Tag Archives: detective

The Hard-Boiled Fix for TV Producers: An Open Letter

tvDear High-Level, Mucky-Muck TV Production Exec, Esquire:

You know who you are. Reading this on your quad-quad-quad pentium lap-tab built into your leather couch. Or scrolling through it on your custom BMW ported dashboard. Or leaving it to your assistant’s assistant’s assistant. Wherever you are, however you are, have I got a show for you. Sure.

For your consideration: “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” You can roll your suntanned peepers all you like, but you’ve never seen the likes of this. It’s no rehash of what’s been rehashed for the last ten years, and it’s nothing like last season’s near misses with a makeover. I promise you, this concept has so much going against it that it simply cannot miss. Unreality TV at its best. So old-school, so throwback, it’s fresher than wet paint.

Source Material
I’ve been grinding out three stories a month since February 2013. You want yarns? I’ve got yarns. Sixty-three and counting. Short stories perfect for cramming into a 30-minute slot—you won’t just leave ’em wanting more, you’ll leave ’em gasping for breath. But a half-hour drama? you ask. It’s inconceivable. It’s just not done. Sure. And All In the Family didn’t break barriers. And The Flintstones and The Simpsons never existed. I’m telling you, in a world of The Great Race and NCIS: Rotterdam, any thing is possible. If thirty minutes was enough for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Dragnet, you’ll take it and like it.

Gray as the Late Edition
It’s got to be in black and white, too. That’s only natural for a period piece. Yeah, you’ll need to cover a wide-open timeline from 1929–1959. Cars, furniture, clothes, the works. And all the political incorrectness that goes with it. If cigarettes were good enough for The Twilight Zone…

Any Lead You Like
I’ve saved the best for last. Real boffo stuff. If those previous selling points didn’t put you over, this’ll floor you. It’s the living end. See, the hero’s got no name. Get it? In the stories, he’s never called by name. So play it up. Make it big. Make it splash. And I’ll tell you how—you get a different actor to play the lead in every episode. Ain’t that wild? Imagine the intrigue, the anticipation, the pins and needles out there in TV land. Every week you’ve got this audience salivating to know who’s going to play the PI. Maybe Johnny Depp. Maybe Patrick Dempsey. Maybe Bill Mahr. Okay, maybe not Mahr. But you savvy.

You want to break ground? Ready to give convention a rabbit punch with a bazooka? Ready to ignore every piece of conventional Hollywood wisdom? Probably not. But if it was good enough for The Twilight Zone…Sure.

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Vampires, Dicks and Scouts: 3 Heroes







Dracula, Marlowe and Scout. Oh my. A bloodsucker, an SOB and a kid. A true range of characters, that is. Proof that when it comes to heroes, anything goes.

I’m talking about traditional narrative, as I see it. I see it from a lifetime of learning outside the classroom. From movies and comic books and television and comic strips and books. Following the teachings of everything from The Brothers Karamazov to The Brothers Warner, there are three standard molds from which our fictional heroes are stamped.

You, Me, the Girl Next Door
Look down in the street. It’s a worm. It’s a pain. It’s everyman.

Think Scout, Dorothy, Huck, George Bailey. Characters you’re drawn to rooting for because they are you. Sure, you can relate to their ups and downs, their dreams, their conflicts. You want them to make out just like you want yourself to make out.

Here I Come to Save the Day
Look at the way he saves the poor damsel from being flattened by the oncoming train. Dig the way she stands up to authority and sticks it to the establishment. You have to admire the way he seeks truth, justice, etcetera.

Some heroes are truly heroic. Mythic, even. You admire their ethics and principles, their honesty and grit, their pretty costumes and cleft chins. We’re talking knights that slay dragons and bring civilization to heathens. We’re talking renegades who rob from the rich and give to the poor. We’re talking tough hombres whose reason for living is to find justice where none exists, whether its the wild frontier of the Old West or the boulevards of post-World War II Los Angeles. A bigger than life story calls for a bigger than life protagonist, right?

Fascinating Rhythmmightymouse
Then there’s that Dracula bit. Not exactly the man in the street. Not your go-to guy when the planet’s being threatened by some intergalactic hoodoo. He’s just so damn fascinating. I mean, he’s the undead, for chrissake. He drinks human blood and turns into a bat and can’t use mirrors. Hannibal Lecter’s pure evil and purely intriguing. Even more everyday monsters like the Corleones are riveting stuff.

Most of us regular folk don’t relate to these kinds of heroes. We can’t root for them, either. But we’ll follow their adventures because they make us so damn curious.

John and Jane Doe, Superman and Mike Hammer, Raskolnikov and Jordan Belfort represent the old guard. The basics. The tried and true stuff of narrative heroes. If you can truly create any of these, you’ve got it knocked. But what if you mix and match? Can you summon up a hero who’s part monster, part everyone? Pull that one off and maybe you’ll find you’ve got a Travis Bickle or a Humbert Humbert. Maybe even King Kong.

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Writing by Accident and a Pop Device

It happened by accident. Just a trifle. A commercial ploy. A pop hook. I suppose I could have resisted, but I decided to give in.

It came up as I dashed out the first story of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” series. Mind you, it wasn’t a series yet. Just an idea for a short story. A romp. A gas. I was having a blast ripping off a tale of false identities, blackmail and murder. All in a throwback, corkscrew style as a valentine to Chandler, Hammett, Cagney, Bogart.

I’m cranking out dialogue for an interview scene between our nameless, P.I. hero and a new, hardheaded client. The detective’s already long on attitude, fueled further by a customer who’s got something to hide. It all seemed like a natural bit of writing. Organic. Nothing contrived about it.

“You want the old man shadowed,” I nodded. “What for, Mrs. Leblanc?”
As coyly as she could manage it, she said, “I want you to catch him with her.”
“That is delicate,” I said. “You don’t strike me as the demure type, Mrs. Leblanc.”
With abrupt confidence she replied, “You strike me as the impertinent type.”
“Sometimes my line of work calls for it.”
“Does it?”
“I’ve been working it into a big ad campaign I’m planning: ‘Private & Personal Investigations. Discreet & Impertinent.’ Catchy, don’t you think?”

I thought nothing of it at the time. I liked the exchange between the characters, gave the screen a nice fat smile, and kept writing.

After wrapping up the yarn, I decided to craft another. The first go-round proved such a trip to write that the juices flowed, all right. I had barely an outline in mind for the second story. Merely the loosest notion of plot points. What sprung to mind immediately was an allusion to Hammet’s “The Maltese Falcon”—it’s hard to punch out hard-boiled prose and not see the words of the genre’s big boys before your eyes. So I penned the opening lines:

It’s bad business to plug your client. It’s bad business, bad for P.I.’s everywhere, just plain bad all around.

As a short, first paragraph, I liked its grab. But it needed a quick wrap, a final punch, a knockout line. That’s when that dialogue came back to me. I could see where I was going, but it seemed as perfect a fit as Edward G. Robinson in a bowler. Or Harlow in a teddy. I typed in a closing line to the paragraph:

Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

Now I’d done it. I’d given my hard-nosed gumshoe a tagline all his own. Hadn’t planned to. Hadn’t meant to. But writing’s a funny practice. I don’t pretend to understand the creative process. Once in a great while a literary gem seems to appear right before your eyes. On other occasions, the most shallow devices cry out for use. You bat away and hack and slash and keep at it.

There’s not a whole lot of planning that goes into my craft. I’m winging it as best I can. Sometimes it’s gold. Sometimes it crap. All I can do is give it my best shot. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

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Word Counts and Books: It Figures

I’ve got enough stories to fill three and a half books. That’s a lot of jack, content-wise. I’ll hit the four-book level this summer. So what do you figure? Would you figure it’s hight time to publish a book? Sure. It figures, all right.

The author at work.

The author at work.

I do the numbers all the time. Numbers of words. I can’t help it. A constant, hard deadline will do that. I bat out three short stories every month for my subscription series. Each yarn averages 5,000 words per. I started it up in February 2013 and I’ve kept it up. Every first of the month, three more yarns. Another month, another trio. Three adventures in thirty days. Week one, write a story. Week two, write another. Week three, the third. Week four, edit and polish and upload. Week five, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

The shortest tale runs 2,200 words. A few stories approach 9,000 words. That’s one heck of a span, but I get away with it. I relish it, too. What a luxury to tell a story in whatever length it takes. Within the confines of a throwback, hard-boiled series, there’s no cuffs on me. The subjects, people and places are wide open. The sky’s the limit. Sometimes I’ve got a clever twist in mind. Or a colorful character. Or a honey of an opening. Then it’s off to the races. My schedule doesn’t afford much time for lingering, malingering or singing the blues.

That’s a whole lot of work. Just on its own. Without the rest of life breathing down your neck. I’m not bragging, just stating the facts. Funny thing, I’m pretty damn used to it by now. Not that I’d ever call crafting words into some creative semblance as routine, but it’s become a way of life. I’ve got that down, after a fashion.

So it’s time to do a book. It figures.

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April 2014

April turned out a pip of a month. It began with a reprint in a regional mag out California way, picked up from there with a second anthology, and of course wrapped up with the next three yarns of “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” I’ve even impressed myself a touch. Sure.

There’s a load of “mystery” writers out there who’ve appeared in the e-pages of Kings River Life Magazine. They opted to reprint one of my series favorites, “The Hard-Boiled Detective Statement No. 18: Pandereos Ajax.” Yeah, I’m big on long titles, or long on big titles. Take your pick. The point is, I’m humbled and proud to join the ranks of so many established authors. I’ve got the same cap, just with a new feather in it. You can catch that story here: http://kingsriverlife.com/04/12/the-hard-boiled-detective/


Earlier this year, the third adventure from my series got selected for the “Shamus Sampler 2” anthology coming up from author/editor Jochem Vandersteen. I’m not sure how I snuck my way amongst some of these lauded folks, but I ain’t kicking. That’s for sure.

Then I get the notice that a drag noir anthology—you read that right—plans to run another of my “Hard-Boiled” turns. It’s like catching one of those FM promotions where they go commercial-free for a limited time. So you keep listening, and you keep waiting, and they play another cut. And another cut. You expect some dippy announcer to break in with the latest and greatest in mouth-anti-freeze-gum, but instead they play another cut. The hits keep right on coming and you get downright giddy. If you’re so inclined, dig the announcement at this link: http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/drag-noir-creamy-contents-filling/

Then  you come down to earth when you realize the beat goes on. The work goes on. And that means another trio of tales due by the first of the month. But even that spikes the blood pressure when I realize I’ve knocked out 48 stories in the last 16 months. That’s more than enough content to fill up three books. Nearly four books.

Naturally enough, I’ve got a book in the works. I expect to publish the first collection of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” short stories by this fall. Maybe I can sell a copy or two. Or nine, even. But first, I’ve got to get through May…

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Hard-Boiled Thought of the Day: Collection #3

A hard-boiled detective yarn takes plenty of snap, crackle, pop. Especially the old-school, throwback kind I crank out for my monthly series. Whether it’s a pointed simile or jaunty dialogue, the pressure’s always on to keep up the pepper. But it can also be a blast. Put a bunch together, and you’ve got some kind of shorthand philosophy, an abbreviated treatise on life and death seen through a pulpified  lens.

  • Blackmail is a bad taste you can never spit out.
  • Bang bang! Right out of the blocks. No time to think. No time to breathe. No stopping for blowing your nose or adjusting your cuffs. Just duck and roll and pray, if praying’s your idea of getting things done.
  • The hole blown into his back could’ve been from a .38. It didn’t matter to him. Corpses aren’t choosey about things like that.
  • But somebody put the squeeze on you. Or on someone you’re close to. Or maybe you just need the money like Howard Hughes needs a crash helmet.
  • His words sealed my fate, but he made it sound like he was forgiving my sins.
  • Don’t go around taking funerals for granted. That last one’s a pip.
  • Janus Piquant couldn’t put it over. Nothing more than a rookie, he was. Whatever league he normally played in, he’d been caught up in something well beyond him. And he couldn’t sell me.
  • “Don’t touch it,” I said.
    She said, “Not for all the ice in Iceland.”
  • Some things can’t be helped any more than a stiff can help being anti-social.
  • The monkey suit clung to him like a bad skin-grafting job.
  • She was as forthcoming as a monk with laryngitis.
  • She gave me one of those pained grins, the kind you spot on loan officers and morgue attendants.
  • He looked about as enthused as a desk sergeant getting a hot tip about a vicious jaywalker.
  • As big as he was, Donovan Creel looked weaker than a blade of grass. He couldn’t sell a pardon to a lifer.
  • You can’t un-pull a trigger.
  • Even though five thousand’s a lot of dough, it won’t necessarily buy you peace of mind. It does make for an awful nice down payment.
  • The sounds of Massin’s flight receded. I eased over to the door and glanced down the alley. Quiet. Emptier than a dead man’s dreams.
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Did Raymond Chandler Fake It

I’ve been pounding out three short stories every month for more than a year now. Between that and scratching my way through the other aspects of this here life, I’ve barely given a thought to writing a novel. When I do give it a thought, it sounds like a big one. Daunting, even. But then you come across Raymond Chandler’s letters.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

Get it straight: I’m no Chandler scholar. Not even an expert. So I’ve got to take his musings with a grain of salt the size of a Marathon Cab. Still, I’ve got to wonder if he actually meandered his way through his larger works. If he winged it, faked it. When it came to plotting out plot points, Chandler actually claimed he was clueless.

Raymond Chandler had arrived by 1951. He’d published five novels beginning with “The Big Sleep” in 1939. “The Long Goodbye” was in the works. So it threw me for a loop to catch this bit from a letter to his agent, Carl Brandt:

I am having a hard time with the book. Have enough paper written to make it complete, but must do all over again. I just didn’t know where I was going and when I got there I saw that I had come to the wrong place. That’s the hell of being the kind of writer who cannot plan anything, but has to make it up as he goes along and then try to make sense out of it. If you gave me the best plot in the world all worked out I could not write it. It would be dead for me.

Mr. Chandler, are you kidding me? Are you trying to tell me that regarding plots and outlines, you didn’t know what you were doing any more than I do? That’s some kind of kick to the head. To think he’d take on a 60,000 or 70,000-word work no different than I approach a 5,000-word yarn. Go figure.

This is the point where I really get to show off. I can’t help but brag about this. More and more I write myself into a corner. Usually within 1,000—1,500 words. Sometimes I can completely handcuff my narrative direction in as little as 500 words. And to think that Chandler took on an entire novel in a similar way.

Then again, he was Raymond Chandler, after all. He proved that great talent can overcome plenty. If Chandler worked blind, then that must mean I’m working blinder.

I’m working in the dark, all right. And it turns out there’s more levels to that than levels of hell. Sure.

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The Beat Goes On: Year Two

I’ve just posted the lastest yarns in  “The Hard-Boiled Detective” series online. This new trio of tales kicks off the second year for this old-school, retro-detective, publishing effort. An effort and something of an experiment, too.

For the curiously uninformed, subscribers to the series get access to three new adventures every month. They download the stories in whichever electronic format floats their boat—ePub, mobi or PDF. The stories are what they sound like, a throwback to the days of the “Black Mask” boys, inspired by the likes of Chandler, Hammett and Spillane. As the website’s tagline goes, “Old-school detective fiction.” Sure.

I’ve always considered myself egotistical. Plenty arrogant. I admit I’m far and away my favorite subject. But maverick? I never gave that attribute much thought, but I’ve still never seen anyone trying out anything like this. Hard-boiled fiction short stories? By the month? On the installment plan? I simply figured it was the most natural thing in the world, as natural as Chandler dropping a simile, or Mike Hammer cracking open a skull. Sure.

Plenty of folks give me with the mouth dropped open when I tell them what I’ve got going. They act all impressed and bowled over and downright stupefied at my Herculean effort. I get a kick out of the reactions, even. Yeah, it’s somewhat humbling for my writing to make such an impression on people before they’ve even read one word.

The funny thing is, despite having cranked out 39 stories and more than 200,000 words, it feels to me like I write awful slow. There’s never enough time, never enough distance, and plenty of times the deadlines approach like a head-on collision. I always wish I could do more, do better. Maybe that’s the nature of writing. Maybe that means I’m still progressing. Or maybe that means I’m not good enough. Lucky for me I don’t have time to dwell on it.

Coming up with three yarns a month doesn’t leave for hardly any kind of dwelling time. I’ve got this terrific core of subscribers, but the series is by no means a rousing, commercial success. But there’s no time to worry about that. Right now I’m more concerned with the latest plot corner I’ve painted myself into. And then there’s the first collection I’m starting to edit and put into book form.

You can drive yourself over a cliff worrying about this and that and the other thing. Taking such a nose dive isn’t the kind of clear sailing that interests me. Besides, I haven’t enough time as it is. All I can do is what I have to do, what I need to do. All I can do is my best and let the rest take care of itself.


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Hard-Boiled Thought of the Day: Collection #2

You can’t keep a good simile down. There’s nothing like a catching the aroma off that first cup of the day, that curl of smoke off your first stick, and the whiff of a finely tuned, hard-boiled thought.

Here’s another set of favorite thoughts of the day, collected from my throw-back series and posted with semi-frequence upon the ether.

  • “You ought to be ashamed, pop. You’re old enough to be her dead grandfather.”
  • I could trust her about as far as I could throw the Monadnock Building.
  • You could see at a glance she’d been around the block, as long as the block was clean, god-fearing and cut off from the real world.
  • “Lookit. It’s just like cooking, see? You cook, don’t you?”
    “Does toast count?”
    “No, toast doesn’t count.”
  • Believe nothing the first time around.
  • You can count on a walk in the park being anything but.
  • “I don’t mean to be rude. It’s like this proclivity I’ve got,” I said. “Whenever I get strong-armed, it kicks right in. I go on autopilot. It’s like a syndrome with me. Sometimes I can’t help myself. The rudeness bubbles out of me just like Alka-Seltzer. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.”
  • I needed work from this gink about as much as Venice needs a plumber.
  • I pictured her likeness on some prow down at the harbor. Then I recalled that feeling I always get in my gut from sailing—a group of bats having a go at badminton.
  • I smiled. Tom, Dick and Harry didn’t crack a smirk. I’ve seen cattle on meathooks with warmer dispositions.
  • “You’ve got more sales angles than a used car dealer with a three-way mirror.”
  • The surreptitious glimpses and rounded shoulders, the way she clutched the handbag in her lap—the whole mousy demeanor fit her like an ascot fits a python.
  • He looked forward to it as much as a corpse anticipates a funeral.
  • Who stumbles into a P.I.’s office with nothing to kick? Especially at that hour? Nothing from this baby. No “hello.” No “allow me to introduce myself.” No nothing. Instead, the guy’s lousy with hiccups.
  • I felt as rumpled as the two-bit bed beneath me. I felt as two-bit as the room. I felt like something somebody had spit out.
  • Murphy came off as irresistibly cute approaching saucy. Something of an innocent live wire. The girl next door ready to go wrong.
  • He quivered like a priest giving communion to a pair of stripteasers.
  • A few have too much of everything. Too many don’t have enough of anything. In between there’s hardly enough left to go around.
  • Even in the dark you could tell they’d croaked. There’s no mistaking that peculiar stillness of death. A quality of frozen permanence. Time hangs on a corpse like eternity. Like a busted clock.
  • I felt like a feather caught between two bowling balls.
  • I’ve seen plenty of clients try to rub out their past like chalk on the sidewalk—it never holds up. You can’t swap faces in the mirror. You can’t help but look at yourself square on. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
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Nine Months in the Life of a Nameless, Fictional, Hard-Boiled P.I.

So this Ben Solomon character’s been spinning my yarns for 9 months now. Real proud of himself, too. Sometimes, at any rate. Sure.

He scratched out my first adventure back in August of 2012. As he put it, “It was a gas to write.” Sure it was. So he pens another one and tells himself he’s having a ball with the style and the lingo. Now the bird thinks he’s a on roll, for crissake. The third tale practically wrote itself, so he tells everyone.

I’ve provided him some set-up, a nice little threesome, and he’s all tickled about it. I’m the one taking the lumps while he’s cooking with gas. He gets so wound up, as a matter of fact, he decides to turn my adventures into a damn series. He goes and puts it online and charges dough for subscriptions.

And what kind of thanks goes with such an honor? My name in the title? A clever pun or take-off on my moniker? Not from Solomon. Not this joker. He makes it a point not to give me a name.

I’m forever just “The Hard-Boiled Detective” to him, eternally dancing around it in dialogue, in making my introductions, and even in plot synopses. So I ask you, as one fictional character to an invisible reader I’ll never hear from again, does that seem right to you? He won’t name the burg I work in or even identify what era I’m in. Is this the 1920s, ’30s, ’50s? He won’t give me that much.

I’ve already starred in 27 adventures—what more does he want from me? By my quick count, you can tally up 39 deaths in those 27 yarns—no less than eight in the current month’s edition. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been sapped, slapped and otherwise bounced around. I’ve been chased by car, on foot and shot at. And I’ve eaten my share of lead.

All of that and we’re still in the first year. I’m thinking I’m just downright unappreciated. I’m thinking, maybe, I should start a fictional detective union. How would you like them apples, Solomon? Just trying to keep you honest, buddy. After all, what am I, really, but one more shadow?

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