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Killer Nuns, by Mike Baron

KILLER NUNS

I recently wrote my second Western under the psudonym, A.W. Hart. It’s called Killer’s Train. It instantly became my best selling novel. People are crazy for Westerns! This is from my second Western, also by A.W. Hart, called Curse of the Black Rose. It’s about a group of killer nuns on the Texas/Mexico border in the early twentieth century.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN “We Are Not Like Other Nuns”

It was dusk. The town held its breath as the six riders strolled their horses down Main Street, stropping in front of the hotel. Their leader, a tall man with a Mayan face, stood in his stirrups.

“OLA! I CLAIM THIS TERRITORY IN THE NAME OF GENERALLISIMO ALCALA NEBRES! YOU ARE HIS SUBJECTS ACCORDING TO THE LAND GRANT ISSUED BY KING FERDINAND VII. GENERAL NEBRES IS A FAIR AND JUST RULER. OBEY HIM IN ALL THINGS AND YOU WILL PROSPER. GIVE US THE BOY AND WE’LL LEAVE!”

A .44 caliber bullet punched him off his horse. The crack reverberated as the remaining soldiers gained control of their horses and turned around, running a gauntlet as they raced for the open plains. It was impossible to aim accurately from a galloping horse and they didn’t try. It was survival time. Delacroix had had enough. A second soldier fell from his saddle in front of the stables, his foot caught in the stirrup as the horse dragged him for a hundred feet before he slipped out. The four remaining soldiers high-tailed it amid a flurry of lead.

Catalina, crouched by an open window on the second floor of the Arlington, didn’t fire a shot. Fifteen minutes later, the mayor and his makeshift posse gathered on the hotel’s broad front porch as a dozen citizens stood in the street.

A thin man in a derby climbed the steps and faced Slemons. “Why did you do that? Now they’re just going to come back and burn this town to the ground!”

“What were we supposed to do, Shaffner? Let them have their way with us? How did that work out yesterday when they shot the sheriff and the bank manager?”

“It wasn’t the same bunch!” Shaffner whined.

“What does it matter? Who do you think is going to come and save us? Our rider hasn’t even reached Cruzado! And then it’ll take ’em another day to alert the commander at Fort Bliss. We don’t even know how many men they have. According to these sisters, General Nebres has over four hundred.”

“What sisters?” Shaffner demanded.

Catalina and Sofia stepped forward wearing their blue habits. Caroline was with the children.

“This town is under the protection of the Mission at Santo Tomas.”

Shaffner barked. “A bunch of nuns? A fat lot of good that’ll do.”

Catalina smiled. “We are not like other nuns.”

“Oh yeah? What? Don’t tell me you know how to shoot.”

Catalina turned to the mayor. “May I borrow your pistol?”

The mayor flipped it in his hand and gave it to her butt first. Catalina picked up an empty bottle and tossed it to Shaffner who caught it in both hands. “Toss that bottle in the air, Mr. Shaffner. As high as you can throw.”

Shaffner looked around, as if for support. All eyes were on him. He underhanded the bottle into the air and as it hovered at its apex, Catalina drew her pistol and shattered it. Shards plunked to the dirt.

A man in back said, “I never seen such a thing.”

Catalina immediately regretted her sin of pride.

Holy Father, please forgive me.

“We will stay with you until the danger has passed.”

“What if he brings his whole dang army?” someone called from the back.

“That won’t happen,” Catalina said. “He has declared the Hansen Ranch the center of his new empire. He murdered Mr. and Mrs. Hansen. Only his son Arnold survived, to bring us news of this atrocity.”

Arnold stood at the head of the stairs. “I saw him gut my folks with a sword. For nothing! I tried to kill him, but I missed. I didn’t miss this time. You can’t reason with these people. They are in this country illegally. They want what’s ours. We either fight ’em, or roll over and play dead.”

The arrival of twenty horse soldiers entering Delacroix from the north stopped all talk until the unit reached the hotel. A lieutenant wearing cavalry colors and a hat with a vertical front brim spoke, his horse putting him even with the people on the porch.

“Lieutenant Ted Buck, U.S. Cavalry. Who’s in charge here?”

“I’m Mayor Slemons. We lost our sheriff yesterday. Robbers killed him. We just run off six banditos from a General Nebres. You got our message?”

“Your man Miller hailed us yesterday. Lucky for you we were out on patrol. Looking for Naiche. Where can my men water their horses?”

“There’s a trough out front of the livery down at the end of the street.”

Buck dismounted, handing his reins to his second in command. “Take care of the horses. Set guards.”

“Yes sir.”

The lieutenant stepped up on the porch and shook Slemons’ hand. “I’m sorry we missed them. Looks like you did okay. Anybody hurt?”

“We killed two of the bastards,” Slemons said. “This here’s Arnold Hansen. Nebres killed his parents. Arnold shot one of the raiders. Phil Wyatt shot another. Four got away.”

Buck looked at the nuns. “What are these sisters doing here?”

Catalina stepped up. “We’re on our way back to the Mission at Santo Tomas. We rescued a mother and two babes. We are taking them to the mission.”

Buck looked her up and down. “Why’re you holding a pistol? I never saw a nun with a gun.”

“We are not like other nuns.” She returned the pistol the mayor.

Buck raised his eyebrows. “Sister, I urge you to return to your convent and leave the fighting to professionals. Take these children. I have not heard of this General Nebres until now. We will need to conduct surveillance to determine if he’s really brought four hundred soldiers into sovereign U.S. territory.”

“We saw them.”

“Where?”

“The Hansen Ranch, about fifty miles southwest of here.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Following the orders of our Mother Superior, we had gone into Mexico to learn what we could about Nebres. This all started when Cobb Hansen brought in an Indian boy who’d escaped from Nebres’ army.”

Buck made a disbelieving face. “Forgive me if I seem skeptical, but in my experience, nuns don’t involve themselves in military surveillance.”

“We are not like other nuns.”

“Clearly.”

Catalina turned to Sofia. “Get Sister Carolina and the others. We’re going to the mission.” She turned to Slemons. “Sir, could you lend us a horse? I promise we’ll return it.”

“Certainly, Sister. We have you to thank for your warning.”

She turned to Arnold. “I think you should come with us.”

“What for? My fight is here.”

“We would like you to tell our Mother Superior what you saw. We need all the information we can get on Nebres.”

Arnold made a face. He had teeth like a horse. “Why?”

“It may become necessary for us to intervene.”

“What?” Arnold squawked. “You’re a bunch of nuns!”

“We are not like other nuns.”

“Yeah, I heard that.”

Slemons put his hand on Arnold’s shoulder. “I think Arnold could do a lot more good here. We only got twenty soldiers and maybe a half dozen fighting men. What if they come back?”

“Sir, it’s possible we could stop Nebres’ depredations if we can talk to him.”

“How you gonna do that?”

“He’s Catholic. He travels with a priest. We will appeal to his better nature.”

Slemons pulled his head back. “Sister, men like that don’t got no better nature. Remember the Alamo.”

“We will reach out to the Cardinal in Dallas and ask him to intervene. He will threaten Nebres with excommunication. Even a murderous general fears the wrath of the Church.”

“Sister, we truly appreciate what you’ve done for us today. But it’s best for all for you to head on over to the Mission and leave the fightin’ to the men folk.”

The Most Forgiving Medium by Mike Baron

THE MOST FORGIVING MEDIUM

Comics are the most forgiving medium. You can get away with things in comics that you couldn’t in any other medium. Just look at Superman. He first appeared in 1938 and it wasn’t until the advent of television that they tried to transfer him to another medium. The early Superman show with George Reeves was entertaining in its day, but no one watching actually believed a man could fly. It wasn’t until the advent of CGI and multi-million dollar budgets that film caught up with what comics could do with a little ink on paper.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Tick. Men of Mystery. In order for these to succeed, comics had to pave the way. These days, comics have conquered so much popular culture that you can pitch such ideas and be taken seriously. Producers know that comic book awareness is universal, even as comic book sales plummet. The medium invites parody. Trashman. Squirrel Girl. Punisher Vs. Archie. Anybody can string two words together and make a comic about it. And people will buy that comic. Because it’s a comic.

Serious comics that succeed are the exception. Watchmen. Maus. Biographical comics such as Bill Griffith’s Hidden Ink, or much of Fantagraphics’ product come to mind. Fantagraphics is that rare publisher that takes comics seriously, and by that I mean they see comics as a legitimate avenue for serious writing. There are tens of thousands of “serious” comics from major publishers that fail to entertain, because their goal is not to entertain, but to deliver a message. Nothing wrong with it, but the writer’s first duty is to entertain. If you create a lifeless block of lectures and talking heads, the reader will flip the pages until the end, and then toss it in a pile that includes gas station handouts and free weekly fliers.

Comics are the worst medium for horror because the most horrible rendering can’t match what the reader would imagine, had the picture been painted purely in prose, like the work of H.P. Lovecraft or Robert R. McCammon. Yet horror comics proliferate. Readers can’t get enough of them. The old EC horror comics usually ended with a gruesome comeuppance to the psycho protagonist. As far as evoking supernatural terror, fuggedaboudit.

What comics do best, even badly written comics, is create magic between the page and the eye. When you gaze on a full page rendering of an undiscovered city in the Amazon, and the picture draws you in so that you inhabit the environment, that’s magic.

Novels and cinema are the best medium for horror. A skilled novelist can create unforgettable moods, settings, and characters. Remember when you read The Shining? Movies control pacing, lighting, and especially sound. Remember The Exorcist? We love our Universal monsters, and stories about werewolves, vampires, and zombies will always be with us.

As for comics, the writer’s first duty is to entertain. If the reader succeeds, all other things are possible.

Words by Mike Baron

WORDS

Story is a dynamic narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many elements contribute to successful story including characterization (William Faulkner,) lively dialogue (George V. Higgins,) an exciting concept (Michael Crichton,) mood (Shirley Jackson,) or a wild plot (Randy Wayne White.) You construct them all with words. How many words? However many you need to achieve the effect. Can you use too many words? You sure can, but words are the building blocks of story. Whenever I see that asinine challenge, what’s the scariest story you can tell in six words, I want to shake the challenger by the collar. You can’t build a house with six bricks.

Some authors are drunk on words. Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Marlon James come to mind. Some authors parcel their words like Ebeneezer Scrooge. Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. However you do it, the goal is the same: to grab the reader by the throat and drag him into the narrative to the exclusion of all else. You want to write a book that makes the reader resent anything that interrupts his reading.

Badger Novel, Mike Baron

The Badger novel is about ninety per cent finished, but other projects have taken my attention. What could possibly be more important that the Badger novel? Bringing home the bacon! And yes, I’ve seen the video with the coyote and the badger! Everybody and my sister sent it to me.

BADGER THREE “Adiosky”

“Quit what?” Ham replied.

“Take this job and shove it!”

Mavis leveled a finger. “He born for better things than shoveling shit!”

“See here, old chap! If you don’t want to shovel shit, why didn’t you just say so? I have plenty of other work for you. We need to repair that old storage shed. And when we’re done with that, I’d like you to plant mint in the garden. I hear it deters rabbits.”

Mavis wagged that finger.

“Badger work for you long enough. Where his IRA? Where his pension plan?”

Ham spread his hands. “I pay him a hundred thousand dollars a year, same as you. I provide room and board. Surely you have the wherewithal to fund your own IRA.”

“Not point! This man great martial artist! We open school.”

“See here, old chap! You’ve been with me since the beginning! Do you want more money? What if I were to give you a fancy title? Director of Security! I’ll give you an office.”

“Boss, I just feel my potential is wasted shoveling shit. I haven’t fought a demon in years. I wouldn’t know how to fight one now. The demons never come around anymore. I’ve always dreamed of opening my own studio.”

Badger raised his hands. “Go. Go with my blessing. But before you go, would you be so kind as to recommend a replacement? Someone who can do what you do.”

Badger thought long and hard. “Wombat.”

“What, that berserker from Australia? Is that a good idea?”

Mavis seized Badger by the arm. “Is best idea.”

“Do you have contact info?”

“Wire Wombat, Canberra,” Mavis said.

“He’s on Facebook,” Badger said.

“I’ll try that. Very well. Will you be in touch?”

“Of course,” Badger said. “I just want to try something new. If any demons show up, give me a holler.”

Ham collapsed in his chair, which squeaked and groaned. “Fine.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m a little disappointed. I should have been more attentive. I thought you liked shoveling shit!”

Mavis seized the Vietnamese vase from its plinth.

“Wait a minute,” Ham said.

“This is my vase. I only let you borrow because you wanted to study, remember? You no study.”

Ham turned to Badger exasperated. “She speaks perfect English when she wants, doesn’t she?”

“You want demon, I crack vase over skull! Then you see demon!”

“I was hoping to see the demon without violence.”

Mavis snorted in disgust. “We also taking dogs.”

“Fine! Take them.”

“Dog missing. Did you eat?”

Ham looked up, startled. “What? What dog? No! I don’t eat dogs!”

“Then why you name him Waffles?”

Ham stood and waved his arms. “Go! Go with my blessing, curse you!”

Mavis grabbed Badger’s hand and yanked him out of the office. “I already pack. I get car. You get dogs.”

Badger sat on the flagstone floor of the entryway and sucked his thumb. Mavis knelt before him and took his head in her hands. “Norbert. Norbert. I’m sorry I mentioned Waffles. You have to be a man now, for the sake of the dogs.”

Badger looked at her with fearful eyes, then looked away.

Mavis cupped her hands and howled like a wolf. Badger sprang into a fighting stance, like Travis Bickle.

“Where are the wolves?”

Mavis gestured broadly. “They’re out there. But right now, I need you to get all the dogs together. We’re leaving.”

As a result of severe childhood abuse at the hands of his stepfather, Norbert Sykes had issues. The American Psychiatric Association, which flitted from trend to trend like a butterfly, had recently decided that multiple personality disorder did not exist. They now characterized what used to be known as MPD into four types.

Dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, derealization disorder, and dissociative amnesia disorder. Badger’s therapist, Daisy Fields, who also served as Ham’s secretary, tried to keep up. But it was impossible to keep up. She had diagnosed Badger with five separate personalities: Gastineau Grover DePaul, a tough inner-city black, Emily, a six year old girl, Max Swell, a gay architect, Leroy, a dog, and Pierre, a mass murderer. Daisy had done her best, but until Badger met Mavis, he was all over the place.

Since Mavis had come into his life, he was calmer and more focused. She possessed an intuitive understanding of psychosis from dealing with animals all her life. She was born in Vietnam. They met at a martial arts tournament.

“Dogs!” she snapped.

“Right!” Badger said, stepping out the main entrance onto the broad front stoop. Inserting two fingers, he whistled. Barks and howls emanated from every corner. Five dogs lined up in a row, wagging their tails. Synchronized. Bob was a black border collie/golden retriever mix. Mack was a female pug/Boston terrier mix. Freddy was a collie/dingo mix. Ermagerd was a female snickerdoodle. Otis was some kind of hound.

“Dogs, you’re wondering why I called you here. We’re moving to a new home. No dog left behind. The food will be the same. Has anyone seen Leroy?”

They all started barking at once.

Mavis pulled up in a 1990 GMC Suburban pulling a trailer. They stuck their suitcases in the trailer. The dogs piled in. Badger got the shotgun seat.

“Is this everything?”

“No. We come back.”

“Where we going?”

“I rent farmhouse from Old MacDonald. I save foal last winter. He like me.”

Badger remembered a cold, windy night, staying up with Mavis in the drafty barn, Mavis’ arms up to her elbows inside the mare, gently easing the foal into its new life. Old MacDonald had called it a miracle. There were two houses on his property, the modest ranch style in which he and his wife of fifty years lived, and the old double decker that had belonged to his parents. The senior MacDonalds had lived there until they passed, several years ago. They were buried on the property, as were their parents.

Before they could leave, Daisy Fields ran out the front door. A shapely blond in her mid-thirties, she wore creased tan Banana Republic slacks, a vintage flapper blouse, and glasses.

“Stop! Stop! Where are you going?”

Mavis stood on the driver’s seat through the sun roof, pointing down the road. “We move to 221 Baker Street, five miles that way. You join us for dinner tonight, Hoity Toity. Pick you up at s.x”

“What? Why?”

Badger stood on the shotgun seat. “I want to open my own kung fu school.”

Mavis put her arm around his shoulders. “He tired of shoveling shit!”

“Oh no! Oh no! You can’t go! You’re the reason I’m here.”

“Nonsense,” Mavis said. “Ham relies on you. You do real work! Accounting. Administrative. He needs you more than Badger.”

Daisy looked like she was about to cry. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Don’t worry about it!” Badger said. “We’ll pick you up at six!”

“Can you at least leave me a dog?”

Badger lowered himself and turned to face the dogs. “Boys, who wants to stay here with Daisy? I need a volunteer.”

Otis leaped out the window, ran up the stairs, and licked Daisy as she crouched to hug him.

“Miss Fields, I need you!” Ham called through the open window.

Mavis started the engine. “Back later, pick you up at six.”

Daisy watched them drive down the perfect black asphalt and exit through the stone gate onto Brotherhood Lane.

Too late, she called out, “Wait! Wait! That can’t be your address! Sherlock Holmes lives there!”

Florida Man, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN

I don’t choose my stories, my stories choose me. I knew “Trail of the Loathesome Swine” was a great title, but it took me thirty years to find the story. It’s about a feral hog that eats a boy’s sister, and his pursuit of vengeance. It’s a funny story. The writer’s first duty is to entertain.

Day after day my feed was filled with Florida Man stories. There’s a compilation site: floridaman.com. Thousands of stories. After being socked in the face with my thousandth, I realized that the Muse was asking me to put them into a hysterical narrative. Thus was born Florida Man. It instantly became my best selling title under my own name. The Western I wrote, Killer’s Train, is the best selling. Go figure. There’s a huge audience for Westerns, so I’m doing another under the same pen name, A.W. Hart.

My publisher asked me for a Florida Man sequel. At first I thought there was nothing more to say. Then I went to that website. Man, was I wrong. There’s enough Florida Man material to fill a dozen books. So here I am toiling away on Florida Man 2, and the problem isn’t enough material, but too much! The latest stories involve frozen iguanas dropping from trees and bonking people in the head. And then this gem:

Florida Man Fills Car with Frozen Iguanas, They Warm Up, Come Back to Life, Cause Accident .

And under the headline: Sorry, this post has been removed by the moderators of r/news. Moderators remove posts from feeds for a variety of reasons, including keeping communities safe, civil, and true to their purpose.

God bless our moderators, ever vigilant lest we harm ourselves!

My latest Florida Man review was posted yesterday:

Five out of 5 stars. Mike Baron captured the essence of Florida in this book. So many blunders in pursuit of doing the right thing sometimes befall even the best of men. The references to. Small town Florida life are perfectly portrayed without becoming overdone and the antics of the wildlife is also dead on. A great escape.

Please check out my coffee spewing novel at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07X118GT4?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=MCYPFZZHHRECA65S11RK

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Whenever I’m about to start a story, whether on my own or at the request of others, I work up an outline that covers most of the plot. But it’s not just a road map, it’s an advertisement for the story. I make that outline fun to read. When you outline your story, always do so with the intention of showing it to others, even if you never do. The goal of the outline is to excite interest. Once someone finishes the outline, they should say, “Holy moly! Now I want to read the book!” I am currently writing a Western called The Curse of The Black Rose. It’s about ninja nuns. No kidding. It’s not my idea. Here is the outline:

Rancher Cobb Hansen brings in Chaco, a wounded, dehydrated Indian boy to the mission at Santo Tomas where the nuns nurse him. Chaco escaped from General Alcala Nebres, a rogue Castilian forced to flee Spain due to his participation in a plot to overthrow King Alfonso. Nebres sailed to Mexico where he claimed an ancient land grant in Hidalgo Province, while rebel forces seek to depose President Diaz, who gave him a land grant in exchange for his support. Before rebels forced him north, Nebres plundered an ancient Mayan temple, claiming it belonged to him.

Nebres has moved north into Chihuahua, but even there, the revolution nips at his heels. He travels with is own priest and gives confession daily. Determined to carve out his own kingdom, Nebres looks across the Rio Grande at Texas. Chaco says Nebres enslaves and tortures Indians and Mexicans alike.

Mother Mercy dispatches Catalina, Sister Sofia, and Sister Caroline Harp to check it out, and if what Chaco says is true, to kill Nebres and free the slaves. Cobb Hendricks’ ranch is in flames, Hendricks barely alive to describe the attack. Nebres stole his cattle and drove them across the river.

In Mexico, a rebel patrol “escorts” them to Pancho Villa, who recently escaped prison and is deeply troubled by his actions. He seeks absolution but nuns can’t hear confession. Catalina questions him on Nebres, with whom Villa has been feuding. Nebres claims a mandate from God and from Mayan deity Itzamna to create his own land. Villa is determined to drive him out of Mexico. He chews coca leaves constantly, and plans to cultivate the plant.

The nuns accompany Villa on his raid against Nebres’ men, who have taken over the tiny town of Sagrado Corazon, killing the men, abusing the women, and taking their prized Miura fighting bulls. The nuns join the fight, astonishing both sides who have never seen fighting nuns. A captured lieutenant reveals that Nebres has staked out a vast territory in New Mexico and declared himself an independent nation. Itzama has made Nebres invincible, attracting embittered Spanish/American war veterans. Rough Riders.

Catalina learned strategy and history from Aguiles and his sons. Disguised as Apache, Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline head north, onto Apache land. Surrounded, they reveal themselves and demand unarmed combat. The Apache are astonished. Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline kick butt, astonishing the Apache who adopt the three nuns into the tribe and agree to help the Sisters. Nebres’ men raped and murdered an Apache woman and killed her child. The Apaches catch up with the raiders. Catalina recognizes one from Elan’s description. Surrounded by Apache, the braggart challenges one of them to fight him hand to hand. Wearing warpaint, Catalina mutilates him, puts him on a horse and sends him back to Nebres with a message. Vengeance is coming.

From the Guadalupe Mountains, the sisters view Nebres’ through telescopes. He has taken over the San Cristobal Mission and put his troops to work building corrals and robbing trains. The mortally wounded priest curses Nebres. “God will send an angel disguised as a devil. She will take your soul.”

New Mexico is barely four months a state when a platoon from Fort Diggs arrives to ascertain whether the rumors are true. Nebres’ men slaughter the soldiers and send the captain away beaten and naked, tied backwards on his horse.

Nebres has heard about the mysterious convent and its warrior nuns. His man barely made it back before dying, but not before he delivered Lina’s message. Father Armando assures him that he is a good man and that those who resist him are evil. The mission has its own well and four hundred men. Ring Lardner interviews the general for the New York Herald, sees Nebres fight a bull.

Catalina sees no need to fight an army. All they need do is cut off the head. A night attack at the east gate allows Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline to enter the compound, disguised as Apache from the west. Sofia and Caroline run off with two hundred horses, leading Nebres’ men straight into an Apache ambush. But the Apache are outnumbered and melt into the landscape after killing a dozen of Nebres’ warriors. The troops return to the mission where Nebres celebrates his “great victory,” posing for Lardner’s camera, dictating his legend.

Nebres promises Lardner the most exciting bull fight he has ever seen on the morrow, his men bringing in prostitutes from nearby Bennett. Sofia and Caroline Harp return in the dark.

At noon, Nebres prepares for his “moment of destiny,” prays to the Holy Virgin, puts on his matador gear and walks into the arena before hundreds of his men and grandees from surrounding ranches. But when the chute is opened, it is not the bull that emerges, but Sister Catalina in her fighting gear, her face painted.

Horror by Mike Baron

We all love horror entertainment. But we don’t all love the same type of horror. For me, true horror is an evocation of the unknown, a cold finger on the spine that suggests malignant forces just out of range that can be revealed via ritual or stupidity, devastating all that is good and safe. The Exorcist is among the greatest horror movies because it does this so effectively, using traditions and superstitions that have been around as long as mankind. It has the weight of the church behind it, whether or not we’re Catholic.

Never saw Exorcist II. It doesn’t have a good reputation. But Exorcist III, ah, Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, is on a par with the first. Don’t believe me just watch. The Japanese excel at cinematic horror. Even the American version of The Ring resonates. The Changeling (1980) will raise hackles, not for any danger to the protagonist (George C. Scott,) but in its ability to evoke supernatural fear.

We love such entertainment because it satisfies an atavistic yearning to believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it’s terrible. And when the lights go up or you finish the book, you’re back safe and warm in your familiar world. Lovecraft resonates because he so effectively delineated another world lurking beyond the veil. Lovecraft’s descriptions are necessarily vague. We can’t really understand the worlds he describes, it’s enough that we believe. Stephen King has touched the spine many times, no better than in The Shining. Michael McDowell does it in The Elementals. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. And of course Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. This yearning to believe is as old as man, as old as ancient cave drawings of Quezacoatl.

The most effective horror is supernatural. Torture porn has its fans, but precious few horror movies that don’t rely on the supernatural truly resonate. Silence of the Lambs comes to mind. Movies like Don’t Breath, Saw, or Hostel are not supernatural horror, they are sadistic psychological thrillers.

I’ve written three horror novels. Publishers Weekly gave Banshees, about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, a starred review. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61475-394-0

Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Domain is a haunted house story set in Los Angeles.

Florida Man novel, Mike Baron

MORE FLORIDA MEN

I don’t chose my stories. My stories choose me. Every day, a new Florida Man story.

FLORIDA MAN REMOVES NINE FOOT ALLIGATOR FROM POOL

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA FLORIDA MAN SEXUALLY ASSAULTS’ STUFFED OLAF DOLL AT TARGET

Day after day, Florida Man after Florida Man. Florida Women too. It seemed ideal material for a comic so I started writing. By the time I finished the five scripts I had a detailed novel outline. Getting an independent comic off the ground is an iffy proposition. If I were an artist, I would have drawn it myself. But I’m not. And artists don’t work for free. Fortunately, the talented Todd Mulrooney agreed to throw in with me.

I wrote the novel and sent it to Wolfpack publisher Mike Bray. Wolfpack specializes in Westerns, thrillers and crime stories, and Florida Man is comedy. Mike said he’d take a look, he might know someone. After he read it, twice, he said he wanted to publish it himself. So there it is. That’s Todd’s art on the cover.

By now, you are all weary of the blurb:

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

I had inadvertently joined an informal group of Florida Men whose fascination with that state’s more outre behavior and denizens is something more than a hobby. I hooked up via Florida Men with James Aylott, a former tabloid photographer turned novelist whose novel The Beach House touches on much of the same material. But while Florida Man follows the exploits of one hapless hero, Tales From the Beach House tells the intertwined stories of the denizens of a seedy Delray condominium. It is as packed with intrigue, heartache, and betrayal as a Shakespeare comedy, but is often funny. James uses real headlines to kick off each chapter:

FLORIDA MAN MISTAKES DEAD WOMAN FOR APRIL FOOL’S MANNEQUIN

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA

FLORIDA MAN KILLED TESTING BULLET PROOF VEST

James read my book and posted, “Crammed with hysteric high-octane toxic masculinity, and without a hat tip to any sense of modern political correctness the novel “Florida Man” has to be one the must read books of the year! This amazing novel is pure-concentrate Florida fiction and will certainly be inducted to this genres future Pantheon of greats. Gary Duba, the book’s central character has to be a solid contended the Mick Dundee of our times and should be immediately signed up for a new marketing campaign by the Florida tourism board. This truly was an astonishingly good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t easily offended who is looking for a fun and action packed read. This book has raised the creative bar in the genre of Florida fiction and it will be hard to beat by the many writers who tread that path. I am just glad my next book will be set in Missouri as Florida Man has set a new standard that will be hard to better.”

I thought I’d pretty much covered the territory in that one book, but my publisher feels otherwise. I am planning a sequel. There is no dearth of material. Just go to www.floridaman.com, which sedulously tries to keep track. You can find our books on Amazon.

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Why should you outline? There are several reasons. The first is to provide a road map for the story you intend to write. A good story is like a good pop song with a theme, a bridge, and a hook. Shifting dynamics. The outcome is always in question. If you were to portray your outline as a sine wave, it would look like a roller coaster ride. The outline doesn’t have to be exhaustive. My outlines range from two to ten pages. Ken Follett’s outlines are over a hundred pages. The reader must surprise himself if he is to surprise others, so the outline must contain wiggle room. The outline must reflect your protagonists’ personality and character, as well as those of other major figures.

Character is destiny. The reader wants someone with whom he can identify, unless you’re writing about a rogue, such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. Even Flashman is charming. You enjoy his company even if you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Or the book has to be compelling, such as Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, a novel about a despicable racist. A skilled novelist can make any protagonist compelling.

Just as a good song ends on a definitive note, such as The Beatles “A Day In the Life,” so should your outline indicate an end. But beware! Your characters will come alive and start dictating plot! When this happens, trust your characters.

The second purpose of the outline is to excite readers. The outline must be entertaining in and of itself. If you have written a dry recitation of events crammed with adjectives and qualifiers, throw it away! When the reader has read your outline, his reaction must be, “Holy shit! Where’s the book?”

Use your craft to bring that outline alive.

On Writing, Mike Baron

ON WRITING

Writers are people who have to write. They write every day. They don’t talk about it, they do it. People who don’t write every day are not serious writers.

You must know your craft, the rules of grammar, how to conjugate a verb. Don’t get nervous. Most of you already know this without the fancy labels. I see, you see, he sees. It is part of your instinctive grasp of English. Everyone needs a little book of rules. For the writer, it is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This slim volume has been in continuous publication since 1935. It takes an hour to read and is quite droll. Buy a used copy. Do not get the illustrated version. It has been bowdlerized in the name of PC.

All good fiction, whether comics or otherwise, is built around character. We humans are mostly interested in our own kind. The more interesting your protagonist, the better your story. Stories start with people. The TV show House on Fox is a perfect example. Hugh Laurie’s character is so thorny and unpredictable people tune in week after week out of fascination with his personality. Same thing with Batman, since Denny O’Neil straightened him out. Prior to O’Neil, Batman wandered from mood to mood, often “humorous,” seldom entertaining. Denny made Batman a self-righteous obsessive/compulsive. Obsession is always interesting.

While it’s possible to grow a great story out of pure plot, sooner or later it will hinge on the characters of your protagonists. “Character is destiny” holds true in fiction as well as life. Know who your characters are before you start writing. Some writers construct elaborate histories for each character before they begin. It is not a bad idea. Start with people then add the plot. Get a bulletin board. Write each character’s name and salient characteristics on a 3 X 5 card and tack it to the bulletin board. You can do the same with plot points. You can move characters and plot points around to alter your chronology.

What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook. Sometimes that hook is simply the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold voice whispering in your ear. “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character find the plot.

Comic writers think visually. No matter how bad our chops we can pretty much describe what we see in words. Some of us can even draw a little bit. I used to write comics by drawing every page out by hand—everything—all the tiny details, facial expressions, warped anatomy, half-assed perspective, all word balloons and captions. Editors and artists loved it. Why? Because they had everything they needed on one page instead of spread across three pages of single-spaced type. Some of the most successful writers in the industry write very densely. Each script is a phone book.

While drawing I became so immersed in the story I gave myself a spastic rhomboid muscle. Friends! Do not do what I did Learn to draw properly. That means a drawing board, an ergonomically correct chair, and applying the pencil lightly to the paper. So much for art advice.

There is another advantage for writers who would draw each page. It forces you to confront issues of pacing, camera placement, and editing. It teaches you the natural pace of a story, when to break a scene, when to zoom in for a close-up, and when to pull way back for a two-page spread. Archie Goodwin and Harvey Kurtzman both used this method when writing comics for other artists. I’m not advocating such. Most of the best writers in this industry do not draw. If they do, they still write full script.

Even though you are only providing words, it is up to you to SHOW, DON’T TELL. This is the prime directive. What’s the dif? Tell: “The assassin drew a bead on Mac’s back and pulled the trigger.”

Show: “Mac stared at the wall. He thought he saw a face there, maybe his ex-wife, damn her. He was still staring when a thirty foot giant slammed him in the back with a titanium driver. As he slid to the ground, his face gathering granules from the brick, a creeping numbness radiated from his right shoulder followed by the gush of warm blood and the scent of sheared copper.” We don’t have to mention the assassin because obviously someone pulled the trigger.

When writing for comics, try to show as much as possible. A finicky man entering a public phone booth might pull out a handkerchief to wipe the receiver. Maybe he’s obsessive/compulsive. Maybe he carries a box of Sani-wipes with him everywhere. By showing this man wiping down the receiver, you have established something about his character.

Never describe what the reader can see for himself.

There’s no established format for comic scripts. You can’t go wrong by doing it as a film script. You don’t necessarily need a screenplay writing program, just write it like a play. What does a play look like? Brush up your Shakespeare. There are a lot of books out there on writing comics. I’ve contributed to some of them. It never hurts to read about writing. We’re all curious as to how other writers do it. Many aspiring writers have recommended Robert McKee’s Story as the way to go. While Story contains good advice, it is also egregiously padded and never uses a nickel when a fifty cent piece will do. Joe Esterhaz’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood is the anti-Story. If you read one, you must read the other.

There’s also Denny’s DC Comic’ Guide to Writing Comics, a no bullshit primer by one of the best.

There are no writing schools but there are many writing programs. College level courses on comic book writing are a bull market. I’d advise any struggling writer with a Master’s degree to head toward the local college. Run don’t walk. Nobody can teach you how to write. You either got it or you ain’t. But a good teacher can help you improve your writing. Famous novelists in residence offer a career shortcut to those who are determined to become novelists or screenwriters. Same old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

James Hudnall has an essay on writing that comes and goes on James’ homepage like a mirage. Go to www.hameshudnall.com and say James, where’s that great column on writing at? Elmore Leonard has a few choice words on writing:

http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php?/weblog/more/elmore_leonards_ten_rules_of_writing/

It is the narrator’s voice that draws you through the story.

Mike Baron has written many novels. Wordfire Press has published Helmet Head, about Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job is about spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. Liberty Island Press has published Biker and Sons of Privilege and will publish Not Fade Away, Sons of Bitches, Buffalo Hump, Bloodline, and Disco.