“Death has a dignity all its own.”

(Feel free to re-listen to “… And Justice For All” after reading the blog subject. But, do it with the bass elements properly mixed back in. Also, think about what grief can do to people, and alter the decisions they make.)

I announced this on my Facebook feed but felt it deserved a deeper treatment here. My short story “Finding the Dancer” is going to be included in the latest anthology from ZNB, LLC called The Death of all Things. Edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson, you can can pre-order it here. But, before jumping on and getting  copy or two to pass around, please take a look at the amazing cover by Justin Adams of Varia Studios. You can also see table of contents by clicking on the image below.

When the book comes out, I’ll talk a bit more about the story, the process behind it, and what it’s like getting editorial comments from two authors/editors you admire. But like my last published story, this was an amazing learning experience. I re-thought many of my old assumptions about creating stories.  I also encourage you to look at all of ZNB’s anthologies. Small presses like ZNB give starting authors, like myself, a chance to stand beside bestsellers and every dollar goes to keeping imaginative anthologies like the ones they publish alive.

Until then, keep writing.

 

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Bad Decisions Make Good Stories

I’ve seen this on a t-shirt in a few different places. It’s supposed to be some kind of devil-may-care, “I’m try-sexual – I’ll try anything” type of declaration. But I saw it worn by the co-author of Hard Case Crime’s brilliant comic, Peepland.  And it might as well be the thesis for film noir, and their pulp crime antecedents.

It’s also a good guideline for compelling stories, and the hardest one to follow. At least, for me.

But, film noir first. The last few months, every unoccupied Sunday morning, I join Eddie Muller and a gaggle of folks on Twitter for Turner Classic Movie’s Noir Alley.  At 10am Eastern, you can follow #NoirAlley and join a conversation about that morning’s selection.  Yes, they do have well known entries, like The Maltese Falcon (the debut) but they also show off lesser known, but equally deserving entries like the boxing tale The Set-Up featuring one of Robert Ryan’s best performances. I’m still waiting for a chance to see Woman on the Run again – a lost classic starring Ann Sheridan as a wife searching for her estranged husband after he’s witnessed a gangland hit – but there are a large number of interesting films to explore.

Noir Alley was an offshoot of TCM’s “Summer of Darkness” where, for Friday nights in August it was nothing but noir all the time.  An evening of desperate people making rough choices and exposing the dark underbelly of the American dream.  Hearing Eddie Muller’s insights before and after each feature exposed how much of the film noir movement grew organically from the American crime fiction and an onrush of talent escaping the shadow of fascism in Europe.  No one declared a movement until well after the ‘golden years’ of film noir ended.

Defining film noir always started with the aesthetics, but in truth, it was the story and the characters: deeply flawed, often villainous protagonists making bad decisions in their attempt to get what they want.  Many look at the Bogart detective dramas as the template for noir, but I look at Double Indemnity and it’s overlooked counterpart (and feature on this week’s edition of Noir Alley), The Prowler.  Both feature hungry individuals looking for ways out of their stifling lives.

Desperate measures lead to bad decisions. And bad decisions make great stories.

They rarely make for happy endings, though. At least, if you’re following the template of noir fiction. Or, the endings are never bright shiny ones. Let’s take “The Set-Up” for example. The happy ending involves a man having his hands broken and shattered for not falling down and being a terrible boxer, like everyone expected of him. It saves his marriage, and probably his life, but there’s a cost.

Bad decision lead to bad ends. No good deed goes unpunished, and the bad ones often end with you getting gunned down in the desert.  It’s not the best and most hopeful way of seeing the world.  To quote Greg Stoltze’s noir RPG game, it’s A Dirty World. Everything comes at a cost.

Which means adhering to the “Bad decisions lead to good stories” tenant when you’re suffering depression is a very difficult thing to do.  Despite everything you hear, no one ever does their best work when hungry, depressed, strung-out, or miserable. No one wants to write about grim situations and desperate individuals caught in traps of their own making when they’re clinging onto their anti-anxiety meds for a reason not to go back to cutting.

But their are other stories you can tell.

I know many folks deride ‘cozy’ mysteries. And I’m not to fond of them myself in some ways. But one can write mysteries, or stories exploring the dark, where the dark doesn’t consume everything.  The late P.D. James is a perfect example of this balance. She is not a shy lady when it comes to the dark side. She spends the first act of her Adam Dalgliesh books describing the deep flaws and dark desires of her soon-to-be suspects. And when the detective-poet delves into the lives surrounding the crime, darker secrets come to night.

But P.D. James offers the reader something noir doesn’t – a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train. For all the darkness she finds, at the end of the book, justice exists.  The killer will be found. And while not everyone is innocent, the truly guilty will be found and punished.  Bad decisions may lead to good stories – but they don’t have to be the protagonist’s bad decisions.  And I don’t have to write about them if I’m not in the best place to do so. There are other ways.

So every free Sunday at 10, I’ll settle with TCM and Eddie Muller and #NoirAlley. I’ll see how bad decisions can lead to good stories. But I will also curl up with P. D. James as well. I’ll find different kinds of stories, different kinds of comfort, and know when I can’t write one because it hits too close to home, the other is there for me.

Now both stories will still be shot by John Alton – but that’s another discussion.

Choose your own Adventure

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

The door opens up and you find yourself in the main hub area of your beautiful job. Rows of cube-chairs, one after the other, line the massive open plan office space. You can see your reflection in the great silvered mirrors of the executive offices. The executives get private thinking spaces where they can still observe every person. You’re glad they’re always watching over you, able to see and hear everything they do.

As you make your way to your cube chair, you see Don and Samantha. Don is one of the executives. His bespoke suit and designer interface apps show you just how well he’s doing with the company. He has Samantha in a small corner of the office, near one of the windowless ‘consultation rooms.’ He appears to be encouraging her to get inside.

Samantha seems uncomfortable. She wants to want to get back to her cube chair. She’s glancing at Don, and back at her chair, and then back at the consultation room.  Then, she looks at you.

Do you interfere? If so, select <HERE>
Do you head to your cube chair? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]

You smile to Don and give a not to Samantha, but then walk to your cube chair and get ready for the day. Don gives you a knowing smile as he pulls Samantha in for a private consultation. You feel warm: an executive has given you a positive personal sign.

 Your managers know best. Your Human Resources confessor told you the first day you were inducted into the sixth floor processing pool. Trust their judgement in all things. What’s best for them, is best for the company, and best for you.

You strap yourself into the cube chair, locking down your hands and feet. You plug in the appropriate fluid and waste taps before lowering the workspace helmet over your face and eyes. There’s darkness at first. Then, you can smell the delicious scent of fresh coffee and warmed apple tarts. The startup screen begins with daily announcements from management and HR, as well as your set tasks for the day and the amount of debt reduction you can expect from completing them.

And then static fills your vision. A woman in a silver mask appears and begins speaking to you in modulated tones:

“This is an emergency broadcast from free space to anyone listening. You are being used. Your mind is being used. While your conscious brain is being occupied with garbage work which will never clear your debt, the unoccupied sections of your brain are being hijacked. Your creativity, your dreams, your ideas are all being drained away and classified as company intellectual property.

They are stealing your soul! But you can fight this. Do not call HR and do not hit the cutoff switch. If you stay on-line, we can firewall your mind and let you work freely without the company patenting your dreams. Stay on the line and we will free you.”

This is obviously a dangerous transmission from anti-capitalist forces, but you find something bothering you. What if she is right? What if the company, HR, and management are not being honest with how they use your staff potential? What if the debt will never be wiped away?

Your doubts ring out as you finger the emergency cut-off and HR alarm button.

Do you listen to the broadcast? If so, select <HERE>
Do you call HR? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]

You hit the button several times. Your work helmet powers down and the transmission has replaced a blues screen, instructing you to wait until HR arrives. “You may remove your helmet at this time.”

You take off your helmet and look out onto the cube chairs. Around you, others are removing their helmets. Red lights flash, highlighting the cubes where assistance is needed. Men and women in black suits and handsome ballistic mesh armor move briskly through the workspace. Some stop and talk with your coworkers, asking them if they are OK, and checking their vitals.

Others move to cubes where co-workers still have their helmets on. They activate overrides and pull your former colleagues out of their cube chairs, quickly sedating and binding them so they do not harm themselves. You can see many of them were from original colonist stock – various shades of dark skin and musculature a not suited for intellectual corporate work.

You remind yourself you need to watch out for other co-workers like them. Did one of them plant the transmission?

And then you notice Samantha leaving the conference room with her clothes torn, trying to avoid the HR presence by heading right to the rest cube.

Do you follow her? If so, select <HERE>
Do you report her to HR? If so, select <HERE>

[SELECTION CONFIRMED]