Category Archives: Writing

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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.

Disco by Mike Baron

DISCO

I write grim stuff. No getting around it. My Bad Road Rising series, featuring reformed motorcycle hoodlum Josh Pratt, is rife with beat-downs, murders, and foul language. My wife Ann doesn’t read novels. She’s only seen three movies in her whole life, and two of them were The Sound Of Music, which she saw twice.

One day she said, “Why don’t you write something I can read?”

We love our dogs. Many dog lovers love their dogs so much they want to do books about them. Some do. My local Barnes & Noble features hundreds of titles devoted to individual dogs.

I started tossing discs to my dog Lucy in Wisconsin. Lucy was a big mutt of unknown provenance, but she grabbed big air when she snatched the disc. We call them discs because Frisbee is a copyrighted name of the Wham-O Corporation, and we don’t always use Frisbees. Because of Lucy, I became interested in the Skyhoundz World Championship and the Frisbee Dog World Championship, also known as the Ashley Whippet Invitational.

Both competitions feature the “freestyle,” in which human and dog do a routine set to music involving somersaults, aerial jumps and fancy throws. The other major event is the distance throw, which currently stands at 402 feet.

The story grew in my mind of a boy from a broken family, whose mother moves from town to town looking for a stable situation, and how he adopts a mongrel pup and learns, by accident, that the pup has an affinity for snatching discs out of the air. It took me twenty years to get around to writing it. Ann’s suggestion that I write something she could read did the trick.

Liberty Island will release Disco at the end of November.

Mike Baron’s DISCO is such an unexpected delight – it’s a story with both heart and warmth that also pulls no punches, and is, simply, a pleasure to read.” – James A. Owen, author Of HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS

Weasel Words by Mike Baron

WEASEL WORDS

In the never-ending battle to obscure or ameliorate whatever it is they want to say, certain parties have infected the English language with weasel words. When my dog Freddie was dying from heat stroke, the veterinarian at CSU said the test results were very “concerning.” He said it over and over again. I wanted to strangle him. If Freddie was dying, why didn’t he just say so?

Some find words empowering. I find the word empowering debilitating. Don’t trot out those dictionary definitions! I’m warning you, do not do it! But I must. I feel empowered. To empower: “authorize, entitle, permit, allow, license, sanction, warrant, commission, delegate, qualify, equip.” Well how empowering can it be if another party has to do it for you? I’ll do it myself without your help, thank you very much.
But is my empowerment sustainable? What does sustainable mean?

The ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed. Environmental Science. the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance: The committee is developing sustainability standards for products that use energy.

“To be sustained.” There’s that passive tense again, blithely ignorant of Newton’s Laws of Physics. The first law of thermodynamics, also known as Law of Conservation of energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. In other words, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Are electric cars sustainable? From where does the energy come? Could it come from coal-burning power plants? Perhaps it comes from nuclear power plants. We all know that nuclear power plants lead to world-wide disaster and death, except for those nuclear power plants that power most of France.

The US has 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 differenT power companies, and in 2017 they produced 805 TWh. Since 2001 these plants have achieved an average apacity factor of over 90%, generating up to 807 TWh per year and accounting for about 20% of total electricity generated.
Is it sustainable? You be the judge.

I love Judge Judy. Whenever a litigant says, “Basically,” Judge Judy interrupts.
“NO BASICALLY. Just tell me what happened.”
The word basically needs to go the way of the dodo.

Likewise “literally.” When you use the word “literally,” you sound like a fool.
And “undocumented immigrants.” And the word “optics.” One day the media rose up as one and decided that the “optics” would replace appearances. They think it makes them sound smart. Optics means, “The scientific study of sight and the behavior of light, or the properties of transmission and deflection of other forms of radiation.”
When I watch a show on On Demand, they warn me that “fast forward and other functionality may not be available.” Functionality? What the fuck? What’s wrong with functions? And “may not be available?” It’s never available. Like those car ads that say, “available 800 horsepower engine.” That means you gots to pay extra.

Updated News from Mike Baron

A man goes to the zoo. There’s only one animal, a dog. It’s a Shi-Tzu. Greetings, my friends! This is my first newsletter! Finishing Unfortunate Son, the 7th Josh Pratt novel in the Bad Road Rising series. Biker is the first.

They are grim, my friends. Dripping with viscera, yet filled with hilarity and quiet moments of contemplation and tender romance.

Dark Horse is preparing a raft of new Nexus for next year. But be warned, my friends! My partner Steve Rude published these, and as publisher, he changed my every word! I can only hope the new material I sent him survives intact. For an explanation, see the documentary, Rude Dude. Oogle it!

My friends, those clamoring for Badger apparel can find it here: https://badgerapparel.cottontoptees.com/

I’m working on a Buddy McGill comic with visionary artist Fer Calvi. Who is Buddy McGill? He’s a super party animal and his name is Buddy McGill! With a case of Sudz and some brand new duds, he’ll give you something you can feel!

I have finished a new Badger story in which he enters the Iditarod. There is also a giant cockroach!

Shortly we will begin a crowdfunder to turn my novel Sons of Bitches into a graphic novel. A young woman puts out her own Muhammad comic. Hilarity ensues.

I’m working on The Snot-Nosed Punk of Yore, a bold reimagining of the life of Shakespeare as a differently-abled lesbian of color!

As always, if you wish to be removed from this list, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your existence. Feel free to fire back.

 

A Post Literate Society by Mike Baron

A POST LITERATE SOCIETY

Remember Borders and B. Dalton’s? They were chain bookstores that are no longer with us. Barnes & Noble struggles to survive, slashing book inventory, turning more and more floor space over to toys, collectibles, DVDs, and games. New DVDs cost anywhere from twenty to fifty dollars. While there are fans who are happy to pay that amount to see a new movie, I’m not one of them. Anyone with internet access can order those films from Amazon, a lot cheaper. Amazon is the elephant in the room, and it’s sucking up all the oxygen. It’s past time for the Justice Department to investigate them for unfair labor practices, but while Amazon must bear the muich of the onus for declining book stores, they are not solely at fault.

A lot of young folks ain’t readin’. Just ain’t readin’. Weren’t raised that way. Video games have taken a huge bite out of the comics market, and anyone who’s conversant with modern video games can see why. They are designed with a great deal more thought and characterization than most comics. They’re the other elephant in the room. It doesn’t help that many comics are unreadable, but so what? Many movies are unwatchable. Gryphon’s, a prominent local comic shop, advertises games and comics. They carry the Big Two, a selection of second tier publishers, and will special order whatever, but many titles don’t make the cut. Gryphon’s can’t afford to pay for inventory that doesn’t move.
Humans gotta innovate. Technology marches on. The internet is a mixed bag. It enables us to reach millions, research anything, send manuscripts without the mail, but it has a coarsening effect on communications, of what we say and how we conduct ourselves. I once posted Lady Gaga had killed it in reference to her singing the national anthem, and within ten posts it was “FUCK YOU!” and “NO! FUCK YOU!”
The there’s “HOW R U?” “ROLF!” “C U BIATCH.”

Words intended as ironic are interpreted as dismissive or offensive. Facebook encourages bold declarations of virtue often accompanied by vulgar language, gratuitous insults, and death wishes.

This collapse of manners is partly due to the collapse of literacy. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury posed a future in which the only printed periodicals consisted of pictures only. We may have reached that point.

Routine by Mike Baron

ROUTINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions & Thoughts about Writing, Mike Baron

Bill Nichols writes:

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

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

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

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

Prescription: Comics

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

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

2) Do you have a set routine?

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

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

One to two thousand words a day.

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

I work in silence. Or try to.

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

Carl Barks.

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

Right away.

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

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


? What else do you have to learn?

I don’t know what I don’t know.

9) What keeps you motivated to get better?

The desire to entertain, first myself, then others.

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

Yes.

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

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

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

No.

3) How do you handle the slow times?

By developing new projects.

4) How do you feel about the industry?

It’s there.

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

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

Mike Baron