Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New at Amazing Stories Magazine

We interrupt the Works in Progress series to let you know . . .

My latest contribution to Amazing Stories Magazine, "1933" is now available online for your perusal. Learn all about the Hero Pulp Explosion! You'll find it here, at the Amazing Stories Magazine site:

P.J. Farmer, Grand Master Award winner in 2000, launched a popular string of novels and essays postulating that a meteorite that landed in Wold Newton, England, in 1795 radiated a band of nearby travelers, whose mutated genes formed the basis for the birth of all the heroes and villains who populated the pages, film, and radio waves of during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Whether you are a Wold Newton follower little matters. It is a matter of documented fact that during the year 1933, publishers detonated a population bomb that eventually lit the fuse that exploded the Wold Newton notion in Farmer’s imagination.

In 1933, Street & Smith published the first issue of Doc Savage Magazine, cover dated for March. Following Doc’s appearance on the newsstands, pulp magazines featuring The Phantom Detective, The Spider, The Avenger, Thunder Jim Wade, Jim Anthony, The Whisperer, and a host of others began to swarm the racks that once had been dominated by general fiction publications like Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book, and a few others

Read more at the Magazine . . .

Monday, July 29, 2013

Work in Progress: Two Monsters

I mentioned in the preceding excerpt I posted, “Fogg and Thalcave,” that the story featuring these two characters from Jules Verne would vie with another story to be completed after I wrap up Space Detective. Today’s excerpt is from that competing story.

Two Monsters is the follow-up story to Three Witches, an action-oriented tale featuring El Tigre Azul, a famous luchador (a masked Mexican wrestler) who battles crime when he’s not flogging another combatant inside the ring. El Tigre’s adventures are inspired by the many masked Mexican wrestler films that were translated for the U.S. drive-in crowd during the 1960s and ‘70s. But I also find inspiration in the spirited creativity displayed in the low-budget independent films from the 1970s, when non-Hollywood filmmakers -- those outside the studio system -- like Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, Ron Howard, Dennis Hopper, and others -- made films that had an idiosyncratic stamp, like the French New Wave. There’s a spontaneity and unexpected wackiness you encounter when watching these films that I’ve tried to capture in these luchadore stories.

Two Monsters starts up not long after the end of Three Witches. Again, El Tigre Azul is the primary character. Some folks from Three Witches will appear again, but readers also will encounter new characters and situations.

Two Monsters

The old woman stood in a corner of the room. Her white hair was pulled back into a bun that was contained in a straining hair net. The skin of her face appeared papery dry, and her face was scored by wrinkles that radiated from the point where the top of her nose met the deeper frown line between her brows. Her eyes were hidden behind overlapping folds of skin that formed her lids. And despite the presence of the frown line above the old woman’s nose, a wide smile curled the wrinkles that crossed her cheeks.

Once she smiled and revealed a single tooth within her mouth.

The smile appeared after a piece of crockery sailed over her head and smashed to clatters against the wall at her back.

She didn’t dodge an inch. Just stood there, leaning on a slender, tough cane she gripped tightly with both hands. The frayed cuffs of her sweater were bunched at her wrists as she leaned forward, and only her knuckles were visible, white against the black wood of the cane.

The sweater was pink. It hung down over the top of a black skirt that reached the floor and hid her feet. A small cloud of white flour marked the skirt.

The old woman showed her tooth again. She was watching four men battle in the center of the broad room. The tooth appeared whenever one of the men groaned or swore during the fight.

Tables were overturned and chairs lay in broken bits around the battlers. Their suit coats were ripped and the silk linings flapped like tattered flags in the wind when one or another of the fighters swung and smashed against the others.

One of the men was bigger than the others. He wore a mask, blue with black stripes: El Tigre Azul.

A zigzag of blood ran from his left nostril to his chin.

He staggered to his feet. One of his assailants had hit him across the collar bone with a chair leg.

El Tigre snagged the shirt collar of the man with the chair leg. He smashed his right fist four times against the man’s face, rapidfire. The man dropped the chair leg as bright red gouted from his nose, splattered the floor. He sat down in the red spatters, fell forward in a groaning daze beside his forgotten weapon.

El Tigre ducked as a second attacker swung a still-unbroken chair from behind. The wrestler grabbed the chair leg from the floor, spun with his left leg extended and tripped the Chair Man. The latter stumbled, and El Tigre was up, clacking his makeshift baton against the fellow’s skull and jaw. The man tried to fend off these blows with the chair, but the stick in El Tigre’s hand was like a striking snake, evading every effort to thwart its thrusts.

Finally, the chair grew too heavy, the man’s arms dropped, his hands released the chair, and it spun on the floor.

The man’s eyes were swelling shut. He stepped back twice, then collapsed to the floor like a dropped bag of potatoes.

El Tigre looked at the third attacker. He had been out of it a few minutes. He leaned against the counter; rather, his back was to the counter, his elbows were hitched up onto its top, and he seemed to be suspended there. His feet were splayed out before him, the heels of his shoes against the floor, the toes pointing to the ceiling. A string of drool hung down from his gaping mouth to his hairy chest, exposed by the buttons that had popped off his shirt during the fight. His eyes were open, but didn’t appear focused.

El Tigre stood up from his crouch, breathed deeply several times, then turned to look at the old woman grinning her one-tooth grin in the room’s corner.

The wrestler was not grinning in response. “Satisfied?”

Despite the ancient frown lines in the old woman’s face, she looked as if she hadn’t scolded a child in two generations. But she cackled like a hen, then said, “I haven’t been so happy since my daughter shot that idiot she married two days after the wedding.”

The pink sweater had more color than her flesh, as though her skin had absorbed the flour she worked with every day during the decades she had kneaded and baked. El Tigre couldn’t see her eyes, but he watched that tooth in her mouth. She might be the color of death, but her voice was lively with delight.

The wrestler heard something move behind him.

He turned, and the man who had been leaning against the counter had collected his wits and was charging, a knife raised in one fist.


A bloody gap appeared where the knife wielder’s jaw had been. He dropped his weapon and fell to the floor, and he thumped around there while he groaned.

El Tigre looked at the old woman. She held a small revolver she must have pulled from a sweater pocket. The smoke that curled up from the barrel mouth was not so pale as the baker’s face.

“Why didn’t you stop all this mess and show that thing earlier?” El Tigre demanded.

The tooth answered: “I’ve been waiting a long time to see those mierdas fritas get their asses kicked. I didn’t intend to miss it.”

El Tigre frowned. “Abuelita, if your customers knew their baker has such a tongue, they might think twice about buying your bread.”

“Pish. After baking for seventy years, bread is bland. It needs some spicing up.” She tapped the end of her cane on the floor. “I’m calling the policias.”

“Will I have to fight them, too?”

“If you don’t threaten them.”

“Why don’t you shove that gun under their noses?”

“Pish. I’d rather see a good fight.”

She tucked the gun back in her pocket.



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Work in Progress: Fogg and Thalcave

When Time doesn't work, the world can be a frightening place.
Two men, so very different: one an exemplar of civilized upper-class Britain, punctual, whose behavior is regulated as the ticking of a clock; the other a giant from the wilds of Patagonia, impulsive, a near-savage whose life has been given over to adventure.
Two men, so very different: yet united by the great sorrows their lives have brought them.
Their conceptions of the world are soon to be rent asunder as the laws of reality are shredded before their eyes.
Work in Progress: untitled
It's sad when a story doesn't have a name.
Actually, this still-in-progress story has about four tentative titles. I simply can't seem to settle on one yet.
In honor of FarmerCon VIII, which launches today at PulpFest 2013, today's excerpt features two characters from the works of Jules Verne.
FarmerCon VIII celebrates the works of P.J. Farmer, particularly his Wold Newton-associated stories, essays, and novels, which were based on the conceit that all the world's popular heroes were related by a bloodline that had mutated thanks to exposure to a meteorite that fell in England. Specifically, in Wold Newton.
One of Farmer's novels features the lead character from Verne's most famous novel, Around the World in 80 Days. Farmer's novel, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, purports to reveal the secret story behind the events Verne reported.
The following story features Fogg in action many years after the closing of Verne's novel. The other character, Thalcave, is hardly known at all except by dedicated Vernians. Thalcave is from Patagonia, and appears as a secondary character in another around-the-world adventure tale, The Children of Captain Grant. This novel differs significantly from Around the World in 80 Days, because the characters circumnavigate the globe by following a single line of latitude as they hunt for the survivors of a shipwreck.
The following excerpt doesn't offer a lot of action and adventure, but it establishes a melancholy tone that influences the plot a great deal in the events that follow this scene.
Around the World in 80 Days has experienced success on the stage and, quite dramatically, in film. So to borrow a Hollywood term, you might say it's raw footage. Therefore, consider reading the scene below as an opportunity to see the creative process at work, if you will: the prose that follows is still rough draft, and one day you can compare it to the final polished version that will be its published form.
This story is one of two that will be vying for my attention once I complete Space Detective. When it's done (and finally receives a title), it will join my other works at Amazon and Smashwords.
Now, let your journey with Fogg and Thalcave begin . . .
Fogg and Thalcave
Time, in the mind of Phileas Fogg, drew the boundaries of the Earth.
It had done so when he circumnavigated the world so famously within eighty days.
Correction: seventy-nine days.
It was still true today—thirty-five years later.
But the world was a different place these days for Fogg than it had been then.
For Fogg was no longer a part of the world.
He had removed himself from its definition when he realized time no longer defined his boundaries as it did so for other people.
The realization arrived through a gradual progress, like the growth of a sprig to the unfolding of its flower into bloom. From year to year, the impulsive Passepartout lost more of his agility. His nimble manservant eventually retired to France, still irascible, but far slower.
Fogg’s great love, Aouda, whom he found during his remarkable voyage, lost the elasticity of her limbs—her flesh grew heavier, her jowls filled, her hair lost its brilliant black gloss and faded to grey. Yet her eyes never lost their shine, her smile would burst into life at a moment’s surprise.
But by 1897, the fire of life had dimmed, and an ashy pallor had dulled the glow in her cheeks. She had grown quiet, and the flash in her eyes had eventually done most of her communicating. That and the long, building squeeze her hand would give his as he would sit beside her in the early evenings before she retired for the night.
He could feel her grip now, tight in his hand.
Fogg’s attention had dropped into a somber, interior space, and the unexpected recollection—the surprising physical remembrance of Aouda’s hand in his—brought a quick return of alertness to him of his surroundings.
He noticed his left hand still was curled as though it were wound around another, smaller hand.
Fogg reached, gripped the rail before him. The cold of the metal displaced the previous sensation that had haunted his fingers.
“Are you well, my friend?”
The voice came from Fogg’s left: An unusually tall, robust man with a stolid expression Fogg had come to find both familiar and comforting.
“All is well, Thalcave,” Fogg reassured his companion.
The Patagonian turned from Fogg and, like the renowned traveler, gazed out at the swells of water through which their craft surged. Light fretted and spangled across the rolling seas in a sort of frenetic ballet that flashed in a grand display, then would disappear as a wave turned and swept past.
“There is no shame in recalling the fond moments,” Thalcave said.
“I have no shame regarding Aouda.”
Thalcave watched the light and water dance their singular waltz a few moments before replying. “Nor would any man say you should or would, my friend. But there is no reason to fear recalling those we have loved.” He glanced at Fogg without turning his head. “We are men, you and I. We do not fear love.” He ducked his head a bit. “There is no shame in grieving its loss. For if our love is lost to us, and it is not worth our grief, was it truly love? And if we have had true love, and have lost it, we are less the men if we do not acknowledge its value and its loss.”
The two were quiet. Two minutes and thirty-six seconds passed before Fogg responded: “I am honored to know you, Thalcave.”
“The honor is mine, my friend.”
A number of boats had come into sight, and their presences on the water disrupted the dramatic displays of light on the sea surface.
A shrill whistle sounded.
“We’ll soon be landed,” Thalcave said.
“Let us retrieve our bags.” Fogg moved from the rail. “Another step for another journey.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Work in Progress: Space Detective

In the middle of the 1950s, the world isn't quite what you'd expect.
World War 2 didn't end with a victory, but with a truce.
The Empire State Building stands proudly in a city named New Angouleme.
There's plenty of friction among the Police ranks between the Irish and the Mohawks.
And don't discount the discord sown by the Vikings . . .
The past couple of years, you may have been teased by illustrations posted on Facebook by Mike Fyles for a story named Space Detective. Mike is an artist who has worked on a number of books, including some Spider-Man and Iron Man covers for Marvel Comics.
I've been working on the Space Detective novel in fits and starts the past two years. It's more than 50 thousand words at this point, and is the longest story I've written thus far. There are still more words to write before it's completed, but finishing this tale is my first priority. I would say, "I plan to have it done by the end of the year," but over the years I've learned that making a plan is a way of telling God a joke. So I'll say, "I hope to have it done by the end of the year." Then it will join my other work at Amazon and Smashwords.  Many thanks to Mike for his cleverness and amazing patience.
Here is the initial entry in the Portfolio of Progress. It begins with the first two sections of Space Detective. I hope you enjoy the story . . .

Chapter One

Despite the Model 6’s well-documented flaws, the Space Detective preferred the Model 6 Rigelian Hand Zapper to the Model 8. He found it a better balanced blaster that fit his hand just so. The Model 8 felt barrel-heavy to him. And the way the 8 molded itself to his hand was very unsatisfying—and a little disturbing. (More than once I heard him say, “I just don’t know what they were thinking when they started using those Nevian Octo-ambient grips on the Model 8. When I let go of the gun, it wouldn’t let go of me. Had to pry it off my fingers.”)
So the Space Detective radiated absolute confidence as he leveled his Model 6 at Ronnie Roquette, whose recent activities might better be described as invasion assistance rather than mere smuggling. But although Ronnie was staring down the cannon-sized blow hole of a lethal hand blaster, his face began to glow with confidence. Uh oh.
I alerted the Detective:
<<Your helmet must have a breach—short-wave Confidence radiation is infecting Ronnie. Better shoot fast.>>
The Space Detective pulled the Zapper’s trigger, and the Model 6 demonstrated one of its flaws: Instead of firing with a warm and satisfying POM, the charge drum flew to the right with a PLING, leaving the Detective gripping a gun frame with a barrel attached. As usual, he was not at a loss for words—at least, one word: “Poot!”
As the drum escaped the frame, its locking pin had shot forward and struck Ronnie in the face. “Hey! That coulda put out my eye!”
Radiated by confidence leaking from the faulty helmet, the smuggler charged, arms extended.
The Detective’s left forearm batted aside Ronnie’s right arm. He brought up the handgun and wobbled the smuggler by rapping Ronnie’s collar bone with its barrel. The pistol, even without the drum, weighed enough to stun the outlaw. The Detective lunged forward, smacked Ronnie in the face with the front of his helmet and dropped him to the floor. Even unconscious and battered, Roquette’s features suggested an attitude of easy accomplishment.
“Gotta get this helmet patched,” the Detective said.
<<The Studie is coming around the corner,>> I reported. I maintained a telepathic link from the office with the Detective. It would be a misnomer to say I manned the office, as my genetic forebears are Plutonian—I sat in a container lined with dry ice and kept operations flowing while the Detective handled the leg work. After all, he had legs.
The Detective dropped Ronnie’s sidearm into a coat pocket, picked up an egg carton-sized container from the floor with one hand and with the other slung Ronnie’s inert form over a shoulder. Grit cracked under his Florsheims as he crossed the vast concrete floor to the open door. As he stepped out from one of hundreds of warehouses lining this part of the Great Mohegan River, a car skidded to a stop before him: a modified 1950 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, Milky Way black. The passenger door opened, and he plopped Ronnie into the seat, closed the door. He got into the driver’s seat—because I had directed the auto’s robot to the door, no one was actually already in the seat—and set the carton between him and Ronnie’s slumped form before putting the Studie in gear and driving off.
Chapter Two
At the office—a second-floor walk-up over a tobacconist’s shop that ran numbers from the back room—the Detective opened the top drawer for one of three filing cabinets, touched the Containment tab of a file folder. He moved Ronnie, still on his shoulder, closer to the drawer, and the smuggler was sucked into the Containment folder like something in a Tex Avery cartoon. The Detective closed that drawer, opened another and manipulated the Evidence tab, and the egg carton likewise slurped into the cabinet like a wet noodle.
From a third drawer, the Detective opened a Workroom folder and stepped in.
As every school boy knows, as New Angoul√™me had spread horizontally across the landscape since the arrivals of Giovanni da Verrazzano and Henry Hudson, the search for more space had eventually led to the creation of the skyscraper to exploit vertical space. The technologies the Detective relied on let him use the space between spaces—much as a tesseract is a four-dimensional cube, the Detective employed science that allowed him to use rooms within rooms that weren’t even visible from outside. Some of the spaces within the file cabinets’ folders were larger than the office within which they sat.
Sitting sealed in a dry ice container all day gave me the time to think about these things. Luckily, I didn’t get headaches.
In the Workroom, the Detective found the fault in the helmet that had allowed Ronnie Roquette to be contaminated during their little skirmish. He returned to the office proper after retrieving and donning a fresh helmet from Storage.
Just in time. The office door opened and revealed Chief Inspector Jonathan Brewster Uncas. His figure briefly fuzzed around the edges as he stepped over the threshold, and Uncas shook for a moment as from a chill. The fuzz and chill resulted from the transport process that moved any visitors from the second floor walk-up to the actual location of the Detective’s office—using the same tesseract-like science, the office was Neither Here nor There, but “Nere,” as the Detective described it. Just by pressing a switch, the New Angouleme office could appear to be empty, and the office in Hong Kong or Paris would appear to be occupied.
Whoever crossed the threshold remained unaware that he had been transported from one reality to another. It was one of those little secrets we kept that made our work tricky.
“Always cold in here,” Uncas muttered.
His name was pulled from Mohegan history, but he actually belonged to the Pequot tribe; still, both were Algonquian, and Uncas wore on the lapel of his topcoat the traditional black feather pin of the Algonquian nation. The police department ranks were filled with Mohawks and Irish, and the newspapers occasionally ran a story about dissent in the precincts caused by Uncas—or one of the other officers from a competing tribe—rubbing someone in uniform the wrong way.
He didn’t doff the non-standard-issue black beret. “Where have you been tonight?” he asked.
The Detective moved casually, sat in the captain’s chair behind his desk. His helmet was opaque, therefore it would do no good to smile, so he tried to put a smile in the sound of his voice. “Why should I have been anywhere but here?”
Uncas remained all business. “The hood of your car was still warm.”
Note to self: expect a reprimand and a request for a better heat sink for the Studie’s engine.
Experience proved that putting Uncas at ease helped keep relations less difficult. The Detective gestured to a visitor’s chair with a gloved hand: “Go ahead, have a seat. I bet you need a break from chasing down all those JDs.”
Crimes committed by teenagers had been fodder for bold headlines in the newspapers recently. Juvenile crime was nothing new, but its nature had gotten more violent lately—beatings, shootings, rapes, small-scale riots—and the spike in this sort of activity had both shocked and frightened a large part of the population.
The chief inspector ignored the effort to make things warm and friendly. He remained standing. He kept that stiff, professional posture that alternately drew praise for his unyielding focus to the particulars of his job—or scorn for his lack of reasonable human empathy when dealing with citizens or members of the competing news outlets. He might well have served as a model for Dragnet’s ubercop, Detective Joe Vrijdag.
“Where were you three weeks ago, May 28 through June 6?” Uncas asked.
“Working a case,” the Detective said.
“Out of town.”
“Four weeks before that?” Uncas asked.
“Another case.”
“Out of town.”
“For whom?” the inspector pressed.
“That’s a confidential matter between me and my client,” the Detective responded. “I’m sure you can understand that, Inspector.”
Uncas said nothing, but stared without blinking at the Detective. It was the sort of look that would prompt those irritated news writers to include the words “stoic Indian” in their blocks of copy.
Finally he spoke: “You disappear for days at a time, supposedly on a case. Business must be good,” and he almost smiled, “but no clients ever appear at your door. You could meet them at other locations, of course, but there is no evidence of that, either.”
The Detective didn’t respond. He seemed content to let his uninvited guest air his thoughts to see where they would carry him.
Uncas raised a hand, touched one finger to his chin. “You show up at interesting places—crime scenes where you seem to have no business, you just happen to be in the neighborhood, or you are exercising your professional interest.
“And I have not even mentioned this gaudy outfit. Do you ever take off that ghastly mask?”
The Detective shook his head, silent.
“I pegged it for an interesting business gimmick when you first came to my notice,” Uncas continued, and he put both hands in the pockets of his coat. “Masked wrestlers were gaining fans in the rings, so it made sense you might draw attention to likely clients with a mask of your own. And Space Detective probably has a nice ring for those souls who get a tingle from those low-budget UFO movies. Your paperwork is all clean and on file, but how you got approval without using an actual, legal name, I have yet to determine.”
Space Detective is my legal name,” the boss answered.
Uncas gave him another one of those time-stopped stares.
Now he placed his hands on the back of the visitor’s chair and leaned forward. The light from the desk lamp blazed on the enameled lapel pin. “Your existence puzzles and bothers me. I do not like puzzles in my city. Puzzles mean problems in my world.” He turned to leave, then stopped at the door. “For the past three years, you have struck me as a problem I just have not unpuzzled yet.” Then he exited, fuzzing around the edges as he left, and shut the door behind him.
“Hm.” The Detective remained silent in his chair awhile. Then: “I’d expect someone who considers absolute zero a balmy day to know something about cooling car engines.”
Ah, the expected zinger.
<<I’ll get on it.>>
“Hm. What do you suppose all that was about?”
<<What do you mean?>>
“That uncharacteristic, un-Uncas-like unburdening?”
I thought about it. <<Does he think we’re criminals?>>
“He might think I’m a criminal. He doesn’t know about you.”
True. I considered. I started to be distracted by thoughts of the Studie’s heat sink. So I asked, <<What do you think?>>
The Detective tapped his fingers on the desktop in some sort of rhythm he’d heard on the radio. He answered, “I think I need a gunsmith.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Works in Progress

I've been remiss in tending to the care and nurturing of InterroBang.

My previous post here was titled "Just Keep Moving."

I've not done that.

So the whirl and skirl of spring and summer have thwarted my desires to keep things moving here and with my various other writing projects. Or maybe I've been less thwarted and more just passive in my efforts to be diligent.

So, anon! and alors!

I've devised a little project to get things moving again.

I've counted up 14 works I have in progress. (Actually, a couple more than that, but they are still under wraps for other publishers, so I can't really reveal anything about them.)

James Joyce published snippets of Finnegan's Wake from when he began writing it in 1922 until 1939. He didn't say these excerpts were from FW; instead, the working title was Work in Progress. Apparently he lifted this idea from another writer, Ford Madox Ford.

I've no desire to keep twiddling with one piece of writing for 17 years. (I don't think I've got anything comparable to FW in me, anyway.) But I've decided on this little experiment:

Over the coming days, I'll start posting excerpts from these 14 pieces here at InterroBang. Having a public viewing of some of this prose will, I think, prove an incentive to get more diligent about working on some of these, getting them finished and into reader's hands and heads.

There's a little bit of everything on the way: adventure, science fiction, mystery, western, horror. Even a kid's story.

These are still drafts, and not completely polished, so you'll get to see some of the cracks in the plaster when you read these excerpts. But that's okay. Everything is a work in progress until it's finished and I write the words The End.

We'll start our little exploration tomorrow. I look forward to receiving your comments.