Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Discussion for Short Story Writers

I'd love to have you all sitting around a circle because I'd like to know more about your process as they call it. I originally posted a long list of questions but Rob Kitchin suggested doing one at a time so it could function as an ongoing discussion. Here's the first one for those interested in answering it. Next Sunday I will post another if interest merits it.

1. How often do you finish the rough draft
of a story in one sitting?

I never finish the rough draft in one sitting. I would say it takes me about two weeks to finish a rough although not very rough draft and that is working on it nearly every day. I am very slow because I start with word one each time I sit down. So when I am done the rough draft, the story is pretty smooth from all the rewriting. At least the first half is.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Night Music" Miles Davis

Fictional Characters

Reading my first Jack Reacher novel (61 HOURS) and I am knocked out by the plot, but even more so by Childs' evocation of Jack Reacher. Of course, no one as sure-footed and unstoppable as Jack ever existed, but I don't mind that at all. We have plenty of Jim Rockford's who get bounced off walls.

Please don't tell me Tom Cruise is going to play him.

Who was the last fictional character who knocked you out? I don't mean romantically but rather as a unforgettable creation?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Best Sex Scene in a Movie?

My review of Tabloid is here.

No links for Forgotten Friday here today. Check out Todd Mason.

Instead I'm thinking about sex.

I'm taking the easy way out and picking the scene in BODY HEAT where William Hurt circles the house, rabid with desire for Turner, finally getting inside.

Perhaps you have a more obscure or subtle rendering the act.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Life at the Theater: Angels in America, Part One

We saw this in 1995 at the Abbley Theater in Dublin. Quite a treat and Megan was with us. It is a sad play, of course, complex and interestingly staged. I never saw Part 2 until the mini series.
The biggest thrill, of course, was being in the famous theater.


My Writing Journey

By J.M. “Mike” Hayes

I've evolved from an emerging cynic into an evangelical curmudgeon. Some say I write left of center, but it's not that simple. Studying anthropology at Wichita State and the University of Arizona left me a social liberal. Years as a business owner made me a fiscal conservative. My life, and time as a civil servant, helped the cynic emerge. Volunteering as a neighborhood association officer and for an election integrity committee, and decades living in Arizona–a testing ground for ineffective government and radical political philosophies–forged me into someone ready to man the literary barricades.

My first book, a tale of Indian resistance to the draft in 1940, resulted from my anthropology studies. Tony Hillerman said of The Grey Pilgrim, “Wow! Here's one you shouldn't miss.” The novel was a featured “Best of the Southwest” selection, and chosen by General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for an Integrity reading list at North Carolina State's Leadership Forum. I finished another story about conflict between America and its native populations, just in time for my publisher to fire my editor. After years of revisions and resubmissions, I reinvented myself.

My father grew up in an idyllic Kansas village. It changed when the town suffered its first murder. People who never locked doors suddenly did, and began eying their neighbors suspiciously. My new series focused on how a small community reacts when the unthinkable happens. How a sheriff, with a limited budget and not much competent help, investigates a crime before his community comes apart. Worse, how he handles it when they come together to blame the town oddball–in this case, the sheriff's brother, a born-again Cheyenne and wannabe shaman.

The new series features cinema-like action, shifting viewpoints crowded into short time periods, humor, and what just might be magic. My “Cheyenne” character provides an outsider's view of modern American culture. As the series developed, I broadened its scope by moving some plot lines to Arizona.

The Mad Dog & Englishman series has been well received. "McMurtry on skates...hilarious....” – Mark Bernstein, The Drood Review of Mysteries. "Hayes' stories..., , are complicated, convoluted, high-speed and a lot of fun." – Michelle Shealy, Reviews.“. Robert Altman meets John Woo with a scary chunk of Roman Polanski thrown in....” – John Orr, The San Jose Mercury. “...[T]he best madcap cozy to hit the genre since Joan Hess' Maggody series....” – Barbara Bibel, Booklist (Starred Review). “...[G]ives Janet Evanovich a run for the wackiest characters and most bizarre plots in crime fiction." – Jo Ann Vicarel, Library Journal (Starred Review).

In Server Down. Mad Dog, with Sheriff English's daughter, Heather, are in Tucson, caught up in a crime so huge it stretches from Kansas to Arizona. English Lessons (2011) again splits the action between Arizona and Kansas. Heather and Mad Dog find themselves in the middle of a border drug war involving a deadly militia, events with eerie parallels to what's happening to Sheriff English on a wild Christmas Day.

Publishers Weekly says of English Lessons, “The book's wry tone doesn't hide the author's contempt for irresponsible leaders and the yahoos who mindlessly follow them. Hayes cares about the English family with their enduring sanity and resilience, and so will readers.”

The Grey Pilgrim (1990, Walker and Company; author's revised edition, 2000, Poisoned Pen Press) is a stand alone. The Mad Dog & Englishman mysteries (Poisoned Pen Press) include Mad Dog & Englishman (2000), Prairie Gothic (2003), Plains Crazy (2004), Broken Heartland (2007), Server Down (2009), and English Lessons (2011).

The line for the posse forms here. Join us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


"Nana, you don't look like yourself today."
"What's different about me?"
"I think you're starting to look like Poppop"
(Oh great, I think.) "How do I look like Poppop?'
"Mostly at your feet."

"Nana, what did your son play with when he was four?'
"My son? You mean your Daddy."
"No, back when he was your son and not my Daddy. What did he play with then?"

"I don't know if you realize this, but I really do think I am an animal sometimes. I worry about it and I wish someone would check to see if I got animal batteries by mistake?

"Is there anything more beautiful than a cheetah. I know lots of people like leopards or tigers but a cheetah makes you want to pet him."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: Oscar Peterson Trio

There's Somthing About Potty

Although I found scenes or moments to laugh at in HORRIBLE BOSSES, I also found moments that made me cringe. Afterward, in trying to remember when cringe-worthy scenes first found their way into comedies, I came up with THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Now I must admit, I have always preferred verbal humor over sight gags so I am not objective here.

In a way, these movies want to have it both ways. Lots of saccharine, lots of nice guys, but a goodly dose of, for want of a better word, bathroom humor. It's almost an essential part of the genre by now if you exclude older film- makers like Woody Allen.

I can't think of a recent movie that didn't include several scenes of potty talk, vomit, body fluids, etc..

Can you think of an earlier movie that featured a jaw-dropping moment like the one in MARY?

Do you find it funny? Are body fluids inherently funny?

Monday, July 25, 2011



Naomi Johnson

A CORPSE BY ANY OTHER NAME (From the forthcoming anthology, PULP INK, Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, Editors.)

I'm not a writer by nature. Writing is hard work, and I'm indolent to a shocking degree. I don't often feel compelled to put in long hours at the keyboard. Not even short hours. Ideas don't ever have to elbow each other out of the way to get my attention. When I refer to myself as a dilettante, I'm not being self-effacing; it's all too true.

On the rare occasion that an idea for a story presents itself to me, I turn it over and over, like a numismatist examining a rare coin. I'm not looking for flaws as the coin collector would; I'm just trying to decide if the idea interests me enough to put up with a little ergonomic strain. I'm not a writer who enters many flash challenges or contests; I don't want to face deadlines and word counts. (So those writers who entered the recent Watery Grave Contest should understand how very much I sympathized with them.)

So what the devil possessed me to say yes when Nigel Bird came a-knocking at my email last February, asking if I would contribute to an anthology he and Chris Rhatigan were putting together? Well, the deadline of June 1, seemed so distant, almost like another galaxy, light years away. Pretty sure I could flesh out an idea in three months without stressing myself. Yah, right.

The theme of that anthology was to be the soundtrack from the film, Pulp Fiction. Only there were more contributors than songs so I received a line of dialogue to work from: “Our names don't mean shit.”

Most of the time, my story ideas come in a flash, a vision. I see a scene, more rarely even hear a line of dialogue, and I can work out the story from that scene. To my surprise, I got a terrific flash from that line of dialogue: A young boy, bright green eyes, sitting in a police cruiser, says that line to the cop, who somehow understands that this little boy intends to kill the cop's father.

That's not the story I sent to Nigel and Chris.

That story, tentatively titled Heroes, is not finished. For purposes of the anthology, it was just soaring well beyond double the word count I was allotted. For weeks I was stuck for a new idea. Went back and watch Pulp Fiction again, hoping for some non-copyright-violating inspiration.

Fans of the film have their favorite bits, but for me the darkly hilarious scene of the accidental shooting in the car is standout. From that scene I developed my two main characters, a pair of thugs named Lucian and Mackie. They are not as menacing as the Travolta and Jackson characters in the film. Neither are Mackie and Lucian as smart as Westlake's Dortmunder gang. But they are just as unlucky. Adhering ever so faintly to the “names don't mean shit” line, Lucian and Mackie kidnap the wrong man and instantly things begin falling apart for them.

It would be misleading to say that's all there was to writing the story from that point. No, halfway through I lost all perspective on where the action was leading. I was unsure whether I could finish by deadline or stay on count (I did the first, not the latter). Twice I begged for some oversight and guidance from the editors. I doubt this story would ever have been finished, much less see the light of day, were it not for their repeated readings and sound advice. Whatever about the story doesn't work, mea culpa. If readers see anything in that story to like, Nigel and Chris are the lads to thank.

You can find Naomi at THE DROWNING MACHINE where she exhibits the same humility and niceness every day.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Night Music: Janis Joplin

First-Phil has met my challenge to read a book by an author he hadn't read. He read TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf and loved it. Go, Phil. (Head hung in shame--not yet).

Our good friend, Milton Burton, should soon be released from the hospital. Good news indeed. Thanks, Kevin, for your updates.

Five Things I Have No Interest In

Yesterday, a friend told me he had no interest in popular culture, that he, in fact, had no idea who James Patterson was, what the TV show Breaking Bad was about, or a single current song. He took pride in this. As if isolating himself from almost everything going on in the world was a good thing. But then I thought hey, there are a number of things, I have no interest in. Here are five of them.

Magic tricks-now I would like magic tricks if they were really magic like in Harry Potter, but trick is the real concept here. If I can learn how to do it by getting book out of the children's section of the library, can it be that good? I especially hate magic on TV. I mean, what's the point? When Copperfield made Los Angeles disappear, I think it was camera work and not magic.

Pirates-just a rowdy group of thieves on the sea to me. Why do they need to be so distinctive? Wouldn't they be more effective if they traveled dressed like a group of regular tourists?

Beauty Contests: with cosmetic surgery, can't we all be beautiful now? And it is not something you earned, is it? I favor contests where learned skills come into play.

Car racing: noisy and can we really afford the gas now. Should we expose the spectators to such a large dose of pollutants. And again, isn't the car the real hero here?

Reality shows-okay I watched Top Chef one season and The Amazing Race a couple, but in the end, why let the networks get away with holding a mirror in front of crazy people instead of producing decent shows.

I could have included volleyball, Paris Hilton and carnivals here but five is enough.

What do you have no interest in?

Saturday, July 23, 2011


If It's Fun You're After:

Writing Under the Poppy

Pleasure is paramount for me in fiction, both reading and writing, and the
second pretty much augurs the first: if the writer's not enjoying her own
book, who else in the world will? UNDER THE POPPY has whores, war, puppets,
passion, lies galore and a love unending, and the fun I had writing this
novel was immense.

It began with the image of a character, a young man, a showman not of our
time, on the road with a brace of outré puppets: Istvan. Then another man
beside him on the road, his lover, Rupert. Everything that follows - the
Victorian brothel called Under the Poppy and its icy madam, the maelstrom of
betrayal and flight and war, the pleasures of performance no matter the
venue - comes from these characters whose love and struggles were the heart
of the story. And I followed along on the road.

I never work from outlines; for me, most of the joy of a book is in the
discovery and surprise of the story itself, the way it wants to go, and
UNDER THE POPPY had a narrative will so strong that the momentum drove me,
too, happy and exhilarated to sit down each day and see what was going to
happen next. And the story just kept on going: what I first thought was the
finished book turned out to be only its first half, then the first book of a
pair - I'm finishing the sequel now, called THE MERCURY WALTZ - and then a
stage incarnation, too, an immersive, performative production that's turned
me into a playwright, a collaborator with other artists to bring the story
to 3D life. It's been five years now since I saw Istvan and Rupert on that
road, and the journey continues.

And all of it has been tremendous fun.

Fun is more than just pleasure: it's serious play, it's beautiful escape:
when we read, we enter times and places new to us, live the lives of people
we are not. UNDER THE POPPY drew me into new places - my first historical
novel, my longest fictional work by far, and now the stage - and all I had
to do was play along. As the song in the book trailer puts it, "If it's fun
you're after, companionship and laughter/You can always find it in the

Kathe, a Detroiter, is the author of THE CIPHER, BAD BRAINS, SKIN, KINK and a series of YA novels.

Half-Baked Beans

This is a story in response to Daniel B. O'Shea's challenge to write a flash story concerning a dispute over a will. You can find more stories here.

Half-Baked Beans

Elsa was a year into her position as a mediator when she saw a Mr. Edward and Miss Alice Starkey on the day planner. She assumed there was a dispute over a will or a contract, the areas she mediated after watching colleagues in divorce work go down like torpedoed ships. Will mediation was often contentious, but it was about possessions rather than people and no guns had been drawn as yet in her office.

“Husband and wife?” Elsa asked the clerk.

Doris scrambled through the papers on her desk. “Siblings. Their attorney recommended they seek mediation rather than using a court to settle their dispute.”

“A will then?”

“Yep.” Doris scanned the papers. “Seems to be only one area of contention. The disposition of financial matters, furniture, the house and cars—all that’s complete.”

“So what bequest’s in question?”

Doris paused, scanning the paper. “Alma Starkey’s, collection of—beanie babies. That’s their deceased mother.”

“Her what?”

“Beanie babies.” Doris paused. “Kids collected them in the nineties? My daughter had quite a….”

“I know what they are. But aren’t the Starkeys adults?”

“Edward is 54; Alice, 48.”

“Edward,” Elsa said with a frown. “A grown man wants dolls.” She walked over to her computer and googled “beanie babies.” She looked up. “They aren’t valuable anymore. Not since around 2000.”

“Perhaps our siblings think differently,” Doris said.

Elsa shrugged. “Should be fun meeting these two.”

“Or not,” her clerk said.

“Or not,” Elsa agreed.

The brother and sister who walked into her office a few hours later could have been twins—and twins of the same sex. Both had seen significant declines in the hormones that differentiated them. They were short, nearly the same height, round, and had bobbed hair the color of hay. Their features were soft, their eyes nearly colorless.

Without meaning to, Elsa pulled back from their soft warm hands, a bit repulsed. But the two seemed used to this reaction, or at least didn’t notice it, and slipped into chairs at her table. Almost invariably any group entering her office took seats as far away from each other as possible, but Edward and Alice Starkey sat side by side.

“The major portion of your mother’s estate was settled without dispute,” she began.

Both shrugged. But when it seemed like Elsa was demanding an answer, Alice nodded “The rest of it was just things, you know. We’ve always lived in the house, shared the car, sat on the furniture. It’s always been that way,” she repeated.

Elsa took a cleansing breath as she imagined their life. “So what makes the beanie babies any different?

The siblings looked at each other. Finally Edward said, “We have different intentions for the beanies.”

Perhaps they meant to pass them along to a charity or to younger family members and couldn’t decide, Elsa thought.

“I intend to play with them,” Alice said suddenly. “I want to cut those darn tags off and put them in chairs, beds, a dollhouse. I’ve made clothes for them over the years, collected appropriate furniture.” She paused. “They have been Mother’s prisoners for twenty years. I was never once allowed to handle one.” She looked into her lap and ceased speaking.

“And I plan to keep them just as Mother did. With their swish and tush tags intact, with their fur completely blemishless. That’s what mother expected when she left them to us. That’s what we promised,” Edward added, glaring at his sister.

“How many beanie babies are we talking about?” Elsa asked.

“Over five hundred,” Alice said with a sigh. “Every Beanie that Ty made in triplicate at least.”

“Mother has—had---five Garcia the Bears, for instance. And ten Princesses. She was intuitive about which ones would increase in value,” Edward added.

“Mother even collected the counterfeit ones,” Alice said.

“But they have no value now, right,” Elsa said. “None at all.”

“So why not play with them? I’ve been yearning to hold one in my hands for twenty years.”

“Piffle,” Edward said. “You were far too old even then to play with toys.”

“And you’re off the rails if you just want to just stare at them. They’re worthless, Edward. Mother made the wrong decision in collecting them.”

“But if there’re five hundred beanies, why can’t you both do what you want? Divide them in half.” It seemed pretty simple to Elsa.

“They all need to be played with,” Alice said. “How would we decide which ones to keep encased? Or should I say imprisoned.” She looked at Elsa. “Mother kept them in glass cases. She was their jailer.”

“Very few children were ever allowed to play with their beanies. That’s why so many still have their tags and are pristine. Beanies would be nothing more than a pile of dirty fur otherwise.” Edward’s sniffed. “If playing was all you wanted, ordinary toys would suffice.

“Beanies are ordinary toys now. They always were.”

“Things come back in vogue,” Edward said. “And why does a woman of fifty want to play with stuffed animals.”

“Or why does a man of 54 want to stare through glass at them.”

“Do you have any idea about how to settle this?” Elsa asked. It was suggested in her manual that she put this idea on the table.

“Indeed, we have,” Edward said. “We want you to come to the house, build a bonfire, and burn every last one of them.”

“It’s the only thing to do,” Alice said. “I can’t bear seeing them in those infernal cases and Edward can’t bear seeing me handle them.”

“I’m not sure those beanies can burn. Aren’t the beans inside plastic sacks?” The siblings looked at each other and shrugged. “Look, I’ll send someone to pick them up and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. Is that acceptable” Both of the Starkey children nodded.

Three weeks later five hundred beanie babies, their tags cut off by Elsa and Doris, were on their way to Afghanistan where Elsa’s brother handed them out to waiting village children. No one considered putting them behind glass. No one thought to just stare at them.