Well, there could have been a monster in there…

As much as I hate to say it, for the majority of authors, their writing is their avocation rather than their vocation and I am no exception to that rule.  I write because I enjoy it and because someday I would like to do it for a living.  In the meantime, I have to work for a living like all the rest of you.

It is not that I don’t think writing is work, it is and sometimes it is very hard work, its just that I think of writing as a pleasurable experience, something I can do without anyone telling me what to do and this is not always the case in the “real world” business environment.  So, I get up each day and (hi ho, hi ho) it is off to work I go.

For the past two and half years, the place I trudge to is biotech whose main business is making breast implants.  I’d write a sitcom about the place but no one would believe it.  Anyway, for several months of this time, I worked in one large building that was virtually empty.  I know for sure that I was the only person working on the second floor.  Most of this time, I worked in a secured file room and though I am not one who frightens easily, if at all, there were times when I heard noises that I did not think I should be hearing. I can’t say for sure if these noises were just in my mind or if they were produced by workers outside of the building but one day, when I started to go into the men’s room, I could have sworn I heard a noise come from inside it.

That was bad enough but when I opened the door, the self lighting unit did not activate right away so I was left standing in dim light for a few seconds.  When the lighting did come up, staring back at me were three empty stalls and two urinals–which all seemed to be laughing at my unease.

It was during those few seconds between darkness and light that a story came to me.  I call it There is a Monster in the Bathroom and it is available in my collection of stories in Angel and the Bear.

When I wrote the story, I wrote it just as it happened, right down to the layout of the floor I was on, the only exception being that there was no monster in there making those noises.  As I usually do, I let some of my friends read the story before I published it and several of those friends are people I work with.  Everyone of them guessed correctly that I set the story in the other building outside of the bathrooms located there, so I guess I got the details right.

As a writer, I think using people and places you know well as models is important because since you know them so well, you can write in detail about them.  This is an instance where the location of the event was of primary importance because all of the characters in the story were pure fiction, including the muscular man who was working alone on the second floor…

Angel and the Bear: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KZ3QF8I

Sometimes You Have To Get Dirty…

…in a grooming sense of the word anyway…

I was in the process of getting very dirty when the inspiration for my story Go Ahead, Steal My Car came to me.  At the time I was under my car, which was sitting up on my Rhino Ramps, draining the old oil from it so I could replace it with my recently bought fresh oil.  As I watched the dwindling ebony ribbon of dark oil pour into the drain pan, I heard shuffling foot steps approaching in the alley behind my house.  When the sound of the footsteps got to my driveway, they stopped and I could see that they had been made by two brightly colored tennis shoes. Who was in the shoes, I don’t know, why they stopped behind my car, I don’t know, but from the direction they were pointing, I could tell that the owner of the shoes was looking at my car and into my open garage.  I don’t think this person could see me since I was mostly under my car.

What motivation the feet had for stopping and looking I don’t know, but I do know that if they had approached my garage, they would have jumped high enough to hit the roof of it when I popped out from underneath the car.  But they did not approach, after about 3 minutes, they continued on their way.  I replaced my car’s oil drain plug then got up and looked down the alley, but who ever owned the shoes was gone.

However, the mystery stayed behind.  Later I could not get the unanswered questions out of my mind so, being a writer, I sat down and started listing what possible reasons the person had for standing behind my car and one of those possibilities, however remote, was that they wanted to steal my car.  I wondered what I would have done if that had been the case; since my car was a 1998 Chevrolet Lumina that I had owned since it was nearly new, most likely I would not have fought the person over it, I would have just said, “Go ahead, steal my car.”  What came from these musings is a sometimes sad, sometimes poignant story of a man grieving the loss of two partners, one personal and one professional, while blaming himself for both.

This is the second story in my book Angel and the Bearhttp://www.amazon.com/Angel-Bear-Collection-American-Fiction-ebook/dp/B00KZ3QF8I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Character Development

I tell everyone that I am not a novelist and to this day that is  true.  It may change some day but for now I am novel-less, so to speak.

The closest I have come to writing a novel is when I wrote On Borrowed Time, my book of mysteries that revolve around Detective Anderson and his private investigator agency.  In the book, many of the character have recurring roles.  Two of these characters are B.B., Anderson’s stunningly beautiful “Office Manager, full-charge bookkeeper, and all around do everything person” and Nate Kubrick, an up and coming young private investigator.  Around mid-way in the series, I wanted to develop these characters more because they were pretty interesting and because I had plans for them later in the series.  So, I decided to write a story called Into the Dark Desolate Night where they were the main characters.  In fact, Anderson and his partner Coombs are not in the story, though they play heavily in the background.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the story involves B.B. more or less blackmailing Kubrick into stealing Coombs’ new car, a candy apple red Cadillac El Dorado convertible.  Along the way we discover that B.B. is short for Beth-Ann Banks, her boyfriend’s name is Ray Ramundo aka Ray Ray, and that Kubrick has a juvenile criminal past that is unknown to Anderson and Coombs.

Why B.B. wants Kubrick–and only Kubrick–to steal the car is the crux of the story.  In the end, though, Kubrick finds a major league Miami crime boss deeply in his debt.  This is a situation that he does not relish, but he cannot get away from it.

For the record, the title of this story was the original title of the book and it fit well with the cover of the book, but after talking to a “book coach”, I figured it was too long so I renamed the book to another story.  I am not sure this was the best move but I have researched the question of long book titles and it does appear the shorter titles sell better.

So far I am not sure how accurate this assessment is.

On Borrowed Time: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H7LNDO

Language Barrier (Barrera Del Idioma)

In my last post, I told how I had a title (Death and the Deep Blue Sea) stuck in my head and how a story grew from that small seed.  Well that was not the only time it happened.  Another time this title got stuck in there, The Treasure of Arroyo Seco and again a story grew from that seed.  Unlike the last story, though, I know exactly where this title came from, more or less anyway.

I am a member of a group that helps preserve land in my town and now and then we also help clean up parks in the area.  One day we were working in Arroyo Verde park which is a large property full of hiking trails.  You can see the Pacific Ocean from most points of view since it sits up on a foothill.  It was hot and dry that day due to the Santa Ana winds being out in full force.  It was while I was chasing down a wild plastic bag that the phrase Arroyo Seco came to mind.  I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded good.  My mind wandered as I picked up the human debris left behind by careless picnickers and as it did it batted the phrase around and somehow the entire title came to me.  Now what to do with it?  It had a nice lilt to it and I know it was very similar to the great Bogart film The Treasure of Sierra Madre so I thought maybe it would make a nice story–of some sort.

At the time, Detective Anderson did not exist but I was writing a lot of romance stories so I thought that maybe I could do something with this title in that realm.  The idea of having the story set in the old west interested me since that would be a first for me.  I have read many volumes of Zane Grey’s work and as great as it all is, he never handled relationships between men and women very well.  So I thought that maybe I could one up the master in that area.

With that in mind, I set a lonely cowboy, who thought he was running from the law, on a wild ride south of the border to escape the perceived posses that were out to get him.  Along the way he stumbles upon a dying hombre and shares with him the last dregs of his water.  While the old man lay dying, he hands our hero a map and says something to him in Spanish which he did not understand.  When the man finally died, our hero buried him with dignity then set out to find water in a barren desert wasteland.

On the edge of death, he see a village in the distance, he thinks, so by laying on his trusty horse, he makes for it. Finally, he can go no longer and sliding from his saddle, he falls into a pit of darkness.  Of course, he wakes up, that part of the plot was a given, but what would he wake up to?  Would he find himself chasing a gold mine like Bogie did?  No, that would be plagiarism no matter how much I spun it.  So what would be the real treasure? Since this story was destined to be a romance, there could only be one true treasure and that would be love.

He wakes up to the stunningly beautiful face of Raquel Deseo which made him think he died and went to Heaven when he really was in a village called Arroyo Seco, which I later discovered meant “dry creek”.  So who is Raquel Deseo?  In the story, she is a peasant living in a town that is dying of thirst and she is the daughter of the man our hero tried to save.  In real life, she is my friend Raquel who is just as beautiful as she is described in the story.  Deseo is Spanish for “desire”.

I wanted to add some realistic touches to the story, so I thought I would start his awakening moments with a conversation between Raquel and her mother with the entire narrative being in Spanish.  My real life friend Raquel consented to translating my words and thus became the love interest of my lonesome cowboy.

In the end Raquel falls in love him him, they figure out what her father was trying to say about the map, and so they eventually save the town.

This story will soon be added to my collection of work, Angel and the Bear.

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.

These “sayings” drive me CRAZY…

Saying things like this is a sure way to get me in your face and if you use these terms in a story, without making the character a total caricature, it will get you a terrible review, which is what you would deserve for taking short cuts with the English language. You are a writer, so write, say it in a way that doesn’t only appeal to Valley Girls and Stoners.  Write for the world and avoid these phrases at ALL cost:

  1. “I am going to REACH OUT to that person” – If you are not within arms distance of a person, you cannot “reach out” to them.  You can call them, email them, make an appointment to see them somewhere, or even snail mail them  If you ever get within arms length of them, then you can truly “reach out” to them; just make sure they want your advances.
  2. “I can’t wrap my head around that” – Perhaps if you wrapped your head around a brain you would not have this problem.
  3. “Back in the day…” – What day?  Last Tuesday?  A month ago?  1899?  Get specific, tell me WHAT day you are back in.  I have posed these questions to idiots who have used this phrase when talking to me and all I got in response was stuttering inanities.  Which is why I figured they used this phrase in the first place.
  4. “Don’t go there” – Ummmm, where is it you don’t want me to go?  We were having a discussion and not traveling anywhere.  Do you want me to go to a specific place?  Should I leave the room?  The building?  The planet?
  5. “It’s not rocket science” – That’s good since we were NOT talking about ROCKETS or SCIENCE or anything remotely related to these professions.  We were talking about what to have for dinner tonight.
  6. “Push the envelope” – Well gee, I can push an envelope.  Heck, I can push thousands of them all at once.  Does that make me special?   Do you have any idea what it is you mean to say?
  7. “Think outside the box” – Sorry, does it look like I have a box on my head?  Maybe you should talk to my barber.  What box is it that you speak of?  Do you have any idea?  If not get your head out of your as…
  8. “Chill out” – Are you referring to my Martini?  I mean it is already cold.  I drink them in toast the the English language that is being slowly killed off by catch phrases.
  9. “Don’t throw (someone) under the bus” – This punishment should be reserved for people dumb enough to use this irritating phrase.
  10. “It is what it is” – But what is it?  Can you tell me or are you just using this idiotic throwaway phrase to tell me you are too ignorant to express yourself in words?

There are more but if I keep writing this, I will blow a gasket….

How a near death experience inspired a story…or two…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a near death experience, and the drug induced hallucinations I experienced as I recovered from it, inspired me to write the story, Images, the third work in my Detective Anderson series that comprises my book, On Borrowed Time, but that was actually the second story idea that I came up with while I was in the hospital.  However, Images, was the first one I wrote even though I had the second story pretty much worked out in my mind.

The other story I came up with is called Eye of the Storm, and it follows Images in my book.  It does so because I wanted to add more characters to Detective Anderson’s world and I wanted to introduce his new private detective agency which I did in Images.  I also brought in his new partner in the story who was a character in the previous story, Welcome to Jupiter.

Now, how did I dream up Eye of the Storm?  More hallucinations?  No.  This idea came to me before the morphine drip really kicked in.  Since I was very sick, I was placed in a unit that was just one step down from the Intensive Care Unit.  This unit is on the top floor of the hospital I was in and if I peered out my window and between two buildings, I could see the Pacific Ocean.  On the second day I was on the unit, though, our annual “June Gloom” arrived and muted that view.  “June Gloom” as we call it here (no matter what month it comes in) is a heavy marine layer (a high fog) that can blot out the sun for days at a time.  If you have never experienced it, you might think that the fog is a thick layer of clouds.  From that I imagined two Floridians standing on the Ventura Beach and thinking that a hurricane was heading our way.  In my imagination, I visualized one of them looking at the other and saying, “It’s coming.”

From those two words emerged a 6394 word story involving mistaken identity, a murderous clan, helicopter chases, the near death of Anderson, and much more!

Here are the first few lines of the story:

“It’s coming.”

 “Yes.”

 “Should we stay, ride it out?”

 “No.  It will make landfall here, we would not survive it.”

 “Then let’s finish and go.”

 “Agreed.”

So would I go through my sickness again if it meant coming up with two more stories?  No.  I would have to take a pass on that even if I never wrote another word.

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

How a near death experience inspired a story…

I am positive that near death experiences have inspired countless works of fiction and non-fiction.  I just never thought this would happen to me.

In my case it started out innocently enough; I woke up one morning with pain in my abdomen, severe pain, but even at that I didn’t think too much of it because until then I had been fine.  I tried to go about my business as usual but the pain prevented me from doing this so, reluctantly, I went to the emergency room.  The doctors there were very concerned and immediately began a series of test.  It turned out that I had a severe case of pancreaticitis caused by a dysfunctional gall bladder.  They told me that if I had waited a few days, my pancreas would have ruptured and I would have died.  A sudden shock to my pancreas would have sufficed as well.

After being admitted to the hospital, I was told that I could not eat or drink anything until my pancreas was cleared of all the poison in it; to reduce my pain and allow me to get by without food or drink, they started me on a saline IV and Morphine drip.  Essentially I went on a 4 day stoner because that is how long it took my pancreas to become stable enough to let the doctor go in in remove my offending gall bladder.

During this time, I was in and out of dream states almost to the point of hallucinating.  It was during one of these sessions that the oddest thing happened; a vision of a car that I owned years ago came into my mind.  It was a car that I had totally forgotten about, or so I thought.  What is more, the car was parked outside my then residence like it was always parked and to make things even stranger, a series of memories of this car continued with different views of the car parked in that spot. Some views were from the side, some from the back and so on.  After I returned to full consciousness, I remember this event and began to wonder why I still remembered this car and where these images were stored in my brain.

It took me several weeks to fully recover from this illness and during that time I was haunted by this question.  My mind mulled over a lot of possibilities but not being a doctor, I had no clear explanation and maybe a doctor would not have one either.  Then several ideas struck me: What if the brain really was like a computer and what if the brain could get clogged up with “files” like these memories of my old car?  What if this overload lead to debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease?  What if we could go in and clean out these files like you do on your computer?  Would that make your brain function better like deleting files on your computer makes it run faster?

At that point I had written my first two Detective Anderson mysteries (outlined in my blog posts I’m sorry, what did you say? and When a friend drives a story, but is not the story), now I wondered how all of these questions could involved Anderson and his team?

Well, throw in a “mad” scientist scorned by the local academia who is killed in a mysterious car wreck and then toss in the sexy owner of the Miami Dolphins (circa 1970) who pays Anderson a fortune to find out what really happened to him, then you have a wild rambling mystery that borders on science fiction. The story also introduces the hugely successful Anderson Detective Agency and a partner for Anderson.

And though the title of the story is one word, Images, at 19,324 words, it is the longest story that I have written to date.

Here is the On Borrowed Time book trailer that hints at this mystery:

And now a word from our sponsor…

For anyone born in the ’50’s or ’60’s, the phrase above is quite common and well known to you.  It was uttered just before a break in a television program and often by the sponsor of the entire show (such as the Colgate Comedy Hour).  You rarely, if ever, hear that phrase anymore because breaks come just as something interesting is about to happen, which makes you hang around until the show comes back on.

Well this is one such break.  I have been writing a lot about what inspired and challenged me to write various stories and I will continue to do so in the next blog post which tells of a story inspired by a real dog, just not the one that wrote the previous post, she writes her own stories.

In the meantime, I would appreciate it you would go to my Amazon.com author’s page and look at the books I have written.  If you see any you like, then please make a purchase–and give it a review.

http://www.amazon.com/John-Darling/e/B002BM7WGA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0