All posts by annbaron

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Whenever I’m about to start a story, whether on my own or at the request of others, I work up an outline that covers most of the plot. But it’s not just a road map, it’s an advertisement for the story. I make that outline fun to read. When you outline your story, always do so with the intention of showing it to others, even if you never do. The goal of the outline is to excite interest. Once someone finishes the outline, they should say, “Holy moly! Now I want to read the book!” I am currently writing a Western called The Curse of The Black Rose. It’s about ninja nuns. No kidding. It’s not my idea. Here is the outline:

Rancher Cobb Hansen brings in Chaco, a wounded, dehydrated Indian boy to the mission at Santo Tomas where the nuns nurse him. Chaco escaped from General Alcala Nebres, a rogue Castilian forced to flee Spain due to his participation in a plot to overthrow King Alfonso. Nebres sailed to Mexico where he claimed an ancient land grant in Hidalgo Province, while rebel forces seek to depose President Diaz, who gave him a land grant in exchange for his support. Before rebels forced him north, Nebres plundered an ancient Mayan temple, claiming it belonged to him.

Nebres has moved north into Chihuahua, but even there, the revolution nips at his heels. He travels with is own priest and gives confession daily. Determined to carve out his own kingdom, Nebres looks across the Rio Grande at Texas. Chaco says Nebres enslaves and tortures Indians and Mexicans alike.

Mother Mercy dispatches Catalina, Sister Sofia, and Sister Caroline Harp to check it out, and if what Chaco says is true, to kill Nebres and free the slaves. Cobb Hendricks’ ranch is in flames, Hendricks barely alive to describe the attack. Nebres stole his cattle and drove them across the river.

In Mexico, a rebel patrol “escorts” them to Pancho Villa, who recently escaped prison and is deeply troubled by his actions. He seeks absolution but nuns can’t hear confession. Catalina questions him on Nebres, with whom Villa has been feuding. Nebres claims a mandate from God and from Mayan deity Itzamna to create his own land. Villa is determined to drive him out of Mexico. He chews coca leaves constantly, and plans to cultivate the plant.

The nuns accompany Villa on his raid against Nebres’ men, who have taken over the tiny town of Sagrado Corazon, killing the men, abusing the women, and taking their prized Miura fighting bulls. The nuns join the fight, astonishing both sides who have never seen fighting nuns. A captured lieutenant reveals that Nebres has staked out a vast territory in New Mexico and declared himself an independent nation. Itzama has made Nebres invincible, attracting embittered Spanish/American war veterans. Rough Riders.

Catalina learned strategy and history from Aguiles and his sons. Disguised as Apache, Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline head north, onto Apache land. Surrounded, they reveal themselves and demand unarmed combat. The Apache are astonished. Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline kick butt, astonishing the Apache who adopt the three nuns into the tribe and agree to help the Sisters. Nebres’ men raped and murdered an Apache woman and killed her child. The Apaches catch up with the raiders. Catalina recognizes one from Elan’s description. Surrounded by Apache, the braggart challenges one of them to fight him hand to hand. Wearing warpaint, Catalina mutilates him, puts him on a horse and sends him back to Nebres with a message. Vengeance is coming.

From the Guadalupe Mountains, the sisters view Nebres’ through telescopes. He has taken over the San Cristobal Mission and put his troops to work building corrals and robbing trains. The mortally wounded priest curses Nebres. “God will send an angel disguised as a devil. She will take your soul.”

New Mexico is barely four months a state when a platoon from Fort Diggs arrives to ascertain whether the rumors are true. Nebres’ men slaughter the soldiers and send the captain away beaten and naked, tied backwards on his horse.

Nebres has heard about the mysterious convent and its warrior nuns. His man barely made it back before dying, but not before he delivered Lina’s message. Father Armando assures him that he is a good man and that those who resist him are evil. The mission has its own well and four hundred men. Ring Lardner interviews the general for the New York Herald, sees Nebres fight a bull.

Catalina sees no need to fight an army. All they need do is cut off the head. A night attack at the east gate allows Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline to enter the compound, disguised as Apache from the west. Sofia and Caroline run off with two hundred horses, leading Nebres’ men straight into an Apache ambush. But the Apache are outnumbered and melt into the landscape after killing a dozen of Nebres’ warriors. The troops return to the mission where Nebres celebrates his “great victory,” posing for Lardner’s camera, dictating his legend.

Nebres promises Lardner the most exciting bull fight he has ever seen on the morrow, his men bringing in prostitutes from nearby Bennett. Sofia and Caroline Harp return in the dark.

At noon, Nebres prepares for his “moment of destiny,” prays to the Holy Virgin, puts on his matador gear and walks into the arena before hundreds of his men and grandees from surrounding ranches. But when the chute is opened, it is not the bull that emerges, but Sister Catalina in her fighting gear, her face painted.

Progress, Mike Baron

Progress is a double-edged sword. The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. I have been a devotee of newsstands ever since visiting a fully-stocked magazine store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I love magazines. I have subscribed to countless over the years including National Geo, Vanity Fair, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Road&Track, American Spectator, and Downbeat.

When I moved to Colorado, there were two outstanding magazine outlets. The News Cafe in Loveland, and Al’s News in Fort Collins. They had hundreds, if not thousands of magazines on display and copious paperbacks. I could spend hours in them just looking through the various magazines. The music sections alone were stuffed with periodicals. Rolling Stone. Spin. Downbeat. Under the Radar. Living Blues. There were two or three different model car magazines.

We are undergoing a paradigm shift that is killing the printed periodical. Most of it is the internet. Why shlep downtown when you can dial up whatever your heart fancies on your phone? Well here’s one reason. In a magazine, you can flip past the ads by turning the page. Also, the ads were more thoughtful, designed to engage, and contained exciting graphics. On the internet, the ads are shrieking monsters that appear designed to piss people off. They cover content, often for long minutes with no way to get rid of them. Finally, reluctantly, a tiny, nay, an INFINITESIMAL ‘X’ appears in the far northwest corner of the screen, as far from the ad as possible. When you move your cursor over the X, it runs to another part of the screen. I make a point of not noticing who the advertiser is because I’m not interested. Or if I do take note, it’s to avoid their product or service.

I understand advertisers need to monetize the internet, but there has to be a better way.

Also, I think we have a generation that doesn’t read. Raised on video games and electronic media, they have no interest in books. Certainly not in books without pictures.

Coffee News closed down a couple years ago. Al’s News closed down last year. The only place you can find magazines is Barnes & Noble, which is hanging on by its fingernails, or the supermarket which grudgingly shows a few popular titles.

We also have a risk-adverse population. Motorcycle sales are down. There used to be five or six monthly general interest motorcycle magazines. All that remains are Cycle World and Motorcyclist, both of whom have gone quarterly. They are waving the white flag. There aren’t enough new models to cover, so they feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads of cracked asphalt or dirt bikes in the distance. They feature articles about “Titanium–the Miracle Metal!”

Road&Track is still monthly, but instead of three or four complete road tests each issue, we’re likely to get one, plus endless artsty-fartsy photo spreads of ancient tires, racetracks at dusk, and ruminations on the future of the electric car. Road&Track’s last issue got woke and started railing against the internal combustion engine. They never discuss the source of the electricity powering their Teslas and Leafs, which is, of course, coal-burning powerplants.

Horror by Mike Baron

We all love horror entertainment. But we don’t all love the same type of horror. For me, true horror is an evocation of the unknown, a cold finger on the spine that suggests malignant forces just out of range that can be revealed via ritual or stupidity, devastating all that is good and safe. The Exorcist is among the greatest horror movies because it does this so effectively, using traditions and superstitions that have been around as long as mankind. It has the weight of the church behind it, whether or not we’re Catholic.

Never saw Exorcist II. It doesn’t have a good reputation. But Exorcist III, ah, Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, is on a par with the first. Don’t believe me just watch. The Japanese excel at cinematic horror. Even the American version of The Ring resonates. The Changeling (1980) will raise hackles, not for any danger to the protagonist (George C. Scott,) but in its ability to evoke supernatural fear.

We love such entertainment because it satisfies an atavistic yearning to believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it’s terrible. And when the lights go up or you finish the book, you’re back safe and warm in your familiar world. Lovecraft resonates because he so effectively delineated another world lurking beyond the veil. Lovecraft’s descriptions are necessarily vague. We can’t really understand the worlds he describes, it’s enough that we believe. Stephen King has touched the spine many times, no better than in The Shining. Michael McDowell does it in The Elementals. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. And of course Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. This yearning to believe is as old as man, as old as ancient cave drawings of Quezacoatl.

The most effective horror is supernatural. Torture porn has its fans, but precious few horror movies that don’t rely on the supernatural truly resonate. Silence of the Lambs comes to mind. Movies like Don’t Breath, Saw, or Hostel are not supernatural horror, they are sadistic psychological thrillers.

I’ve written three horror novels. Publishers Weekly gave Banshees, about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, a starred review. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61475-394-0

Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Domain is a haunted house story set in Los Angeles.

Best Crocodile Movie

BEST CROCODILE MOVIE

Monstrous animal movies have been a staple since King Kong. Monstrous animal movies come in many flavors, from atomic mutants (Them, The Deadly Mantis,) to natural but terrifying creatures (Night of the Grizzly.) Jaws put a Saturn booster beneath the terrifying animal genre, begetting dozens of shark movies, many of which are drivel, such as the Jaws sequels, but also including small pleasures such as The Shallows or Deep Blue Sea. Who can forget Samuel L. Jackson’s rousing speech, followed immediately by his demise?

Every deadly animal has its masterpiece. For snakes, it’s Anaconda. Don’t believe the reviews. See it for yourselves. It’s a movie you can watch over and over again. For bears, it’s The Edge, which is not purely a dangerous animal movie, but contains the best human versus grizzly battles. Piranha speaks for itself. If it’s wolves you crave, watch The Grey.

For saurians, Rogue stands above all others. This small masterpiece is mesmerizing from the first frame and compares favorably with Alien. Set in Australia’s Northwest territories, it concerns a monstrous salt water crocodile which traps a group of tourists on a sand bar as the tide rises. Starring Michael Vartan as an American journalist, and Rahda Mitchell as a tour boat operator, Rogue grabs you by the throat and never lets go. The character actor who puts a fly in Vartan’s coffee when he arrives at his remote destination brilliantly personifies the unctuous but treacherous toady.

You don’t see the whole croc until the harrowing ending. I don’t know if this is CGI or what, but it’s brilliantly done, and the croc is the size of a moving van. If you love Jaws and want to see a movie of its caliber, watch Rogue.

Unfortunate Son, Chapter 1, Mike Baron

FIRST CHAPTER FROM UNFORTUNATE SON, THE NEW BIKER NOVEL

CHAPTER ONE “Surprise!”

Josh looked at his father Duane, sitting on his sofa with Josh’s dog Fig in his lap. The same Duane who’d abandoned Josh at a truck stop when Josh was fifteen, from whom he had not heard in two decades.

“What you doing here, Duane?”

Duane looked up with a con man’s grin, deep parenthesis framing his mouth, several day’s stubble clinging to his chin, lank gray hair unkempt. “Is that any way to greet your own father?”

Duane eased Fig off his lap, stood, and walked to Josh with his arms open. “C’mere, boy. How the hell you doin’?”

Josh endured the awkward embrace until Duane stepped back. Duane smelled of graphite, body odor, cigarettes. He’d found an old ashtray in the kitchen, set it on the coffee table in the living room and smoked several butts. He wore dirty blue jeans and a Dolphin’s T with the sleeves cut off to show his ropy, muscular, tatted arms.

“What are you doing here, Duane?”

Duane went into the kitchen, Fig at his heels, opened the refrigerator, took out two cans of Capital Lager and tossed one to Josh, who caught it one-handed.

“Been hearing a lot about you. I’m proud of you, boy. Proud the way you turned out. You’re a man now. Solvin’ crimes, killin’ bad guys.”

“You had nothing to do with it. You’re as sentimental as a catfish. What do you want?”

Duane popped the can and guzzled, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Why would you think that? Maybe I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

Josh snapped his fingers. Fig trotted over and sat next to him, looking up. “Because you’re a con man. You haven’t worked a real job in your life. The whole time I was with you, all you did was scam people. The old dropped wallet trick. Shoplifting. All those women you took advantage of.”

Duane looked pained. “Maybe I’ve changed, you ever think of that? You changed. You were a rake hell. They called you Chainsaw because of that one thing, and now you’re a born-again Christian, ain’t that right? You’re on a mission from God.”

“What do you want, Duane?”

Duane flopped onto the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table. “I just want to stay here for a few days. I love your dog. I won’t be any trouble.”

“How’d you get in?”

“Climbed the fence and used the doggy door.”

The anxiety Josh had experienced when he saw the Camaro in his front yard blossomed into a full-bore suck hole in the middle of his chest, summoning unwanted childhood memories. Walking in on Duane fucking some girl. Watching Duane dip into her purse while she slept. Fleeing in the middle of the night because Duane had committed some felony. The road rage. Duane waving his gun and trying to run another car off the road.

One night in November he did run another car off the road. It was a station wagon full of kids who’d dared to pass while flipping them the bird. Duane floored his 350 cubic inch Camaro and gave chase. The car’s body was shot anyway. He couldn’t afford a shiny new car, or even a shiny car, but he always found a way to get that Camaro with the big engine. Josh remembered the car was pale yellow with rust spots, the hood was brown, and the driver’s door was primer gray.

“YO MOTHERFUCKER!” Duane bellowed into the wind, which whipped his words away. Those kids couldn’t hear shit, the way they were blasting Beastie Boys. They never saw Duane coming. He cut the lights, zoomed up on their left, slammed the wheel to the right and stuck with it, big, fifteen-inch wheels and tires, ramming the wagon into the ditch where it rolled over once before coming to a stop.

Josh watched the whole thing through his window, mouth open, hanging on to the grip with both hands. Heart in mouth. What the fuck. He was ten years old.

“That’ll teach ‘em,” Duane said, heading on down the highway.

They crashed in seedy apartments, trailers and tract houses with Duane’s friends, all the same creepy crowd, grifters, drifters, penny ante thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, too smart to work. Everyone had an angle and a rap. Everyone had a way to beat the system. Most had food stamps and disability. Some had pit bulls. Josh always wondered, why the pit bulls?

Josh slept on a lumpy sofa in the living room, or in a closet if Duane and his buddies got too loud snorting coke and drinking Fleischmann’s vodka. They’d toss back valium to ease the descent.

Josh remembered waiting in a ‘69 Camaro with the engine running while Duane ran into a pharmacy “to get some cold medicine.” Minutes later, Duane erupted from the front door clutching a paper bag, slid behind the wheel and floored it. They fishtailed out of town. Josh saw the butt of a pistol protruding from Duane’s pants.

Josh popped his beer and sat in a chair facing Duane. “Who’s after you?”

Duane drained his can and belched, putting his whole torso into it. Duane was proud of his belch. “What makes you say that?”

“’Cuz I know you, Duane. You’re only in it for number one. You never cared about anything in your life except getting yourself over. I still don’t know who my mother is.”

“I think her name was Karen Pratt. Haven’t seen her since she dumped your little bundle of joy on my doorstep.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t put me up for adoption. Or dump me in the woods like you did that dog. Remember McKeesport? I wanted to go to school but you couldn’t get your shit together? So I went down and registered myself and they asked me for my birthday. I didn’t know what my birthday was. It was April first, so that’s my birthday now.”

Again, that pained look. “Son, you gotta give me a chance. I’m not the same person I was.”

Josh stared. Duane looked away. He leaned forward to scratch Fig’s ears. “Your dog likes me. They say dogs are excellent judges of character.”

“Not that dog.”

“Hey, I could eat a baby’s butt through a park bench. Whatcha got to eat around here?”

Josh seethed. He didn’t want this. He’d trained himself not to think about his father.

“Come on. We’ll go get a burger.”

Duane clapped. “Now you’re talkin’.”

Outside, Josh eyed the ‘97 Camaro. It was faded dark blue with rust spots and twin tailpipes.

“That there’s an SS with the 330 HP LT4 small block engine from the Corvette. That there’s special.”

“Anyone lookin’ for you?”

“Well let’s get some grub and I’ll tell you about that.”

“Do me a favor. Lose the pistol.”

Duane drew the pistol, looked at it, leaned into the Camaro and stuck it deep in the seat cushions.

They got in Josh’s 300 and headed east toward Madison. Duane pulled a pack of Marlboros from his pants. “Mind if I smoke?”
Josh lowered all the windows. What was the point? Duane was going to do what Duane was going to do. He’d always been that way. They drove to the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street, a family-friendly pub that had been there for forty years. The interior was dark and boisterous with families catching an early dinner before heading home to Netflix and video games, or couples just starting the night. They took a booth. The twenty-something waitress had long purple hair on one side of her skull, nothing on the other, and a unicorn tat on her arm. Duane stared like a hungry dog. They ordered burgers. Josh got a beer, Duane went for two shots of Canadian Club and a Miller chaser.

“You should try some of the local brews,” Josh said looking around. “You don’t have to drink Miller.”

“By the time I get to that beer, I won’t give a shit. Ja see that cooze? You got a girlfriend?”

“Had one, but she died.”

“No shit. That happened to me. A couple times.” He pulled out a cig and lit it one-handed with a kitchen match. A stout man with wife and two kids at an adjacent table looked over.

“No smoking in here.”

Duane did a double-take, stabbed the cig out on the bottom of his shoe and dropped the butt.

“Who’s after you, Duane?”

Duane looked around. Con-wise, just like his son. Josh, a licensed private investigator, had never looked at Duane’s record. He didn’t want to know.

“Y’know who Ryan Gehrke is?”

“Sure. The Miami wide receiver who took a knee.”

Duane stabbed a nicotine-stained finger at Josh. “You know why he took a knee?”

“Racism or some shit.”

Duane showed yellow teeth. “He was protesting systemic racism in the justice, and in the cops. I gotta tell ya, I think he’s right on the money with the cops. They’re all rotten. Some of ‘em are killers. That cop in Cinci. They were in a Wal-Mart when that seventeen-year-old kid picked up an air rifle in the gun department. Two cops run in screaming and shot ‘em. They didn’t tell him to drop the gun or put up his hands. None of that shit. Bang bang. Very sorry. They both walked. Pigs said they had reasonable concern for their safety.”

“Did Ryan shoot them?”

Duane shook his head like he was talking to a dummy. “Noooo, it’s just one of the issues we discussed.”

“You and Ryan?”

The waitress came, plopping down drinks and burgers. Josh put ketchup on his burger. Duane tossed down the shot. He tossed down the next shot and looked around for the waitress.

Josh gripped his burger. “Whoa there, pardner. You don’t want to go blotto just yet.”

Duane finished his burger in six bites. He had coyote jaws. He chugged the Miller. He belched long and loud, causing heads to turn. Distaste. Disgust. Duane.

“So where were you talking to Ryan?” Josh said.

Duane pushed the dishes aside and leaned on his elbows. “At his crib in Miami. Man, you should see it. He’s got this fuckin’ estate in the same neighborhood as Desmond Pow, right on the beach. Pool, cabana, hot and cold running babes, the best champagne, all the cocaine you can snort, celebrities, you know who I saw?”

“What the fuck were you doing there?”

Duane spread his hands, nonplussed. “Where do you think he got his cocaine?”

Serial Killer Man

SERIAL KILLER MAN

I first met Serial Killer Man at Rocky Mountain Comic Con several years ago. An unprepossessing fellow, he approached my table with a portfolio which he laid out. Hideous, childish, pencil and crayon scrawls of skulls, demonic figures and symbols.

“Charles Manson sent me this.”

Everybody has a hobby. Serial Killer Man’s hobby was corresponding with serial killers, exchanging artwork, sometimes visiting them and getting photographs. He had a clown drawn by John Wayne Gacy. I think he had pictures of himself posing with Gacy. It was a while ago and I can’t remember. I, too, was obsessed with serial killers. Many writers are. We seek to understand the nature of evil so we can write about it. I read and I read until I could read no more. I read Ann Rule and Jack Olsen. I read Aphrodite Jones and Stephen G. Michaud. Serial killers captured the public imagination and are everywhere. Countless television programs and movies. Luther, Mind Hunter, Dexter, The Fall, Hannibal, Alienest, The Prodigal Son. The serial killer is the perfect modern day bogeyman, embodying our darkest fears. An evil force who chooses strangers.

It’s only natural for normal people to muse about the nature of evil, and wonder what would compel someone to systematically track down and murder strangers. As long as you don’t dwell on it. As Nietzsche said, “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Think about all the ladies who have corresponded with infamous killers, visited them in prison, and even married them.

I saw Serial Killer Man again last week at the Rocky Mountain Con. He’s a regular. This time he had pictures of himself posing with one of the so-called Tool Box Killers in a California prison. SKM is unprepossessing and harmless. He also loves comics. He has an extensive collection of original art. Only it’s not from comics. I’ll probably see him again next year.

Florida Man novel, Mike Baron

MORE FLORIDA MEN

I don’t chose my stories. My stories choose me. Every day, a new Florida Man story.

FLORIDA MAN REMOVES NINE FOOT ALLIGATOR FROM POOL

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA FLORIDA MAN SEXUALLY ASSAULTS’ STUFFED OLAF DOLL AT TARGET

Day after day, Florida Man after Florida Man. Florida Women too. It seemed ideal material for a comic so I started writing. By the time I finished the five scripts I had a detailed novel outline. Getting an independent comic off the ground is an iffy proposition. If I were an artist, I would have drawn it myself. But I’m not. And artists don’t work for free. Fortunately, the talented Todd Mulrooney agreed to throw in with me.

I wrote the novel and sent it to Wolfpack publisher Mike Bray. Wolfpack specializes in Westerns, thrillers and crime stories, and Florida Man is comedy. Mike said he’d take a look, he might know someone. After he read it, twice, he said he wanted to publish it himself. So there it is. That’s Todd’s art on the cover.

By now, you are all weary of the blurb:

Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Krystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.

I had inadvertently joined an informal group of Florida Men whose fascination with that state’s more outre behavior and denizens is something more than a hobby. I hooked up via Florida Men with James Aylott, a former tabloid photographer turned novelist whose novel The Beach House touches on much of the same material. But while Florida Man follows the exploits of one hapless hero, Tales From the Beach House tells the intertwined stories of the denizens of a seedy Delray condominium. It is as packed with intrigue, heartache, and betrayal as a Shakespeare comedy, but is often funny. James uses real headlines to kick off each chapter:

FLORIDA MAN MISTAKES DEAD WOMAN FOR APRIL FOOL’S MANNEQUIN

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA

FLORIDA MAN KILLED TESTING BULLET PROOF VEST

James read my book and posted, “Crammed with hysteric high-octane toxic masculinity, and without a hat tip to any sense of modern political correctness the novel “Florida Man” has to be one the must read books of the year! This amazing novel is pure-concentrate Florida fiction and will certainly be inducted to this genres future Pantheon of greats. Gary Duba, the book’s central character has to be a solid contended the Mick Dundee of our times and should be immediately signed up for a new marketing campaign by the Florida tourism board. This truly was an astonishingly good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t easily offended who is looking for a fun and action packed read. This book has raised the creative bar in the genre of Florida fiction and it will be hard to beat by the many writers who tread that path. I am just glad my next book will be set in Missouri as Florida Man has set a new standard that will be hard to better.”

I thought I’d pretty much covered the territory in that one book, but my publisher feels otherwise. I am planning a sequel. There is no dearth of material. Just go to www.floridaman.com, which sedulously tries to keep track. You can find our books on Amazon.

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Why should you outline? There are several reasons. The first is to provide a road map for the story you intend to write. A good story is like a good pop song with a theme, a bridge, and a hook. Shifting dynamics. The outcome is always in question. If you were to portray your outline as a sine wave, it would look like a roller coaster ride. The outline doesn’t have to be exhaustive. My outlines range from two to ten pages. Ken Follett’s outlines are over a hundred pages. The reader must surprise himself if he is to surprise others, so the outline must contain wiggle room. The outline must reflect your protagonists’ personality and character, as well as those of other major figures.

Character is destiny. The reader wants someone with whom he can identify, unless you’re writing about a rogue, such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. Even Flashman is charming. You enjoy his company even if you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Or the book has to be compelling, such as Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, a novel about a despicable racist. A skilled novelist can make any protagonist compelling.

Just as a good song ends on a definitive note, such as The Beatles “A Day In the Life,” so should your outline indicate an end. But beware! Your characters will come alive and start dictating plot! When this happens, trust your characters.

The second purpose of the outline is to excite readers. The outline must be entertaining in and of itself. If you have written a dry recitation of events crammed with adjectives and qualifiers, throw it away! When the reader has read your outline, his reaction must be, “Holy shit! Where’s the book?”

Use your craft to bring that outline alive.

My favorite westerns, Mike Baron

MY FAVORITE WESTERNS

In the interest of comity, I shall not call this the Ten Greatest Westerns. This is simply a list of my favorite Westerns, in no particular order.

THE WILD BUNCH—Sam Peckinpah’s violent elegy to the closing of the West is filled with indelible images and lines, and provided career-defining roles for Ernest Borgnine, William Holden, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Edmund O’Brien and Ben Johnson, and launched the career of Bo Hopkins. A bittersweet drama of aging outlaws with no place to go.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE—my favorite Ford, with the Duke as an aging gunfighter who comes to the aid of naive lawyer Jimmy Stewart. Lee Marvin at his most despicable.

SHANE—the legend of the lone gunfighter has never been better, with Alan Ladd in his finest role, and Jack Palance, every bit as despicable as Lee Marvin.

THE PROFESSIONALS—Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode saddle up to rescue kidnapped bridge Claudia Cardinale from Mexican outlaw Jack Palance but—surprise! She doesn’t want to be rescued. Filled with exciting set pieces and crackling dialogue, a Richard Brooks masterpiece. Brooks also did Bite The Bullet.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY—Peckinpah’s first feature is a romantic ode to the dying west, with career-capping performances from Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. Introduced Warren Oates. Begins with a camel race.

HOMBRE—Paul Newman as a blue-eyed Indian comes to the aid of ungrateful banker Fredric March, menaced by the sinister but likable Richard Boone. Why did Richard Boone, Jack Palance, and Lee Marvin never make a Western together?

RED RIVER—the Duke as a rigid father figure intent on a cattle drive, dealing with rebellious adopted son Montgomery Clift. Colleen Grey finally straightens them out.

UNFORGIVEN—Clint Eastwood’s last Western is a sprawling revisionist epic where the West is not so glamorous, nor the heroes so heroic. His aging gunfighter, Will Munny, does what he must, leading to a showdown with brutal sheriff Gene Hackman. It always bothered me that Munny simply abandoned his children in order to provide for them.

TRUE GRIT—both versions are brilliant.

VALDEZ IS COMING—Burt Lancaster as Mexican lawman Bob Valdez fights the system to bring justice for the widow of a man wrongly killed. Based on an Elmore Leonard story, this is hortatory story telling at its finest.

ULZANA’S RAID—Burt Lancaster again as a wizened scout trying to tell a naive young Army lieutenant about the Apaches’ true nature. But will that lieutenant listen? No he won’t. He has to learn the hard way.

On Writing, Mike Baron

ON WRITING

Writers are people who have to write. They write every day. They don’t talk about it, they do it. People who don’t write every day are not serious writers.

You must know your craft, the rules of grammar, how to conjugate a verb. Don’t get nervous. Most of you already know this without the fancy labels. I see, you see, he sees. It is part of your instinctive grasp of English. Everyone needs a little book of rules. For the writer, it is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This slim volume has been in continuous publication since 1935. It takes an hour to read and is quite droll. Buy a used copy. Do not get the illustrated version. It has been bowdlerized in the name of PC.

All good fiction, whether comics or otherwise, is built around character. We humans are mostly interested in our own kind. The more interesting your protagonist, the better your story. Stories start with people. The TV show House on Fox is a perfect example. Hugh Laurie’s character is so thorny and unpredictable people tune in week after week out of fascination with his personality. Same thing with Batman, since Denny O’Neil straightened him out. Prior to O’Neil, Batman wandered from mood to mood, often “humorous,” seldom entertaining. Denny made Batman a self-righteous obsessive/compulsive. Obsession is always interesting.

While it’s possible to grow a great story out of pure plot, sooner or later it will hinge on the characters of your protagonists. “Character is destiny” holds true in fiction as well as life. Know who your characters are before you start writing. Some writers construct elaborate histories for each character before they begin. It is not a bad idea. Start with people then add the plot. Get a bulletin board. Write each character’s name and salient characteristics on a 3 X 5 card and tack it to the bulletin board. You can do the same with plot points. You can move characters and plot points around to alter your chronology.

What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook. Sometimes that hook is simply the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold voice whispering in your ear. “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character find the plot.

Comic writers think visually. No matter how bad our chops we can pretty much describe what we see in words. Some of us can even draw a little bit. I used to write comics by drawing every page out by hand—everything—all the tiny details, facial expressions, warped anatomy, half-assed perspective, all word balloons and captions. Editors and artists loved it. Why? Because they had everything they needed on one page instead of spread across three pages of single-spaced type. Some of the most successful writers in the industry write very densely. Each script is a phone book.

While drawing I became so immersed in the story I gave myself a spastic rhomboid muscle. Friends! Do not do what I did Learn to draw properly. That means a drawing board, an ergonomically correct chair, and applying the pencil lightly to the paper. So much for art advice.

There is another advantage for writers who would draw each page. It forces you to confront issues of pacing, camera placement, and editing. It teaches you the natural pace of a story, when to break a scene, when to zoom in for a close-up, and when to pull way back for a two-page spread. Archie Goodwin and Harvey Kurtzman both used this method when writing comics for other artists. I’m not advocating such. Most of the best writers in this industry do not draw. If they do, they still write full script.

Even though you are only providing words, it is up to you to SHOW, DON’T TELL. This is the prime directive. What’s the dif? Tell: “The assassin drew a bead on Mac’s back and pulled the trigger.”

Show: “Mac stared at the wall. He thought he saw a face there, maybe his ex-wife, damn her. He was still staring when a thirty foot giant slammed him in the back with a titanium driver. As he slid to the ground, his face gathering granules from the brick, a creeping numbness radiated from his right shoulder followed by the gush of warm blood and the scent of sheared copper.” We don’t have to mention the assassin because obviously someone pulled the trigger.

When writing for comics, try to show as much as possible. A finicky man entering a public phone booth might pull out a handkerchief to wipe the receiver. Maybe he’s obsessive/compulsive. Maybe he carries a box of Sani-wipes with him everywhere. By showing this man wiping down the receiver, you have established something about his character.

Never describe what the reader can see for himself.

There’s no established format for comic scripts. You can’t go wrong by doing it as a film script. You don’t necessarily need a screenplay writing program, just write it like a play. What does a play look like? Brush up your Shakespeare. There are a lot of books out there on writing comics. I’ve contributed to some of them. It never hurts to read about writing. We’re all curious as to how other writers do it. Many aspiring writers have recommended Robert McKee’s Story as the way to go. While Story contains good advice, it is also egregiously padded and never uses a nickel when a fifty cent piece will do. Joe Esterhaz’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood is the anti-Story. If you read one, you must read the other.

There’s also Denny’s DC Comic’ Guide to Writing Comics, a no bullshit primer by one of the best.

There are no writing schools but there are many writing programs. College level courses on comic book writing are a bull market. I’d advise any struggling writer with a Master’s degree to head toward the local college. Run don’t walk. Nobody can teach you how to write. You either got it or you ain’t. But a good teacher can help you improve your writing. Famous novelists in residence offer a career shortcut to those who are determined to become novelists or screenwriters. Same old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

James Hudnall has an essay on writing that comes and goes on James’ homepage like a mirage. Go to www.hameshudnall.com and say James, where’s that great column on writing at? Elmore Leonard has a few choice words on writing:

http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php?/weblog/more/elmore_leonards_ten_rules_of_writing/

It is the narrator’s voice that draws you through the story.

Mike Baron has written many novels. Wordfire Press has published Helmet Head, about Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job is about spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. Liberty Island Press has published Biker and Sons of Privilege and will publish Not Fade Away, Sons of Bitches, Buffalo Hump, Bloodline, and Disco.