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Sons of Bitches, Mike Baron

Loathe though I am to toot my own horn, I was born in a cove in a boat in Siam. All my Biker novels are moving to Wolfpack this month, including Sons of Bitches. Sons of Bitches is about a woman who puts out a Muhammad comic, and must hire Josh to protect her. I copied the following review before my previous publisher deleted it. I wish I could name the author, but I assure you, it wasn’t me!

“Baron” His Bloody Red Heart: A Writer’s Finest Hour When a pulp novel by a true comics great transcends genre to become entirely a thing of its own, and of its moment, you have the literary equivalent of a protest song on your hands, folks. And in SONS OF BITCHES, Mike Baron really “busks” some heads. Polly Furst is a likable young comic book creator who incidentally is a lesbian with a war vet gay uncle. In Baron’s fast moving prose, with his Biker P.I. Josh Pratt now well established, we get to know Polly through her unusual career, her wit and modern girl-next-doorishness. She’s real. Baron has nothing to say about sexuality, though it is involved in the point he makes by novel’s end, a point that does for pulp thrillers what Picasso did for Mickey Mouse. Polly has invested her energies in a comic book that has caught the attention of religious extremists. She hires Josh Pratt, Baron’s reformed hood Biker who’s now a private eye with government contacts and a loyal dog remaining from a doomed love that may be an ongoing theme in the Bad Road Rising series. Pratt uses the Internet and Dark Web to help solve cases, and this never fails to be entertaining. This novel also finds Pratt in the funny position of describing his bike in page-long detail a few times. It’s a great trick; there’s a melancholy patience to this young man who’s been on both sides of the moral road. Baron builds up his fever dream with expert writerly cruelty. We care. He knows we have to, because it’s his job to make the crap hit the fan when we least expect it. As in most of his novels to date, a breezy chapter can end in shock. It might just as easily end in an amusing story stalemate. I noticed as far back as 1983 that Baron likes only one thing better than surprise, in his work: having the ability and desire for an originality that guarantees his penchant for surprises stays surprising. So Pratt helps Polly hide out with her uncle and finds an ally in a Dark Web user who may turn out to be a bit of a sidekick to our hero in the future. On that, I await a surprise. The bad guys threaten Polly’s life, try to sabotage her book signings, interfere with her career. She presses on, ignoring Pratt’s concerns as much as possible. Polly is young and broad-minded in a free country. As an atheist, she is happy to satirize religion. A reader is well aware a Polly Furst would scream bloody murder if anyone dared criticize her sexual orientation. Pratt just wants to help and make a buck to buy breakfast biscuits with. He’s no philosopher, because so much of what people ruminate about in life is obvious, or irrelevant, to him. He gives in to lust at one point, gets drugged and things seem OK. “Seems OK” is a way of describing the clear message unfolding. Pratt’s lust interest has ties with a radical group holed up on the land of a sick old man who obviously could forgive the Devil for starting fires. Pratt and friends scope out the place, as the hands of government and law enforcement are tied by the rights of the freedom-hating visitors to our land, who, while plotting the destruction of our way of life, are enjoying it like sailors on leave. Baron surely chuckled writing of their secret perversity, no surprise to Pratt or to this reader. It’s your call on that, fellow readers. After the run-ins with villains, including an articulate man who’s almost apologetic about the demands of his faith, Baron hits his story and us with a meteor. Pratt gears up, though he can’t legally own a firearm. Abusers of freedom have turned freedom on itself, because of threats overlooked through cultural sensitivity. Sometimes freedom is like justice: a tragic tumble of dice. Readers should approach this book through an emotional lens, because Baron is not among the media figures screaming their opinions in what used to be called entertainment. This book is like life. It happens. You get to think about it. You get to hum along to some great Protest Song lyrics.

Florida Man Novel, Chapter Forty-Four by Mike Baron

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

They booked Krystal into the Glades County Jail Friday afternoon. The bored woman cop who fingerprinted her said without looking up, “Look who’s back.”

“Nice to see you too, Edna.”

A matron wearing blue latex gloves walked her back to the big holding cell, steel benches bolted to the floor, holding a dozen women. Two huddled in a corner. Six sat rapt in front of the flat screen TV behind the chain mesh grill tuned to The Shopping Channel. The other four sat by themselves. As the door slammed shut behind Krystal, a big, wiry black woman who looked like she played pro basketball stared at her in amazement. For an instant, Krystal thought she was going to get in a fight, but the woman’s expression morphed into delight.

She came right up. “Ain’tchoo the Black Dildo?”

Krystal put a hand to her face. “I am so embarrassed.”

“What for, girl! You should hold your head up! I watched that video myself about a dozen times, and everybody I know loves it! They should give you some kind of medal!”

The woman turned to the room. “Hey! Y’all know who this is? This is the Black Dildo!”

She grabbed Krystal’s hand and held it up like the winner of a fight.

Every woman except one sad soul in the corner stood and applauded.

“ALL RIGHT!

“YOU GO, GIRL!”

They crowded around, reaching out to touch her as if she had special properties.

“How you like that big black cock?” asked a wan white woman with a blue neck tat.

“It was a wedding gift. I got me a real man. I don’t need no lady’s aid.”

“I hear that!” whooped one.

A dyke with a shaved skull and a nose ring closed in. “You swing my way?”

Krystal smiled. “Nope. Sorry!”

The basketball player stuck out her mitt. “Airwrecka Jones.”

“Krystal Duba.” They shook. Then everybody else wanted to shake, high-five and fist bump.

Airwrecka pushed people back. “All right, all right, give her room. Whatchoo in for?”

“I tried to buy wine with my food stamps. So they called the manager and I threw a frozen lobster at him. Then the cops chased me and I went into a canal.”

Airwrecka nodded sagely. “Been there myself. Now look here. You got name recognition, girl. I don’t know who put up that video, but you a private person. You got the right to your own video. People will pay big bucks to advertise. You got a youtube channel?”

“No.”

“Who put up that video?”

Suddenly, Krystal saw things clearly. “Jen. Jen put up the video.”

“Who Jen?”

“My best friend.”

“She ax your permission?”

Now Krystal was getting mad. “You’re right! That’s me on the video. I didn’t give her no permission!”

“You should sue her.”

“No, she ain’t got shit. What I should do is take over ownership of that video and start selling ads, like you said.”

“Now you’re talkin’. Now omma do your hair.”

A female guard came up to the gate. “Duba, it’s your call.”

Krystal perked right up. “Who? What?”

“It’s your turn. You get one phone call.”

The guard accompanied Krystal to a wall phone where she phoned her mother.

“Trixie, it’s Krystal. I’m in jail again.”

“Whazzat you on the news?”

“What for?”

“Crazy lady waving a lobster.”

“Yeah. Can you bail me out?”

“How much?”

“A thou.”

“Jesus, Krystal honey, I ain’t got that kind of money and neither does Stanton. Did you call Gary?”

“Gary’s out of the country right now. You call him. He should be back this evening.”

“What do you mean out of the country?”

“He took a job to fly down to Mexico City and bring something back.”

“What do you mean, bring something back? He ain’t involved in drugs now, is he?”
“Of course not! It’s just a favor for a friend.”

“Well I’ll try him right away, but he ain’t got any money neither.”

When Krystal got back to the holding cell, Airwrecka went to work braiding her hair into corn rows, using a comb. First she washed Krystal’s hair in the stainless steel sink, using liquid soap from a dispenser in the wall.

“Then I part the hair in rows from front to back,” she explained as she went to work. “Then I divide the first row into three small sections, and make the first braid stitch…”

“How do you know this?”

“I got a degree from the Fuhrman School of Cosmetology in Miami. I’m licensed to braid, dye, cut, and curl. I been workin’ at Miss Thing’s Hair Salon down in South Miami.”

“How’d you end up here?”

“Girl, that’s a long story.”

“We ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“That’s true. Well my man Graham come up with a plan to sell pedigreed papillons.”

“Oh I love papillons!”

“Me too. They are so sweet. Anyhow, what I din’ know, Graham was making up those pedigrees himself. He’s a printer, see, so he knows how to make up all sorts of things. Fake certificates and documents, things like that. He just did it as a goof for his friends all these years, you know, when someone retirin’, they ax Graham to make up a certificate World’s Biggest Crybaby, or World Fart Champion. He make up all these impressive seals and things, you look at ‘em you swear they’re real. There’s elected officials who have Graham’s certificates on their walls and they don’t even know they’re fake.”

“Where’d he get the pups?”

“Well Graham knew a lady breeds ‘em from painting her house. These was unplanned pregnancies. Her papillon and a schnauzer. That’s what tipped ‘em off I think. Those Papillons they didn’t look quite right. They call ‘em ‘Butterfly Dogs’ on accounta the ears, but these here, they was more like moth dogs or somethin’. Anyway, they had moth ears.”

“I told him, Graham. You may as well make up new certificates that say these here are Moth Dogs, and you tell ‘em it’s a new breed, and you’re waiting to hear from the American Kennel Club ‘bout recognition. But he says to me, don’t you worry about it, sweet thing. These people don’t know a Chiuahaha from a pitbull. ‘Cept he was wrong about that, and when this lady tried to verify her pup’s pedigree, the AKC set her straight.

“Graham was ready to give her her money back, but no. She wants to go on Judge Judy. So we got tickets for the show. You can bring one guest. So we fly out there, they put us up in a nice hotel, and then we do the show. She was a nasty bitch, that woman who sued Graham. Her name was Nancy Something, from Palm Beach. She just nasty. She makin’ all sortsa racist comments and shit. She brings the dog. Judge Judy looks at that dog and says, ‘I know dogs. And that’s no Papillon. Judgment for the plaintiff for five thousand dollars. Step out, please.’”

“But that was in Los Angeles,” Krystal said, trying to keep up.

“I know it was, but then I saw that bitch down at the Quik-Mart last night and I put her on her ass.”

Florida Man, Chapter 2, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN CHAPTER TWO “Rabid”

Gary woke. He was lying on damp earth that smelled like urine. A metallic green beetle marched by with a leaf. He watched a cockroach scurry up one of his cinder block risers. He’d sprayed the bricks with the most virulent of Floyd’s toxins, but rain had washed it away and the roaches filed to and fro like Rome’s legions. He saw a bottle cap for Dixie beer, and beyond that, a fat rectangle covered with mud.

His phone.

Slowly, Gary sat up, head throbbing like an unmuffled Harley panhead. He put a hand to his scalp and it came away smeared with dried blood, where he’d hit the deck. A low moan escaped his lips. He was thirsty enough to drink swamp water. Shoving the phone in his pocket, he crawled out from under the deck. The sun was up, slanting in over the mangrove and striking the face of his home. Shakily, Gary got to his feet and used the handrail to drag him the four steps up to his deck where Floyd slumped on his nylon chair snoring with metronomic precision.

Kkkkkkkkkkk…GRONK

Kkkkkkkkkkk…GRONK

Kkkkkkkkkkk…GRONK

Gary went in through the screen door straight to the kitchen, filled an empty Big Gulp from the 7/11 with tepid brown water from the tap and glugged it down, Adam’s apple oscillating. He refilled it and drained it again. Then he had to piss.

Remembering the snake, he went back out on the deck. It was too early for the snake. This time he was more careful and successfully relieved himself with no further damage. Leaning on the rail he returned to his pale green chair and sat back with a scrape and a bump. He pulled out his phone and saw that he had two calls. The latest, at nine-thirty last night, was from Krystal ’s mother Trixie.

“Gary, dear, I’m so sorry to bother you, but Krystal ’s in the Glades County Jail. She’s been there all day. She’s been trying to reach you. She needs seven fifty dollars bail. Apparently, they’ve charged her with indecent exposure. Something about a Waffle Hut. Please call me, Gary. I’m so worried.”

The second, older call was from Krystal and must have been her one call from jail.

“Gary, baby…” She burped. “I’m in Glades County on a bullshit charge! I never hurt that fucker! He put his hands on me, and I was naked, baby…anyway, please come down here and get me out. Please! It stinks down here and I have to pee in front of all these other women, and some gross guard who comes back here just to stare…”

“That’s enough,” said a male voice, and the call ended.

Gary groaned and shut the phone. “Fuck.”

Floyd snorked.

“FUCK!” Gary said.

Floyd twitched. Gary reached out with one long leg and shoved the chaise lounge on its side, spilling Floyd on the deck, his mason jar spilling an ounce of shine on the pine, attracting thirsty palmetto bugs.

“What the fuck?”

“Wake up. It’s ten the fuck o’clock.”
“So what? What’s going on?”

“Krystal ’s in jail. I gotta bail her out.”

Floyd sat up, legs splayed, leaned forward, reached inside his coveralls and scratched his nuts. “I have got a king hell motherfucker of a headache. Any shine left?”

“If there is, it’s in the kitchen. Don’t go in the bathroom.”

“Why not?”

“Snake in the toilet.”

“Fuck. I’ve gotta take a dump. You got a bucket?”

“Man up! Just squat and shit!”

“Easy for you to say, but I’m wearing these coveralls.”

Gary raised his left hand and gave Floyd the finger. “There might be a bucket under the sink.”

Floyd pulled himself to his feet and shuffled inside, letting the screen door slam shut behind him. The report bounced around Gary’s skull like a BB. He squeezed his temples with the heels of his hands. Hoisting himself up off the armrests, Gary stumbled through the living room into the kitchen. He could hear Floyd grunting in the back, toward the swamp. Gary filled a Mason jar with tepid brown water, drained it, did it again.

Problem. The ibuprofen was in the bathroom.

Gary went into his bedroom, already too hot with the shades drawn, opened the drawer in his press board nightstand, burrowed through Anal Antics and Guns & Ammo until his hand closed on his
Taurus .38 special. He checked the cylinder. Fully loaded.

Problem. If he shot the porcelain toilet, it would flood the trailer.

Well fuck. These things were never simple. Jamming the pistol in his belt, he returned to the kitchen, took a broom from the closet, and used it to open the bathroom door. He peered in. If the snake were there, it was lurking below the rim, waiting like a Chinese sub. Gary used the broom handle to bring down the lid, ran in and put the wastebasket on top. He opened the mirrored medicine cabinet, grabbed the ibuprofen and closed it.

Who was that squinty fucker staring at him? His hair looked like Jan Michael Vincent’s. He splashed tepid water in his face and used a comb to smooth back his long brown hair. Gary put a hand on the crown of his head. He could feel himself going bald like his old man. He was only forty.

Wait a minute. Hadn’t he been wearing his Stars ‘n Bars? It must have fallen off when he fell. Returning to the kitchen he slammed down four Ibuprofen and went out on the deck. He heard the distant sound of traffic from the Dixie Highway, the honk of birds out in the swamp. Floyd shuffled around from the back and came up on the deck.

“Did you rinse out that bucket?” Gary said.

“Of course. You think I’m some kind of animal?”
“You got seven fifty I can borrow?”
Floyd looked at him as if he were a palmetto bug.

“Fuck. Omina have to sell one of my cards.”

“Aw mannnnn,” Floyd said.

“You gonna come with me?”

Floyd scratched his left armpit. He reminded Gary of a bear. “Fuck else I got to do?”

Gary went back to his bedroom, slid open the accordion closet door, and retrieved one of several three-ring binders holding sports cards. He sat on his bed and flipped through the pages, stopping when he came to his 1987 Topps Barry Bonds Pittsburgh Pirates #320. He pulled out his phone and went online. Fuck yeah. A cool two thou. He didn’t have time to put up on eBay. He’d just have to get what he could from Billy Bob. He removed the card from its plastic sleeve and inserted it in an individual plastic sleeve.

Floyd was smoking a doobie when Gary came out. Gary held out his hand. Floyd passed him the doobie and Gary inhaled, feeling purple paisleys fill his skull.

“You ready?”

“Let’s do it.”

A rabid raccoon hissed at them from the front yard. It stood on its hind legs, jaws open dripping saliva, between the house and Gary’s twelve-year-old F-150.

The boys froze.

“Fuck,” Floyd said. “That’s a rabid raccoon.”

Gary drew the pistol. “Well hang on. Just hang on.”

Resting his arms on the wood rail, Gary gripped the gun in both hands and sighted over the top.

The raccoon hissed.

Gary squeezed the trigger, a puff of dirt appeared next to the raccoon, and the left front tire of his truck whistled as it slowly flattened out.

Floyd leaned on the rail. “Don’t you got a shotgun? What happened to that sweet little Judge you had?”

“I sold it.”

Floyd held out his hand. “Well give me that thing.”

Gary handed him the pistol. Floyd went down two steps and sat on the top level, taking careful aim. The raccoon charged, spraying spittle.

“Shoot it! Shoot it!” Gary said.

Floyd squeezed off three shots, the last one drilling the rabid ‘coon through its thorax, sending it tumbling.

“Well fuck,” Gary said. “We’d better take your van.”

“You got a shovel? We’d better bury that fucker.”

Gary went around to the Suncast resin outdoor storage shed he’d bought at Lowe’s and took out a garden spade and a pair of leather gloves. Putting on the gloves, he used the shovel to carry the raccoon a hundred feet from the house, onto a slight hummock among the mangrove. By the time he’d dug a hole big enough, his clothes were damp from the wet. He thought about taking a shower, but time was of the essence, and that snake was probably waiting to throw back the toilet seat like a stripper coming out of a cake, leap into the shower, and sinks its fangs into Gary’s calf.

By the time they hit the road, it was half past eleven. Floyd stuck a Camel in his mouth and lit it, as he jockeyed the Van up the rutted string of puddles that was Gary’s driveway.

“Let’s get some breakfast on the way.”

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.