Friday, July 29, 2011

The Newest Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel

The depiction of cops in the hardboiled/noir genre has been littered with both the good and the bad.  For writers like Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and many others, the cop has been less than honorable if not squarely placed in the enemy's camp.
For writers like Dell Shannon, Ed McBain, and others, the depiction of the working cop has been viewed thru a more sympathetic set of eyes.  The cops in police-procedural novels come across a potentially both.  Both good and bad.  Both three dimensional or nothing more than cardboard cut-outs.  Both either over worked or amazingly singularly-minded on solving just ONE case at a time.

A few years ago (I won't tell you how long . . . but when was Abraham Lincoln the President?)  I thought up creating two working cops. . . homicide detectives . . . and make them unique.  Make them three dimensional.  Good points and bad points.  Strength and weaknesses.   On top of that I thought I would make them something else not really sketched out fully in this genre;  actually give them two attributes rarely seen.

First I was going to make them true friends.  Partners in a precinct's homicide section.  Close friends who knew what the other was going to say before the other said it.  Make them odd.  Funny.  Watch them play pranks on each other as they goof around.  Make'em humane.  And at the same time as tough as the armor plate found on an M-1 Abrams tank.  Make them in such a way that the reader will recognize that each detective is absolutely great at his job.  But combined, they make for an unbeatable team.

The second thing I want to do is design two characters who had their own particular demons to fight--but neither had given up and became the dry, sullen pessimist drowning in a sea of self-imposed alcoholism.  The question was when I created these two was this;  in a grim world filled with blood, lies, deceit, and greed--could cops actually exist who were basically honest.  And basically optimistic?

And I wanted them to solve homicide cases that were complex, twisted, filled with lot's of classical red-herrings.  Not just one case, mind you.  But multiple cases.  All to be solved in a short amount of time.  This idea of multiple crimes has evolved somewhat.  Now I'm down to just two homicide cases that are not related in each book.  Two unrelated cases that are genuine head-scratchers is enough for a fan to read--and keep track of.

So with these thoughts in mind, this is how I came up with my characters, homicide detectives Turner Hahn and Frank Morales.  Each unique.  Each with their own personalities.  Their own weaknesses.  Each needing the other in order to become an unforgettable team.

I bring this all up because sometime in August of this year (2011)  Untreed Reads is going to come out with, A Taste of Old Revenge.  Two separate homicide cases.  One case stretching back more 60 years into the past.  A case that brings up old horrors from the past and a massive--yet brilliant--cover up.  The other stretching back to the First Gulf War and billions of dollars suddenly disappearing . . vanishing . . . in plain sight.

I don't know how successful this book is going to be.  But I'm convinced it paints Turner and Frank in a more complex and unique light.  It makes them more human.  More vulnerable.  And more believable.  In the end, I think that's what readers want the most.  Characters who are believable in situations that might be fantastic to contemplate on first thought,  but not cartoonish are so outrageous as not to be within the realm of possibility.

Cross your fingers, my friends.  Let's ride this roller coaster for as far as it will take us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writing and The Art of War

Sun Tzu. An ancient Chinese general who lived somewhere around 515 BC and served as a general in one of the many ancient Chinese armies fighting for dominance in that time period.  Wrote perhaps the most famous of all military treatise on waging war entitled, The Art of War.
(What, Eunice?  You bet we're going to war if I have eat another one of your meat loaf's for supper tonight.  Twenty one days of meatloaf is making me gag!  So put on your armor, wench!  En garde!)

Oh. . . . sorry about that.  Sometimes the missus and I have a difference of opinion.  About her 'cooking' if you know what I mean . .

But as I was saying, The Art of War . . .

What does a classical work about how to wage war and win battles have anything to do with writing, you ask.  Ah, dear pilgrim!  Everything!  For in truth The Art of War is not so much about actually fighting and marching and all that soldiery stuff (which, I admit, he does talk about that and which fascinates me).  It actually is more of a psychological study of both yourself and of your opponent.  And this is at the heart of the matter.

To be a GREAT writer you must know yourself--and that of the reader whom you are aiming your work toward.  You must know your writing strengths and weaknesses.  You must study the market and see what works and what doesn't.  You must dig deep within yourself and see if your abilities equal your desires to write well enough to succeed.

One of Sun Tzu's tenants is perhaps the most oft-quoted of all;

All warfare is based on deception.

 Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable;

when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we

are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away;

when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

How does this translate to writing the perfect Mystery?  The perfect Fantasy?  The perfect Romance?  When we're writing we should lay traps and intrigues for the reader to stumble into.  We should set up labyrinths where the readers is lulled into a false sense of security in thinking they can predict the outcome of the story.  Or knows three chapters before the end of the novel who the killer is.  Or who actually is in love with Hortense.

When we write we should present the obvious; yet fade away when it appears the denouement has arrived.  We should insert seemingly innocuous little details that, at first, appear to be of little significance only to later on realize they play a vital role in solving the conundrum.

Deception.  What makes for a great book is deception.  What delights a reader the most is deception and surprise.

If you have not read The Art of War I strongly urge you to do so.  Read it and convert its tenants into rules and guidelines you can use as writing techniques.   Don't become so religious about it that you MUST use every one.  The old general would chastise you for being so literal.  Flexibility, speed, a clear vision--those attributes he would stress the most.  Rigid adherence to rules he would not.

(Eunice! Not fair, dammit!  I'm encased in a knight's armor--and you're in a fraking Army tank!  One of us has a decidedly difference of opinion on what is the definition of a fair fight!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Talking about Chandler again

Here we are talking about Raymond Chandler again.  Yeah, yeah, I know; I said in my last blog that too many writers want to compare their literary genius with Chanedler's (No Shit!  This is Good Stuff!!) literary genius.  And doing so is a mistake.  A big mistake.

Still . . . .

Chandler wrote The Little Sister in about 1949.  Some of our college educated, over-rated, often pompous, and many times complete idiot 'experts', rate this novel as not one of Chandler's best.  Let's assume for arguement's sake that this time, and only this time, the college educated wig-wags are correct.  Maybe The Little Sister doesn't stand up to his Fairwll, My Lovely.  It doesn't matter--even when Chandler was struggling he wrote in a way that just floors you when you read it.   Take a look this--here's the opening paragraph of the book.  You'll see what I mean.

The pebbled glass door panel is lettered in baked black paint: PHILLIP MARLOWE--INVESTIGATIONS.  Is is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corrider in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.  The door is locked, but next to it is another door with the same legend which is not locked.  Come on it--there's nobody in here but me and big bluebottle fly.  But not if your from Manhattan, Kansas.

Okay, I admit:  the crack about Manhattan, Kansas makes me grin every time I read it.   I call myself a Kansan and any time The Little Apple is mentioned in any publication it's okay by me, sister.  But moving past that little point:  look at the fraken words!  The vivid mental pictures Chandler paints in your head!  Good golly, Gandolf!  The mental image of that all-tile bathroom brings back all kinds of memories to me!

And people.  Chandler had a way about describing people.  Listen to this:

She was wearing a brown tailor-made and from a strap over her shoulder hung one of those awkward looking shoulder bags that made you think of a Sister of Mercy taking first aid to the wounded.  On the smooth brown hair was a hat that had been taken from its mother too young.  She had no make up, no lipstick, and no jewelry.  The rimless glasses gave her that libriarian's look.

Maybe, just maybe, The Little Sister isn't Chandler's best.  But brother, on a bad day Chandler's words have a way of just making your head spin in admiration at a master spilling words all over a clean piece of paper.  His mediocre rates as the absolute best for many of today's so-called A-list writers.  The guy died in 1959.  Gone for fifty-two years.  Yet pick up one of his novels and you're wrapped up in it faster than you can snap your fingers.  That's brilliant writing.  That's a master craftsman talking to you.

That's why a lot of 'great' writers are eventually going to be forgotten. Their 'great' is only marginally good.  But Raymond Chandler and his novels are going to survive for a long, long, long time.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Raymond Chandler Trap

The other day was Raymond Chandler's birthday.  He would have been a very impressive 123 years old.  More importantly, if the old man was still alive, he would have been one genuine pain in the ass.

(No, Eunice!  I didn't say you were an ass!  But now that you mention it, dear, you're certainly a pain!)

Who is Raymond Chandler, you ask.  Quasimodo!!  You've never heard of Raymond Chandler!?  And you call yourself a writer of noir and hardboiled detectives!

For the rest of us poor bastards Chandler is the GOD of the whodunits.  His writing simply was/is a marvel to wade through.  It's like a dying man in the Sahara suddenly finding himself sitting in a deep pool of cool water in the middle of a gorgeous oasis.  The way he could use one-liners to describe a person just explodes off the page.  Here's an example:

"On the dance floor half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis "---Playback (Chapter 8)

And dialogue.  The man was a genius with dialogue.  Example:

"Eddie Mars wanted to see me."

"I didn't know you knew him. Why?"

"I don't mind telling you. He thought I was looking for somebody he thought had run away with his wife."

"Were you?"


"Then what did you come for?"

"To find out why he thought I was looking for somebody he thought had run away with his wife."

"Did you find out?"


---The Big Sleep (Chapter 23)

Lots of 'experts' will tell you Chandler elevated the hardboiled/noir genre into the dizzying heights of 'literature.'  Literature with a capital L, sister.  Novels so well written, so perfectly cast with characters, no one can write'em any better.  CAN'T be written any better.

And that, brothers and sisters, is The Raymond Chandler Trap.

Many a writer has thrown away a damn good working novel and bent over his Acer computer and wept like a fourteen year old after she broke up with her first love of her life.  Wept in a deep funk of sheer agony knowing that no matter how hard he tried (or she tried, Bubba.  I guess women write novels to.  Go figure.)  There was no way he was ever going to write something better than Chandler.  Never.

I'll admit, the opening passage of Chandler's Fairwell, My Lovely is as about as close to perfection as is humanly possible.  I mean it's just a joy to experience.  You you haven't tried it, you don't know what your missing.

But snap out of it!  Throw some cold water on your face.  Drop a ball peen hammer on your big toe and make the pain wring you out of your deep funk.  Come on!  I mean, really;  Who Gives A Shit Today about Raymond Chandler's Writing???  I'll tell you who.  Only writers who want to write better than the master.  And THAT'S your first mistake!

Instead of writing a damn fine story for the reader--you're writing a damn fine story and comparing yourself to Chandler.  There's always this constant measuring stick in your head measuring how one of your well-turned passages matches up with Chandler's best passages.  It becomes a bragging contest of who's the best writer.  And you're gonna lose, budda.  You're always going to lose on that bet.

So forget Chandler.  Forget all the great writers of the past.  They're dead--you're not.  Your readers are waiting for YOUR words--not Chandler's.  More than half of'em don't know who the hell Raymond Chandler is.  Nor care.

If you're a writer you have to write YOUR story.  There's this built-in genetic hunger to tell stories.  To write. Why clutter your limited thinking space with worries about how your writing is going to stack up to some dead guy's writing?  WRITE YOUR FRAKEN STORY!  Let some fat ass with a bunch of letters behind his last name sitting in a leather covered chair and drinking a glass of fizzy Alka Seltzers in his library worry about how your writing stacks up to a dead guy's writing.  That's his job. 

Your job is to write.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Midnight Rambler-experimental short story.

Here's another one of my short-story/musical experimentations.  Another Turner Hahn/Frank Morales story.  Called,  'Midnight Rambler'.  Find the link and listen to the song. 

Midnight Rambler

The night began with the Rolling Stones.

Midnight Rambler.

I’m talking about the midnight rambler/An everybody got to go. . .

The raucous, defiant anthem of my youth seemed to be just what was needed on this hot, raucous night. Fingers drumming on the steering to the beat of the song, driving the 440 Dodge RT Challenger convertible, it was a quarter past two in the morning and it was as hot as hell. The city’s streets were empty in the part of town my partner, Frank Morales, and I were driving through.

Well I’m talkin’ about the midnight gambler/The one you never seen before . . .

We were driving down a dark street on a dark night.

Hot pavement.

Blistering heat.

On simmering concrete lined by menacing monolithic warehouses.

And dead bodies waiting for us just up the way.

Two of’em, lying in the middle of the street, face down, with big holes in the back of their heads. Lights from six different patrol cars converged on the bloody mess, their red and blue idiot lights filling the night with a nightmarish surrealistic painting. As we rolled up to the crime scene I had a bad feeling about this. Like maybe the night’s violence was just beginning and Frank and I were going to be in the middle of it.

Climbing out of the car Frank and I had enough time to walk to the front of the convertible when Patrol Sergeant Dennis O’Keefe met us with a scowl on his lined face like that of a Bull Terrier.

“What a fucking mess, Turner. Two dead. One of’em is Venny Drelling. The other is one of Drelling’s goons. Shot in the back of the head execution style. Hands tied behind their backs. And get this—each of has their little pinkies on their right hands snipped off.”

Oh brother . . . not him. Not tonight.

Venny Drelling was a street punk who was making a reputation as a small time gang leader dealing in prostitution and drugs. Occasionally he contracted the services of his gang out to some of the more established, more mainline gangs to do their dirty work—work they had removed form themselves years ago. Sliding hands into my slacks I growled something underneath my breath and lifted a quizzical eyebrow toward Frank.

“The sonofabitch is back.”

“Who’s back?” O’Keefe asked, a dumb look of frank curiosity filling face.

“A Russian hit man,” I growled, looking back at the bodies and shaking my head in anger. “Been in town before. Left a few people dead before he went back to Sevastopol. Took three or four fingers—trophies—with him. Name’s Pushkin. Yuri Pushkin.”

“Mean sonofabitch. Ex-Spetznas—their version of an Army Special Forces. Served in their political assassination unit,” Frank added.

I nodded and pulled a hand to rub the rubble of my chin. It was two in the morning and I was way past my morning shave. And hours away before climbing into bed. But the thought of climbing into fresh, clean sheets and going to sleep was the last thing I had on my mind.

“Pushkin doesn’t blow into two to knock off a guy like Venny Drelling on a whim. Somebody’s paying him big bucks to do their wet work. Something’s going down. Something big.”

O’Keefe, a nineteen year veteran on of the force, all of it working the streets in the patrol division, shrugged his shoulders.

“Haven’t heard a word about anything big, Turn. Heard Denny and another low life street thug by the name of George Jones were fighting for turf over on Troost Avenue. “

“George Jones? Tall, thin black kid with a gold front tooth? Runs a couple of bookie joints up there?” Frank said, eyes lifting up and toward O’Keefe.

“That’s the one,” nodded the patrol sergeant as behind us we heard the howl of meat wagons coming to collect the dead. “Want us to go bring him for questioning?”

“Oh, absolutely,” I nodded, turning back toward the 440 RT. “Give us a call when you got him?”

O’Keefe nodded as he watched us crawl back into the convertible. Starting the big monster of an engine up I wheeled it back in reverse and got away from the scene just as the two ambulances came rolling to a stop beside the dead.

I’m talkin’ about the midnight rambler/Well honey it’s no rock’n roll show . . .

“We need to get a handle on this, Turn. Get it quick before Pushkin goes on his killing spree. He never leaves just two behind.”

“I know. That’s where we’re going now. To talk to someone who might give us a heads up.”

The drive across time was fast and not without running a few red lights—and of course, not a cop around to give us a ticket. Sliding up to the curb in front of a run down Thai grocery store Frank and I got out of the car, looked over the silent darkness for a moment or two and then moved quietly down the side of the building and turned a corner. A three story wooden addition had been added onto the building in back. Apartments mostly for Thai and Vietnamese immigrants. Glancing at the rattletrap of a building, noting no lights were on and everything was quite, we turned to the back of the brick grocery store. Lifting a knuckle I knocked twice, waited five seconds, knocked two more times. And then I stepped back and allowed Frank do to his thing.

Did you see me jump the garden wall/I don’t give a hoot of a warning . . .

There came the sound of the door being unlocked. Someone inside opened it as far as the chain would allow and one bright eyeball revealed itself. About the time we saw the eyeball Frank lifted an open palm up and slammed it hard into the door. My partner is about six foot three—roughly the same height as me. But about one eighty pounds heavier. And it’s not fat, brother. It’s natural muscle. When his hand smacked open the door it smashed back into the face of the guy standing behind it and knocked him cold. And then fell off its hinges and dropped onto the slumbering thug lying on the floor.

We stepped over him and moved through the dim light of the back of the grocery toward a door which had bright light seeping out of its edges. Almost to the door a baby gorilla opened it hurriedly with a gun in his hand, stepped out and quickly and closed the door behind him.

“Who the hell . . .”

I didn’t let him finish. Slapping his gun away with one hand, brought the other around swiftly, slid my fist past his cheek and used the flat of my elbow to smash into his jaw. The guy’s legs buckled and he staggered back a step. But all the fight went out of him when a right knee came up and planted itself in his nuts and lifted him halfway to heaven. Catching him by his belt and his shirt collar I turned him around and threw him at the door like a battering ram.

The door splintered open bashing against the wall and the baby gorilla went skidding unconscious across the floor. In the middle of the smoke filled room was a large round table with about eight men of sundry nationalities sitting around it smoking cigars and cigarettes. On the table, surrounded by an array of beer and whiskey bottles, lay maybe five or six thousand dollars in hard cash. They still sat around the table holding their cards, cigars and cigarettes threatening to drop from their lips, too stunned to even get up.

I grinned and nodded at two men. One was a city commissioner we knew quite well and the other was the second deputy assistant to the newly elected mayor. A couple of others were prominent businessmen and conspicuous church members of a mega church downtown while the rest of them were small time hoods and drug dealers.

“Gentlemen, game’s over. Grab your shit and get the hell out,” I said, reaching down and taking the cards out of the hands of the man we came to see. “And be happy we don’t haul all of you downtown under arrest.”

That’s all it took to clear the joint. In about twenty seconds there wasn’t a soul to be seen in the room other than the sleeping baby gorilla and Stue Taylor sitting at the table, arms folded across his chest, a thin smirk of amusement on his lips.

“I’ll give you one thing, Hahn. You and Frank know how to make a dramatic entrance.”

Behind me the sleeping gorilla began to stir and groan. But Frank used a foot up against his head to put him back to sleep. Not gently, I might add. I kept my eyes on Stue. It wasn’t beyond him to accept the odds and do something foolish. But he sat there loose and relaxed dressed in his sharp rags and waited for me to say something.

“Got a crazy Russian hit man in town who’s already knocked off Vince Drilling and one of his bodyguards. Left them lying in the middle of the street with their brains blown out and hands tied behind their back. Cut off their right pinkie fingers before he left. Sounds familiar to you?”

The smirk on his lips didn’t change but there was a flicker of concern in his eyes. Yeah, he was familiar with Yuri Pushkin. A few years back he almost became one of Pushkin’s trophies.

“Tell me what’s going down. Why kill Drelling?”

The man didn’t like me. In fact, if he thought he’d get away with it, he’d just much shoot me as talk to me. Taylor was into gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, and money laundering. He had a talent for taking money and making it disappear for the mob. Because of his connections he was a fountain of information to tap into—if you used the right method to tap into it. Puskin was that kind of tap.

“Turn, if this gets out that I told you anything, I’m as good as dead. Maybe that’s what you have in mind.”

“Coming in here like this? I don’t think so. If I wanted your bosses to know you’ve squealed on them a couple of times in the past you’d been dead along time ago. Now, about Pushkin.”

The blond, balding man of about forty with piecing blue eyes and the body of an athlete looked away for a moment and twisted his face into a scowl. He didn’t want to say a damn thing to me. That was plain enough. He knew something—something important—was going down and he wanted to keep quiet about it. But the mad Russian was a factor apparently he hadn’t heard about. Hearing it changed the dynamics of his thinking considerably.

“There’s word going around a very prominent politician is going to get hit sometime tomorrow. In front of hundreds of people. An outside specialist was said to have been hired to set up the event. The idea is to send a message to the rest of the city’s politicos. Mess with this guy and this could happen to you.”

“Who’s going down?”

The guy shook his head and reached up with an ear and pulled on it, grinning suddenly. A grin I didn’t like.

“Don’t know, speculation is it’s our newly elected mayor. That’d be just fine with me. The bastard’s made enemies. Far more enemies than he needs in his newly elected digs.”

Yeah, I agreed with that. The mayor came to office on the promise of cleaning up this city. Going after the hoods and the mob. Taking out corruption within the city’s infrastructure. And the funny thing is he had a way of convincing everyone he could do it. Would do it.

“So why kill Drelling? Where does he fit into this grand scheme of things?” I asked, eyeing Taylor.

“Haven’t got a fucking clue, Hahn. And couldn’t care less. As long as I’m not involved, it’s okay by me.”

“Stue, I get this impression you’re lying to me,” I sighed, shaking my head and almost smiling. “Why do I have this impression? Why would you want to hide something from me?”

“You stupid shit head,” Taylor growled, his grin widening in pleasure. “Part of this show is being done for your benefit as much as for the mayor’s. Whoever brought the Russian in wants the job done just a certain way. He wants it done and done with you in the middle of the fracas. He wants you to know about it from the get-go. And he wants to watch you suffer. The word is he doesn’t want you dead. Not yet, at least. But he does want you squirm. To understand there’s not a damn thing you can do about it to stop him. Or the Russian. All of this—all of it—is being down for you, buddy.”

Well I’m talkin’ about the midnight gambler/An everybody got to go . . .

We left the gambler sitting at the drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. Climbing back into the R/T we sat in the early morning darkness for a few seconds, each of us wrapped in our own thoughts. Hell. It didn’t take a freaken’ genius to figure out who was behind this little trip into megalomania. Nathan Brinkley.

Nathan Brinkley.

Politician. Personality pure and refined. Charismatic. Killer. He owned the city. He owned about half of the city government. He owned a huge portion of the state government. He was close personal buddies with the governor. Contributed often, and in large amounts, to the governor’s political coffers. Called the state’s attorney general by his first name. Had a crime organization that infiltrated into every aspect of the city’s underworld.

Everybody loved him. Handsome, photogenic, suave. It was hard not to like the guy when you were standing beside him. I found myself succumbing to his wiles every time I did. But for all his qualities it didn’t change the coldness of his heart. He was, at the core of his being, a cold blooded killer. Frank and I have been trying to bring him down for years.

I’m called a hit-n-run raper, in anger/Or just a knife-sharpened tippie-toe . . .

“We have no idea what Pushkin looks like,” Frank’s voice rattled in the darkness. “Haven’t a clue where to start looking for him.”

“Let’s call Yank and tell him what’s going down,” I said, reaching inside my sport jacket and grabbing the cell phone. “See if we can get the mayor to a safe place.”

“Won’t happen,” Frank answered, shaking his head in the darkness. “The guy said often he wasn’t going to be intimidated by the crime bosses. He purposely schedules his weekly news conferences in the main lobby of city hall for everyone to attend. Come hell or high water they guy’s gonna keep his promise.”

I nodded in agreement. Yeah, the mayor was that type of guy.

Yank was Lieutenant Demitri Yankovitch—our boss down at South Side Precinct. Good boss. Tough as nails. Looks like a thin Bela Lugosi –if you know who that was.

“O’Keefe found George Jones,” the lieutenant said as I held the phone up to my ear. “Dead. Messy knife job. Whoever did it cut him up pretty badly before they killed him. Took his right pinkie finger. And get this, used Jones’ phone and called the newspapers to tell them a gang war was brewing up on Troost and the latest victim was named George Jones.”

“Advertising,” I said. “Pushkin’s boss wants the word out fast. Wants the city’s fathers to wake up and look at the morning papers. Get a hint what’s gonna come down if they start getting any ideas of their own.”

“Agreed,” Yank’s dry whisper answered over the phone. “So how do we save the mayor and stop this? How do we find Puskin?”

“I have an idea. But you’re not going to like it.”

“Then don’t tell me. Just do it and let me worry about what happens afterwards.”

Refrain; oh don’t do that, oh don’t do that

oh don’t do that, oh don’t do that . . .

Frank and I are cops. We’ve sworn an oath to protect the city and its citizens from the troglodytes who inhabit the night. We go after the bad guys and bring them justice. We’re supposed to follow the rules: obey the laws. Read Miranda rights. Gather forensic evidence and present it in a step-by-step procedural process. Play fair.

But sometimes the time comes when you have to severely bruise the law. Batter it around like a red-headed stepchild. Sometimes the only way to find justice is to it press close to the precipice of injustice.

Sometimes . . . sometimes . . . whether we like it or not, the ends do justify the means.

So. Right as dawn was beginning to turn the sky pinkish white with a new summer day—we sat across the kitchen table from Nathan Brinkley. A rudely awaken, irritable, disheveled Nathan Brinkley. It took some effort on our part to convince a household of goons we had to talk to their boss—and talk to him immediately before the mayor’s scheduled nine a.m. news conference. Won’t go into details as how we convinced our arch enemy to see us personally. Suffice to say he wasn’t happy about it. Nor were several badly bruised goons of his.

“What the hell, Turner. Trying to break into my home? My home! Are you fucking crazy?”

“Yeah, crazy. I’m crazy,” I said, grinning and looking at the city’s de facto leader as he poured himself a large cup of coffee with a scowl on his face. “We’re here to save your miserable life and you’re accusing me of being crazy. That’s just swell.”

“What the hell are you talking about? And do it fast, I haven’t time for chitchat. I’ve got to be with the mayor this morning at his news conference.”

A smile almost played across the charismatic man’s lips. His eyes were dark and penetrating as he lifted his cup and glared at me. A smug, satisfied look.

“Want cha’ to take a look at these photos, Nathan. You might find them interesting.”

From a file folder I withdrew three 6X9 photos and laid them out, side by side, and slid them across the table. The photo of Nathan’s left was that of a lovely raven haired girl of about twenty wearing a bright white sky suit, skis leaning against her arm, as she waited for a ski lift chair somewhere up in the Swiss Alps. The middle photo was that of a ninety year old woman sitting in a wheelchair at a table and reading a magazine. The third was that of a little boy of seven or eight dressed in a soccer uniform and trying to kick a ball into a net. All three were obvious photos taken with a powerful zoom lens. From afar.

Daughter. Mother. Son.

The cup in Nathan Brinkley’s hand dropped to the table, coffee splashing angrily. Brinkley stared at the now stained photos, color draining from his face, and then cold, hard eyes came up and locked in on mine.

“Thirty seconds, Turner. Thirty second to tell me what this is about. The clock is ticking.”

I looked into his face and chuckled.

“You silly bastard. You think you’re the only one who can play dirty? You think you call all the shots? Got those photos off one of George Jones’s friends. You know George . . . one of the punks who used to work for you and who you had Yuri Pushkin butcher last night. Ah, shut up. Don’t deny it. ‘Course we can’t prove it so you’re fucking safe. For now. But you hired the Russian to come in here and do a job for you. Turns out the Russian has some plans of his own. Apparently he took those photos. I think the guy is thinking about expanding. Maybe about becoming a full partner. Maybe taking over.”

For several burning seconds Brinkley stared at me in cold silence. His eyes were piercing. His complexion as pale as a corpse.

“What is it you want, Hahn.”

“Puskin. We want Puskin before whatever is to happen this morning happens.”

“And what if I don’t believe you—assuming, of course—I know anything about this Yuri Puskin.”

The dimples in my cheeks deepened as I smiled. I had him. Had him nibbling on my hook. As I hoped I might.

“You know who he is. You know what he is. You two are spiritual kin. You play with that kind of heat you should expect to be burned. And he’s tough enough to get what he wants if something he wants comes to mind. Can you afford to take that chance with a guy like Yuri Puskin?”

Silence. Long—drawn out—incredible silence.

“You’re thirty seconds are over. We have nothing more to discuss. Get out now. Leave my house and never come back.”

Brinkley swept a hand across the table and scooped the three photos off as he turned and stalked out of the kitchen. A dozen goons appeared and we were rudely escorted out of the house. Pushed out of the compound wall surrounding Brinkley’s home we took our time straightening ourselves up and wiping the blood off our lips—just friendly gestures—and Frank eyed me quizzically.

“Think he bought it?”

“We’ll find out in about a half hour. If we get phone call and an address.”

“When he finds out we’ve pulled a fast one on him he’s going to go ape-shit. He could get mean.”

I nodded in agreement. And then shook my head no.

“Maybe. Maybe not. He’s got to figure out how we knew about his daughter living in the Alps. About a son he’s never mentioned to anyone. About his mother. And then he’s got to wonder just how far someone might go if they were truly wanting to hurt him. Everyone one’s got a weakness, Frank. Everyone. Even megalomaniacs like Nathan Brinkley.”

Well you heard about the Boston/Honey, its not one of those . . .

Driving in traffic toward city hall my cell phone rang. Sliding it open I lifted it to my ear.

“Bennet Building. Seventeenth floor. Office 1701.”


The bait had been taken.

We whipped around a corner and through a red light, horn blaring to scattered pedestrians, and hit the gas. It took about ten minutes to get there. Sliding to the curb in front of the building we got out and started walking toward the rotating glass doors.

“Back up?”

“He’ll see’em coming. Disappear long before they get up there.”

Frank glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past seven.

“An hour and forty-five minutes before the conference. Call Yank and tell’em to delay?”

I shook my head no as we hurried through the crowded lobby toward the bank of elevators. The ride up to the seventeenth floor was long and slow. No one else was in the elevator but us two.

Stepping out onto the floor we paused and gazed down the long hall. Black tile, freshly polished, glistened soft white light. Shafts of sunlight cut like hot torches through several officer doors. The floor was deathly quiet. The usual flora and fauna that made up this world had not arrived yet.

We walked down the hall and came up to 1701. Neither Frank nor I made any attempt to open it. Our previous encounter with Yuri was a learning experience. The pro would have the place wired. Anyone entering the empty office—it had to be an empty office with a direct line of sight through a City Hall window and straight to the small podium where the mayor and other dignitaries would be using—and he would know.

So we jimmied open an office door down at the end of the hall and stepped in. We had a good view, the door partially open, to see anyone coming down the hall. Not to our surprise we found the office we were standing in need of an occupant.

Forty-five minutes later we heard a door softly shut and then heard the odd squeaking sound of a wheel in need of some 4-in-1 oil. A figure dressed in a set of gray coveralls with big words splashed across his back advertising a janitorial firm came into view. The guy was pushing a large cart that held a very large trash can along with several brooms and mops on it. He was a tall man, thin, with sandy blond, curly hair. He had the wiry body of a long distance runner. He moved past the door and slowly made his way down to 1701. Stopping in front of door the guy looked down each length of the hall and then quickly opened the office door. Glancing up and down the hall again he pushed the cart into the empty office and closed the door behind him.

Frank and I came out of the office, guns in hand, and moved down the hall. We didn’t hesitate. Frank used a foot to kick the door open and we went in low and fast. We were expected.

I heard Frank grunt in pain, turned, and saw Yuri Puskin standing behind Frank with an arm wrapped around Frank’s neck and a 9 mm Heckler&Kock pressed against Frank’s temple. A thin smile of amusement was on Puskin’s handsome boyish face as watery blue eyes stared at me.

“Frank, Turner—good morning. I thought you might be calling.”

Surprise. Pushkin spoke excellent English with only a slight hint of his origins. My second surprise came from Frank. It was the first time I had ever . . . ever . . . heard him grunt in pain from being hit by someone.

“It is a pleasure to meet you two at last. Of course, it would have been better under different circumstances. Drop your gun, Turner. Or you’re friend dies.”

“Drop my gun and we’re dead anyway, Yuri. If I’m checking out, I might as well go down blazing.”

I brought the gun up and leapt to my left at the same time. The moment I moved, Frank moved. Say what you think about my hulking friend. But the guy is deceptively fast. Faster than Yuri anticipated. Pushkin’s 9mm spit twice, the shots bruising our eardrums. I felt a bullet tug at my sport coat as I hit the floor and rolled on a shoulder before coming up with the .45 cal. Kimber in hand and firing.

Frank was fast. A brute with strength and quick reflexes. But Puskin was faster. Frank had dislodged himself and was turning to take on the Russian with his bare hands. But Puskin’s training kicked in. A foot to Frank’s knee, a karate chop toward the man’s neck and Frank should have gone down in a ball of squirming pain. The blow to the knee hit solid. The karate chop to the neck was partially blocked. At the same time Puskin kept shooting toward my direction. Twice his nine spit out flame and hot lead. Twice the bullets missed me by just millimeters. But his shooting kept me moving and I couldn’t get another shot off at him in the process.

It ended in a draw. One of Frank’s big hams for a fist plowed into Puskin’s ribs and I heard the man grunt in pain and his nine clatter to the floor. At about the same time I heard Frank grunt again in pain and stagger two steps back. That was enough. Pushkin, weaponless, was out the office door and gone before either of us could come to our feet.

Blood running down the side of his head, Frank took a step back to stabilize himself and then brought a hand up and covered his ribs with it.

“That sonofabitch knows how to throw a punch. You all right?”

I was. But my sport coat had two bullet holes in it. One on either side of the jacket just an inch or two away for the coat’s second button. Apparently hit while open and while rolling around on the floor.

“Christ, you’re lucky. I don’t remembering reading about Pushkin ever missing.”

“Yeah, lucky,” I nodded, holstering the Kimber and turning to look at the long barreled .50 caliber sniper’s rifle Pushkin had brought with him. “So’s the mayor. If Pushkin used that on him they’d been nothing left to bury.”

But we weren’t finished with the Russian just yet. Hours later, sitting with Frank at a diner eating lunch—and happy that mayor and dignitaries . . . including Nathan Brinkley . . .had survived the day, my cell phone rings.

“Well played, my friends. Well played. Until next time. Dasvedanya. ”

And if you ever catch the midnight rambler

Steal your mistress from under your nose

Go easy with your cold-finger anger

Or I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby. And it hurts . . .

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What if Magic was Science?

Okay, kiddies.  One more time into the depths of Fantasy.  After this post I promise to write about something else.  But something struck me as important last night while I was thinking about what makes for good, or bad, writing in this genre.  Something I need to get off my chest.

In a previous post I mentioned how imagination and immersion are needed to capture the reader and make them a fan.  Imagination to see the plot, the characters, the settings with a clear eye; the immersion of that imagination so tightly woven the reader is cacooned into a world so vast and so complex they don't want to leave.

I also mentioned in a separate post talking about writing fantasy a writer should read.  Read everything they can grab hold of.  From a laundry ticket to Nineteenth Century Russian novelists (although on the last one, take a bottle of aspirins with you.  Russians describe and describe and describe and . . . well, you get the picture).  You never know what you will read which will suddenly 'flip the switch' and make your mind go off the deep end in pure speculation.  Here is an example:

In my Roland series, those who 'have the touch of magic in their blood' have the capacity to enter the Netherworld.  And the Netherworld is  . . . well, hard to explain.  It's the supernatural.  But more than that.  It is Hell.  But more than that.  It is an unending River of Time, with no beginning and no ending;  but in truth, it is far more than that.  It is a place where a magician or wizard can talk to himself.  Talk to himself from out of the Past, the Present, and the Future.  It is the residence of Hope.  And of Evil.

The idea of this concept came to me one day while reading an article about Brane Theory.  A physicist, name forgotten, came up with the idea that there or, at least, 15 dimensions.  He postulates each of these dimensions are like a sheet of stretched rubber membranes hanging vertically in space/time side-by-side.  They rarely touch.  But when the do . . . .

Heavy stuff there, Eunice.  Makes your head hurt, old girl.  But it got me day-dreaming.

What if you could had the power to step into a place and see 15 copies of You?  You from the Past (in fifteen different variations).  You from the Present (again, in fifteen different variations).  You from the Future (you see where I am going with this.)  If this was possible--what ramifications did these multiple variations have on such concepts like Fate and Destiny?  Was there  actually such things as Fate and Destiny in a multi-dimensional universe?

Ah!  What if . . . what if . . . Magic was actually Science carried into this dimension from a different dimension?  What if . . . . !

See what I mean?  A casual reading of something completely unrelated to writing fiction suddenly unfolds in your mind a realm of possibilities.  And THAT, kiddies, is what makes for good fantasy writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't do this

Someone asked me the other day, "You've discussed what good fantasy must contain.  How about telling us what we should not do in writing fantasy." 
Alright, me buckos!  Strap yourself in.  It could be a bumpy ride.

Almost any fantasy series you read today is, basically, a 'quest' story.  A group of misfits get together and they go off trawling through dangerous waters in search of some sacred stone/sword/orb/temple/book/ or recipe which is going to save--or destroy--all of mankind.  Year in, year out . . . fantasy boils down to a quest story.  You could say even the Harry Potter series was a quest story.  But with a difference.

The Potter tales disguised the quest tale (the quest being to first, figure out why Harry Potter survived his first encounter with Lord Voldermort--and secondly, finding a way to destroy the arch enemy)  by wrapping the tale up in the garments of a 'coming to age' story.  So that's my first 'don't'.

     1.  Don't make your quest tale so damned obvious.  Better yet; don't write a quest story at all!

A copy of of a copy of a copy, brother.  Ever pick up a novel and start reading and by the time you got to page six you'd swear you had read that story--and knew all the characters--like the back of your hand?  Writing a quest story is bad enough.  But writing one using the same kind of characters that just about every other fantasy writer have used is really getting to be a nuisance.  So here's rule number two:

    2.  Character development!  Throw a midget in the mix as maybe the main hero.  Or
         a rat.  Or a demented hair dresser!  Find someone else other than  the heroic figure
         to be 'the man.'

Throw in Harry Potter's Dumbledore and Lord of the Rings Gandolf (at least in the movies) and what do you get?  The exact same figure. Both magicians!  Both with long beards!  Both all-knowing!  They might as well be twins.  Hell, they may be!

Rule number three:

     3.  Does everyone have to stay in the same damp castle/swamp/cottage?  Or ride the same damn

We limit ourselves when we do not take the time to describe a scene properly.  And what is the proper way to describe a scene, you ask?  My answer;  describe something to give it three-dimensions.  Or a personality.  Or a quirkiness.  Be brief in your sentence structure.  Don't overlay it with all those adjectival clauses.  But don't skimp on description.   And make no mistakes, brother;  this is the hardest rule of all.  Deciding what is too much or not enough.  Only you will know.  But it'll take a hell of a lot of practice.

One could go on and on with rules.  So I'll be brief and jot down only one more rule.

    4.  Screw the rules!  Just write a damn good story that's full of color, life, and a sense of adventure!

Some of the greatest tales told broke just about ever rule written about how to write a good story.  If you got the talent, baby, don't limit yourself with a bladder full of useless rules!  Explore.  Imagine.  Be creative!  Become a story teller first--and then sit down and write.  Observe the world around you.  Read, for chrissakes!  Read everything.  Leave nothing out.  You'll be surprised at what might come along while you're reading about the sex life of a Tsetse Fly.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Great Fantasy

Okay, Eunice old girl.  Yesterday I wrote about what makes for a great police-procedural novel/series.  Today I want to take the same tack and talk about the making of a great fantasy.

(Yes, dear.  A fantasy!  No . . . . no . . . I'm not fantasizing about Angelina Jolie!  Books, you mad hatter!  Books!  Fantasy books!)

Anyway . . .

There's a huge audience for fantasy novels.  Huge.  And since the audience--and the money to buy them--is quite large, you can well image at least a google amount of writers (yes, google is a number) are chucking out fantasy novels as fast as they can write them.
The question is--what makes a good fantasy book something that sticks with the readers?  Readers who demand more and more for the author.  So devoted to their work readers actually treat a book--and the author--as, more or less, a part of the family.  How does this happen?

Ask J.K. Rowling.

If you don't know who J.K. Rowling is then you must have died about fifteen years ago and people forgot to tell you.  Maybe you'll recognize this name.  Harry Potter.  Yeah, that Harry Potter.  Seven books, fifty or sixty million books in print.  More actually  . . . I ran out of fingers and toes counting.  Millions of fans all over the world.  Films that created millions of more fans.

(No, Eunice!  They're not all red headed and they're not all my relatives!  Go back to sharpening your bayonets and reloading shotgun shells!)

Rowling created a fantasy series which is probably going to live forever.  So . . .the question is this:  what's the formula for success?  I think I might have an answer.  And it's just one word.


Great fantasy requires the reader to be pulled completely into the story.  To be immersed into a world from head to toe, from nerve ending to nerve ending.  So absorbed into this make-believe world the real world the reader lives in becomes temporarily suspended in time.  That's what happened with the Harry Potter series.  The more you read the books, the more you became immersed in a world so well developed, so nuanced, you found yourself reluctant to leave.  But here's the real kicker;  great fantasy is written by writers who were not thinking about writing a great fantasy.  All they had in mind was to just create a good story. A good, entertaining story.

That's great fantasy.


To write great fantasy one has to win over, body and soul, the reader.  The large majority of fantasy writers don't do that.  They right formula.  Not fantasy.

Fantasy is big nowadays, Eunice.  Big name publishing houses and movie studios are climbing over the walls and looking into every crevice they can find in search of the next big fantasy series.  I write fantasy.  I try . . . diligently . . . to create a world so complete, so real, it immerses the reader into an alternate reality.  Will I be 'discovered' by a large, adoring crowd?  Will I have fans clamoring to bring the next book out as soon as possible?

How the hell should I know?

(All right, Eunice!  I'll wash the dishes!  But remember to sew the thumb you just sliced off with that bayonet back on before you come to bed tonight.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Makings of a Great Police-Procedural

Let's talk about cops, Eunice.  (I know!  I know!  You've got a problem with cops.  Maybe it has something to do with you mooning them every time one drives by, you crazy woman!)
Maybe not talk about cops specifically, but maybe more about writing a classic police-procedural.  You know, the kind a guy by the name of Ed McBain wrote.  His famous 87th Precinct.  God knows there's a reading public out there for this genre.  The Old Man also knows there's six billion souls on this planet trying to scratch out a living--and about five billion of'em want to scratch out that living by being a mystery/detective writer.

And yeah, I confess:  I'm one of those five billion. (Eunice, for chrissakes!  Quit rolling on the floor laughing like a hyena on steroids.  You'll hurt the floor!).

I have a theory.  What makes a good police-procedural series is not the motions of cops working through their tried and true routines in investigating a crime.  Interesting to observe, yes; but essential?  No, I don't think so.  Nor is it the crime itself.  Although . . . again . . . interesting to read.  But not essential.   No, my theory is this;  a good police-procedural revolves around a specific chemistry.  Several ingredients are needed to formulate a good book.  But one ingredient IS absolutely essential.


Characters in a police-procedural are more important here than in any other mystery/detective setting.  Even the venerable private detective becomes second fiddle as far as character-driven stories go.  It is the combination of characters, the investigative routine, and the crime itself, which makes for a great police procedural.  But emphasis CHARACTERS.  And I'm not talking about the character of the bad guys.  I'm talking about the lives of the cops.  Their strengths.  Their weaknesses.  Their quirks.  Their sense of humor.  The things that tick them off.  They way they work through their emotions, their fears, their desires WHILE they are working through a crime scene.

To make a good police-procedural book/series work, you need characters.  Characters with flaws as much as heroic qualities.  Made believable.  And oddly enough, make them either way;  either make them attractive so people can get to know them and like'em--or make'em just the opposite.  Mean and nasty.  With a bad attitude and surly temper.  (Eunice!  I know I called you a little bit on the heavy side in that thong you were wearing . . . but you don't have to get so mad!  Now Eunice . . . put down that dough-roller.  You know I get nervous whenever you pick up that dough-roller . . . )

Above is a facsimile of a character of mine.  A homicide cop by the name of Turner Hahn.  Yes, the photo is that of a young Clark Gable.  And Turner looks a lot like Gable.  But bigger.  More muscled.  Heavier in the shoulders.  And with a chip on his shoulder; he doesn't like to be compared to a dead movie actor.  And he has his other quirks. He's rich.  Filthy rich.  Acquire his fortune by accident.  A grandmother he though long dead left him an inheritance. And a grand father he never knew he had.  Turner grew up on a farm so poor they had to repair the bailing-wire that was used to repair the farm machinery.   He left the farm--never to return--when he was awarded a football scholarship.  A tragic auto accident took his parents away while he was in school. He became a loner.

Until a grand father and a fortune show up at the same time.  And the truth about why his grand parents never knew their grandson is revealed.  And other secrets as well.

At the same time he--along with his partner, Frank Morales--are working to solve two exceptionally difficult homicide cases.  And of course, there's Frank Morales.  A character.  Unique.  Odd.  A living, breathing, separate entity all to himself.  With his own quirks, humors, ticks, and eccentricities.  But even more interesting---his personality matched up with Turner's creates a symbiotic relationship that makes for one interesting jaunt through the dark recesses of the crime world.


Soon Turner and Frank's next book,  A Taste for Old Revenge, is going to come out.  It'll be an ebook this time through the auspices of Untreed Reads.  It's the book that delves deep into the emotions and back history of both characters.  A book I'm thinking you might like.  When it comes out give it a try.  Let me know what you think. 

(Eunice, dammit!  I know what you're thinking . . . and I'm tell'en you I haven't enough medical insurance to cover me for that.  So put down that dough-roller!)