Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rough Draft Noir

Comments: What follows is the rough first draft of a story not written. I've been reading Ellroy and Penszler's collection of noir short stories, The Best American Noir of the Century. The noir writers of the first half of the twentieth century focused on setting the dark mood at the outset of their stories, rather than the action. Today's suspense writers begin with the action and let the mood settle in as best it can. The following snippet captures that early noir style. Notice the "hook" doesn't appear until the end of the passage. I'll revise this opening later and present it in twenty-first century noir.

This is a rough draft so try to look past the obvious need for editing. My plan is to show you a bit of my editing process over a few posts. For fun, pay attention to the contrast of dark and light. How does this contrast affect mood? What, if anything, does the light symbolize in this otherwise dark tale.

Rough Draft Noir
The darkness gathers over all as the night sky blackens and sinks to the level of skyscrapers. Clouds boil and roll over the sky like flood waters from a deluge.

At ground level, Phil Tankerton pauses before hopping aboard the lighted street car. A November wind ruffles his overcoat and nearly knocks his backpack from his shoulders.

Phil parks in an empty seat toward the rear. He’s glad no one shares this seat with him. He rests the backpack on the empty aisle seat, resting his hand over it like a protecting mother eagle. He glances out the black window spattered with rain drops. Neon lights paint a cityscape abstracted by the rain.

Phil shifts his body to relieve his side of the pressure caused by the 45 strapped under his shoulder.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Agency Hack

Before he acts, Worster wants to be certain of the facts. Otherwise he will blow the whole presentation. Relationship building he knows. Selling he knows. Schmoozing he knows. Iron from steel he’s lost. Worster knows he needs to know the facts. Facts rule. Study the facts. Iron ain’t steel. Good. That’s one. Bar stock in, product out. That’s two. Cripes, how many facts are there? Machine steel, stainless steel, carbon steel, brass. Where did brass come from? Oh crap, they have a brass foundry, too? We’re supposed to promote brass? Cripes, I thought this was a steel account. Or is it iron? Google, gotta Google fast. Yeah, that’s it. Steal. No, the other stele. How do you spell the other stiel?

“Hey, anybody around here know how to spell steel?”


“No, the other steel.”

Crap. Drop forge. Good. Drop forge. Two words. Gotta drop in drop forge. Double word score. Extrusion? No, that’s aluminum. Ain’t aluminum, just soft steel? Looks the freaking same. Not the same. Ok, got it. Lose the extrusion.

“Anybody find out how to spell steel?”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing Exercise (3 minutes)

Use the following six words.

The acolyte genuflected in front of the main alter where he hurt his knee on the tiddlywinks. He screamed making Sister Martha jump from her pew and the entire eighth grade class burst into laughter. Father Smythe, who was watching Galaxy Quest in the sacristy nearly spilled his pickle juice but caught it at the last moment. He bit into the three pickles remaining in his hand, chewed quickly and swallowed. He then gulped some of the pickle juice and headed for the alter where Kevin, the acolyte writhed in pain.

“What is your problem, Kevin?” Father asked.

“Tiddlywinks, Father.”

“Well, it’s not like it was a razor for Pete’s sake. Finish lighting the candles.”

Postmortem: Is it necessary to say "in pain" after "writhed?" Does one ever writhe when not in pain?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Prom Pranks

My writer friend Krista Phillips once asked our now defunct online writer’s group for advice on prom pranks. She wrote, “I need an idea for a really good prank that a guy and his friends might try to pull to ruin a prom. I was thinking it could be something they would want to videotape for YouTube since teens are all in to that these days.”

My response
1. Stink bombs. Works every time. There's the cloud of dust, the hearty "Hi-yo-Silver and away" as the masked dude runs out of the place in time to avoid any stink on himself. That's how we know he did it of course. He's the one that doesn't smell. He's also the one with the video camera recording the mass exodus for presentation on YouTube.

2. Bug the ladies room with hidden cameras. Not a CBA solution, but it worked in "Revenge of the Nerds. "Ohmigod, a nerd saw me naked!" Of course, it works better if you bug a dorm or sorority. Still, you could catch all those cool conversations the guys would love to hear. "Tony doesn't know it yet, but this is his lucky night."

3. Give drugs to the band. Makes for great song lyrics until somebody tells the principal to listen to the words carefully. Could make for a great YouTube moment.

4. Start a rumor that the prom queen has been cheating on the captain of the football team with the captain of the basketball team while messing around with a nerd on the side. Stand back because the punches are going to fly. Another great YouTube moment.

5. Release a dozen mice while the band is playing that special slow song.

6. Do all of the above -- now you have a YouTube moment no one will ever forget.

7. Almost forgot -- See all those balloons hanging from the ceiling? Some wise guy filled them with paint and the paint is weighing down the balloons so they are about to start dropping from the ceiling any second and omygosh that one just splattered Emily Brickbrine's prom dress. Look out, here comes another one. Do you have your video camera running?

8. Okay, I'm getting warmed up now. Ever see the eighties movie "Sixteen Candles?" Here's the easy variation... a guy swipes a pair of his sister's panties and brings them to the prom. He waits until the evening is about half over (right before the paint balloons start to drop) and then tells all the guy's that the prom queen gave him her panties because she is so hot for all the guys. Then he shows the proof. The prom queen never knew she had so many guy friends and the prom king is about jealous and something interesting has to come out of this. And what with the rumor mill going full force from idea number 4 above... this can't end well.

9. Did you remember to spike the punch with grain alcohol or vodka?

10. Alice B. Toklas Brownies... Spike the desert with marijuana.

11. Or if you are just lazy and mean and don't plan to go to the prom anyway, call in a bomb scare.

12. Some of the guys could get together and hire prostitutes to be their prom dates and then turn 'em loose on the other guys. That has to tick off the girls big time. Stand back because the punches are going to fly and those girls hit hard.

13. When the band is about to go on break, one of the guys jumps up on stage, grabs a mic and announces that somebody important has just been assassinated (former Gov Blogoyovich?) so the rest of the prom is canceled so everyone can go home and watch the news.

14. While everyone is dancing to that special song, sneak around the tables and place a condom at every place setting. Not a biggie, but it is a great ice breaker.

I'm thinking you combine all of them. You'll have a scene out of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Your book will be NY Times #1. You'll make big bucks on the movie rights including a percentage of gross because you know Lindsey and Britney will play the prostitutes and you'll owe me big time.

Side note: Please keep Krista and her family in your prayers as they await word on a new heart for Krista’s baby daughter. See Krista's blog

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Pizza of Doom

My writer's group met at Monterey Place Pizza in Geneva, Illinois, last night. Great pizza. Excellent service. Naturally we had to have a pizza-themed writing exercise, but instead, I selected one of Bill Price's ideas. He said any noun goes better if you put "of doom" after it. So the exercise was to write anything you wanted for three minutes, but you had to include "of doom" after the nouns. Pronouns were exempt. Writing about pizza was my idea. Others wrote about other things, mostly pizza...

The pizza of doom fell on the floor of doom next to the blond of doom. Helen of doom picked it up. “What’s this crap of doom?”

“It slipped out of my hand of doom,” Fred of doom replied.

“Watch where you put your hand of doom. You’ve been drinking too many beers of doom.”

“You are looking pretty good yourself, Helen of doom."

“So you want to get friendly or what?”

“The what of doom.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Our Special Hideaway

We share a valley of pines in our hearts and minds. A deep, dark, slow river barely moves as we stroll past. There’s also a lake where the water is still and deep. Here, it is cool, and the pine needles are soft under our feet. Away from the river, where it’s drier, the moss grows in our special hideaway. It’s a room that we enter by crawling through a tunnel shaped by pine branches. The pine trees form the walls of our room and the pine boughs overhead make a ceiling. It’s big enough for the two of us to snuggle. In the hurried, crazy world we live in, I think of our gentle pine forest with you by my side and smile.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Hoo, I’m hot now! Look at me. Yeah. You looking ugly, girl. Putting bread in me with your no coffee smile, morning breath and flannel jammies. What’s that in your hair? I got heating elements with better curl than that. Oh, I’m hot.

Wo, what’s that? Look out. Here I come. POP! Yeah, babe, that’s your toast on me. Don’t pick it up with those fingers. They been in your nose.

Gonna get quiet now. Yeah, babe. Cool. Chill.

Monday, March 21, 2011

White Room

Ethyl woke up in a white room, which was no surprise because Ralph, her husband, had spent the past three days painting over Justin’s deep purple. Justin was serving in Jerusalem undercover with the CIA.

The story goes that Justin was a pot head in high school, but she had never caught him with the weed. Ralph thought it was a case of teenage angst or so he claimed.

She ducked when the missile plowed through the window, shattering glass. Of course, the floor was no safer than the bed when the thing exploded, but you have to do something at a time like that.

She woke up in a white room. Bags of things were hanging everywhere and she could see the needles stuck in both arms. At least I still have eyes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Basement

Morina banged her head hard against something. She felt her forehead, and her hand came away wet. She wiped it on the something hard and decided it must be a rock.

“Of course it’s a rock.” The disembodied voice was a deep baritone.

“Who? What? You reading my mind?”

“Sorry. I forgot humans can’t see in the dark. Here.”

Morina blinked as a light snapped on. She was in a basement.

“My name is Egdad. Welcome to Berbain Castle.”


“Also known as my basement.”

“So we’re like in the Bavarian Alps or what?”

“Or what is closer. Naperville, Illinois, to be precise.  How’d you get here anyway?”

“I… I… well, I remember falling into a sewer, but I was in Cleveland, Ohio.”

“Dragona Bertforth.”


“No. Who. Dragona is… well, you might think of her as a witch but she’s more. Vampire witch perhaps. You earthers have such a limited imagination it’s hard to find a good analogy. Let’s throw in werewolf but take away the fur coat.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Elbow on Formica

She leans on the small round table, chin propped in hand, elbow on Formica, in the Geneva Barnes and Noble. Her eyes are warm and she smiles like a lover but the subject of her affection is the little girl across the table. Mom’s tired eyes express her feelings in this look.

No wedding ring. Mom without Dad. Her coat is dark red with a green plaid lining peeking out of her hood. Upon her dark blond hair she sports a bright red velvet hat. Mom home from work.

In mid description, Mom takes off with the little girl, leaving undefined the natural beauty of her eyes, nose, sweet smile, soft chin, high cheek bones and a life lived day by day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

For New Writers

I recommend the following:
1. write
2. write
3. write

Read novels and some "how to" guides. Stephen King's "On Writing" is excellent. So is Anne Lamott”s "Bird by Bird." Join a local writer's group in your area because like all addictions, writing requires company.

Google is your friend so that when you hear terms like POV or character arc or talking heads -- just Google the term and you'll learn all sorts of stuff. For example, one of my critique partners told me I write in noir style. Well, I kinda sorta knew what noir film was about, but not really. You know, those dark, depressing B movies from the forties, right? Well, I Googled it to see what he was talking about and found a great article on Wikipedia that explained the whole thing in detail. Turns out my critique partner was right. Without studying noir, I had somehow developed that style -- probably from watching old movies. Now that I know what noir is and that it's the way I like to write, I'm better able to focus my writing in that direction. This allows me to write to my strengths.

There's more than enough to learn to fill a book. Hundreds of books in fact. Bet your local library has some books on writing that will help you in getting started.

About college: if you've never been, then try some writing courses at your local community college. The college experience is worth the investment plus you might just learn something while you're there. If you've been, you probably will do just as well saving your money and joining a writer's group. My writer's group has two English majors, a nuclear physicist, two technology geeks, two attorneys, a biology major who somehow ended up becoming a professional trade publication editor and now is a writer/editor by profession. So a writing or English background isn't necessary, but you do have to be willing to learn the craft.

And remember, it's fun so have fun. Otherwise, why do it?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Introducing myself -- again

Okay, blog, you're about to see a lot more action as I update you with much greater frequency. To kick off my new commitment, here's a re-introduction based on a form Peg Brantley sent to our ACFW suspense writers loop...

Name: Paul R. Lloyd
Where You're From: Warrenville, Illinois -- a suburb of Chicago
Favorite Suspense Authors: Dean Koontz, Travis Thrasher, classic mystery writers like Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Raymond Chandler ("He wrote like a slumming angel..."). The quote is from Ross Macdonald whose work I can't seem to find anymore. Mickey Spillane who wrote in a style similar to my own (no ego here, right? :-). I recently rediscovered Stephen King after a long absence and have enjoyed his work. J.A. Konrath understands the use of the hook and a well-placed joke. A fairly new author is John Galligan who writes the Fly Fishing Mystery series. He spins a good yarn. I'm a big Brit mystery fan. Julian Barnes is a hoot. Read him carefully and he'll teach you how to switch POV in mid-paragraph and make it work. He's a master at the craft. England, England is one of his books. Neil Gaiman is a joy. Thomas Phillips (The Molech Prophecy) was in my online writer's group for a time. He is an excellent wordsmith.
What you're reading now: Just finished Paranormal America which is a sociology study of the paranormal community in America. Very informative reading for thriller authors. Like what percentage of big foot devotees believe in other paranormal events?
Published or Pre-published? Pre. My wife and I own a marketing business and self-publish books -- our own and for other authors. Planning to self-publish a thriller later this year for the Christmas market. Think Stephan King visits Bethlehem or What was Satan doing while God was going about the business of sending his son to save the world? I have several non-fiction books self-published. And an e-book of mystery short stories.
How many manuscripts have you written?: Fiction: Five. One is publishing ready. Another will be ready very soon. The others are waiting patiently for editing.
What are you working on now?: FULFILLMENT. It's the Christmas suspense novel. I'm finishing an extensive editing process I go through with my novels. We'll be testing some online marketing techniques we've been learning. Should be interesting. Stay tuned.
Where you can find me online:
Linked In (I accept all invites to connect):
Twitter: PaulRLloyd