Thursday, August 9, 2018

Playboy Channel

I've created a lot of fictional characters over the years, many of whom I liked and respected. A few were modeled on people I knew, supporting characters whose personalities were frozen -- well, that's a bit harsh, let's say inflexible, unable to transform. It happens in life to most people. Their formative battles were fought long ago, and it shaped how they think and live. All of them deserve honorable mention to acknowledge their strengths and sorrows.

It's important always to treat a character with respect, even the tawdry ones, the bit players and stock figures -- tailors, waiters, uniformed cops, cab drivers. Little glimpses need to be three-dimensional and real. It's never wrong to be honest about where they are in life, how they move, talk, think, hide themselves from others.

Characters who transform, undertake challenges, and put their future at risk, are "principal players." There is no story without such people. Some of them are heroic men and women, some are dangerous villains. It's possible to see virtue in a villain, no different than a hero with inner conflicts and limitations. I'm speaking mostly of male characters. Women seldom deliberately do wrong, although it's good to see the extreme and exceptional. One of my favorites was a film star -- Ophilia Opfir -- always outrageous, mercurial, a comic figure. Now that I think of it, all of my women were wonderfully complicated. The Good Walk Alone had several female characters, no two alike, vital to the story line. In Mars Shall Thunder, Wendy and Emma played pivotal supporting roles, far more important than the men.

Leading ladies are important to me. Sorry, that's an understatement. The Good Walk Alone is Janet DiMarco's story. Mars Shall Thunder is Laura Oak's story. Chris is nothing until he meets Peachy in A Portrait of Valor.

Chris and Peachy are the subject of this essay. They deserved a series of novels. I risked everything to do it -- personally, financially, and artistically. I don't regret it, although I doubt that Chris and Peachy will be well received by readers. Their exploits are sexually explicit, adults only. My best bet is the Playboy Channel. It was important to give Chris and Peachy a voice of their own, in honor of their exceptional lives and exceptional challenges.

Christopher Cable, P.I., is a better man than I am, far more complex, far more courageous. He was an only child born into a military family. His birth took his mother's life. His father was a stern naval officer who became a powerful member of the Deep State, if you know what that is. Chris was raised by colored servants, if you know what that is. He went to Ivy League prep school, a sprig of privilege. He spent summers in New York with show people, his mother's clan of Broadway actors, dancers, musicians. When he was 18 years old, he was accepted in Marine Corps Officer Candidate School to honor his father and follow in his footsteps.

Combat changes people, always, and Chris fought with courage that could not erase sorrow and guilt and revulsion. He hated killing. As an officer, his duty was ever-present and clear, ordering men to their death and dismemberment. Rising to the rank of Captain, partly on merit, partly because his father pulled strings, Chris couldn't continue. He resigned, changed his name, and fled to Los Angeles -- a disgraced black sheep who abandoned his duty and his father's iron sphere of influence and expectations.

Ex-military is where most of our cops come from, and Chris had friends in L.A., ex-Marines who went into law enforcement, well-paid private surveillance, and medicine. None of those jobs were right for him. Chris couldn't deal with fussy paperwork or take orders, especially an order to do nothing, to drop a case, let the guilty skate because they had political pull.

When the saga opens in A Portrait of Valor, he's alone, lonely, miserable, age 38, jailed for killing a man, which he regrets but was compelled to do, to save a crowd of laughing drunks and doped-up chicks at a Hollywood nightclub. Terrible karma. The man who hates killing, forced to kill as a licensed private eye, working alone, financially strapped, hardened to life, expecting nothing but trouble. Not handsome, covered in battle scars, Chris cleans up every night and tries to be cheerful, drinks in nice nightclubs and dinner joints, hoping to meet a single woman his own age or thereabouts. He's ignored, night after night, year after year.

Enter Peachy.

I don't think I want to talk about her, a truly exceptional woman among women, beautiful, brilliant, elder daughter of a billionaire nuclear physicist (a horrible father), turned her back on wealth and made her own way in the world, a Stanford Ph.D.

Wonderful couple who saved themselves for each other, wouldn't settle for less than ideal romance, astounding sexual chemistry, risking their lives for each other repeatedly. This is the glory of heroic fiction, to paint the beautiful.

They meet and marry in A Portrait of Valor, and it nearly costs Peachy her life. They cheat death again in The Tar Pit showbiz mystery, throw global banking and CIA officials for a loop in Charity, and separated, incommunicado and older in Finding Flopsie, they struggle to understand what's happening in an alarming, globetrotting case of murder and extortion.

Think series franchise, a modern Nick and Nora Charles.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Not good

I fell yesterday, collapsed face down in the dirt. I was talking to Don (Thursday 8/2) felt fine, then all of a sudden wham! On the way down, something clamped hard on the right side of my rib cage. I had to crawl to the front tire of Don's truck and claw my way up. When I awoke this morning after a few hours of sleep, the pain had intensified, my first dose of Naproxen wore off. I couldn't even cough. Right shoulder, back muscles, right upper arm, ribs have no power. Very difficult to move, until I got a little blood flow from another 12-hour pain pill. The pain and weakness seem to be spreading slowly, not good.

Small stroke? Pulmonary embolism?

It always baffled me how I outlived Frank Zappa, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and my beloved mentor Alejandro Rey, brilliant men with tragically shortened careers. If it weren't for them, I would have never written a word. Was one million all I get? Pretty good bargain, half of it in the past few years. I knew there would be a collapse, unable to write more. This little squib had to be composed one word at a time, looking at the keyboard, a river of typos to fix.

Got out my cane, a good strong hardwood stick with a comfortable curved handle, given to me by a learned friend in Colorado when I had a spate of bursitis ten years ago. Makes rising from a chair easier. I don't think I can pick up the dog, which complicates our relationship. No more dog baths, because I have to catch him and carry him to the steel water trough, lather his medicated shampoo to control fleas. I almost had them beaten with frequent baths.

Everything else is in order. My works are archived at Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, a couple titles on Kindle. I grew to hate Kindle, pennies and groats, no book reviews. A few shoppers read the 10% preview at Smashwords, didn't buy the $4 full text download, 136,800 words of Cable & Blount, the definitive trilogy for mobile platforms. Their fourth adventure, Finding Flopsie, exists only in paperback, which is fine. Most of my best stuff is dead trees, with the exception of Abbreviated Wolf DeVoon, a free pdf at Lulu, 17 pages that summarize laissez faire law, an historic achievement. No brag, just fact, like Walter Brennan used to say on The Real McCoys, back when television mattered and meant something.

My novels are what they are. Funny, that Partners might be my last, the first time I wrote a tragedy. It's still difficult for me to read the third act. Poor Kyle and Karen. "We were as happy as children," Kyle relates, alone together in a one-room snowbound winter cabin far from the nearest town in Door County, a world away from mortal danger and cunning turpitude.

I don't know which of them is the more tragic character. Karen soars as a gifted 22-year-old writer deeply in love with Kyle, his equally cherished life partner and new wife. Happy kids, doomed. It's very hard to read, knowing what will happen in the space of one more month together, spiralling toward the gates of hell, Karen pregnant and fully cognizant of Kyle's looming end as Jimmy's trusted partner and murderous angel of retribution.

I mentioned it elsewhere, but I'd like to repeat that Partners is a study in triangles: romantic triangle of Karen, Kyle, and Liz, his glamorous ex-girlfriend; Karen and Jimmy dividing Kyle's sense of loyalty, pulling him from the highest happiness to the grim business of death, a job like no other, siding "the most dangerous man in town," at war with the mob. And there is another dimension of Kyle that we glean in fragments of interaction with his friend Harry, a simple wholesomeness that young people shared, homemade pizza and beer and music with bouncy, laughing chicks, dull 9 to 5 jobs forgotten at a fun East Side house party.

I have a box of vital documents and 10 years of tax records in cardboard boxes situated so the rats and mold are kept at bay. My will and a power of attorney were legally witnessed years ago, when I was threatened with the spectre of renal cancer, turned out to be a huge rock in my left kidney, smashed up in day surgery and successfully healed, as far as I know. Bought enough time to create Chris and Peachy, Kyle and Karen, books on screenwriting and filming, the omnibus Constitution of Government in Galt's Gulch and a nice adaptation of Mars for audio production. I did everything I could to create a legacy for my daughter. Film rights are the ultimate purpose of writing fiction. Deals are written in six figures.

Nice, that my daughter is grown up, age 16, finished with high school, applying to college, a private Christian school in Branson, about as good as it gets. She's doing the paperwork for student aid and work/study on campus, has nice letters of recommendation and a high ACT score, National Honor Society and 3.85 grade point averages stretching all the way back to elementary years. She traveled with us, all six continents, kindergarten in North Africa and first grade in Australia, good schools in Copenhagen and Golden, aviation ground school in Houston, violin and piano composition with virtuoso teachers, ballet and contemporary jazz classes, private gymnastics, horse ranches, Girl Scouts, girlfriends and nice boys. I couldn't ask for a better daughter, new life to replace my old worn-out life, a simple conscious conclusion on the day she was born at a private clinic in Costa Rica. Her little kidhood was a barrel of fun in the warm jungle rainy season, frequent trips to the beach in dry season, restaurants and resorts and an ATV "bumpy machine" that she mounted like an intrepid acrobat, to sit in front of me, helping me to drive it. Wonderful young woman now, ready to leave home.

I'm writing because I can. The pill knocked back my awareness of pain. Medical assessment is basically impossible. There's a small town clinic 25 miles away, only marginally competent. No reason to trust the Springfield hospitals as a Medicaid patient -- and what could they do for me anyway? Turn me into a vegetable. I think I'd rather skip 100% diagnosis, thanks. If it's lung cancer, I'd rather have hospice. A friend in Scotland suffered heroic treatments, died a few months later. But I don't think it's cancer. Too sudden, wham, fell face down and couldn't move. Last evening, I was able to walk and do a little gentle work at the firehouse, where a dozen of us gathered to set up the annual picnic grounds, rake leaves and pick up windfall. What happens when I run out of pain pills is yet to be determined. I have enough for a week. My condition will improve, or I will remain stupid and feeble, or it will worsen.

Life on life's terms, old chum.


UPDATE - Slept well, five or six hours, I think. Pain meds accreting effectively, not so bad to get around, a few limitations. Sneezing was one of them, coughing awkward but possible. I don't think I'm getting worse and I'm cheerier this morning. The dog is funny. He bangs on the door for meals, pushes me around until I feed him (he noticed I'm slow) and then wants to go out again. Technical name for this relationship is cupboard love. People are guilty of it, too. I love the whole supply chain -- ag science, tractor and implement manufacturers, shippers, truckers, distributors, grocers, credit card issuers, commercial lenders, and insurers. Nothing works without steel production, oil rigs, power generation, utilities, highways, restaurants and fuel stations, usually bunched together every 100 miles or so, coast to coast. Nowadays, we also have to thank Chinese suppliers. Good idea to raise tariffs (I know, everybody else with brains is opposed). Important to cut the cord to China, especially food and pharma.

I've been thinking about women. Big surprise, huh? If you know my theory of laissez faire law enforcement, then you know that I hold all brave, clever females in very high esteem, wrote a long, loving fictional tribute to them that spanned a plentitude of times and places, some in the fictional past, some in the distant future, but most of it squarely in the recent now.

That, however, was not why I was thinking about women. I was trying to remember whether I had ever met someone who I truly loved, who filled my heart with joy -- and I came up with a big fat nothing. I was married four times, lots of other hit-and-run romances, maybe 75 or so, but I pined for no one. Well, maybe the babe I encountered at an employment office, but I'm too old and ugly for her and I made that explicit when I said goodbye. No one else? Wake up and talk sense, dumbshit. You know perfectly well who you love.


Her. Never met her in person, didn't have to. And she probably knows, I think. Nothing to be done about that. She married someone else, and I can't leave my present tour of duty until my daughter goes off to college. Doesn't matter. Too late now. Wonderful to have someone to love, near or far, and keep the thought of her fresh in my mind when I lay down to rest. I have a photo I seldom look at. She probably knows. Obvious years ago, more so now. Armed and dangerous and brilliant, a beautiful warm hearted poet living a double life, staring death in the face as a job. I hated death scenes, wasn't tough enough. Better that she married the engineer, brainy and comical, slightly stupid.


Saturday 8 pm -- Intense back muscle spasm, had to take a pill ahead of schedule, slept an hour or two, unhappy about a setback, shallow breathing, can't cough.

10 pm -- What pain? Feel fine on drugs. Not very bright, but that doesn't matter.

Sunday 3 am -- Aha! dislocated or broken ribs that click loudly when I squeeze my sides with both elbows. No wonder my back hurts. Injured when I fell. If anyone cared to look, I might have bruised, torn muscles.

Sunday 9 am -- Terribly hard to cough. Needed to huddle like a ball on the bed. Okay, revised diagnosis. I fainted and fell, got hurt when I fell. Broken or dislocated ribs, badly bruised ego. Bed rest and pain pills indicated.

Brain still works. Drat. I was hoping to slip away some night.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Three years

I sent an op-ed to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the last honest daily on earth. The piece was titled "In Defense of The Stupid" and the opening sentence said: "I am an idiot." Always good to lead with a simple, unexpected proposition.

Obviously true. I spent three years writing every day. Four adventures with Chris & Peachy, three volumes of essays, an autobiography, an audio drama, Film School in One Lesson with 61 diagrams and screenshots -- and finally Partners, a long bittersweet swan song that took 1000 hours to craft, a couple pages each day with occasional gaps of wonderment and slow cooked glimpses of the way forward. Brigid was right. The best work I've ever done.

She's also right that it can't be reviewed publicly, too hot to touch, addressed to straight male readers. A huge joke on all concerned. There are no such critters. I penned 68,000 words for nonexistent tough guys, an extinct species. Google won't show it as U.S. literature, relegated my magnum opus to Amazon's Mexican site, targeting caballeros who can't read English.

A better man would say screw it, plug along and publicize it to newspapers and bloggers who won't review it. I don't think I can do that. I'm finished, knocked out, down for the count and blacklisted as a novelist. Three fucking years of my life. Every atom of talent wasted.

Now what?

Last time I hit a brick wall was 20 years ago, and I thought about going to Hillsdale, to get a job as a short order cook. Makes as much sense as anything else.

Adios, amigos.

Monday, July 30, 2018

First person

Quite a lot of respectable stuff is in third person, notably Scott Fitzgerald and Gene Rhodes, plus a good deal of Chandler and Hammett, although the noir masters segued into first person for their mature work. RLS gave us first person accounts in Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

It worries me that I seem to be stuck in first person. The accusation of self-centered delusion and narcissism is a slam dunk indictment. No wonder people ignore my work. The last thing anyone wants to read is white male action adventure littered with bad language, gunfire, and sex scenes with preposterously willing babes. I can't recall how much of it is fantasy. Perhaps very little. There are such people, past, present, and future, for whom political correctness, decorum and cultural sensitivity are as significant as building codes and life insurance.

Authorship is exceedingly important to me. This morning I thought of it again, how my work for hire at a comfortable salary on the top floor of a Houston office building was destroyed by incompetents who had to twist their filthy thumbs on it. After a few months, it drained every gram of my enthusiasm. Common sense and fat paychecks urged me to play well with others, smile, go along to get along. I couldn't do it.

So. Here I am, isolated and unwanted, a dozen titles that no one cares to read, no milk in my coffee, terrible convenience store food that makes me ill, shunned by my wife and daughter because I'm broke. Money is the measure of all things to rational people. I like it, too.

My basic problem is lack of talent. Completely clear that Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper had oodles of it. I have trouble hanging sheetrock without goofy gaps, the only work available, stupid meatball carpentry that better men are too polite to ridicule. I'm willing to work but no one wants to hire a old amateur twice. Darn it. A dozen books that no one buys. Utterly ignored on Objectivist Living, except for an occasional insult or two.

After 68,000 words, four months of writing 7 days a week full time, I have to pitch reviewers and pray that a newspaper or blogger will glance at the first few pages. Good joke on me, the way to win is not for me, incapable of anything except white male action adventure, bullets and babes, an archaic artform that offends. It might be illegal, certainly immoral. News is a firehose of moral opposition, Moonves at CBS accused of smiling at chicks, Harvard sororities forced to admit boys, Boy Scouts to recruit girls and queers. What next? Impeach Trump for treason, because Hillary used a private server that exposed DNC vote rigging.

Terrible karma. I wrote first person, a hate crime.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday sermon

This is not a good moment for me to offend people, because it's important to attract friendly reviews of my new novel, Partners. One wonders if it matters. There is no urgent search for a dark tale set in 1975, no eager constituency for gun-toting white male wildcats on the wrong side of the law. To mention their atheism (and mine) is an honest acknowledgment, a sort of truth in book promotion, probably a mistake.

I do not object to other authors who ground their fictional tales in faith, nor do I doubt that it honestly reflects the truth of life as they see it. Heroism has been traditionally attributed to selfless sacrifice, transcendant inspiration, and faithful dedication to something larger than mortal life on earth. I join with my religious brothers and sisters who despise the grim grit of Beat Generation literature and the sly goofiness of Gen X icons. The meaning of life is not the number 42.

Most of the hippies and Boomers of my acquaintance operate on the fundaments of secular faith, in particular the Golden Rule, extending to others Christian benevolence, forgiveness, and equality. Their choice of sacraments and rituals are a bit different, but the Western world broadly agrees that aggression is wrong, democracy right, and discrimination a crime. It has become a widely shared article of faith that white men are despicable if they take advantage of women, although no opinion is dared to be thought concerning the behavior of blacks.

I suspect that all faith is driven by an anodyne puzzle. Why are we here? Materialists have no good solution, no matter how eloquently illuminated by science. At best, it dismisses Biblical accounts of Creation, but science leaves unanswered the question of why life should exist at all? Fantasies hypothesizing alien injections of knowledge in ancient Egypt or on Mount Sinai cannot explain how life arose from the Big Bang ex nihilo, something out of nothing.

The correct attitude toward life is to accept it, without speculation as to its origin or meaning beyond the plain fact of an individual lifespan and knowable conditions that advance or hurt one's survival. We were not endowed with the power of choice to please an immortal robot. We possess the practical faculty of human thought, sufficient to differentiate and perceive options in life, without reference to tales authored by ancient nomads.

Among the many choices open to man, one can certainly join a church or remain loyal to the tradition inherited from a clan that bestows material advantages to well behaved adherents. The surest path to poverty and defeat is to walk away from organized society. Atheism is no different than political heresy, unwilling to sing in a collective choir and pledge fealty to the marketplace of goods and services driven by opportunists. Undoubtedly, it requires diligence and sobriety to launch a successful product, develop and maintain infrastructure, organize a political campaign, and manage a legacy of paper claims to wealth and power. There are few denied a place at the collective table, unless they jump ship.

Right or wrong, treason is risky business. I have an acquaintance who is an Islamic apostate, a crime punishable by death. His example gave me courage and, although it is too dangerous to communicate or keep company with him, he animates the work I chose to do in life, in honor of the simple truth that honesty is a bright flame fueled by integrity.


Friday, July 27, 2018

An outgoing personality?

Hmph. Explains everything. I'm shy, stammer in public, seldom speak to people who I know personally or professionally, although I'm a good listener and I laugh easily.

Talking might be a genetic deficit. I have no recollection of my father or mother speaking. Uncle Fred was silent. The only photograph of my grandfather showed him deep in thought, standing with a more animated (i.e., normal) person. My daughter is silent, too, unless she sings to herself in a remarkably singular style that's uniquely her own, perfect pitch without lyrics, a truly lovely creative warble. She's physically elegant, a natural dancer like I am.

From time to time I speak aloud to myself, addressing a big crowd in full voice, walking by myself, as if there's a deep unfulfilled yearning to speak because I have so much to say. No doubt that's why I write, tongue tied in public. It also explains why directing movies was nearly impossible. My orders on the set were terse and impersonal. I was hopelessly silent and stupid when I was interviewed for All Things Considered.

My fictional male characters don't say much, either, but they have rich internal monologues full of thought, capable of spontaneous deception or comic quips. I often surprise folks with wry remarks and penetrating observations. It's hell to be smart and to see the deep context, embarrassing to name it, no talent for diplomacy.

It disqualified me from normal employment, forces me to live alone.

What's most bizarre of all is that I'm affectionate, generous, glad to be alive and happy to witness every manner of human and animal life on earth. I talk to cows, dogs, birds, bunnies, total strangers, children, cops, lawyers, doctors, hillbillies, and shopkeepers, provided that I don't have to discuss serious ideas, unable to say what I really think.

It grieves me to edit what I say in print.

In a crisis 20 years ago, commemorated in Walking To Ayrshire, it was imperative to find an explanation for my silence and isolation, so I looked on the web and saw myself described as a victim of Asperger's Syndrome. On my first visit to a clinical psychologist, I told him, and he categorically dismissed it as rubbish. There was nothing wrong with my mind or personality. Five years later, I received an unsolicited email from him, amazed that "my star was shining so brightly" as author of The Freeman's Constitution. No other man on earth recognized it as an intellectual achievement, to advance a new theory of justice.

So, I'm silent, isolated, impoverished, incapable of small talk, shunned by the modern world because what I think and create is unwanted.