Tag Archives: series

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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My Name is Ben and I’m a Salesman

BaldwinCould I sell you a bridge? A Fuller brush? A fuller set of encyclopedias? A subscription to the Columbia Record Club, maybe? Or how’s about a paperback or ebook?

Sure, the book is almost ready. I launched “The Hard-Boiled Detective” in February 2013, an ongoing series boasting three—count ’em, three—new adventures each and every month. The Paris Review never came calling. Tinseltown, neither. But that’s just swell ’cause I didn’t call on them.

It’s nineteen months since my first yarn saw the light of day. I’m prepping stories 58–60 for Monday, about to cross the 300,000 word threshold. It’s about time I published the first collection, and it’s hitting the virtual shelves in September.

So it’s also almost time to put on my snappy, translucent green visor. Snappy armbands. Get a couple clipboards and some number twos. By this time next month I’ll be in full tilt Glengarry Glen Ross mode. I’ll probably kick off like Al Pacino and wind up as Jack Lemmon.

But I’m not sweating it. I’ve got this thing knocked. All I’ve got to do is work a little razzle-dazzle and come up with another couple million friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Land a segment on Ellen, plant an interview in O magazine, and ask Dave to work me into a “Top Ten” list. Maybe I’ll concoct a photo-op with Miley. Or  just with her tongue.

The real trick is follow-through and follow-up. No one-hit wonders for me. No flash in the pan flies on me. I’ve already got that covered. The trick in this racket is having numerous titles. And the more concurrent series the better.

So I’ll give my dear blog readers a sneak peak at what’s next for my throw-back, hard-boiled detective. I’m pulling no punches by bringing in the big guns, narrative device-wise. That’s right, I’m drawing on every trend  coming and going and developing the first noir, vampire-zombie private detective. If that’s not putting “pulp” in “pulp fiction,” I don’t know what is. And of course with a little sex thrown in. 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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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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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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You Can’t Always Give Away What You Want

They say you can’t take it with you. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that it’s tough giving it away. But I’m not talking about money.

I’m talking about a subscription series. I’m talking about giving away a year’s subscription for free. And talk about a hard sell. Sure.

The subject is hard-boiled detective fiction. Very old school. Very retro detective. And I’m convinced there’s an audience for it. I know there’s a huge audience for it. An immense audience.

So I’ve got this subscription series I’m trying to get off the ground. Seemed to me that the easiest thing in the world would be to give away subscriptions. In a pig’s eye. Finding the audience, reaching the audience, selling the audience. It’s like being a marketing detective. Sure.

But what do I know? I must have misplaced my business doctorate or my marketing degree. I can’t even seem to find my blogging diploma. So I guess I don’t know much.

Hard-boiled fiction on a subscription basis is more than a bit unusual. Maybe that makes me a ground-breaker. On the other hand, maybe it’s not being done for good reason. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

What I can put out there are some dumbed-down metrics. I’m talking simple. Stupid simple. For instance, the number of “likes” on Facebook for three of the all-time big-boys of hard-boiled fiction top 60,000. Yeah, that’s gotta include some overlapping, but still. That’s an awful lot of likes. And that’s just on Facebook.

Then again, on the other hand, do your like Robert Downey Jr? I’m not sure why, but his following is split up on Facebook. He’s got a big-time following on his main page—we’re talking millions. But on his Italian fan page? A mere 17,000.

So what do you with that information? How do you interpret it? How do you boil it down, sift through it and make your calculations?

I don’t. I just sit down at the keyboard and write the next month’s stories. And I wonder how the hell to give it away.

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The Hard-Boiled Detective Interview

Reposted from http://pauldbrazill.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/guest-blog-the-hard-boiled-detective-interview-by-ben-solomon/

Have you ever planned a murder? I ply the art three times a month for my series, “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” I have to admit that this is an odd slant on the publishing racket: retro, private eye fiction on a subscription basis. After seven months and 21 adventures, word is finally, slowly, starting to break. Then in steps Paul D. Brazill, esquire, graciously suggesting I pen a guest blog.

You don’t double-hitch at that kind of generosity. I immediately propped a vanity mirror next to the laptop and conducted the following interview with myself. Sure.

THBD 001 Cover

“The Hard-Boiled Detective” is some kind of series?
Sure. Doesn’t everybody have a series these days? Tag it, “old-school, detective fiction.” Three short stories come out every month.  Subscribers download tales in the format of their choice: epub, mobi or PDF.

Three? You’re really going to crank out three pieces every month?
That’s what everybody asks. I’ve been doing it since the site launched last February. Three yarns a month come rain or come shine. I guess I’m just crazy that way.

So who is “The Hard-Boiled Detective?” What’s his name, etc?
I won’t tell you his name. One’s as good as another.
Or the city that serves as his beat. You’ll figure it out, all right.
His time? It’s any period you like. Call it 1929, 1939, 1959.

A man of mystery?
Nix. Nothing like that. I wanted to create a throwback, see?

Narrative forms are always evolving. Like the flattening of the narrative arc in the cinema under the influence of new wave directors. (That played real esoteric-like, didn’t it?). How books and television immerse adventure stories in more and more soap opera subplot. I longed to get away from that and return to a simpler form.

So I modeled the series partly on the idea of classic television. I chose to avoid contemporary times, opting instead to create an undefined period piece. “The Hard-Boiled Detective” is basic, a romanticized valentine to the genre.

Isn’t that sweet?
I hope it doesn’t come across too sweet. That would gum up the format. I merely allow the hero’s actions and observations to do his talking. I’ve never developed his personal life. There’s no melodrama on that level.

So there is a format?
Sure there is. And it’s kind of funny. The last thing I want is to bog down the form in any heavy sense of realism, but something odd struck me when I began writing. You start out with the movies, then read Hammett and Chandler, add in Spillane, and then those countless detective shows on television—victims are everywhere. They’re dropping like flies. By the hundreds. Probably by the thousands. So it struck me: all these gumshoes must spend half of their professional lives at the local station house giving accounts to the bulls. That lightbulb established the format: each story of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” is told by our gumshoe hero as a statement to the police. Naturally, he likes spinning a colorful yarn.

So the characters and stories never develop, one to the next?
Not per se. I do attempt to reward regular readers, but each plot stands on its own—you can start with story number 11 without reading 1–10. Jump around as much as you want, even. It’s really as simple as old TV comedies. Every episode is self-contained. The idea’s to craft the P.I. and his tales as timeless. As timeless as a code of honor. As timeless as man’s corruption and sin.

You sure reference television a lot.
I don’t mean to. My first influences were Hollywood, all the way. Cagney and the Brothers Warner. Bogart. Raft. The entire Warner gangster cycle. Feels like I was weaned on ’em. And comic books and cartoon strips. Of course my generation claims ABC, CBS and NBC as surrogate parents. And then there’s books.

Detective-wise, Hammett came first for me. But it was Spillane that moved me towards this series. Spillane provided a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he inspired me to hit the keyboard; on the other hand, his later works made me long for the earlier tales before modern times and political correctness mucked up the proceedings. Call it a knee-jerk reaction, sure, but that was my take.

Of course, no set of masters is complete without mentioning Chandler. Aces. Simply aces. There’s no simile like a Chandlerism. It makes me think of that “Unfaithfully Yours” line by Preston Sturges: “You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel.” Sure.

So who do you go for, Hammett or Chandler?
Really? You’re going to throw that one at me? Okay. It’s means nothing, but for me? I prefer Chandler. I’ll also take Keaton over Chaplin, Astaire over Kelly, and paper over plastic. Satisfied?

So when will we see “The Hard-Boiled Detective” on the little screen?
Probably around the same time I get my first book deal and “The Ed Sullivan Show” comes back to prime time. Sure.

But I’ve got some thoughts on that, just the same. A fella can dream, can’t he? See, I’ve got two ideas for the TV series. And they’re plenty radical.

First of all, we make it a half hour. Can you picture that? A 30-minute detective show? It’s just not done, but man, would it clip along! Leave ’em wanting more—there’s a motto for you.

Uh huh.
The second idea—this one is a pip. We’ve got an unnamed sleuth working the mean streets of an unnamed burg, right? In a sense, he’s unidentified, right? So we cast a different actor to play him in every episode.

So the detective is actually a guest star every week?
You got it.

Uh huh.
What the hell? After all, it’s my fantasy. It’s the stuff that guest blogs are made of.

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