Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Did I mention already that I've been writing articles and interviews for Real Detroit Weekly? It's going pretty well; the last few weeks I've averaged one or two pieces per week. The most recent issue I have three. Here's a link to one of them:

I actually enjoy writing non-fiction almost as much as fiction, especially when I'm allowed some stylistic latitude. RDW provides that latitude. My first couple of stories for them kinda sucked... I didn't really have a handle on what they wanted. But they're getting better, I think. If you scroll back to my interview with Roky Erickson, you'll find that's when I first started getting the hang of it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Joe the Unbeliever meets God

Imagine for just a few moments that the Christians are right, and that there IS a God, just like in the Bible, and there is a Heaven and there is a Hell. It’s not a pretty thought, but just use your imagination for a minute. We, as unbelievers, would be in a great deal of trouble, right? There’s no question that, IF it was all true, we’d be prime candidates for a reallllly bad time.

What would those first few moments be like, right before demons impaled you with pitchforks and tossed you screaming into the Lake O’ Fire? With any luck, God would give you a minute or two to state your case—not that it would do any good, but I have to think that a God who puts the stamp of approval on something as monstrously obscene as Hell would have just enough mean-spirited humor to hear you out.

Here’s how it would go:

God: “Anything to say for yourself before your eternal damnation commences?”

Joe the Unbeliever: “Yeah, if you don’t mind. This is totally bogus.”

God: “You had your chance, kid. I gave you every opportunity to worship me.”

Joe: (fighting panic) “Yeah, sure, God, but you never gave me a reason to!”

God: “What, burning for all eternity is not a good reason to worship me?”

Joe: “There’s so many things wrong with that statement, I hardly know where to start. I mean, even if I did believe in you when I was alive, the threat of eternal torment doesn’t exactly fill me with love for you! Fear, sure, but—“

God: “Fear, love, whatever. The choice was simple, and it was yours to make. You chose poorly.”

Joe: “But that’s not my fault! You’re the one who gave me the ability to choose! You set me up! I’m like… I’m like a metaphysical fall guy!”

God: “Metaphysical fall guy. Hah.”

Joe: “I’m glad you can laugh about it. My point is, there was absolutely NO indication that you were anything but a fairy tale. All the Christians had was their old book, and no one with any sense would take it seriously. It’s full of—“

God: “That’s your mistake, not taking it seriously.”

Joe: “Apparently so, but come on! I was saying, it’s full of crazy, nonsensical… well, nonsense! The world was created in seven days, the—“

God: “Six days. I rested on the seventh day.”

Joe: “Okay, six days, then. Man was made out of, what, clay or something and woman was made from his rib? I mean, we’re supposed to take that seriously??”

God: “I fail to see why not. It IS the divine Word of God, after all.”

Joe: “But you made the rules, God, you made the rules and then you used them against us. You gave us the intellect to examine things and think critically. You’d have to know that, doing that, we’d eventually dismantle the stories in the Bible and reveal them for the crap they are!”

God: “You’d better watch your tongue, kid. You could wind up in a lot of trouble.”

Joe: “How much worse could it be?? I’m in Hell, for Christ’s sake.”

God: “Don’t take the Lord’s name in… oh, never mind.”

Joe: “And then there’s making the sun stand still for an entire day. Come on, man, if you’re real, then that means you’re responsible for the laws of physics and all the other rules that govern the universe, right? So what’s with this ‘making the sun stand still’ thing?”

God: “The rules of physics don’t apply to me. I’m God, right?”

Joe: “Well, that’s just great, thanks for that terrific insight. Are you so powerful that you can make a stone so heavy that—“

God: “That even I can’t lift it? Get some new material, kid, I’ve heard that a thousand times.”

Joe: (nearly frantic now) “Look, here’s my point. You gave us the knowledge of right and wrong. You gave us free will, to choose whatever path seemed right to us. You set up the irrefutable laws of nature (although maybe not SO irrefutable, apparently), and you did all this knowing FULL WELL what would happen in the end.”

God: “I think I know where you’re going with this, but please do continue.”

Joe: “Of course you know where I’m going with this. You ALWAYS know where everyone is going with everything. You’re omnipotent. And that’s my point. If you knew that granting free will and knowledge of good and evil would lead to more people rejecting you than accepting you, why did you do it to begin with? Huh? Answer me that one!”

God: “Kid, do you really think that your ability to think critically is the most important thing about you? Faith, kid, that’s the key. Faith and love for me, your loving God.”

Joe: “I led a good life, God. I was kind and decent to other people. I always tried to do the right thing.”

God: “The right thing? You mean, like, that time you stole from your mother?”

Joe: “Oh.”

God: “Or when you lied to your girlfriend about what you did that time when you visited Los Angeles? Sure, what a good guy you were.”

Joe: “Okay, so I wasn’t perfect. But I always tried. I always did the best I could, and I never deliberately hurt anyone.”

God: “Well, good for you, kid. What do you want, a medal? Here’s the irony of that: if you’d accepted my boy Jesus into your heart, you could have lied and cheated and stole until the day you died, but guess what? You’d be in Heaven right now.”

Joe: (silent for a long moment, stunned. And then--) “Wow. You… you’re kind of a big bastard, aren’t you? You set us all up to fail. Are you psychotic?”

God: “Keeping talking, kid.”

Joe: “Never mind that question, I know the answer. You ARE psychotic. Anyone who’s even GLANCED through the Old Testament can see that. You’re jealous and petty and… evil, even. You know what, God? Even if there WAS proof of your existence when I was alive, I think… I think I STILL would have rejected you.”

God: (chuckles) “So. No regrets, then?”

Joe: (stoically, even though he’s shaking in his boots) “No. No regrets. I rejected you then, God, and I reject you now.”

God: (shrugs) “That’s too bad. I was ready to give you another chance, up in Heaven, but if you have your mind made up—“

Joe: “What? Wait a sec—“

But God pushes the shiny button, and off Joe plummets, to eternal damnation.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

'bout Goddamn time!

Hellooooo, temporary lay-off!
Time to kick the writing into high gear, finally. Between doing work for Real Detroit Weekly, finishing up two novels, and various short stories and essays, I should stay pretty busy, right? There's a new bit I put up over there in the "Novels" section, even.
So happy! Whoo! Let the productivity begin!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

If a man would follow...

If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boring update...

Hello, friends.
Still here, still writing.
The day job's a drag, yep, but that's just the way it goes. Closing in on finishing two novels before the year is out-- City of Heretics and The Scarab-- and just in the last couple of weeks I've started writing articles for Real Detroit Weekly.
Lay-off will happen eventually, and that means more productivity from me as far as writing goes. I've been looking at the blogs of a couple of writers I've met through Facebook, and am reconsidering my approach to this whole blogging thing-- more on that later.
Tired all the damn time. Irritating. Not depressed or anything like that, just bogged down with all the stuff the world throws at you, and wishing I had some means of escaping it. Like Brian Wilson said, I'm just not made for this world...


industrial park & the acrid chemical tang

so diseased it infects the ground around it & turns it

to broken concrete & faded yellow lines

& oil stains

warehouse where long faces on sad frames

move slowly from stack to stack

& the hi-lo beeps pleasantly like an idiot at an infirmary

would smile at the rows of dead & dying

(is there anything else I can help you with today?)

soulless fluorescent casts no shadow on the pallid blue office

drop ceiling but pipes above it rust & whine even after the lights are out

& (my name is BLANK. thank you for calling) even here

the chemical intoxicates and warps around your skull &

you can be sure that the voice on the line when the phone chirps

is a ghost long since dead that only has a voice

in some other ethereal place where a phone line is

all there is

what mythology was wrought from our souls when we came here?

what past life-future life-present life was bartered when

we signed & what place in our guts is kin to a gray industrial park?

have a great day. goodbye. goodbye.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Story sold.

Sold "Emancipation, With Teeth". Cool. I probably shouldn't name the magazine yet, but it's print for a change instead of a webzine. Slated to be published in January. More about that later...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Non- belief

My journey to non-belief is typical; I spent many weekends with religious folks, and therefore went to many Sunday morning services, and had my "eyes opened" to the horrors that awaited me in Hell. All the grown-ups were telling me it was true; I believed them. I was a credulous kid.

But you can avoid Hell, they said, by believing everything they say in this old book, right, and doing exactly what the preacher tells you. I was scared shitless, because they kept saying that being good wasn't enough-- that you had to believe Jesus died for you, I mean REALLY believe it, and nagging little doubts kept creeping into my head. Especially when they'd say crazy things like the earth was made in seven days or God made the sun stand still (I think in Joshua?) but then I'd watch Cosmos or something and this Sagan guy is telling me something completely different...
So, fairly typical so far, yeah?
When I was twelve, my stepdad (a very cold and remote man) confessed to me that he didn't believe in God. I was mortified. I mean, I didn't even know that was an option! But he never took any sort of active role in shaping my beliefs. Later, as an adult, I would realize that he was quite a remarkable (if not seriously flawed) individual, but at the time he was pretty hands-off. That's a different story, though...
Discovered punk rock at sixteen, and suddenly none of that claptrap seemed to matter. I went from being a scared, quiet kid to being an obnoxious something-or-other, and stopped thinking about religion.
Until my twenties. I'd pretty much given up on Christianity, but I kept thinking for some reason that it had to be REPLACED with something, you know what I mean? I tried LSD and was convinced for awhile that I'd stumbled across something significant, some doorway to a higher realm of consciousness. I dabbled in Buddhism until the smell of incense started bugging me. I read Robert Anton Wilson and began embracing the half-serious "religion" of Discordianism (which is still rather appealing, if you strip away all the guru-isms). I made a brief return to the world of Christianity and actually read the Bible; reading it was all it took for me to realize that my suspicions had been right all along. Only a complete lunatic could take that book for the truth; only a complete lunatic would WANT to.
It all came to a head a few years ago, after my divorce. I was monstrously depressed, and was on a serious downward spiral. I pulled out all the cards in my pack, and none of them did the trick. There was no Jesus to help me out of a jam; there was no loving God or cosmic vibrations or universal energies. There was only me. Getting my shit back together required letting go of all the ugly superstition that had clung to me like heavy clothes on a drowning man...
So I did. I let it all go.
I'd like to say it was clear sailing from there, but I was angry about being duped for so many years. And I STILL didn't have a replacement for faith. Until quite by accident I came across Sam Harris's book Letter to a Christian Nation.
Well, that was the sea-change. That book turned me on my ear. I followed it with The End of Faith, Dawkins book The God Delusion, Hitchins god is Not Great, Ruth Brown's Skeptic's Guide to the Bible, Russell's Why I am Not a Christian... etc etc. All the standards.
And nothing's been the same since. The study of atheism gradually led to me to explore other realms of philosophy as well, and helped me get over my "angry stage" and well onto the secular appreciation of the beauty and mystery and weirdness of the universe... all things I think we can only truly appreciate once we've removed the shackles of faith.

And the truth hasn't set me free yet because I haven't FOUND the truth. But the thing is, it doesn't really matter; it's the SEARCH for the truth that I find so engaging, dig? I've managed to find some small peace of mind in philosophy.
Regarding atheism, well... that's not really the goal so much as it is a stop along the path. Once you've let go of dread and fear and superstition, it sort of... I dunno... lights a lantern that helps you see the path ahead of you more clearly. Belief without evidence has held our species back for millienia, and we can't get anywhere unless we re-claim our ability to think critically. So many people WANT to believe; they want it so desperately that they are willing to do it no matter what our shared reality tells them. They separate "truth" from "facts", and to me that's a horrible cop-out and counter-productive. If we're gonna survive, now more than ever, we need to reconcile our beliefs with reality.
And it's not as if that takes something away from us; on the contrary, it opens up whole new worlds of thought and new ways of looking at things.
Any philosophy that isn't positive in some way is probably illegitimate, because it is useless. I keep reading philosophy because it keeps a part of my mind constantly occupied with bigger, more important questions... and the day-to-day frustrations and disappointments seem to have much less consequence...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Exactly like a Memory

Oh yeah, I have a blog. I almost forgot.
So I was thinking about the fact that I could never write an autobiography because if I did, 90% of it would be complete bullshit. It's memory, man. As in, I have a lousy one. I don't understand how anyone could possibly remember events from a week ago, let alone from childhood. It doesn't help, in my case, that I spent a great part of my later teen years and early twenties completely whacked out of my mind on various illicit substances-- not the sort of thing that lends itself to perfect recall. I shudder to think of all the brain cells I snuffed out.
But in place of actual memories, I've managed to create my own private mythology, based loosely on reality. I've sort of filled in the blank spots with speculation that may or may not be true. My eye, for instance; when I was about three, I had a bad accident that damaged my right eye. I have no memory at all of the event, but I've created a story about it based on what I've heard from my Mom and various other sources and my re-imagining of it has become so clear in my head that it's almost exactly like a memory.
So that makes me sort of wonder about the significance of actual memory. If something "untrue" can be as vivid in your mind as something "true", then what good is "true"? Like most writers, I live mostly inside my head anyway, yeah? Another example: dreams. Ever have a dream so vivid that you remember it years later? You remember it just as well, if not better, than something that actually happened?
If memory is only a chemical reaction in your brain, a response to some sort of stimuli, then who's to say that there's any real difference between the "actual" and the "dream"?
So yeah. My autobiography would be equal parts real and unreal, and both parts would be equally valid. Because your life in your head is just as significant as the one outside. Maybe even more so.
Come back in a week or so. I'll have another story for ya.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner

I'm way overdue to put up a new story here (and the world collectively stops holding its breath, right? Ahem).
This one's new-ish; I wrote it last month. I like it, but that's just me. It's nice and nasty.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Work Tomorrow

So I had this back injury, right? A pretty bad one, bad enough to lay me up for several months. Herniated disc. Sciatica. Couldn't even walk for awhile, used a cane, took tons of pain pills, etc, etc. No fun at all.
But, after the initial couple of months in which I couldn't do anything, I started physical therapy and gradually began getting better. Eventually, I started writing again (propped up in bed, laptop balanced on a pillow) and as the weeks went by my output really skyrocketed. Beginning in November of last year, I was writing like a madman (however a madman writes).
I pumped out almost two hundred pages of a novel. I wrote four short stories. I posted tons of book reviews on my Facebook account (because I was reading tons of books) and updated this blog two or three times a week.
In other words, I was getting a little taste of what it's like to live the life of a WRITER.
I liked it. A lot.
But now it's time for all that to wind down. I started back to work this week; my day job that pays the bills. It'll take some time getting used to it again, after being away so long. And it feels kinda weird, having my day now belong to someone else, not me. You know what I mean. It's what we all do.
The writing output, of course, will drop off dramatically. I'll be lucky to get in two pages a day during the week. I'll go from reading two or three books a week to, maybe, one tops. My postings here will be more infrequent (actually, they've already declined these last two or three weeks, as I devoted more time to the novel-- knowing my time was running out).
I'm not complaining, exactly... most writers have to share their valuable time with the outside world in order to get by. I know this. And let's be honest, in this economy I'm goddamn lucky to have a job.
But I'm awful selfish. And I'll miss these last few months.
Gotta sign off now; getting late, and I have to get up early to go to work tomorrow. Look for another short story here next Monday.
'til next time,

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Freeway on Earth

Here's another story. It's probably the lightest thing I've written; not a damn thing dark about it, except maybe how utterly sad it is how we are all slaves to our paychecks, yeah? The central character, Frank, is in such a panic to make it to work on time that aspects of an existence outside his job go right by him. Actually, come to think of it, that IS rather dark after all.
But honestly, the story is just meant to be diverting and mildly entertaining. I think. You decide; it's right over there in the usual spot.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Extinction Enterprises

Usually, when an idea for a short story comes to me, I don't do anything with it for awhile. Just a sentence or two jotted down in the notebook. Weeks or months--sometimes even years!-- later, I write it, and because the basic premise has had time to mutate in my head it winds up being considerably different than what I'd originally conceived of. And that's fine.
This one, though, went from amusing concept to complete story within about two hours. Maybe it suffers for the short gestation period, I don't know. But I like the idea. What could be funnier than the corporate planning behind the complete eradication of all humanity?
Anyway, you be the judge. It's over in the usual spot.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Say it with Action

Editing and revising your work is par for the course; unless you're some sort of literary genius who can whip off a perfect manuscript with a first draft, you're gonna spend a great deal of time fine-tuning, cutting, lengthening, etc. But just recently I had to completely re-write two chapters in my novel from scratch.
The reason: no action!
My novel isn't a mystery exactly, but there are some mystery elements, in that the narrator, Drake, has to "dig up" some important info to get to the next stage of the story. While writing it, I really just wanted to plow through and get where it needed to be, so what I did in one of the chapters (chapter two, to be precise) was have Drake overhear some vital information (that is, stuff my reader needed to know) on the television news. On the news! Very lazy of me. My friends in writer's group, Christian and Janine, called me out on it, and they were right.
So, chapter tossed. In the re-write, I have Drake getting the info by visiting a drug den, finding a stoolie of his, and intimidating the information out of the guy. Much better, yeah? That way, it's not just an info dump, it's an actual scene, with actual characters.
The other chapter: Drake learns some details about a shadowy secret society that could be behind all his misery. What did I do in the first version? I, um... I had him go to the library and look up things on the internet!!
Good god, man, what was I thinking? Fortunately, I caught myself out on that one. One laborious re-write later, Drake takes a trip to visit a paranoid drunken writer who knows all about the society. He gets the info from him.
The lesson: when you're writing a chapter in which some revelation occurs, try to include other characters as the source of the revelation. Don't hand the revelation to your protagonist on a silver platter. Make him work for it. Use it as an opportunity to introduce new and interesting inter-actions that reflect more than just the new information.
When you need to tell the reader something vital, why not say it with action?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Clay Morrow & the Bones of the Conquerors

Here's the second and (so far) last Morrow story. It was actually written first, but chronologically it takes place after "Nine Pale Men". I don't know. To tell you the truth, I sorta like it better now than I did at the time. At one point, I had a whole saga planned around Morrow, taking him all over the world and into one crazy situation after another. Being removed from this story by about a year, I find him a little more interesting than I did before, and the action is pretty good. Maybe I'll give him another shot, eventually.
Check in with him, right over there on the right again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Rant about Language

One thing I really loved about George Carlin was his understanding of language and all its nuances. He clearly had a love for linguistics, that guy, and a clear disdain for people who abused words.
Carlin was on my mind recently, when I saw a headline that read "Woman survives fatal car crash." Carlin would’ve loved that one.
He was also a great one for heaping scorn upon clichés or self-important “power phrases”. Man, I really wish he was still around to lay into some of these assholes, don’t you?
Phrases like: “Thinking outside the box.” I’d like to know, and I’m sure Carlin would have to, is exactly what fucking box are we talking about? How about, instead of thinking outside the box, we think outside the stupid, meaningless cliché?
Or (and I know I’ve mentioned this one before) “Failure is not an option.” What sort of dumb-ass thing to say is that? Last I checked, option means choice, and who chooses to fail?? You can’t stop someone from failing just by telling them that it’s not allowed, can you?
Here’s one from a store window: “Everything UP TO 70% off, or MORE!” It’s either UP TO or MORE, right? It can’t be both, man. The most distressing thing about that one is that it was in the window of a bookstore, where you might suppose there’d be more emphasis on literacy.
Here’s a few from the headlines, and I swear I’m not making any of these up:
“Cold weather linked to temperature.”
“War dims hopes for peace.”
“Man refuses to work after death.”
“If stalemate isn’t settled soon, it may last awhile.”
But the news sources aren’t the only ones guilty of talking nonsense. People are always walking around using words and phrases that are completely devoid of any real value. Some prime examples that really get on my nerves:
The word “Guess-timate”. Oh, for Christ’s sake. People, stop saying that already.
“Let’s come together as a team on this one.” Fuck you.
“…in that regard.” People say that when they need to fill up some empty space between other words.
“So, having said that…” Sorry, having said what? I wasn’t listening.
“Synergy”. Is that even a real word?
“Oh no you didn’t!” Usually said with a sort of fake African-American inflection.
“That’s my boy!” See above.
"You da man!" Yeah? Well, you da asshole.

Well, you get the idea. For anyone reading this, leave comments and tell me what you think are some of the more annoying catch-phrases, words, or mis-uses of the language that you can think of. I’m gonna go work on my novel, ‘cuz failure to finish it is not an option!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One Damn Thing After Another

I've been immersing myself so thoroughly in film noir and crime fiction lately that I dream about guys in fedoras showing up at my door with guns and threatening to shoot me, right in the belly ('ya don't like it in the belly, do ya, ya squit?'). There's just SO much good stuff out there, and frankly I have a lot of catching up to do. It's been a good fifteen years since I read (and watched) the genre so intently, and all the things about it that I loved then are coming back to me with a vengeance: the stripped down, unsentimental prose (or cinematography), the lack of pretense, the unapologetic nature of the characters. And it's all so character-driven and focused. Between the lines, of course, the best crime novels and films have something worth saying about the world they inhabit or reflect--usually something existential, or even nihilistic, but something relevant, anyway. They tend to show you the world in the way you maybe always suspected it was, in your nightmares.
This has been nothing but good for my own novel, City of Heretics. It's coming along nicely; I'm well into act two currently, keeping it moving, using tricks I've gleaned from the masters-- don't get bogged down, don't get sentimental, don't get soft. Keep the stakes rising higher and higher, don't let up.
Lawrence Block, in his terrific book "Telling Lies for Fun & Profit", said that the definition of suspense is "One damn thing after another". Perfect. That describes the best films noir and crime novels out there. And it's the credo I keep in mind with my own work.
So. Back to work, ya dirty squit.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Clay Morrow & the Nine Pale Men

The story this week is something a little different. It's an over-the-top supernatural horror-adventure story that takes place in 1890, and features a stoic Southern gentleman named Clay Morrow, globe-trotting around the world on a quest of vengeance. Along the way, he encounters all manner of bizarre creatures and conspiracies. This one finds him in Hong Kong, facing an ancient evil out of the mists of Chinese legend. It's Robert E. Howard meets HG Wells.
This is the first of two stories I wrote about Morrow. Perhaps there will be more; who can say? Enjoy. It's over there in the usual spot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For the Love of Story

Stories. Gotta love 'em.
This will sound corny, but I really believe it: Stories are holy. And bear in mind, I'm not a religious guy. But a good story feels like a transcendental experience to me. It invigorates me and makes me feel giddy and light-headed.
I love stories.
This is a difficult thing to explain to someone who doesn't share that passion. Don't try, that's my advice. They'll only look at you sideways, maybe take a step back. Whatever. Who needs them?
Who needs them, as long as we have stories.
I remember quite vividly the first time I ever experienced that nirvana, that perfect state. It was a story by Ray Bradbury called "There Will Come Soft Rains"-- a story that is as close to perfect as anything I've ever read. I remember the odd feeling that began creeping over me as Bradbury very gently pulled me in... as if he was whispering in my ear, look. Watch, very closely. Don't move. And I watched, and I was mesmerized. And the story built, gaining speed, and I gripped that book hard so I wouldn't be shorn away by the wind. And the ending... God, the ending. It gave me chills. It made me want to weep for its tragic beauty. I could not have predicted it, and yet at the same time no other ending would have been possible.
And that was when I first knew the power of story. That was when I knew I had to do this. I had to make someone else feel that way.
That was a long, long time ago. I'm a much more cynical human being than I was then. I have doubts about the validity of almost everything that we as a race hold dear, everything that we attach value to. But not story. I still believe in story.
There have been many stories since then that moved me, more than I can count. Fear, anger, grief, happiness-- I've felt them all deeply through someone else's words. 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber' and 'A Day's Wait' and 'The End of Something' by Ernest Hemingway. 'The Whosis Kid' and 'The Girl With the Silver Eyes' by Dashiell Hammett. 'Young Goodman Brown' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. 'The Crowd' by the above-mentioned Mr. Bradbury. 'A Rose for Emily' by William Faulkner. Almost every story in Everything's Eventual, by Stephen King. And on and on and on, stories by John D. MacDonald and Robert Bloch and Lawrence Block and Fletcher Flora and Neil Gaiman and jeez, man... so many.
I wish I could mention them all. I wish I could express to each one of these fine writers how much they've touched my life, how deep a change they've wrought within me.
And how much love they've given me for stories.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Heckfire & Darnation

Since last week's story was such a downer (so I've heard), I thought I'd go with something a little goofy this time.
I'm not entirely sure where the idea for this one came from, but I'd been reading some John Collier at the time, and I think some of his mannered but nasty humor seeped in. It's kinda formal-sounding, but I think it's the kind of story that works better that way.
Let me know what you think. It's called Heckfire & Darnation, and, as usual, you'll find it over there, to the right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two for One

I find it interesting that so many genres can be linked so easily, not just in 'literature' but in film as well. In particular, I'm thinking of the weird symbiosis between crime stories and westerns. I watched High Noon again the other day and it occured to me that the story could very easily be transposed to modern day, and it would still work (probably, someone has already done this). So I started thinking about other westerns, and every single one I could think of could also take place modern day, without changing anything at all, except the cowboy hats and horses. Don't misunderstand me, I know I'm not the first person to realize this. The movie 'A Fistful of Dollars' is nominally a remake of Kurosawa's Samurai flick 'Yojimbo', but 'Yojimbo' is a filmed version of the Hammett story 'Red Harvest'. So this 'full circle' genre idea is nothing new. But now it's got me thinking about every western and crime drama (and samurai movie!) I see, and how interesting each one would be in another genre.
Imagine 'Rio Bravo' in the 1940's. Or 'Kiss of Death' in the Old West. Or 'Double Indemnity', if Walter Neff was a cowboy, forced to travel to fuedal Japan to kill the warlord husband of a sultry geisha...
Okay, I know, that last one was just stupid. But you get the idea.
If I was one of those crazy paperback writers in the '50's, the ones who just pumped out book after book after book to make the rent, I'd have kept that idea in mind. If you come up with a good idea for a crime drama, you've also come up with a good idea for a western. Two books for the price of one.
And if you were Japanese to boot, well, that's THREE for one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


What a day, huh?
Just like everyone else, I watched the proceedings today, the swearing-in of our 44th president, Barak Obama, and despite myself, I found that I was moved. I have hope for our future. I feel good about being an American. It's a weird feeling, this hope, after eight years of dealing with a government that cleary didn't care about the will of its own people. It feels good.
Obama seems like an idealist. Please, please... let that be true. We NEED an idealist right now. We need a pragmatist. It's very tiring sometimes, being a cynic, but the previous administration made cynics out of ALL of us. Isn't it amazing how resilient we are, as Americans? Isn't it amazing that, as hard as the bad guys tried to take it away from us, we still have hope?
Yep. Right this second, I love America, and I love being an American.
Um... I promised myself when I started this blog that I would stay on-topic here, and not talk about anything except writing and books and story. But come on. This is a big deal.
I'll get back to the writing stuff next time. Here's to the future.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Natural Thing in the World

That's a cute little dog you have there. Man's best friend, you gotta love 'em. But have you ever wondered... if it came down to the wire, would your furry little friend there EAT you? I mean, if he was hungry enough? Or, for some folks an even worse thought, would you eat him?
I don't know, this is just the sort of stuff I think about. Sorry.
Here's a bleak little story called The Most Natural Thing in the World.
Give your dog a treat today.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where'd all the Tough Guys go?

It seems as if hardboiled ain't what it used to be. I've been making a point lately of reading some more modern stuff in the genre, since I'm woefully out of touch with most stuff written in say, oh, my own lifetime. And I've been disappointed, for the most part. Where are the bad-asses? "Tough guys" don't seem so tough anymore. I can't get excited about a hardboiled dick who has to, say, go see a shrink to get over plugging a guy, or has a bubble bath after his latest caper to ponder his own mortality.
There was a time when this new sensitivity was fresh and original-- Macdonald's Travis McGee was probably the first of the "sensitive" tough guys, and he's a very likeable character indeed. And then Robert Parker's Spencer, right? And then... well, the floodgates were opened. Every few years, we have to bring it back to center. And the center is best represented by Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op... the original hardboiled tough guy.
With the Op, you always knew you were dealing with a man who was quietly intelligent, unafraid, and quite aware of his own shortcomings. You sensed a deeply complicated guy, and it wasn't because he waxed on about himself. The Op, despite that Hammett told us virtuallly nothing about his background or what emotions played out in his head, seems so much more fully realized than just about any modern character I can think of in the genre.
My friend Janine, a great writer of hardboiled stuff herself (I can't wait for the world to read about her Kelly Flaherty, the toughest tough chick I've ever come across), turned me on to Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. She says he fits that tough guy bill pretty well. Christian Klaver, another friend and terrific writer, mentioned Andrew Vachss "Burke" series. And I just recently discovered Richard Stark's books about Parker on my own. And yeah, he's plenty tough. So maybe there's hope yet. I'll let you know, after I've read the ones Janine and Christian mentioned, if they fit the tough guy bill as well as Parker.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Novels by Heath Lowrance

Instead of posting a new story today, I've provided "teasers" to my novels. When I say "teasers", I don't mean that they are going to stick their tongues out at you neccesarily, or make fun of the way you walk (they might, I don't know, but I think that would just be childish and cruel). No, I just mean you get a little sample of them.
But you knew what I meant, really.
The Bastard Hand is a psycho noir, in the modern sense, in that the main character may possibly be delusional, and the situations he finds himself in are not the sort of situations most normal people wind up in. It's a weird story about religion, violence, and betrayal.
The Scarab is completely different. It's full-on pulp-flavored occult adventure, with weird monsters, extra-dimensional aliens, and an immortal hero a few cards short of a full deck.
Torch is an espionage adventure that takes place in French Morocco during WWII.
And The Heretics is the one I'm working on currently. It's a hardboiled tale of revenge, spiced up a bit with some weirdness in the form of, not just a serial killer, but a whole coven of them, lurking in the backwoods of Tennessee.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Guide to Noir Fiction

Hey, I'm performing a public service. If you'll cast your eyes over to the right again, you'll see a new section I added called "Essays and other stuff by Heath Lowrance". I just put the finishing touches on a guide to Noir/Hardboiled fiction for your reading pleasure. It was a bitch to research and write, but I did it, because I love you.
As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Black & white movies

Just wanted to share this great quote I found from Roger Ebert, regarding black & white movies:

A black and white movie isn't lacking something, it's adding something: The world is in color, so we get that for free, but black & white is a stylistic alternative, more dreamlike, more timeless. Moviegoers, of course, have the right to dislike black and white, but it is not something they should be proud of. It reveals them, frankly, as cinematically illiterate. I have been described as a snob on this issue. But snobs exclude; they do not include. To exclude black and white from your choices is an admission that you have a closed mind, a limited imagination, or are lacking in taste." - Roger Ebert

Nicely said! I found it at a terrific web site called Web Noir. I've added a link to it over on the right. If you're at all interested in film noir, by all means check it out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Compulsive Scratching

The odds are against us. Overwhelmingly. Why, oh why, do we continue to do it? Why do we sit down every day in front of our glowing little computer screens and fill up all that white space with words? Most of the time, we don't even enjoy it. And, really, who's interested, anyway?
Being a writer is having a split personality. On the one hand, it takes an amazing amount of ego to actually cement your thoughts and feelings into a tangible story and just assume that someone, somewhere, is going to want to read it... and that's the height of self-involved folly. On the other hand, many writers are afflicted with a crippling self-doubt, a feeling of complete worthlessness. The funny thing is, both of those conditions-- entirely unwarranted egomania and soul-crushing insecurity-- exist side by side in many writers.
We write a story, or even a novel, putting everything we have into it, opening up veins all over the place and bleeding out our darkest and deepest secrets. We polish it up and make it presentable. We research the market and find the ideal venue. We send it off with our fingers crossed. And then... three months later... we get that lovely little form rejection letter. Or worse, we get no response at all. That's how much our work means to the world at large. No one is interested. Sorry, mac.
There are times I really hate this compulsion I have to write stories. Honestly, man, I'm not sure why I was born with that gene that makes me do it, even when the emotional rewards are non-existent. I read this thing once about a woman who had an unusual mental disorder; she couldn't stop scratching herself. Non-stop, she'd scratch and scratch and scratch at her face, her neck, her arms, trying desperately to ease the maddening itch beneath her skin. She scratched until she bled, profusely. That's what the compulsion to write is like.
Maybe you can tell, I'm having one of those "soul-crushing insecurity" days. The novel is still going well, but this morning I keep looking at it and thinking, oh come on man. Who really cares? Give up this silliness and grow up. There are millions of writers out there, talented and committed people with strong voices and real stories to tell. And no one will ever hear them. What makes me think I'm any different?
Okay. Sorry to be such a bummer this time, just had to get all that out of my system. I don't really feel better for having done it, but maybe, somewhere, another writer will stumble across this entry and realize that they aren't alone.
Fuck it, right? Keep scratching that itch until you bleed to death.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Emancipation, With Teeth

You like the blood and gore? Then this one's for you.
It's not very often you can actually cull a good story out of a bad dream, but it worked with this one. I won't go into the details of the dream, but suffice to say it was one of those that had me waking up in a cold sweat. I think the idea of something alien or unknown lurking within our own body freaks everyone out, to some degree or another. Hell, David Cronenberg made a whole career out of that fear.
I don't usually write things quite this graphic, but come on. You can't write about something trying to come out of your body without things getting a little messy.
There it is, over there on the right. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What is Psycho Noir, anyway?

What the hell is “Psycho-noir”?

Most readers of dark fiction know what “noir” is, in reference to literature. It implies a certain dark tone, cynical, fatalistic, with a particular sort of cast of characters—generally people on the fringe of normal society, doing things you could only politely describe as anti-social. There is invariably a sense of impending doom, as a protagonist fights—or doesn’t fight—against an end that is, really, inevitable. Life sucks and then you die, that sort of thing. Granted, that’s a broad definition, and it doesn’t take into account about a ton of other things that come to mind when you think of “noir”, but that’s the general idea.

“Psycho-noir” grew out of that literary tradition, reaching a head in the mid to late 1950’s. The “noir” crime writer Dave Zelsterman, author of Small Crimes, wrote that “psycho-noir” is the type of story...

"...where the protagonists perceptions and rationalizations are just off center enough to send them to hell."

I think the main difference between “noir” and “psycho-noir” lies in the central protagonist. In “noir”, it’s usually a normal kind of joe, maybe a bit too ambitious or a bit too flip about right and wrong, who’s drawn into a messed-up situation by circumstance or by his own hubris. He may wind up doing monstrous things, but he’s basically a decent guy who manages to fuck up royally.

The main character in a “psycho-noir”, on the other hand, is usually a monstrous person to begin with. Perhaps he’s an amoral sociopath, like Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley. In some cases, like Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, he’s a full-on delusional lunatic. The main thing is, he’s a bad guy, and not a bad guy who’s really a good guy deep inside, or is simply “misunderstood”. No, he’s the full-on villain, and the story belongs to him, and if it’s done right you still kinda want him to win.

These can be really small distinctions, of course. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find that point where “noir” becomes “psycho-noir”, and honestly a good “noir” story is just a good “noir” story regardless, because of the elements that they have in common. And what are those? The writer Jack Bludis sums it up as neatly as anything I’ve heard:


Short and nasty and inevitable. Just like the best “noir”.