Gone Rogue

I have time for 3 things in my life: work, Maria, and work. After that, I work. Here’s some rough 1st draft work. The final piece will be substantially more lyrical. Substance first, style second, always.

Coming Soon Jeanne Dark Promo 2

I woke up in the hotel room with the sun already low on the horizon. A groggy check of the time told me it was three-thirty, nearing sunset. The maid hadn’t been in the room, judging by the clutter, but Dark’s bed was made. I was certain she’d not slept it in. We were both exhausted when we’d hit the room, and I was torpid even before she even managed to help me get off my suit. The other pillows had faint traces of her perfume, but that was understandable since I remembered her lying next to me, watching me drift to sleep. Nonetheless, given our situation and the recent tension between us, it was inconceivable that she would have slept next to me.

I got up, emptied my bladder, and decided I’d been wrong about the severity of my concussion. Forgoing room service, I grabbed some snacks we’d brought to the room and downed a half-liter of water before climbing back into bed. As lay there on the Dark-scented pillows, I wondered if she had, in fact, slipped under the covers next to me the night before. I didn’t have to wonder long. I slipped my hand under the pillow, ready to grab a bit more sleep, and got it tangled in one of Jeanne’s bras. Not only had she joined me in my bed, apparently she’d stripped off in the process. It probably meant nothing, I reasoned. I’d been out like a light and she was probably too tired herself to move. She knew I wouldn’t awaken and I was in no shape to do damage even if I had. Besides, the woman trusted me more than I trusted me. Sleep took me then, as I lay in bed watching the room slowly dim, all the while imagining my nude little Jeanne breathing next to me in bed. The dreams I had were wondrous things that night. Ah, to be a man with a vivid imagination and a woman worth envisioning.

It was nine o’clock the next morning when I finally awoke, more clear-headed than I’d been since Danni clocked me in her flat. Sleep turned out to be the only medicine I needed. The first thing I did was turn to check the other bed. It looked the same, with the covers tucked underneath in the way the maids always prepared the room. Every time we returned to our hotel room, Dark would yank out the covers along the side and roll down the bedspread, muttering about the filth on hotel linens. It was the only part of sharing a hotel room we’d agreed upon. I was sure she’d never make it up that way herself. This time, sans the fog I’d been floating through, I jumped out of bed and began to take inventory. All my things were there, and none of Dark’s were. It’d been thirty-two hours since I’d seen her last, smiling at me and caressing my forehead as I drifted off to sleep. She had been gone when I awoke the evening before, and I’d had no idea.

I was less concerned with her safety at that point than I was about my job security. My mission wasn’t only to help Dark solve a mystery. Hardesty wanted the two of us joined at the hip. He was worried about something, despite his assurances to the contrary. I needed to know what. Protocol said I was to call him if we ever got separated for an extended period. This certainly qualified.

I found my phone still tucked in my pants pocket. The battery was deader than I felt. Cursing, I plugged it in and jumped into the shower to make myself presentable. By the time I’d showered, shaved, and gotten dressed, the phone was charged and was buzzing up a swarm of messages. Most were from Hardesty. A couple were from Samuels. None was from my partner. The most recent message, with a timestamp of seven o’clock that morning, was from Hardesty. It read, I’m in London. Contact me via Monica. We think Dark’s gone rogue.

Emprise Photo Album

I rarely promote my books. I think they are quite entertaining, and for the most part, well written. The reason I don’t promote them is that it’s mostly a waste of time. Books spread in one of two ways: 1) publishers buy fake reviews or pay tens of thousands of dollars for people to “buy” the books and get on the bestsellers’ lists; or 2) word of mouth.

I can’t afford to and would never do the first one. The second is out of my control. So, I pretty much ignore that stuff and focus on improving my writing. That said, I was thinking about Emprise and thought I’d share a slideshow I put together as I was writing it. It shows some of the (human) characters in the book. I hope it piques your interest a bit.

A Tenderfoot in Custer State Park – Pt. 1

I’ve finished editing the 2nd draft of The Brooklyn Trace, which started out on this very blog as my Skip Tracer web serial. I wrote what was intended to be a fun adventure for the web, but I ended the serial before I reached that point. I still like the story, but I’ve decided it’s too much of a tangent for the book.

While fun, it adds almost 3,900 words before you discover the main “obstacle” of the novel, which the main character must overcome. In other words, it needed to come out. So, I’ve turned it into a short story. Not sure how it works alone, but I thought I’d run it here, and see how people respond. Here’s the first segment.

Adult_bison_and_calf,_Custer_State_Park,_South_Dakota_(2009-08-25)

I had known Mika and Anthony for all of twelve hours before we set out to Custer State Park. They were my new girlfriend’s brothers, Oglala Lakota Sioux who lived on their mothers’ compound in South Dakota. Me? I’m a city boy, born and raised in Houston, but living a comfortable life in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I set up shop as a private investigator. I’d met my new girl, Mina, while passing through the motel she ran in East Butthole, Oklahoma. I’d managed to make it out of there without getting involved, but the woman had gotten into my head. Like a puppet, as soon as I closed the case I was working on, I hightailed it back to OK for another shot at Mina. It worked, and after an amazing night together, I found myself hooked. Two days later, we were on our way to South Dakota to meet her family. I still scratch my head, trying to figure out how that happened.

At Mina’s suggestion, her brothers agreed to take me camping, to give me the “full experience” of life in the wide open plains. I knew right away that would be a mistake, especially since a playful “Hello” kiss from her gorgeous mom had ended in a fair bit of passion and one of Mina’s Vulcan Death Stares. (Now, I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t like that. She kissed me. I would have stopped her but … she was hot.) In any case, trouble was brewing. However, if I’ve learned anything about women in my thirty-one years, it’s that it isn’t worth it trying to avoid their wrath. Take your punishment like a man, and get it over with. In this case, looking at Mika’s massive frame, I just hoped my crime wasn’t a capital offense.

Mika, Anthony, and I set out before dawn, headed to Custer State Park. I couldn’t help but laugh when the boys told me the destination, but once we made a stop at their cousin’s ranch along the way, to pick up three horses and their horse trailer, it would have taken pretty much what happened to Custer to stop me from going. By the time the boys and I had left their moms, I realized this trip was more important to Mina than it was to me; she even pushed out our trip to New York by a couple of days to accommodate it. She was still in Mata Hari mode, however, and I couldn’t get an idea of what she was up to. Her brothers advised me to just get used to it. To my relief, Anthony and Mika were pretty friendly and as much interested in my adventures as a private detective as I was in their lifestyles here in the wide open. Sure, I grew up in Texas, but Houston’s a huge city. I likely knew about as much of the cowboy life as a New York cabbie.

We arrived at the park just after eleven in the morning, got ourselves checked in, grabbed some maps, and saddled up the horses. I was no horseman by a long stretch, but I did well enough getting on and encouraging the horse to go in the general direction I wanted. Mostly, I think she was following the others and tolerating the city boy on her back. Their mom, Katherine, had packed us enough food to feed an actual army, and the guys wanted to rough it as much as possible, “to give me the full experience,” so we carried everything in on our mounts. Mika had the tent and related gear, which he’d bundled onto a travois. I had the food and water, and Anthony had what he called “the essentials.” I hoped that included toilet paper.

We rode a couple of miles to the campsites, claimed our spot, and set our gear down. We were all anxious to explore, so we remounted and spent the day roaming the trails. I found my old Army training kicking in and amused myself by marking in my head the trail’s twists and turns that must have tripled the actual distance we’d traveled from the designated camping area. It was northwest, then north, then west, and back to north, with more than a few twists east, but overall, we must have headed pretty close to northwest, by my reckoning. The park was beautiful, one of the last unspoiled places in the country. Except for a few off-limit areas, we were free to wander, and we did. Mika, even at twenty-four, was something of a historian. I assume it’s the oral tradition of his people. As the eldest male, since his father passed, it fell to him to know the stories and histories. As the shorter, less-muscular boyfriend of his sister, it fell to me to listen, so as to not get the crap pounded out of me.

Part 2

Shhh, don’t tell anyone but I think she’s gay

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … unless they’re, like, gay or something.” — Not the Statue of Liberty

“My being blind doesn’t make me stupid.” — Justice

Egalidad

Some of my characters end up being lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transexual. Some, like Trint in my novel Hard as Roxx or Peyton in my novelette* “Days of the Never Was” were born that way. Others, like headliners Roxx, from Hard as Roxx or Luce, in the novelette “Manhattan Transference” discover their sexuality as an integral part of the plot.

In some instances, I created a character’s sexuality somewhat randomly, like Trint, and allowed it to impact the story in accordance with how the characters’ personalities mesh. In fact, in Trint’s instance, I eliminated a planned major character because Trint and Roxx’s energy supplanted what I’d intended to be a main storyline. In “Days of the Never Was,” which follows three pairs of friends as they have their identities shifted due to a mysterious fog, I created a character in order to write a relationship that touched on how gender and sexual identities affect relationships, and then allowed it to flip.

Initially, I hesitated to do so, since I’m not gay, but then I realized I don’t have a vagina either, so … I’m guessing what creating characters requires is understanding more so than personal experience. I’m not particularly a fan of story lines like the old TV show “Will and Grace,” whose primary characters seemed to be saying, “Look at me! I’m gay! Isn’t that funny?” Well, not so much, no.

Still, one of the reasons I didn’t release Roxx, although the book is finished, is that I wondered about people’s acceptance of a gay relationship. After getting feedback from various readers, I still wonder. Not a single person so much as mentioned the relationship, even though it is the central relationship to the story. Is that indicative of how far society has progressed, or is it that people aren’t comfortable saying they weren’t comfortable? The initial publisher I’d lined up to market the novel read it, had plenty of praise and few critiques, but didn’t seem interested in selling the book. Maybe he’d decided it wasn’t his cup of tea, or maybe the industry discouraged his marketing anyone’s book, or maybe he secretly thought it was a boring story. Who knows?

I suppose I’ll never know, which is fine, because I don’t believe it’s my job to care about whether things I write cause readers discomfort. My job is to write the story. The reader’s job is to decide how it affects them. Still, it would be pretty cool if it turned out no one has mentioned any of my LGBT characters because they didn’t think it was something worth mentioning.

*Definitions:

Novel: a work of 40,000 words or more
Novella: a work of at least 17,500 words but under 40,000 words
Novelette: a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words
Short story: a work of under 7,500 words

Why be an Author?

Why would anyone in their right mind be an author? I’m not referring to being a writer; that’s different. There is only a single reason to be a writer — you were born that way. Sure, it may take you a while to notice it, as it did in my case. But the writer is always there.

I remember being absent from school for a couple of days in the 3rd grade. When I got back, the teacher informed me the class had spent the previous 2 days learning to write poetry. I had exactly an hour to catch up. Now, in my many days in front of our in-home library, I’d spent hours reading and re-reading children’s poetry. I figured, “How hard could it be?” In my ignorance, I knocked off a poem about birds in fifteen minutes. I turned it in, and to my teacher’s surprise, it wasn’t bad. My mom carried that silly poem in her wallet for decades.

Still, I didn’t notice I was a writer. I had no imagination, you see. The first time I really began to see the writer within was when I turned 20. Despite being an accounting major, most of my friends were either musicians, artists, or poets. The latter group used to pen poems and recite them to African drums. Sometimes, I’d accompany them, just for kicks. But I wasn’t a drummer, or an artist, because I had no imagination. In private, however, I thought I’d try to write some poems, because, “How hard could it be?”

Most sucked, a lot. But 5 of them got selected and published in a small, New York City poetry journal. So, I decided, maybe I was a poet. By then, I understood that I was a writer, because I could no longer stop writing. I’d never thought myself an artist, unless you counted the fact that I had a camera in my hand from age 12 on.

See, I’d never put the pieces together. I’d always been an artist, just not practicing. You are born an artist or a writer. It’s an innate part of your personality, whether you give it voice or not. You can certainly ignore it, but I promise, that will be to your detriment.

Being an author, however, is completely different. Being a writer (artist) is a personality trait. Being an author (painter) is a vocation or avocation. Anything that can be done as a career is a choice. You can do it, or do something else. But if you chose to be one, do so with eyes open. As an author, let me warn you: you probably won’t get rich. Some do; most don’t.

William Faulkner is considered to be one of the most talented authors in history. In fact, in my survey of the 100 Greatest Writers in History, Faulkner came out 2nd, behind the unreadable James Joyce.

Faulkner

Faulkner, all 5 feet, 5.5 inches of him. (This photo actual size)

Even so, he couldn’t make a living as an author. In order to make ends meet, the creator of such classics as The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! worked in Hollywood for years, penning 6 credited screenplays, including “To Have and Have Not” and “The Big Sleep,” two of Bogart’s best movies. This, from the eventual winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and 2 Pulitzer Prizes. See, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Without Faulkner’s friendship with Howard Hawks, for whom he penned 5 of the 6 screenplays, he may have never gotten enough visibility to achieve the fame he did.

That’s not to say you won’t either. However, it is to say that fame and fortune isn’t the reason to pursue any career, whether its author, painter, athlete, or lawyer. The reasons to do so are simpler than that: because you find the work enjoyable and because you are willing to work hard enough to be the best at it that you can be.

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner

It took me a while to answer my inner question of why I write. I used to have different answers, but they were never the reasons I gave my friends. The real reason is simple. I want to create characters that people never forget. In the not distant future, I will die, and cease to be. My daughter will have children, grow old, and die. Within the span of fifty years past the end of my life, few, if any, will remember me. Almost none will know the details of my life, because few know them now.

But maybe I can perfect my quirky, silly, brilliant, sexy and open Bacall-Deschanel-Hepburn iconic female lead. Perhaps I’ll get her right one day, and you, and your children, and their children will never forget her. Maybe I’ll stumble across a new male heroic lead, one who doesn’t shrink from a fight, but who neither is threatened by knowing the girl is smarter and maybe a bit braver.

Perhaps you’ll read my female lead, pursued in romance by her best friend, a woman as different from her as the stars are from the sea, and maybe you’ll root for them to vanquish their foes and fall deliriously in love. Maybe it’s Roxx or Trint. Or maybe you’ll meet a stranger to this planet, in physical form for the first time, discovering what it means to be a woman. Maybe Luce will be the one you don’t forget.

To be honest, I know I haven’t written that character yet. My writing is still improving enough weekly for me not to think it’s good enough. But that’s why I’m an author … because I’m determined to reach good. At the end of my life, I may have never written a character I’d love to have seen Bogie play, and maybe “Baby” was always too cool for any of my female leads, but dammit, I’m going to die trying.

Humphrey Bogart - in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre

Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre

Because I’m a writer; I may as well use it for something.

I Know What You Look Like

When I first started writing fiction, it was hard for me to visualize my characters without looking at them. I would spend hours on the internet, searching through photos that looked like whom I thought my “people” to be. Sometimes, they would end up being professional models or actors. Other times, I’d stumble across a photo of someone’s daughter who just felt right. On the rare, fortunate occasion, as with my leads — Charlie Patterson and Roxanne Grail — I would find a model who looked exactly like the character in my mind.

Now, after a half-million or so words, I can create characters without even caring what they look like. Often I’ll choose their appearance randomly, or mention the bits that would stand out if you saw them in a crowd. Sometimes I never mention their looks at all. Still, I do like having photos for my main characters. It keeps them real in my head, sometimes even drifting into my thoughts as I slip into dreams. Some characters, like Jannet from The Stream, I cannot never get quite right. I could draw her were I skilled enough, but I’ve not found her photo yet. Maybe she’s shy.

I keep the home screen of my 27-inch Mac clean. The only thing there are these photos of my gallery of “stars.” Below is a sampling of some of them.

The leads you have seen in my cover art. However these are my glue characters – the ones who keep my leads together and who move the story along. From Hard as Roxx there are her daughters, Jazzmine and Jessi James, who on the surface couldn’t look more different. There is Jazz, whose father was African, and Jessi, whose father was not. They are held together by their secret bond, and of course, Roxx.

From The Stream, we have Charlie’s important people. There’s Robin, his dream girl, his mother, Charlotte, as well as the other women in his life. Again, some famous actresses, models, and girls next door. The kids are the stars of one of my short stories, just to give The Juice some love. I wonder if others are as meticulous as I am. Then again, I’m a photographer, so I guess taking snapshots of my people is a natural act. They watch me as I sit at the computer, silently entreating me to “write some more, Bill.”

Amazingly, adding to my gallery is one of the main reasons I do. :)

Background Work

I decided that the main character of the new book, Jeanne “Dark” D’Arc, owns a 1972 Renault Alpine. She is proudly, almost stubbornly French, and the year is special to her. Her personal symbol is the Ibis, which she had painted on her car. It is a clumsy bird, inelegant, until it can take flight. Having been injured by an accident in her teenage years, the same can be said for her.

I’ve learned that I can’t write a character properly until I “know” them. For short stories, that means grabbing the one thing that motivates them through the story. For longer stories (novelas, novelettes) I have a very brief sketch of who the main characters are. For novels, however, I get to channel my inner OCD. I have full character profiles that include any of the following items:

  • Name, date of birth, place of birth, zodiac sign
  • Parents, siblings
  • Genealogy up to 2-3 generations back
  • Full personality profile – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Brainstyles, psychological profile, quirks
  • Strengths and weaknesses (included in MBTI)
  • Loves, Hates, and oddities

I don’t really like spending years with a character who is exactly like everyone else you meet. Mainly, that is because I’ve never met anyone exactly like everyone else. I don’t reveal most of the above right away, and quite a bit I never include in the stories at all. However, they form the basis of the “personness” to me. Once I have them in my mind, it’s as easy to write from the character’s perspective as it would be to pen an essay about my mom. That’s as it should be. These characters are my kids.

Shouldn’t we be able to tell our kids apart?

Take Jeanne, for instance. In looking for classic French cars, I came across the Renault Alpine (above) and the 1959 Renault Floride. Now, I knew little of classic Renaults, but I knew the character was “created” while I was looking at a jazz video by Melody Gardot, and she would remain cool and elegant. She doesn’t like convention, and is an artist’s soul in a pragmatist’s body. So her choice of car would be something almost no one had. However, her pragmatism means that she rarely drives it, as parts are nigh-unto impossible to get. So, she owns a beautiful car, mainly as an occasional escape. Given it’s mostly a work of art, why not have it custom painted, to make it hers?

Who knows if the car (or her little mostly reproduction Floride) ever make it into the book? But I’ll know what she does on her weekends, and what car she’s in when she needs to head to a New England getaway. That’s what really matters, I think, that we know. It’s like telling a story to friends, where you leave out the “irrelevant” details. They will want to know the stuff you omit, based on the hints you’ve dropped. That’s how you keep them interested.

At least, that’s my theory. Who the hell knows if it works? Still, if you saw a pretty lady with a slight limp, large, dark sunglasses, wearing a hat and coat that looked as if she stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie, wouldn’t you be intrigued?

The Next Book, Day 1

They whisper to me, you know. Like auditory hallucinations, I can hear their breathing, inside my ear, their breathy words, their admonitions. Although they speak mostly gibberish, as if I were dreaming, it is their emotional content I recognize. She wants out, does Jeanne Dark. I begin to see the colors of her graphemes, and she screams for me to put them to paper. I can almost hear the sound the colors make, and the heady, gurgling pant of the numbers. She will never forget a number, because she can remember the color of their songs. She is insane, blindingly insane, because she manages to remain lucid in such a chimerical world. Surely, that is madness.

And dear Foss, the deep Mr. Cain, he has begun emerging in my dreams. He is more than whom I created, already. I see him in passersby. Today, at work, two African American men passed by. They were short, relatively speaking, no more than five foot seven or so. I thought of Foss, the massive six feet, four inches of him, and wondered if the men would have spoken to him were he lost in scowl-painted thought. He is bored, needs adventure, wants his turn.

Still, I keep him inside, with Dark. I can feel them clawing at me. No, it is more than that. I can feel the words; they burn, needing release. It hurts not to write them, my blue-balled determination to deny their freedom is failing. It hurts too much, and at times, I feel the need to weep. But tears would be a release. They would drip and bits of Dark’s story would come with them.

I keep her trapped, because the pain is her story. There is pain there. Perhaps she is trapped, like my imagination. Maybe that is why I will not write her. Too much of my writing is humor. My words reflect my thoughts, and I confess I see the brilliant comedy of stupidity that is the world. But Dark’s story is not humorous. She is capable of great joy – rather, causing it – but has felt little. Her world has been isolation. She hurts, but paints her face with false pleasantries. I would know none of this had I let her out.

So she will remain trapped a bit longer, until the words no longer fit inside. Perhaps it is foolishness to write so soon about writing. Maybe the ideas will be stolen. But it matters little. Dark sings only to me, and only I can write her lyrics. I begin to think there are young writers, those whom have never written a book, who would watch the process, as one would an accident laid out in super-slow motion. I will let them watch, feed their scorn, here, as I bleed on my keyboards. Already she has taken over it; I can feel her somber smile even in these few passages. Do they feel the undercurrent of her deep passion? Do they know how she yearns?

They will. I have found her cover art – the perfect photo of her shadowed self. Soon, Dark’s story will be written, the novel will be finished. …

And then, only then, it will be time to start.

Writing Interesting Characters

I’ve said any number of times that I am a character-centric reader. That is, my interest in a book is largely determined by how well I can connect to the characters. So it’s not surprising that I write the same way – if I can fall in love with my characters, I know I can develop a story worth reading.

Like most writers, I spend quite a bit of time on a novel. It typically takes me two years from start to finish. If I am not tired of my character by the end of the last, tiresome edit, then maybe my reader won’t tire of them midway through the book. Who wants to spend a quiet evening with someone they don’t like?

Now, I am not saying all of your characters have to be likeable. Instead, I am suggesting there should be something about all the major characters that piques the readers’ interest. In my reading — far more so than my writing — I have come across a few simple elements to good characterization.

Nobody (Interesting) is Perfect

In the real world, no one is a saint, thank goodness. That should be equally true in fiction. People can be insecure, quick-tempered, vain, or slutty. They sometimes make bad choices; occasionally, they are not very bright. Even the most accomplished people you know likely have things about them either you or they struggle with. Give your characters flaws; make them need to grow in order to reach their goal.

Wolverine in a good mood.

Wolverine in a good mood.

Let’s examine some of the more memorable characters in literature. Sherlock Holmes, while a brilliant detective, could be arrogant, condescending, and impatient. He suffered from wild mood swings, including dark lethargy that makes one think he was, perhaps, bipolar. When bored, he ingested cocaine or morphine. Harry Potter, according to J.K. Rowling, suffered from occasional arrogance and anger. Others were obsessive (Captain Hook, Captain Ahab), charlatans (The Wizard of Oz), brooding (Batman, Wolverine), vain (Scarlett O’Hara), or just your everyday scoundrel (Robin Hood). Give them something to work with – but remember, you still want them to be basically endearing, like normal people. Well, normal people you want to hang out with.

You're so vain, I bet you think this book is about you.

You’re so vain, I bet you think this book is about you.

Normal is Boring

Interesting characters have unusual interests … like smoking.

Why be normal? It’s your world; make your own rules. Shouldn’t that be the mantra of your lead character? After all, you’ve taken the time to write an entire book about them. Would anyone write a book about you if you were just like everyone else? Maybe, but I sure as hell wouldn’t read it. I’m not saying they all have to be quirky (although quirky is good) but they should have something about them that makes them stand out. For instance, my female lead in The Stream loves making people think she’s dumb, just so she can laugh at how stupidly they continue to explain things to her. (It is a talent she inherited from my best friend.) The male lead, Charlie, habitually talks to himself, aloud, whenever he’s nervous, and gives his emotional and logical sides their own names.

Don’t overdo these, however. I think they should be used sparingly, and only in situations where it makes sense. I have seen other writers recommend things like nervous eating, nose-picking, et cetera. One good way to use quirks is as an emotional barometer to the reader. Maybe your character stutters when he’s embarrassed. Perhaps sneezing is a signal to the reader that your lead is lying.

Know More than You Tell

I think all leads in a novel need a backstory: family histories, personality profiles, major tragedies and successes that motivate them, and the like. Reveal some only when needed to advance the story, and never right away. In fact, keep some that only you ever know. In that way, your character will be consistent with your set of rules, adding to the character’s realism. Even oddballs have some sort of internal logic that close friends can discern. Hopefully, your reader weill intrigued enough to try and figure out your characters’ logic. I also use personality profiles, but I’m a quirky, obsessive kind of guy.

Bad Girls Aren’t All Bad

Neither are bad guys. Don’t make them black any more than you make your hero white (metaphorically speaking). Think gray (or grey). Perhaps your antagonist is a despot who wants to take over the world, but he’s driven by the fact that he believes he can make it a better place. Perhaps your female villain destroys your hero’s life or murders her rival. However, does that mean she’s also a bad mother? Maybe, maybe not. What if this psycho is only hateful to your hero, and a doll to everyone else?

Extend the gray, and your reader begins to find the complexity of their villain more interesting. Indeed, if the bad guy is just horrible, but brilliant, that works too. Holmes wasn’t nearly as interesting until Moriarity came along.

Stay the Eff Away from Stereotypes & Archetypes

I’m not talking about ethnic, cultural, sexist, or other abhorrent stereotypes, although those are right out too. I mean, stay away from the overdone characters that are, um, overdone: the hooker with a heart of gold, the star-crossed lovers, the cynical roommate, or the absent-minded professor. We read that book (in high school). We saw the movies. Let. Them. Go.

How about the (male) hooker who is actually a poorly educated, sexually abused, meth addict, who is just trying to figure out how not to die on the street? Not nearly so quirky, huh? Maybe the professor has a mind like a Swiss watch, but she has a penchant for blowing people off, because she’s a fucking sociopath. In the real world, one-dimensional people don’t exist. If they did, no one would give a damn.

It’s Your World

Make it a place people want to visit, and tell their friends about. Tell us about your favorites, so we can come be quirky all over your blog post.

Crazy Magnet, Part 5

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If you haven’t been following … How Dare You! Kidding. This is part 5 of a 6-part short story entitled “Crazy Magnet.” I’m looking for feedback as two whether the two main characters, Foss Cain (narrator) and Jeanne Dark, could carry a (series of) suspense novel(s). The questions are 1) do Dark’s gifts of observation and synesthesia present an interesting framework for an investigator, and 2) does Foss’ narrative voice and chemistry with Dark hold sufficient promise to carry a book?

Enjoy (and comment). By the way, this, and other short stories can be found in my anthology, The Juice and Other Stories, on sale now. Less than $1 for all 13 stories.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

“He must eat a considerable amount to remain such a healthy size,” Dark says.

“You mean given how he rushes around like a headless chicken.” I’m being insulting on purpose, trying to draw her out. She doesn’t take the bait.

“He is quite agile for his size. On the walk from the car, I told him to go ahead and order and I would catch up. He seemed quite stressed by my slow pace.”

She is offering to talk about the accident. I take her up on it. “Are you in much pain?” I ask. The details are not what matters. What I’m interested in is how she reacts to things.

“Not so much,” she says, sipping her coffee. “I have an implant that tamps down the discomfort, so you needn’t worry about my having an addiction to medication.” She smiles and steals a peek over her glasses. I see her eyes are a rich chocolate that she quickly squints closed.

Now I am curious about the details. I know that look – I saw it plenty in my years of service. That was pain. “Does the light hurt your eyes?” I ask.

“Oui,” she says. It comes out sounding like “way.” That tells me she is probably from Paris, or thereabouts. “It is one of the more unfortunate consequences of my accident. My eyes were left permanently sensitive to light. But there were benefits, as well. We play the hand we are dealt, no?”

She’s being stoic, eking out info a bit at a time  – I can’t help feeling on purpose – and I get a fleeting notion that this interview is a two-way process. It would not be out of character for that fat snake Hardesty to have me be the one on the hot seat, while telling me it’s the other way around. I decide to shake up my normal routine, which is to get the subject talking about herself. Instead, I switch to what I like to call tact two, which is to ask seemingly random questions geared to keeping the subject off kilter. Give a non-linear subject a rambling conversation and constant positive reinforcement, and you would be surprised what comes out.

I am beginning to refer to her in my head as “the subject” because that damned accent and the smile below those glasses is rocking my boat. Need to keep my head straight.

She’s looking at me again, sipping her coffee, and smiling.

“You take your coffee black?” I ask.

“Yes. I don’t like the colors when you add sugar and cream.” She makes a face.

Alarms are ringing in my head. “Colors?” I ask.

She smiles. “Oui.”

I actually wait ten seconds, giving her enough time to get uncomfortable and begin filling in the blanks. She does neither. “You going to explain what you mean about colors?” I ask. Point one to her.

“Sugar is bright yellow in my head, like the sun. Cream feels like gravel in my ears, a buzzing, like a mosquito-sized headache, and is gray. You add the two to a strong French roast, and your lovely brown coffee is the color of vomit.” She sips her coffee; I put mine down. “I don’t like seeing vomit when I drink. Do you?”

I agree that I do not. We pause for another fifteen seconds while I wait for her to explain the previous explanation. Point two to her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You mean the color of the coffee bothers you?”

She looks serious this time, shaking her head. “No, I am a … how you say, synesthete.”

It takes a few seconds for the word to register; then I get it. “You see colors,” I say. I shake my head; that is too simplistic an explanation. “I mean, your senses combine.” I have heard of it, but have never met a synesthete before. That alone would explain why a conservative government agency would be a little hinky about hiring her.

“Oui. But it is more than that and less than that. I have what is considered to be an extreme form. I do not precisely see the colors. Instead, as I sip the coffee, for instance, my brain reacts as though the colors are there.” She dips her pinkie in the small vial of cream Hardesty left, and inserts it into her mouth. Very. Slowly. Part of me wants to be her pinkie. “Even with my eyes closed, it tastes gray. Not very pleasant.”

There is another pause where I catch myself staring at her pinky. She catches me too and lowers her head, pretending not to smile. Time to rattle the cages a bit again. She is ahead three points to nil. “Well, seeing colors with coffee and declaring people purple is pretty extreme, I must agree.”

Lines crease her forehead. “You are being rude on purpose. You are not very good at it.” She stands.

Now this is a bit of a predicament and not only because she just swept the series four games to none. If she’s upset enough to leave an interview of this type at the first bit of discord, she’s certainly not stable enough for a sensitive operation. On the other hand, it’s kind of crazy behavior, and yet she doesn’t seem to like me much. Maybe this damned magnet is broken after all. She stops about two paces from the table and looks back over her shoulder. “Are you coming?” she asks. It is not a question, but a command. I rise and obey. As I catch up to her, she adds, “Good. The light in this place smells of butter. It is making me ill.”

I open the door and we step out into the sunlight. “How’s this?” I ask.

“Lilacs.” She smiles, inhaling a deep breath. “It suits you.”

“Because I’m purple. You want to explain that?”

For the first time, she looks uncomfortable. I don’t press the point. We walk down Connecticut Avenue, the pace normal, not at all slow. Still, she leans on the cane enough for me to notice. When she finally speaks, I am surprised, as I have almost forgotten the question. “If you do not mind, I would prefer not to answer. There are some things I need to keep to myself … for the sake of my work.” She pauses. “If you think not knowing jeopardizes our involvement …”

I hold up my hands. “It’s okay, no explanation needed. Just curiosity.”

“Merci.” She looks up at me, as we sit on one of the benches that surround the small park in the midst of the circle. “If it means anything, purple is a very good color.” Her voice becomes soft. “I have not seen purple before.”

Here, in the deep shade of the summer trees, under a partly cloudy sky, she looks at me, and removes her glasses. It is a brief glimpse, as if she is taking a photograph. She raises her head, eyes closed, and then they open, and flash … they grow wide, and she shuts them again. The glasses are replaced, and now, the magnet be damned, all I can think of is how much I need to taste those chocolate eyes again.

I am not certain, because the light is dim, but she seems flushed. Maybe the walk was too much. I do walk quickly, unless people remember to slow me down.

“Do you enjoy this kind of work?” she asks.

“What kind of work is it that you think I do?”

“I understand you are a security consultant, specializing in deception detection and behavior modeling.”

I nod. That is the company line.

“I think, however, you want to know if I am insane and whether you will have to babysit me if I am not.”