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Writing

For me, writing is kind of like digging for dinosaur bones inside my brain. I know the stories are in there, and sometimes I’ll spend days or weeks digging holes in the dirt and finding nothing. Or, more often, finding garbage that I think might be something but isn’t. Sometimes I’ll dig around a big something that might be a dinosaur, and I’ll keep chipping away at the edges and maybe it’s something and maybe it’s nothing.

Sometimes I know exactly where the dinosaur is, and I know roughly what kind of dinosaur it is and what it’s supposed to look like, but it’s in an awkward place, and requires months (or even years) of careful, delicate digging to get it out. Even then, I have to clean it off and put it together and stand it up and try and make sense of it. Then, hopefully, I end up with a nice, solid dinosaur skeleton, looking fierce. Or I end up with a big pile of mismatched bones that I don’t know what to do with.

Or, there’s times like right now, where I stick my shovel in the dirt and right away a big, grinning T-Rex skull is looking up at me like “Hey dude, let’s do this shit” and I barely have to do anything at all. I just keep sweeping away dirt and this almost perfectly formed, totally bad ass dinosaur is just sitting under the surface, waiting for me to find him. He was there the whole time, and I’d dug little holes all around him and never knew he was there.

I’m still digging and I’m not even entirely sure what this thing looks like or how much of it is intact, but it’s definitely big and it’s definitely cool. I’m excited.

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Jack 4.2 Excerpt

I’m still in first draft mode, but it’s going awesome and I wanted to share a bit of it. We’re in 1944, roughly five years after Jack 4.1. and three years before Bette 4.0

“What do you want, Caroline?” Jack asked, still attempting to watch the movie. He’d seen it half a dozen times already, and knew every shot and every set up, but he enjoyed it more with each viewing.

“Who is Bernie Zuckerman?” she asked, still watching the screen and taking long drags from her Chesterfield. Jack froze. He knew this would happen eventually but he’d hoped it wouldn’t be so soon. He still had work to do. He was just getting started.

“Who?” Jack responded, knowing full well that he was caught and that she already knew the answer, but he had to try.

“Every couple of weeks two or three checks are deposited into your bank account. They’re from a company called Peppermint Bay Productions and are signed by Bernie Zuckerman. I’ve looked into Peppermint Bay Productions and I can’t quite figure out what exactly it is they do. Care to elaborate?”

She was looking at him now, the light from the screen dancing across her eyes.

“Would you two please shut the hell up?” a voice hissed at them. Jack and Caroline both looked at who’d spoken. It was the man from two rows up, turned around in his seat and glaring at them. Caroline looked back at Jack, a wildness in her eyes that excited him. She crushed her cigarette out in the armrest ashtray.

“One moment please,” Caroline said to Jack, as she stood and walked along the row of seats, down to the row where the couple were sitting, and then directly up to them. He watched as she bent forward and whispered, first in the man’s ear, and then the woman’s. Jack desperately wanted to know what she was saying. She stood up straight again.

“Do we understand each other?” Caroline asked, her hands on her hips, standing in front of the couple. They both nodded emphatically. She walked back around and reclaimed her seat next to Jack.

“What did you — ”

“Shhh.” Caroline interrupted him. After almost a minute of awkward silence, the couple gathered their coats and hats and shuffled out of the theater. Caroline shook her head and lit another Chesterfield. That woman smoked more than anyone he’d ever met.

“There was a time not that long ago, right here in California, when I could have hung that cocksucker from the rafters by his guts and danced under his raining blood while his little girlfriend cried in the corner,” she shrugged. “C’est la vie.”

Jack laughed.

“Parlez-vous français?” he asked.

“No. Who the fuck is Bernie Zuckerman?”

 

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Stuff I researched While Writing

I actually have three or four writing projects going at once, but for the sake of this post, I’m focusing on my next story What Danny Did.

Industrial Sized Garbage Bags – 40 gallons. Probably not for what you’re thinking.

Sheeple – Just that it means what I thought it meant. It does.

The Birdcage Theater – Dollar theater in Sacramento that we used to go to back in the day. The theater in my story is in Southern California, but I wanted to keep the name. Mostly I just remember seeing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas there, though I know I saw a ton of movies at that theater. I couldn’t remember for sure what it was called so I asked my mom. It was torn down ten years or so ago. Last I remember, there’s a Barns and Nobel there now. I wonder how long that will last. Apparently The Bird Cage was also the name of a showcase theater in Tombstone back in the 1800s. As well as that Robin Williams movie.

Movies that came out in 1997 – Yep. Found some.

Jack Ketchum books – Needed a horror paperback for this kid to be reading, and I wanted it to be something particularly dark and nihilistic, so I went with Jack Ketchum.

Okay, I lied earlier, I’m going to start researching for Jack 4.2 now. 

What kind of camera Weegee used – 4×5 Speed Graphic camera, standard press camera. Apparently he didn’t even adjust the settings and knew very little about how photography actually worked. He just fell into being a genius photographer.
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What kind of film a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera used – still haven’t really figure that one out yet. Think I’m going to just whistle past the whole process tbh.

Leather Jackets – Mostly used by aviators and soldiers in WWII and WWII. Really came into fashion in the 50s. 

Stockholm Syndrome – 1970s. I knew that actually. I thought maybe there was some other name for it beforehand. 

The price of cameras in the 1940s – $25 could get you a halfway decent Kodak camera

Developing film for consumers in the 1940s – Take it to the drug store and drop it off!

Fuck that Speed Graphic camera Weegee used. That thing seems like a pain in the ass. What camera did Kubrick use for his photojournalism career? – a few, but I’m going with the Rolleflex Automatic.
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(That’s not the Rolleflex Automatic, but it’s a cool picture of Kubrick from his photojournalism days) 

What’s that magnifier thing that photographers look through when they’re looking at little thumbnails on a proof sheet? – dome loupe. Cool
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Movies about Jack the Ripper from the ‘40s – The Lodger works

Wait. No. Pandora’s Box, from 1929

Hair Spray – 1948. Nope

Dracula – Book was released in 1897, the movie in 1931

When people started using the word “movie” to describe a film - 1910s

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Writing

Took a break from What Danny Did to try and see what I could do with a new Jack story and the pages have been flying out. It’s actually surprising me a little because I wasn’t even completely sure what I was going to do with Jack next, but I certainly know now.

It’s weird how these things kind of sort themselves out. I was really floundering on what I should be working on. I was writing on What Danny Did but wasn’t sure what exactly I was doing with it, then I was considering going back to the next Charlie story or even starting a new, non-Bloodletting story. I knew I wanted to work on Jack soon, but I didn’t even know where to start. So I opened up the document, and started with the same image the other two Jack stories started with, a woman hanging from the ceiling, and then it was off to the races.

I also made a cover for the story, once I figured out what it was actually about. It’s a pretty different style from the other covers, but I like it. It’s perhaps a little too busy for an ebook cover, but I think it gets the job done and is striking and interesting. I’m sure I’ll mess with it and change things here and there before I’m done.

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Delta Washington vs The Zombies

I’ve been bummed about a thing for the last couple of years. I had a story that I’ve been developing for a long time. I wrote maybe 75% of the screenplay, and it’s called Delta Washington vs The Zombies. The very first seed of the story was “What if there was a zombie apocalypse in a Pam Grier movie” because I thought that that would be a really fun movie to watch. It would take place in the 70s and have a lot of the old Blaxploitation tropes. It was going to be horror/comedy hybrid. But then Black Dynamite came along and did the Blaxploitation tribute far better than I ever could have hoped to, or had the right to. I realized, ultimately, that as a white guy I had no business trying to insinuate myself into that arena.

So instead, I changed directions and wrote (most of) the screenplay as a straight forward zombie horror movie, with heavy comic book influences. There was a “villain” who was very much a comic book villain, and I kept the lead character, Delta Washington, as the kind of character that Pam Grier might have played in a more straight forward, Hollywood movie. Smart, attractive, flawed, politically aware and with an arch that forced her to step up and be a badass, as most zombie movie heroes do. I like that story. I like my approach to the genre in that story, and I really, really loved that character. Delta Washington was a fucking great character.

Then The Walking Dead came along, and Michonne shows up and is a super badass black woman totally dominating all zombies. She had a signature weapon, like Delta (though Delta’s wasn’t a sword exactly) and a no-bullshit attitude. I figured that since TWD had pretty much done the tough, black woman fighting zombies thing, that my story was now irrelevant. So I just stopped developing it entirely.

But then I was thinking about it last night, and I realize how incredibly stupid that is. And frankly, kind of racist when I didn’t even realize it. Why can’t there be more than one badass black woman fighting zombies? It’s not like there’s one spot in all of zombie pop-culture for a black woman to occupy. She’s different from Michonne. She has a different history, a different way of dealing with characters, and a different role in the broader story. Besides, how many generic fucking white guys have starred in zombie movies? It’s a stupid reason not to write a story. If anything, the fact that there’s only really one badass black chick fighting zombies in pop culture (unless you count Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later, which I do actually) is all the more reason to write MORE diverse characters. I wrote that character because I felt like there was a distinct lack of that kind of representation, so what, I’m going to just throw the whole thing out because there’s ONE other character out there that happens to also be brown? That’s idiotic.

So I will write Delta Washington vs The Zombies. Maybe not next, but eventually. It’s on deck. Maybe I’ll let zombies cool off a bit first, since I already dove into vampires in the middle of a massive backlash. But it’s in the pipeline.

I’ve recognized that the characters in Bloodletting are overwhelmingly white and I’m actually taking that into consideration as I’m move forward. There are more characters coming down the line, and I’m planning on adding some color to the stream. The lack of ethnic diversity so far has frankly been out of my own experience. I’m not a particularly social person and for the last 15 years I’ve lived in a place where I’m surrounded almost entirely by white people. Most of my own experience has been decidedly vanilla, racially, and I’m working on broadening my vision a little. Also, because I’m writing about vampires, my brain goes to pale skin as the aesthetic. But I recognize that as a content creator, it’s important to take that opportunity to bring more diversity into my work, and I’m going to make an effort to do more of that as I go forward.

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Patricia

I reread Patricia last night and decided I really disliked parts of it. Specifically the first page or two. I don’t exactly know what I was thinking when I started writing it. I think that because the “introduction” of the story was the part I knew the best (the scene with Patricia and Charlie in the bathroom was the first Bloodletting thing I wrote ever, way back when I was a teenager). For some reason, the first few pages had this like folksy, “here’s an old story” quality to it, like Waylon Jennings narrating an episode of The Dukes of Hazard. ‘Round about this time, the Duke boys were getting into some trouble with vampires!”

I wasn’t happy with it. I think I’ve become a better writer since I started writing Bloodletting, and it shows in that first story. Then I figured, hey, this is self publishing! The wild west of writing! THERE’S NO RULES. I do what I want!

So I rewrote that shit. Mostly just the first half a page or so. I took out all the overly familiar, self aware narration and wrote it more like an actual story. I made a few minor changes here and there, as well as cleaning up some grammar issues and the odd clunky bit of writing.

The first half of Patricia (Book 0) goes like this now:

PATRICIA

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Patricia’s teeth were chattering uncontrollably. It happened every time she took X. Chattering teeth was one of the less fun side effects of the otherwise enjoyable drug. She had a lot of experience with Ecstasy and knew that by the time she got to the club, the chattering will have mellowed to a low, mostly imperceptible rumble in the back of her mouth.

The Aston Martin let out an electronic yelp, like a dog in a shock collar, when she pressed the ‘unlock’ button on the plastic fob hanging from her keyring. She slid into the car, pulled down the zipper on her boot and slipped it off. Sitting against the dark gray leather of the seat, the red bottom of the boot looked like a blood soaked weapon, and that made her smile. She liked the boots quite a lot. They were black, leather, made in Italy, designed by Christian Louboutin and cost her well over twelve-hundred dollars. That said, she never quite mastered the art of driving in heals, so the right boot was in its place on the passengers seat. All of her right high-heals had ridden shotgun at some point or another.

This would be the last night that Patricia’s Shaefer’s black suede Louboutin boot would get to ride in the passenger seat of the Aston Martin, because Patricia Shaefer was going to die in just under an hour and a half. It would be an ugly, ungraceful death and entirely unexpected.

While certainly a case could be made that all human life is precious, it’s also accurate to say that the number of people who would truly mourn her death was limited to a very select few. By nearly all accounts, she was a vile, occasionally cruel woman who was arrogant, condescending and treated retail workers and cleaning staff like human garbage. Perhaps she didn’t deserve to go out quite as harshly as she did, but honestly, not many tears were be shed for the loss of Patricia Schaefer.

The night all of this happened, Patricia was 26 years old and living in Laurel Canyon, in a house far too large for a single woman. The building itself was more of a novelty than a practical home, though she was fond of it. For a year or so in the late sixties it belonged to Peter Tork of The Monkees and at the time was notorious for hosting legendary parties. Patricia had no personal nostalgia or connection with the history of the house, but she did appreciate its location and aesthetic. The area had a diverse and distinctly Los Angeles history that appealed to her. Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison all owned houses in Laurel Canyon at one point or another. The Wonderland Murders happened not more than fifteen minutes away.

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