Tag Archives: hard-boiled

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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The Hard-Boiled Book Tour: The First 30 Days

one. word. at. a. time.

one. word. at. a. time.

Almost 30 days into the release of “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1.” A good time to update the scorecard. Success? Failure? Progress? Depends on the size of those rose-colored glasses.

The paperback came out on August 28. The ebook came out on September 11. I’ve been featured in four online interviews with another due tomorrow. I’m scheduled for a big-deal radio interview on October 5. I’ve held two book readings, got another tonight, and appeared at two reading series. You could say I’ve been busy.

For all that, about a month in and I’ve sold nearly 30 books. Does that number mean anything to you? Sounds small, looking at it bare and all. But I’m impressed. That’s no egotistical claim, and I’ll tell you why.

There’s no damn reason my book should sell at all. Who ever heard of me or my humble volume? Sure, I’ve got my social media friends and followers approaching 100 folks. Toss in another 100 from my series subscription list, allow for overlap, and that’s one humble group. Now put that up against Amazon where there’s 300,000 mystery and suspense titles listed. That’s one heck of a field to compete in. All together, the site offers more than 8 million titles. Put any kind of dent in that and you’re getting somewhere.

So I’ve moved 30 books in the first month, in my own, little way. Through Facebook and Twitter and blogs. No paid advertising. No media coverage. No published reviews. No viral campaigns or celebrity scandals to draw on.

I began writing the stories in this collection in August 2012. It’s been plenty of work getting from there to here. I’ve covered my shoestring costs of publishing. And I’ve got enough yarns, ready to polish and proof, for another 2–3 volumes. I’ve just gotten started. Sure.


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Your Title Here

By this time next month, give or take a couple days, I’ll have my first book. I don’t mean some tome by Sendak or Seuss, no A.A. Milne. I mean my very own. That stack of my papyrus marked through by my personal keyboard scratchings. That either-riding cowboy full of sure’s and swells and uh-huh’s. That pile of piles with that curious tag on the front and spine, “By Ben Solomon.”

thbd1-1I know. You’re all tingly. Like seeing you name in lights, isn’t it? But that’s where they all started. Every last one of them had their very first. Fitzgerald. Hemingway. Groucho. Sure, once upon a time each on of them a literary virgin. Carefully protecting it. Trying not to give it away. Makes you wonder if their moms and dads ever gave them the talk on the facts of publishing.

Of course that was long before independent publishing. Not that such a thing ever stopped Homer or Tommy Paine. But those were different eras, different cultures, different markets. Nowadays, any monkey can independently publish any damn thing he likes. That’s any monkey with a credit card. Even a rhesus like yours truly.

So I’m joining the fray, diving in, holding my nose. I’ve got my 73,000 words running 212 pages. I’ve got my cover, I’ve got my spine. I’ve even got some awful nice blurbs from some very gracious folk.

Of course there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. There’s no avoiding it, no getting around it or making up for it by doing more stomach crunches or downing more coffee or buying Grecian Formula: if a book is listed on the internet, and there’s no one there to buy it, how do we know it’s any good?

That’s where I am today, and that’s where I’ll be a month from now. I’ve got to wonder where I’ll be in another two months, or three…or fifteen. Sure.

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Bang—You’re Alive

Sometimes you’ve got hold of something. Something special. Maybe not special enough to cause men to forgo sex and women to forgo chocolate. But something uncommon enough to keep you from interrupting to refill your coffee, or special enough to make you put off that meal for an extra hour, or five, or six.

At a minimum, I write three three short stories every month for my subscription series. That’s about 15,000 words right there. Month in, month out. Add to that other assignments and projects, and you can imagine my head’s pretty well buried in the keyboard. It’s a crazy mix of artistic pursuit and work ethic. And it doesn’t allow a whole lot of room for sightseeing, detours or prima donna moments. But that’s how you do it. Whether you’re full time, part time or any time you can make the time. You’re always at it.EH

Working “short” as I do, I’m winging it most of the time. Usually some sort of hook starts it off. A choice bit of dialogue, a clever murder gag, an inventive piece of hard-boiled action. Deadlines force me to run with it and run with until I run out of time, pounding it out as best as I can until the very end.

Those are a lot of the practical aspects of my work. The artistic portion might prove a heap less romantic than many might think. At its simplest, the ongoing challenges don’t get any more basic. Can I write better? Can I make a particular piece better? How do I make this scene or dialogue play?

There are also larger lines at play, artistic aspirations that weave through isolated sentences and paragraphs as well as entire bodies of work. Can I write a yarn that centers on ethnic differences without referring to the likes of skin color? Can a hard-boiled yarn address euthanasia? Can I craft a certain story backwards and tell it as end, middle and beginning?

All those artsy-shmartzy and working stiff approaches rolled into one can feel like a journeyman experience. Hour by hour, day by day, plugging away. Nose to the grindstone while putting your heart and soul into it. That’s one peculiar mix. It can become cool at times, a reserved undertaking, no different than putting in a shift, only the shift never ends.

But once in a while you get a breakthrough. Or that cliche aha, eureka moment. You find yourself in the midst of a scene or an arc or a story idea that shakes you up like a mixmaster. That’s a moment that blasts through the daily regimen like a cold shower. It wakes you up, stirs you up, sets your heads and fingers on fire.

That’s when the new pressure kicks in. Now you’ve got to fulfill that promise. Now you’ve got to make it sing. Sure. Bang—you’re alive.


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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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May 2014: A Good Month

Always another shot. Another chance. As long as you’re still breathing.

May’s been a good one. More opportunities, more successes, more dream food. My arms are up and swinging, and I’ve landed a few jabs. I haven’t pulled off any knockout punches, but I haven’t hit the mat, either. Sure.

TakeoutI’ve got several things about to pop. The District of Wonders podcast network has slated two of my works for airing. One of my yarns will soon be running on “Tales to Terrify” and another on “Crime City Central.” The latter’s also considering the idea of featuring “The Hard-Boiled Detective” on a monthly basis. The idea of hearing my stories narrated sounds like a gas. Yeah, that’s a pun. I’d like to find out what kind of following they get, but it’s exciting stuff for me to be in that kind of company. Keeps the juices flowing.

I’ve also got a story about to hit the “Near to the Knuckle” website. That’s an important step to me. It’s an established site that’s well regarded for its niche and its following. Land a story there and you say to yourself, “Maybe I’ve arrived. Kind of. After a fashion.”

There’s Onyx Neon, too. This ebook publisher has just launched a new singles series. I’ve seen the cover design for the first “Hard-Boiled Detective” selection, and it’s a beaut. I’m awful curious to see how this one pans out, but they’ve impressed me a lot.

I shouldn’t leave out the anthologies. “The Hard-Boiled Detective” will soon strut its stuff in “The Shamus Sampler 2” and “Drag Noir.” I’m humbled to be included in the first collection, and surprised I was even considered for the second.

And then there’s the book. The first published collection from “The Hard-Boiled Detective” series. Polishing and editing is ongoing, and better than half-way done. The writing’s the thing, but I’m not so concerned with that. Sounds screwy, doesn’t it? I’m worried about the cover, first, and then pulling together the promotion plan and tracking all those dizzying elements.

In the mean time, the beat goes on, and so does “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” I’m currently wrapping up this month’s trio of tales, somewhat staggered the way all the work adds up. This’ll make 51 short stories to date in the series. You look in the rearview mirror and what you see is familiar, all right. But you don’t exactly recall it, either. Was I just there? Maybe better to  watch the road. Concentrate on traffic. Make up the roadmap on the fly.

Got a dream? Doing anything about it? You better get going.

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The Hard-Boiled Voice

It’s bad business to plug your client. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.


Pardon the ego, but I thunk that one up all on my own. Ain’t it a pip? That line’s hard-boiled all over. Goes all the way back to the second yarn in my series. A whole eighteen months old as I write this. Almost. Fifty-one adventures later, it remains one of my favorites. And not so easy to come by.

I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.

I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.

That’s a funny one, the hard-boiled voice. Sometimes it threatens to run right over the voice of the author. Always real, frank. Real frank until it approaches brutal. So much so, on occasion, it’s downright humorous. But never sentimental. It’s got to be plain, straight talking prose with the kind of punch that doesn’t take any prisoners.

Part of the trick’s keeping it simple without letting it go limp. Simple’s one thing, plain’s another. Plain’s weak, dull. Plain’s not the stuff that dreams are made of. Pairing down the length of clauses ain’t necessarily the easiest task. Let alone pairing down the length of long sentences. Or making shorter sentences even shorter.

Did Paul Cain take the form too far? The guy dropped subjects and added more harsh clauses than Agatha Christie had red herrings. And he did it back in the 1930s. Maybe Cain’s too thick for some tastes, but you can’t disagree that his narrative had impact. If you can pull that off, slicing and dicing and otherwise mangling sentence structure, you can drive your prose off the page like drilling through a banana. All it takes is the wit to write dialogue like this: “You want a glass or a funnel?”


It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
—Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely


One of the best. And one of the best known from Chandler. The king of simile. And doesn’t it play a tad better than That blonde was a real looker? You want simple? You want brutal? All in the same bite? How’s about I felt like an amputated leg. That from Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business.”

Something to spin on, all right. Achieving the hard-boiled voice. Doing it well is a challenge and a half. Doing it well and putting your own stamp on it—that sounds like an other post altogether. Sure.

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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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Updating the Writer’s Slugfest

“What the hell is going on?”

Not one for subtle openers, my inquisitive writer continued. “You took your father’s razor. You don’t write. No calls. Not so much as a cable or email. What’s the latest, hard boiled-wise?”

I suppose I am due for an update. It’s been a while since I posted any sort of “latest and greatest” report. I’ll make it short and sweet.

In January 2013, I walked out on my nine to five after nearly twenty years of service. I launched my online subscription series, “The Hard-Boiled Detective,” the following month. Ain’t timing funny? Or grand? It certainly keeps astrologers and pathologists busy. I hadn’t planned things that way, but there it is.

I’ve been plugging out three yarns a month ever since. And struggling to keep my head above water, too. The whole experience feels like maintaining a fistfight in a riptide. Very up and down. In and out. Seemingly by its own accord. Sure.

The series reached its first anniversary in February. That’s got to be some kind of achievement. Maybe nothing so noble, but I’m proud of the small, loyal following my nameless detective has developed.

Progress is slow, but there have been signs. Kevin Burton Smith kindly published my fictional interview with Raymond Chandler over at his thrillingdetective.com. The third story in the series has been accepted for Jochem Vandersteen’s upcoming anthology, “Shamus Sampler 2.” Then there’s Kings River Life Magazine’s plans to publish my eighteenth story this spring. I’ve also begun editing a batch of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” adventures, preparing it as a collection in book form.

If only the writing went faster. If only the hours stretched longer. I don’t know about other unknowns, but I can’t imagine this type of undertaking is a rational choice for anyone. Some days I’ve got enough piss and vinegar to fill Lake Michigan. On other days, the words and characters and plots read flat, voiceless. The next monthly deadline looms. I grind on, grind it out, and move on. The stuff of detective fiction and series create its own bloody inertia.

I hadn’t planned things this way. But there it is. And that’s probably just as well. There’s only so much time for so many things, especially when you’ve painted the next story into the proverbial corner. Sure.

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