Behind: “The Cumberland Package”

IMG_2653 (1) (2)Vernon Stagg was born from a bad book.

A manuscript actually, mine sadly, and fortunately for us all I abandoned it before the querying stage. This was 2011, early yet for me into This Whole Writing Thing. The manuscript was a sort of Westlake-ian, Hiaasen-ian lovechild romp, and no matter what I did, it came out low on cohesion but high on character.

Such as somewhere in Part Two, when one of the baddies, a gold-digger who can’t believe her luck–or abide her fiancé’s creepy attachment–needs a lawyer on her side. The chapter opens with her asking for help busting a prenup, and suddenly this Vernon character Continue reading Behind: “The Cumberland Package”

Behind: “Crack-up at Waycross”

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First things first: the proceeds from Bouchercon’s Murder Under the Oaks go to the Wake Country Public Libraries. And folks, reading is cool.

In November 2013, thieves broke into a Modesto, CA orchard and made off with 140,000 pounds–70 tons–of in-shell walnuts. In February 2012, a shade to the north, 40,000ish tons of walnuts went missing from a Butte County processing plant. In October 2012, twin thefts near Sacramento, shall we say, bagged 82,000 pounds of walnuts. Investigators were hunting for suspects with Russian accents.

Nut theft is a thing.

Grinning a bit? Me too when I stumbled on the headlines. But the reason why? The root of all evil: an across-the-nut spike to record prices. That 70-ton walnut job? The take had a wholesale value of $400,000.

I said to myself, “I must write this.”

And you know what? I didn’t. Couldn’t. Not for a year. All I had was Continue reading Behind: “Crack-up at Waycross”

Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson”

Fleur de lisViolet Celucci is a better angel and an inner demon. A frigging genius is how Vi might describe herself, a bastion of sanity in a disorderly world, a process improvement-seeking missile. An over-obsessed stickler for efficiency is how she’d never describe herself. Sorry, Vi. The truth hurts, and so can life. Tough as you are, I see the breaks in your armor.

I can write Vi because over the years I’ve worked with my share of consultants and industrial engineers. You know the folks I mean: big-brained and unapologetic process nerds committed to life by timetable. And we need those folks. Process folks dream up boxes that fit our mail-orders just so; they reduce plant emissions and build supertankers; they took our rover to Mars. This month Vi took my story “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson” into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2015 humor edition. The company she and I are keeping there is humbling.

AHM515-finalcoverOkay, I can also write Vi’s craving for order among chaos because some days, at some level, it is also my own. 

We have a Venn diagram overlap, she might say.

Vi sprung from a high-caliber question: what if those big-brained engineers lived every livelong moment the way they worked their flowcharts and daily operating reports? How they shopped, for example, or how they cooked, how they sought–or didn’t–friends and lovers. Surely in the end that kind of quest would make life more difficult. Extra balls juggled, needless battles fought, friends and family distanced. That’s Vi. Her obsession demands she take the hard road to make it more efficient next time. And it might work, if immovable reality ever played along. Continue reading Behind: “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson”

Satire: Philip Marlowe’s 1939 Christmas Card Note

LA Black Slide 3Bob’s note: written for the season of good natures and with love and respect for Raymond Chandler’s work. The main case referenced below is the plot thread of Farewell, My Lovely, my favorite of the Marlowe books and set in 1939. 

Christmas Eve, and a blade-straight wind is scraping dirt off the San Gabriel Mountains. Out my window the drunks are slurring carols, and eggnog-soaked housewives are screaming their holiday wishes. So much for throwing open my sash.

I shouldn’t complain. Tonight marks the first holiday in memory no one has sapped me roadside, bedside, poolside, ringside or portside. Take how 1939 came: the hard way. My first waking moment of it was from the bottom of a Malibu ravine, courtesy of whoever dumped me there. Midnight on December 31 some people got a kiss. I took a sap to the head. Happy New Year, Marlowe.

I write you from inside a cloud of cigarette smoke. Outside the cloud is my room at the Bristol. It is the kind of place you might want to call home, but only after waking up in a few ravines. On my door hangs a sunburned wreath as gnarled as the traffic on Sunset. Around my window is a strand of colored lights supposed to make the season merry. Half the bulbs have already called it quits. I don’t blame them. In Hollywood neon outmuscles electric and keeps my apartment tinged the local brand of scarlet. I also tied a bow atop my house bottle of Four Roses. I am in a cloud of that too.

The bourbon is in the hopes Continue reading Satire: Philip Marlowe’s 1939 Christmas Card Note