Monthly Archives: January 2020

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.

Progress, Mike Baron

Progress is a double-edged sword. The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. I have been a devotee of newsstands ever since visiting a fully-stocked magazine store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I love magazines. I have subscribed to countless over the years including National Geo, Vanity Fair, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Road&Track, American Spectator, and Downbeat.

When I moved to Colorado, there were two outstanding magazine outlets. The News Cafe in Loveland, and Al’s News in Fort Collins. They had hundreds, if not thousands of magazines on display and copious paperbacks. I could spend hours in them just looking through the various magazines. The music sections alone were stuffed with periodicals. Rolling Stone. Spin. Downbeat. Under the Radar. Living Blues. There were two or three different model car magazines.

We are undergoing a paradigm shift that is killing the printed periodical. Most of it is the internet. Why shlep downtown when you can dial up whatever your heart fancies on your phone? Well here’s one reason. In a magazine, you can flip past the ads by turning the page. Also, the ads were more thoughtful, designed to engage, and contained exciting graphics. On the internet, the ads are shrieking monsters that appear designed to piss people off. They cover content, often for long minutes with no way to get rid of them. Finally, reluctantly, a tiny, nay, an INFINITESIMAL ‘X’ appears in the far northwest corner of the screen, as far from the ad as possible. When you move your cursor over the X, it runs to another part of the screen. I make a point of not noticing who the advertiser is because I’m not interested. Or if I do take note, it’s to avoid their product or service.

I understand advertisers need to monetize the internet, but there has to be a better way.

Also, I think we have a generation that doesn’t read. Raised on video games and electronic media, they have no interest in books. Certainly not in books without pictures.

Coffee News closed down a couple years ago. Al’s News closed down last year. The only place you can find magazines is Barnes & Noble, which is hanging on by its fingernails, or the supermarket which grudgingly shows a few popular titles.

We also have a risk-adverse population. Motorcycle sales are down. There used to be five or six monthly general interest motorcycle magazines. All that remains are Cycle World and Motorcyclist, both of whom have gone quarterly. They are waving the white flag. There aren’t enough new models to cover, so they feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads of cracked asphalt or dirt bikes in the distance. They feature articles about “Titanium–the Miracle Metal!”

Road&Track is still monthly, but instead of three or four complete road tests each issue, we’re likely to get one, plus endless artsty-fartsy photo spreads of ancient tires, racetracks at dusk, and ruminations on the future of the electric car. Road&Track’s last issue got woke and started railing against the internal combustion engine. They never discuss the source of the electricity powering their Teslas and Leafs, which is, of course, coal-burning powerplants.

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.