Post-apocalyptic Non-fiction?

As we lurch further and further into a future of danger, chaos and growing uncertainty, has the idea of post-apocalyptic fiction began to feel less and less fictional? And not just because of the continued threat of COVID, but also the panic and cultural upheaval that has accompanied it. 

It doesn’t help matters that talk of an upcoming vaccine, far from quelling the political storm, has simply nudged the storm in a different direction, spurring on the rhetoric of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and — surprise! — political opportunists

Allow me to move the topic to a selfish place: What does all this mean to fiction writers?

If Amazon’s book charts are any indication, the pandemic’s deadly spread has been a boon to writers of viral apocalypse novels. Apparently, people like reading deadly fictional tales that mirror the real-file horror of our daily lives. Does this make sense?

It’s not usually the case that people like fiction that close to home. I’ve known a few war veterans in my life and none seemed eager to immerse themselves in the fictional accounts of violent conflict. Nor do most abuse survivors relish tales of violence and torture. 

Maybe it’s different when the apocalypse is happening generally to the world, but not to you and your family or circle of friends. 

It seems to me that people like fiction that hits close to home — but not too close. 

What do you think?

Monday’s Writer Confession: I Don’t Like Research (Except When it Doesn’t Feel Like Research)

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I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction. And I prefer fiction. Why? Because non-fiction writing is so damned hemmed-in by reality. Simply put, you can’t just make stuff up.

Reality can have a similarly dampening effect on fiction. It can intrude on the storytelling process in a way that make your stories less compelling, less suspenseful and less entertainingly weird.

And so familiarizing yourself with reality is an unfortunate part of storytelling. For a crime fiction scribe that means spending valuable hours understanding things like how guns shoot, what happens when you get arrested and how long it takes for a corpse to rot.

And I don’t like it. Telling the story is my favorite part of the storytelling process. Research feels like homework. It’s tedious and a lot less fun than describing somebody getting shot in the abdomen.

But I’ve discovered a loophole, a way to get around spending hours reading about something you’re not interested in.

The secret: Write stories about things you are interested in. Take those hours you’ve spent knitting or skiing or reading Steven Pinker’s science or Doris Kerns-Goodwin’s history and turn them into stories.

And no, it’s not cheating. Everything you’ve read, everything you’ve consumed, every conversation you’ve eavesdropped on counts as research. As an armchair anthropologist, endlessly curious about how humanity works – and how it often doesn’t work, I’ve spent much of my life ‘researching’ things like shifts in social mores, moral philosophy, crime, the dark side of humanity and jazz.

Maybe that’s why I write noir-ish tales of shifty characters who privately seek redemption and not police procedurals loaded with details of forensics and investigations of DNA. The research is just more fun.

 

 

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on The Pimp Wagon Part Two

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But it wasn’t a real question anyway. It was banter. It was pre-gunfire tough talk from a guy who’d seen too many Hollywood movies where nobody just shoots anybody. They need a catch phrase first, or a joke, or a bible verse.

My eyes scrambled around, aching for a way out, anything.

On my left was Brodey, close to death and praying to get there soon.

On my right, the strippers. One somehow still asleep, the other high, and only slightly kicked off balance by what was unfolding.

“Navy boy, you better tell me something quick if you don’t want to wind up with some lead in yo’ ass.”

“What can I tell you D-Boss, we fucked up. I’m sorry.”

Not good enough. “Get yo’ ass down. On yo’ knees!”

I complied and prayed for no more tough talk. I wanted this over quickly.

And I didn’t expect that clack out of nowhere.

Neither did D-Boss. The smack to his head with Brodey’s shotgun came from Ruthie, sending D-Boss to the floor, his gun to the bed in front of the strippers.

One of them reached for it, but I spun, shot her before she could find the gat’s handle. I turned and shot D-Boss before he could club me from behind. Then I dragged a stunned Ruthie out of the room. It was time to move.

The boat shook with the kind of bustle you’d expect with this gunfire erupting. With the suitcases at our feet and the lifeboat yards away it all seemed so simple. So what happened next didn’t even begin to make sense.

With a trembling finger, she pointed to the lifeboat. “Uh-uh, I’m not gettin’ in that thing!”

“Ruthie, that was the plan! Come on!” The lifeboat was tiny, the sea huge and scary. But this was ridiculous.

There was no time to argue. I grabbed the suitcases, sprinted to the lifeboat. To hell with Ruthie. I almost made it to the rail before I heard a shot from behind — then I felt it.

It was a good shot for a beginner, damn near perfect. It sent my left arm spinning across the deck and knocked me face down, ass up, finished.

In the distance I could see a ship, not a friendly one. Bad news. They were Somali pirates closing in on the Pimp Wagon, probably already tallying up the booty.

With the air easing out of me and my brain fluttering off to nowhere, I turned with everything I had left and caught a glimpse of Ruthie’s mercenary glare as she gave the shotgun a defiant pump.

One final thought snapped into my head: Those Somali pirates don’t have a prayer.

THE END

Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: It Might Be Little But It’s Loud

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon

motor-yacht-634925_1920It wasn’t exactly a dream job. After seventeen years in the navy it was kind a step down to become the ‘first mate’ for a hip-hop superstar named D-Boss on a sixty-foot blinged-out mega yacht he called the Pimp Wagon. The gig paid well enough, but Goddamned if he didn’t stress me into a stroke with all his crazy demands:

Late night skeet shooting from sideways slanted pistols. A steering wheel centered by twenty-four inch backward spinning rims. Twelve-foot speakers mounted on the stern that sent the vessel rattling like a giant egg timer.

Then there was the night D-Boss wanted entertainment but the stripper got seasick and spent the evening bent over the starboard rail.

“Yo, Navy Boy!” he called. I slumped inside the rec room, packed with bodies decked out in glittering chains and day glow blue. The air too thick to count the eyes aimed my way, D-Boss somewhere in the back behind those mirrored sunglasses and Cuban cigar.

He wanted some ‘navy songs,’ whatever that meant.

“I’m sorry, Boss. I don’t sing.”

“What you mean, you don’t sing?”

I answered, a clenched jaw roping in my rage. “I mean, I am here to steer the yacht. I am the captain. I am not the entertainment.”

Then came the crumpled up dollars and jeers…

I chose Anchors Aweigh, all three verses, then slumped outside.

“My man talking about ‘I don’t about sing.’ You remind a motherfucker who’s in charge, and they sing,” D-Boss bellowed just loud enough for me to catch on my way out.

With this move he had pushed himself into a whole new category of annoying. He was now more that just a pain in the ass. He had become a guy who’d better watch his back, what with those suitcases of cash he lugged around, impressing the strippers and drug dealers and hustlers known to set sail aboard the Pimp Wagon. He’d become a guy who might lose a suitcase or two if he wasn’t careful. Or maybe even wind up with a bullet in his skull.

After a week or two of plotting, the plan seemed to make too much sense to shrug off as a hot-headed revenge fantasy. And the sidekicks I needed to pull it off were already in place – they just didn’t know it yet.

* * *

I knew it wouldn’t take much to nudge Brodey into my plans. A Townie from Natick, this pale, overworked ‘domestic assistant’ spent too much of the last four years cleaning up after weed-scented parties and drunken fistfights. Raised by parents who spent the seventies seething over what was happening to the neighborhood, Brodey’s blood simmered at just the temperature needed to serve as an accomplice. He was a hate crime waiting to happen.

“God damned bling monkeys,” he growled, slinking out of the bathroom with a mop. “Fuckers don’t even aim for the toilet anymore.”

I offered a smile that went unreturned, then tossed him a beer.

“Job can’t be that bad. You’ve stuck it out for four years,” I said.

“Four years of looking for something else and finding bupkis. I guess the missus just picked the wrong time to have twins.”

“Brodey, my friend I get the feeling your luck is about change. According to my crystal ball there’s a very good chance you’re going to stumble into big money this weekend.”

He lifted an eyebrow and leaned in. “Yeah?”

“You know what’s happening Saturday night, right?”

“Weed supplier making a visit,” he sighed. “That means strippers, messy sheets, loud fights.”

“It also means suitcases full of cash.”

His already guilty eyes darted across the hull.

“It’d be a shame if something happened to one or two of those suitcases. Wouldn’t it?” I offered.

His smile lifted away the angry red mask he was seemingly born with. He didn’t say it and I didn’t have to ask. But I now knew I had a teammate in this plan.

* * *

Things with Ruthie were a little more complicated. At least a decade too old for this shit, she cooked for D-Boss and played forgiving grandma to her demanding employer without once letting that winning smile slip away. Nothing wrong with the boy that a trip behind the woodshed with a switch couldn’t cure as far as she was concerned.

I always wondered what kind of rage bubbled under that matronly grin. But there were questions you didn’t ask Ruthie because there were answers you didn’t want to hear. There was an icicle dangling from that honey-sweet drawl that told me she didn’t spend her early years getting dressed up for debutant balls. And here she was in her sixties, serving D-Boss on bended knee like a medieval serving wench. We were sailing through the Mediterranean, just past The Greek Isles, but maybe she hadn’t traveled that far from Birmingham Alabama of the fifties after all.

“Rough day, Ruthie?” I greeted her as she hobbled to a seat on the port deck.

“Child, they all rough at my age. But you ain’t gon’ hear me sing the blues.”

I was at the wheel. Her gaze stayed locked on the horizon and the breathtaking landscape floating past us. It was stunning enough to make her forget where she was. Until the next meal’s demands would drag her back in.

“Tonight looks like it’ll be even rougher,” I announced.

“Yeah, we gonna get company this evening,” she said. She was humming some gospel song to herself now.

“Our boss better be careful with those suitcases,” I said, offering the bait. “It’d be a shame if something happened to one of them. Or maybe both of them.”

Nothing. Not a sound, not a nodded head, not a single unspoken desire bobbing to the surface. Just more humming.

After dinner, she found her seat again, fanning herself and humming the same song as if to tell me that nothing had changed.

But then a familiar baritone whipped through the Mediterranean air: “Yo, navy boy! We need some entertainment!”

An idea: “Ruthie, can you go see what he wants? Tell him I’m kind of busy at the wheel.”

Ruthie climbed to her shaky legs and shuffled into the rec room. She didn’t like this order, but she did as she was told – a reflex, I guess.

I could hear everything from the deck, not that I needed a play-by-play to guess the outcome. Every word yanked a cringe from me: D-Boss’s urging for some ‘church music,’ Ruthie’s polite refusal. Then her surrender. Then her song:

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.

She released this in a siren-like wail that soared miles above the humiliation of the moment, aimed at a world well beyond the adolescent antics. She was free from the nonsense, immune to the nakedness the mock applause sought to create. Or was she?

The smile was still there but only to those not really paying attention.

I was paying attention. I could see that she emerged from the rec room a different Ruthie. Not an angry one, exactly, not seething with a hunger for vengeance. Just exhausted, ready for a change no matter where it took her. She was determined, striding. Marching as to war.

* * *

The staff bathroom was cramped with three occupants: Brodey, Ruthie and me. We spoke quickly and quietly, awaiting the next order and plotting the first strike.

“Step one, we wait till everybody’s asleep,” I said. “We check the rec room, the guest suites, the bathrooms, the deck.”

Brodey nodded. Nothing from Ruthie, but in this case, nothing meant everything was cool.

“Step two…” I reached into my bag, grabbed a pump action shotgun, showed it to Brodey. Placed a .45 in Ruthie’s shaking hands, then pulled it from her uncertain grip. “We do this right, we don’t have to use these.”

Brodey released a disappointed sigh.

“Step three, you follow my lead. I’ll have the lifeboat ready for us seconds after we scoop up the cash. Then I’ll make an anonymous call to the coastal authorities, tell them we’ve been hit by Somali pirates. By the time they arrive, we’re gone, presumed to be dead.”

A hush fell over us. Then came my question: “Are we ready to do this?” One head nodded, the other did nothing. Brodey was born ready for this. So my question was really for Ruthie.

And her answer: A half-hearted nod, her gaze tumbling to the floor, her lips locked tight, determined to keep every clue concealed. For the moment that would just have to do.

* * *

As the sun crept over the rocky outline around us, I could feel it was time to strike. We’d been up all night, buzzed by the thought of our upcoming payday and unable to sleep anyway with all the shouting matches, vomiting and the bass pounding and pounding like The Gestapo on their way up the stairs.

After a nod to Ruthie and Brodey, I made the rounds.

Guest suite one: two sleeping bodies – a nude stripper stacked atop a fat rapper-wannabe from the Philippines named Quan Quan.

Guest suite two: four bodies, all sleeping, all naked.

Guest suite three: empty. Or maybe not. On second glance that stack of coats on the chair was really a matching set of twin strippers handcuffed together but somehow lost in slumber anyway under a blanket and sheet like this kind of thing happened all the goddamn time.

Deck: empty.

Bathrooms: empty.

Rec room: I found D-Boss with two suitcases, quickly confirmed to be full of hundred dollar bills. He had company – two strippers – but nobody was awake and nobody seemed in a hurry to wake up.

With a wave to my teammates, everything sprang into motion. Brodey grabbed the cash as I scurried across the hull to get the lifeboat.

Ruthie gave me the self-assured nod I was hoping for the night before, then drifted into place.

It was all too easy. Until I heard the gun shot. It came from the rec room – and not from Brodey’s shotgun.

I charged inside, pulled in by the loudest, angriest squeal ever made by a mammal.

It might have been a good idea to have my gun drawn. Because there was D-Boss, pistol raised and stylishly tilted.

“Wha’s up, navy boy!”

Nothing to do here but raise my hands and hope he gets a clean shot to my head. No slow, agonizing death for me, thank you.

“Can you think of a reason why I shouldn’t pop a cap in yo’ ass?”

Nothing came to mind. And damned if I wasn’t searching…

TO BE CONTINUED

 Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon Part Two.

 

Today’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Nothing to Kill or Die For

john-lennon-1091161_1280Nothing to Kill or Die For

By Copper Smith

It was the weirdest job I’d ever taken. No double-crossed thugs, no unpaid loan sharks, nary a cheating spouse to be seen. Just a creepy loner who needed a bullet to the skull before he could carry out a sick plan to make the world a lonelier place.

And damned if I’d ever had to do that much travel before. But they told me the payday would be worth my while so I sailed off strapped with a 9mm. and a head swimming with 80s nostalgia.

***

Fighting off a stiff December breeze I wove through the Manhattan streets, eager to find my mark and get the job over with – but good luck fending off the distractions of that gorgeously insane place. The sidewalks were a freak show, alive with coke-fueled madness and the promise of dangerous sex.

I spent my first ninety minutes spinning deeper into that breathtaking web, absorbing everything. The sights – even the subway graffiti was somehow beautiful.

The smells – real food, made by real first generation immigrants.

And the voices – Deborah Harry cooing, David Byrne hiccupping, Joey Ramone whimpering, Grandmaster Flash cutting, scratching, reinventing the beat.

How could I not lose track of time? Shit.

I raced from the subway, determined to get across town to The Dakota before it was too late.

It was too late. A cloaked figure – arms extended – closed in on his target rising from a limousine.

“Everybody get down!” I shouted, and both bodies dutifully dropped. I waited for the gunfire. But it never came. The autograph seeker turned, his face frozen. Unfamiliar to me. He wasn’t my mark.

I slipped into the shadows, chagrined.

Then I heard steps and the gun being loaded. But saw nothing.

“Get down!” I wheezed, no voice left after the false alarm. I still saw nothing, but tried again: “Somebody’s got a gun!” Smirks all around. Who’s the wiseguy? they had to wonder.

My head swiveled, swept the shadows, the alleys, behind the dumpster. Nothing.

Another click. A hammer yanked back. No more steps. A silhouette emerged, stepped into the moonlight.

“Mr. Chapman?” I asked.

He turned. This was my mark. Sharing that demented grin, glassy eyes shinning on. Like the moon and the stars and the sun. I could see the marquee beaming in his head. He was there already, finished, famous, complete. Nothing left to do but add the exclamation point.

But I had to fuck things up by being a quicker draw. “The dream is over, motherfucker,” I said. And I shattered his face into a mess his mother wouldn’t recognize. Twice.

I dove back into the shadows and scampered away, the scene now bathing in stunned silence.

It was time to get back to where I once belonged, back to spring of 2016, a world that could now watch Yoko grow old with her walrus.

Imagine that.

THE END

I originally had this published by the lovely badasses at Pulp Metal Magazine. Check them out and show love!

 Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon.

Monday’s Confession: I’ve been a bad, bad ghostwriter

couple-1299677_640You probably know what ghostwriting is. It’s writing for somebody who pretends to be a book’s real author. Examples you may have heard of include presidential candidates, movie stars, sports stars, reality TV stars and others more skilled at being famous than constructing readable prose.

But the ghostwriting world is bigger than you think. It also includes folks who actually can write, but cannot, by themselves, keep up with the demand for their books. Readers of genre fiction often want several novels a year from their favorite author or series protagonist. And as most writers have families and lives and stuff, they need help. That’s where ghostwriters come in. They get paid – sometimes a lot, mostly very little – to write books other people get the credit for.

In the ghostwriting realm, I’ve written crime fiction, adventure, non-fiction and I’ve written those personality quizzes that annoy you on Facebook as well as dialogues to assist English as second language learners. But given the title of this post, you probably didn’t click this to get the low-down on any of those. You want to know about my naughty fiction. Here goes:

I’ve written ‘steamy’ romantic tales. Not quite porn, but not something you read to your twelve-year-old at bedtime. These are romance novels, but with a broader, more open-minded understanding of ‘romance’ than the bodice-ripping yarns your grandmother pretended she didn’t read. Tortured moans and quivering thighs are not uncommon in that world.

For a guy raised on Prince records and reruns of the Benny Hill show, the steamy element didn’t trouble me much. More troubling was the idea that I didn’t qualify as a ‘real’ writer. Romance novels were, at least according the stereotypes, for lonely housewives and the semi-literate. James Baldwin didn’t go there. Nor did Fitzgerald or Faulkner or Nobokov (and no, Lolita was not a love story).

I suppose I’d feel a lot less remorseful if somebody here could confess to having read several books of the genre. Or just one.

Anybody? Please?

Reading: Do People Still Do That?

Anyone willing to admit to being an audiobook reader? (listener?). For whatever reason I tend to lean toward non-fiction with audiobooks, but I am not all insulted by the thought of having my words listened to as opposed to read. In fact, I embrace the format, literary purity be damned.

What about you, crime fiction hounds? Is the experience different, richer, more vivid when your nose is buried in a book? Or when the words are brought to life by a skilled actor?

There are those put off by the passive nature of audiobooks. It’s not really reading, they shriek. And it’s not. But it’s the way we’ve told stories throughout almost all of human history. Literacy is fairly recent development in our world — and rare until very recently. Of course, that does make reading wrong or bad. But it’s tempting to fear that reading will ultimately prove to be a passing fad.

Think about it: once our cars and computers and household appliances have the technological wherewithal to talk to us, reading could become obsolete, as unnecessary an act as handwashing clothes or tanning a hide. And we’ll be left with our talking ovens and blenders. And our talking history books telling us about an ancient race of people that actually had to communicate through goofy-looking symbols on screen or, weirder yet, on something called “paper.”

But then again, riding a horse is, strictly speaking, an unnecessary act in the age of the automobile. Just like playing a musical instrument in the world of digitalized music. But that doesn’t stop me from taking great joy in playing my ukulele.

For now, I’ll take both. But today you get audio only. Here’s Woman Seeking Men. I wrote it and did the male voices. But Dawn Brodey is the star. Enjoy:

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