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Fight Scenes by Mike Baron

Fight!FIGHT SCENES

We all love fight scenes. But we don’t all love certain fight scenes. Jack Kirby used to draw the Hulk waving his fist and five dudes flying off panel in five different directions. That is not a fight scene. It’s a graphic depiction of mayhem, but it’s not a fight scene. When Paul Gulacy took over Master of Kung Fu, I was gobsmacked by his  graphic style, somewhat derivative of Steranko. But even then, before I dipped a toe in a karate studio, I could tell there was something wrong with the fight scenes. They were a series of isolated action poses.

The reader (at least this reader) wants the action to unfold in a clear, logical and kinetic manner, much like a good kung fu movie. And that means no wire-fu. One of the reasons for the success of early kung fu classics like Five Fingers of Death and Enter the Dragon was their ability to show martial arts in action. Here was something new in the action genre to an audience raised on John Wayne punch ’em outs. (Good martial arts movies were always out there, from the early Japanese samurai films to Jimmy Cagney’s Blood on the Moon. Treasure of the Sierra Madre has one of the most believable fight scenes in history, a messy brawl in a bar. If you’re not a martial artist, that’s how you really fight.)

I have tried to do that in my comics, most notably The Badger, Bruce Lee, and Kato. In each case, I drew, or provided photo reference, of specific techniques unfolding. I always hated extreme close-ups of a fist smacking someone in the face. It was  disjointed and often the  next panel depicted the opponents in illogical or impossible positions, given the preceding panel.

We read from left to right. Most of the time, action should flow from left to right, and here’s the prime directive: hold your camera steady and let the figures move. There are an infinite number of fascinating, highly visual martial arts techniques. Comics have barely scratched the surface. There’s a guy on the current season of Ultimate Fighter who somersaults into position to grab is opponent’s leg, and then straightens out with a heel hook submission. I’ve seen him do it twice. His opponents know exactly what he’s going to do but seem powerless to stop him.

I have been fortunate to work with great artists such as Bill Reinhold, Neil Hansen, Brent Anderson and Val Mayerik for many of my fight scenes. Val is a highly experienced martial artist and the fights he’s drawn for Bruce Lee (Malibu) and the upcoming Badger will stupefy and amaze you. Jeff Johnson, who drew Way of the Rat for Crossgen, is another artist who understands not only combat, but how to depict it in an exciting and kinetic manner. I’ve always wanted to work with Jeff and now we have a story coming up in Dark Horse’s Legends Reborn which recasts the legend of Pegasus as a martial arts movie.

Sturgis, Mike Baron, Writer

STURGIS

 

Fifteen years ago I rode to Sturgis with Tom Delaney. We began in Yankton where Tom loaned me a Road King. As we headed west we joined a great river of bikers, a recreation on mechanical steeds of the Western migration of the 1840s and 50s. Most of the pilgrims were professionals on vacation although as always, there were many outlaw bikers as well.

Outside Sturgis traffic was backed up fifteen miles. But Tom had lived in Sturgis and knew a back way in, which we used, saving hours. We camped out at the notorious Buffalo Chip east of town. In Sturgis itself, bikes were everywhere. You’ve seen the pictures. You could walk from one side of the town to the other stepping only on motorcycle seats. Of course if you did that, you would be beaten to death.

The Chip’s restrooms were beyond primitive. Saturday morning I entered one and found an unconscious biker slumped on the concrete apron amid the stench and toilet paper. Since then they have renovated the toilets. As Tom and I walked toward the Hells Angels’ nitrous franchise, we passed a springer Harley and a man with a dog.

Tom said, “That’s a nice springer.”

I said, “That’s not a springer, it’s some kind of lab.”

Tom looked at me incredulous. “What?”

I turned toward the dog’s owner and said, “What kind of dog is that?”

The man, flying high, looked at me belligerently. “It’s a good dog. Why?”

Tom took my arm and steered me away.

I bought a balloon of nitrous from the Angels. The first one blew. The second one blew. The third one blew. The fourth one blew. The fifth one blew. I believe the sixth held.

The headliner that night was Jonny Lang, but before he came on, Cher came out to give away a free Harley. Cher was a regular at these things because of the movie Mask. All went well until Cher said, “I want to tell you about my good friend Bill Clinton.”

Fifty thousand bikers: “BOOOOOOOOOO!”

Cher: “Wait a minute! He’s a really good guy! Let me tell you…”

“BOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

The booing and jeers were intense and prolonged, driving Cher from the stage.

She never returned.

Ann: “What does this have to do with writing?”

Read Biker. I am adapting Biker for Comicmix. Chris-Cross is the artist.

Martial Arts Novels by Mike Baron

MARTIAL ARTS NOVELS

 

As a wee tad enamored of Bruce Lee and Five Fingers of Death, I sought martial arts fiction. There was damn little. The first decent kung fu novels I encountered were by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes. The mixture of Fuentes’ knowledge and Anthony’s literary craft delivered fast entertainment in the Jason Striker series, including Mistress of Death, The Bamboo Bloodbath, and Ninja’s Revenge. Fuentes was a Cuban judo specialist, but like all masters had some understanding of all the arts.

In the seventies I discovered Marc Olden, a writer who had emigrated to Japan and immersed himself in the martial arts experience. The first Olden book I read was the magical Poe Must Die that found Poe fighting the unholy powers of darkness under the sinister Jonathan. Poe’s quest to stop the forces of hell led him through the slop factories, boweries and bars of lower Manhattan accompanied by broken-down bare-knuckled English fighter Pierce James Figg. Olden’s villains were memorable, no moreso than a huge black female fighter named Black Turtle.

“During those prolific early years Olden also produced BLACK SAMURAI. The book follows the exploits of Robert Sand, a martial arts expert and the only non-Japanese trained by a Japanese samurai master. It became a successful novel series and was later made into a film, starring actor/karate-stylist Jim Kelly. Many of Olden’s books, such as the eastern-influenced GIRI, DAI-SHO, GAIJIN, ONI, TE, KISAENG and KRAIT, reflect his twin passions for eastern culture and philosophy.”

Giri was about NYC cop Manny Decker, the first of many novels incorporating Olden’s deep understanding of Eastern culture. Oni is so cruel it is almost unreadable, but for thriller fans it is essential.

I once spoke to Trevanian by phone. A friend of a friend knew him and he said it was okay to call. I was just a snot-nosed punk thinking about writing and he was very generous with his time. “I knew a little bit about mountain climbing, I knew a little bit about cave exploration.” The latter was in reference to his masterpiece Shibumi, about mysterious assassin Nicholai Hel, master of the esoteric martial art, naked/kill. Trevanian knew a little bit about martial arts – just enough to convince the reader that Hel was indeed bad news. But that is the gift of the writer—the gift of imagination. Trevanian didn’t really have to know martial arts to write about them convincingly. His narrative voice was convincing. The story was convincing. He needn’t supply the type of technical detail Olden did.

Don Winslow, an excellent writer, tried to resurrect Hel in the lamentable Satori. But Satori never came alive like Shibumi.

The next writer to tell convincing martial arts stories was Richard La Plante, an accomplished martial artist. La Plante’s first novel Mantis starred his recurring hero medical examiner Josef Tanaka, and the freak known as Mantis. Leopard raised the freak factor higher with an opening scene in which an impossibly muscled samurai bursts a man’s head with his hands. The next Tanaka story, Steroid Blues, is some kind of weird psycho-sexual masterpiece with one of the greatest twist endings I’ve ever read. I’m in contact with La Plante who says he has no plans to return to writing novels. A great loss.

My protagonists know how to fight but they don’t dwell on martial arts. I have taken the liberty of incorporating my old friend the Zhong Yi kung fu master Nelson Ferreira into several of my novels. This will come as a surprise to Nelson, whom I recently saw on a trip to Madison. (http://zhongyimartialarts.org/)

The Badger gives me an opportunity to show martial arts in action and there is no better example than Bill Reinhold’s work on Badger #9, “Hot August Night.” If there is a more kinetic and realistic depiction of martial arts in comics, I haven’t seen it. Except for maybe the Bruce Lee series Val Mayerik and I did for Malibu. Val is an accomplished martial artist. Sadly, the Lee Family no longer sanctions his fictional exploits.

How I Write by Mike Baron

How I Write

When I write a novel I begin with an outline. Sometimes I write it longhand on a spiral pad. When I have enough notes to constitute a story, I write a more formal outline. Nothing crazy, like Ken Follett’s 120 page outlines for his big fat novels, but not sketchy either. The outlines usually run about ten pages, tell the story, give some sense of life to the protagonists and intrigue the reader. Even though I’m the only one who sees that outline, I write it as if were writing ad copy for a huge audience. I make those words get up and walk.

Everything I write in preparation for a novel is an advertisement for the novel as well. After the outline comes the slug line, something memorable and intriguing. When people ask me what it’s about, I’m ready: Wagon Train in space. Nazi biker zombies. That tells you little about the characters but resonates with all that pop culture junk in the attic to provoke the desired reaction. “I’m interested!”

Next they will say, “Tell me more.”

Helmet Head. He was just a rumor to the “one-percenters”—a monstrous motorcyclist dressed all in black who rode the back roads of Little Egypt cutting off the heads of other bikers with a samurai sword. But on one terrible stormy night, Deputy Pete Fagan discovers that Helmet Head is all too real—and consumed with a fury that won’t be satisfied until his demonic sword drinks its fill.

I buy a big spiral pad and write the novel’s name on the cover. I keep this pad with me and make notes as I think of them, which is often not at home or in the middle of the night. Sometimes these are technical details, like some piece of hardware I want to use. Sometimes they’re just phrases.

I make each chapter between 1000 and 2000 words, and try to end them with a hook. I’m shooting for about 80,000 because that’s the length of the novels I like to read. I constantly revise as I go along, hopscotching all over the manuscript. When I finish, I go on to the next one.

Bat Fan V. Fat Ban by Mike Baron, Writer

BAT FAN V. FAT BAN

By Mike Baron

This was it. Ragnarok, Armageddon, and Doomsday rolled into one. This was the premier of Batman: The Killer Croc’s Revenge, the latest installment in the greatest movie franchise of all time. Christian Bale as Batman. Gary Oldman as Chief Gordon. Lindsay Lohan as Rachel Dawes. And Sean Penn as Killer Croc.

Wayne Callard stood in line with 1500 other Bat Fans waiting for the Cinegrande Cineplex to open its doors. Wayne had been waiting in line for nineteen hours. He’d camped out on the sidewalk the previous night, swathing his bulk in two double-sized down-filled sleeping bags on a foam mattress. Wayne was five feet seven and weighed 350 lbs. He’d been born Cicero Wayne Callard.

“Man,” said Manny Ramirez standing next to Wayne and blowing on his hands, “I hope they open the doors soon! I could use a tube steak!” Manny wore Bat sneakers and a Batpack.

“Haven’t you heard?” Wayne said. “They pulled all the hot dogs. The fat content was too high.”

Manny regarded Wayne dubiously. “You’re shittin’ me.”

“No sir. The mayor signed the executive order yesterday. He doubled the food tax on all fast food items and mandated the removal of such items as hot dogs, French fries, jalapeno poppers, and deep fried cheese curds.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Manny wailed. “What kind of dumb fuck would do that?”

“An overreaching municipal, state, and federal government that seeks to control all aspects of our lives and treat us like children.”

“I been thinkin’ about that hot dog all night! It’s the only thing that kept me going!”

“Hang, bro,” Wayne said. “I got you covered.”

A shout. A huzzah rose up the line. They had opened the doors. It was ten-thirty in the morning. Excitement was palpable among the faithful, overwhelmingly comprised of adolescent boys with a few sullen adults shepherding their cubs and hapless girlfriends in tow.

Two security guards met them at the door. “Please deposit all liquids, foods, and recording devices here. Sir, would you mind opening your coat?”

Wayne dutifully spread wide his bulky pea coat revealing a round mound covered with a nicely pilled argyle sweater that had belonged to his grandfather. The guard looked away and waved him through.

“Sir, would you mind opening your backpack?” the guard said to Manny.

Manny slipped it off and flipped open the lid. “It’s a Batpack.”

Tickets were nine dollars for the eleven o’clock matinee, twelve dollars for shows after noon. Wayne got his ticket and waited for Manny in the lobby where the snack counter was doing a brisk business in popcorn made with sunflower oil and available with virgin olive oil, tofu on a stick, and fruit smoothies.

Manny entered the lobby. “Ahmina get a Coke and some buttered popcorn, okay?”

“There is no buttered popcorn. It’s available with sunflower oil and olive oil.”

Manny’s jaw crushed a toe. He looked toward the refreshment counters which resembled festival seating at a Who concert. He resigned himself to water. Wayne took off at flank speed. It was imperative to GET YOUR SEATS FIRST and fish for food second. By the time Wayne and Manny gained the theater, the plum rows eight through twelve were taken with sniveling, squirming, texting, snarfing boys and men in a state of perpetual shiftiness emitting a low rumble of conversation punctuated by invective.

Wayne took the third seat in the 13th row except it was labeled the 14th to avoid the onus of superstition. Manny sat on the aisle. The big screen showed a ruddy, cheerful Santa Claus in coitus with a reindeer, guzzling Coke and shouting, “Shake, it Prancer, you hot bitch!” It was a Very Special Christmas.

During the trailer for Punisher IV, Marvel 0, a flat top and his date, who look4ed like Betty from Betty & Veronica, entered the aisle causing Manny to swing his legs to the side. Wayne had to stand and even then it was like squeezing by a mattress stuck in the doorway.

“Do you smell McDonald’s” Betty whispered to her date.

“Shhh!” Wayne shushed. Dude gave him the stink eye but Wayne ignored him. The troublesome couple sat three seats away. They watched a trailer for Zits, the new Will Ferrell comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family summer camp. They watched a trailer for Grits, the new Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family plantation. They watched a trailer for Pits, the new Ben Stiller comedy about black holes.

Finally, after ads for plastic surgery and whole grain crust chicken and sun-dried tomato pizza, the lights lowered and the feature began. Manny stared at the screen in fascination until the smell of a Big Mac got his attention. Wayne nudged him and passed over a Big Mac.

“What? How?” Manny said, pleased and delighted.

Wayne reached down and pulled a portion of his belly away from himself like a lid. “Prosthetic belly,” he whispered. “Costume store. Got the Big Macs last night in Jersey. Kept ‘em warm with body heat.”

“Shhhh!” Betty shushed harshly.

I know what you’re thinkin’, Wayne thought to himself. In all the confusion, did he pull out two burgers, or three? The question you’ve got to ask yourself, lady, is do you feel lucky?

Batman had a utility belt. Wayne had a prosthetic belly.

Wayne and Manny ate their burgers. Dude immediately in front of Wayne turned in his seat. He had a buzz cut and a ring in one ear and through his nose. “Dude, like that burger you’re eating is totally horrendous. Take it outside, why don’tcha?”

Other young men swiveled to see the object of wrath. Wayne deftly tucked the rest of the Big Mac into his cavernous maw, chewed and swallowed. Reaching into an inside pocket of his pea coat he withdrew a canned Coke, popped the lid and drank copiously. He belched like the Mother of All Bullfrogs. He rolled it out like a black furry carpet. It just kept on rolling. The belch caromed off the ceiling frieze and tumbled ‘round the room.

Onscreen, Batman foiled an attempt by the Punisher to crash his movie.

Buzz Cut jabbed a finger at Wayne. “Why don’t you get up off your fat ass and go sit somewhere else?”

“Yeah!” said his sidekick, Li’l BC.

With a sigh Wayne heaved himself to his feet and motioned for Manny to do likewise. He had not come to rumble with Nazis. He had come to see the movie. He and Manny moved further upslope until they found two seats in the narrow aisle next to the wall.

Onscreen, terrorists had taken over Gotham Tower and were jamming all radio, internet, and short wave transmissions. In the theater, a gang of twenty-something boys sitting behind Wayne and Manny had seized control of the 18th row and jammed transmissions from the screen by hooting, making noises, and throwing Junior Mints.

A Junior Mint bounced off the back of Wayne’s basketball-sized head. Wayne slowly swiveled with a steely glare. The obstreperous ones studiously watched the screen on which Bruce Wayne was fending off Poison Ivy’s attentions.

Another Junior Mint sailed past. Giggles emanated from the 18th row. Wayne didn’t bother to turn and look. With a sigh of resignation, he gripped his arm rests and heaved himself from his seat. My city bleeds, he thought. He ponderously made his way up the aisle toward the 18th row.

“Oh oh,” they joked. “Look out now, here he comes!”

“Beware the Fat Fury!”

Wayne wondered if the benighted ones were even familiar with Herbie Popnecker. Without looking at them Wayne reached the 19th row and turned in. He sat behind what he took to be the ringleader, a dude in an Oakland hoodie, pants down his ass and BKs on the back of the seats in front of him as if he weren’t the issue of wealthy white mandarins on the Upper West Side.

“You smell something?” the White Negro said.

“Yeah,” said one of his minions. “Something stinks.”

The White Negro turned to confront Wayne, whose knees were up against the back of the seat. “Whassup, you fat faggot? Why don’tcha move your bulk somewhere else, know what I’m sayin’?”

Wayne reached into his belly prosthetic and brought forth a halogen flashlight and a water pistol filled with dog urine. “Please turn around and enjoy the movie for which you paid nine dollars.”

Onscreen, Batman confronted a crazed Killer Croc in the act of planting a bomb.

Offscreen, the White Negro said, “Or what? You gonna make me?”

Wayne turned the flashlight on the White Negro’s face. He squirted dog urine on the White Negro’s shirt.

“There,” Wayne said. “Now you have a smell to complain about.”

The White Negro heaved himself over the back of his seat and attacked Wayne with both hands, delivering blow after blow to Wayne’s prosthetic belly. The White Negro’s fist penetrated several of the twelve thumbtacks Wayne and pushed through the front of his sweater. Stinking of dog urine, the White Negro stared in horror at his bleeding fists.

The manager, a pale young man with a ponytail, came up the stairs with his own flashlight which he shined on the whole sorry scene. He sniffed. “Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Your ticket money will be refunded out front in the lobby. Let’s go.”

The White Negro turned on him in wounded innocence. “But we didn’t do anything! This fat fuck started messing with us!”

Wayne remained seated. “They threw Junior Mints at the back of my head. I’m sure a police search will reveal the Mints.”

“What’s that smell?” the manager said.

“Smells like dog piss,” one of the minions said. He had the makings of a fine detective.

“All right, that’s it,” said the manager with newly found authority. “Out of here right now or I’ll stop the film, turn up the lights and call the cops.”

There was some grumbling but when two more ushers appeared with flashlights on the landing below the White Negro resignedly got to his feet and led his minions out the door. “It sucks anyway.”

The manager turned his flashlight on Wayne. Wayne turned his flashlight on the manager. “You too,” the manager said.

“Moi?” Wayne said. “I have troubled no one. I have thrown Junior Mints at no one. I merely seek to watch the movie which is ruined for me now, ruined I say because of incessant interruptions and the obstreperous and contumacious nature of your clientele.”

“Let’s go,” the manager said. “You can get a refund in the lobby.”

Wayne rose with dignity. “Fine,” he said and waddled down the stairs, pausing only to glance at Manny, who dutifully joined him. The two lads soon found themselves nine dollars richer individually and out on the street.

“Now what do we do?” Manny said.

Gazing at a poster for The Bourne Natural Killers, Wayne deduced their next move. “Come on. We’ll make our own movie. We’ll shoot it on my phone.”

Banshees Novel by Mike Baron

BANSHEES

Wordfire Press will publish my novel Banshees, about a satanic rock band that returns from the dead. Banshees began life as a comic book proposal. Each time I revised the proposal it got thicker and deeper until I realized I had a novel on my hands. I struggled for thirty years to write novels and all I produced were big piles of shit. Something happened during my dark period when I moved to Colorado to keep my late wife alive and took such jobs as unloading automobile bumpers and packaging mouse pads. It flushed me clean of all the extraneous impediments to writing, including word cleverness, wrong turns and faulty digressions. As I was writing Banshees it hit me. Holy shit. I’ve got it.

I don’t talk much about writing on Facebook. I don’t think writers should talk about their work unless they’re giving interviews or talking to readers. I talk about Banshees because I want people to know about it. I’ve never been good at self-promotion. Thank God I have friends like my wife Ann, my publisher Kevin J. Anderson, and my agent Denise Dorman who are good at that sort of thing. Every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his system and he has to get it out before he gets to the good stuff. I have written more than a million bullshit words, but not in a long time.

Once you absorb what it takes to write a novel it never leaves you. I surprised myself by writing horror. It’s not what I thought I’d write, but it crept up on me like an unseen presence in the dark. Film and novels are the two best mediums for horror, the former because it controls mood, sound and lighting, the latter because words can conjure that feeling of dread more successfully than any other medium.

Comics are the worst medium for horror because no matter how ghastly the story, you can always close the book and set it down. David Lapham’s Stray Bullets may be the exception to this rule because he writes about real horror in everyday life, and none of it is supernatural.

Decades of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Twisted Sister and lurid tales of rock stars doing strange things inspired me to write Banshees, about a notorious heavy metal band who all died in a plane crash in 1974. Or did they?

Notorious for their satanic lyrics, drunken excess and rumors of blood sacrifice, the Banshees shocked the world with their only album Beat the Manshees. Death stalked their concerts–lightning, stabbings, overdoses. The world heaved a sigh of relief when the Banshees all died in a plane crash. Or did they? Forty years later, with no fanfare, they appear in a seedy Prague nightclub. Ian St. James, son of original Banshees drummer Oaian St. James, can’t believe his eyes. Ian’s attempts to get backstage nearly kill him.   

            In Crowd sends hot young reporter Connie Cosgrove to cover the Banshees along with that old burn-out Ian. Ian falls hard for the stunning Connie who regards him with a mixture of disgust and amusement. As if!

             The Banshees phenomenon goes viral–are they real or is it all a brilliant publicity stunt? Every time Banshees play someone dies. Is it bad luck or part of some diabolical plan? As Connie and Ian dig into the Banshees’ past they find disturbing links to black magic, the Russian mob and an ancient Druidic sect. 

            Death only adds to their mystique as the Banshees steamroll across North America toward a triumphant appearance at LA’s Pacific Auditorium. Ian finally grasps the real reason they’ve returned–to tear a rift between our world and a monstrous evil– a rift created by an infernal machine built into Pacific Stadium and powered by human flesh.

 

 

Banshees cover

Mike Baron on Writing, Historical Fiction

HISTORICAL FICTION

 

I picked up Wolves of the Plains, Conn Iggulden’s first installment in his epic Genghis Kahn series, at a coffee shop in town. I spent the next year reading all six books and those who saw me at cons found my nose in Iggulden. I’d read historical fiction before, notably Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, and James Michener. I enjoyed them all but Iggulden was something new—he writes with an immediacy and ferocity that leaves you breathless. His fiction is mostly about war—the combatants, tactics and strategies—and he writes with a close point of view that puts you in the scene. He effortlessly achieves the goal of all fiction writers, to erase the line between the reader and the story.

I have long been a fan of Robert Harris who has written four novels about Imperial Rome including Pompeii, Imperium, and Conspirata, the last two told from Cicero’s point of view, an excellent counterpoint to Iggulden’s massive Caesar series which I am also reading. The last Harris I read was An Officer and a Spy, perhaps the most complete and entertaining exegesis of the Dreyfus Affair. Harris’ books are not nearly as action-oriented as Iggulden’s, but they are just as gripping due to his skill as a storyteller. The book sent me to the encyclopedias, as they always do, and I found that Harris got every fact about the Dreyfus affair right down to the minor characters. He gets inside their heads and elucidates history from the inside — the sign of a master.

But writers of historic fiction are not always ept. Take the brilliant historian and essayist Victor Davis Hanson who has been chronicling the decline of our republic from his farm in California for decades. Hanson’s essays are brilliant. I ordered his novel The End of Sparta as soon as it was announced. I found it unreadable. Every page jammed with thousand-word paragraphs punctuated with one unpronounceable Greek name after another. He wrote like a pedant lectures, with a sort of numbing rhythm and repetitiveness that proved the antithesis of reader involvement. Professor Hansen does not understand the importance of the narrative voice. I recommend his non-fiction books whole-heartedly.

We have all read some Michener. He’s inescapable. Michener had a squad of young researchers who helped him with his massive tomes. Michener is among the least painless methods of learning history because he is fun. Or rather, his stories are involving. While all his characters may not ring true, enough do to draw you in. No fiction can succeed without the reader’s emotional involvement in some of the characters and Michener understood that. But the sheer length and breadth of his work resulted in many characters getting short shrift. How could it be otherwise when he covered periods spanning millennia? Of all the Micheners I’ve read Mexico is my fave. It is the only Michener with a sense of humor.

I’m planning a historical novel.

Mike Baron Writing A Gleaming Nugget

NUGS

 

People often say to me, “I have a terrific idea for a novel! I’ll tell it to you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits!” After I am done kicking them in the nuts, I say, “What is your novel about?”

“Well it’s about a prince, or maybe he’s just a duke, who lives in a country that’s sort of like Switzerland, only with elves. And there are some dragons. And a princess.” At this stage I nod and pass out.

When people ask you what your novel, or movie, or comic is about you must be able to tell them in a brief and exciting manner. A gleaming nugget of concise enthusiasm. One of the oldest stories in Hollywood was the pitch for Star Trek. “Wagon Train in space.” This may or may not be true, but it illustrates succinctly what the show is about. You don’t have to boil it down to four words. A paragraph will do. But your paragraph is just as much an advertisement for your novel as the novel itself. It must intrigue and excite. Once you’re committed to your idea, your first priority should be distilling that hard little nugget of information.

People ask me what my novels are about. Helmet Head: Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job: Spontaneous human combustion and alien invasion. Biker: hard-boiled biker gang crime. Skorpio: A ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. These brief descriptions are not meant as cover blurbs. Cover blurbs are a bit longer and go into more detail. But the nuggets themselves are enough to excite interest. Nazi biker zombies is only three words yet it leaves no doubt as to the nature of the story. Let the reader discover the beauty of your words, the subtlety of your characters’ relationships and wisdom as they read your book. The point is to hook them. The point is to sound like these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQRtuxdfQHw

You want your description to sound the way these guys talk.

Harsh VS. Cozy in Writing by Mike Baron

HARSH VS. COZY

 

I like crime fiction that’s hard as nails with grim and often violent depictions of life along the seams. I admire Robert Crais, Andrew Klavan, Stephen Hunter, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and William Lindsay Gresham. I love Chandler and Hammett. But there is another type of crime fiction: the “Cozies,” perpetrated primarily by the British, in which all the violence occurs off page and the denouement takes place in an oak-paneled drawing room when a pompous epicure, be it Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot, reveals the villain over tea and crumpets.

Nothing wrong with Cozies. I have read every Rex Stout and some Agatha Christie. It’s just that my taste runs toward the hard and gritty. Sherlock Holmes is responsible for the bull market in Cozies, although he himself was never cozy. Conan Doyle wrote for the Victorian age when showing severed limbs or thrusting organs simply wasn’t done. Contemporary accounts of Jack the Ripper employ hilarious euphemisms to describe what was once considered indescribable. (Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper achieved apotheosis in James Hill’s 1965 movie, A Study In Terror.)

An odd little subset to Cozies are mysteries solved by dogs and cats. One need only look at the oeuvre of Rita Mae Brown whose best-selling titles include Tail Gate, Nine Lives To Die, The Litter of the Law, and The Big Cat Nap, all yclept a “Mrs. Murphy Mystery.” There are Cozies featuring dogs such as Jane Arnold’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie Mary Hiker’s Play Fetch: An Avery Barks Dog Mystery, C.A. Newsome’s A Shot in the Bark: A Dog Park Mystery, and Neil S. Plakcy’s Dog Have Mercy: A Golden Retriever Mystery. Can mysteries starring ocelots, coati mundis and peacocks be far behind? I love my dogs and sometimes write about them, but they don’t solve mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with cats solving murders if that’s your thing.

Every crime writer is fascinated by human darkness. The challenge is to present it in a way that isn’t torture porn. Ann Rule, Aphrodite Jones, and Jack Olsen never stint on their description of the crimes. To do so would rob the reader of their morbid fascination, which is one of the reasons we read true crime. All crime writers try to shine a light on the darkest corners of the human soul, the better to understand ourselves.

Narrative Voice in Writing by Mike Baron

THE NARRATIVE VOICE

The narrative voice is among the most important aspects of fiction. It is the narrative voice that seduces, excites, grabs you by the throat and drags you through the story. If the narrative voice is boring or stupid, like most business and academic writing, it kills whatever interest you may have in the story. The narrative voice can be in the first, third, or second. The latter is very rare. “You went to the store. You pulled a gun. You shot the clerk.” It’s just odd.

The first and the third have ruled fiction since Walter Scott defined the novel as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents.” As a devotee of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee stories, I have long been a fan of the first person narrative. But it wasn’t just the “I” talking. It was McGee’s world view, his love of tradition and decency, that informed the narrative. It was also MacDonald’s uncanny ability to evoke evil in its purest form. But mostly it was McGee’s laconic voice.

Tom Wolfe and James Ellroy own two of the most distinctive narrative voices in literature. Wolfe’s is god-like, omniscient, a wise-cracker who exposes human frailty without mercy.

At the moment Mac was in command, behind the wheel of her beloved and ludicrously cramped brand-new Mitsubishi Green Elf Hybrid, a chic and morally enlightened vehicle just now, trolling the solid rows of cars parked side by side, wing-mirror to wing-mirror, out back of this month’s Miami nightspot of the century, Balzac’s, just off Marky Brickell Village, vainly hunting for a space, he writes in Back To Blood, which does for Miami what Empire of the Vanities did for New York. Strips the veneer off a steaming pile of vanity.

Ellroy, whose L.A. Confidential is among the most influential of literary and film noirs, writes in an abrupt, rat-tat-tat prose distilled from decades of lurid pulps such as True Detective and Los Angeles gossip columns.

From Perfidia, his latest novel about Los Angeles on the eve of World War II:

Bobby De Witt was a jazz drummer. He personified the appellation “lounge lizard.” He wore high-waisted flannels and two-tone loafer jackets; he kept up with his pachuco bunk mates from the Preston Reformatory. He caught me sketching him. I convinced myself that he recognized my talent and Norma Shearer–like aplomb. I was mistaken there. All he recognized was my penchant for the outré.

            He had a small house out at Venice Beach. I had my own room. I slept away months of taxing outdoor days and too hot and too cold outdoor nights. I ate myself back from the brink of malnutrition and pondered what to do next.

            Bobby seduced me then. I thought I was seducing him. I was mistaken. He saw that I was growing wings and set out to clip them.

            Bobby was quite sweet to me at first. It started changing shortly after New Year’s. His business picked up. He got me hooked on laudanum and made me stay home to answer the phone and book dates with his girls and their “clients.” It got worse. He held a dope kick over me and coerced me into his stable. It got much worse.

Jazz drummer is always a synonym for dope peddler and pimp. I have the knife scars on the back of my thighs to prove it.

Around the time Ellroy wrote L.A. Confidential and The Big Nowhere, I couldn’t get enough. He lost me when he moved onto his JFK trilogy, American Tabloid, White Jazz, and Blood’s A Rover. The prose had become so terse and mannered it lost all humanity. I have read his latest, Perfidia, and it is a partial return to form. But he’ll never own my heart the way MacDonald or Wolfe does.

When you think of it, all your favorite writers have strong narrative voices.