Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Riding The Centipede: The Weirdest Scene & A Conversation...

There's a lot of 'weird' in my debut novel, Riding the Centipede.  A lot of horror and bizarre (not bizarro) and noir, too.  Drug fiction and perhaps quest fiction, as well.  You may think other genres (perhaps even bizarro).  It's all over the place, but in a good way.  In a message from the excellent horror writer, Brian Fatah Steele, he noted as follows:

"The scene between Blake and Solon, man... that was just... that's gonna be in my head forever. That scene ALONE would've got you a 5 Star review from me." [his actual review can be read Here]

This comment brought me much delight.  I purposefully worked the weird into this scene, stronger than anywhere else.  (This is, of course, a personal observation as there are a few other scenes where the weird is heavy as well.)  Even though the centerpiece of the scene--it overlaps two of Blake's chapters in the middle of the book--is a conversation--a strange one, at that--I purposefully amped up the strongest elements of weird fiction as it took shape.  Elements of mood and ambience.  A sense that something is 'off,' yet uncertain as to what that something is.  The magnification of these elements contributed to a sense of disorientation that we experience through private investigator, Terrence Blake.  Even before he made it to Solon's blue ranch house...

"He peered into the deep blue, the sky so vast it swallowed all thought, adding to the monotony that surrounded him. Telephone poles stood crooked, cutting a path through the fields, their hides weathered by the elements. Cables strung out between them sagged and swayed sounding like the flapping wings of Pterodactyls as the hot breeze beat them unmercifully, before simmering down to a hum. The murmur of voices in transit, but never stopping out here. Down where he was, edge of a field that dulled senses and sight, the feral electricity of insects and phantoms and lost souls brought a chill to his soul; the one barely hanging on…"
Then, sighting the blue ranch house, where he hesitates on the porch and observes via the windows to each side of the door...
"To the left stood a wooden frame for a sofa, mismatched pillows piled in disarray upon it. A table that looked like the cousin to the sofa. Everything looked bone naked. Two doors, one opened and one closed. The open door led to darkness the measure of which Blake thought of as complete. As if light, natural or artificial, never had graced the room. That was it, sparse teetering on non-existent. To the right, a large bookshelf dominated the room, books stuffed every which way onto the shelves, tumbling to stacks on the floor. The lone bookshelf unworthy of the onslaught. To the right of the bookshelf, was a tiny desk on thin legs with an old typewriter on it, accompanied by an uncomfortable looking wooden chair. Another room, door open, showed the remnants of a kitchen, no curtains over the window above the sink. Even from outside, Blake could make out dishes piled on a table, a broken mug on the floor.
As he focused, he noticed roaches and moths crawl and flutter about. They drew his eye to the picture frames above the desk, to the right and left of the entrance to the kitchen. All of them empty. Though this could be anybody’s house, something about the contents of this house made his instincts sing. This had to be Peter Solon’s home.
No matter the strong possibility Peter Solon was no longer of this earth, Blake knocked."
It was quite exhilarating to find such a dark and weird setting amidst the sweltering heat of the midday sun.  I like to play against the norm, or at least look at the world from less familiar angles, as often as possible.  These scenes allowed me to shine a light on one of the darkest places on the planet, in the heat-blasted middle of nowhere, USA.
Then, of course, there's the pure madness that is the enigmatic writer, Peter Solon, first here, with Blake at the door, ready to leave, knocking...
"One last time, then out of here: “Mr. Solon. Peter Solon.” Parchment inscribed with invisible ink.
The house moaned and cracked, as if the wood were alive. A sound like nothing Blake had ever heard split through the rumble, like glass being chewed with feverish dedication by teeth made of gravel. Pops and whirrs; amplifier hum after a strummed power chord.

Then: “Who’s asking?”
A voice shaped by these obtuse sounds. The voice of Peter Solon.
Blake stepped past the front door and into the house with a deep breath and a desire to be anywhere but here, in the presence of the man who had created the legend of the green limousine. Solon was the key. He would have to follow through. Even if his courage was on life support."
And then a conversation to make your head spin.  Ambiguous truths, slippery observations, preposterous perceptions and even the most bizarre of revelations...
[okay, a big snippet from Solon, talking about his relationship with William S. Burroughs; less the weird I am noting for this piece, though it is quite weird, and more the pure madness that rules Solon's mind.  Or is it just an understanding of reality we'd rather ignore...?]
“He’s always thought his work superior to mine. Even if he stole from it for elements found in much of his work. The use of the language of insects in the unabridged version of Naked Lunch being his most blatant—”
Solon screamed, or at least let loose with a sound related to a scream. It was a tone that scissored through the air, slicing into Blake’s mind, body, the house itself. Insects froze and tumbled from walls; lizards hung on a few seconds longer before joining them. Blake buckled to his knees.
“—his most obvious example. Yet, he never had the heart to release that version on the world you live in, only down here. Where it sits amid the mid-list titles and well below my masterpieces. You see”—pausing again, a sense of bringing composure to the shadows, as if one was brushing lint off a suit, plucking the finer pieces—“Burroughs is a man who dreamed of being an insect, but did not understand the true sacrifice inherent for success: letting go of one’s humanity. Completely. A harder task than mine.”
“Which would be…?”
“I am an insect who dreamed of being a man, if only to coordinate the uprising of insects to our rightful place in the world. It was easy; humans are easy to assimilate. But it was not worth the effort, as humans do not have the capacity to understand the magnitude of my stories, to embrace the essence of their inherent insect logic. We need the gates of distant, primal cognizance to swing open, in order to take command. At this time, human knowledge is not the equal to the task. So we wait. I wait.”
Dear God. Blake had never heard such madness. Perhaps that’s why Solon lived in isolation, probably writing more of his unsuccessful tales, jealous of a dead man, angry at the world."
Okay, enough of that.  But I will say as the writer of this madness and the weirdness it is wrapped up in, this is one of my personal favorite sequences I have ever written.  A reaction like Brian's up there confirms I might just have gotten it right.   
There's a lot more going on in my novel, Riding the Centipede.  Purchase a copy Here and join along for the wild ride.  Oh, and check out the Fantabulous reviews, too!

This photo by Heath Yonaites of an abandoned house somewhere in Arizona perfectly captures a bit of the weird mood Blake ran into.  Why?  The window...it's set incorrectly.  Crooked.
In a way, this place could be related to Solon's blue ranch house.  Related?  Houses related?  Hmmm...  Houses of the same...mindset?  Alive?  Hmmmm...  [story idea fodder?] 


Monday, July 6, 2015

Riding The Centipede: Private Investigator Terrance Blake

Who's next? What character should I feature this time?  The glue for the mad tale that is Riding the Centipede is private investigator, Terrance Blake. So let's roll with him.

He's a big man, one unafraid to get physical if words fail in any situation. He's also one who knows his darkness well, brooding with every breath...yet deep inside, something of hope keeps him moving forward.  I mention in the novel he's a 'man in black,' and, yes, the Johnny Cash reference works for him.  There's mention of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt," that Cash took and made his own.  I'd say there's an element of that in Terrance Blake as well.  Yet, again, he's tough and perseveres through all the shit the world throws at him. He is the glue, as mentioned.  Where his story starts is not where it ends, as you will see when you read the novel. 

I noticed, at least on this computer--I am switching over to a laptop shortly, as it will work for traveling and with me headed to Rome in a little over a week, well...--that the Amazon Look Inside function was not working properly. Now, this might be part of this computer's break down, but...no matter.  Here's a sample from the first chapter of the book.  Remember, there are three main characters.  Chapters are titled after each character, to keep you aligned, though distinction in tone and what-have-you shouldn't make that necessary, it just seemed to make sense as the chapters don't always follow in a straight line, some leapfrog others, some veer to truly Weird places (the chapters in the middle with Blake and the enigmatic writer Peter Solon really embrace the Weird), but at least they all lead to the same place. 

And what a place that is! 

But for now, how about some Blake, as well as the Hollywood runaway, Marlon Teagarden's sister, Jane.


…as the current pulled the child away, he reached toward her with his damaged right hand. The current pushed back; it wanted its prize. He yelled and water filled his mouth. He tried again, desperate to save the child, his daughter, Claire. The frothing tide pushed against his fingers, intent on bending them all the way back to his wrist, flattened out as a stump sculpted from futility. “Daddy…” He watched his daughter’s shocked expression as she lost her grip on the car seat she should have been strapped into and was sucked out of the splintered halo of glass where the passenger side window should be. Jagged glass sliced into clothing and flesh, but the eyes moments ago filled with joy were now nothing more than dull buttons on the rag doll that remained. He yelled again, a stream of bubbles flowing from the inside roof of the car and out the crack in the driver’s side window. He pushed against the stick-shift with strong legs, his shoulder shattering the window. The sound was a muffled explosion. He watched the rag doll fade to black beyond the car’s beams. He closed his eyes, fighting back tears as he swam up, or somewhere, this watery oblivion, his personal hell…

     Chirping sounds clamored for his attention, a physical force pulling him up from the harsh realm of the dreamlands, grabbing his hand and winning the battle over the cloying mental quicksand that is Morpheus, not that this was a victory for Terrance Blake. The sound was akin to beetles picking at the remains of his dead past or the dregs of his present so-called life…or possibly of a future draped in shadows and secrecy and the same old, same old. Along with pain, the ever present calendar wrought in his bones, his soul, every breath.

     The promises spewed by the world of his hardscrabble youth, counterfeited and further cheapened by the accumulation of years. Endurance—the pin plucked from the grenade, while he waited for the explosion that never came. Endurance, the true meaning of life.

     The squalid five-dollar-a-fuck hotel room smelled of smoke, the cut glass ashtray overflowing with lipstick stained cigarette butts even before he’d lit up his first Marlboro. Remnants of passionless couplings.

     The stale stench of the room was infused with the ghosts of those who had passed through before him: transients and junkies and one night lovers, nomads and madmen and private investigators like him, getting by on somebody else’s dime, dismantling somebody else’s broken dreams.
     The chirping continued; his cell phone the culprit. He reached over in the dark thinking it couldn’t be time to be awake yet as shadows held conference in the room, his eyes. A glance toward the digital clock adjacent to the television confirmed his suspicions: 3:36 a.m. Scooping the phone into his thick, gnarled fingers, the light from the screen corralled motes of dust lifted by his clumsy maneuver. Dust he hadn’t noticed last night when he placed the bottle of whiskey there, the now two-thirds empty bottle.

     He wondered how long he’d been in this room, sleeping like Rip Van Winkle or dying with every stale inhalation, exhalation, and long pause to consider the prospect of terminating this bleak routine before carrying on, carrying on.
     He realized it was not the alarm that has inspired the insect revolution. It was a phone call. The name on the screen registered as familiar but not one he’d used often.

     “Mr. Blake, I’ve found evidence of Marlon’s whereabouts.”

     No matter how many times he had told her nobody called him Mr. Blake, it’s just Blake, she persisted. He let the miscue slide. The voice was unmistakably that of Jane Teagarden, a voice braided with iron and perseverance, something he could relate to.

     Jane Teagarden was the only daughter of successful Hollywood producers, Warren and Stella Teagarden. A production team made rich beyond filthy, producing a slew of action movies starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Snipes and Van Damme. All good things must come to an end, though, and with a glut of bombs, the freewheeling excess that had dominated their lives simmered cold and hard until rumors arose of Warren having affairs with some of the help; “affairs” being a polite take on the harsh underbelly of what often happens when the rich are overtaken by failures and/or their eccentricities.

     One of the maids made headlines with allegations of rape.

     One of the mechanics on the premises quit in a huff, suggesting Mr. Teagarden was a sexual deviant. A hush-hush payment altered his initial statements, casually sloughed off as a mistake of perception.

     The tabloids ran with it all, going so far as to suggest Stella Teagarden, fifteen years younger than Warren, subsisted on over-the-counter and extracurricular drugs that induced supportive silence, a sheep in fox’s clothing. The fox wired for the depraved transactions of the flesh of which her husband allegedly catered.
     Rumors, all rumors, erased with the remains of their dwindling bank account, until their only son, Marlon, two years Jane’s junior, ran away when he was fourteen, hitting the streets while hitting the newspapers with torrid accounts of sexual abuse nonpareil.

     The ruination such an incident would suggest disappeared as swiftly as Marlon had when Jane, dressed as one might imagine a modern day fairy tale princess—a formula fa├žade worthy of Disney—made a televised statement to the contrary.

     I think it’s time I spoke up on my parents’ behalf. Over the last few years, rumors created by those seeking financial gain have cast my parents as monsters. She glanced down, considering her words. Her voice grew steady. I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Two more loving and generous people one could never know. With the recent developments involving my brother, I must say, I do not know what world he lives in. Our lives are special and we are treated as special. We are shown love in…so many ways. But Marlon has always been a bit aloof. I am saddened by his disappearance and look forward to his return, so we can be the family you all know we are. And we can give him the help and love he needs. She smiled, her slim lips stretched tight, mouth unopened. Please leave us be while we deal with our sorrow and the authorities help us find him. Thank you.

     Blake remembered watching this little scene with curdled curiosity, thinking it an Oscar-worthy performance jammed into a B-movie steeped in melodrama and deception. Because there was nothing in sixteen year-old Jane Teagarden’s tone or expression that rang true. (Claire would have been sixteen, had she lived…) He hedged his bets on hollow and scripted. Yet the public ate it up. Her glassy, tear-stained eyes drew support from the legions whose bible was National Enquirer-style rags and who gave a flying-squirrel-fuck-all like-minded media manipulated television programs such as Entertainment Tonight. A month before her nineteenth birthday, her parents died in a suspicious house fire that turned any evidence within the scrubbed-clean and lie-imbued walls to ash. Blake thought it a perfect obliteration of the crime scene; investigators always missed something. Speculation may be the trigger to the gun his instinct wielded, but he knew deep down he was right.

     Because the false sympathy the search for Marlon elicited lasted less than the usual run for most sub-blockbuster movies, the Teagardens had taken refuge as phantoms in their own lives, their chilly castle. They became non-existent to those they used to call friends. Those not willing to believe in them, perhaps knowledgeable of the accusations prior to Marlon’s leaving. Perhaps protecting their own high-profile asses in attempting to avoid the harsh, accusatory bleat of “accomplice” or “participant.”

     Jane Teagarden inherited what most thought must have been meager financial remains, only to be proven wrong. The latest version of the will contained the updates and restructured profits for the DVD and burgeoning Blu-ray contracts—restructured a mere two months prior to the fire—that set her up for life.

     When Blake heard her voice on the phone, the muffled ringing of the truth he never heard in any of her statements at grief-stricken appearances traipsed into his migraine infused cranium. Nine months after the fire, her voice had gone from Hollywood-practiced and Hollywood-refined grief, to the voice he knew now on the phone. Strength tinged with desperation; iron braided with perseverance. She really wanted to find her brother.
Okay, that's enough for now.  If there's an error anywhere, that's just me transferring a pdf file to word then shaping it to fit here. 

I love this novel. What it does and where it goes. I hope you join Blake for the ride.

Here's the aforementioned Man in Black that I pictured could relate to Blake. Oh, and the cigarette.  Yes, definitely Blake...