Category Archives: Writing

About writing

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.

Our Fascination with Comics by Mike Baron

OUR FASCINATION WITH COMICS

Why do comics attract such intense fascination? Much of it has to do with the form. It’s all there in your lap. It takes fifteen minutes to read. This makes everybody an expert. For those of us who grew up with comics, they are among our nearest and dearest entertainments. We all have our favorites and opinions on what constitutes a hero.

The art grabs your eye first, especially when you come across the shock of the new. Kirby, the first time you saw him. Steranko or Neal Adams. You read the words. There aren’t that many, but usually there are too many. Many writers can’t abide a wordless page. They’re the writer, it’s their job to add the words! So add words they must, whether they advance the story or not. A comic is not a novel. Words have greater significance in a comic because there are so few of them. Who reads a comic and skips the long-winded passages? Nobody.

Because they’re so simple, everybody thinks they can do it. And they can. Comics are the most forgiving of all art forms. You will believe a man can fly. Flaming Carrot. The Tick. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These concepts would have a hard time gaining traction in other media without first launching as comics. It took sixty years for movies to present these concepts convincingly. In comics, they gain instant acceptance.

The underground explosion of the sixties, seventies, and eighties brought fresh writing to comics. The autobiographical musings of R. Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Dori Seda and Sharon Rudahl have an immediacy and freshness often lacking in mainstream comics, because they are unique to that individual, untethered to continuity or tradition. Many of these creators have continued to do groundbreaking, often literary work, such as Bill Griffith’s memoir of his mother’s affair, Invisible Ink.

Too often, mainstream comics have fallen back on cliches. How often have we read, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore?” “We have to talk.” “Move it, people.”

You can only read so many novels a week, but you can read twenty-five comics in a day. Now you’re an expert. Because the form is so simple, it’s easy to imagine how you could do it better. Everybody has their favorites. Everybody has strong opinions on what constitutes good story. Some writers understand the medium better than others. Carl Barks. Alan Moore. Chuck Dixon. The explosion in comic-based movies has not resulted in an increase in readers, but it has fired up the comic fans.

Movies require vastly greater resources than comics and because the stakes are so high, the level of professionalism is also much higher. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better written than ninety per cent of the Captain America comics. When you grow up loving a character or book, you feel a proprietary interest. When the movie deviates from canon or just falls on its face, many readers feel betrayed, that the movie makers don’t understand the character, or pervert its intent.

While comic sales shrink, the obvious solution is to sell comics in movie theaters. But there is no communication between the comic book publishers and the theater chains, and even if there were, they couldn’t agree that the sky is blue. Comics aren’t important enough to occupy space in a modern cineplex, never mind there is plenty of space.

Comics are on life support for a number of reasons. Poor writing. The rise of video games. Most comics can’t compete with a good video game in terms of entertainment. The rise in illiteracy. The collapse of the distribution system. Take your pick. But they will never die because of their simplicity. Anybody can produce a comic. It is a labor of love.

Cliches, Mike Baron

CLICHES

There are certain phrases that permeate the zeitgeist like low-hanging fruit. The moment you read one, your eyes glaze over.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“We have to talk.”

“Move it, people!”

“I know, right?”

“I can’t even…”

Comic book writers feel pressue urge to add words. There’s all that space! For what are we being paid if not to add words? The habit is especially egregious during fight scenes. A real fight is physically demanding. Even the best fighters, who train for months, run out of gas and simply don’t have the energy to talk to their opponents. There are always exceptions, like Muhammad Ali and Nate Diaz. But most of the time, you’re out there panting trying to outguess your opponent.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I too have added unnecessary dialogue to fight scenes. And I just used a cliché! You see? It’s everywhere!

Show don’t tell is among the most important lessons a writer must learn. This applies to prose as well as comics. Comics are a visual medium, and anytime you can advance the narrative by showing, you should. This doesn’t mean a wordless comic. Dialogue can advance plot too, but it must arise naturally from the narrative. Use dialogue to reveal character or add a touch of humor. Shakespeare understood the importance of humor, which provides brief flashes even in his darkest tragedies. Even Schindler’s List has a few jokes.

Show Don’t Tell by Mike Baron

SHOW DON’T TELL

I have three rules for the writer. Okay, I have a lot of rules for the writer. But I start with these three: 1. Your job is to entertain. 2. Show, don’t tell. 3. Be original. They’re all difficult to internalize, but some more than others. Rule number two has ramifications that go far beyond writing, and inform the way we live.

Once you internalize “show don’t tell,” you no longer call people names. That’s telling. And not calling people names suppresses all sorts of bad habits. Like bragging. We all want to impress others. When we were young, we would recite our accomplishments ad nauseum, especially after a few drinks. We all know people who only talk about themselves. We’ve all met people who think nothing of reciting their entire family history on a first meeting. Sometimes these histories reflect poorly. It doesn’t matter. The point of the encounter is for them to grab a little therapy by talking about themselves. They never say, “What do you do? What are your hobbies? What do you love?”

The secret to being a good friend is to be a good listener. A writer will absorb these tales of triump and woe and tuck them away for future reference. They’re personal and original, which brings us to rule number three.

In looking over this blog entry, I see that the whole thing is a violation of my second rule and I’m tempted to erase it.

Where I Get My Ideas by Mike Baron

WHERE I GET MY IDEAS

People ask me where I get my ideas. I subscribe to an idea service. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. Every week, they send me a list of ideas on the Dark Web. They guarantee that these ideas are just for me, and no one else. I had to fill out an exhaustive questionnaire and undergo a series of intense physical tests to qualify because some of these ideas are risible, and could trigger extreme reactions in some people. Madness. Depression. A stroke. Even the funny ones.

Some of the ideas are cryptic. There’s no appealing to the Idea Board for clarification. You get what you get and that’s all you get. A number of ideas come in the form of story titles. THESE ARE YOUR MONTHLY STORY TITLES is the header. Frankly, I could use some help with the following:

“Drunk Octopus Wants To Fight”

“Never Say Nebuchadnezzar Again”

“Oxy, Oxy, All In Free”

“Put Your Gear Away, Put Your Fear Away”

“Bicycles Hate Icicles”

“How To Get Peanut Butter Off The Roof Of Your Mouth”

If any of you have stories to go along with these titles, I would like to hear them. No not really. It’s like that guy who keeps telling me, “I have a great idea for a novel! I’ll tell you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits!”

Ideas come from everywhere. As soon as Adrian Berry published his book The Iron Sun: Crossing The Universe Through Black Holes, a hundred science fiction writers went to work. I used his research in Nexus. Some science fiction writers foresaw the rise of the internet, including Neal Stephenson, John Brunner and William Gibson. Others, like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, followed the internet. All you have to do is read the newspaper. Wait. The newspaper is dying. It’s almost gone. All you have to do is cruise the internet.

Florida Man in Jail by Mike Baron

As many of you know, I’m working on a FLORIDA MAN novel. Gary is in jail for trying to beat a restaurant bill by dumping a life nutria on the table. For those who do not know what is a nutria, it’s an invasive water rat.

Gary tried to sleep on the floor against the wall, Earl sitting next to him, when the deputies brought in some hepped up board punks who’d been caught spraying swastikas on the local synagogue.

Gary slept fitfully, wakened numerous times by beefs, splats, squeals, raps and smacks.

He woke at one am to the dulcet tones of an aspiring rapper.

“My dong is long. My shlong is strong. Let it feed like an eagle eating an eagle in the weed.”

Groaning, Gary saw the hip-hop artist, a gawky black kid in chinos and an artfully ripped Tupac muscle shirt.

“That don’t even make sense!” a man bellowed from a bench.

“You want to test me, broheem?” the rapper said. “Step right up. I ain’t what I seem.”

To these dulcet tones and others, Gray drifted off to sleep.

Someone shook him by the shoulder. He woke with a start to find a young man wearing a rough blue cotton Armani suit, a blazing white shirt with the collar outside the suit jacket, and black Brunos, reeking of Paco Rabanne. He had a fashionable three day stubble on his handsome chin, and rich black hair.

“Mr. Duba?” he said. “Mr. Duba?”

Gary sat up and looked around. Where was Earl?

The man seemed comfortable on his haunches. “I’m Sid Saidso. I’m a programming executive with Netflix. I’ve been following your exploits and I’d like to talk to you about possibly doing your own reality show.”

Gary sat up, rubbing his eyes. “My exploits?”

Sid Saidso’s smile was like a thousand watt bulb. “Since the lottery! I’m executive producer on What’s Your Snoblem, which is in its second season, and Barfalo, which debuts in November and stars Bruce Willis and Brie Larson.”

Barfalo?”

“A bulimic buffalo terrorizes settlers in eighteen eighties Nebraska. But never mind about that. I believe in deep preparation. I’m not a drive-by guy. I know how you won the lottery. I know about the alligator in the pool. You were on that plane that exploded. They said it was filled with scorpions.”

“Tarantulas,” Gary said.

“Exactly. You’re a fascinating dude. Your wife is even more famous. Sponsors would pay plenty to feature your exploits. It won’t be cheap. It won’t be exploitative. I respect what you do.”

Gary scratched his head. “What do I do?”

“That’s what we’ll find out.”

Sid Saidso dipped in his jacket and extended a blinding white card between his exquisitely manicured first and second fingers. Gary took it. It showed the black silhouette of Charlie Chaplin dancing with his umbrella, and said,

SID SAIDSO

SAIDSO PRODUCTIONS

LOS ANGELES AND ROME

There was a website, an email address and two international phone numbers. Gary tucked it in his front pocket.

“What are you doing in here?”

“I heard you were in here and slugged the first cop I could find.”

Gary regarded Sid Saidso. “Dubious.”

Saidso grinned. “Kidding! They said I was veering all over the street. Now I ask you. Do I seem the slightest bit impaired to you?”

Saidso held his right hand out like the head of a snake, steady and level to the ground.

“Did you see a big guy? Looks like Li’l Abner?”

“No, I just got here. Here’s what I’m thinking. My team will follow you around. They’re very unobtrusive. You won’t even notice them. They use drones. We’ll wire your house to the extent that you’ll allow. I’m looking at either forty-four of fifty-six minutes to be aired weekly. I believe I can get you a seven figure deal.”

Gary counted on his fingers.

“I know Roebuck Simms bailed you out of jail, but I don’t know why. I think I can get him on the show.”

“You know about Steely Danielle?”

“I was there! I tried to talk to you then but some thug kept getting in my way.”

“What thug?”

“A six foot seven Jamaican transsexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“So why ain’tchoo bail us out?”

“Believe me, my lawyer is on the way. As soon as I’m out, you’re out. By the way. The nutria.” Saidso made the ‘OK’ figure with thumb and forefinger. “Brilliant. I even have a nutria wrangler.”

A guard named O’Malley who looked like El Capitan in Yosemite came back. “Duba, let’s go. You’re bailed out.”

Saidso followed Gary to the gate. “How do I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll call you.”

Habib waited in the reception area. Gary collected his things and signed the forms.

“Thanks for bailing me out.”

“What can I say, I’m sentimental. Also, I have three properties need new roofs.”

Florida Man by Mike Baron

As many of you know, I’m working on a FLORIDA MAN novel. Gary is in jail for trying to beat a restaurant bill by dumping a life nutria on the table. For those who do not know what is a nutria, it’s an invasive water rat.

Gary tried to sleep on the floor against the wall, Earl sitting next to him, when the deputies brought in some hepped up board punks who’d been caught spraying swastikas on the local synagogue.

Gary slept fitfully, wakened numerous times by beefs, splats, squeals, raps and smacks.

He woke at one am to the dulcet tones of an aspiring rapper.

“My dong is long. My shlong is strong. Let it feed like an eagle eating an eagle in the weed.”

Groaning, Gary saw the hip-hop artist, a gawky black kid in chinos and an artfully ripped Tupac muscle shirt.

“That don’t even make sense!” a man bellowed from a bench.

“You want to test me, broheem?” the rapper said. “Step right up. I ain’t what I seem.”

To these dulcet tones and others, Gray drifted off to sleep.

Someone shook him by the shoulder. He woke with a start to find a young man wearing a rough blue cotton Armani suit, a blazing white shirt with the collar outside the suit jacket, and black Brunos, reeking of Paco Rabanne. He had a fashionable three day stubble on his handsome chin, and rich black hair.

“Mr. Duba?” he said. “Mr. Duba?”

Gary sat up and looked around. Where was Earl?

The man seemed comfortable on his haunches. “I’m Sid Saidso. I’m a programming executive with Netflix. I’ve been following your exploits and I’d like to talk to you about possibly doing your own reality show.”

Gary sat up, rubbing his eyes. “My exploits?”

Sid Saidso’s smile was like a thousand watt bulb. “Since the lottery! I’m executive producer on What’s Your Snoblem, which is in its second season, and Barfalo, which debuts in November and stars Bruce Willis and Brie Larson.”

Barfalo?”

“A bulimic buffalo terrorizes settlers in eighteen eighties Nebraska. But never mind about that. I believe in deep preparation. I’m not a drive-by guy. I know how you won the lottery. I know about the alligator in the pool. You were on that plane that exploded. They said it was filled with scorpions.”

“Tarantulas,” Gary said.

“Exactly. You’re a fascinating dude. Your wife is even more famous. Sponsors would pay plenty to feature your exploits. It won’t be cheap. It won’t be exploitative. I respect what you do.”

Gary scratched his head. “What do I do?”

“That’s what we’ll find out.”

Sid Saidso dipped in his jacket and extended a blinding white card between his exquisitely manicured first and second fingers. Gary took it. It showed the black silhouette of Charlie Chaplin dancing with his umbrella, and said,

SID SAIDSO

SAIDSO PRODUCTIONS

LOS ANGELES AND ROME

There was a website, an email address and two international phone numbers. Gary tucked it in his front pocket.

“What are you doing in here?”

“I heard you were in here and slugged the first cop I could find.”

Gary regarded Sid Saidso. “Dubious.”

Saidso grinned. “Kidding! They said I was veering all over the street. Now I ask you. Do I seem the slightest bit impaired to you?”

Saidso held his right hand out like the head of a snake, steady and level to the ground.

“Did you see a big guy? Looks like Li’l Abner?”

“No, I just got here. Here’s what I’m thinking. My team will follow you around. They’re very unobtrusive. You won’t even notice them. They use drones. We’ll wire your house to the extent that you’ll allow. I’m looking at either forty-four of fifty-six minutes to be aired weekly. I believe I can get you a seven figure deal.”

Gary counted on his fingers.

“I know Roebuck Simms bailed you out of jail, but I don’t know why. I think I can get him on the show.”

“You know about Steely Danielle?”

“I was there! I tried to talk to you then but some thug kept getting in my way.”

“What thug?”

“A six foot seven Jamaican transsexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“So why ain’tchoo bail us out?”

“Believe me, my lawyer is on the way. As soon as I’m out, you’re out. By the way. The nutria.” Saidso made the ‘OK’ figure with thumb and forefinger. “Brilliant. I even have a nutria wrangler.”

A guard named O’Malley who looked like El Capitan in Yosemite came back. “Duba, let’s go. You’re bailed out.”

Saidso followed Gary to the gate. “How do I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll call you.”

Habib waited in the reception area. Gary collected his things and signed the forms.

“Thanks for bailing me out.”

“What can I say, I’m sentimental. Also, I have three properties need new roofs.”

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.”