Catriona again: Over to you all, Criminal Minds readers - who inspires you?
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Catriona again: Over to you all, Criminal Minds readers - who inspires you?
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
|Some of my Christie books|
|With Sue Grafton - a living inspiration!|
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
Friday, March 17, 2017
With beginnings like mine, and with the necessity to apply Hollywood-style spin to beef up one's bonafides, it'd be easy to tie this week's question back to some well-meaning teacher back in Chicago Public Schools who saw better in me than I believed lay within. Maybe she'd resemble Michelle Pfeiffer. Read from the classics and explain them to us in our own street semiotics.
|Is it a Gangsta's Paradise, Coolio? Is it, really?|
"So, like, King Richard III was tryin' to be gangsta with his, right? 'cuz he got robbed in the gene pool and is rockin' a humpback 'n whatnot. Anyway, he figures he can marry ol' girl, you know, that cat Earl Warwick's daughter."
"Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick," says the best Catwoman.
"Whatever. Anyhow, he's like, butt-ugly, right? And he ain't the favorite kid, like, at all. But that wasn't gonna stop dood, 'cuz he gotta get his. Like I gotta get mine."
My boys who sit next to me will co-sign and give me some dap (if you're older than 50, that means slap me some skin.) Then some pretty girl who gets good grades (even though she can't let anyone know because it'd make her look soft) would say something smart about how I never get mine from her. The rest of the class would go "Oooooh." I'd make some profane comment and have to stay after class. Miss Pfeiffer will turn her chair around so we're on the same level. I'll pretend I'm not listening. She'll pull out my English composition she graded with an A. Tell me I have potential.
"You don't know me," I shout. "You ain't even from here! This is just a job for you. You don't really care about the 'hood!"
I'll shoehorn into my dialogue a reminder I'm from a broken home and I'll be joining a gang any minute, just like my brother, and father. I'll admit I'm afraid. Then, in her outlander's wisdom, Miss Pfeiffer will administer the only medicine I need: a hug. I'll break down in tears. We'll share a moment. Some old Motown tune, like Ain't No Mountain High Enough, will play. She'll dance with us when we should have been doing maths. The uptight Assistant Principal will walk past, look in the window, and then write her up. Samuel L. Jackson will get into a gang war with Clifton Collins and some white kid with a blonde dye job who seems really confused about his cultural place in the whole thing.
Shit. I'm messing up my film references. My bad.
|"I told you punks, office hours are on Mondays and Thursdays."|
"English, m*therf*cker! Can you teach it?!"
Anyhow, I just don't have any stories like that. I received a workman-like education from working-stiff teachers in a CPS magnet school, grew up across the alley from the most expensive public library projects of its day, hung out with kids who were smart too, and who had parents who were a lot more available than mine. I'll admit, growing up, I had it rougher than most. What I had better than most were equally brilliant friends, who came from equally odd family circumstances but who were similarly unattracted to criminality. Within reason, I'm sayin'. We were all Chicagoans, after all. The utter absence of social corruption would be met with suspicion. And derision.
See, in the hood, if you suddenly find yourself without a father, you likely find many other fathers. Even more unique, your fathers can be your age. Of all my wonderful friends coming up, none was more of a father to me than Rommel Shaw. And no one encouraged me to get myself in constructive trouble more than him. It was Rom who had the stroke of genius for me to take my hilarity out of the living room and onto the stage. And from there, a star was born.
Or a monster was created.
I won't bore you with an autobiography. That isn't what this week's question is about. I'll just riff on one of the most profound times I endeavored to make my biggest life influence piss his pants.
We shared an apartment together in Hyde Park, Chicago. I was gigging rather well for having been new to stand-up (still within my first two years.) My peers wondered why I was coming up so fast and always had such strong material. It's because I had lived with the guy who made me reach for funny, and who had the same penchant for culturally obscure and outdated references. One eyebrow raise from Rommel during a late-night conversation and we'd be up until 4am, with me standing up, and Rom rolling around on the floor in tears. Thing is, you only get so much time in the spotlight when you're new, and I wanted more than just five minutes of solitary stand-up delivery. I had entire seasons of television inside me (not to mention a lot of piss and vinegar.) I pitched Rom the idea of my own sketch comedy show. In that room, at that late hour, I had an unlimited budget and cast.
Growing up, Rom and I loved war pictures, the more cliched the better. We'd quote them in strange situations, busting up in laughter to the befuddlement of anyone else around. In my imaginary sketch show, I'd bring all of that into it, and why not, the only audience of the entire first season I wanted was Rom. I wanted to do a crazy movie trailer, like we'd seen the cast of SNL and SCTV do so often.
"You gotta do some old war picture stuff, Danny."
"I got it. I got it. It's all in the title, right? And the best titles are about setting."
"Bridge On The River Kwai."
"Ice Station Zebra."
"Hell Is For Heroes."
"Danny Gardner in...THREE MILES OF SHIT."
"The Axis has unleashed their most frightening weapon! Three miles of human defecation! Only the worst soldiers the US Army ever produced are insane enough to go in. Danny Gardner leads a rag-tag bunch of yahoos..."
"It's always a rag-tag bunch of yahoos!!"
"Gotta get George C. Scott in there."
"George C. Scott, as the General. 'I don't care what it takes, mister. If we have to crawl through three miles of shit to bring Hitler to heel, by God, we'll do it!'"
|"He's either onto something or off his rocker."|
"Carroll O'Connor, as the Sarge. 'Get on that radio, Corporal. Let our boys know...they're walkin' into...THREE MILES OF SHIT. God help 'em.'"
"'Dammit, Sarge. We can't send our men in there. That's SHIT!"
"It's a real flick, man."
"Ernest Borgnine! Can't have a war picture without Ernest Borgnine, Danny."
"Ernest Borgnine as Happy Jones, the company cook. 'I've been responsible for some shit in my day, but never any shit like that shit! Those Nazi bastards are some geniuses."
"And we need paratroopers."
"Who parachute across enemy lines into THREE MILES OF SHIT?!"
"That's genius, Danny! That's the funniest shit I've ever heard."
|I should've named my firstborn Ernest Borgnine Gardner. |
She's a strong young lady. She would've adjusted.
The material felt so good, y'all. We laughed and edited and rehashed it and laughed so much more that the room started to get small. It began to hurt to be funny. In fact, I got sad. I never told him this, but I actually started to feel afraid that I wouldn't be able to realize ideas such as these. It wasn't enough just to be funny for Rom anymore. The guy who drove me to every open mic. Who vetted all my material. Who helped me prepare for my first acting role. Who bought me my first suit, ever, so I could go on stage in my first big show looking clean and mature.
In that moment—in those THREE MILES OF SHIT (haaaaaaaa!)—I realized I was good enough, and that hurt, because I would have to leave the safety of the best audience I could ever have: my brother Rommel. I had to give myself a chance, except without him in the back of the club, laughing loudest, cheering me on, would I really be able to make it? Sometimes being funny is the most dangerous thing in the world.
Somewhere between THREE MILES OF SHIT (haaaaaaaa!!!!) and A Negro And An Ofay, I learned screenwriting and long-form creative writing and got good enough to be produced and published. Thing is, being completely honest, I think I'm just trying to relive those moments with my best friend and brother, who had my back since the day my Pops died when I was nine years old. Moments where I thought I was only making Rom laugh, but I was actually learning to be the writer I am now. The memory of those days is as funny and profound as when they first happened. My future may be as good, as will my writing, but nothing will ever be better—
—than THREE MILES OF SHIT!
Thursday, March 16, 2017
by Harley Mazuk
I’d like to welcome guest blogger, Harley Mazuk to the blog! A little bit about Harley:
Born in Cleveland, he majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay U. He worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.
Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released Feb. 28 of this year, by Driven Press. Harley’s other passions are reading, his wife Anastasia, their two children, peace, running, Italian cars, and California wine.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of his novel, and I certainly recommend it! (See blurb at bottom)
Now, take it away, Harley! – Alan
I’m in my “setting” period. I don’t claim it as my idea. John Straley put the notion in my head. John, a very good crime writer from Sitka, Alaska, was the first instructor I ever had who stressed the primacy of setting.
I think about setting in terms of noir. I favor noir, both in my reading tastes and my writing style. I could look up “noir” on Wikipedia, and maybe tell you what some Frenchman thinks it is, but I have a simple rule of thumb:
· If the protagonist gets married at the end (or otherwise lives happily ever after), the story is comedy
· If the protagonist dies, the story is tragedy
· If the protagonist lives but would be better off dead, it’s noir.
However, it takes more than an ending with a lost and lonely character who deserves to die to make a good noir tale. That is where setting comes in. All the elements of fiction--plot, setting, character, point of view, and theme must work together, but of these, the most important to the noir author is setting.
The first note I took in John Straley’s class reads, “Ecology is about place.” Everything starts with “the place.” So it is with noir, wherein the plot and the characters are often rooted in or develop from the landscape of the story. While there are many fine rural noirs, we most often associate an urban setting with noir. Some extremely good examples might be the books of David Goodis. Goodis set his tales in blighted urban landscapes, (often his hometown of Philadelphia), and populated them with lost souls. Consider these book titles in his bibliography:
· Street of the Lost
· The Moon in the Gutter
· The Blonde on the Street Corner, and
· Street of No Return
Or contemplate this quote from Goodis’s Of Tender Sin:
“Winter was gray and mean upon the city and every night was a package of cold bleak hours, like the hours in a cell that had no door.”
That’s just one sentence, which illustrates it needn’t take a good author a lot of words to describe the setting.
If Philly’s not your cup of tea, consider Jean Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, depicting Marseille’s dark side--poverty, drugs, organized crime and police corruption.
“Marseilles isn't a city for tourists. There's nothing to see. Its beauty can't be photographed. It can only be shared. . . . In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.”
A story has to know where it is not only in place, but also in time. You can do noir in the present or modern era, or even in the distant past. But when we write we can take advantage of all the images our readers carry in their subconscious by creating a story world that allows readers to make connections to other stories, written or in cinema, and to all the images they may have experienced from that time and place. For my money then, the best time to set your noir piece is in the ‘20s or ‘30s of Dashiell Hammett, the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s of Raymond Chandler. Give me my news in black and white newspapers, from which the ink comes off on my hands. If I need to make a call, give me a phone with a dial, and even a separate receiver and mouth piece. Coin slots are optional. If I go into a bar, there should be no nonsense about whether I can smoke indoors, and if I do, my cigarette will most likely be unfiltered.
“I puffed at the cigarette. It was one of those things with filters in them. It tasted like a high fog strained through cotton wool.” —The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
If a blonde in the bar smokes, let her blow her smoke out in someone’s face. The gritty analog world beats the digital world for noir feel.
Newspapers, telephones, cigarettes—these are details which can give life to the feel and poetry of a place. The feel or atmosphere is also part of the setting. You can create a noir atmosphere, an atmosphere of dread, with your use of details. Maybe it’s bad weather, the threat of a storm. Consider the hurricane in Key Largo. Consider L.A. It’s normally sunny in Hollywoodland, but it rains throughout many critical early scenes in The Big Sleep, which Chandler developed out of his short story, “Killer in the Rain.” In the rain surfaces are shiny, poppy, vivid . . . and foreboding. Details can give your story a threat or undercurrent of menace--portents, a character in ill-health, a lost child, an oppressive atmosphere, even a crooked picture frame on the wall— noir writing should be prickly with detail.
I’ll leave you with this example from Raymond Chandler in which the master uses mundane details of setting to create atmosphere:
“There were 280 steps up to Cabrillo Street. They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.” —Farewell, My Lovely
Something bad is about to happen. It’s noir.
Get your copy today! Here’s what one blurber thought (okay, it was me):
“Harley Mazuk’s WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER is a delicious throwback to the PI stories of Hammett and Chandler, when all the dames had shapely gams. With shamus Frank Swiver on the case, no suspect goes unsuspected and no clue goes undetected. An entertaining, fun ride with colorful characters and snappy dialogue, this one’s a treat! Mazuk’s uncorked a real winner—good to the very last drop!”