Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For the Love of Story

Stories. Gotta love 'em.
This will sound corny, but I really believe it: Stories are holy. And bear in mind, I'm not a religious guy. But a good story feels like a transcendental experience to me. It invigorates me and makes me feel giddy and light-headed.
I love stories.
This is a difficult thing to explain to someone who doesn't share that passion. Don't try, that's my advice. They'll only look at you sideways, maybe take a step back. Whatever. Who needs them?
Who needs them, as long as we have stories.
I remember quite vividly the first time I ever experienced that nirvana, that perfect state. It was a story by Ray Bradbury called "There Will Come Soft Rains"-- a story that is as close to perfect as anything I've ever read. I remember the odd feeling that began creeping over me as Bradbury very gently pulled me in... as if he was whispering in my ear, look. Watch, very closely. Don't move. And I watched, and I was mesmerized. And the story built, gaining speed, and I gripped that book hard so I wouldn't be shorn away by the wind. And the ending... God, the ending. It gave me chills. It made me want to weep for its tragic beauty. I could not have predicted it, and yet at the same time no other ending would have been possible.
And that was when I first knew the power of story. That was when I knew I had to do this. I had to make someone else feel that way.
That was a long, long time ago. I'm a much more cynical human being than I was then. I have doubts about the validity of almost everything that we as a race hold dear, everything that we attach value to. But not story. I still believe in story.
There have been many stories since then that moved me, more than I can count. Fear, anger, grief, happiness-- I've felt them all deeply through someone else's words. 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber' and 'A Day's Wait' and 'The End of Something' by Ernest Hemingway. 'The Whosis Kid' and 'The Girl With the Silver Eyes' by Dashiell Hammett. 'Young Goodman Brown' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. 'The Crowd' by the above-mentioned Mr. Bradbury. 'A Rose for Emily' by William Faulkner. Almost every story in Everything's Eventual, by Stephen King. And on and on and on, stories by John D. MacDonald and Robert Bloch and Lawrence Block and Fletcher Flora and Neil Gaiman and jeez, man... so many.
I wish I could mention them all. I wish I could express to each one of these fine writers how much they've touched my life, how deep a change they've wrought within me.
And how much love they've given me for stories.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Heckfire & Darnation

Since last week's story was such a downer (so I've heard), I thought I'd go with something a little goofy this time.
I'm not entirely sure where the idea for this one came from, but I'd been reading some John Collier at the time, and I think some of his mannered but nasty humor seeped in. It's kinda formal-sounding, but I think it's the kind of story that works better that way.
Let me know what you think. It's called Heckfire & Darnation, and, as usual, you'll find it over there, to the right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two for One

I find it interesting that so many genres can be linked so easily, not just in 'literature' but in film as well. In particular, I'm thinking of the weird symbiosis between crime stories and westerns. I watched High Noon again the other day and it occured to me that the story could very easily be transposed to modern day, and it would still work (probably, someone has already done this). So I started thinking about other westerns, and every single one I could think of could also take place modern day, without changing anything at all, except the cowboy hats and horses. Don't misunderstand me, I know I'm not the first person to realize this. The movie 'A Fistful of Dollars' is nominally a remake of Kurosawa's Samurai flick 'Yojimbo', but 'Yojimbo' is a filmed version of the Hammett story 'Red Harvest'. So this 'full circle' genre idea is nothing new. But now it's got me thinking about every western and crime drama (and samurai movie!) I see, and how interesting each one would be in another genre.
Imagine 'Rio Bravo' in the 1940's. Or 'Kiss of Death' in the Old West. Or 'Double Indemnity', if Walter Neff was a cowboy, forced to travel to fuedal Japan to kill the warlord husband of a sultry geisha...
Okay, I know, that last one was just stupid. But you get the idea.
If I was one of those crazy paperback writers in the '50's, the ones who just pumped out book after book after book to make the rent, I'd have kept that idea in mind. If you come up with a good idea for a crime drama, you've also come up with a good idea for a western. Two books for the price of one.
And if you were Japanese to boot, well, that's THREE for one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


What a day, huh?
Just like everyone else, I watched the proceedings today, the swearing-in of our 44th president, Barak Obama, and despite myself, I found that I was moved. I have hope for our future. I feel good about being an American. It's a weird feeling, this hope, after eight years of dealing with a government that cleary didn't care about the will of its own people. It feels good.
Obama seems like an idealist. Please, please... let that be true. We NEED an idealist right now. We need a pragmatist. It's very tiring sometimes, being a cynic, but the previous administration made cynics out of ALL of us. Isn't it amazing how resilient we are, as Americans? Isn't it amazing that, as hard as the bad guys tried to take it away from us, we still have hope?
Yep. Right this second, I love America, and I love being an American.
Um... I promised myself when I started this blog that I would stay on-topic here, and not talk about anything except writing and books and story. But come on. This is a big deal.
I'll get back to the writing stuff next time. Here's to the future.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Natural Thing in the World

That's a cute little dog you have there. Man's best friend, you gotta love 'em. But have you ever wondered... if it came down to the wire, would your furry little friend there EAT you? I mean, if he was hungry enough? Or, for some folks an even worse thought, would you eat him?
I don't know, this is just the sort of stuff I think about. Sorry.
Here's a bleak little story called The Most Natural Thing in the World.
Give your dog a treat today.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where'd all the Tough Guys go?

It seems as if hardboiled ain't what it used to be. I've been making a point lately of reading some more modern stuff in the genre, since I'm woefully out of touch with most stuff written in say, oh, my own lifetime. And I've been disappointed, for the most part. Where are the bad-asses? "Tough guys" don't seem so tough anymore. I can't get excited about a hardboiled dick who has to, say, go see a shrink to get over plugging a guy, or has a bubble bath after his latest caper to ponder his own mortality.
There was a time when this new sensitivity was fresh and original-- Macdonald's Travis McGee was probably the first of the "sensitive" tough guys, and he's a very likeable character indeed. And then Robert Parker's Spencer, right? And then... well, the floodgates were opened. Every few years, we have to bring it back to center. And the center is best represented by Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op... the original hardboiled tough guy.
With the Op, you always knew you were dealing with a man who was quietly intelligent, unafraid, and quite aware of his own shortcomings. You sensed a deeply complicated guy, and it wasn't because he waxed on about himself. The Op, despite that Hammett told us virtuallly nothing about his background or what emotions played out in his head, seems so much more fully realized than just about any modern character I can think of in the genre.
My friend Janine, a great writer of hardboiled stuff herself (I can't wait for the world to read about her Kelly Flaherty, the toughest tough chick I've ever come across), turned me on to Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. She says he fits that tough guy bill pretty well. Christian Klaver, another friend and terrific writer, mentioned Andrew Vachss "Burke" series. And I just recently discovered Richard Stark's books about Parker on my own. And yeah, he's plenty tough. So maybe there's hope yet. I'll let you know, after I've read the ones Janine and Christian mentioned, if they fit the tough guy bill as well as Parker.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Novels by Heath Lowrance

Instead of posting a new story today, I've provided "teasers" to my novels. When I say "teasers", I don't mean that they are going to stick their tongues out at you neccesarily, or make fun of the way you walk (they might, I don't know, but I think that would just be childish and cruel). No, I just mean you get a little sample of them.
But you knew what I meant, really.
The Bastard Hand is a psycho noir, in the modern sense, in that the main character may possibly be delusional, and the situations he finds himself in are not the sort of situations most normal people wind up in. It's a weird story about religion, violence, and betrayal.
The Scarab is completely different. It's full-on pulp-flavored occult adventure, with weird monsters, extra-dimensional aliens, and an immortal hero a few cards short of a full deck.
Torch is an espionage adventure that takes place in French Morocco during WWII.
And The Heretics is the one I'm working on currently. It's a hardboiled tale of revenge, spiced up a bit with some weirdness in the form of, not just a serial killer, but a whole coven of them, lurking in the backwoods of Tennessee.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Guide to Noir Fiction

Hey, I'm performing a public service. If you'll cast your eyes over to the right again, you'll see a new section I added called "Essays and other stuff by Heath Lowrance". I just put the finishing touches on a guide to Noir/Hardboiled fiction for your reading pleasure. It was a bitch to research and write, but I did it, because I love you.
As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Black & white movies

Just wanted to share this great quote I found from Roger Ebert, regarding black & white movies:

A black and white movie isn't lacking something, it's adding something: The world is in color, so we get that for free, but black & white is a stylistic alternative, more dreamlike, more timeless. Moviegoers, of course, have the right to dislike black and white, but it is not something they should be proud of. It reveals them, frankly, as cinematically illiterate. I have been described as a snob on this issue. But snobs exclude; they do not include. To exclude black and white from your choices is an admission that you have a closed mind, a limited imagination, or are lacking in taste." - Roger Ebert

Nicely said! I found it at a terrific web site called Web Noir. I've added a link to it over on the right. If you're at all interested in film noir, by all means check it out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Compulsive Scratching

The odds are against us. Overwhelmingly. Why, oh why, do we continue to do it? Why do we sit down every day in front of our glowing little computer screens and fill up all that white space with words? Most of the time, we don't even enjoy it. And, really, who's interested, anyway?
Being a writer is having a split personality. On the one hand, it takes an amazing amount of ego to actually cement your thoughts and feelings into a tangible story and just assume that someone, somewhere, is going to want to read it... and that's the height of self-involved folly. On the other hand, many writers are afflicted with a crippling self-doubt, a feeling of complete worthlessness. The funny thing is, both of those conditions-- entirely unwarranted egomania and soul-crushing insecurity-- exist side by side in many writers.
We write a story, or even a novel, putting everything we have into it, opening up veins all over the place and bleeding out our darkest and deepest secrets. We polish it up and make it presentable. We research the market and find the ideal venue. We send it off with our fingers crossed. And then... three months later... we get that lovely little form rejection letter. Or worse, we get no response at all. That's how much our work means to the world at large. No one is interested. Sorry, mac.
There are times I really hate this compulsion I have to write stories. Honestly, man, I'm not sure why I was born with that gene that makes me do it, even when the emotional rewards are non-existent. I read this thing once about a woman who had an unusual mental disorder; she couldn't stop scratching herself. Non-stop, she'd scratch and scratch and scratch at her face, her neck, her arms, trying desperately to ease the maddening itch beneath her skin. She scratched until she bled, profusely. That's what the compulsion to write is like.
Maybe you can tell, I'm having one of those "soul-crushing insecurity" days. The novel is still going well, but this morning I keep looking at it and thinking, oh come on man. Who really cares? Give up this silliness and grow up. There are millions of writers out there, talented and committed people with strong voices and real stories to tell. And no one will ever hear them. What makes me think I'm any different?
Okay. Sorry to be such a bummer this time, just had to get all that out of my system. I don't really feel better for having done it, but maybe, somewhere, another writer will stumble across this entry and realize that they aren't alone.
Fuck it, right? Keep scratching that itch until you bleed to death.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Emancipation, With Teeth

You like the blood and gore? Then this one's for you.
It's not very often you can actually cull a good story out of a bad dream, but it worked with this one. I won't go into the details of the dream, but suffice to say it was one of those that had me waking up in a cold sweat. I think the idea of something alien or unknown lurking within our own body freaks everyone out, to some degree or another. Hell, David Cronenberg made a whole career out of that fear.
I don't usually write things quite this graphic, but come on. You can't write about something trying to come out of your body without things getting a little messy.
There it is, over there on the right. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What is Psycho Noir, anyway?

What the hell is “Psycho-noir”?

Most readers of dark fiction know what “noir” is, in reference to literature. It implies a certain dark tone, cynical, fatalistic, with a particular sort of cast of characters—generally people on the fringe of normal society, doing things you could only politely describe as anti-social. There is invariably a sense of impending doom, as a protagonist fights—or doesn’t fight—against an end that is, really, inevitable. Life sucks and then you die, that sort of thing. Granted, that’s a broad definition, and it doesn’t take into account about a ton of other things that come to mind when you think of “noir”, but that’s the general idea.

“Psycho-noir” grew out of that literary tradition, reaching a head in the mid to late 1950’s. The “noir” crime writer Dave Zelsterman, author of Small Crimes, wrote that “psycho-noir” is the type of story...

"...where the protagonists perceptions and rationalizations are just off center enough to send them to hell."

I think the main difference between “noir” and “psycho-noir” lies in the central protagonist. In “noir”, it’s usually a normal kind of joe, maybe a bit too ambitious or a bit too flip about right and wrong, who’s drawn into a messed-up situation by circumstance or by his own hubris. He may wind up doing monstrous things, but he’s basically a decent guy who manages to fuck up royally.

The main character in a “psycho-noir”, on the other hand, is usually a monstrous person to begin with. Perhaps he’s an amoral sociopath, like Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley. In some cases, like Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, he’s a full-on delusional lunatic. The main thing is, he’s a bad guy, and not a bad guy who’s really a good guy deep inside, or is simply “misunderstood”. No, he’s the full-on villain, and the story belongs to him, and if it’s done right you still kinda want him to win.

These can be really small distinctions, of course. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find that point where “noir” becomes “psycho-noir”, and honestly a good “noir” story is just a good “noir” story regardless, because of the elements that they have in common. And what are those? The writer Jack Bludis sums it up as neatly as anything I’ve heard:


Short and nasty and inevitable. Just like the best “noir”.