of which, I was always impressed by the blurbs my erstwhile agent had secured for the screen version of the script I hadn't finished.

"Taut, the plot ripples like a whip while [his] dialogue snaps in the background, a brazen rapport built effortlessly by the power of the words."

"You leave the building thinking you just got face-fucked by Sasha Grey wearing a steel dildo, but, damn if it wasn't the best sex you've ever had."

"When [Alan Tudyk] read the script, he called me and told me I needed to find room for it sight unseen.  When Wash tells you it's Whedonesque, you fucking believe him, so I did. What were you asking about again?"

"A steel dildo is just mean, I wouldn't do that.  But I would watch this movie again, and again, and again.  If you know what I mean.  It's supposed to sound sexual.  Keep that in."

"I'll never trust anyone from a state with less than five letters in the name.  I learned the hard way once, with a girl from Indiana.  That's what she told me, anyway, but it turned out she was from Ohio.  Which isn't the same at all.  Not at all.  So when I received my review copy, I threw it away.  But I thought I would talk to you about the movie anyway.  It just needs more, explosions.  Yeah.  Explosions.  And fewer characters from Iowa."

The most interesting thing about any of the supposedly non-fabricated quotes is that absolutely no one had seen the movie; no one could have seen the movie since it had not only not been shot, it hadn't even been written.

I was living in some southern state when I first got a call from the person who pretends to be my agent, more to the West Coast than the East Coast, with a lot of sand.  The call started off rather boring, a brief overview of the residual checks I would not be receiving from either of my published anthology contributions that were no longer in print.  Then, as the sound of desperation in my agent's voice hit a fever pitch, he suddenly announced that a new studio was accepting spec scripts with payment for reading.

The only trick, he assured me, was that I had to write a romance comedy designed for an ensemble cast mailing it in for a giant paycheck.  And I had three months to write it.  I got off the phone with him and headed into the living room to find my girlfriend.  She lay back on the couch, looking sexy in that librarian sort of way, but also in the slutty club girl way, too.  I could tell she had no interest in having sex at the moment, which made her devilish display even more infernal.

"You forgot to buy toilet paper, didn't you?" she said.  It wasn't much of a question.

"Yes?" I asked back. "No? Is there a right answer to this question, or is this a wife beating thing?"

I eventually used that line in the screenplay.  One of the characters, a closeted lawyer with body odor, asks someone when they stopped, and it's funny for some reason that I can't remember any more.

"Are you going to go get some?" she folded her legs under her thighs and sat up, looking for all the world like a peacock. 

I was already prepared for this question.  "No," I said. "I just got a contract to write a spec script for a new movie.  I have to start."

"You have to start writing, before you buy toilet paper? What if you have to use the bathroom?" she huffed at me.

I pout right back at her, a strangely effective strategy that usually causes her to break down laughing and pointing and to take pictures with her phone to post on Facebook later. In this case, though, she apparently really needed to piss, because she stormed out of the apartment without pants on, right into our neighbor's living room.


It’s a paradox.  I can’t help it.  You’re not supposed to acknowledge it.  Like the t-rex in Jurassic Park, if you don’t move then it won’t get you.  Never mind that that didn’t make sense to me back then.  Eventually I broke down and started running.  Most towns have at least five bars, and I’m talking about really small towns even.  No post office, but five bars run by five guys who all drink at each other’s place on the nights that they let their one employee tend the joint.  I bring it up because if you play it right, you can usually get one free drink at any small bar.  Even some of the bigger ones as long as you don’t smell too bad or look too dangerous.  And there’s always a short stack of quarters near the pool table.  If you practice enough, you can tell a story and get ten bucks for gas.  That gets me almost seventy miles in my car.  Seventy miles is a lot further than you think.  Like I said, there’s always at least five bars.

Paradox is a good word.  I don’t know how many people know what it means, but most of them are willing to nod their head and loan you a buck.  Don’t waste time on beer, either.  Straight hard liquor.  You get maybe five drinks a night, so no sense wasting time or free booze on watered-down cat piss.  Don’t ask for top-shelf, take what they pour you.  You don’t want to look or sound like a bum, just a guy whose ATM card isn’t working and who didn’t remember to get cash at the bank on Friday.

I keep a picture of me and an old girlfriend in my wallet.  The one of the two of us with her kid.  Poor bastard has died at least a hundred times, been sick a few times less.  Sometimes he runs away from home twice a week, even if he looks three in the picture.

I was lucky enough to be born with one of those ageless faces.  I keep an i.d. that I scratched the fourth digit off.  Looks like it’s been through the wash a few times.  Whatever reason, Arizona driver’s licenses don’t expire until ten years after I assume I’ll be dead.  The first three numbers are one, nine, and eight.  I could be thirty-one or twenty-two, makes no difference, it’s all legal.  I look the same in the picture with the little guy.

I don’t lie to people.  This is paradox.  If it seems to you that my life is kind of a lie, you’ll know what I mean.  When I tell a story, it’s always more or less true.  Maybe it’s not a true story about me, but it happened to someone who told it to me.  Think about it, when you tell a story about yourself you never say something like “First of all, this happened to me.”  You just start talking and hope someone is listening.  So that’s how I do it.

A girl I met outside of Albuquerque told me I was some kind of harmless.  There are a lot of people that aren’t.  I was staying at an apartment once.  Some people get the impression I don’t like to be anywhere for long.  But if someone lets you, you do it.  The place was one of those big complexes.  A hundred, maybe a thousand apartments boxed up like jail cells.  The place was even nice enough to provide black iron bars.  Staying in a place like that makes you wonder if prisons protect us or if maybe the guys on the inside have the right idea.

Choose the novel: In Times of Cold Rain

I'm running a kind of survey. As reader, you get to decide which novel I write this year. I'll be posting six or seven openings to stories I kind've want to tell, and whichever one earns the most comments, I'll be finishing it, right here. These first posts are a three-pack, but I'll upload the next three or four over the next few days. Of Hidden Shadows is the kind of high fantasy epic with the largest stakes and enough characters to staff a Super Bowl. In Times of Cold Rain is different. Heavily reminiscent of black and white noir, this story explores a number of psychological mysteries to go along with it's central whodunit. 

In Times of Cold Rain

The room was filled with the dank smell of cat piss, flat beer, and worn-out pussy.  The kind of beer that costs less for a six-pack than a tank of gas; the kind of pussy that makes you want to get tested, even just smelling it.  “Strip club pussy,” you might call it, if you were the kind of person honest enough to say it. Truthfully, the room didn’t look anything like it smelled.  Egyptian cotton sheets, full-length mirrors, and a lakefront view from huge bay windows.  That’s all any of them noticed.  Not the stain on the carpet, or on the comforter.  Not the half-empty packs of cigarettes strewn about the desk.  Because, the truth is, underneath all of the rancid odors lingered a sweeter smell.  For most of them, it lingered about a foot and a half above everything.  The crisp, emerald scent of money was and always will be the greatest aphrodisiac of them all.
                Until it runs out.
                The money running out explains why the packs are half-empty and why the beer is so cheap, and why the pussy hadn’t showered in a few days.  It’s hard work being rich, but it beats waking up hung-over and scratching your balls wondering if this particular itch is going to go away any time soon.
                “Damn it,” he muttered, rolling over to switch off the alarm that buzzed on the night stand.  “Fucking bullshit,” he hissed as he stepped on a beer can trying to get out of bed.  He stumbled to the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the light sweeping in the hotel window.  It didn’t burn, that was something.  He shook himself and washed his hands.  He started the shower.
                “What are you doing, John?”
                “Jesus fuck, woman,” he howled, slipping on the tile and catching himself on the marble counter.  “What are you still doing here?”
                He vaguely recognized her from the coffee shop the night before.  He had been sitting alone in the corner, trying to be subtle and convey a sense of desperate longing, a wounded soul in need of commiseration.  Apparently, he had been successful.
                “You fucking drove me here, dicksore,” she said, pushing him out of the way and pulling her hair back in front of the mirror.  “How was I supposed to leave?”
                “A cab?” he volunteered, then winced as she punched his shoulder.
                “You’re pathetic,” she said as she splashed water on her face, further smearing the heavy eye-shadow she had pasted on the night before, unsubtly trying to convey the sense of a desperate soul longing to get laid. 
                “I’m pathetic?  You’re the pathetic one, sweetheart,” he said, not awake enough to be aware of sounding like a fourth grader on the playground.  He pushed her to the side with his hip, and she grabbed him, pushing him back against the sink.
                “Fuck you,” she said, glaring at him.
                He held his hands up in mock surrender.
                She wrapped her hand around him through his boxers.  “You don’t remember?”
                He pushed her away.  “I really don’t,” he said, as he pulled his underwear off and stepped in the shower.
                “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
                “No,” he said, “but if you’re lucky, I’ll try and leave some hot water for you.”
                As he slicked his hair back he heard the bathroom door slam.  After a few minutes, he thought he heard the door to the room snap back against the deadbolt, and a muffled “fuck” before the door slammed again.
                His cat meowed through the door to the bathroom. 
                “Sorry, buddy, she’s not mad at you.  I don’t think,” he gargled through the running water. 
                The squealing tires he could hear through the walls and the rush of water.  “Fuck!”
                He snapped off the flow and narrowly avoided slipping on the tile again, grabbing a towel and rushing out the door.  He took the stairs three at a time, and made it to the side entrance in time to see his only slightly-used BMW peel off down the hill away from the hotel.
                “Oh, shit,” he mumbled as he trudged back up to his room only to find the door locked securely behind him and his cat scratching mournfully trying to get back in.  “Well, buddy, you’ll have to tell me if that was worth it.”
                Somehow, as he walked down the hallway of the hotel towards the front desk with a few of his neighbors peering out at him in his towel, he didn’t think so.

Chapter 1

                “Where the fuck were you, man, your boss is going ape-shit right now, she’s called me probably six times hounding me about the labor reports and I’m running out of clever things to say.”
                “Now there you go, exaggerating again.  If you’ve run out of the clever things to say, it’s only been, what, two or maybe three phone calls?”  He razzed his assistant and tapped him on the forehead.  “I lost my keys.”
                “Well, fuck, you could have called.”
                He muttered under his breath, his cell phone had been in the car.  “Sorry, I forgot.”
                His assistant handed him the stack of daily updates, a sheaf of papers thick enough to be Stephen King’s next manuscript. 
                “What the fuck am I supposed to do with all of this?  You can’t send emails?”  he picked up the pace, trying to make it to the back room that served as his office before anyone else noticed him and thought to wonder why he was still wearing sunglasses and avoiding the brighter lit areas.
                His assistant just shrugged and handed him a smaller stack of sticky-notes.  “Here’s your messages, and the conference call starts in fifteen minutes.  Apparently Sonny-Boy is on the rag again.”
                A light bulb went off in his head:  that was what that fucking smell had been earlier.  Stupid chick had her period.  His scowl deepened and he wiped his lips, certain he could taste a little of that menstrual blood.  He fought back the urge to gag.
                He handed the bigger stack of papers back to his assistant and shuffled through his messages.
                “Erin called?  God damn it, Josh, this should have been the first fucking piece of paper you handed me.  When’s the damn conference call?” he said, collapsing into the chair behind his desk.
                “Fifteen—make that thirteen minutes from now,” Josh offered.
                “You better hope I finish this call in ten, then,” he said, “now, tits or gee tee eff oh.”
                He picked up the phone to dial Erin’s number, and gestured again for Josh to shut the door after he left.
                “Twelve minutes, boss man,” Josh said, holding up his hands with his fingers outspread.
                “That’s ten, fucking idiot,” he said and swiveled around to face the parking garage that lurked outside his office window.
                Josh shut the door and stepped out into the main office area, muttering “dick” under his breath.
                “I heard that,” John said from inside his office.  “Bring me some coffee, too, you insubordinate fuck.”
                “Sure thing, asshole,” Josh mumbled again, heading to the break room.

*  *  *

Choose the novel you want to read

So, I haven't had a whole lot of time to devote to longform lately. But that doesn't mean I haven't started a half-dozen novels. Problem is, some of them are probably shit. With a limited number of spare minutes, I thought maybe you could help me out, anonymous internet denizen. I'll post the opening pages to five or six novels. Whichever one gets the most comments, I'll keep writing. Right here. I'm actually not entirely sure if that means someone else owns the first draft, but, nevertheless, I believe it will be a fun experiment.