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I don’t know if anyone’s still reading here, but just on the off chance you are, and you haven’t heard about the successful outgrowth from this, my original blog project, you should hasten yourself over to http://www.chimericaltales.com, my upcoming serial fiction anthology!

Apparently all this self-improvement actually took root!

No, I’m not going to address the absence of my blog. Life, that’s the answer. No, this time I’m just posting an exceprt from the CCC Novel for those people who said they wanted to offer feedback. This is a scene I’ve had in my brain for over twenty years. In the context of the novel, this is a chapter from a serialized story published in the magazine that the novel is about. The structure of the novel alternates between the real life story of the magazine’s lastest editor and excerpts from the magazine itself. Imagine if Lost flashbacked to the books the characters were reading, that sort of thing.

Aaaaanyway, I was hoping to get a sense from people if (a) they could follow the story in the format it’s presented in: a little background, and then just a middle chapter of a larger tale, (b) it’s actually entertaining, despite having no beginning or ending, and (c, if you’re really ambitious) does it seem anachronous for having been “published” in 1988.

Oh, and tell me what you liked. I really need the emotional writing boost!

Doug

 

 

(From “Dalton Mensa: To Kill A Mocking Bird, Part Three,” Chimerical Tales #302, September 1988)

 (SIDEBAR: THE BEST HISTORY NEVER READ! logo;

Generally regarded to be the first of the “New Chimerical” series, making a break from the staidness that many of the early serials had fallen into, Calvin Holloway’s DALTON MENSA radically altered what people expected from the now twenty-year old Chimerical Tales. The magazine’s third editor, Cliff Borden, took advantage of the book’s lowered sales to rationalize more experimental series.

DALTON MENSA was a spin-off from Holloway’s one-shot “Writer’s on the Storm” (CT #246) about bored incarnations of concepts from the collective subconscious. The new series told the eponymous story of Dalton Caroline Mensa, a hard-boiled detective/hitwoman who took cases where she hunted down (and possibly assassinated) missing ideas. Holloway reportedly got the idea from his wife. “I had made some sort of snide comment during an episode of Moonlighting and she said that she wished she could hire [the detectives] Maddie and David to find my missing childhood innocence. I immediately knew I wanted to write that story in my Writers [on the Storm] universe!” (Cincinnati Magazine Vol. 26 No. 2, November 1992, “Cincinnati’s Nicest Writer Tells All About The Subconscious’ Toughest Detective”)

DALTON MENSA’s third outing, “To Kill A Mocking Bird” followed on the success of “Schrodinger’s Elvis” and “Anarchy Gordon” with a loving homage to Chuck Jones. It won Best Story for 1988, the series’ first win. END SIDEBAR)

 

It was day three of Dalton Mensa’s observation of the coyote. From her vantage point on top of a high butte she watched the action from a comfortable burlap camping chair with a pair of Nikon x1000 binoculars. The desert wind blew dust in stochastic swirls around her brand new hiking boots. Far below, two tiny figures raced along an unused highway. One was her client, the other, her target. The road runner. The bird who mocked.

Dalton watched, and in watching, she had already come to several conclusions.

The first of these was personal; the desert hated her hair. Her long ash-blond locks were matted with sand and dust, and the lack of humidity made her hair brittle and frizzy. As soon as this case was over, she was going back to New York and spending at least a day at a salon and spa.

The more important of her revelations, though, concerned the odd laws of physics and rules of engagement that surrounded the coyote/road runner rivalry. From what the coyote had told her about their ongoing battle (and the damage that the poor creature had taken in his pursuit of the devious bird), Mensa had imagined a more aggressive, bellicose road runner. What she had observed, however, was that the bird actually did nothing at all to damage the coyote aside from occasionally coming up behind it and taunting it with its hauntingly nasal “meep meep” cry. At no time did the bird actually touch the coyote at all.

No, the truth of the coyote’s contusions and injuries seemed far more related to the amount of times he fell off a cliff. In fact, ninety-nine percent of the time, if he wasn’t falling off of something, something was falling on him. It occurred to Dalton that if the coyote operated in a zero-g environment like space, he would avoid a great amount of pain. Even the flat heartlands of middle America would serve him better. Relocating to Kansas or Iowa, perhaps. Dalton made a note to look up what sort of flightless bird game was found there.

The other obvious problem the poor coyote had–repeatedly–was his choice of weapon. No, Dalton corrected herself, not weapon… weapon supplier. While the beast was apparently a master of Rube Goldbergian deathtrap design, for some reason every part bought for these came from the same company: Acme. Invariably, these Acme products failed in such a way that not only did the road runner get away, but the coyote was either humiliated, grievously injured, or both. Most often both.

Researching on her hypernet laptop, Mensa had pulled up a record of a court case from several years in the future, “Coyote v. Acme Products Corp.” but beyond the transcript of the attorneys’ opening statement, there was no record of the outcome. Still, she noted “possible r.r./acme connection” in her file.

After her legs had tanned appropriately and the coyote had knocked himself unconscious trying to run through a train tunnel painted on the side of a butte, Dalton decided it was time to try some direct action.

She opened the aluminum case that had been resting next to her chair and began assembling the Remington M24 sniper weapon system she used for conventional assassinations and snipe hunting. After a second’s consideration, she picked the lighter .300 Winchester Magnum over her preferred .338 Lapua, reasoning that the smaller cartridge would give her the edge in speed… and really, how much bullet did you need for a bird with a head the size of an avocado? Resting the gun on a tripod at the oddly perpendicular cliff edge, she brushed the hair out of her sighting eye and began scanning the road below for her target.

It only took a few minutes before she found the telltale dust cloud that always followed the hypersonicus contempticus. From this distance the bird would have looked like a dot to the naked eye, but through the telescopic sight Dalton could make out every blue and purple feather. The road runner was closing in quickly on the unconscious coyote, and Dalton knew from her psych profiling of the bird that it wouldn’t be able to resist stopping long enough to beep triumphantly. Seconds later, that was exactly what it did.

Dalton squeezed the M24’s trigger calmly and the report of the shot echoed off the canyon walls at the speed of sound. The bullet fired from the .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge was almost three times faster, and yet before it could perforate the target’s skull, the road runner chirped twice triumphantly and all the bullet passed through was a dust cloud in the shape of the suddenly-absent bird.

“What the fuck?” Dalton said. Pulling a calculator from her hunting vest, she did the math. There was no possible way that the bird would have been able to hear the shot, and even if it did, in the amount of time it took to taunt and raspberry her, the bullet would have travelled at least a mile past the big bloody exit wound under the big purple feather. And what was with the dust cloud?

With reflexes born from years of confirmed paranoia, Dalton swung around, her free hand pulling her SpyderCo butterfly knife, blade flipping open. The sharp edge missed the road runner’s elongated throat by millimeters, and that only because it somehow knew to retract its smirking head.

“Meep meep!” it said to Dalton, and before she could snap its twiggy neck, it was a blur in the distance.

“Oh, game on, bird,” Dalton muttered under her breath at the diminishing dust trail.

Despite her newly personal reasons for wanting to smash the road runner’s head with a magnetic anvil or rocket powered slingshot boulder, Dalton remembered her personal rule against letting her emotions interfere with assassinations, Usenet postings or love affairs.

Obviously there was something more than physics at play here.

She recovered her binoculars from the dust and looked back into the canyon. The coyote had awakened, and while the bird had been up here sneering at her, he had been putting together an Acme Frictionless Steam-Roller. Dalton winced. The poor desert beast didn’t even need an undefeatable nemesis to seriously hurt himself with that thing. She lowered the binoculars. Some things even an ice-hearted killer couldn’t watch.

Still, it had given her an idea. Obviously, attempting to attack the road runner directly wasn’t going to work. There were metaphysical laws at work here; the key was obviously going to be finding a way to work around them.

Dalton got on her portable phone. Thanks to a favor owed to her by Thor, Norse god of thunder, her phone got reception everywhere in the Nine Worlds. It took a few calls to some dubious friends to plant the contraband in the apartment of Randolph Avellone from Jacksonville, Mississippi, but only one to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to get him arrested at his place of work an hour later. Dalton made a note to make it up to the poor man when all this was done, but she needed him out of the way.

While Dalton sat atop the cliff arranging this, the coyote flattened himself twice, ran off three separate cliffs, and somehow managed to use an Acme Can Opener to skin himself. While a casual observer might have chalked this all up to incompetency on the mangy creature’s part, from her vantage point on the butte, Dalton could see the bird’s subtle involvement in all of it. It lurked, as if offstage, waiting for the exact moment to speed past the hungry coyote. Somehow it could calculate how fast it would have to run down the road so that when a boulder fell from the top of a cliff, the coyote would be in pursuit at just the right place to be crushed. It would run in front of a truck causing the driver to slow momentarily… only to cause that same truck to drive around a corner as the coyote stepped onto the road to cross. Sure, the coyote made a lot of dumb moves, but Dalton was surprised–maybe even impressed–at how much the object of the coyote’s hunger manipulated its pursuer.

Finally her phone rang. It was her office assistant Gail.

“I have confirmation on the Jacksonville, um, incident, ma’am,” she said with all the certainty of a computer shopper.

“They picked him up at work? In front of everyone?” Dalton asked.

“Yes, about twenty minutes ago.”

“Great. And did you get me the number I wanted?”

“Yes, Miss Mensa. It’s–“

“Just tell me in indirect quote, Gail. Otherwise it’ll turn into one of those 555-numbers.”

Gail gave her the number and Dalton hung up. After a pause, she dialed it and waited casually while the phone rung. Six rings later, a shaky voice answered.

“Uh, hello, Acme Products?”

Dalton smiled.

“Hi, is this the quality control department? I just heard you might have an opening in management, and I’d like to know where to send my resume.”

Remember when I started this blog and it was called “The August Project?”
Well, it’s August again, and what a change a year has made. (Okay, actually,
“what a change six months has made,” but who’s going to quibble over
details? (Yes, Kieran, I know *you* would.))

Anyway, since last we blogged together, I’ve (a) moved to Virginia, (b) packed all my
life into over-heavy pods, (c) converted everything I could into digital form,
(d) travelled across America, including actual camping, and (e) lost my
twelve-year tradition of spending Wednesdays at my second home, Comics, Toons
‘n’ Toys.

So, having a big Wednesday-sized hole in my life, I figured that it was time to put
that time to use getting my writing back on track. Lovely Wife Kay supported my
choice to leave her alone with the creatures for a day, and dropped me off at
Cosi (after a hour in the morning spent at a Diet Coke-less hipster coffee
bar.)

I’m three hours in, and finding some things easier and some things harder. It feels
like there’s a lot of entropy to overcome on my preexisting projects… line
edits on Nine Dead Suns are okay, but attempting structural heavy lifting is
going to require a little time reacquainting myself with the book. (I’m also
carring the baggage of realizing just how much of it I stole from the Sci-Fi
Channel miniseries “The Lost Room,” but I think a little self-imposed
amnesia will fix that in a week or two.) My work on the webcomic with Bird
consisted of emailing her and saying, “Hey, I’m back. Still up for
it?” I’m hoping yes.

The best work I got done today was to finally put together my research questions
for 2000AD editor Matt Smith (no, not that Matt Smith!) I’m still on the
research and plotting stage of CCC (my Great American Novel opus) but I’m
actually, y’know… researching and plotting.

I have several great-looking apps for my new iPad to help with novel writing, but as
of yet, I don’t really know how to use any of them. That makes doing work on them
hard. I scheduled time to “learn how to use new software” (including
the new Scrivener for Windows) but I think that kind of thing is best done
puttering around late at night (likely to happen tonight with the amount of
Diet Coke in my system today…)

I think the real lesson I’m learning today is that I need to do a little (read: a lot)
of preparation before sitting down for “productive time.” Still, I
don’t feel too bad about that… this is the first Wednesday, and it’s still a
work in progress. I also think my music needs to be a little more Kate Nash and
Robyn and a little less Stevie Nicks and folk covers. Distractability will be
down next week when I have more internet connectivity during the week, too.

Still, in the end… it feels good to be working towards something rather than away from
it. I missed the feeling of my brain popping.

The Process Pendulum

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

So, as I was excoriating myself this week for being so far behind in my writing projects, I discovered something. Something oddly heartening.

It seems that I’ve been spending most of my time since I last got writing done (middle of November) in a state of increased literary input. In fact, I spent much of December working on my reading group, the whole point of which is to reread my favorite books with a more experienced eye. I’ve also been finding my methodology of reading to be more than usually focused on style and theme rather than plot.

Apparently, I have isolated a creative phase that I hadn’t ever noticed before. I am having an intake phase.

I usually get annoyed with myself when my output dries up for a time. For the first time, however, I actually feel that this current dearth of actual wordage is an active part of the creative process. It’s not depression based, it’s not laziness, and it’s not overwork. I’ve been obsessing about character and theme, which is usually a secondary concern after plot and dialogue. It’s like every time I sit down to crank something out, my brain pops up with a polite message telling me that “systems are currently being upgraded, please check back later.”

Apparently, I’m waiting for the patch to install.

That said, I think this is a good thing. I look forward to the process pendulum swinging towards output and showing me something new.

Doug

Next: Hey, does this count as output? Or just more introspection?

What? New Year? Already?

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Heh. You know I’m running behind when I get to my New Year’s Eve post on the second of January.

Perhaps my next resolution should be to catch up.

But not tonight, because I have scripts to write and things to read before I jet off to Chicago on Wednesday.

Still… New Years resolutions #1 and #2 are still functional two days in, and #3 will be put to the test by Saturday.

Details later. Tonight: write, read, sleep.

Doug

Next: Probably ought to, y’know, talk about what my resolutions are or something.

Only The Books On My Back

Posted: December 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

So a few years ago Kay decided she was going to take a year off from buying books.

“I have enough books,” she said erroneously. “I’m just going to take the year and read books I already have.”

“You,” I replied, “are crazy.”

“It will save money,” she said. “And I have so many books I haven’t read.”

“What if… what if a new book comes out?” I asked. “And you want to read it?”

“I will wait.”

“You,” I repeated, “are crazy.”

And yet, that bygone year, she somehow did it. She didn’t buy any new books. She also didn’t start drooling, become a Creationist, turn into salt, or any of the usual things one associates with not buying books.

So, as I approach 2011 and the Top Ten Eleven reading group, I am reminded of Kay’s mad essay into literary frugality. I was also reminded of it while I went looking for books the other day in my office. So… many… books. When I got out of the hospital in 2005, I myself went a little crazy and started hoarding media. Books, comics, DVDs… I was never going to be stuck in a hospital for six months again without six months worth of reading and entertainment on hand. As a result of that, I maybe bought… well, some might call it “too many” books. (They’d be wrong, but that’s what they’d call it anyway.) Now many of those enticing books are staring at me not from expensive bookstore shelves, but from my own, friendly, inexpensive IKEA Billy shelves.

And they want me to read them.

Soo… apparently I have gone crazy. I am going to try to go through 2011 without buying any new books.

Now, this is not the total cold turkey dive that Kay undertook. I do not count comics in this plan. That wouldn’t be mad; that would be suicide. So I will have my usual intake of comics, and the lifeline that entails. No, it’s those amazon.com orders and trips to Mysterious Galaxy that will be postponed until 2012. Can I do it? All I know for sure is that…

I am crazy.

Doug

Next: My New Year Resolutions continue.

The Legend of Kid Santa

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

So, Merry Christmas everyone! Here, for your holiday entertainment is a gift to all my loyal readers… a glimpse at the first draft of The Legend of Kid Santa, a Christmas picture book (currently sans pictures).

THE LEGEND OF KID SANTA

by Douglass Barre

 

Some people love Christmas.

My dad loves Christmas Eve.

He also loves bacon.

But this story doesn’t start with bacon. It starts with cookies.

Mom had just finished cooking fresh chocolate chip cookies.

I took the cookies, still warm, and put them on a plate for Santa Claus.

“Don’t forget carrots for the reindeer,” my little sister said.

“Don’t forget cheese for Santa Mouse,” my brother said.

“Don’t forget porridge for the nisse,” my mom said. (Nisse are little fairies from Norway who bring good luck, my mom says.)

My dad was sitting in his armchair, reading a comic book.

“Don’t forget bacon for, um… Kid Santa,” he said.

My mom gave him a funny look.

“Who’s Kid Santa?” I asked.

“And why does he want bacon?” my sister asked.

My dad smiled his tricky smile.

“You don’t know who Kid Santa is?” he asked in his tricky voice.

“No,” we all said.

“He’s Santa’s sidekick,” my dad said.

“Who really likes bacon,” he added.

“Oh, and he’s a clone,” he finished.

“What’s a clone?” my brother asked.

“A genetic duplicate grown from a cell,” I answered.

“Very good,” my dad said, patting his lap. My sister got there first, so my brother and I sat on the arms of his chair.

“It happened the year that Santa was kidnapped by, um…”

My dad frowned a little, the way he did when mom asked him why he hadn’t done the dishes.

“Kidnapped by aliens,” he finally said.

“Aliens from where?” my sister asked.

“Betelgeuse,” my dad said.

“Why did they kidnap him?” my brother asked.

My dad didn’t miss a beat. “Their ships run on body fat,” he said. “And nobody’s fatter than Santa Claus.”

“Did he escape?” I asked.

“Of course he did,” my dad said, “but not before they took cell samples of him and used them to grow a clone.”

“Was the clone fat?” my brother asked.

“No, sad to say, he wasn’t,” my dad continued. “Because they didn’t know what to feed the clone to make him fat.”

“I bet I know!” my sister shouted, waving her hand like she was in school.

“I bet you do too,” my dad said, and kissed her on the forehead. “But the aliens didn’t, so they abandoned him on a far away moon.”

“Is than when Santa found him?” I asked.

“No, that was when the cannibals found him,” Dad said.

“What’s a cannibal?” my sister asked.

“They’re people who eat other people!” my brother cried excitedly.

“Is this story really child appropriate?” my mom asked.

Dad ignored her.

“After Kid Santa taught the moon cannibals to stop eating each other, they introduced him to bacon.”

“When did he meet Santa?” my brother asked.

“That happened when Santa crashed into the moon back in 1968, the year before Neil Armstrong landed there.”

“Santa’s sleigh had hit a UFO and its right skid broke completely off and it fell into Mare Tranquillitatis… so you know what Kid Santa did?”

“Ate bacon?” my mom asked.

“No!” my dad said, his arms spreading exuberantly. “He took the piece of bacon he was e–uh, he had with him, and he streeeeeetched it out long and flat… then he curved the end, nailed it on to the sleigh and used it as a skid for the rest of the flight! Kid Santa saved Christmas!”

“Again!”

“Did he eat the bacon afterwards?” my mom asked.

“Um,” my dad answered. “Sure.”

“So Santa was so impressed he adopted Kid Santa as his ward and the two went back to the North Pole. Now he travels every year on Santa’s journey and good boys and girls leave bacon out for him.”

“I’m good,” I said.

“How can he eat that much bacon without exploding?” my brother asked.

“I did mention he was a wizard, right?” My dad asked. “He went to that wizard school.”

“Cool!” I cried.

“Is he married to a princess?” my sister asked.

“Three of them,” my dad said. “They’re triplets. They cook him his favorite breakfast every morning because he rescued them from Tarantusaurus Rex, half dinosaur, half spider.”

“Kid Santa is awesome!” my brother screamed.

My dad smiled at my mom.

In her exasperated voice my mom said, “I’ll put on the bacon.”

The next morning, we woke up early.

“We’ll go down when everyone is ready,” Dad said.

He started to shave.

“Daaaaad,” we whined.

He brushed his teeth. He even flossed.

Finally, seventy-nine hours later, he was done and we ran downstairs.

There, on the table, was the plate.

There was a bite out of the cookie.

There was a bite out of the carrot.

There was a bite out of the cheese.

There was a bite out of the porridge.

The bacon was gone.

“Kid Santa was here!” my brother yelled.

“You kids know there’s a tree full of presents over there,” my mom pointed out.

“Kid Santa was here!” my sister and I yelled.

My mom rolled her eyes.

“He sure was,” my dad said in his tricky voice, and he sat down in his armchair.

(The Legend of Kid Santa is (c) copyright 2010 by Douglass Barre.)

 

Happy holidays, everyone! Back to self-improvement January 1st!

Doug

Next: A long winter’s nap.