Hat Trick

“Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”

A quote from Tom Reagan, the depressed and self-loathing protagonist of Miller’s Crossing, my favourite movie.

After a recent screening for my birthday in July, I had to admit it was still my favourite, and not, as I often claim, Fight Club, a film with a completely different depressed and self-loathing protagonist.

A couple of years ago, when my life was still in the relatively early stages of becoming a nightmare hellscape I can’t wake up from, I attended a Writers Guild of Canada meeting—one of the rare ones to take place in Montreal. Normally, I prefer to skip these unproductive networking opportunities, but there was some pressing news Canadian screenwriters needed to be briefed on. It was so pressing, I’ve since forgotten what it was. But there was free food, drink tickets, and, more importantly, hats.

Sometimes I like to get something out of my annual membership dues.

Exactly enough WGC baseball caps had been printed to be doled out to all the attendees who had submitted an RRSP. Of course, some jagoff absconded with two. That left only a single remaining hat to be divvied up between the final pair of lingering hacks. Namely myself, and fellow hack friend, Sylvie. We had each agreed to show up for the meeting under the condition that the other one would be there as a social-anxiety wingman. It had worked out, right up until it was time for one of us to get screwed out the hat giveaway.

Sylvie bravely threw herself on that grenade and forfeited the hat. I took it home.

But the WGC hat did not become another piece of industry swag, sitting forgotten in a closet, waiting to one day be given away to some homeless shelter. No, I wore the hat. I wore it a lot.

It was grey and black with the Writers Guild of Canada logo on it. Those were my colours, and it reminded me of the days when I used to be a real screenwriter, before my career dried up, crumbled to ashes, and blew away. Mostly because I live in entirely the wrong province, and nobody wants to hire an Anglophone screenwriter from Quebec. Where’s the tax credit in that?

It had been many years since I’d worn a baseball cap—many years since I’d even owned one. Except, of course, for my promotional Predator hat I got back when that movie first premiered. But that was reserved for the head of my taxidermied childhood koala teddy bear (don’t ask).

After decades of wearing a specific style of cap, I took to this new one in a big way and grabbed it whenever I headed out the door. It wasn’t fitting winter apparel, but the rest of the year it kept me from getting sunburned straight through my male-pattern baldness.

I was wearing it the other night, even though the sun was down and it had been an unseasonable warm November day. Coming back from a long commute to Lachine, I was carrying a heavy IKEA bag stuffed with goods, including a winter coat that had belonged to my father. He died last month, so I guess that makes it my winter coat now. Something to replace the one with the broken zipper I’ve been wearing these past few years.

The load was punishing, and the walk after the commuter train doubly so. After carrying this burden for miles, I was sweaty and sore. Along the way, I got overheated enough to take off my guild hat and stick it in the overflowing bag.

I never noticed it fall out. Somewhere along the dusty construction site that is Grand Boulevard these days, it abandoned the bag I had slung over an aching shoulder. Had I made it home, unloaded, and found the hat missing, I probably would have gone out after it again. Tired, exhausted, maybe I’d find it lying the street, maybe not.

But I didn’t have to do that.

“Monsieur!” I heard from an SUV that had stopped in the middle of the intersection and honked at me.

I turned to see what this asshole wanted. Turns out he wanted to tell me that I’d just dropped my hat.

“Thank you,” was I all I was able to say to him before he drove off following his good deed.

I picked up my hat, soaked with sweat and now soiled with roadwork filth, and made a note to give it a good wash when I got back home. Throughout those last miserable blocks I kept wishing I could have thanked that driver more profusely. He’ll never know to what degree he made things suck less.

2020 has been the worst year of my life, except for 2019, which was the other worst year of my life, and 2018, which was the other other worst year of my life. It’s been a brutal stretch of loss after loss.

But I didn’t lose my hat, because one completely random stranger made things suck less. Thank you.

Hammerklavier

X-number of millions of words later, it was time to retire my old faithful Dell keyboard.

Ten years is the longest time I’ve gone between major computer upgrades. Back in 2010, my old computer was a revelation. It flew on Windows 7, and offered me more computing power than I ever could have imagined possible back when I got my first real (as in non-Commodore 64) computer. That original one was an IBM compatible 286, and it was magic, with an internal hard drive sporting a massive storage capacity of 40 megs. I could barely comprehend how powerful it was. Now it seems like an abacus, but I hope it’s doing well in whatever landfill it currently occupies.

My more recent computer remains next to my desk, and is likely to remain there for quite some time as I continue to refer back to it. It’s still a workhorse by modern standards, but computers get finicky and clunky in their old age, and ten years is a long time in computing.

So long, in fact, that the lone part I hadn’t planned on upgrading turned out to be pretty badly obsolete.

The relationship between a writer and his keyboard is intense. I’d actually carried my old Dell keyboard forward from two computers ago. I hadn’t liked the free-with-every-purchase keyboard that got tossed in with the previous rig, so I just kept using the earlier freebie. It was cheap, but I liked the feel of it. The keys didn’t click, but they weren’t soft either.

I wrote many books, short stories, screenplays, teleplays, and graphic novels on that thing. Many millions of words, probably billions of keystrokes.

But now, even with an adapter to plug it into a USB port, the brand-new computer would reject it after a few minutes of use. Before long, I’d be forced to resume typing on a wireless I picked up as a stopgap at Bureau en Gros. It was okay, but I wasn’t wild about it. Some of the key placements were odd, some extended characters were mislabelled, and it only revealed itself to be a French keyboard once it was out of the box.

It was finally time to shop for a real keyboard. Something higher end, more befitting of a career writer who’s been at it for over thirty years.

Enter the AZiO MK-Retro.

But I thought you don’t like clicky keyboards, you might be saying right about now.

The AZiO isn’t clicky. It’s clacky. And therein lies a world of difference.

I grew up hammering away on keyboards. It started with too many years of piano lessons I hated, and shifted to typewriters I liked much better. I learned to type and write on mechanical typewriters. Usually old Underwoods and Coronas fished out the trash in the 1970s, or bought for a few bucks at garage sales. I wish I still had them, because they’re expensive antiques now. At the time, though, they were considered disposable junk that could safely be tossed to a child to bang away on while he played a game of pretend-author.

Real effort had to be expended to make each keystroke successfully strike the page. And those dinosaurs clacked hard. They clacked with each letter, clunked with every platen advance, dinged near the end of the right-hand margin, and ka-chunked with the carriage returns that recoiled like an artillery gun lobbing an explosive shell a mile across the Western Front.

Eventually I moved on to electric typewriters, and finally computer keyboards, but I never lost my nostalgia for those little round keys that went CLACK CLACK CLACK.

The AZiO is one of several keyboards on the market that scratches that itch. It even clacks loud enough to be heard right through my noise-cancelling headphones. This, believe it or not, is a desirable feature.

So far I’ve written about 100K words on it. It seems to be a well-built piece of equipment. We’ll see if it’s durable enough to survive the same number of millions of words the old Dell disposable managed. Or if the constant friction will eventually cause it to burst into flames when I’m at my most inspired.

Dot Dot Dot Ellipsis

Yesterday’s blog post pushed for more Amazon reviews of Longshot Comics (particularly Book Two and Book Three) after a single naysayer sank the ratings for the otherwise unreviewed sequel volumes deep into the negative.

Many fans own past printings of Longshot Comics. Maybe the original minicomic, maybe the Slave Labor Graphics editions, or maybe even one or more of the foreign-language translations. But if you don’t have the new Amazon reformats that came out in 2018, let me make it easy for you.

This weekend only, I’m making the ebook versions of all three books (all 11,520 panels worth) free for download from Amazon outlets. Reread the first two volumes if you haven’t cracked them open in years, try the finale of the trilogy if you haven’t checked it out yet.

And then please leave an honest review. A few words, a full paragraph, or simply a star rating. Shit on the books if you must, but I worked hard on The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers on and off for twenty years, and I won’t have it sitting on the biggest publishing platform in the world at a one-star rating. Especially not on the say-so of one anonymous disgruntled reader who only made the effort to make a single condemning click.

I know most comic-book collectors prefer to have physical copies of their floppies and graphic novels, but digital comics have made strides in recent years. Although I prefer readers buy the paperbacks I spent so much time designing, it costs me nothing to give away ebook copies to any interested parties for a limited time—ebooks I also spent so much time designing.

Hopefully this will fix my lopsided review problem, and the disconnect that occurs when some of the top comic-book talent in the world heap praise on a book that is then seen to languish at a dismal review rating because somebody just didn’t get it.

Don’t let this one-man brigading stand. And enjoy your free books.

Lone Star Posse

I like one-star reviews.

Whenever I’m thinking of buying a book, I always read the one-star reviews first. Praise is fine, but you can really discern the merit of a book by who hates it most. When the reviews expose the haters as unintelligible, barely literate morons, I’ll usually buy the book. After all, if dummies hate it, it’s probably a smart, challenging, interesting piece of work.

I like one-star reviews on my own books as well. Not too many, you understand, but some. Books with all five-star reviews look like they’ve been love-bombed by friends, family, and, all too often, paid shills. But some less-than-stellar, or even all-out-venomous reviews help tip the average down just enough to make the overall reaction to a book seem reasonable and balanced.

Plus, I especially love it when the one-star review helps market the book. Cries of “very disturbing” as one GoodReads user recently said of Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals may warn off those of delicate sensibilities, while drawing in others as a selling point.

I don’t like one-star reviews when they’re dropped on a book that has no other reviews to act as a counterbalance. That’s what just happened with my Longshot Comics series of (dare I say legendary) graphic novels. Someone clearly didn’t care for the gimmick of the books, probably didn’t bother to read them once they saw they were not standard comic-book fare with the sort of artwork one would normally expect, and one-starred the whole trilogy. No reviews, just single stars.

That doesn’t do much damage to the first book. The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers has been advocated by many fans for nearly thirty years now. People reading the new Amazon editions have been leaving their reviews on Book One, so that ratio is reasonable. Unfortunately, The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers and the all-new The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers have not been branded by their own star ratings. Not until now.

One displeased reader, with no comment, has condemned these two books to ratio hell. This person was only the second one to rate Book Two, and the sole person to date to have rated Book Three. It’s probably my own fault for not badgering my readers to leave reviews, but I don’t like to do that, and I want to avoid any perception from Amazon that I’m fishing for compliments. They don’t like authors to do that. There can be terrible consequences.

I can, however, encourage honest reviews from readers. Reviews help raise the profile of Amazon books, and they apparently tickle the fancy of the mysterious algorithm god that decides what gets suggested to shoppers.

If you’ve read my books, and have any sort of opinion, please go to Amazon and express it. Reviews are nice, but even the small effort of clicking on a star rating will help enormously. I hope to see the Longshot Comics feedback repaired to something a little less biased against epic minimalism in future. You can make all the difference.

The Adventure of the Coffee Table Book

I’ve been writing Sherlock Holmes stories for five years now, ever since I was first invited to contribute to the original MX collection that was being put together for a charity restoration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house, Undershaw. Work on the building has been complete for several years now, but the series continue to benefit the Stepping Stones School that now occupies the property.

Last year I was approached about reprint rights for an offshoot of the ongoing project. I suggested a couple of previously printed stories that might be a good fit for The Art of Sherlock Holmes, figuring one of them would likely provide some good imagery for a painter to work with.

The Adventure of the Melting Man subsequently appeared in The Art of Sherlock Holmes: Global Edition earlier this year, with an original illustration by Dan Arcus. I thought that would be it, but now there’s a Global Edition II with the other story I suggested, The Song of the Mudlark. It features a painting by Abdelaziz Haounati.

This brings things full circle, because The Song of the Mudlark was the very first in my growing body of Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  But I’m not stopping there. I’m now up to seven stories in print, with two more pending. That’s close to having enough material for a collection of similar size and scope to one of Conan Doyle’s volumes of short stories.

Halfway through 2020, I’m getting anxious. Aside from the two Sherlock books, I haven’t published anything new—at least not under the Eyestrain Productions imprint. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been churning material. In June I broke a personal productivity record, and there are plenty of new novels and anthologies in the works. It’s just a matter of which one will be finished first.

I’d tell you more, but it would kill the surprise. Not to mention, sap creativity. Pro tip: never discuss the details of what you’re working on. Put it on the page instead.

All the paintings appearing in The Art of Sherlock Holmes are available as prints from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Family Estate.

House Arrest

[Just so I don’t bury the lead: skip the prattle and go right to the end for your free book!]

A million years ago (it feels like a million years ago, but it may have only been November) I launched my newest anthology of noir stories. Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals was a spiritual follow-up to my previous collection, Raw and Other Stories. Many of the tales featured direct and indirect connections to the ever expanding universe in my oeuvre of fiction, with appearances of characters like Tracy Poole from Necropolis, and underworld fixer, Derek Dunlan.

Raw had been a surprising success, boasted by the titular story getting shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award nomination shortly before release. Assurances that anthologies tend not to sell well were undermined by steady movement on the Raw front that continues to this day. As well as it did on Amazon, I found it was getting even more rave reviews and reads on a pirate site.

I should probably be cross about that, but I suspect a lot of the paperback sales on Amazon were from those same pirates who liked my book well enough to want a physical copy. So…uh…good advertising, I guess.

I planned a much more aggressive launch for Petty Crimes, with snippets of stories getting featured on various social media outlets, along with art and cover reveals, and nearly half the book’s content dripped out to my Patreon page for one-dollar backers. This was not a fire-and-forget ad campaign. This was a daily push.

The response? Tumbleweeds. I think I maybe heard a few crickets chirping, but it might have only been my tinnitus acting up.

Even as I pushed forward on the next novels in my schedule, I considered how I could pick up the pieces with Petty Crimes and get it to readers via standard promotions and keyword advertising. And then the whole world shut down. You may have heard about it. I think it made the news.

Atrophy set in. Nobody was getting much done, myself included. But even hermit writers get bored in quarantine, and it’s time to start ramping back up.

Readers who follow my newletter, blog, or Patreon should be the first to know that the ebook edition of Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals is free this week—for the first time since launch. The free promotion will be announced on Freebooksy shortly, but you can beat the ecrowds and grab your copy right now.

The book is currently sitting at zero reviews, which I never like to see. If you give it a look, please don’t hesitate to express an opinion on Amazon (or elsewhere). Or you can just give it a simple star rating. Every bit helps. Who knows? If we can raise the profile a little, it might get stolen by a pirate site and then it will really take off!

Fingers crossed.

Bathroom Book Launch

I finally got to approve the paperback for Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals after my extended runaround thanks to Canada Post. This was a while ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to announcing it until I shot this short video yesterday.

So join me, Finnegan the cat, and Mike Ehrmantraut, as I sit on my toilet, pants up, and discuss the proof copy and contents of my new collection of short stories. Patreon backers at the $25-plus range will be receiving their signed copies in the near future. Join their ranks before the end of the month and you’ll get one in the mail as well.

The Art of Sherlock Holmes

I crawled across the 2019 finish line last week.

After another rough year, exhaustion set in at the end of December and I went into post-Christmas crash mode. Reluctantly I had to back out of a couple projects, but I still managed to publish two new books in 2019 (Epitaph and Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals, both now available in paperback and ebook through Amazon), cut a deal for another German edition of Longshot Comics, and contribute to two more volumes of The MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.

Energy returning at last, I’m at work on a number of 2020 projects. It looks like the very first thing out, however, will be something I barely had to lift a finger for. I only had to agree to it. One of my past Sherlock Holmes stories will be appearing in the next volume of The Art of Sherlock Holmes. This one is a global edition, featuring work from around the world. Each story will have an original piece of artwork to go with it. I haven’t seen the one that will be attached to mine, but I’m looking forward to it with a certain nervous anticipation.

I haven’t had to wait to see the artwork that would illustrate one of my stories since early in my comic-book career. I guess all those cartoons I wrote count too, but for the most part I knew what the art style was going to look like well in advance of production. This will be a complete surprise. Hopefully a pleasant one.

There’s currently a Kickstarter campaign that can be backed by those who want to get their copies of the book early. A few examples of the art pieces are posted there (none of them mine), and should give you an idea of what to expect from the book. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy and adding it to my ever-expanding bookcase of published work that serves as a backdrop to my desk.

If you want to back the book and reserve your copy, I’ll encourage you to do so quickly. As of this writing, there are only four days left in the campaign. Yes, I could have and should have told you a lot earlier. But as mentioned, I was pooped.

Table of Discontent

Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals is out. A proof copy of the paperback is on the way, and hopefully will be approved in short order, but the ebook has been officially published on Amazon.

This is my new collection of short stories, all of them crime, brimming with sex and violence. Twenty tales of hardboiled noir is only a click or two away for readers who want to be amused by the dark and frequently funny side of lawbreaking shenanigans.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to further illuminate the contents of this new book (in case you’re not quite sold on it, and need to be pitched specifics).

Ashes to Ashes – The history of this story is long and complex. Beginning as a spec screenplay written over a furious long weekend of inspiration, it nearly got made as an episode of the Ridley and Tony Scott produced erotic horror show, The Hunger. When that ultimately didn’t happen, it was shot in San Francisco as a half-hour film financed by the Canada Council for the Arts. Years later, I adapted it as a short story that went on to be published in the anthology The Binge-Watching Cure in 2018. Now that all rights have reverted back to me, this story—roughly twenty years old at this point—opens my latest collection with a black-comedy sexually perverse bang.

Saltwater Shark – A love-letter obituary to everybody’s favourite loan shark. This is an original piece appearing for the first time anywhere.

Dealers – Previously available to mail-listers only (Join my mail list! The link is in the sidebar on the right) this is a little side story that connects to the events of my novel, Necropolis, and illuminates the origin of the hitman who plays into the narrative of that book.

Special – I have a great deal of affection for this story, inspired, in part, by some of my own comic-book convention appearances. Written in 2012, it proved difficult to place, and very nearly landed in one or two superhero anthologies because it’s sort of a superhero story. Except it isn’t. Read the book and find out what I mean.

Wetwork Warrior – A very recent inclusion that I wrote as a response to a current film I really disliked. This is a better version of how government assassins retire.

Three Point Seven – Another story meant as a response. Not necessarily to an individual film, but to a whole sub-genre. This is my take on getaway drivers and how they might handle the prospect of a high-speed chase with police.

Lines on a Map – Anyone who read Raw and Other Stories or Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded (Both Barrels Book 3) will remember my story, “Young Turks and Old Wives” featuring legendary supercriminal, Derek Dunlan. This marks his second official appearance in my crime-and-horror canon, and is one of my personal favourites in the collection. He will definitely be appearing again in future stories.

Chick Magnet – I’ve frankly been shocked by the positive reaction to this story. I thought many people might find this horrifically offensive. Now that it’s offered up to a global audience, I’m sure someone’s bound to get upset. Mind you, if they’re that easily upset, they shouldn’t be reading this book at all.

Crocodile Tears – This is a must-read for fans of Necropolis and Epitaph. Originally published in Betty Fedora Issue Four, Tracy Poole returns in her own mini mystery. This story is shaping up to be the basis of a whole other original Tracy Poole project down the road. Have I mentioned that The Necromancer Thanatography series is going to have branching novels? No, I haven’t. But you heard it here first. I’m building a universe!

The View from Inside the Pocket – This is a piece that appeared on the Shotgun Honey website years ago. It’s the shortest story in the book, but also my most well-received bit of flash fiction. So much so, I was asked to adapt it as a short-film screenplay. We’ll see what becomes of it.

Shell Game Eight – I go grocery shopping when I’m bored and need to get out, dropping in randomly to look for sales. When I observed that the express lane is actually the slowest lane in most supermarkets, the germ of an idea for this funny and extremely violent story was born.

The Laundry List – One of my proof readers read this story with a baby in her arms. Both mother and child were traumatized for life. Oops.

A Foot in the Door – I don’t want to get into spoiler material, but suffice to say I became fascinated by what happens to people who jump out of tall buildings and went looking at a bunch of pictures I can’t unsee. You know all those Hollywood movies that show people hitting the pavement after a long drop? They go splat. Kinda. The real thing is so much worse.

Ghoul: A Romance – This is the story I worry about the most. It’s fucked up in the sort of way that demands psychiatric observation and medication. It’s ugly and disturbed and sexual in very wrong ways. And that’s probably why it’s my favourite. You might want to cross the street to avoid me after reading this one. And if it makes you want to get closer…well…maybe I’ll want to cross the street to avoid you.

Drill – Heads up: this story may feature an unnamed character who will appear in a future novel I’m working on. A novel which may well prove to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. Or it will be completely ignored and die in obscurity, I can’t really predict how these things will pan out.

Dig Two Graves – Equal measures grim and cute. After some of the hair-raisingly horrific stories that preceded it, this tale that threatens live-burial will seem light and frothy by comparison.

Pinch Hitter – This hitman story feels like it’s on the verge of being blown out into a feature film. I’m almost tempted to write up the screenplay, except I’ve been to that rodeo so many times, maybe it’s best to just leave this one pure, simple, and unmolested. I like it too much to defile it. Not without a development deal, at least.

Platinum – This one has been gestating for a long time. I might have shopped it around, but these days I’d rather just fill out my own anthology and stuff even potential sales into a collection. It beats sitting around for an extra year, waiting for rights to revert.

Mercy – A handful of my stories enter a certain Edgar Allan Poe territory. This is a short palate cleanser before we wrap up with the last and longest offering of the collection.

Keeping the Piece – This is purely autobiographical. Okay, not really. But some of it is. Let’s just say it’s based on real events. I’m not a big fan of stories about writers. You do too many of those and you’re no better than Stephen King. And what has he ever done except become incredibly rich and famous and successful? A bit like “Underwriter” in Raw and Other Stories, my past history as a screenwriter serves as inspiration. And this particularly story may well be my letter of resignation. Not that I’m likely to turn down paying work if it comes knocking again, but it’s been a good long stretch since my last television-writing gig, and I’m not really missing it. The money, sure, but not the bullshit. It’s why I’ve thrown myself so hard into prose and publishing.

Because I’d rather spend the rest of my life doing this instead of butchering my best work at the whim of producers and broadcasters.

I can dream, can’t I? I’m a writer, after all. I do it professionally.

Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals is available on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Paperback to follow shortly.

The Sounds of Terror

We’ve been doing nearly a month of fright-themed radio shows on Cinema Smackdown for Halloween. Check out these recent episodes for topical topics, including horror themes of past movie nights, quality horror movies from the 1980s that not enough people are nostalgic for, and the cautionary tale of what’s become of Roger Avary’s career.

Okay, that last one isn’t really Halloween Horror, but it’s still pretty scary.

Meanwhile, on the novel front, some of my creepy books like Necropolis, Filmography, and Hot Pennies are all free on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. This is for Halloween only, so you have until 3:00 am to grab them.