Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cold blooded

Sometimes when I'm stuck on a scene or just blanking when I work on my prose, I'll shut down the wordprocessor and look around pretty much at random on the internet. Today I was having just such a problem on the novel and the links found me perusing the site of a realtor in a small Georgia town where I used to live. I noticed that almost all of this realtor's listings were foreclosures. One of the houses was selling for a little over $100K. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what $100K would buy you in a small mountain town in northern Georgia.

The listing for this house had about a dozen photos. The third one was this:

This photograph so depressed me that I had to sign off. Back to work on my novel. The horrors of fiction seem far less severe in light of the cold realities.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Stir

Between creating my latest novel, working my eight-hour days at USPS, and family stuff, I haven't been camping or hiking since my trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just before Thanksgiving. I'm starting to get antsy. I can only stand just so much of living in the city before I get the urge to seek some solitude in the mountains.

With any luck at all, I'll be hauling my Casita trailer to a National Forest campground next week when I have a three-day weekend. I'm going to try to get some hikes in somewhere in western North Carolina just north of the Georgia border.

From my last hike, November 18, 2007, to the summit of Dripping Spring Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Got to climb some mountains!

Monday, January 28, 2008

What Happens Next?

On Sunday I had a couple of hours to kill after I took my son to his internship as a cameraman at the local PBS TV station. I knew that the Comp USA store was closing its doors forever, as the entire chain was going under. My wife and I had already been there early on in the going-out-of-business sale. On that day, the store looked as it always had in the days when I’d gone in to purchase this or that for one of my long line of desktop computers. It had always been a good source of parts and software and various types of digital storage.

On Sunday, January 27, 2008, the sale had been going on for some weeks. I’m not sure just what I expected to see, but what I encountered was a building about half empty. It was a ghost of its former self, if “self” can be used to describe an ongoing enterprise of retail. Most of the desktop computers were gone. There were still a fair number of laptop machines on display. Almost all of the digital cameras were gone. The remaining merchandise had contracted to a space in the center of the store comprising—perhaps—one half of its normal volume.

The store still had a fair clientele gleaning the things still for sale. There were still blank CDs and DVDs for sale. Still some software. A few inkjet machines remained on the floor, along with scanners and photo-printers. But looking around, watching the employees walking around, asking prospective customers if they needed any help, I became tremendously depressed. Yeah, I know, I know. Why should I be depressed over the demise of a huge retail outfit biting the dust?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. One of them is selfish. The selfish reason is that I quite liked that store. I bought a fair amount of stuff in there, and the purchases pretty much uniformly made me happy. Storage space for a computer. Display screen. A digital camera. A satellite radio receiver. A fan I bought for an older HP computer when the cooling unit died on it. Some computer games. Little things. My wife and son and I liked shopping in there from time to time. So on that very personal and selfish basis, seeing it go was sad.

But there was also an unselfish reason for the sudden depression that gripped me and sent me out the door. It was the employees standing around in there and stationed behind counters and looking on at the rest of us as we shopped this dying carcass. What were these folk going to do? Had they been very happy working for one of the largest computer retailers in the nation? Had they depended on these jobs not only for a steady paycheck but also for health care? Were they at the ends of their ropes? Did they have new prospects? Were there jobs for them waiting when the doors closed that one last time and that final paycheck was deposited and spent? What the hell were these men and women going to do to earn a living?

That was what punched me in the heart of whatever it is that makes me wonder such things. That’s what chased me out of that building and to my truck where my wife was waiting for me.

What’s going to happen?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lesson 133 in a Series

I've heard that there are businesses with more assholes per cubic meter than the comic book industry. I can understand that, but find it difficult to believe.

Over the years, I've encountered quite a few liars and jerks in comic book publishing. One such was a fellow who contracted me to write an introductory script for a comic book character he was calling "Soul". It was work-for-hire, but at a decent page rate, so I took the job. In retrospect, I need to thank Jove that the book was never published. On the other hand, I did work at an agreed-upon rate that was never paid. One of many such writing jobs I had over my time within that industry.

From what I understand, this particular publisher ended up expending quite a bit of money to create a comic based on a certain body builder who held, I think, the title of Mr. Universe. The project consumed the coffers of said publisher, which subsequently bit the dust. Yes, the comic book industry is not only full of slime, but full of very strange slime.

So, here it is. Yet another script for a project dead in the water:




James Robert Smith

Page One

(Artist: leave room in the panels on the first two pages for captions, some of them extensive, describing the featured character and her current disposition. I'll be spicing it up with some rather creepy, atmospheric stuff. Keep in mind that the situation with the woman is going to get quite horrific before it gets lighter, so keep things dark and shadowy, as sinister as you can.)

Panel One: We see a Caucasian woman, neither old nor young, neither ugly nor pretty. She's dressed plainly, in a long dress that reaches down past her knees but not to her ankles. A coat, too, that's about the same length. She has a bag in her hand, a bag with handles. There are some things poking out of it, such as bread, etc. She's obviously been shopping for groceries. Couple wine bottles, too. She doesn't quite look like a bag lady, but almost.

Panel Two: She's walking down the street. Long shot, from in front of her, looking down. We see the sidewalk, the edge of the street. No one really close to her on the street.

Panel Three: She's at her apartment building. It's a duplex. One side obviously looks unlived in. the windows are busted out, stuff sticking out of the windows. We know it's her apartment, because she's putting the key in the door.

Panel Four: Shot from inside. A blackness, with her silhouetted in the door. She looks really alone and vulnerable.

Panel Five: She's inside, now. Her hand is on a light switch. It's a big room with kitchen on her right, dining area on her left.

Page Two

Panel One: She is looking at the kitchen counter. There's a rat trap, unsprung on the countertop.

Panel Two: She is looking near the refrigerator. There's a rat trap there, too, unsprung.

Panel Three: She has put her groceries on the countertop and has gotten out one of the wine bottles, corkscrew already in it.

Panel Four: She is looking at the floor of the dinging area/den. She is looking where the rat trap was.

Panel Five: She's leaning over, and can see the tip of a rat tail sticking out from under a chair, a chair with ruffles around the base, which conceals whatever's underneath it.

Panel Six: She's put the bottle on a table by the chair and has her hands on the chair to pull it aside. She has to look underneath the chair.

Page Three

Panel One: Big panel. Splash panel. She has pulled the chair aside and is looking down at the rat trap, and it holds half a rat. The bottom half. The other half, upper half has been eaten. Guts trailing out. Blood smeared on the floor. A large and really nasty looking rat is chowing down on the dead one.

Panel Two: The rat is looking up at the woman, his hands full of gore.

Rat: "Hello, Missy. I see you're home. Thanks for setting this trap. I was really starting to get hungry, and this was so convenient. Thanks a lot."

Panel Three: The woman is screaming. Closeup of her face.

Page Four

Panel one: We see a big flatbed truck with railing around the bed. It's full of men, all standing like cattle as it's coming to a stop.

Panel Two: Two guys getting off the big flatbed truck. They look very rough. Just short of bums. Unshaven. Dirty. The flatbed truck is full of guys who look just like them. There's a guy wearing khakis, almost a kind of uniform standing at the end of the truck with a pencil and a clipboard.

Khaki: Everyone file into the office, and we'll pay out your vouchers.

Panel Three: The two guys are standing in line at an office window. The guy in front is being given his money.

Clerk at window: Nine hours, less taxes, $33.14. Next!

Panel Four: The two guys are walking out the door, stuffing the money into their pockets.

Guy One: We bust ass for nine hours and walk away with thirty-three bucks and some change. What a world, eh?

Guy Two: Yeah. God bless the free enterprise system.

Page Five

Panel One: We see our boys catching the bus, climbing on.

Panel Two: We have a shot of them in the seat together.

Hank: God you stink.

John: You stink, too. And your breath would make a baby buzzard gag.

Hank: Oooo. That's a good one. You're turning me on, man.

Panel Three: They're getting off the bus, right in front of a liquor store.

Hank: Ah. Don't you just love it when Fate is speaking to you?

John: Yeah, I know what you mean. Let's buy some wine, man.

Panel Four: They are coming out of the liquor store.

Hank: Why'd you buy port. Port sucks unless it's chilled. Ain't much I hate worse than piss warm port.

John: We can take it back to your place and put it in the fridge, man.

Hank: Are your brains totally scrambled? You know I got kicked out of my room last week! Hell! You were there when the landlord had all my stuff tossed out on the street!

John: Oh. Yeah. I forgot.

Panel Five: Closeup of Hank's face.

Hank: Guess we'll be drinkin' piss-warm port!

Page Six

We have a series of oblong panels across the page. Each panel should be narrow and stretch from one side of the page to the other.

Panel One: The two bums are walking along, and we see another bum following them.

Panel Two: They're still walking along, but the third bum has halved the distance.

Panel Three: He's now dogging their heels.

New guy: Hey, fellas! It's me!

Panel Four: The two bums are turned and are facing the third bum.

Hank: Well, well. If it ain't Fartocino!

John: Yeah, it's Fartocino! Our flatulent pal! Whatchoo want little fartblossom of the desert kingdom? You want a slug of the fruit-of-the-vine, don't you? Well, screw you, pal!

Panel Five: The two bums are again walking down the street, with Fartocino still right behind. Shot of them facing the reader, with Fartocino framed between them. He's much smaller than they are.

Farto: Aw, c'mon, fellas. Wait up! Share the wealth, why dontcha?

Page Seven

Panel One: The bums are all three sitting in an alley, away from the street. We are looking from their POV back out into the street where we can see some cars about fifty yards off. Hank and John are passing a bottle.

Farto: C'mon, fellas.

Hank: Why should we share with you? It's been a month since you shelled out for a bottle. What about a room? You got a room? Genius here bought a bottle of port, and everybody knows port ain't worth a damn if you can't chill it.

Farto: You know I ain't got a place. Not since Agnes left me.

John: Then you're out of luck. And, hey! It was you bought the port.

Panel Two: Closeup of John.

John: Oh, yeah. It was me.

Panel Three: Farto is standing, now, in front of the other two who are still sitting against the wall guzzling the brew.

Farto: Listen, guys. Share with me, huh? Give me some of that and I'll take you to where I was gonna go tonight. I'll take you guys with me.

Hank: Take us? Take us where?

John: Yeah. Where you gonna take us? To get some of your momma's ass?

Panel Four: Farto is really begging, now.

Farto: Pals! C'mon! You'd like this. I promise you'd like it. You ain't never seen nothin' like this guy, Soul. You oughtta see him. Me and the others been meeting to hear him every night, and you ain't never heard nothin' like this guy.

Hank: Whatchoo mean? Soul? What the hell's Soul? Some kind of singer? Some street musician?

John: Hell. I could go for some music. If he's good.

Panel Five: Farto is leaning in real close, his hand is almost on the bottle Hank is holding in front of him.

Farto: No, no. You guy's got it wrong. This guy don't sing. He...well, he tells stories.

Hank: Screw that. I don't want to hear no stories!

Farto: You don't understand! You gotta hear this guy. He speaks with different voices. It's's like it's more than one guy inside of him. Whattaya say? Gimme a slug or two an' I'll take you with me. Tonight. Whattaya say?

Panel Six: Farto has the bottle turned all the way up, sucking it down.

Caption: Hey, asshole! Don't drink it all in one pull!

Page Eight

Panel One: Hank and John are following Farto. It's dark, and they're behind him about ten feet or so. They're leaning into one another, holding yet another bottle and talking low.

Hank: You don't think he'd try to knock us over, do you?

John: Farto? Hell! He ain't got the balls!

Hank: Yeah. You're right. What a pussy!

Panel Two: They're now being led down a really dark alley.

Panel Three: We can see some light at the end of the alley. They're almost at the end. Three shadows silhouetted against the light.

Panel Four: They're in this really big area formed by four buildings being built together. What we have is the illusion of a kind of amphitheatre. There's a fire going that's throwing off all of the light. (Give the scene a kind of mystical feel.) All of the bums are sitting around, looking down on a bar area where a lone figure is sitting.

Page Nine

Panel One: The three bums find a seat right in the front. There appear to be about thirty or so bums at this place. We get a long shot of the crowd of them, sitting there, being weirdly lit by the flames of the campfire.

Word balloons: Which one will it be?/No way to tell until he starts talking./I hope it's the girl. I like it when he talks like a girl./You make me sick./I don't care which it is./Shut up, all of youse.

Panel Two: We finally get a good look at Soul. He's dressed like a bum. But there is something regal about him. His rags are draped about him like kingly garments. His face, though rough with dirt and beard, is noble. He's holding up his right hand.

Caption: Shhh! He's gonna talk!

Panel Three: We see Soul's face. His eyes are glazed, rolling back in his head, as if he's trying to look up at something in the roof of his skull.

Panel Four: Similar shot, but his face is down, hidden in shadow. He's groaning.

Panel Four: He's looking out at the audience now, with a clear gaze, but his face is changed. Now, he appears to be a woman.

Soul: I am Mary. Hear my story and take heed.

Page Ten

Panel One: We se a great hall. It's full of people. Mary sits at her throne. The seat whre the king should be is empty.

Caption: I was a queen in my world, a place called Mangrove. My husband had died and I and my country had been without a king for two years. My advisors were prompting me to take a new husband, to give Mangrove a new king. The people wished it of me. And there were the legends.

Panel Two: We see a dark figure standing before the queen. He is like a shadow. Dark, his cape billowing around him. His eyes like bits of white, glowing light.

Caption: We didn't knwo where he came from. Some far off part of the empire, he hinted. But he had insinuated himself into my court. To my great pleasure., as it was well know.

Panel Three: Soul has his hand out, as if to invite Mary to take it. She is merely eyeing his outstretched hand.

Soul: My lade? I would have a word with you.

Panel Four: Mary has stood, taking the strange man's hand. Everyone is looking at them--the beautiful queen and the strange, dark man.

Mary: Away, everyone. Lord Soul and Your Queen would converese in private.

Panel Five: We see Mary and Soul standing there, hand in hand, in the center of the panel as everyone else is filing out.

Page Eleven

Panel One: The two are moving away from the pair of thrones. Down the long stretch of carpeting laid before the thrones.

Mary: You have been considering my offer, Lord Soul?

Soul: I would consider any offer you made, dear lady. Any.

Panel Two: They are moving toward a window in the wall, a balcony beyond. Great curtains drape down from the window.

Mary: You know how I feel about you.

Soul: I know.

Mary: I've never know a man quite like you. You're...strange. But your consel has never proven to be bad, and you have a strength about you that I've never seen in any man. Not since...

Panel Three: They are both standing, now, at the window, just inside the balcony that looks down on the city far, far below.

Soul: Please.

Mary: You msut know how I feel toward you, Lord Soul. You must feel it.

Soul: I feel your emotions, yes.

Mary: Don't you, in turn, feel them for me? I cannot read you.

Panel Four: Mary has her hands about Soul's face, as if to grasp him. But he has his hands around her wrists, to stop her from embracing him.

Mary: You must!

Soul: No! I must not! If I give in and return your love, then I may not be able to do what the legends have foretold when the time comes. For your own sake, we must never marry.

Page Twelve

Panel One: The two are frozen, still, he grasping her frail hands in his pwerful ones. The city still below them, looming a bit more importantly in the panel, they smaller.

Soul: I told you when I came into your court that there was a more important reason for me to be here.

Panel Two: Mary's hands are now by her side. She is looking down, toward the busy city streets and away from Soul.

Mary: More important than my feelings for you? Is that what you're saying? What could be more important than that.

Panel Three: Soul has moved out onto the balcony. One hadn is on eth stone railing, while he points out to the wide bay with the other.

Soul: You know the legends. The time is soon coming. I've told you to prepare.

Panel Four: Mary is beside him, now. From behind Lourd Soul, where he cannot stop her, she is embracing him.

Mary: What you say cannot be true. They are only legends. Waht is important is what is real. My feelings for you are what is real.

Panel Five: We see a closeup of Mary's face pressed against the cloak on Soul's back.

Mary: I love you, my Lord. Be my king. I beg you.

Page Thirteen

Panel One: Soul has now turned back toward the room. He is once again moving away from her, toward the thrones. She is behind, still at the edge of the balcony.

Soul: I have told you again and again that I am only here to help you. I cannot return the love you feel. I did not mean to make you fall in love with me. That is not my purpose here. I am only here to serve you and your people...

Panel Two: Mary, still standing there, is now angry, upset. Her hands are clenched in frustration. Her eyes are squinting in anger.

Mary: If you are here to serve me, then become my king!

Panel Three: Soul, himself dejected, stares at the floor. He stands in the midst of the room, alone. Mary is not even seen in this panel.

Soul: I cannot do that. I cannot. To save you, I must not fall in love with you. The pain would be too great for me...for both of us.

Panel Four: Mary is at a door, now. She is at at a door and has it open. Soul is in the foreground, facing her. Her back is to soul.

Mary: Then I shall not ask it of you again.

Panel Five: Soul is alone in the room, the door now shut.

Soul: I must save you.

Page Fourteen

Panel One: We have a splash page. We're looking down on a fantastic city. Like something out of ARABIAN KNIGHTS. Dome cathedrals. Streets. Huge, amazing structures glittering in the sun. In the center of the panel is a tower with a window set in it, a balcony leading out from the window. There is a vague figure in the window.

Caption: Yes, long ago I ruled a place called Mangrove. It had been my father's place before me, and I inherited it. A rich nation on a gleaming jewel of a world.

Panel Two: Closeup of the figure in the window. It's a woman, a beautiful woman with red, flaming hair flowing about her shoulders. She's leaning against the balcony railing, looking down on the crowded streets.

Caption: A rich nation, yes.

Panel Three: We see a crowd scene at a dockside market. You can see sailing ships at anchor. People are laughing, buying stuff from vendors, eating food.

Caption: We were happy and at peace, even if I had no king to rule with me.

Panel Four: But now there are dark warships in the water, making huge shadows over the people who are now looking up at the ominous craft.

Caption: And then, as Lord Soul had warned us, as the legends he had resurrected had foretold The Evil came.

Page Fifteen

Panel One: We see Soul standing, now. He's back in the alleyway, with the bums all around him, he's waving his arms, creating shadows on the walls, almost dancing, it seems. He has the face of Mary.

Soul/Mary: In Mangrove, for a thousand years, there had been a legend. Of the Evilness that would come in great, black ships to our golden shores. There had been a legend that in our time of greatest wealth, when we were at peace with all of our neighbors and when no great problem stirred our spirits...then would a fate most foul befall us.

Panel Two: Soul/Mary's hands are outstretched, reaching toward the crowd of bums whose faces are lit by the fire, in whose faces we see nothing but complete attention.

Soul/Mary: In our legends, the Evil would come from the sea. In a gigantic armada.

Panel Three: We see the bay at the city of Mangrove. And it is full of great, black galleons. A huge fleet of them that stretches to the horizon.

Soul/Mary: The ships would come in endless waves to our shores, and it was written that nothing we could do could stop them.

Panel Four: We see the black ships grinding against the docks of Mangrove, citizens running away in terror.

Soul/Mary: It was written that the Evilness would come to rest on our shores.

Panel Five: In this panel, the ships have moored, and untold numbers of shadow warriors are descending to the shore.

Soul/Mary: The legends said that the dark ones would come down, and that they would have no mercy upon us.

Panel Six: Shot of hands raised up to defend against the hacking, blood spattered blades that are falling down on the doomed.

Soul/Mary: We had been warned that there would be no mercy.

Page Sixteen

Panel One: A huge splash panel. In this one, the hordes of dark warriors are storming up the stairway that leads to the top of the tower where Mary was first seen in panel one of page nine. Her soldiers are fighting, but it is against a stacked deck. Really bloody battle.

Mary/Soul: And the legends were true. There was no mercy. They killed us all, with no mercy for young nor old, innocent or warrior.

Panel Two: The Throne Room where Mary was standing in the tower. We're looking in from the window/balcony she was on. There are soldiers standing around the door, waiting. The door is splintering.

Mary/Soul: At last, they were storming the very door of my own chambers, and I knew the end was coming. We had been too complacent, too content. We had not believed the legends left to us by those far wiser than we.

Panel Three: We see Mary, in her robes, with a black knife poised to either defend herself or to kill herself.

Mary/Soul: But I had determined that they would not have the pleasure of killing me. This I would not allow.

Panel Four: Mary has the knife to her breast. In the background, we can see the door has shattered and the evil warriors are overwhelming her men.

Mary/Soul: I was about to end it. When...

Page Seventeen

Panel One: The door is shattering inward, and we see not dark warriors, but Lord Soul standing there. Behind him, there are dark warriors from the ships, the bodies of dead soldiers who died defending Mary at their feet.

Soul: Mary. It is time. You must now allow me to save you.

Panel Two: Mary is rushing at him, the knife upraised to stab Soul. Behind him, we still see the dark warriors, as if they are frozen in place.

Mary: You bastard! You were with them! You're part of this evil force!

Panel Three: Similar panel, but now Soul has Mary in his grip as she is trying to stab him, his arm holding hers back easily.

Soul: Mary. Please.

Panel Four: She has dropped the knife, and is staring at the dark warriors who have still not changed, still not moved. (Artist: the people in the background must remain exactly the same in each of these panels.)

Mary: They...they're frozen. You've bewitched them, somehow.

Soul: a way, you might say that.

Mary: Then, you've saved us? You've saved Mangrove? Is this what you've been telling me of for two years? Is this how you will save me?

Panel Five: Soul's cape is growing outward, like a great shadow that now takes up half the panel, obscuring the dark warriors and the broken door behind them.

Soul: Mary, this effect will last but a moment. Within seconds all will be as it was before I came in here. The dark warriors will storm in and they will kill you.

Mary: There is nothing you can do?

Soul: Unless you allow me to save you, then The Evilness will have it's way on this world as it has on uncounted others. There will be nothing I can do, and the last remnant of Mangrove will die with you. I can save only you. There is space only for you where I must put you.

Mary: I...

Soul: Answer me! Quickly! Now! The dark warriors begin to stir!

Panel Six: We see a closeup of the hand of a dark warrior, the movement effect of it twitching.

Page Eighteen

Panel One: Once more we see Soul standing, facing Mary. Mary's back is to the viewer. Soul is facing her and his cape has now expanded to take in most of the room, becoming a huge shadow with only Soul's face and hands to mark where he is.

Mary: Yes. Take me, if it will save Mangrove.

Panel Two: Soul's cape now encompasses all of the panel, and Mary is vanishing into him like a person vanishing into black water. We see only part of her as she is vanishing into him.

Panel Three: The room is now empty of Soul, and we see the dark warriors rushing in, killing the guards who are still alive.

Caption: I cannot save Mangrove, Mary.

Panel Four: We see Mary in silhouette, looking up into darkness. She, too, is in shadow.

Caption: And there I was. Within him, but alone. For a long time.

Page Nineteen

We are back at the apartment with the bag lady and the rat. This will be a series of panels. The rat is between the lady and the door. They will be talking to one another as the woman is slowly trying to manuever her way to the door and escape, while the rat is doing his best to intimidate her and make her stay away from the door. Remember...this is a big rat. Not cat size or anything, but a very big rat...couple or three pounds.

Panel One: Rat is still sitting there with the half eaten rat, looking up at the lady who is cringing in horror, still.

Caption: The rat with the British accent was talking to her again.

Rat: My, that was a tasty treat. Ratmeat is quite a dish. You ought to try it, sometime, present company excepted.

Panel Two: He's now hopped up to the top of a lamp table that had been beside the chair the woman had moved out of the way. He's almost eye level with her, now.

Rat: Now, then. Let's get down to the business at hand. You, my dear Missy, have a job to do.

Panel Three: The woman has backed away from the rat, her arm up to ward him off should he leap at her.

Lady: I'm going crazy.

Panel Four: The rat is pointing at the woman. Have the rat in the foreground, large, with the lady up against the wall, looking small and vulnerable.

Rat: No. You've been crazy. All due to the nature of that...creature. Soul, his name is. Pfaugh! His name makes me nauseuous.

Panel Four: Closeup of the rat, laughing.

Rat: Ha! I made a funny. Can you imagine what it takes to make me nasueous?

Page Twenty

Panel One: The lady is still against the wall, but she seems to be sliding along it, trying to edge toward the door. The rat has his eyes slitted, watching her.

Lady: Go away. You're not real.

Rat: You can't command me. Not yet. Later, you can. But right now I take my orders from a higer power. Right now, what's needed is to whip you back into shape.

Panel Two: The lady has encountered a small table with a vase on it.

Lady: What? Wha? What do you mean? What are you saying?

Panel Three: The rat is leaping at her, his claws reaching for her face.

Rat: I'll show you what I mean!

Panel Four: Missy's left hand is outsretched, pointing toward the rat. There's a bolt of energy coming from her fingertips.

Lady: NO!

Panel Five: The rat is flying across the room, looking as if he's electrified.

Panel Six: An action shot of the rat smacking against the wall and boucning to the floor where he lies prone.

Page Twenty-One

Panel One: The bag lady is standing right next to the front door, staring at her hand. There is a questioning look on her face. Of amazement.

Lady: (whispering to herself) What? What did I do?

Panel Two: We see the rat sitting up, smoke rising from his body. His eyes are squinted, in pain.

Panel Three: The rat has his eyes open, now. He's looking over at the bad lady.

Rat: That's the ticket! See what you can do when you try?

Panel Four: Same shot, but the rat is staring at the open door, through which we can see the bag lady as she is running out into the night.

Rat: Oy. This is going to take a while.

Page Twenty-Two

Panel One: We are back in the alleyway, with all the bums staring at the tattered figure of the storyteller who calls himself Soul.

Panel Two: Hank and John and Farto. Hank is turned toward Farto.

Hank: That was really weird, man. How did he do that? Look and sound like a woman, I mean?

Panel Three: Farto has his hand on Hank's jacket, drawing him in close, looking him in the eye.

Farto: He didn't just look and sound that way...he was her.

Hank: Get outta here! It's a trick. The guy oughtta be on television.

Panel Four: Farto is now wagging his finger in Hank's face.

Farto: It ain't a trick. You'll see. You'll see when the next one comes!

Panel Five: Hank and John are standing up. All of the rest of the bums are still sitting down, looking toward the fire, toward Soul.

Hank: Nah. It was cool. But me and Fante here are getting out, maybe try to find a room.

John: Yeah. We'll see ya later.

Farto: I don't know. I don't think you're supposed to leave, yet. I mean especially if that other one comes.

Panel Six: Hank is standing there, looking down at Farto. Just Hank standing, Farto squatting.

Hank: Other one? What other one?

Page Twenty-three

Panel One: This is a splash panel. We see Soul. We can tell it's Soul, from the way he's dressed. But Mary is gone from his body language. The form he had when we first saw him is also gone. He now looks really, really scary. Imagine the form of the ten most scarred heavyweight boxers you've ever seen, multiply it by 100, and that's the hulking figure facing the bums, his face hidden by the hood of his robes.

Soul: Did I hear somebody say they were leaving?

Panel Two: John and Hank have quickly squatted back where they were.

Panel Three: It's Soul, but looking like a hulking, huge figure. There is no grace in him, anymore. He's standing in front of his audience, in a threatening posture.

Soul: My name is Hazzard. You're all a bunch of maggots and you're going to sit and listen.

Page Twenty-Four

Splash page: This is just Soul's new face. He's drawn back his hood and we see the face of a man who's been through one thousand battles. Scars everywhere. Eyes like fire. A mouth like a slash. A nose that has been bashed too many times to count.

Soul: My name is Hazzard. I have a story to tell you. Listen to me.

Caption: He wasn't asking.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Working hard on the novel. No time for the blog. Alas! (Sophie's a slave driver!)

"Don't stop typing, dammit! More pages!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Help on the novel.

I've been working on a novel entitled Beautiful Boy for quite a lot longer than I care to admit. It's the most difficult thing I've written to date. I've never had a work give me so much trouble. As many writers will admit, novels have a way of getting away from you. Logic dictates this, as a character delineated a certain way must act accordingly. This has a way of really mucking about with the carefully rendered plot. (I know writers who don't plot their novels--but I can't figure out how or why they work that way.)

I've had the past four days free from my regular job. I'm happy to say that I've been very busy on the new novel and am well on my way to finishing it. Within a month or so I hope to have a completed draft of Beautiful Boy. As I write this, Sophie, queen of upstairs, hops aboard my office chair to check up on my progress.

Wish us luck.

Only 3,000 words today?! Get in gear, dude!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tipping Point (Part II)

Bill Gronroos saw my post about our vanishing winter weather, and sent me the following reply. He grew up in Greensboro, NC, where it rarely snows these days:

"I saw your blog about snow. It really dosen't snow in NC like it did when I was a kid growing up in Greensboro.

Some favorite memories are of sledding down snow covered hills around my house.

The winter of '65-'66 it snowed every Wednesday afternoon for 6 or 7 weeks in a row. I recall great sledding, school being canceled, and the debut of "Batman" on TV during this time period.

We had a lot of days to make up at the end of the school year. Was it worth it ? Yep!"

Another personal response came from Roy Aiken, who mentioned how certain idiots deny the evidence of their own freaking skins.

Alas, I must agree.

The summit of Mount LeConte, elevation 6,593 feet. One of the few places in the South where you can pretty much count on seeing some snow in the winter months. (Photo taken March 5, 2005.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Most Reproduced Internet Image?

I know. You've already seen this. Originally posted, I think, at the Super Dickery website. has to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious works I've seen. Not sure who wrote it, but it was illustrated by Mike Sekowsky who (yes, I'm a comic book geek) was the pencil artist for many years on the book Justice League of America. When I was a kid I hated Sekowsky's artwork and I'd generally avoid anything he illustrated. My opinion of his work has not changed over the years, save for this one panel:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's In a Name?

Sometimes I stumble upon waterfalls that are without names. Too small or isolated to have ever been tagged, I suppose. No less impressive and no less beautiful.

This one was along the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, Virginia.

I took this photo with a telephoto setting. It's located very high up in the Middle Prong Wilderness Area in western North Carolina. This falls descends from a ridge on Green Knob, somewhere between 5,500 feet and 5,800 feet above sea level, making it--perhaps--the highest elevation watefall in the East. Someday I'd like to bushwhack to this waterfall. But, as it's in a very rugged part of a relatively isolated wilderness, I'll have to have some other hikers along to make the attempt. It's on my to-do list.

Another unnamed waterfall that I saw in Tennessee not far from the Bald River Gorge Wilderness Area. Water levels were high on the day I took this photo, so this falls might not be so impressive on a normal day. To me, though, it was quite beautiful.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tipping point.

When I was growing up and lived in Atlanta GA, I vividly recall that each year between the second grade and the sixth grade, we’d have at least one good snowfall every year. It was no big deal when I’d awaken to find the schoolyard beneath several inches of snow. I owned a sled in those days--we had enough snow so that my parents felt that the investment in a good sled was worth the money. And I certainly put that sled to use. One winter storm that was severe enough for snow to lay in some thickness for several days, I ran the sled until I broke it from repeatedly wrecking at the base of a very steep hill.

Just a few years ago, I was at a local dry goods store near Huntersville NC that was closing its doors after almost 100 years of continual business. It was in a big, old, wooden structure that had served as a general store for ten decades. Just inside the front door I was examining a wooden pillar rising up from the porch. Etched there in pen and lead were various records inked or penciled by various store employees over the years. Every time there was a measurable snowfall, the folk would write it on the wooden pillar. I stood there reading back through the decades, and it was shocking how common heavy snowfall had been in years past, and how utterly rare they were today.

Looking at those crude records, I saw that as late as the early 1970s, the area would commonly be covered in snowstorms. A six-inch snowfall was barely worth noting, but there were dozens and dozens of those. Even storms that dumped nearly a foot seemed to come at least once per year until the late 50s. But after that, the big storms came less and less often, and even moderates snows began to taper off.

And, now, today, it rarely snows in the Charlotte area, at all. We get a dusting during the average winter these days. About once every ten years we’ll see a heavy storm with a foot or so. (I’ve seen two of those since moving here in 1980.) When snow comes to Atlanta, now, it makes the news even on the national level. All for a place that once saw snowfalls every year, that once was a place where kids owned sleds—kids who could look forward to using those sleds each winter.

Scientists keep warning of a “tipping point” when the climate will have irrevocably changed, and when there will be no way to repair the damage we’ve done to our very atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. From the evidence I’ve seen in my mere fifty years, I can safely say that we probably passed such a tipping point when I was about twelve years old.


Our single pathetic snowfall (February 1) of 2007.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Backbone Rock Falls

The most beautiful waterfall that I've ever seen is Backbone Rock Falls at Backbone Rock Recreation Area on the Tennessee/Virginia border, just a few miles west of Damascus, Virginia. Backbone Rock itself is something to see, and is a thin pillar of rock rising abruptly above the stream that surrounds it on three sides. In the late-1900s, the engineers building a rail through the area decided that it would be easier to punch a whole through Backbone Rock rather than completely take down a portion, thus creating what is often referred to as "the worl'ds shortest tunnel". A motor road runs through it now, and it's something to see.

Backbone Rock Falls lies just a short stroll from the highway and the famous rock. It plummets into a very steep, very dark little canyon filled with hemlock trees and extremely tall yellow poplars doing their best to reach up and out of the gorge and past the rocky lip to the open sky. The shadows and the dark greens and the atmosphere of this place are unique in my experience, and while the waterfall certainly is not a major one, it remains to me the single most beautiful waterfall I have visited.

Standing at the foot of the falls in the bottom of the gorge.

My friend Roy's daughter Emily down in the gorge at the bottom of the fall.

Roy, among hemlocks, at the top of the gorge.

Backbone Rock, aka: World's shortest tunnel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Writing While Sick, Reading Sean Doolittle While Recovering

Well, the flu is abating. I dropped Tylenol yesterday and took Walter Mosley’s advice and worked on the novel. Actually did about 1,500 words. Not a lot, but okay for a sick guy.

In the meantime, I want to mention a writer named
Sean Doolittle. I don’t know him. We’ve never met, but one of his novels was recommended to me. So I bought a copy from and finished it two days ago while I was laid up in bed between cold sweats and fever.

This guy is truly talented! I’ve never read a thriller quite like this one. Doolittle’s quite a skillful writer and you are quickly drawn into the situation presented in
THE CLEANUP. But it wasn’t just that skill that got me enjoying this book so much. It was the fact that this was just a great working-class tale. The characters here are beat cops, and grocery store clerks, and carpenters, and salvage yard yokels, and laborers. Even the single “rich” guy in the book is a self-made character who owns a furniture store.

I liked that. It’s something fresh. No people moving about in circles I neither recognize nor find attainable. These are real folk. The cop who patrols your neighborhood at night. The lady who scans your groceries. The kid who stocks the retail shelves. The dude who put in the slat walls in the bank office. The story was reasonable and the characters were universally accessible.

Doolittle’s the real deal. Working class thriller for working class guys. (And everyone else.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sage Advice

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the writer Walter Mosley. I’ve never met him, of course, but I have listened to him speak in various interviews. Some of his fiction is so powerfully written and so brilliantly conceived that there have been moments when the pain and anguish made me clench my eyes shut and caused me to temporarily close the pages. This is not meant as a criticism, but as a simple fact concerning the sheer strength of his work.

In his interviews, he seems to me to be a man of great dignity. I like that. If anyone ever interviews me, I hope that I can convey such a sense of dignity, leaving great emotion within the pages of my books.

What leads me to mention Mosley today is that in one interview he was asked about the practice of writing as labor. And, like many other writers, he stressed the need to write daily. And even if one were sick, one still needed to write. I took that to heart.

For the past few days I have been laid low by the flu. First time I’ve had it in some years, but it’s my fault for not getting my flu vaccine this year. So I tried to work on my novel having been sucker-punched by this virus. Alas. I was so sick that all I could do was think about my misery to the point that I wasn’t able to transcribe any ideas to my characters and their own actions. Mosley had said something to the effect of if you’re sick, make your characters sick. Mr. Mosley, it’s great advice, I think, but I just couldn’t swing it today.

But I’ve swallowed a handful of Tylenol, and I’m going to give it another shot.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Waterfalls (Part II)

I visited these waterfalls from late 2004 through 2005.

One Thousand Drips, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Waterfall on Jacob Fork, South Mountains State Park, NC.

Rainbow Falls, Mount LeConte, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Unnamed waterfall, Middle Prong Wilderness, North Carolina.

Unnamed waterfall, Mount Rogers Recreation Area, Virginia.

Unnamed waterfall, Mount Rogers Recreation Area, Virginia.

Unnamed cascade, Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina.

Big Laurel Falls, Standing Indian Basin, North Carolina.

Mooney Falls, Standing Indian Basin, North Caorlina.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Flu

I have the flu. I didn’t get it the past three years, but it hit me pretty hard in 2004.

Having the flu sucks ass.

I must return to bed.


Saturday, January 12, 2008


I've hiked the Boogerman Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than I've hiked any other trail there. I've hiked it in every season of the year. It's a great trail for me because it travels through one of the greatest old growth forests in the park. Here are a few photos I've taken from the same spots in both summer and winter.

Everyone has to walk inside this tree (right on the trail) and have their photo taken in the hollow area. (Talk about your Mother Nature!)

This rock wall is one of many built and maintained by the former owner of the land, and the namesake of the trail "Booger" Palmer. Which is how the Boogerman Trail got its name. This old mountaineer kept refusing offers for his timber rights because he liked looking at the trees more than he did spending money.

This is the footbridge at the very beginning of the trail.

Waterfalls, Post #1

In many of my hikes, I get to see some very nice waterfalls. Generally, I'm not the kind of person who goes on a hike specifically to search out waterfalls. But I do very much enjoy it when I encounter them along the way. Here are some of the falls I've seen in my hikes. All of these were encountered in 2004, between early May and late August.

Falls on North Fork of the Holly River, Holly River State Park, West Virginia.

Falls, Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina.

Unnamed falls, Holly River State Park, West Virginia.

Shupe's Chute, Holly River State Park, West Virginia.

Unnamed falls, Table Rock Mountain State Park, South Carolina.

Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest, North Carolina.

Mill Creek Falls, Kumbrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Wildcat Falls, South Carolina.

Stone Mountain Falls, Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.

Schoolhouse Falls, Panthertown Valley, North Carolina.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Argh! (Critters redux!)

There was some kind of internet glitch with my post yesterday that ate all of the photos. Rather than reload them all, I’ll just post something else.

These are a bare few of my favorite animal photos from my various trips the past two years to National Parks, state parks, National Forests, and wilderness areas.

This first one was on a visit to Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina. It’s an unusual area—a classic monadnock. The high area has lots of exposed rock, and some spectacular waterfalls. I had been hiking in the hot summer sun and visited this waterfall where I took a bath. After washing the sweat off, I noticed that the stream passed through a narrow grotto beyond the falls and so I walked down to take a look. Inside the grotto, on the rock wall, was this very tiny bird nest which contained a single extremely small egg. It could have been a hummingbird nest—I don’t know. But I took this photo and it remains one of my favorites.
The next photo was taken in Silver River State Park in Florida. The Silver River emerges directly from the ground, its headwaters being the absolutely stunning and tremendous Silver Springs, around which was built a commercial amusement park. My family and I put our canoe into the Silver River at a county park and paddled up the river to the Silver Springs, thus avoiding any nasty admission fees. We’d been told that the area around the river was home to a large and growing population of feral rhesus monkeys. Escapees, according to tales, from various Tarzan movies filmed in the vicinity. The State of Florida has decided that the monkeys pose no risk to the area as an invasive species, and their numbers have increased somewhat. If you are lucky while paddling along the Silver River, you may encounter them. We were lucky enough to spot some, one of which I was able to photograph.

This guy had one of the most symmetrically perfect racks of any whitetail buck I’ve ever encountered. He was in a field inside Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While certainly no record, he was just one of the most spectacular deer I’ve ever seen.

Continuing the deer theme, these were part of a small herd of extremely small Key deer that we saw on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys. Endangered, these are a sub-species of the whitetail deer. Adapted to island ecology, these deer are very, very small. A fully grown buck is no larger than a medium-sized dog. This doe and fawns were very tiny, indeed.

While on one of my hikes to locate and photograph the world champion Sag Branch poplar tree, I noticed this red newt along he Boogerman Trail in the Cataloochee area of the park. It was chilly that morning, and the newt was sluggish, and in the midst of chowing down on an earthworm.

This fellow was sitting in the Silver River as we were cruising under paddle-power toward Silver Springs. I've seen many alligators in my travels, but this guy just seemed more than others to want us to go swimming.

These big boys were sitting along the river in Rock Island State Park in Tennessee as we were paddling by. Later, while rock-hopping, I found out why they were gathered there. They were sharing an enormous gar-fish lying on the rocks.

We met up with this hawk (red-shouldered hawk?) while camping at Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest in Florida. He kept trying to steal the steaks off our grill, but the heat kept him at bay. The ranger told us that he was a particularly talented thief and generally got away with quite a lot of people food every day.

This last photo is one of my favorites, if a bit blurry. We were paddling down a stream in Florida called Juniper Run, through the Juniper Prarie Wilderness Area (Ocala National Forest). We came around a bend in the crystal clear stream to see this racoon in the water, and just beyond a whitetail deer. Off to the right, out of sight of my lense, was a wild turkey. It was just very neat and very exciting to encounter so many different large animals together in one spot in a wilderness setting.