All posts by annbaron

Logistics by Mike Baron

LOGISTICS

We’re baby sitting two dogs, a rottweiler and a husky. We have two dogs, Bob and Mack. Bob is accident prone. Twice, he’s hurled himself on to a metal flange and ripped himself open. The last time was on a Sunday and the only place open was the Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital. They stitched him up. Five hundred and eighty-three dollars. I told Bob that if he was going to injure himself, please do it on a weekday. Bob was limping so I took him in. Torn ACL. They gave me two meds that have to be administered twice daily.

Jess, the rottweiler, has five meds that must be administered daily. The dogs eat when I get up, around six. Four dogs, four bowls. All the dogs are interested in the other dogs’ bowls. I prepare the bowls, carefully secrete her pills in moist dog food. Bob gets two meds. I carefully secrete his pills in moist dog food. I call each dog by name and lay down the bowls in this order: Bob, Mack, Jess, and Olivia. Then I stand guard to see nobody eats anybody else’s meal. After they’re done, I pick up the pills they refused to eat, drill a hold in string cheese, and hand them out.

This is how we roll.

Disco Chapter One, by Mike Baron

DISCO CHAPTER ONE

Donnie Waits crouched by the rear bumper of Ralph Speece’s pickup, cradling a baggie of pot to his chest and listening to his mother and Ralph go at it through the open windows of their second-floor apartment. The four-unit apartment building sat on the outskirts of Gunderson, Wisconsin, a nowhere burg to which they’d moved three weeks ago when Kate got a job as executive secretary to Frank Werner, CEO of Werner’s Meats. The redbrick building was plunked down at the edge of a cornfield across the street from a farm. Its nearest neighbor was a tire wholesaler a quarter mile toward town. Donnie wondered why a developer would build in such a spot.

“You don’t tell me what to do!” Ralph was raging inside. He was a cut telephone lineman Kate had met at the gym, the latest in a long line of losers.

Donnie heard Kate talking low and intensely, the word “marijuana” rising in volume. Ralph had promised not to bring marijuana into the house or smoke anywhere around them lest Donnie find out. Too late for that. Ralph had offered Donnie a toke the first time they were alone.

Donnie felt bad about swiping the baggie from Ralph’s truck, but Ralph should have listened to Kate. The argument escalated. A door slammed. Kate was giving Ralph the heave-ho, as she had so many others. Kate was destined to go through life being disappointed by men, and that included Donnie.

Donnie ran for the cornfield and had reached the back of the apartment building before Ralph emerged. He heard Ralph start the truck and peel out, with a rooster tail of gravel striking the dumpster. He’d be pissed when he found his reefer gone.

Donnie was seventeen, facing down the gun barrel of senior year at Gunderson High, the third high school he’d attended in as many years. Maybe this time Kate would like the job. Maybe this time they could settle down. Donnie whizzed through the corn stalks feeling the swish of silk and leaf on his cheeks and bare arms, smelling the rich, almost overpowering scent of ripe corn. It was a flawless hot blue day near the end of August. Next week he would undergo his annual ordeal, registering at a new school.

But today was his to get high and dream about becoming a millionaire rap star. Or maybe a country singer. He didn’t really like rap, but it seemed like a pretty surefire way to fame and fortune. Just spittin’ rhymes, and he’d always been good with words.

Or maybe he would draw comics.

Donnie burst through the far end of the field, where a sagging barbed wire fence separated the cornfield from Johnson’s Creek, which meandered east-west through town. Donnie loved the creek. It was peaceful there, cool in the shade of ancient oak and cottonwood. He sat on a flat rock by the sandy bank, pulled out the baggie and some Zig-Zag rolling papers. Someone told him Jesus had smoked pot and if he doubted it, all he had to do was look at the image on a package of Zig-Zags.

With nothing to roll on, he took off his Grendel T-shirt, stretched it flat across his knees and rolled on that to produce a fat doobie. He put his shirt back on and felt his pockets. Oh no. No lighter, no matches. How could he have been so stupid! He thought of sneaking back to the apartment, but Kate would be there seething and loaded for Cape buffalo.

The closest source of fire was Nate’s Bait and Tackle, a ramshackle general store at Bateman’s Landing where County Road HR ended. Nate was an amiable drunk who’d taken a liking to the young man, and taught him how to tie a fishing fly. Donnie had last encountered Nate passed out behind his own counter, TV blaring. It would have been the perfect opportunity to clean out the cash register and make off with several bottles of gin. Instead, Donnie had somehow manhandled Nate into his bed in the back room, closed the store and sat with him until he came around.

There was a black-and-white photo on Nate’s wall of him and some Army buddies in Nam. Some of those kids looked as young as Donnie.

Nate’s was on the other side of the creek through a pasture. Donnie found a spot where steppingstones allowed him to cross without getting wet. He gingerly climbed over the barbed wire separating the pasture from the creek and headed diagonally toward the bait shop. Maybe Nate would lend him his little aluminum skiff.

Donnie looked around. The pasture was empty, but he stepped carefully to avoid the cow pies. He caught a hint of wood smoke, loving the day.

“Hey!” someone shouted. “Hey, kid!”

Donnie froze. Busted? By whom? For what? He turned and saw a man in a ball cap, overalls and a beard gesturing from fifty yards away at the fence.

The man pumped his arm. “Get the hell out of there!”

An explosive snort sounded from alder and gorse down by the creek. Donnie turned.

A black bull pawed the ground, staring at him with the gravity of a small planet.

Oh shit!

Donnie took off. He was quick enough to make the track team and poured every ounce of energy into the rush, feeling the squish of fresh cow pies beneath his feet as he pounded for the fence, the bull’s hoofbeats sending shock waves through the ground. Donnie ran, limbs pumping, lungs wheezing as the beats got louder.

Donnie had no idea how he got over the fence. He had no memory of leaping, only landing and rolling, twigs digging into his flesh until he came up against a tree and looked back to where the bull had pulled up and was now peacefully cropping grass.

Groaning, he examined himself: ripped jeans, scraped elbows, a little blood. He swatted his pockets. Still had the baggie and the doobie. Donnie got to his feet and confronted the now sedate bull.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

The bull fixed him with one brown eye and slowly chewed. Donnie turned and made his way through the forest to Nate’s Bait.

What is Your Story About, Mike Baron

WHAT IS YOUR STORY ABOUT?

Met a novelist named Ray Harvey. His novel Gap-Toothed Girl, about an Apache runaway who wants to be a dancer, is excellent. Ray and I are going to develop a webinar on how to write fiction. We put together a list of topics such as, what is story? How to craft a perfect scene. The simple secret to writing unforgettable content. How to write openings that will grip your readers like a vise. Oh, we have a million of them.

Ray did some research. There are already five billion Youtube series on how to write better, but that won’t stop us! No sir! Every writer is unique, and has stories clawing to get out. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his/her/its system, and you have to get it out before you get to the stood stuff. Kind of like running the hot water tap until it turns hot. I’m a slow learner, and have committed more than two million words of bullshit to paper, which I then committed to a landfill.

For ten years I didn’t even try, due to personal problems, that took me from my home in Wisconsin to Colorado.

I have my own system on how to write a novel and it begins with, “What is your story about?” When someone asks you this, you must be prepared to answer in an entertaining and informative manner. If you want to know what to say, go to any used book store and look at the back of paperbacks, especially those published in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. As John D. MacDonald is my spirit god, I always look at the back of his novels. His Travis McGee series begins with The Deep Blue Goodbye:

Travis McGee is a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He’s also a knight-errant who’s wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half.McGee isn’t particularly strapped for cash, but how can anyone say no to Cathy, a sweet backwoods girl who’s been tortured repeatedly by her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen? What Travis isn’t anticipating is just how many women Junior has torn apart and left in his wake. Enter Junior’s latest victim, Lois Atkinson.  Frail and broken, Lois can barely get out of bed when Travis finds her, let alone keep herself alive. But Travis turns into Mother McGee, giving Lois new life as he looks for the ruthless man who steals women’s spirits and livelihoods. But he can’t guess how violent his quest is soon to become. He’ll learn the hard way that there must be casualties in this game of cat and mouse.

How I Ended Up in Colorado by Mike Baron

HOW I ENDED UP IN COLORADO 

I started in karate at the Ja Shin Do Academy in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1975. Andy Baumann, Joe Demusz, and Jane West were the instructors. I’d always been curious about karate. I had no natural athletic ability. Zero, zilch, zippo. Nada. Every physical contest was a chore to me, from tossing a ball to running. I was as coordinated as a tornado. I could barely lift my leg above my knee in front of me.

I could only get better and so I did, but every stage was a struggle. I had little confidence in my self-defense abilities. After a year training, I was in excellent shape. I can’t believe what we did in that class, in terms of sheer physical effort. For example, “Thousand Kick Night” was a regular feature. There’s no way I could keep up with that regimen today. If anything, Andy has become even more fanatical about rigorous physical training—you can check him out atbaumansextremetraining.com.

In ’77 I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and began writing for Isthmus, the alternative weekly. I introduced myself to publisher and editor Vince O’Hern, who had been training with Jim Henry at Choi’s Karate on West Washington in the Fess Hotel, which also housed Rod’s Place, Madison’s premier gay club. I got as far as high red when Choi’s closed its doors and Jim left for sunnier climes.

I worked out sporadically with Vince, Bob Dodd, and Al Reichenberger at the University Natatorium. Then I broke my hip. I’d designed and built my own house, and one of my clever innovations was to put a trap door in the floor of the bedroom closet. One opened the door and there was a little ladder going into the basement. One night under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, I stepped into the closet intending to grab a jacket, forgetting that I had left it open to impress my date. I fell through the opening and broke my hip. My date was duly impressed.

My comics were selling and everybody wanted me. I was hot for fifteen minutes, but I didn’t know what I had, or how to keep it. My writing lacked discipline. I would snort coke to write. I tricked myself into thinking this made writing easier, but it didn’t. It just robbed me of judgment.

The hip injury put me on my back for six weeks. When I once again began to walk I realized I was seriously out of shape, so I turned again to martial arts, although I had very little ability and was now hampered by a gimp leg. I have a titanium brace screwed into my right femur, and a metal ball in the hip socket. My calves have always resembled boneless chicken wings. I wouldn’t be caught dead in shorts. My stretching had improved, however. I began training with John Fehling and his kali/escrima boys in the basement of the Vilas Neighborhood Community Center. John is extremely knowledgeable about Filipino martial arts. We trained with sticks and lock-flow. Unfortunately, after a year, John decided Thai boxing was the way to go and he stopped teaching everything but how to hit and kick.

I had married. As my career nosedived, Madeline’s health began to deteriorate. Nasal infections lasted for months. One snowy winter night she had an accident on the Beltline and damaged her neck. She suffered from fibromyalgia, a form of arthritis. One day she said, “I can’t take another winter here. I’ll die.” Okay, I said. We took a massive road trip throughout the southwest, and settled on Fort Collins as the most suitable. My sister Jill and brother-in-law Dennis live here. Dennis and Lee Casuto urged me to spend more time at Karate West.

Things were bad at home. Madeline was in constant pain, which sent her to every pain specialist on the front range. There were other problems. She was fired from her job for failing to show up and lost her health insurance. She suffered from depression. I suffered from depression. Once, back in Madison, I came very close to killing myself. And again, after we moved to Fort Collins, I fell into the Marianas Trench. (William Styron’s Darkness Visible was a hopeful guide map to these dark times.)

Karate was the only regular feature in my life. I looked forward to it every day because when I was on the floor, I was not aware of my home situation. I’ve discussed this with other students and we agree that one of karate’s benefits is that it requires such attention as to preclude dwelling on your troubles. Although I’d been granted a black belt by Joe Demusz, one of my original instructors, the performance gap between me and the standard Karate West black belt was instantly apparent.

I just put my head down and kept coming. While the rest of my world was in free fall, there was karate, noon every day, Monday through Thursday. Then a funny thing happened. I began to improve under the eagle-eyed tutelage of those sadistic bastards Lee Casuto and Brad Suinn. In fact, every higher belt with whom I’ve come in contact has gone out of their way to help me, particularly Mike Martin and Wayne from Budweiser.

One day I went to karate and when I came home Madeline was dead. I tried mouth to mouth. I heard the air rattle through her bronchial tubes but there was no response. I called 911. I was numb. My friend Pete accompanied me to the police station for the interview. Another friend spent the night at my house to keep an eye on me. The next day I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t write. So I went to karate. It helped me deal with overwhelming grief. My psychiatrist urged me to keep going. “Tell the truth, Mike,” he said. “Aren’t you a little bit relieved?”

Gradually, my grief began to subside. It was as if I were coming to the end of a long tunnel. I believe I’m a basically optimistic person, and my natural optimism, so long buried beneath an age of crisis and despair, surfaced.

The Karate West mottoes are keys to successful living. Attitude determines whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Those who see the glass as half empty are in danger of slipping down the drain. Without something outside themselves to pull them forward they fill their time with the pursuit of pleasure or wallowing in self-pity. They have stopped growing. Why bother? Those who see the glass as half full see possibilities, a reason for living. They have enthusiasm, which is the keystone of a good attitude. Karate is a bridge toward something bigger than the self.

These days I look forward to karate with the enthusiasm I used to reserve for New Comics Day. Achieving second degree seems premature to me. I’ve only been at it thirty years.

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Walkin’ in Milwaukee, Mike Baron

WALKIN’ IN MILWAUKEE 

Capital City Comics, an outgrowth of Capital City Distribution, was our first publisher. I used to go out to their warehouse on the beltline the nights the comics came in and watch the employees pack the boxes like Santa’s helpers to loud rock and roll. Sometimes the employees took something to help them stay alert through the long night. A ferocious rivalry developed between Capital City and Diamond Distribution to see who could get their comics to markets first. It was louder than a Limp Bizkit concert. There were enough old blues musicians working there to fill a festival. James Eisele. John Davis himself, a mean blues guitarist. Drummer Billy McDuffy, guitarist Tom Flinn, bass player Tom McCarty, and sax player Bob Corbit.

One day I was out there and Milton was showing around a half dozen Chinese businessmen in dark suits, with an interpreter. I asked John what was going on.

“It’s a group of Chinese businessmen and publishers. They wanted to visit Dark Horse, but they accidentally booked tickets to Milwaukee, Wisconsin instead of Milwaukie, Oregon.”

Mike Baron, Nexus Novel

ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE WORDS FROM NEXUS NOVEL IN PROGRESS  

CHAPTER FORTY “Beast”

Horatio dined at Impresario every night. He was mistaken for Hugh Sayso three times, once by a woman who fainted. He dined alone in an alcove beneath a glittering dome that reflected the sky, surrounded by caricatures of famous customers. There were two caricatures of Clonezone the Hilariator, one by Pete Emslie and the other by Steve Rude. He worked his way through the menu from Ahi tuna to zebra cutlets, with stops along the way for kale souffle and quinoa a la mode. He was a generous tipper, and competition for his table was fierce among the waiters.

The waiters always said the same thing.“Excellent.” “Perfect.” Like ordering was a difficult acrobatic routine he’d managed to stick. The waiters kept changing. He was a good tipper.

On his fourth visit, the manager, Liz Horton, a long drink of water with Morticia Addams looks, told him that from then on he would eat for free in recognition of his selfless act.

“No more bills for you, Mr. Bartol. Maya opened up an account in your name.”

“That’s very kind.”

“You’re good for business.”

People stopped by his table, introduced themselves, and posed for pictures. Each time Horatio chortled, complied, and complained. “I’m no celebrity.”

He posed with a Cub Scout Troop from Milwaukee. He posed with the Girl Greek Grenadiers from Venus. He posed with a man running for the City Council and instantly regretted it.

People sent him bottles of wine, which he donated to the soup kitchen on Forty Second Street. He visited the soup kitchen every night after dinner and helped serve. All the food came from surrounding restaurants, most of them five star. The indigent dined on patois de faux gras, kippered herring, buffalo steaks, barimundi, and fostedor leaves. The staff split the wine.

One night Horatio found himself working next to a jumbo black man named Dr. Dirt, who was a stockbroker for Diggs Brown during the day.

Dr. Dirt laid a grilled pheasant breast on the plate of an old woman whose filthy gray hair hung in her face like Cousin It.

“You would think,” Dr. Dirt said, “that after nine thousand years of civilization we would have no more homeless. You would think so, but you would be wrong.”

Horatio re-upped a supplicant’s mussels. “There’s no cure for the human condition.”

“Splain.”

“Human nature is immutable. There will always be the weak. There will always be the strong. No amount of social engineering is going to create a class of people who are all equal in all things. You’re always going to have more losers than winners. There are no easy answers. Life is messy and complex. That’s why so many people go into mathematics and psychiatry.”

Dr. Dirt grunted. “I’ll have to think on that.”

They worked in a companionable silence. The soup kitchen was on the ground floor with a misted glass wall looking out on the theater district. Sometimes, drunk swells leaving the theater would press their faces and hands up against the window. Sometimes drunk theater goers would stand in line along with the indigent. Horatio always asked for a donation.

A dozen people lined up at the counter clutching their biodegradable hemp plates. The big room was humid, filled with tantalizing and appalling smells. The food. The people. Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” played through the speakers. It was October 15.

“So you’re saying,” Dr. Dirt said, “that paradise is unobtainable?”

“Well no. Attitude is everything. You can have a miserable life but if you have a good attitude, life can be beautiful. Not everybody is capable of a good attitude. I’d go so far as to say most people aren’t capable. Life is tragic. Most people are going to be unhappy.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto,” Horatio said.

“Huh?”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto.”

“What does it mean?”

“Prosperity is just around the corner.”

They worked in a companionable silence.

“So what you’re saying is, misery is the lot of man.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Yet, some people are capable of happiness.”

Horatio looked into the limpid brown eyes of a hungry girl. “One lump or two?”

“Two, please.”

He gave her two lumps. “A great many people are capable of happiness, but a lot of them are evil. You know what makes them happy? Power over other people. Most people are motivated by envy and resentment.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“What it is.”

The following night he was at his table in Impresario sipping a Stoly martini, when a new waitress approached, a young woman, her hair finished in seven brightly colored Cadillac fins extending from hairline to the back. Left to right, the fins were magenta, turquoise, ecru, jet black, lavender, fuchsia, and candy apple red. She looked like a George Barris creation.

“Good evening, Mr. Bartol. I’m Kim. I’ll be your server tonight. May I tell you about our specials?”

“By all means.”

“Arugula, goat cheese and cranberries appetizer, broast beast brain, ancient grains with future grains…”

“What is the beast?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Is it warm blooded?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Be it fish or fowl?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Please continue.”

“Chopped spinach from frozen Bluebell containers recently discovered in a survivalist stronghold in Alaska, oscillating ocelot eggs, newburg of chewburg, and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie reenactments. Flute flies sauteed in granola oil.”

“That sounds so enticing. What else?”

“Last but not least, drizzled drongo chops with kiwi bird mayonnaise and grunt cakes made from our own special antediluvian recipe.”

“It all sounds so good. I’ll need a minute.”

“Of course.”

The waiter gestured and a transparent sphere of water hovered over Horatio’s glass.

“What happened to the man you replaced, Gustav?”

“Gustav was taking liberties with the lasagna. He had to be let go.”

“What kind of liberties?”

“You don’t want to know. Can I refill your drink while you’re waiting, Mr. Bartol?”

“Sure.”

She took his glass. He insisted on a tumbler. There was something about this girl that was oddly familiar, as if he’d met her before but couldn’t quite remember where or when. She returned, placing is drink in front of him on the round polished oak table. The martini came halfway up the glass, two olives speared on a toothpick.

“Have you made a decision?” Kim said.

“I’m feeling lucky. I’ll try the beast.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“You must wait and see.”

Horatio accidentally elbowed his white linen tablecloth to the floor. He and Kim both reached for it at once, their forearms touching.

And then they both knew.

Existential Thrillers, by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

An existential thriller is a movie where the protagonist is doomed, and you know it. Outstanding existential thrillers include The Wages of Fear and its American remake, SorcererThe Naked PreyThelma and LouiseEasy RiderThe Wild Bunch, and The Grey, which stars Liam Neeson as an oil company hunter in Alaska whose plane crashes in a howling wilderness. Soon, a pack of wolves are picking off the survivors one by one. Neeson tries to lead is little band to safety but he is no match for the environment and the movie ends with a terrifying confrontation between him and the head wolf.

Tony Scott’s Man On Fire is his masterpiece. Denzel Washington plays a burnt-out, depressed former CIA operative who hires on as a bodyguard to a rich Mexican family. At first, he’s barely hanging on. He tries to commit suicide. But his growing attachment to the little girl he’s guarding brings him out of his slump and gives him a reason to live. When kidnappers snatch her, “Creasy does what he does best,” in his pal Christopher Walken’s words. He goes on the warpath. This is a deeply satisfying thriller that hits all the right notes. It’s a tragedy that Tony Scott took his own life.

Pacing in Comics by Mike Baron

PACING IN COMICS

Many modern comics consist of single images occupying the entire page, or two or three panels switching from one flabbergasted expression to the next, with accompanying internal dialogue or explanations. Jim Shooter recently decried the decompression of the modern comic, by which he meant taking twenty-five pages of story and stretching it out over five issues. I concur with Big Jim. You can tell a lot of story on a page, if there is a lot of story to tell.

If you look at sixties Marvel comics, you will often find six or eight panel pages that advance the story. It’s not all Shakespeare, but there’s an effort to make the story fit the medium. Of course comics are a visual medium, which means they have to serve up exciting art. And who doesn’t love a full-page reveal of something shocking? But too often, that full page image is squandered on a talking head. Unless the talking head is spouting prose akin to Dostoevsky or Mark Twain, it is most often a waste of space. You advance the story in a series of panels that impart the illusion of motion.

This is particularly important in fight scenes, where the reader wants to see the action unfold in a clear and dynamic manner from panel to panel. I’ve enclosed a Steranko Nick Fury page that shows the action unfolding. The page is dynamic. It’s not static. When you come to a full page devoted to Hulk swinging his fist in an arc, with eight sets of feet flying off panel, you have come to a dead end. The page is infinitely malleable. You can offer a single panel, or you can offer a dozen.

Tastes have changed and today’s comic readers have been trained to accept less story in the sake of glorious art. If that’s what you want, God bless! But for anyone familiar with underground comics, and the work of R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton, you know that you can tell a lot of story on a page. A comic story has a pulse and a beat like a good pop song. Sometimes you have to go for those big images, but if the whole comic consists of nothing but big images, you’re doing something wrong. By pulse and flow, I mean the story should speed up for the big images, but slow down for more intimate scenes that call for dialogue. It should contain a mix of multi-panel pages and few panel pages. The full page image is justified when you first glimpse a world of wonder, or you finally reveal the werewolf. But the rest of the time, you must engage the reader and trick him, her, or it into spending more time on each page. That calls for interesting captions or dialogue which advance the story or reveal character.

You know what I mean.

Mike Baron, Chapter Twelve, “Osceola Has Fallen”

CHAPTER TWELVE “Osceola Has Fallen”

As the artificial lights dimmed and the fairy bats emerged from their dens filling the night air with squeaks, Nexus entered a bubble of elucidation. He tried to keep up on current events but with over three hundred inhabited worlds representing dozens of different species, some of whom communicated via telepathy, high-pitched hums, beams of light, and spectrum far outside human experience, with thousands of competing news platforms, gossip sites, floggers, bloggers, and cloggers broadcasting in eighteen-thousand different languages and systems, it was difficult.

Nexus sat in a free-floating chair that looked like a giant tractor saddle, propped his chin up on his right hand and opened the news flow valves. Tyrone and Fuerzo had built a brain that scanned all channels, collecting stories most relevant, and sequencing them. The process never stopped. The news never stopped. And as always, if it bleeds, it leads. Thus they inserted something optimistic for every tenth story.

Nexus insisted on hearing bad news first. The program top-loaded news about humanity, with an algorithm that selected the others based on familiarity and relevance.

Space engulfed him as he looked down at a scene of unimaginable devastation, a land torn asunder so that it looked like crenelated charcoal, with shreds of trees and buildings scattered to the horizon, smoke rising everywhere, the pathetic screams of the injured issuing up, emergency vehicles flitting across the landscape like carrion flies.

“The scene is grim on Portlandia, which was impacted seventeen hours ago by a rogue meteorite,” a woman said. “The death count is in the thousands and is expected to rise through the night as rescuers work frantically to free those trapped in fallen housing. The meteor came out of nowhere. People had less than an hour to prepare. There are theories circulating that this is the work of terrorists using telekinetic powers. This is Nipsy Conniption for Galactic Tactic. We’ll be right back, but first a word from our sponsors.”

A grotesque clown spazzed across the stage to the dulcet lyrics of “Home Again, Naturally.”

“DO YOU SUFFER FROM DIARRHEA?”

Nexus switched to the next story.

LOST DOG RETURNS HOME 212 YEARS LATER.

He switched to the next story.

PARADIGM PROCLAIMS FOR PROGRESS.

He switched to the next story.

THRILL KILLERS STRIKE AGAIN.

The view showed a New York walk-up as it followed the stairs, first at a forty-five degree angle, then in spiral patterns, through the labyrinthine maze of a Manhattan apartment complex. The view zeroed in on an open apartment door, lit with red light from within, with a uniformed NYCPD standing at the entrance as two techs emerged carrying a body bag on a stretcher.

“The so-called Thrill Killers have struck, claiming the lives of a family of five here in the Soho Neighborhood.”

The view changed to two murky characters, obviously wearing body distortion hardware, as they entered the building. Nexus froze the image, lowered his visor but could derive no characteristics. They appeared as gray noise on a broken vid, emitting an irritating high-frequency hum.

“Police believe the Thrill Killers may be involved in up to nineteen homicides here in New York. They have nothing to do on except that there are two, and they appear to be the same size and share similar characteristics. If you have any information…”

Nineteen homicides? Chump change. He switched to another story.

THREE HEADED ALIEN ABDUCTS FIVE HEADED ALIEN.

The bubble evaporated, leaving him sitting in his office with Sundra standing in front of him.

“Din-din, Chico. She said. “Din-din.”

Inspiration by Mike Baron

INSPIRATION

I was inspired to write by John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. You could call it pulp, or detective fiction. Like jazz and comics, it is a uniquely American invention. Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story with his character C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders In the Rue Morgue. Poe wrote the rules. (1) The detective story must play fair. (2) The detective story must be readable.

There are several types of detective stories including the cozy and the locked room. The cozy usually involves an eccentric British woman sitting in her drawing room drawing conclusions. Frequently, her cat solves the crime. Sometimes it involves a fat armchair detective, such as Nero Wolfe. Every Nero Wolfe story contains at least one good recipe.

The locked room mystery is self-explanatory. How did the killer get into and out of the locked room to commit the murder?

That’s not the type of fiction I write. I try to write in MacDonald’s shadow, a rueful, realistic, sometimes brutal account that stares evil in the face. No one was able to touch the pulse of evil like MacDonald. His bad guys are stunningly realistic. My goal is to grab the reader by the throat and drag him, her, or it into the narrative so forcefully they forget they are reading a book.

I do this with a combination of characterization and action. Readers want someone with whom they can identify, or as Raymond Chandler put it, “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

He’s not always a nice guy. He can be a real wise ass, like Philip Marlowe or Spenser. Or he can be tightly self-contained, like Dan Simmons’ Joe Kurtz. My character, reformed motorcycle hoodlum Josh Pratt, is of the latter. When he was young, he spouted off a lot. But after a stint in prison, he’s learned humility and the value of holding his tongue.

While some of the stories involve motorcycle clubs, others delve into rock and roll. The list of rockers who ride bikes include Neal Pert, Billy Idol, Billy Duffy, Bruce Springsteen and many others. A lot of bikers work as roadies. Few other jobs allow them the freedom of their lifestyle. Thus it’s only natural that in Not Fade Away, the third Bad Road Rising novel, Josh Pratt takes a journey into the past, to discover the truth about legendary rocker Wes Magnum whose song “Marissa” has been co-opted by an insurance company. The real Marissa, the mother of his child, claims Wes gave the song to her. Josh’s journey takes him from the mansions of Bel Air to a marijuana grow op in the mountains of Colorado, and finally a confrontation with an insane, almost supernaturally deadly serial killer.

In Buffalo Hump, Josh hires on as security for a charismatic Sioux blues musician whose decision to play the opening of a new casino splits the tribe in two. Half the tribe welcomes the jobs and opportunity, while the other half decries the incursion of vice and increasing dependency. Both sides ride motorcycles.

Not Fade Away: http://a.co/d/fUx0pXm

Buffalo Hump will be released in February.