A Tribute to a Black Cat

During the 1930’s, Chandler had a black Persian called Taki. He often spoke to her as if she were human. Sometimes he called her his secretary, because she frequently sat on the paper we was about to use or on copy that needed revising.

I first read this about Raymond Chandler in The Book of Lists 2 under the category 12 CAT LOVERS. The book was published in 1979. Along with it was this photo:

At the time, I was in high school, thinking I might want to be a writer, maybe a journalist, possibly in film-making. I didn’t read classic crime fiction like Chandler and Hammett, preferring mostly to watch the classic noir movies. But the thought struck me that crime novelists had black cats. I mean, what else would they have?

So, time goes along. I study screenwriting in college and didn’t do much with it. Wrote a lot of poetry, mostly tragic sobbing over a bad relationship. Got intellectual but still wasn’t writing anything worth a darn. It was in 2007 that I finally tried NaNoWriMo and the first thing I worked on was a hard-boiled noir crime drama. As dark and nasty as I could get. At the time, Mongo had been part of our household for three years along with Camille (a black and white bi-color) and Rupert (a tuxedo cat). Initially, they reminded me of Butch and Sundance and Etta, with Rupert being Butch (the thinker) and Mongo being Sundance (quick to shoot) and sweet Camille as Etta.

But then, as Mongo started to hang around in the office while I wrote, I was reminded of that Chandler photo and I realized I had Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy:

I was writing crime fiction and I finally had my black cat. Now all I needed was the photo:

This was the first take. I was lucky because the rest didn’t come out so well. Maybe Mongo didn’t realize what I was up to at first but he didn’t feel much like cooperating after that. I’m certainly not Raymond Chandler, but this crime writer has HIS photo with his black cat.

Mongo crossed over The Rainbow Bridge two days ago, worn out by his fight against cancer. He was truly a partner who showed me that all the best cat qualities can be found in the characters I put on paper. I will keep writing and keep reminding myself that a black cat possibly taught me more about human nature than over 35 years in customer service.

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And we’re on to the next one.

Before I left the OWFI Conference last year, someone told me that publishers were looking for series characters. I had completed my Prohibition-era crime novel, Ark City Confidential but hadn’t yet offered it to anyone. There I was on the two and a half hour ride home to Wichita thinking about a series.

Without anything more than time and some jazz and lounge music, I cobbled out in my head the “scenarios” for three stories to follow. Obviously the most important one is the next one. What I have found so far is that it is harder than writing the original. There was a sense of discovery as the characters unfolded before me, revealing themselves, with minor epiphanies along the way. I remember the “Aha!” moment at work when I figured out how it would end.

So, now it’s published. It’s out there as a real world created in my imagination. Whereas stories can change and morph during a first, second, or third draft, I am finding that it is important to keep a sense of wonder about my main character, Baron Witherspoon, the disfigured World War I vet who is a beat cop in Arkansas City, KS. I can’t act as though “Oh, I told his story in the first book and now everybody knows him.” The truth is there is still more to learn. There is always more to learn such as it is with couples, friends, or co-workers. No matter how well you think you know someone, you must expect more in terms of depth that you have not yet fathomed.

The story is emerging slowly and the secondary characters are demanding their fair share of time. As long as they are interesting, they will be more than welcome in this world. And, as with the first, there is more historical research to do to maintain the proper sense of time and place. It’s really quite funny that I had been looking for something to work on after this one was completed. Looks like I’ll be busy for a while.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Book Trailer

To be perfectly honest, book trailers are a lot of fun but don’t really resonate with audiences the way movie trailers do. After all, using a visual medium to entice folks to watch…a visual medium is a no-brainer. The book trailer simply presents images that give a potential reader the added interest after seeing the book cover and reading the blurb.

It is for that reason that I have created my own for all of m traditionally published books. It just doesn’t make sense to pay for something that doesn’t yield great dividends. For me, it’s simply about maintaining the digital skills that this new world of publishing requires.

I use my own existing photos or take photos so that I don’t worry about copyright infringement. I’ve also located Kevin MacLeod’s website, Incompetech.com. A Scottish musician and composer, MacLeod offers a wide range of music royalty free as long as it is credited. A donation via Paypal is graciously accepted.

For the book trailer to “Ark City Confidential”, I started by searching for the music. Ten options presented themselves before I settled on one based on mood and tone as well as length. Then I wrote a script. Like an old college class I took over thirty years ago on writing television commercials, it would be necessary to match the sections of the script with visuals.

This is where the problem arose. This novel was a Prohibition-era crime story. There were no photos I could take locally that would present themselves ideally and I didn’t have any photos. Or did I? When my father passed away in 2012, my wife and I returned home with boxes of photo albums which turned into a nightmarish scanning project. My dad, who was nearly 90, pretty much grew up in the time period.

Then there were a few photos from the past 40 years that could be changed to black-and-white or sepia for effect. In essence, I used my family as representations of criminals in a book trailer. My grandfather, father, uncle, cousin, and even myself, all converted into 1930’s gangsters.

I think they would have been proud.

“Ark City Confidential” is available from The Wild Rose Press and on Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Challenges of Historical Fiction

You currently know how to make a call and text and surf the internet on your smart phone; where to get a quick bite to eat; how to get cash expediently. You have myriad options for entertainment whether it is television through any source, the movies, or even a video arcade. Your grocery stores are Super stores which means you can buy whatever you need just about twenty-four hours a day.

If you are writing contemporary fiction, you already know what you need to know. However, if you try to write any kind of historical fiction, you may fall into some traps.

Now, by “historical fiction” I am basically referencing anything before this time, now. The Reagan administration from 1980-1988 could be considered as historical as the French Revolution or the Crusades. We truly have no idea how life was lived in those times, the basics of everyday life. The question arises: What do we need to know and what do we need to include in our stories?

I have always felt that the more detail you provide, the more of a trap you might fall into. There is the danger of becoming so enamored of your description that you take away from the story. You might also be providing the reader with the opportunity for the classic response “That’s not how it was!”

More importantly is the manner of writing given the fact you have a 20th century mindset. A couple of flappers from the 20’s are not “besties” and the court jester to the English king during the War of the Roses was not “ROFL”. While those may be obvious examples, there are the subtle nuances that make you who you are in today’s world that have to be eliminated when writing historical fiction.

While it was a challenge, “Ark City Confidential” takes place in a time period (1930’s Depression-era America) that had always been a source of fascination for me, even while growing up. The opportunity to learn more about the state that has been my home for over 20 years was a further reward. It is my hope that I have captured the era and the essence in service to an exciting crime story.

“Ark City Confidential” has its worldwide release one week from today, January 11, 2017. It will be available in paperback and on Kindle through The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

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“Ark City Confidential” – Countdown to release date

Two weeks.

When I think back to starting this book in 2014…Wait, no, how about all the years my wife’s uncle told me stories about the underground tunnels and “Little Chicago” and now I’m just two weeks away from the release of the book.

A former publisher has removed my previous titles making it appear as though I am a “debut author” which I am not. But it feels new. The good folks at The Wild Rose Press have treated me as a professional worthy of consideration and respect. It is my hope that sales will be sufficient enough to warrant publication of the next book in the series.

Jumping ahead of myself? Not really. It is incumbent upon an author to keep writing. All this marketing and networking is important for the business ventures backing you. But you HAVE TO KEEP WRITING.

For now, I will revel in these last two weeks before the curtain is officially drawn back and hope to scrounge up some readings and signings and get myself out there among the readers and many friends and family who support me.

Just another two weeks.

“Ark City Confidential” – Excerpt

“I never heard the shell that exploded some fifty yards behind me, never felt a part of my skull chipped away. I could only see a mass of barbed wire coming straight for my face as I fell and wondered if those tiny pieces of metal actually could completely pluck out my eye. A soldier who witnessed the event told me I was like a wild beast caught in a trap, twisting and gyrating so fervently I actually caused more pieces of my face to be ripped away from the bone. Strange thing was I was trying to get away. Maybe I was always trying to get away. Fortunately for him, George McAllister never knew the tortures of the damned. If he was lucky, he never would. I hoped it wouldn’t take something tragic for him to learn.

I remember when Charlie Noble got himself an Indian and had the honor of being Arkansas City’s first motorcycle cop. They offered me a chance to ride one but I declined. I preferred walking my beat, which is probably why my feet were always bothering me. I liked being around the people I was protecting and keep a watchful eye over them. It was important to look at them and see their faces, look into their eyes, look into their hearts. They thought they could see into mine but they were usually wrong. Most of them were respectful when they looked at me, trying to see beyond the scars and remember the boy that grew up in their midst. I was grateful for that. It made it easier for me because I didn’t always remember as well.”

Worldwide release date, January 11, 2017 at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Cover Reveal

My Prohibition-era crime novel Ark City Confidential, will have its world-wide release on January 11, 2017 through The Wild Rose Press. In the meantime, please enjoy the stunning cover.

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Ark City, KS, known as “Little Chicago”, has secrets buried as deep as its underground tunnels. But police officer Baron Witherspoon has secrets of his own.

You CAN judge a book by its cover

Walk into a bookstore and you will more than likely encounter a table or a display right in front. Either the New Releases or the Staff Picks. All those brand new books sitting upright, staring at you like hungry puppies waiting for you to take them home.

Sure, you’ll grab one that looks interesting, flip over to the back and read the synopsis, the blurbs, the author’s bio. You may even open up to Page One and start reading the notorious First Line. Then you’ll go back to where you started.

The cover.

It attracts us because we SEE it before we read it. There’s a world being presented in a snapshot. The world created by the author. It may be based on a real place or it might be a fantasy kingdom. That cover has got to let you know something about that world.

My new novel, Ark City Confidential, a Prohibition-era crime story, is being released by The Wild Rose Press on January 11, 2017. It tells of a disfigured World War I vet working as a beat cop in Arkansas City, KS and encountering a dangerous man who just might be a Chicago gangster hiding out in the town. It is filled with period details of a time long gone but not long forgotten.

So that you may experience the world I have created, I will be revealing the cover on Wednesday, November 16, 2016. Your comments and feedback will be graciously appreciated.

The Process, or My Process

I just completed the fourth draft of my historical crime fiction, two days in advance of attending the OWFI Writer’s Conference. The last-minute finish has turned my attention to the processes I used on this particular work.

First, the story idea came from extended conversations with my wife’s uncle who lives in Arkansas City, KS. He spoke about a town often referred to as “Little Chicago” and underground tunnels. These tidbits were too interesting to pass up. (It was similar to the discussions I had with my brother-in-law regarding the judicial and penal systems that gave rise to my second novel, The 9 mm Solution.)

This was to be a historical crime fiction which basically caused me to strip away all forms of technology as well as my understanding of how things work today. Language, transportation, police procedural — all these things are not the same as they were in 1934 in rural Kansas. So, after creating an outline of characters and basic plot, I found websites for gangster and jazz-age slang, photos of vehicles and guns, and images of Arkansas City, KS in that time period.

The next thing to do was write. It was like blazing through a jungle with a machete and clearing a path for myself that lead, hopefully, to the other side. There were times when the story got muddled down but I pressed on until, about three-quarters of the way through, an epiphany came that showed me the ending.

The second draft was a grammar and language clean up, making sure tense stayed consistent, removing any modernisms of speech that had sneaked in, removing redundant expressions, confirming logic in terms of time frame and directions. It was like cleaning up the mess from a project.

But then came the third draft. This was like being a mortician and making the corpse presentable for viewing. (Strange comparison, I know, but the first thing that popped into my head.) I’m not excessive when it comes to description. This is, after all, hard-boiled crime fiction. Analogy works better than description in this style. It as important to give the readers the sense of time and place and to enhance the emotional content. This was the part of taking the bones of a good story and smoothing out the flesh.

It was then I stopped. Briefly. Four beta readers later resulted in the fourth draft. Enhancement of two small aspects based on feedback. It was nothing that altered the story and required any major plot revisions. This was like adding an appetizer and a dessert to the overall meal. With those minor elements added, I completed a final read through, strengthening a sentence here and there. In the end, from first to last draft, I went from 58K words to 65K. Of course, since I will be attending a conference, I also created a pitch. I am not as confident of that as I am of the work itself.

I am not as comfortable discussing my particular process for two reasons. First, I largely intuit it as I go for each project. There are different degrees of evaluation required based on the nature of the work. Additionally, I find too many people discussing the process from a purely academic standpoint. The semantics and the actualities are often two different things. Nevertheless, Ark City Confidential is ready to go. Let’s see how far we can take it.

Year-End Reflections

This time last year, I was in a dull funk as far as writing was concerned. Earlier in the year, I had started work on a historical crime fiction. It was to be a challenge for me but one I deemed worthwhile. I had to deal with selling my late parents’ home long distance. The process started out rather simple then devolved into chaos and confusion coupled with unprofessional people who I needed to trust. By the time that was resolved, it was the madness of the holiday season.
But in May, I recharged, going down to Oklahoma for my fourth OWFI conference, hooking up with my friend, Nick Lyon, meeting the amazing Les Edgerton, and generally reminding myself that I was still a writer.
Well, I completed the first draft of that book and am on the second edit now. John Lennon said it best: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I’m just fortunate to have been able to get back to those plans.

Les Edgerton

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I moved to Wichita, KS twenty years ago from Boston, MA. Yet, I find this community as filled with artistic talent. I’ve met writers and poets, sculptors and artists, musicians — the gamut of what truly invigorates me. My wife and I had season tickets for several years to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, regular attended shows at Music Theater Wichita, saw Cirque du SoleilTHREE times, and attended some great concerts over the past year at the historic Orpheum Theater.
But something makes me feel I haven’t explored as much of the arts scene as I could have and definitely should have. John Donne indicated that no man is an island unto himself. No man or no one interested in developing their art. I know I need to get out there more and meet some more people in this community who are passionate about creating something special and are urged on by a compulsion that can not be defined.

Why is it so difficult to disagree any more? Notice how I didn’t ask why we can’t get along. Personally, I think that’s overrated. But we seem to have lost our ability to disagree, civilly and intellectually. There is a pervasive attitude of “If you’re not with me, you’re against me” as opposed to “I disagree, but let’s hear what you have to say.” You see it in politics and in every aspect of contemporary culture, especially Facebook.
I went on a rant recently regarding something rather innocuous. A lady (who was a Facebook friend because she was a friend of a friend) commented, as was her right to do so. When the commentary started to become personal, I took offense. If you know me and can “analyze” me, fine. If you don’t know me, it’s best to stay away from that line of response. And I said so.
A couple of weeks later, after the rant had fully passed from my mind, I recalled with childish humor the whole exchange. I looked up the lady. Sure enough she had unfriended me. I figured it was her loss because I feel I am interesting and a good conversationalist. The real point is that she could not accept my comment on her comment and left.
Disagreement is not dissension.

I find myself more intrigued by experimental fiction. Metafiction, transgressive fiction, fonts and colors, non-linear story-telling. I still maintain my passion for noir and hard-boiled. Yet, I use the alternative styles as a playful experiment and wind up discovering something new.
I am fortunate to be friends with Eckhard Gerdes on Facebook and I follow an Experimental Fiction group. These writers are light years ahead of me but my fascination is part of the learning process. At 53, I am content to know that I am not stuck in a groove and have miles to go before I sleep.

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