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Florida Man, Chapter 1, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN “Nothing in the Fridge”

Gary Duba and his best friend Floyd Belmont sat on the deck of Gary’s deluxe double-wide, raised four feet above Florida on cinder blocks in case of flooding. Two hundred foot tractor chains stretched over the house like massive belts, anchored in concrete plugs in front and back, in case of hurricane. The night was hot and humid, with squadrons of mosquitoes dive bombing the deck, oblivious to the citronella candles, tiki torches, yellow wrist bands, and ample applications of Deet on both men’s fully tatted arms. Home-made mosquito traps hung like obscene fruit from Gary’s hand-made awning, stitched together from Harbor Freight tarps.

It was just past eleven, Little Big Town playing on WBCW, Florida Country Radio through the tinny speakers of an old Sony boom box Gary picked up at a garage sale. The boys had been drinking shine, smoking reefer, and snorting a little crushed oxy since nine, when Floyd had arrived in his eight-year-old Chevy van with Belmont Pest Control emblazoned on the side, along with its logo, a dead cockroach in a mint green oval.

A sign in front said, THIS PROPERTY PROTECTED BY SMITH AND WESSON.

Another sign said, TRESPASSERS WILL BE VIOLATED.

Floyd hawked and spat a loogie over the rail. “That fuckin’ bitch still owes me three thou for her boob job. Only reason she dated me, so I’d pay for her fuckin’ boob job.”

Floyd was five feet six, built like a fire hydrant, sideburns like a Civil War general, chest, shoulders and back covered with black fur like a bear. He wore bib overalls and no shirt.

“You gotta admit,” Gary said. “She’s got a nice rack.”

Gary sipped shine, causing his Adam’s apple to bob up and down like a bouncing ball. Tall, bony, with thick, knobby wrists, a brush mustache, and a full head of hair concealed beneath a Confederate cap, Gary was the picture of Southern manhood. He wore a sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt showing off his tatted arms which included a skull with a dagger through it, a skull with a snake through it, a heart with the legend “Mom,” Johnny Cash, and barbed wire bracelets.

“My advice to you,” Gary said, “is not to worry about that skank. She gone. Be grateful she’s out of your life and didn’t give you the clap or something.”

Floyd lit a Camel. “I just wish I had that three thou. I could really use it.”

“Look at it this way. It’s worth three thou just to have her out of your life.”

“Now she’s dating some Cuban slickee boy from Coral Gables who says he can get her modeling work. My ass. Only modeling she does is on a pole with a G-string.”

“That’s what you get for dating a stripper.”

Floyd sucked a Dixie dry. “She told me she loved me!”

Gary barked. “You told her you wouldn’t come in her mouth!”

Floyd belched luxuriously and reached inside his coveralls to scratch his balls. “Got anything to eat?”

“Dubious.”

“If I order a pizza, will they deliver out here?”

“Depends on the driver. Good ol’ boys will. Them Indians and Iranians and all won’t come out here. Not even with the fuckin’ GPS guiding them. Say it’s not worth the trouble.”

Floyd blew a ring. “What trouble?”

“Fuck if I know. Lemme go look in the freezer. I might have some frozen catfish.”

Floyd bent forward, put a finger down his mouth and made a vomiting sound.

“Well I’ll look. I might have some tater tots or something.”

They sat there.

“Well?” Floyd said. “You goin’? I mean, I could do it, but you got shit in that fridge that looks like sea foam. Looks like something from Alien, y’know what I mean? I mean, you oughtta clear some of that shit outta there before it breaks free and kills you in your sleep.”

“Yeah, okay.”

They sat there.”

“Well?” Floyd said. “Are you goin’ or not? ‘Cause I go in there, omma just start throwin’ shit out the window. We’ll let the raccoons eat it and see if it kills ‘em.”

Gary gripped both armrests of his home-made Adirondack and heaved himself to his feet, holding on to the banister while his head swam, waiting for things to focus. He shuffled through the tinny aluminum screen door, letting it bang shut behind him, and paused in his living room as if seeing it for the first time. A yellow and brown plaid sofa, listing at one end faced his flat screen television, resting on a worn wood kitchen table. He’d snagged both the sofa and the table from Goodwill for eight-five bucks. One wall was decorated with a Dolphins pennant, the Gators, a framed poster of Dale Earnhardt Jr. A shelf made from cinder blocks and wood planks held his bowling trophies, DVDs and CDs and a stack of American Angler, Sport Fishing, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Big Black Ass, Monster Titty, and Monster Truck.

He hovered for a moment wondering why he was there. His gaze fell on the yellow refrigerator.

Right.

He went to the fridge, opened the main compartment and bathed in the cool air and light. Plastic containers of noodles, green chicken salad, and one lone yellow bacon strip. He shut the main and opened the freezer, trying to find meaning in the monolithic chunk filling most of the space like an iceberg. He jammed it with his hand, busting loose a package of Jimmy Dean’s Pork Sausage and Muffin Breakfasts which had lain there since Clinton was president.

He went through his mostly bare cupboards finding only a can of chicken broth and a box of croutons. Well fuck. Gary was hungry too. He wondered if he offered a big tip, if the Caesar’s in Turpentine, twenty miles away, would deliver.

He pulled out his wallet and filed through. He had seventeen dollars, barely enough to pay for a pizza and a tip. And then he was broke.

Gary worked as an off the books roofer for Big John Schermerhorn, but he hadn’t worked in two weeks and soon he’d have to pay mortgage, four hundred and twelve dollars, and utilities. Gary did not plan to remain a roofer forever. No sir. He had a dream. His dream was anchored in reality.

His dream was anchored in four concrete plugs sunk into the earth, in the front and back. Gary had invented a system to prevent houses from being blown away in harsh weather. House suspenders. Massive cables running over the roof, keeping the house pinned down, like a seatbelt.

He was just waiting for a big blow so he could take his results to the authorities and get the ball rolling. Gary figured he needed a hundred thou to get started. All he needed was an opportunity.

Uncertain how to break the news to Floyd, for whom he sometimes worked ridding the earth of vermin, Gary realized he had to piss. Steadying himself against the wall, he went down the short corridor to his bathroom and switched on the light.

A snake stared at him from the toilet, head upright and tracking like a periscope.

Gary blinked. It might be a bull snake. It might be a rat snake. Or it might be a poisonous water moccasin. He couldn’t tell in the dim light. In any case, he had no intention of wrangling the snake just so he could take a piss in his own house, so he turned off the light, shut the door, and went back outside.

“I got nothin’. Why don’t you pay for the fuckin’ pizza?”

Floyd pissed and moaned and dug out his fat Harley wallet, connected to his bib overall by a chain and clamp. “Awright. I got enough. You call ‘em. I left my phone in the truck.”

Gary dug in his pocket. “Fuck,” he said. “I musta dropped it. Hang on.”

“Where you goin’?” Floyd said.

“Take a piss off the back deck.”

“Whyn’tcha piss in the toilet?”

“There’s a snake in the toilet.”

“You want me to get my magnum and shoot it?”

Gary turned the corner and stood at the end of his wrap-around deck, which he’d built with Floyd’s help. The rail covered three sides. Here, on the fourth side, an end piece facing the swamp, he was free to piss as the good Lord intended.

Gary hung ten at the edge, unzipped his fly and sent a golden arc into the sand, seeing phosphorescence coalescing along his dock, stars intermittently reflected in the open water of Fortier’s Landing, heard the chorus of frogs, the heron calls, and as he adjusted to zip, slipped. His feet shot out from under him and his head hit the edge of the deck like a melon on concrete.

What your story’s about by Mike Baron

LESSON ONE

When people ask what your story’s about, you have to be ready. You can’t hem and haw about orcs and trolls. You’ve got to hit them between the eyes with a concise and enticing description.

FLORIDA MAN: Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Crystal’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.

THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY: Around four in the morning, Travis McGee is jarred awake by a breathless ghost from his past: an old flame who needs a place to stash a package full of cash. What’s in it for McGee? Ten grand and no questions asked. Two weeks later, she’s dead.

HELMET HEAD: Nazi biker zombies.

MOBY DICK: Captain Ahab pursues a monomaniacal quest for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale which severed his leg.

Mike Baron, Lesson One in Writing

LESSON ONE

When people ask what you’re story’s about, you have to be ready. You can’t hem and haw about orcs and trolls. You’ve got to hit them between the eyes with a concise and enticing description.

FLORIDA MAN: Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Crystal’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.

THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY: Around four in the morning, Travis McGee is jarred awake by a breathless ghost from his past: an old flame who needs a place to stash a package full of cash. What’s in it for McGee? Ten grand and no questions asked. Two weeks later, she’s dead.

HELMET HEAD: Nazi biker zombies.

MOBY DICK: Captain Ahab pursues a monomaniacal quest for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale which severed his leg.

Florida Man by Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN

Gary Duba and his best friend Floyd Belmont sat on the deck of Gary’s deluxe double-wide, raised four feet above Florida on cinder blocks in case of flooding. Two hundred foot tractor chains stretched over the house like massive belts, anchored in concrete plugs on either side, in case of hurricane. The night was hot and humid, alive with squadrons of mosquitoes dive bombing the deck, oblivious to the citronella candles, tiki torches, yellow wrist bands, and ample applications of Deet on both men’s fully tatted arms. Home-made mosquito traps hung like obscene fruit from Gary’s hand-made awning, stitched together from Harbor Freight tarps.

It was just past eleven, Little Big Town playing on WBCW, Florida Country Radio through the tinny speakers of an old Sony boom box Gary picked up at a garage sale. The boys had been drinking shine, smoking reefer, and snorting a little crushed oxy since nine, when Floyd had arrived in his eight-year-old Chevy van with Belmont Pest Control emblazoned on the side, along with his logo, a dead cockroach in a mint green oval.

Floyd hawked and spat a loogie over the rail. “That fuckin’ bitch still owes me three thou for her boob job. Only reason she dated me, so I’d pay for her fuckin’ boob job.”

Floyd was five feet six, built like a fire hydrant, sideburns like a Civil War general, chest, shoulders and back covered with black fur like a bear.

“You gotta admit,” Gary said. “She’s got a nice rack.”

Gary sipped shine, causing his Adam’s apple to bob up and down like a bouncing basketball. Tall, bony, with thick, knobby wrists, a brush mustache, and a full head of hair concealed beneath a cap, Gary was the picture of Southern manhood. He wore a sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt showing off his tatted arms which included a skull with a dagger through it, a skull with a snake through it, a heart with the legend “Mom,” Johnny Cash, and barbed wire bracelets.

“My advice to you,” Gary said, “is not to worry about that skank. She gone. Be grateful she’s out of your life and didn’t give you the clap or something.”

Floyd lit a Camel. “I just wish I had that three thou. I could really use it.”

“Look at it this way. It’s worth three thou just to have her out of your life.”

“Now she’s dating some Cuban slickee boy from Coral Gables who says he can get her modeling work. My ass. Only modeling she does is on a pole with a G-string.”

“That’s what you get for dating a stripper.”

Floyd sucked a Dixie dry. “She told me she loved me!”

Gary barked. “You told her you wouldn’t come in her mouth!”

Floyd belched luxuriously and reached inside his torn denims to scratch his balls. “Got anything to eat?”

Neil Hansen

NEIL HANSEN

I became aware of Neil Hansen, aka “Spyder,” aka “Bannen,” when he began drawing Whisper for First Comics. Neil had a unique, dynamic style and I wanted to work with him. When he became available for Badger, I was thrilled. His Badgers, including “Kruisin’ With the King,” are among my favorites. When I wrote Punisher for Marvel, Neil did several issues and yearbooks. His work is instantly identifiable, like that of Steranko or Norm Breyfogle.

Neil visited me at my home in Madison and sat house while I was at a con. “As long as you’re here,” I said, “please draw a story.” The resulting eight-pager, “Hair of the Dog,” will finally see print in Ozzy Longoria’s horror anthology Gods and Monsters. You can find Ozzy on Facebook. Neil penciled, inked, and lettered. He created his own Epic series, Untamed. It is worth checking out for the jaw-dropping art.

I have hounded Neil over the years about drawing more comics, but as time passed, he drew less and less and the last time I asked him he said, “I’m sorry, Mike. I sat down to draw and it just wouldn’t come.” His last work was a series of Badger covers that appeared from IDW about ten years ago.

In the meantime, he worked as a caretaker for an old motel in Canada.

These days, Neil makes his living trading in domain names. He makes a good living.

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.

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.