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MEANWHILE … is this on the record?

books

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed over at the Infinite House of Books as part of the Summer of Pro Se. I encourage you to visit and check out the myriad author interviews, blog tours, book events and more. Shannon Muir runs a great website, Actually I should say websites as you might find these of interest too: Discover Words, Spontaneous Choices, and The Willowbroos Saga.

Following is the interview in its entirety. I plan to elaborate on same of my answers here at MEANWHILE in the foreseeable future.

author interview

Shannon Muir: What initially got you interested in writing?

Greg Daniel: Reading begets writing. Do enough of the former and eventually you start thinking about the latter. I was a voracious reader.

One day after consuming more than my fair share of the Three Musketeers or the Three Investigators or a Robert Heinlein juvenile or a pile of comic books, new characters and new stories rampaged through my mind with enough strength and vigor that I had to do something about them. Next thing I knew, I was a writer.

SM: How did you decide to make the move into becoming a published author?

GD: Honestly, I cannot imagine why anyone would write fiction without intending to publish. From the day I transitioned from ruled notebook paper and pencil to my dad’s old Royal manual typewriter, I wrote to be published.

That does not mean that everything I wrote was publishable – far from it! But if I finished it, I tried to get it published. As a teenager, I accumulated rejections letters from Ben Bova and George Scithers, Paul Levitz and Jack C. Harris, and others. If I bothered to sit down at the keyboard, it was to write something that I wanted to publish.

My problem was there were some very, very, very long stretches when I did not sit down at the keyboard. I read like a writer and I thought like a writer, but I did not write like a writer.

One day I finally realized that I cannot paste the days back onto the calendar or pour the hours back into the clock. If I was a writer, I needed to write and I needed to do so now. A couple of years later, my work is starting to appear in print with more waiting in the wings.

The most recent is “Mike Fink and the River Round-Up” in TALL PULP (Pro Se Productions).

Tall Pulp logo typeset cover

SM: What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?

GD: My goal is to entertain. I am not a prophet, priest, or philosopher (actually I have enough credit hours to be the latter, but that’s another story). I am a storyteller. I tell stories to entertain.

Entertainment can educate, elucidate, encourage, or simply provide escape. But unless it entertains, no one will stick around long enough to realize any other benefits.

SM: What do you find most rewarding about writing?

GD: There are three things that thrill me equally.

One is when I am writing and hear a character’s dialogue in my head and the voice is unmistakably theirs, not mine. At that moment, I know I got them right and if I got them right, there is a good chance, the rest of the story will be right too.

The second is seeing my name on the cover or the table of contents. As I mentioned earlier, I write to be published. Seeing my name is proof that I accomplished that goal.

The third, and the one that I hope never gets old, is hearing someone say they enjoyed my story.

SM: What do you find most challenging about writing?

GD: Writing is like exercise. It takes time and consistency to see results. But if you do it regularly, you will not only realize the benefits, you will enjoy the process. You will look forward to doing it. But miss a day and it can become a week or a month. Then you dread it. You know you need to do it, but you have grown lazy and lethargic.

When you do get back to it, you find you are neither as limber nor as strong as you were and it is frustrating to have to work hard and long to just get back to where you were before you skipped that day.

There are very few full-time writers. Most of my peers, present and past, juggle job(s) and family and other daily demands. If they can find the time and consistency, then I have no excuse. Still, I find it a challenge.

SM: What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?

GD: The standard answers are still the best: READ and WRITE.

But let me elaborate by saying:

Read broadly. If all you ever read is within the genre or subgenre in which you wish to write, you will bring nothing new to the reader. To use an antiquated analogy, your writing will be the equivalent of a photocopy of a photocopy. Eventually it will fade to nothing.

Write regularly. I am not saying that you have to write every day and I am not saying that you cannot take breaks. But I am saying that if you establish some sort of regular schedule and adhere to it, you will be a better and more productive writer.

SM: Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?

GD: In the “Brush with Greatness” category: I’ve had afternoon tea with Neil Gaiman, tossed darts with Garth Ennis, and taken Chris Claremont and Dan Jurgens to a haunted house.

In the “More Closely Related to Writing than You Might Think” category: I used to be an avid backgammon and poker tournament player and actually cashed on the World Poker Tour.

In the “Interesting to Me” category: I am happily married to the love of my life and best friend, Judy. We have two amazing children, Alec and Kylie, who are growing up much too fast.

SM: What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?

GD: I invite everyone to friend/follow me at the usual social media haunts.

Facebook: Greg Daniel

Twitter: @GregDanielWrite

My blog (Meanwhile … ) is updated semi-regularly at: GregDanielWrites.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

How You Doin’?

opening lines

MEANWHILE … Opening lines set the stage. Whether it is a first encounter in a dimly lit club or a meeting with clients in a dark paneled boardroom, the first few words can make all of the difference.

The date or the deal depends largely on whether or not those initial words and sentences elicit a spark of interest. A kind or desperate soul might be patient enough to wait through a mangled start, but most lack the patience. It is either catch them at the beginning or never catch them at all

As a writer, I always strive to create an opening that gets the reader to turn the page. Whether or not I am successful, I suppose, is up to the reader. Assuming that you have read this far … I thought I would share some openings with you and let you tell me if I am successful.

Following are 6 story openings: 2 from published stories, 2 from stories that should be published soon, and 2 from works in progress. Let me know what you think.

 

Doc Claus

Doc Claus

“The Chop Chop Chang Adventure from DOC CLAUS:

With the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Columbia only a couple of days away, Ramon’s Restaurant, like the rest of Cocoa Beach, was eager to relive its glory days.  While fresh paint and polished woodwork tried to turn back Father Time, one thing had never changed. There was no question that Ramon’s Caesar salad was still the creamiest, most amazing in the land just as it had been years ago when Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom were regulars at both the restaurant and Ramon’s Rainbow Room.

But Norman Latham, Doctor Norman Latham, PhD, was not thinking about the Caesar salad. He needed a drink, a drink to still the voice in his head, and Ramon’s was the only place he remembered from the old days. He found a booth in the back where he could talk with some privacy and had that drink and then a few more.

Had it really been over twenty years ago?

“Harvey,” Latham slurred slightly, “Your name is Harvey, isn’t it? You look like a Harvey.  Anyway, Harvey, as I was saying, my team was ready to go before Shepherd.  Before Glenn.  Before any of them. At least Chop Chop Chang made it. Even after everything that happened.”

Tall Pulp logo typeset cover

“Mike Fink and the River Round-Up” from TALL PULP:

Back in sweeter times, back between the wars, travelling men would often stop at this little river town in Kentucky.  Some claimed to come for the waters and others for the peace and quiet.  But, these were travelling men and, truth be told, they came for the poker game that could always be found in the back of Dodd’s Barber Shop.  The amount of money that changed hands in that room was the stuff of legends.  Literally legends, as more than once, the likes of Titanic Thompson or Nick the Greek or someone with a similar reputation sat around that table stacking chips, tossing cards, and spinning yarns.

But that was a generation ago. Oh, there is still a poker game in the back of Dodd’s, but it’s only a couple of times a week now, the players are a lot older, and the travelling men don’t pass through any more unless they are on their way to visit grandkids. The bankrolls and bets tend to be smaller and the stories larger.

It was a crisp winter evening, coming up on Christmas 1961, when Coot Dillingham arrived about twenty minutes into the game shaking the snow from his coat and hat. Coot was spry for seventy-two, with a full head of wavy white hair and mischievous blue eyes.

Meanwhile

 

A soon to be published story featuring Dix Delacorte, a private investigator in Saint Louis, Missouri circa World War II:

In an alley a few blocks away from Sportsman’s Park, a penny clattered to rest no more than a quarter inch from the exterior wall of Bergmann’s Bakery. My penny. I gleefully snatched it up along with the three pitched by the losers. Hard to imagine that there was a time when I would not bother to stop to pick up a penny from the sidewalk. These days, I had no trouble taking pennies from twelve year olds. In this case the three twelve year olds were Johnny Davis, Skeeter Randolph, and Mickey Lowe, part of a group that called themselves the Knothole Gang. As they floundered for excuses for losing to an old man, their emphasis, certainly not mine, I made some reference to candy and babies just for their edification.

What I had neglected to tell them was that I was flush from a nice night at Vic Doyle’s and with flushness came generosity. In my pocket were tickets for the Knothole Gang to the Cardinals doubleheader against the Phillies which would be starting in less than an hour. Actually my gesture was not entirely altruistic; the tickets were more a payment for services rendered. The Gang was a great source of information and errands. And in my business, you can never have too much information or too many eyes and ears.

Right on cue, Cotton Masters and Boo Radcliffe came skidding around the corner. Alternating phrases as they waited for their breath to catch up with them, they spilled the latest news.

“Dix … Dix …” Cotton started.

That’s me. Dixon Delacorte.  Once upon a time I would have followed that up with “of the Saint Louis Delacortes.” For the last eight years, I have followed it with the words “Private Investigator” instead.

Meanwhile

A soon to be published story featuring a character that I cannot discus … yet:

Despite what some may say, I like the quiet life. that’s one of the reasons I left Saint Louis for the Middle East some years ago. The pace is slower. The people are patient. It is an ancient land and an ancient culture and with that comes an appreciation for the simple things in life.

Sure, the cacophony of sounds from car horns to camel bleats and the contrasts of bespoke suits with Bedouin burnooses might strike some as crazy. The bartering in the Bazaar and the incessant demand for baksheesh can appear chaotic to visitors. But from Istanbul to Marrakesh and back to Cairo, I have enjoyed the company of these proud people who seek little more than to provide for their family and please Allah.

These days I have carved out my own quiet little corner in Cairo.

Meanwhile

From Work-in-Progress #1:

As the Great Depression ravaged America, humbling even New York City, and the expanding economic plague wreaked havoc on the great cities of Europe as well, one city in the Orient rose above them all. For those seeking wealth or those already prosperous and seeking only the pleasures their riches could buy, an intoxicating pearl emerged from the Whangpoo River.

Shanghai beckoned the dreamers and the decadent, the rich and the refugees, the adventurous and the artists, along with the criminals and confidence men that congregate wherever money and opportunity meet. There were many Shanghais and occasionally one bled into the other, but it was possible it live in Shanghai as a Westerner and never experience the Orient or as a Chinaman in Old Shanghai eternally avoiding the foreign devils. But for most it was an exotic blend of East and West, an Occidental Babylon.

Meanwhile

From Work-in-Progress #2:

Glorianna Hastings stood with her hands on her hips, wearing nothing but a step-in, as she scrutinized the last two items left hanging in her armoire. One was an empty hanger still swinging from when she pulled the dress free and let it drop to the ground. The other was a gorgeous Coco Chanel number that she just could not cast onto the floor with the others. It was a Christmas gift from her father, just a little over a year ago, in 1928, back when they both thought the party would never end.

Her bottom lip pooched out into a pout, as much out of habit as anything, she stomped her bare foot in frustration. She had business to attend and somewhere amid her myriad of flapper dresses and co-ed ensembles there had to be something to wear. With her toes she poked and prodded the garments on the ground, wrinkling her nose at the options available. She moved to the bed and rustled through the clothing there finding nothing that even earned a second glance. A sigh turned into a soft, almost silent giggle, as she grabbed the Coco Chanel and pulled it on.

 

MEANWHILE … I need to get back to those works in progress ….

 

 

Writerly Ramblings on Character & Plot – A Quick Drive

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MEANWHILE … in classrooms and chatrooms, one of the many debates between literature and genre fiction focuses on character-driven versus plot-driven stories. The conceit being that genre fiction is driven by the action, the mystery, or the maguffin. Literature supposedly focuses on character exploration and growth.

That is simply not true because character and plot are equal parts in all fiction, literature and genre. That is when a story works. It is when character and/or plot is under-developed or non-existent that a story fails to go anywhere.

All stories are character driven. In genre fiction, they actually drive somewhere. In New Pulp, they typically drive very fast and exchange gunfire. In literature, they go for a leisurely drive in the country or get stuck circling the same roundabout repeatedly. But still, they are all driving around.

A plot without characters is like the proverbial tree in the woods. If no one is there to experience it, does it really matter?

Character without plot is like sitting on the couch alone. You may be the most fascinating person in the world, but until you get up and do something, does it really matter?

Plot is what characters drive, not the other way around. Plot never drives character. It is a character conveyance not a character convenience. Now if a character is cardboard, it may bend in the wind and lose control, but still it starts off at the wheel.

To ensure that characters are driving the plot and not being taken for a ride, there is a very simple test. If you replace a character with another does the story change? Faced with the same situation, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Holden Caulfield, and Captain Yossarian are all going to respond quite differently.

Different characters may drive the plot to the same inevitable conclusion, but will do so at different speeds and along different paths, or they may end up at vastly different destinations. Obstacles are to be expected but a well-crafted and maintained plot should not break down on the journey.

Characters are like your children. They are going to bring the car back out of gas and maybe with a few scratches, but never let them leave in the first place unless you know the car is in good working order.

Remember, your mileage may vary.

See You on the Radio

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Radio

MEANWHILE … in a time and place where I manually cued up records, played commercials via cart machines, and pulled the latest news off the teletype, I seriously considered a career on the air. But I hung up those headphones long ago.

During the halcyon days of the comic book boom back in the late 80s/early 90s, I occasionally found myself back on the airwaves serving as a pseudo-expert on this or that once-in-a-lifetime event.  It was easy and comfortable and a lot of fun.

Then one day I found myself living a different life in a different world and I was now RADIO SILENT.

But silence is meant to be broken. After more years ago than I care to recall or admit, I stepped up to the microphone once more and let my voice be heard.

I had the pleasure of joining Tommy Hancock (Publisher, Writer, and Pulp Provocateur) on Pro Se Presents: The Podcast at its new home on Jackalope Radio, the internet radio network that brings you Pulped!, Nightwatch and so many other great shows. So spin your interwebs radio dial to Jackalope on Wednesday, July 30, at 7PM Eastern/6PM Central/5PM Mountain/4PM Pacific to hear us talk about TALL PULP and “Mike Fink and the River Round-Up.”

Admittedly, the once mellifluous voice was probably a little scratchy. I am sure that I talked too fast. To paraphrase Gordon Sumner, too often my eloquence escaped me. There are few things more disconcerting than hearing your voice proclaim something to a mass audience that does not correspond to the words your brain intended.

But it was fun and I hope to do more of this in the future.

See you on the radio.

jack-main-top

Harnessing Heroes and Hyperbole

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Tall Pulp logo

 

When I think of Tall Tales, two things leap to mind: larger than life characters and over-the-top storytelling.  Heroes and hyperbole, if you will.  The heroes and hyperbole formula works pretty well for Pulp too.   In both, the improbable is commonplace and the impossible is just another challenge for the hero to overcome.  The hero is not the simple protagonist from literature class though, he is a HERO.  He runs faster, jumps higher, hits harder, and if he is not the smartest guy in the room, then his horse is.

The primary difference, and therefore the challenge in harnessing both to the same rig, is that Pulp tends to play it straight where Tall Tales relish, more often than not, outlandish humor.

Mike Fink struck me as a character that could effortlessly bridge both worlds.  His adventures were not as outrageous as some of his peers and focused on fighting and shooting, activities common in Pulp.  He would allow for a chase scene on the river as opposed to horseback or the rain slicked streets of New York.  The humor in his tales arises primarily from his braggadocio.  My lead was cast.

Tall Tales do not require a villain per se, but Pulp demands one.  So that was next on the list.

Why does it always have to be Nazis? Simple.   Nazis are always good Pulp villains.   They are also overused enough that there is some built-in self-parody value.  Some research for an unrelated story found me reading about U-boat activity in US waters.  Stick a U-boat in the Mississippi River and I had my villains.

With the easy part out of the way, all that was left was to find some way to twist Mike Fink and a Nazi U-boat into a story.  In the writing world, I tend to fall between pantser and plotter on the scale, but definitely closer to pantser.  I call myself a ponderer.

Things start by pondering the main character and seeking a scene that establishes who he is.  Drinking whiskey had played a big role in the tales of Mike Fink, but rarely was he drunk.  However, that was Mike Fink on the top of his game, the Mike Fink who was King of the River.  Take an older Mike Fink whose best friend is dead and he is accused of being the killer.  Another friend tries to take revenge for the first.  He is alone out west, far from the rivers and woods that are his life.  He learns his only true peer, Davy Crockett, fell at the Alamo.  His fellow river men are pitted one against the other in the Civil War.  If a man was prone to drink, those are excuses aplenty to crawl inside a bottle and stay there.

In the establishing scene, Mike Fink is a disheveled drunk on a one hundred year bender beset by a group of thugs who reckoned he was easy pickings and reckoned wrong.  He avoided confrontation for years as a harmless old sot, but when push comes to shove, he is still Mike Fink.  He just needed to be reminded.

At that point, I planned to grab ahold of Fink’s coattails and go where he dragged me.  What would motivate Fink to action?  Two things:  the river and friendship.   The river part was easy, but friendship would require more pondering.

I briefly considered pairing Fink with a classic Pulp character, but none really seemed to fit well with him.  Also Fink’s character is best displayed in his boastful taunts and I did not want to go tripping over the standard team-up trope from comic books, where the heroes have to fight each other upon first meeting.  It had to be someone who would be willing to play second fiddle, but could still hold their own beside such a colorful character.

I vaguely recalled a second tier Tall Tale character by the name of Bowleg Bill who was a cowboy who longed for the sea.  I envisioned him with a lasso around the U-boat and was sure that he could work in the story.  But there was still something missing; something to both tie everything together and drive the story forward.  I found it, more accurately him, quite by accident.

From the moment I decided to write a story for TALL PULP, I had the opening line in my head.  Back in sweeter times, back between the wars, travelling men would often stop at this little river town in Kentucky.  Problem was Mike Fink could not start there in the shape I needed him.  So what was there to launch the tale and why?

Whatever it was had to hold the reins of Tall Tales and Pulp in both hands.  It was actually already in the opening sentence.  Travelling men.  The larger than life confidence men and gamblers.  Men like Titanic Thompson or his fictional equivalents that populated the writings of Damon Runyon.

Except not them, but the men who, in their youth, had rubbed shoulders, pitched pennies, and played cards with them and, for a lingering moment, fancied themselves good enough to take them — to be them.  But, in the end, lacked the skill or the instinct or the fortitude necessary but would instead blame family or obligations or commitments for not being able to take to the road.  They stayed home, made good, led happy lives, but when they get together they spin yarns, tell lies, remember, and wonder.

Still the one thing to tie it altogether was missing.  My perspective character, Coot Dillingham, was originally going to tell a whopper about how he got out of a speeding ticket.  That did not seem to work.  Then he was going to recount winning a bet about how far it was to town from a guy who had lived there all of his life.  That did not seem to work either.  So I pondered some more.

The little Kentucky town is based on the town where my grandparents lived.  I originally heard the story about the town character blowing on a frozen lock from either my grandfather or uncle when I was very young.  Once Coot told that story and introduced Uncle Danny, everything clicked into place and the wheels turned smoothly.

I needed to harness heroes and hyperbole to have a TALL PULP story.  To make it work, I needed to find its humanity.

Mike Fink and the River Round-Up

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Tall Pulp logo typeset cover

 

My latest story, “Mike Fink and the River Round-Up,” appears in Tall Pulp from Pro Se Production. It was an absolute blast building a pulp adventure around a tall tale character and I will tell you more about that … some day in the foreseeable future. But for now, I am going to turn things over to the Pro Se Productions P.R. Express:

 

“Tall tales,” says Tommy Hancock, Partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, “are familiar in some form or fashion to every American, and some even have a worldwide presence.  And they lend themselves really well to being wrapped in the Pulp style and taken to another level.  Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Mike Fink, and more already stand well as over the top characters taking on insurmountable odds.  It makes perfect sense to throw six top notch Genre Fiction authors at these wonderfully realized characters and see what works of art they paint using a Pulp Fiction style brush.”

Tall Tales.  Stories of larger than life characters, heroes who stand above everyone else and perform great feats.  From digging the Grand Canyon to reversing the flow of the Mississippi River itself, there are figures woven into American history and lore that seem ready made for the classic Pulp magazines of yesteryear! Now, today’s best and brightest writers of Genre Fiction take those classic legends and shine a new light on them.  Pro Se Productions proudly presents Tall Pulp.

Thrill as characters like Jim Bowie, Joe Magarac, Anne Bonny, and Mike Fink come to life in two fisted action adventure tales!  Learn of the mysterious Leatherman and thrill to his wild adventures! And discover a whole new take on the concept of Paul Bunyan! Authors D. Alan Lewis, Gordon Dymowski, Nancy A. Hansen, Phillip Drayer Duncan, David White, and Greg Daniel take characters, both historic and fictional, and give them a treatment like no other.  Tall Pulp from Pro Se Productions.

Tall Pulp featuring a fantastic cover by Jeffrey Hayes and cover design and print formatting by Percival Constantine is now available in print on Amazon and via Pro Se’s own store at https://www.createspace.com/4891804 for $12.00. The collection of Pulped up Tall Tales will be available in ebook format in the coming days.

For more information on this title, interviews with the authors, or digital copies for review, contact Morgan McKay, Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, at: directorofcorporateoperations@prose-press.com.

For more information on Pro Se Productions, go to http://www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

What are you? Lost?

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You are probably wondering how you got here. Frankly I am too. But since we are both here, pull up a seat and get comfortable, We can be lost confused together.

A quick circuit of the interwebs will reveal that the last thing we need is another blog about writing and books and movies and television and [insert blog topic of your own choosing], so here is another one to throw on the e-pile. What is going to make this one any different? I guess that’s where I come in.

If you got here without having any idea of who I am or are just dying to know more, check out the “About” page elsewhere on this blog. But if you really want to get to know me, come back here on a semi-regular basis and read.

And if you do just that, what might you discover things like…

Why I write and why I read and, of course, why all right thinking people must agree with my views on these subjects.

The Future that Never Was but, oh, how I still want it to be.

The influencers and the influences that you can blame for me being the way I am.

The Good Old Days and how I misremember then.

Recommendations (but rarely reviews) of things I watch, read, and listen to and why, as one of the aforementioned right thinking people, you should too.

Other various and sundry topics ranging from New Pulp to College Basketball to Singing Cowboys to Disney World to Games (mostly not the video kind) to Publishing to Whatever Shiny Object catches my attention.

In short, me writing about all kinds of stuff instead of writing the stuff I should be writing (like the stories and books that have already been promised to editors).

That’s probably more of an introduction than you wanted, but don’t say you weren’t warned. If you ramble around and end up back here again, that will be entirely on you. But if you do, I’ll have a seat waiting for you.

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