The Title Made Me Do It

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA and before that I lived in Santa Barbara, CA.  Between the two cities, I have lived on the edge of the Pacific Ocean for 35 years.  However, since I can’t swim a stroke and I don’t fish much anymore, I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach.  My dog, Tinker, likes it, so we go for walks on the beach now and then, but I don’t spend enough quality time on it to be called a beach bum, however, I can see the ocean from most parts of Ventura and in my daily commute, I drive next to it for over 30 miles.

One day when I was trying to think up more trouble for my Detective Anderson character I may have been looking at the ocean when a title for a story popped into my head.  I cannot say for sure if the image of all this blue water was the reason for it but since Anderson seems to be around a lot of dead people, some by his own hand, and he lives in Miami, the deep blue of the sea made me think of this phrase:  Death and the Deep Blue Sea.  Maybe I was thinking of all of the mariners that have gone down to the sea in ships or maybe it came to me for some other reason.  I honestly don’t know, but it got me to thinking about how I could involve Anderson in a murder mystery at sea.

The first challenge, of course, was to get him on the water.  For this I used his partner, Detective Coombs.  Coombs loved to fish while Anderson detested it but Coombs kept inviting him to go on a party fishing boat with him and since Andy was tired of making up lame excuses not to go, he relented this one time.  Naturally, trouble followed when something awful turned up in the offal.  In a tip of my hat to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal movie, Lifeboat, all the actions take place on board the ship.  This had to be done because Anderson was afraid that if the ship made landfall before he deduced who the criminal was, said criminal would be able to make his escape.

Between the time he and Coombs boarded the ship and the time they set foot on dry land again, our two intrepid detectives discovered who was murdered, who did the deed, and what was the main dish in the galley…  The entire story evolved from what I thought was a catchy title.

This story, Death and the Deep Blue Sea, is included in my book, On Borrowed Time.

I didn’t kill poetry, but I did give it a whack or two…

I admire people who can make any kind of income from poetry much less live off the proceeds.  As a short story writer I am constantly told that my art is dead; if that is so, then poetry is mummified.  Don’t get me wrong, I like poetry but the markets that still exist for the genre are usually non-paying and getting a book of poetry published might be impossible in today’s world.

This all being said, I have had some poetry published and one time I actually was paid for my efforts.  Once again I was perusing the contest categories of our county fair when I noticed that they wanted entries for funny poetry.  Well I am funny and I am a writer so I thought I would give it whack.  The result was a poem (hey, it rhymes) called False Profits: A Commercial Break for Reverend Bob  which came in first place in he contest so I got a Blue Ribbon and $5.00.  Pretty cool. I will post the poem below so you can judge for yourself if it was worthy.

Anyway, just after my victory, a poetry movement swept through Ventura with many venues setting up open mikes so people could read their works.  Well, I am a real ham and I like getting up in front of a crowd, so I started writing some pieces that I could read in a dramatic way.  If it is poetry, I can’t say but the first one I wrote and read is called A Dissertation On Mr. Dudley: Man In The Mirror and it was warmly received though it has never been independently published.  The next one I wrote was an “answer” to this poem and it is called Mirror Image: Metamorphosis; I would often read them together.  Again, they were warmly received but never published independently.  With these three poems under my belt, I had another idea: Why not write a “poetic play” and so I did.  It is called The Earthling and it is available on Amazon.com.  It is a three part play telling the story of a young man whose father committed suicide at the height of the Flower Power movement while leaving behind a wife and son to deal with life in the aftermath of his death.

I have read most of the pieces of this work aloud at one time or another and the one that has received the most praise, and tears, is one I call A Letter to My Dad that depicts this young man reading a letter to his father who knows is dead.  I would sometimes sit at a table with pen and paper in hand for a dramatic effect.

Our local poetry craze lasted for about a year and then faded away, my poetry career did the same, much to the relief of real poets, I am sure.

Here is the work that started it all.  If you like it, for all of .99 cents you can have the entire play on your Kindle:

FALSE PROFITS: A COMMERCIAL BREAK FOR REVEREND BOB

Do you say you want to spread redemption?
Do you say you want to be financially free?
Well if this is really true, my friends
Then learn how to preach on TV.

Do you say you want to be in good with the Lord?
But then you also want to have a little fun?
Then get a ministry on TV
And let people turn you on!

Yes, let me be the answer to all your prayers.
For I am one great gospel teacher.
Yet I still can sin like the devil
Just because I am a video preacher!

Oh yes, I wear five-hundred dollar suits,
And no sir, I do not drive a Ford,
It seems the Almighty wants me in a Mercedes-Benz
And for that I praise the Lord!

Now you to can do as I do,
You to can cash in on people’s trust
But hurry and get on the band wagon
Before this whole scheme goes bust!

Some people will think you are a fake,
And a few will even think you are funny,
But then you are not trying to be popular,
Since all you want is their money!

So listen to the things I say brother,
Believe me when I tell you this scam works.
And all that’s needed is a smiling face
And about 50,000 jerks!

If you just hand over your cash
I will send you your video preacher kit.
Then you too can find religion
While making a few bucks off of it!

Write down the address you see on the screen,
And send me your check or your cold cash
I will tell you how to raise a one million dollars
By saying that God is threatening something rash.

Oh yes, I have a sexy maid, and
I have a house in Beverly Hills.
So the sooner you get off the couch and write to me
The sooner some one else will be paying your bills!

The Earthling: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AZYX82S

Support your local author–even if your city will not do so.

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA a beautiful little working class seaside town in between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA.  Undoubtedly the most famous person to hail from our town is the author Erle Stanley Gardner.

If you have never heard of him, that is not unusual, not even in Ventura where we have a building named after him (see picture) but you most likely have at least heard of his work because he wrote all the Perry Mason stories and Mason is unquestionably the most famous fictional lawyer ever created.

Gardner was not born in Ventura, but Perry Mason was.  Gardner moved here in 1921 and since the legal profession bored him, he began writing stories for pulp magazines.  These stories eventually became a long series of books and then a long running television show with Raymond Burr in the role of Mason.  I am a huge fan of the show and one of the biggest thrills of my life was meeting and hugging Barbara Hale who played Mason’s secretary, Della Street.

I provided this brief background of our most famous resident so you will know why I am trying to start a project in memory of him and the frustration I have encountered in doing so.

A few years ago Ventura decided to brand itself the “the new art city” so it spent $61 million dollars to build a condominium complex that is two blocks from the beach and Surfer’s Point.  The complex was to house WAV residents.  WAV stands for “working artists Ventura”.  The ideas was to have “working artists” buy these “affordable” condos so the city could claim that it was indeed the Artist Hub of California.  I thought the idea was fanciful because if an artist is making the kind of income that would be needed to buy these units, they would probably be living somewhere else.  I won’t go into the disaster this has been and tell you about how many units sit empty because I am all for the arts of any kind.  Cities should support them–just not this way.

Anyway, I figured that if the city could spend millions of dollars on this project, it could spend $5,000 on a project I have in mind that would not only honor and recognize our most famous artist (yes, writer’s are artists!) it would also generate income to keep the project going year after year.  I called the project Adventures in Mystery: A tribute to Erle Stanley Gardner.  

My idea is to publish a series legal mystery short stories using Amazon and CreateSpace.  The stories would be generated through a call for submissions asking authors to send in stories no greater that 3500 words in length with the authors being paid a flat fee of $150 for each story that was selected.  I was going to pick a panel of judges from among local authors to decide what was to go into the book.  Each judge would be paid a flat fee yet to be determined.  I was not going to collect any money, all I asked for was to be credited as the Editor of the book.  The books would be sold worldwide and they could be sold a city facilities like the gift shop at City Hall.  Our city hall is one block from the Erle Stanley Gardner Building and it used to be the main courthouse.  The City Council now occupies the very same courtroom where Gardner practiced law.

This same City Council flatly rejected my idea.  They told me to apply for a grant that would not come close to the $5000 I sought.  Maybe they could not afford to spend this much after the WAV fiasco?  I don’t know all I do know is that I have been trying to get this project going for years by approaching new council members as they come and go (though one of our Councilmen has been in his seat so long he thinks he is a Saint) and I have been rejected each time.

Because all of this, I have given up on the idea of having the city have any hand in this effort but I have not yet given up on the idea itself.  I am mulling a Kickstarter campaign for this project and if it happens, I will put out the call for writers here in my blog and on other social media outlets.

In the meantime, here are two sites where you can get some more background on this post:

Learn more about Erle Stanley Gardner:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erle_Stanley_Gardner

WAV project in Ventura: http://www.vcstar.com/news/artists-move-into-61-million-ventura-housing

For the benefit of Mr. K

All through my blog posts I have told you of the incidents and people who have inspired me to write.  This post will be no different though I write it with great sadness.

I found out last week that one of my friends died suddenly, the cause of his death is irrelevant at this point so I will not go into it, let me just say that he was much too talented and much too young to be gone now.  Even though I went to his joyous wake yesterday, I am still in shock over his death and I will be for some time to come.

The man’s name is James Kasmir and you can visit his FaceBook page here: https://www.facebook.com/james.kasmir

James was a man with a zest for life.  To me he was always smiling, always upbeat, and always willing to entertain.  He was a comedy writer, an adept magician, one of the BEST harmonica players I have ever heard, and one of the most creative improvisational comedians you’d ever meet.  It was during my two year stint in improv that we became friends.  I could tell you of some hilarious skits we did together but that would take much too long because anything Jim was in was funny; I was irrelevant.

Since we were having a wake and since it was to be held in the Ventura Improv Company Theater and since it was to be attended by an astounding amount of talented people who would be performing in honor of Jim, I wanted to get involved as well but not in an improv setting.  So, I wrote a short poem even though my poetry is lacking.  The name of the work is Jimbo The Magnificent and there is a story behind this title that few people knew until I told it before I read this work.

As I said, Jim was a magician and I am one who has always loved magic.  I have even put on a few shows (one when I was 9 years old) but I never reached Jim’s talent level.  Well one day, in a private conversation, I told him that if he was going to be successful magician, he needed a catchy name.  So I bounced a few suggestions off him and Jimbo The Magnificent is the one he liked the best, though I don’t think he ever used it on stage even though I promised him that I would not charge a royalty fee if he did–at least one that was not too steep, that is.

So, using my favorite name for him, I wrote the following.  It was warmly received despite it’s crudeness because it celebrated all things Jim.  That is something we can all celebrate for the remainder of our lives.

I love you buddy.

Jimbo the Magnificent

With mouth organ blazing, he’d pull a rabbit from a hat

Now how in the world could you not laugh at that!

Up on the boards he’d act like he was Heaven sent,

And maybe he was, he was Jimbo the Magnificent.

He’d been known to sing and he’d been known to prance

And sometimes when silly he’d do a naked chicken dance

Whatever he did, he did for our enjoyment.

Because as we all know, he was Jimbo the Magnificent

Now that he’s gone, the lights have gone out

But we’ll all be happy and we’ll all have no doubt

That he’ll be wearing wings to where ever it is he went

And Angels, those lucky Angels, will be laughing with Jimbo the Magnificent

Fact into fiction

When I first moved to California, I lived in Santa Barbara–a town I had never heard of before relocating to it.  It is a nice place, great weather, terrific scenery, and Hollywood stars walking on the streets like all of us nobodies, but after 5 years I decided it was not my kind of town so I moved south to the beautiful little town of Ventura and that is where I have been ever since.  I love it so much here, that I will never leave it really.  I have it set up so when I die I will be cremated and my ashes will be spread just off the coast so they can slowly wash ashore (thank you Neptune Society).

One thing that I really did like about Santa Barbara was their library.  It is a beautiful facility with a large collection of books.  Well one day I was there just browsing for nothing in particular when a title caught my eye.  It was A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865 written by a man name Louis J. Weichmann.  I had never heard of this author and I always thought I knew everything about Lincoln’s assassination so I would have normally passed on this book but the intriguing title enticed be to pick it up and at least read the dust cover.  After I did that, I checked the book out, took it home, and read it is just a few days.  It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone, history buff or not.

I, for one, didn’t know all the intricacies of the plot against Lincoln which included the kidnapping of the President in order to hold him for ransom.  When that plot went astray, sadly, John Wilkes Booth took matters into his own hands.  I also did not know that there was a mystery woman who often visited Booth in the home of Mary E. Surratt, the mother of conspirator John H. Surratt.  This mystery woman has never been identified.  There is a lot in the book that I did not know but that is because the revelations in it were divulged by Weichmann–a man who lived in the same house with the conspirators but was not party to it.  Louis J. Weichmann was a clerk in the War Department at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Anyway, the mystery of the woman who Weichmann spoke haunted me for years even after I moved so one day I applied the magic “What if…” question to this lady and came up with a wild plot for a story.  I call it Saving Abraham and it is available in Angel and the Bear.

The story is a science fiction tale that revolves around a plan to stop the conspiracy and assassination; the idea is dreamed up by a scientist living in Atlanta in the year 2145.  The scientist known only as Johnson, and his partner Locke, have invented a machine called the Timatron which can not only let you travel in time, it can also transport you to specific places as well.  For his own reasons, Johnson wants to save Abraham Lincoln from Booth’s bullet but he and Locke disagree on what this would do to time. They have a spirited debate on that subject with Johnson finally hooking in Locke’s greed to get him to come around to his way of thinking and help him on his mission.  Well, things go terribly awry–in a most personal way–but you will have to read the story and it’s double climax ending to see how badly Johnson miscalculated the power of time.

Along the way to this conclusion, though, you will read a historically accurate tale that I wrote with the aide of Weichmann’s book.  The boarding house of Mary E. Surratt, where Johnson takes up residence is where it really was located in 1865, the livery he used, the events of the time, the visitors to the house, etc. are all real people and places described by a man who lived in that time period and with these people.  The only part of the story that is truly fictional is the actions of Johnson and Locke.

However, to make these dueling scientist seem more real, I based them on two other men famous for their dueling diatribes.  They were based on the movie critics, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, both of whom now have sadly passed on.  I admired them greatly and was such an avid fan, I could easily see them fitting into the roles I created for them.  At one point, Locke even gives Johnson a “thumbs up”.

This story not only shows how I used real people of the past, but real people of my time (Siskel & Ebert were both still with us when I wrote this).

Here are two links to the real people involved:

Louis J. Weichmann http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_J._Weichmann

Siskel & Ebert http://siskelandebert.org/