Category Archives: Chronicle

Search Me

So I’ve been ramping up the website for my detective series. Just added some features—it’s about time. Sure.

As long as I was at it, I thought I should give the search engines a look-see. Especially the big “G.” See, word on the World Wide Web is that it can take months to show up on in organic, Google search results. That’s assuming you’re legit and all. Ever since my unheralded efforts began in February, I ain’t exactly been holding my breath. But what does it cost to take a flyer? Am I right?

In case you’re tempted to play along at home:
The Hard-Boiled Detective

You could of knocked me over with an AdWords discount code. There’s my site, all right. Sure, the second entry on page three. I’m not expecting to win any optimization awards, or even gain enough traffic to fill a hanky, but page three on Google’s a whole lot better than page 3000.

Then there’s Yahoo! I remember them. They used to be big. So they’re still holding on to the Mount Rushmore of Internet life like they’re Eva Marie Saint. I have to hand it to them for honoring my site with numero three in search listings. And those results barely jockey around even when you leave out the hyphen.

Then there’s Bing. I have a tough time admitting that Microsoft is my hero, but hell! I’m top dog on Bing! Drop the hyphen or “The” and I’m still number three, for crissake. Go figure.

Not bad for an unknown upstart, a no-account, no name author with a no-name detective. Who knows what the next six months will bring? Perhaps the stuff that SEO gurus’ dreams are made of. Sure.

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The Big, Grand, Hard-boiled, Hard-nosed, Hard-edged Experiment Part X: The Never-ending Sequel

When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

Maybe it always was. Like some nihilist chicken-and-egg theory. The Russian, nesting doll version of Pandora’s box. Or maybe a box of Crackerjack. Take another shot and think. Blank.

Will it ever end? How can you tell it’s done? There ain’t no fork test or thermometer for that. This survival of the mis-fittest. Maybe it always will be. Until you drop for good. Sure.

Could those questions be right? Those crazy stars and their crazy alignment. They sure like to keep you guessing. So stop guessing. Sure. However it happened, it happened, and that’s all there is to it. I never would’ve planned it that way–don’t take this for any kind of apology. Just take it as you will, an epilogue to a preface, an ending to another beginning.

The last series of events went something like this. Penned a short yarn, then another, and another. All hard-boiled, all steeped in a period and style better remembered by my dad. Some kind of series I had developed. Sure. So what do you make of that? What do you do with that? Toss it on the web, serve it up for subscription like some sacrificial lamb of a detective. Screw tradition and what’s been done and what can’t be done and just go ahead. So I’m an unknown. Who ain’t? So who’ll listen and who cares? Go ahead anyway. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

And in the meantime, why don’t you reach the breaking point at your nine-to-five? Why don’t you just walk out, flat–no plan, no safety net, no security blanket. Sure. Just a deck of smokes in my shirt and a P.I. in my hip pocket.

So now what? When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

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Real Life Detective Story

The funny thing is, see, I’ve been writing detective stories. That project is another yarn in itself, but my point is that I’ve been walking around for awhile now with hard-boiled notions racing through my head.

So imagine walking out to my car, on my way to a coffee date, when a bright, blue object in the street catches my eye. Sure enough it’s a wallet. It’s a bloated wallet. It’s a wallet thick with masses of credit cards and receipts and coupons and club cards and business cards. I’d say the damn thing was thicker than a corned beef sandwich at Manny’s.

So now I’m stuck. I can’t leave the thing in the street and I can’t turn it into anybody–believe me, I’ve got all the respect in the world for the boys in blue, but I was always told to avoid coppers just like you avoid hospitals and the military. So I was stuck.

I took the exploding billfold with me to the cafe. I started rifling through its contents as I explained the situation to my coffee-mate. Sure, I could’ve contacted one of the bank card companies, but that’s just opening up another can of worms. All I wanted to find was a phone number, one lousy phone number.

Needless to say, buried in the depths of the purse’s crevices and pockets, among all those slips of cards and papers and scraps, I came up blanksville. Zippo. No phone, no way, no how. But my deductive powers were sharpening, a circumstance I attribute to those P.I. tales I’ve been penning.

See, I found this business card. Some kind of nutrition center. And it was located less than two miles from where I sat at that very moment. And it was on the way home. Ain’t that swell? All I had to do was pop in, ask the receptionist to give their client list a look-see, place a call, and pass on my number. Easy, right? In a pig’s eye. I found the joint easy enough, a big office in this ritzy complex just off of Clark and Diversey. And the dump is closed, locked up tighter than an embezzler’s safety deposit box.

When I got home I surfed all the usual suspects looking for a lead and came up with zilch. I was resigned to calling one of the credit card companies. But, I decided to check through the volumes of flotsam contained in the billfold one last time. 

And that’s when I found it. A credit card recept that had been run through one of those old machines that uses a carbon. The thing had been folded, spindled and otherwise mutilated, but it also had handwritten notes on it. One of the handwritten notes was, hold on to your fedora, a telephone number.

So I dialed per the receipt, got the tootsie on the line, and was she ever bowled over with relief. Somehow she had dropped the two-ton wallet in the street without noticing. Go figure.

So she swung by my place that night to retrive the pocketbook, and she kept falling all over herself with thanks. She was on the run, getting ready for a trip out of town, but had one last thing to tell me before she skidaddled: “You’re my guardian angel,” she said.

That’s me all over, all right. Sam and Phil and me. We’re all guardian angels. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

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Art & The Hard-Boiled Universe

Oz

You ever get an unsettling feeling at the end of a picture? It could be a literary work or a canvas or a 45. Sure. Maybe because you were counting on the boy getting the girl and instead he craps out? Or maybe because everything resolves into the easiest of happy endings contrary to your every expectation?

Figure 1.

Let’s suppose, just suppose, you’re nearing the end of “The Big Sleep.” Chandler’s got you all on edge as P.I. Marlowe eavesdrops on Jones and Canino. You just know something’s going to pop–it could bust wide open or implode real quiet-like, but either way you’re counting on it. And suddenly, without warning, Marlowe finds himself distracted by a vase of flowers. He stops listening to the boys next door and gets to arranging the blooms while going into a two-page dissertation on how to get baby’s breath to fall just ever so. Nuts!

Figure 2.

Or picture this one. The scene is spare, bleak.  A section of a house slants before you, the paint peeling from its wooden slats. Dotted and slashed with smears of crimson. A handful of squashed fern struggle out from between crushed floorboards and the earth. And, of course, those immobile legs, covered in starkly striped hose and capped off in wedges of lurid red. This ain’t no setting in no Prairie School of architecture.

Dorothy, a 16-1/2 year-old Judy Garland trying to pass for 12 in pigtails and rouge, stands transfixed in horror by the sight as one of the Singer Midgets steals up behind her. The overboard make-up can’t conceal his oily tan. He’s wearing an oversized fedora. He grasps Dorothy’s hand between his minuscule mitts and attempts to comfort the disturbed dame:

“Forget it, Dorothy,” he intones smooth and hard at the same time. “It’s Munchkinland.”

You know what’s wrong with these reinvented pictures, I know what’s wrong. Even my Aunt Fanny knows what’s wrong, but she probably couldn’t spell it out in so many words. So allow me.

The Universe is Out of Sync

It just doesn’t play. It’s too graphic or too silly or too violent. It’s too real or not real enough.  Too hard-boiled or too sugar-coated. Doesn’t fit, doesn’t mesh, doesn’t jive. It’s just plain wrong. It’s out of sync with the little world we’re experiencing.

Every work of art captures a universe through creation, re-creation, invention or clever combination thereof. It’s like laying down a complete set of natural laws–maybe unnatural in the case of Quentin Tarantino. But every element needs to fit and every action needs to ring true within this universe.

F’rinstance, in the noir setting of the hard-boiled detective universe, light is dark–that is to say that there ain’t a whole lot of light in the first place. No one is pure, no one is all good, no one is flawless–some are just more flawed than others. Justice doesn’t always win which means that sometimes crime pays. Everyone and their sister is born with original sin and man, how they’ll pay for it.

The hard-boiled author’s got plenty of ammo when it comes to expressing this cosmos of hard-knocks. Urban settings. Night settings. A hero constantly behind the eight ball. Murders at the drop of a hat. More subtle elements can also support the laws of this hard-nosed nature: a gumshoe who never gets paid or keeps having his gun boosted, a villain who’s presence is made known only by anecdote and reputation. The variations are only limited by the imagination and a created set of laws. As long as it fits, as long as it plays.

Creating a whole universe. Inventing a true world. It’s easier said than done and can leave you with your jaw dropping when it’s pulled off. There’s one heck of a beautiful thing to discover in the symmetry or asymmetry of artwork, but it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

 

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I Ain’t So Savvy

The story’s told in my family that, at the tender age of five, I finished watching “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and then questioned my mother: “Who did the dancing for Cagney?” Once upon a time I was savvy. Sure.

Now I’m not so sure. I’ve undertaken a short-fiction series of hard-boiled detective stories. Does it push the envelope? Does it attempt to reinvent the genre for 2013 and beyond? Does it go where hard-boiled noir has never gone before?

It’s not even close. The series is a throwback. It’s a period piece without a period, even. It takes place in a nebulous age that ranges from 1926 to 1960. The central P.I. doesn’t even have a name, for crissake. He refers to “dames and mugs and gats.” And of course he never ages.

Sure, the series is infused with all the hard-boiled trappings, and then some. Dark, fatalistic, dire–a real feel-good genre for those who feel good when they lose the girl, shoot their client and don’t get paid.

Taking the hard-boiled genre, dating it, and squeezing it into compacted form? It’s a gas. Easier said than done, but one blast of a rollercoaster ride, nonetheless. I could do worse. A whole lot worse. Sure. For better or worse, this is where the spirit’s taking me. I’m creating from the heart and the gut. I can afford to write from the gut–I’m no commercial success.

It’s gotta be painfully obvious I’m not striving to outdo or out-shock or out-pulp anyone. I’m actually trying to reinvent my own wheel my own way. If I can live up to the ideas conjured up in the head when reading Hammett, if I can approach that feeling in your gut that you get from cracking the pages of Chandler–wouldn’t that beat all for one hell of a triumph?

Sure. Sure it would. It would thrill me to death to pull it off. I wonder if Hammett and Chandler would appreciate the effort. Would they respect the result? Would they tip their hats to me, perhaps raise a shot glass and wish me the best? Or would they scratch their heads in disbelief, wondering why on earth I wasn’t crafting the latest police procedural or teen vampire yarn?

One thing I know for sure is this: if Hammett and Chandler were alive today, they’d be very, very old. And probably none too savvy at that. Probably no more savvy than I am.

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Sirens in My Head

Not the urban, catastrophe-laden, pull over to the side variety. No, the haunting strains of a peculiar variety. The close your eyes and cock your head type. Sometimes even the come-hither type. Tempting. Like spotting a wad of cash  or what looks like a dropped wallet half-way down a dark alley. Like spotting a knock-out of a hitchhiker. You know better. Don’t stop. Don’t listen.

Or should you listen? Should you struggle against it? And where does the damn stuff come from? Too many hours of television in my youth? Too much advertising? Or an over-abundance of caffeine or hooch?

Maybe I should discard those lead drinking vessels. Cut down on the opium a tad. Wean off the opium and take some vitamins. Turn off the ticker tape and smell the roses. Sure.

It’s not all hypnotic, hocus-pocus, the screen turns wavy while harp strings hum in the  background. But hard to ignore. So vivid. So strange. Strange like a hanging execution on “So You Think You Can Dance?” You can laugh until you realize its your own head.

  • It always starts with Brubeck. “Tangerine” rolls in soft, real soft.
  • I hear “Satisfaction” played in double-time, full-blown, banjo-picking bluegrass style.
  • I hear “Ragmop” sung over the top of “In the Mood.”
  • I hear “Vincent” as a hopped up & hot New Orleans jazz number.

That’s only the beginning.

I know. Sure. I’m headed for a crash.

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I’m No Ahab

No facial scars. No prosthetics. No outward signs of dementia.

I’m no life of the party, but I can mix if I have to. The Captain? He played it more like a dope fiend addicted to his own antisocial personality disorder. He set up his final voyage like an absentee landlord. He began the trip cabin-bound. A recluse. A shut-in. Then, in a turn-around stark enough to keep one step ahead of head-shinkers, he turned on the juice as motivational speaker. “Knute Rockne of the high seas.” “Moses of the whales.”

That ain’t me. Sure.

He was motivated, all right. Obsessed. Some might called it “possessed.”

And that’s the point. Term it fire in the belly or passion or even madness. That’s what I’ve got, all right. I’m lousy with it. So full of it I could burst.

So what white whale am I yapping about?

Creation. I’m here to tell you that I have to create. I’m not talking about any yearning or desire or hopped-up want. I gotta create. I just gotta. Plain as that.

And don’t go confusing this with Shelley’s gothic go-getter who danced with the devil in order to become God’s number one Facebook pal. That’s the completely wrong angle on this creation thing.

I need to create art. Fine art, pop art, high-brow, low-brow, call it want you want brow, I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later art. Absurd fixation or blind pursuit, I really have no choice.

A little piece of me dies whenever I cut off producing. And I’ve died plenty over the course of my life. This world has a funny way of putting artistic types up on a pedestal, sighing in awe-like wonder, and then making no allowance for them in the nine-to-five, time-is-money, money-is-money, everything’s money scheme of things.

But I’m not complaining. I’m no martyr, and besides, I much rather be a satyr. Or is that a satire?

So what’s my kick, after all? I’m struggling for that elusive balance, baby. I’m desperately searching to feed this hunger without starving my family.  To reconcile my life as a renaissance hack with the life of a mere mortal in these here United States. To somehow, some way avoid the military and stay out of hospitals  and avoid IRS audits and not to burn bridges or my integrity, all the while managing not to knock off whatever’s left of my spirit. Aye, there’s the rub. It’s enough rub to last a lifetime.

So I keep on keeping on. Maybe with a couple more tricks left up my slightly worn sleeve. What else can I do when I hear Ahab calling?

It’s time to chase the whale.

It’s always been time to chase the whale.

I’m no Ahab. But I’ll probably go down with the whale.

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