Tag Archives: Writing

Routine by Mike Baron

ROUTINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silence of the Scams

THE SILENCE OF THE SCAMS

For twelve years I drove a ’99 Maxima. On the way back from the high country it started making awful noises and the power cut out. It had over 120,000 miles on it. I took it to my mechanic. “Looks bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’d have to tear the engine down.”

It was time. Using money I made defrauding widows and orphans I purchased a ’14 Maxima with 32,000 miles on it. The dealership tried to sell me a supplemental service contract. “Let me think about that,” I said.

Two weeks passed. Then the notices began. I threw some of them out but I have eight rightchere at my elbow and I’m sure there will be more today. The notices said, “REQUEST FOR ACTION—IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” And, “FINAL ATTEMPT TO NOTIFY, RE: 2014 NISSAN MAXIMA.” And, “REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION—TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED.” And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE REQUESTED.” And, “VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE—PLEASE RESPOND WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” I got three of those. And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED.” And, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE—RESPOND OR DIE.” And, “THE END IS NIGH, REPENT NOW.”

Okay. I made the last two up. But you get the idea. Oddly enough, none of these desperate appeals came from a legitimate business. Only one, EWS, has a return address. The rest just seemed to be anonymous threats to get my money. I have received at least twelve. I expect more. This time they will be my FINAL, FINAL NOTICES.

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.

At the Dog Park by Mike Baron

By Mike Baron, Writer of Nexus and Badger. Cali on Mike's Chair

 

AT THE DOG PARK

 

The dog park is three acres of enclosed wood chips on which dogs like to dine, from which we can see Long’s Peak gleaming in the sunlight. Long’s Peak is over fourteen thousand feet and sixty miles away. People die every year on Long’s Peak because they think it’s an easy climb. I don’t know why they think that.

The more dogs, the more activity. A half dozen or less encourages sloth and introspection but when the mutts mount up, so do the dogs! They circle like a large Hadron Collider attracting other dogs as small planets snagged by gravity, usually in a counter-clockwise direction. Archimedes observed how a whirlpool of dogs sucks in all other dogs.

I am down to two dogs following the passing of the immortal Bob. Freddie and Mack LOVE big balls. You wouldn’t think a twenty-pound dog could get a soccer ball in her mouth. WRONGGGGG! This dude brings a giant knot to the playground and the dogs go berserk, especially Freddie and Mack who are obsessed with BIG BALLS. The giant knot is just that—an inch thick hauser twisted into a five pound sphere with two ropes running out the poles. Dude tossed the giant knot and Mack got there first. Gripping the hauser in her steel trap jaws, she led a dozen dogs on a deranged dervish in the dirt to the detriment of none.

This morning at the park I met a guy named Rod. I told him I wrote comics and he told me that his grandfather, Milton Wohl, was one of the original Fleischer Brothers animators in Florida, and had worked on the early Popeye and Woody Woodpecker cartoons. In the Army during World War II, Wohl’s bunkmates were Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin.

You meet interesting people at the dog park.

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.

 

“Jackolope Jones”

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE “Jackalope Jones”

 

Friday couldn’t arrive soon enough. Josh wanted to take Fig to dinner but she wasn’t biting. “Just pick me up at nine.”

The last light was fading in the west as Josh pulled up at the foot of the steps leading to Fig’s bungalow. He kicked out, climbed the steps and knocked. A piebald cat leaped onto her porch and twined around Josh’s ankles. The door opened.

“Come on in,” Fig said. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

The cat came in with him. The room featured hilariously mismatched furniture — a Queen Ann sofa, a beanbag chair, a round oak dining table, an odd collection of kitchen chairs. Southwest style rugs on the hardwood floor and a mutt of unknown provenance on the rugs thumping his tail against the hardwood floor.

“That’s Mr. Schermerhorn,” Fig said from a back room. “He’s very friendly.” She pointed to the cat. “That’s Squishburton.”

Josh stooped to pet. “I’ve been thinking of getting a dog.”

“Really? Well I hope you’ll adopt one from the pound instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a purebred.”

“That’s the plan.,”

Fig danced into the living room wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and a denim jacket, a simple strand of pearls around her neck. “Let’s go!”

Fig got on the pillion and wrapped her arms around Josh’s waist. The Club was hopping when they arrived. Located next to a cemetery, the Club was built in a 170 year old barn that had been renovated and added onto until it consisted of a series of mis-matched segments. The parking lot was jammed and most of the curbside parking was gone but there was always room for cycles. Josh found a spot with six other chops right in front. He looked at the license plates. He always looked at the license plates. Two of the bikes were from Iowa.

“That’s Jackalope’s bike,” Josh said pointing to a Fat Bob with apes.

“Who’s Jackalope?” Fig said.

Josh grinned. “Wait ’til you meet him.”

Josh paid their five buck cover charge, got stamped and went into the big room in back with a stage and a wrap-around balcony containing booths. Three, big, loud, beefy Bedouins had commandeered a table in the corner. As Josh and Fig entered a big, rangy man with a mullet wearing a flash-covered leather vest stood and waved.

“YO CHAINSAW! OVER HERE!”

Fig looked at Josh. “Chainsaw?”

“It’s a long story.” He led her by the hand up to the table where the boys had pushed back and added two chairs.

A big guy with a mullet stood. “Man, I can’t believe that bullshit went down at your place!”

“Wild shit, man!” said a man shaped like a haystack. “Why didn’t you waste those Insane Assholes yourself?”

“I’m not allowed to have guns, boys. This is Fig. Fig, this mullet-headed fool is Tim, the fat one’s Bad Bob, and the dude with the perfect hole smack in the center of his forehead is Jackalope Jones.”

Jackalope stood, took Fig’s hand, and bent to kiss it like a continental fop.

“I’ve heard of you!” Fig said.

Jackalope looked up. He was a wiry dude in his mid-forties wearing a denim vest with flash, a white Sturgis-T, starting to bald. He had another, smaller hole directly above the big one, at his hairline.

“They tell you why they call me Jackalope?”

“No,” Fig said bemused. Josh held the chair for her and sat beside her.

Tim, Bad Bob and Jackalope all started to talk at once. Josh slammed his palm on the table and they stopped, startled.

Josh pointed to Jackalope. “Let Jackalope tell it.”

“I used to be plain Jack Jones,” Jackalope said.

“You always liked jackalopes,” Tim said.

“That’s true,” Jackalope said. “But that’s not how I got my name. Couple years ago we were riding up near Menomonie, who was it, Tim? You, Bad Bob, Josh, the Big Kahuna, and Orpheus.”

“Anybody remember that skank Orpheus brought along?” Bad Bob said.

“Shut the fuck up, Bob!” Jackalope said. “I’m trying to tell a story here! Anyhow it’s like ten p..m. in July, we’re riding along this snakey-ass country road and I’m in the lead. I come around a corner and there’s a fucking eight-point buck standing in the middle of the road. I hit it! I hit it in such a way that its horn went in here,” he pointed to the hole in the middle of his forehead, “and came out here.”

He pointed to the smaller hole at the hairline.

“So all these fucks pile off their bikes, grab hold of the buck and slash it to death with their buck knives, right? Then Josh takes a saw out of his saddlebags and he saws the fucking antler off the deer, leaving it in my head until they can get me to a hospital. And Bad Bob says…”

“You look like a fuckin’ jackalope!” Bad Bob, Tim and Josh all said.

Fig laughed.

“The EMTs and county cops were stunned by the amount of blood,” Tim said.

“And I survived none the worse for wear,” Jackalope finished grandly.