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Monday, December 21, 2020
Sunday, December 6, 2020
In my story Something's Not Right, the following letter which my protagonist writer can't let go drives the story:
After your earlier letter I was expecting at the least a diverting read, and not the excruciatingly hackneyed and clichéd disaster that you sent me. Your inane plot plodded along at a pace that made me want to drive sharpened spikes through my eyes, your characters barely qualified as cardboard cutouts, and your dialog was what I’d expect from a failing eighth grade creative writing student. The only thing that kept me reading your ‘masterpiece’ to the bitter end was my fascination over how shockingly bad it is.
I know you must be disappointed that I cannot offer even a single word of encouragement, but I can offer advice. Please, for the love of God, never put pen to paper again unless it is to compose a suicide note. Even that, I’m afraid, would end up as an unreadable mess.
Best of luck in your future career as a busboy or other such endeavor which I’m sure you’ll be eminently qualified for.
I invite other writers to share their worst rejection letters.
Saturday, December 5, 2020
The Last Santa
Emma Sue (honorable mention in Best American Mystery Stories)
The Caretaker of Lorne Green
Some People Deserve to Die
A Guilty Conscience
Something's Not Right
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
I have two very different noir stories out now. A David Goodis-like story PAST DUE in the Sept/Oct issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and a Cornell Woolrich-like story THE LONG ROAD in Coast to Coast Noir. So what's a David Goodis-like noir story? A story where the past catches up to the noir protagonist. How about a Cornell Woolrich-like noir? A missing memory, and the attempt to discover it leads to the noir journey. At least that's my take!
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Saturday, February 1, 2020
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
(noun) A phenomenon that occurs in hell when a soul is absorbed into a more aware reality.
Vera looked up from her romance magazine to tell me that I had some freaky-looking dude waiting for me.
“Did you get a name?” I asked.
She gave me a put-upon squinty look. “He wouldn’t tell me it,” she said. “I never saw the guy before. He’s this real slick fellow, about fifty, bony-thin, and dressed like a mortician, especially how he’s got his hair greased back so it looks like it’s painted on. I think he’s a carny. Or maybe an ambulance chaser.” Her lips pushed into the same sort of small, tight circle she might’ve shown if she had bit into something sour. “He made me nervous sitting out here so I had him wait in your office.”
With that Vera once again disappeared behind her magazine. I didn’t bother asking her anything further and continued on to my private office.
The man waiting for me was sitting in the chair reserved for clients, and on hearing me, twisted his neck around to get a look. He was pretty much how Vera described him, although what struck me as his most prominent features were how overly red his lips were, especially in contrast to his milk-white coloring, and how tightly wrapped his skin appeared to be around his face. If he opened his eyes too wide or sneezed too violently there was a chance his skin would rip open.
For several seconds those overly red lips tried hard to twitch themselves into a smile before finally succeeding.
“Mike Stone?” he asked in a nervous, twitchy voice. “I’m assuming that’s your name since that’s what’s stenciled on your outer door.”
“And you really do private investigations?”
“I guess I have to since that’s also stenciled on the door.”
My answer made his lips start twitching again, but this time they didn’t quite manage themselves into a smile. I made my way to my desk and sat down behind it.
“You got a name also?” I asked
“Certainly, but I don’t care to share it presently.”
He was an odd duck, that was for sure, with his funeral-home black suit that matched the color of his greased slicked hair. That same suit was also two sizes too small and his ankles and wrists stuck out from the cuffs and sleeves looking like broomsticks carved out of ivory. As odd looking as he was, there was something else about him that made my skin crawl. The mortuary man. That was what I thought as I stared at him.
“Suit yourself,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
More of his lip twitching. Then, “I came here partly to satisfy my curiosity. I’ve been hearing rumors about a private investigation office operating here of all places, and I needed to see if it was true.” He paused to glance around my office. There wasn’t much to it. A cheap wooden coatrack, three beat-up file cabinets against one wall, an even more beat-up oak desk complete with ink blotter, Underwood typewriter and rotary phone, a wooden swivel chair for myself, and the leather-cushioned one that he was sitting on. “Mr. Stone, if you don’t mind my asking, what do your clients usually hire you for?”
“Any number of things,” I lied. Because it was almost always one of three things. Most of my clients were murdered when they were alive, and now that they’re in hell they want to know who killed them. Some of the less aware ones only want to know how they died. The ones who were deep in denial more times than not want me to tell them what they did to end up here, as if they weren’t only kidding themselves. We all know what we did to end up here, even if we want to pretend we don’t.
“Interesting.” The mortuary man steepled his fingers so that his manicured fingernails touched his still quivering blood-saturated lips. “Mr. Stone, I’ve heard rumors about the fees you charge. That they can be quite steep.”
I shrugged. “If I’m going to do a job, I’m going to damn well get paid for it.”
“Of course. Nobody can say that you shouldn’t. This is hell, after all. We’re all opportunists, are we not? Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. And it’s not as if your clients have much choice on who they hire since you appear to hold a unique position. If the rumors I hear are true, you demand that your more attractive lady clients bare all and engage in flagante delicto—”
“That’s only if I deliver the goods.”
A brief moment of lip twitching, then, “Yes, how utterly chivalrous of you. Besides, what else should they be expecting? It’s not as if there are any white knights here in hell to come to their rescue. But it does beg the question of what you would charge me.”
“I’m sure we could come to an arrangement. So are you going to keep wasting my time, or are you going to tell me what you want to hire me for?”
That seemed to amuse him to no end as his lips began quivering like crazy before finally settling into an impish smile. “I believe we will be doing business in the future,” he said. “But not now. My coming here today was merely exploratory.”
With that he unfolded himself from the chair. He was much taller than I’d realized from him sitting down. Close to seven feet. It must’ve been his beanpole thinness that fooled me. He also appeared unnaturally stiff as he made his way to the door. Once he was out of my office and the door was closed behind him, I took a bottle of Canadian whiskey and a glass from my bottom desk drawer. My
hand shook slightly as I poured a shot. Here in hell I’ve dealt with more dangerous characters than this mortuary man, but for some reason he crept me out. I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him not to bother coming back. It would’ve been a mistake doing so. I’d learned long ago it was never a good idea to turn down clients here in hell—that it can cause unforeseen consequences.
I took the whiskey in one gulp. In my hell, the whiskey tastes and smells like I remembered it from when I was alive. It doesn’t get you drunk—hell’s not about to be that kind—but something about its burn on your lips and throat can be comforting. I poured myself another shot, and tried to put the mortuary man out of my mind.