All posts by annbaron

Best Dam Store by Mike Baron

BEST DAM STORE

On Friday Kim and I rode down the Front Range to Lyons, up 36 to Estes Park, and down Big Thompson Canyon back to town. The back road to Lyons goes by reservoirs, farms, ranches, and a half dozen upscale gated communities with names like Whispering Pines and Red Rocks Redoubt, by several estates over ten thousand square feet. Kim, who weighs 145 lbs., rides a Valkyrie. I ride a Shadow 750. The ride from Lyons to Estes Park was chock-a-block with bikers and families in enormous motor homes towing Jeeps. The higher we rode, the cooler we got. I was glad I’d brought a sweatshirt.

Estes Park was jammed. Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, it features dozens of galleries, beaneries, haberdasheries and knick-knack stores. Antelope and buffalo jerky are big sellers. We rolled down the Big Thompson, which had only reopened this year following a devastating flood in 2015. Houses and parks were wiped out. They’re planning to shift the whole road ten feet higher onto enormous concrete stanchions, an ambitious program that will take years. The canyon winds through several mountain communities, rustic cabins hard-by the road except for the lucky few that found flat places on the far side of the river. You can’t raft the Big Thompson, it’s too rough and there are several dams.

Suddenly my engine stopped. I pulled to the side of the road, fiddled with the ignition, and it started again. Then it stopped for good in the worst possible place, in the narrows, with barely enough room for a two-lane highway, river on one side and a sheer thousand foot cliff on the other. I pulled over as far as I dared, just short of falling off into the scree at the base of the cliff, got on Kim’s bike, and we rode a quarter mile to the Dam Store, “The Best Dam Store By A Dam Site.” I had passed it dozens of times but never before entered.

Kim dropped me off. He had classes to teach. The store people loaned me their phone (there is no cell service in the canyon) and I called Aces Motorcycles, which is just up the street from me. Mark the Mechanic told me he’d phone Scott’s Towing right away. The phone calls were going fast and furious. The Dam Store was irked. So I said, “Give me a trash bag, I’ll clean up the parking lot.”

I picked up every cigarette butt, discarded fast food wrapper and plastic cup. That lot hadn’t been cleaned in years. Now the Dam Store loves me.

Routine by Mike Baron

ROUTINE

People seldom ask, “What is your routine like?” I rise at five-thirty every morning because the dogs want their breakfast. This week we have a house guest, Hatchet from Alaska, who weighs 110 lbs. I feed the dogs being careful to separate June Bug from Mack, as they have already had three death struggles, and had they not been separated, would have fought to the death. This is entirely Mack’s doing. She is jealous and territorial, and has not greeted June Bug warmly.

I log on, check my emails, go to Facebook and joust with friends or foes. A half hour after feeding, the dogs, led by Bob, agitate to go to the dog park. They know their rights! Bob is very vocal. We go to the park where I release the dogs, sans leashes, as they stampeded directly to the gate and wait to be let it. We go in. I hobnob with my friends, a social worker, a retired cop, a health care administrator, a computer programmer.

I rally the dogs by calling, “All right, fellas! Let’s go!” They rush from the dog park to the car where I give them each a treat. Back at the house, I address the day’s projects. I am always working on a novel, either the actual writing, or outlining. The outline has to be entertaining and informative. The goal of the outline is to elicit, “Wow! I’ve got to read this story!” It is not just a personal blueprint.

I touch base with collaborators around the world. For the past eleven years, I have left the house around eleven to go to karate. It is now difficult for me, and I can barely move after a typical session. So perhaps it’s time for me to move on from this activity. I can’t decide. I’m just about the oldest dude there, but they’re my friends and have expressed dismay that I would consider quitting. Kim is sixty and still going strong. On the other hand, that’s his job. Writing is mine.

As I work on a massive horror story, a sequel to Banshees, the next Josh Pratt story is in the back of my mind. I’m thinking of titles and writing down notes. In the evening, I write in a legal pad while TV drones on in the background. If I hear an interesting name, I write it down. I know it’s real. Like Ashkan Stoon, Urdo Corso, or Haha Yaya. A name by itself can inspire a story. I get many of my best names from Judge Judy.

I watch Better Call Saul, Animal Kingdom, Ultimate Fighter, and I’m Dying Up Here.

I have stopped watching The Americans, American Gods, and Pillars of the Earth. Yesterday I watched Baby Driver, the first time I’d been in a theater in ten months. I recommend it! It’s a stylish caper film with a heart.

I keep a pad and pen by my bed, and often write things down before I go asleep.

ComicFest

COMICFEST

Last week was ComicFest at the Denver Tech Center. Comic Fest is a pimple on the ass of StarFest, celebrating its fortieth anniversary. StarFest is science fiction, and incorporates HorrorFest. “This year we are pleased to welcome David Guintoli (Detective Nick Burkhardt of “Grimm”), Bitsie Tulloch (Juliette and Eve of “Grimm”), Christian Kane (Jake Stone of “The Librarians”), Walter Koenig (Star Trek’s original “CHEKOV”), Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine’s “ODO”), Hale Appleman (The Magicians “Eliot Waugh”), Mike Quinn (Star Wars “Nien Numb”), Jodelle Ferland (Dark Matter “Five”) along with many other Actors, Directors, Producers, Artists, Authors and you!” I am not familiar with The Librarians, Nien Numb, Dark Matter Five, but I have heard of Grimm. Many years ago, I had lunch with Mr. Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and James Doohan.

While Starfest luxuriates in the expansive environs of the Marriott, ComicFest huddles in the smaller exhibition hall at the Hilton Garden Suites across the street. Rio Herrera, its tireless promoter, is perhaps the biggest comic enthusiast in Colorado, a man of probity and wit. I was seated next to old friend Pat Broderick, who has done a cover for Badger. Nate Hamel and I are working on a new project based on his shark drawings.

I huddled with Barry McClain, my partner on Q-Ball. I have always wanted to do a straight martial-arts thriller, a serious, credible story. Even as a neophyte, I knew that Paul Gulacy’s Master of Kung Fu, which galvanized the industry and won my undying allegiance, did not depict martial arts accurately. Comics are a visual medium, and kung fu makes for exciting story-telling. But the audience knows the difference between a pretty pose and real technique presented in a dynamic manner.

There are very few good kung fu comics. Way of the Rat, by Dixon and Johnson, is one of them.

Hence Q-Ball, with inker Barbara Kaalberg and colorist Charlie Hogg.

My publisher and world-famous science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson held court behind the usual impressive Wordfire Press fort. His Dan Shamble, Zombie Detective novels personify droll.

We joked and juked and now I’m back.

Questions & Thoughts about Writing, Mike Baron

Bill Nichols writes:

I know you’re busy but if you get the chance, this is something I’m going to be doing on the Comic Creators Secrets blog, asking industry pros these questions and hopefully giving aspiring creators something to think about on their own journey.

http://www.comiccreatorssecrets.com/blog/
The blog is meant to be an online extension of Sketch Magazine of sorts, posting advice about creating comics, the industry, being creative, etc. as well as re-posting whatever other wisdom we come across.

There’s no time limit on this. I’ll be posting them when I can. The first ten questions are the main ones, the “booster shot” are extra.

If you can do it, great. However, iIf you’re too busy, I completely understand.

Prescription: Comics

1) What inspires you to create and keeps you going?

Sometimes I want to work with an artist, so I look at his, her, or its strengths, and write to that. But mostly it’s because I get an idea that crawls into my brain like an alien parasite.

2) Do you have a set routine?

Get up, feed the dogs, write. Every morning.

3) What kind of output do you try to achieve?

One to two thousand words a day.

4) What inspires you WHEN you create? Music? Noise? Silence?

I work in silence. Or try to.

5) Who was the first comic book creator that influenced you to pursue this?

Carl Barks.

6) When did you realize you could follow this path yourself?

Right away.

7) What do you find to be a challenge in creating?

Balanced dynamics. A proper mixture of action, thought, and worldview.


? What else do you have to learn?

I don’t know what I don’t know.

9) What keeps you motivated to get better?

The desire to entertain, first myself, then others.

10) Can you turn your brain (creativity) off (and on)?

Yes.

Booster Shots
1) What advice do you have for aspiring creators?

Write! Every would-be writer has a million words of shit clogging up his system. You have to get it out before you get to the good stuff.

2) Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

No.

3) How do you handle the slow times?

By developing new projects.

4) How do you feel about the industry?

It’s there.

5) What would you say is your crowning achievement thus far?

Whatever I’m working on, which right now is The Water Bug, a horror novel.

Mike Baron

This Writing Life by Mike Baron

THIS WRITIN’ LIFE

I read on Facebook, “Quit writing a few months ago, started novel two weeks ago and wrote three chapters, scrapped novel last week after starting fourth chapter, sitting here now with fourth chapter open again and contemplating getting back to it.
Yes, I am very confused!!!”

“Five thousand words today! I’m on fire!”

“I need the name of a really heinous villain for my Demon Knight Trilogy.”

“Chapter 33 took way too long to draft, but I finally wrapped it up last night.”

People are blabbin’. Blabbin’ and babblin’. Do not blab. Do not babble. Start with character notes in a notebook. Know your characters and their motivations. Proceed to a highly detailed outline that should read like all the good parts in a John Wick trailer. The outline itself should entice and excite the reader. You need to grab him, her, its, or xe’s attention by the throat and drag him, her, it or xe through the story like the Johnstown Flood.

Sam Fuller said, “If a story doesn’t give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamned garbage.”

“We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.” –Samuel Goldwyn

Don’t let people see the process unless they ask. What’s the first rule of Write Club?

Pop Geek Heaven by Mike Baron

POP GEEK HEAVEN CALLS IT QUITS

I first learned of Not Lame Records in Madison, WI, when I stumbled across their website. The brainchild of Bruce Brodeen, Not Lame was a power pop clearing house and label that released over a hundred albums of original music, many of them brilliant. Bands included The Shazam, The Deal, Hawks, The Rooks, Sun Sawed in ½, Myracle Brah, and many others. Powerpopaholic called them “The World’s Greatest Record Label,” and a case can be made.

I was such a devotee, I moved to Fort Collins to pick up my records in person. But Bruce could never make a go of it. There just weren’t enough power poppers to make it successful. The music industry has been in free-fall since the advent of the Internet. They don’t know whether to shit or go blind. Bruce hung it up in 2010, concentrating his power pop efforts on his website, www.popgeekheaven.com, for which I wrote. I love power pop and have sung its praises from every platform. Unfortunately, Bruce has too much on his plate right now to devote any more time to popgeekheaven, and so another one bites the dust.

Every year I say it, and every year it’s true. This is one of the greatest years for power pop in history. But you’d never know it following the dinosaur press, rags such as Rolling Stone, Spin, Under the Radar, et al, that are mostly dedicated to legacy acts, and rarely, if ever, cover the burgeoning underground power pop scene. This year will see releases by The Foreign Films, Duncan Maitland, and The Blood Rush Hour among others. These bands are beyond great. They are timeless.

What is power pop? It’s rhythmically driving, dynamic rock with bridges, hooks and soaring harmonies. It’s the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Big Star, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Marshall Crenshaw, Fountains of Wayne, Sloan, XTC, the Police and a thousand other bands.

Now where will people go to keep up on the latest power pop? I recommend www.powerpopaholic.com, which has links to many other outstanding power pop sites. You support independent comics. Support independent bands.

What’s In A Name by Mike Baron

WHAT’S IN A NAME

When I name a novel, I try to use words that will entice and intrigue the reader. Bands do the same thing. Has there been a more resonant title than The Rolling Stones? It summons not only the Dylan song, but a lizard-brain ancestral memory of the blues, in which rolling stones prominently featured. Today, the Beatles resonate like crazy, but when they first appeared, people said, “Beatles? What’s that?”

Some names resonate because of what went before, some resonate because of what they suggest, and some resonate because of what came after. Who could have imagined that Hellboy would become part of our geek lexicon? When Hellboy first appeared, the juxtaposition of hell and boy was intriguing. Opposites, or oxymoron, are always intriguing. There’s a Swedish band called the Genuine Fakes. The Violent Femmes. Led Zeppelin. These names are memorable because of their contradictions.

Some names have no meaning. Blink 182. Sum 41. Matchbox 20. Level 42. If they do good work, their names will have meaning. If their work is unmemorable, they will slide into the dustbin.

Some names suggest irony, which is always intriguing. A Simple Plan. Everything Is Wonderful. How I Won the War. Many authors create a style for their titles, uniting a series. John D. MacDonald named his Travis McGee novels, The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Deadly Shade of Gold, Darker Than Amber, A Purple Place For Dying and so forth. Randy Wayne White, whose Doc Ford series follows in MacDonald’s steps, gives his books punchy, two word descriptors. Deep Blue. Black Light. Chasing Midnight. Bone Deep. Sue Grafton, of course, is running through the alphabet.

The title Superman is a stroke of genius, especially considering the timing. Its success has led to innumerable characters with man, boy, girl or woman in the title. When you designate one person The Catwoman, it sounds iconic. And it is.

My novel Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. I chose the name not only for its literal meaning, “a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die,” as well as  Siouxsie and the Banshees. But the Banshees are male. That’s part of the story, which readers will discover.

The reason for Biker is obvious.

Sometimes I get a title and carry it around for years before I find the story, such as “Trail of the Loathsome Swine.”  Sometimes I carry the story for years before I find the title, such as Whack Job. Mine is not the first title to be named Whack Job. You can’t copyright a title.

Meaning of Life by Mike Baron

THE MEANING OF LIFE

What is the meaning of life? It’s up to each of us to find our own meeting. God wants you to be happy. Gaia wants you to be happy. Even Dogdrbek wants you to be happy. Crom doesn’t care. So what makes you happy? Many people find meaning in their work and in their relationships. Good stuff! Many people find meaning in their favorite stories. Has a movie ever been greeted with greater anticipation than Rogue 1? Those of us on Facebook, particularly in comics, movies, or pop music, find just as much meaning in the enjoyment we derive from our favorite stories or music, as any devoted Buddhist Monk does from serenity.

Some people find the most meaning in pop culture. More than in their personal relationships or work. That’s fine, because enthusiasm drives life. We need our enthusiasms. Miles Davis said, and demonstrated, that music was the most important thing in his life. He may have left a trail of wreckage in his personal life, but he also gave meaning to millions of others. Sixty years ago, many young people found meaning in the Beatles. I knew a woman whose father was very old.

“He’s just hanging on so he can finish The Clan of the Cave Bear saga,” she told me.

Not to compare the Beatles to Mother Theresa, or the Little Sisters of the Poor. But just because you are more excited about the next James Bond movie than saving the starving masses doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

I know some wonderful people who are completely divorced from pop culture. They don’t watch television or movies, they don’t read fiction or comics, and they don’t listen to pop music. Sometimes they get depressed. These are people in good health with no financial reasons. Perhaps you could call it existential angst. I’m not saying becoming a Batman fan is going to save your life, but enthusiasms give meaning to life. As John Mellencamp said, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” As Graham Parker said, “Passion is no ordinary word.”

Horror Comics Again by Mike Baron

HORROR COMICS. AGAIN.

Comics are the worst medium for horror, yet the horror comic will not die. Comics fail at horror because of limitations. They control what you see, and they control the pacing, to a degree. But at any minute, you can close the book, look up, and say, “Oh. It’s time for lunch.” You can’t do that in a movie, unless you’re watching at home. Movies control not only pacing, and visuals, but sound as well. Think how important sound is to your favorite horror movies. That voice in The Exorcist. That creak on the stairs. And the immersive visual experience suggests half shapes and terrors. Who can forget when the camera pans up through the window to the werewolf in the trees, in The Howling? Or James Whale’s masterful jump frames when we first glimpse the monster in Frankenstein?

Novels are just as effective as film in conveying horror, because they too are an immersive experience. The power of the word. The power of description. The novel is that oldest of all fictions, a tale told around a campfire. No other medium is as effective as putting you in the protagonist’s head. Some of my favorites are The Shining, Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, and Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.

Has anyone ever been scared by a comic? Those old EC cautionary tales with the shock endings were good for a frisson, but I’m speaking of supernatural terror. Some people consider films like Saw, Last House on the Left, and Hostel horror. Maybe. But to me, they’re slasher films. And a slasher film is not a horror film. A horror film raises the hackles because it makes you believe in supernatural terror. Films like The Changeling, The Ring, and The Haunting. The latter, by the way, contains not a single drop of blood or special effects, but oh, that sound track.

I loved Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing not because it scared me, but because it was such a complex, plausible story. I devoured Creepy and Eerie, mainly for the art. But it never freaked me out. I should talk. Both DC and Graphitti Designs are releasing the Deadman I did with Kelley Jones in the eighties. Kelley is the consummate comic book horror artist, combining the best of all the old EC artists including Graham Ingels, and the new EC artists such as Berni Wrightson. Kyle Hotz is another. However, only Kyle is frightening in real life.

When Mice Attack by Mike Baron

WHEN MICE ATTACK

Mice are invading our kitchen. When Old Bob was around, this never happened. Old Bob would catch those mice and kill them. New Bob has no such skills. New Bob is primarily interested in barking, playing, tracking mud into the living room, and modeling different hats. Of Mack, the ostensible Boston pug/terrier mix, the less said the better. She is worthless! She is the Loudest Dog That Ever Lived!

As soon as the weather turned cold, the first mouse crept into the house. Ann alerted me when she saw mouse turds on the counter. I thought they were caraway seeds. I set two traps baited with peanut butter. This was an especially cunning and ruthless mouse, and when I checked in the morning, it had successfully consumed the peanut butter without setting off the traps. I reloaded the traps with lutefisk and the following morning, the miscreant lay with its neck snapped. Good! Finito! Done!

The following day, more mouse turds, including in the silverware drawer. Ann put everything through the dishwasher and I set more traps. The mouse eluded us for two more days but then one morning I went downstairs and there it lay in a pool of its own blood. I removed the corpus delicti, disinfected the counter, and lectured the dogs.

Now we are plagued by a new mouse, a super mouse, an ubermaus, if you will. The traps are set, the video cameras are rolling. Christmas Eve we are watching Willard.