Friday, August 24, 2012

Why I Don't Dig Twitter

I’m gonna just cop to this: I’m not a fan of the Twitter. I know that, of all the social media outlets available to us, Twitter is the most popular, and the one that tends to get the most exposure. It’s the one that’s young and hip and pithy (although no one young and hip would use the word “pithy”, I know).
But Twitter makes me feel like a grumpy old man who’s microphone gets cut off when he starts to make an angry speech—“Why, when I was a boy, they wouldn’t let us have a second helping of rhubarb pie, and we had to—“ “Okay, gramps, you’ve hit your word limit, take your meds and say goodnight…”
Unless I’m linking to something, Twitter is fairly useless to me. So that’s more or less all I use it for. A gateway link to a place where I can actually SAY something, or promote something or whatever.
And I don’t get the #FF thing. Once in a while, I’ll see my name among many other names, posted by kind people who want others to “follow” my meager tweets. I appreciate it, I really do, but I don’t know really how to repay the kindness. Do a #FF of my own? Urge others to follow them? I’ve done it a couple of times, but it feels weird and false.
But here’s my biggest problem with Twitter. It often seems insincere. What I mean is (and this happens ALL the time) I’ll get a handful of new followers, and I’ll check them out to see about following them back (because that’s the idea, right? Follow ‘em back, that’s only polite, yeah?). But sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, the Tweeter in question already has, like, 15,000 followers. Which is crazy. Do they really, truly keep up with all those tweets? Is that really about communicating with other people? Or is it about “collecting” followers? If someone has that many followers, I figure, they don’t really need me to join up. It’s doubtful they’re particularly interested in my tweets.
Proof of this tends to happen a bit later, when the tweeter assumedly checks his followers, finds that I haven’t followed them back, and promptly stops following me.
My rule of thumb with Twitter, in most cases: if you have less than 1,000/2,000 followers, I’ll follow you back. Also, if you aren’t an asshole posting crazy shit. Also, if I’m a fan of yours.
That criteria isn’t too harsh, is it?
I’m not trying to collect followers on Twitter. The bulk of my social media happens over on Facebook, that old man of media that even your Granma uses. You can stretch out over there, relax and take your time. It’s a better atmosphere than the rush rush rush, stick-and-move, “I don’t really want to know you” vibe of Twitter.
Now, of course, I’m going to post this and link it to Twitter. Ha.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Brief Career as a Private Dick

I worked as a private detective for about two years, when I was in my mid-20's. I don't mention it often because, when you tell folks you were a P.I. the reaction is always one of excited interest, and the truth is it was just about the dullest job ever. It's no fun to watch that light in a listener's eyes go out and shift over to glazed when you reveal the truth.

I didn't have a license; I worked under the license of my boss, a very attractive young woman who got the money to open the security/investigations company from her wealthy husband. I was one of only six or seven people that worked for her. Truth to tell, we were a pretty shoddy little operation. But we all liked each other and had fun, even though the job was mostly Dullsville.

My entire time with the company, I only ever had ONE incident where my life was in danger. And it had more to do with my own stupidity than it did the actual job.

We had been hired by a trucking company to follow one of their drivers who they suspected of "stealing company time". That is, they thought the fella might have been using his work time to attend to personal matters and otherwise screw around when he should've been working and making deliveries. This prospect apparently pissed them off enough to spend money on someone to follow the poor schlub around for a week.

So there I was, tailing this truck driver all over Southeast Michigan, noting all his stops, how long he took, when he parked at a rest stop to take a piss, when he ate lunch, etc. Intensely boring.

It's kind of hard to tail a semi-truck, because they're usually going ten miles an hour slower than everyone else. And eventually, the driver is going to notice that car behind him that doesn't seem to want to pass. Fortunately, I had a copy of his itinerary and knew what all his stops were supposed to be. So about halfway through the day I got the bright idea to skip my life ahead a little and catch up to the driver at his next stop.

That next stop was in the River Rouge area of Detroit.

River Rouge, if you don't know, was a pretty miserable downtrodden place, full of burnt-out houses, empty lots, and petty crime. But me, I was Mr. Oblivious. I had a gun between my seat and the driver's side door that the boss insisted I carry around with me, and maybe the knowledge that the revolver was so handy gave me an over-inflated sense of my own safety.

 This is what I did: I pulled off on a side street in a particularly dodgy industrial area to take a look at my map.

No sooner had I done that when my passenger door opens up and this guy with a knife jumps in the car.

He was clearly on some sort of drug, I don't know what, but his eyes bulged and he was sweating like mad and smelled like week-old diapers. He waved his knife in my face and said, "Drive!"

"What?" I said, very smooth-like.

"Drive, motherfucker," he repeated. He pressed the knife up against my throat for emphasis. So I drove.

"Anywhere in particular?"

"Shut the fuck up. Turn right here."

I turned.

He said, "Left up at that light."

"Where are we going?"

"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

"Look," I said, "I just want to know where I'm taking you."

He spazzed out then, taking the knife away from my throat long enough to plunge it over and over again into my dashboard. Plastic split and that foam stuff went all over and his spittle sprayed the window.

And yeah, I was scared. Of course I was. But I was doing my best to stay frosty and not show him the fear. My fingers were tight on the steering wheel, preventing them from trembling.

I thought about the gun between my seat and the door. I could grab it. He wouldn't even notice my left hand creeping down for it. Also, I'm left-handed, so it would be a simple matter to grip the revolver, swing it around in his face.

But I didn't do it. I don't know why.

So this went on for about fifteen minutes, with the weirdo giving me seemingly random directions, not saying where we were going, and me doing what he said, driving.

But finally, and I don't know why I did this either, but I snapped. I couldn't take it anymore. The dude said, "Go straight," and removed the knife from my neck again. At that moment, I slammed on the brakes. His body jerked forward and he hit his head against the window and plunked back down in the seat. He still held the knife, but I turned to him, screamed, "Get the fuck out of my fucking car right now, you stupid useless fuck! Get out before I fucking kill you!"

He looked at me for a long moment, gripping his knife. Then he teared up, said, "Asshole," and opened the door on his side. He climbed out and walked away. Just like that.

I drove about three miles away, parked, and smoked about eight cigarettes in a row, hands trembling to beat the band. I pulled the revolver out, looked at it, and wondered why I didn't grab it in the first place. I still can't answer that question.

But I'm glad, in retrospect, that I didn't. If I'd grabbed the gun, someone would be dead today. Probably the druggie weirdo. Because of me. Well... I suppose it would've been his own fault, but still... pulling the trigger on someone? Actually KILLING someone?

I know I write stories about people who place little value on life or death. But that doesn't mean that's me. Granted, I tend to think of life and death as inevitable, but shit, man. I don't wanna kill anyone. I'd hate to be responsible for snuffing out a life. Wouldn't you?

Anyway. That's the only interesting thing that ever happened to me on that job.

Friday, August 10, 2012

ALMOST GONE by Stan Richards

It sorta grieves me that Stan Richard's ALMOST GONE went under almost everyone's radar when it came out. As one of the earliest releases from New Pulp Press, along with Nate Flexer's THE DISASSEMBLED MAN and Pete Risley's RABID CHILD, it helped set a standard for that publisher for raw, bold writing that pulls no punches.

The story: after a car accident, police officer Chuck sustains some brain damage and is suddenly flooded with strange memories of his mother's death, memories that he had suppressed until then. The memories seem to indicate that HE was directly responsible for her death, and even worse, hints that his relationship with her was... unnatural, to say the least. Chuck becomes more and more obsessed with learning the truth, and as he inches ever closer to a horrible truth, his delicate mind grows more and more unhinged.

It's flat-out psycho-noir. And Richards tells this depraved tale with an admirable economy of language. Every sentence is sharp and clear. He uses redundant phrases and words to great effect.

If you aren't afraid of a book that makes you feel a little dirty and uneasy, while building tension beautifully, ALMOST GONE is a great choice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two from James Reasoner

I'm a big admirer of James Reasoner. His professionalism, his work ethic, but most of all his amazing versatility, amaze me every time. He's mostly known as a writer of Westerns, but no genre is beyond him-- he's also written a handful of exceptional Noirs, some war stories, and all manner of fine pulp. 

Here's two shorts from him that I read recently and just serve to reinforce that.

"Devil Wings Over France" proves that you name the genre and Reasoner can show you how it's done.

This one is, nominally, an aviation adventure, in the spirit of those old pulp stories about air aces fighting the Huns. But Reasoner ups it a few notches by presenting a unique threat (rabid bats unleashed on the Allies by those filthy Huns), and even an almost throw-away supernatural element that I won't spoil for you.

The pacing is pitch-perfect, and if you've read Reasoner before you know he can spin an action sequence like nobody's business.

In "The Red Reef", a former sea captain, tormented by a horrible accident, gets a shot at redemption when a sultry babe begs him to take her to the site of the accident-- where her father supposedly lies in his watery grave. But the babe has more than grief on her mind, and our hero finds himself in a deadly game of survival on the high seas.

Another old school style pulp story, this one is lean, tough-minded, and without a trace of sentiment. It's a short, sharp jolt of action and high adventure.

Both of these are available on Amazon. If you've never read Reasoner before, they make a great introduction to his work. I'm currently reading his novel TRACTOR GIRL; some others that really knocked me out were REDEMPTION, KANSAS; DUST DEVILS and TEXAS RANGERS.