The Ballad of Murder Joe: A Cautionary Tale

Full disclosure: nobody died, his name wasn’t Joe, and thankfully no one was singing. And yet this is a true story.

WestVirginiaAtNightWhile on a trip to my home state of West “By God” Virginia, my spouse and I were on our way between stops when we had to change lanes on Southbound I-79 just before midnight. We were in high spirits, having found a favorite restaurant open on our way and looking forward to some much deserved sleep, but being deer season, a buck had wandered onto the road and been struck. The lane change had been to avoid the fresh carcass, just behind another vehicle who had done the same.

Before we could switch out of the passing lane, the vehicle in front of us did so abruptly; a thick wooden or metal grating was in the lane and over it we went. The front tire cleared but my right rear tire snagged. A tire pressure warning on my dashboard appeared almost instantly, and Exit 5 was just ahead. I caught a glimpse of a gas station sign, so I took the exit. As I made the turn, I felt how badly the tire was pulling, so I stopped beneath the underpass to check it.

This was my first mistake.

You’re more visible on the interstate — even in a rural state like West Virginia. At midnight on a moonless night, it’s dark…like REALLY dark. Get off the road but don’t leave the road. The other problem was it was highly unlikely either of the aforementioned gas stations were open; this is a state where the capital rolls up its sidewalks at dusk. Moving on…

DarkSoulTireDownRealizing where I’d stopped, and took my high-lumen flashlight out and did a quick sweep of the underpass; we were alone. While I was born in WV, movies like Wrong Turn are far more realistic than The Blair Witch Project, so we weren’t looking for any encounters. I had a tire pump and a repair kit but not a spare, something my car manufacturer assured us was more than adequate.

This was my second mistake.

I have low-profile tires. They look good and grip the road really well, but what I didn’t know then is the grating had gashed my tire’s sidewall, something the repair kit wasn’t going to fix. The tire was a loss and we were stuck. A donut could have gotten us back on the road and to our next destination. Lessons learned.

And then Murder Joe appeared out of the darkness.
Continue reading

Innocence Incarnate Vs. Femme Fatales

Are nice guys actually doomed to loneliness forever, or are they just forever helpless in the power of the femme fatales they pine after?

Full disclosure: this is the kind of character dissection that happens too early in the morning, just after waking up, between two writers married to each other. It was inspired in part by “The Blacklist” in which (spoilers!) Aram breaks a promise because he felt betrayed by sweet, smart, deadly Navabi.

IMG_5513Aram is an NSA coder and cracker who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a successful nerd working in the intelligence community in too-close proximity of female operatives waaaaay out of his league. Part of the problem is Aram himself; he hides nothing and expects others (read: SPIES) to do the same. But Aram also puts women he admires and respects — and often fancies — upon a pedestal, equating beauty and strength with self-imposed standards of nobility and purity (of character).

Aram is a nice guy who is enchanted by femme fatales.

What Aram doesn’t understand is he isn’t the kind of guy that agents Navabi and Keen would see as a potential lover let alone a serious love interest. Never mind “don’t get your honey where you make your money,” but he isn’t alone in the world. Lots of guys like him exist, looking for perfect women to idolize and secretly (or publicly) dispising them when they discovere how unangelic real people are. It reeks of an overprotective single mom raising her boy to have only respect for proper ladies…but those aren’t the kinds Aram is attracted to.

The worst part — and this isn’t Aram’s fault — is that these idolic women ask him nicely for favors, and he’s only too happy to do as he’s been manipulated. They know who they’re preying upon (yes, that’s as bad as it sounds), but it’s obvious that Aram is a one-woman kind of guy who sees a potential mate in a preconceived image: honest and morally perfect. He can be manipulated because he sees himself as unworthy while hoping beyond hope he’ll be “chosen” — not out of pity but because the right woman will recognize his inner nobility and potential eternal devotion.

In other words, he’s a bad guy waiting to happen.

The good news is that many nice guys realize how gray the world can be before they go completely evil. Aram is socially isolated when it comes to the opposite sex, a guy who’d rather read technical manuals and surf the dark web rather than hone the wooing skills that would possibly net him the strong beauty he feels he deserves. At the same time, he doesn’t feel he should have to do this because a worthy woman wouldn’t want someone like that; “Why can’t they see (whomever) for the terrible person he is?” This sets up Aram for continuous heartbreak and disappointment because his dream angel doesn’t exist… but he’s also secretly jealous of the handsome rogues and white knights who seem to “get the girls” effortlessly.

We all admire the brutal honesty of Aram because we can relate; he’s innocence incarnate. We also hope he’ll find someone equally idealistic who hasn’t had her heart destroyed by falling for the wrong guy. But the real truth is we hope he’ll land somewhere between a friend-zoned doormat and a bitter resentful bastard that does unto others what was done unto him.

The guy with the big noble heart doesn’t have to also be the loser in love; he just needs to stop hating himself for who he doesn’t have… so he can be seen for someone worth having.

Hang in there, Aram; nice guys everywhere are pulling for you.

The Vampire’s Privilege

Why vampires?

As an author with vampire series, it’s a question I hear often.

The short answer is because people still like them…and so do I.

JanissPredatorModeSquareAvatarSmallTo my mind, it is perfectly understandable why people continue to identify with vampires. It isn’t about becoming a reanimated corpse or the need for blood; it’s the promise of eternal life after death and finding empowerment in a curse — turning a negative into a positive. Yes, there’s sex and blood and rock n’ roll, but the part that makes it so relatable — even desirable — is the empowerment.

To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I f**k like you wanna f**k, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” Like Tyler, the laws of men and death no longer apply to the vampire; the undead dictate their own rules and they follow their own code. Both cursed and blessed to watch the world die around them while they endure, vampires are elevated demigods who remember once being merely human.

The promise of being insulated from the ravages of time, to become a spectator rather than a mere participant in the human condition, is the vampire’s privilege.

Any questions?

LichheadTransparent

A Writer Writes… Except When They Don’t

An interesting article was pointed my way by J.H. Moncrieff entitled “Writers, We Need to Stop Saying This.” It makes a case for the once-defining advice that “a writer writes.” That’s true in context — you aren’t a writer if you’ve never written — but it can also be a source of frustration for the writer who HAS already written. The reason is obvious:

Writer’s block is a real thing.

Sometimes it’s pressure to perform or succeed, to break in or break out, or to duplicate a previous success. Sometimes it’s intruding external life events or a complete lack of inspiration. But when you’re told a writer writes and you’re not writing, those self-worth doubts begin to creep in — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

BookhouseAs any career writer will tell you, there is a degree of luck involved to being discovered and becoming popular or recommended, but a body of existing work is the best way to not only become successful but to be ready for it. But I offer a counterpoint for the writer who has already written:

A writer THINKS about writing even when they’re not.

When it’s time to write, I write. When it isn’t and I’m not writing, I think about writing…a lot. I take notes. I imagine scenes and let them play out over and over. I entertain myself with ideas. I wait until I’m so ready to write because I haven’t been writing that I can’t wait to write.

Then — and only then — I write.

It’s a form of self-encouragement, anticipating the impending work of the wordsmith. When inspiration is lacking and real life keeps you from escaping into imaginary worlds, screaming at a blank page isn’t therapeutic for everyone, and neither is beating yourself up about it.

One trick I use is writing to an ending — meaning I know my ending before I get there. This keeps me excited to reach that ending and drives my first draft, but I’ve learned that a weak story and a bad ending can also gum up the machinery, and sometimes you have to walk away. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I know when to stop because I know when I’m done. It also doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind over the ending. Good realistic characters can surprise you; let them, but also remember what makes a story work: a beginning, a middle, and an ending that fit together.

Stories need to make sense because, far too often, real life doesn’t.

There’s a fun little 1992 flick with Tom Selleck called Mr. Baseball about an American pro ball player traded to a Japanese team. The new coach recognizes that his player is disenchanted with the sport, seeing that Tom anticipates the worst possible results… and gets them. The coach takes him off the team to make the player hit golf balls with a bat at a driving range (while others are using actual clubs) and to hit other things. After a while, the angry and frustrated Tom finally screams, “I’m sick of this crap! I want to hit a baseball!” After making the player repeat those words until the lesson is learned, the coach replies, “NOW you’re ready.”

Are you ready?