Influences, Part 2: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

I loved the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  Growing up, it was always the one comic I looked forward to reading more than any other in the newspaper.  My freshman geography teacher in high school read them to the class first thing every morning.   He also – mind you, this is just speculation – added a bit of something extra to his coffee every morning.  But it was his last year before retirement, so I think he was a little beyond caring at that point.

My own comics reflect more than a little influence from Bill Watterson’s masterpiece of sequential storytelling.  I’m nowhere near his mastery of facial expression and body language, and I’ve struggled to achieve his seemingly off-hand skill at suggesting a very detailed background with a few simple strokes, but he gives me something to aim for.

Above all, though, I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with the Tracer Bullet character.

ch900206
(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

A lot of my approach to the tone and rhythm of dialogue and narration in the Hazzardous Pay books owes a pretty massive debt to Calvin’s imaginary private eye.  When I imagine Hazzard’s world, there’s more than a healthy dose of Tracer Bullet in there.

ch900207
(c) Universal Comics Syndicate

Tracer Bullet may not have been the most frequently-recurring character in Calvin & Hobbes, but he was always one of my favorites.  Tracer’s look, his implied heavy drinking and chain smoking (crazy to think this was a comic strip that ran in thousands of papers, was viewed by millions of people, and featured a kid imagining he was smoking and drinking), his over-dramatic narration…they’re all pieces of Hazzard now.  Just as Watterson was doing an over-the-top homage to the film noir of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I like to think Hazzard is an homage to the beautiful absurdity of things like Calvin & Hobbes.

And they’re a damn-sight better than any of Frank Miller’s noir-influenced comics.

Paperback Writer

The Beatles were my first musical love.  It’s not that unusual, of course.  Lots of folks claim the Fab Four as their favorite band.  They’re one of the most popular bands in history, with scads of #1 hits, platinum albums, and a sound that, while it evolved from album to album, was always clearly and definitively them.

The first song I can remember singing is “Yellow Submarine.”  I couldn’t have been more than four or so, singing along with my dad while he strummed his guitar.  I’ve memorized their lyrics, listened to their albums over and over and over until they are etched upon every fiber of my being, watched the movies…hell, even Magical Mystery Tour, and that thing is difficult to watch.  I tear up at the end of Abbey Road with those final lyrics from “The End.”  And I’m a little bit obsessed with “Paperback Writer.”

Is “Paperback Writer” the reason I want to be a writer?  Maybe.  I’m not entirely sure.  But it doesn’t really matter, honestly.  It’s a bit of a mission statement for me, at this point.  I’m building up quite the backlog of written work now.  I’m well into book 5 (I know, book 1 isn’t going to be published until December, but hey, why wait to get ahead?), figuring out how to get the short stories back out there so folks can read them, and thinking ahead to what I can do in the future with Hazzard and maybe even some other characters and settings and genres.  Maybe I’m getting too far ahead of myself.  I still don’t know how well the first book will even sell, if there will even be a market for what I write.  But I kinda hope and think there might be.  Everyone likes snarky protagonists, right?  And mysteries that have actual, genuine clues scattered throughout, so the twist feels earned instead of just being a, “Haha, the killer was this character who had never even been mentioned until just now!”

I guess I’m saying I think I’m a pretty solid writer, and I think folks will like what I do.  And it’s probably all because of a song about a guy writing novels in his spare time.

The Hazzardous Pay Series

So, with the reveal of the official publication date back on Tuesday, I can start talking a little bit more about The Invisible Crown and the series it’s a part of, Hazzardous Pay.

Anyone who followed my self-publishing adventures of the past couple of years knows that Eddie Hazzard’s adventures were originally called The Hazzardous Materials.  I decided to go with something similar for the new novels that will be published with Royal James to maintain that sense of connection (since a lot of the new material is drawn from the old material; more on that in a second), but I didn’t want to re-use HM because that might create confusion, and this is all going to be weird enough as it is.

So, about The Invisible Crown, the book coming out this December.  The challenge I was facing with my self-published material was that the first story of the series – Missing Person – the one that established the whole premise and most of the main characters, was just a 22,000-word novella.  There’s nothing wrong with novellas, per se, but I followed it up with a collection of short stories and then a full-length novel, The Hidden Throne.  Then another short story/novella collection.  And then…well, I wasn’t sure what was next.  Probably a novel or two.  I have them already written, after all.

But I was never satisfied with starting off with a novella.  I wanted to do more with it.  Plus, it was by far the oldest story I’d written (the bones of it are about fifteen years old.  In its published form, it was about four years old), and I’d improved a lot and the characters had changed some and there were some holes in the story I wanted to fill in.

So, last November, I decided to re-write Missing Person for NaNoWriMo.  Turn it into a complete novel.  Why not?  There was a lot of material from the novella I could just copy-and-paste over, and a good chunk that would need just a bit of tweaking, and some dialogue polishing, then add some new subplots I’d been thinking about and set up some bigger mysteries that I could play with down the road in later books.  Easy!

And it was.  I wrote The Invisible Crown pretty quickly, though not by the end of November (it was more like two weeks into December.  In my defense, I’d been finishing up novel #4 at the beginning of November and thus didn’t jump into TIC until a week and a half into the month).

But just self-publishing it…I dunno.  I felt it would be pretty confusing to keep replacing the first book in the series (I did this when I released a compilation of Missing Person and the first short story collection).  I wanted to find a publisher.  I wanted the extra marketing and promotional muscle.  And Royal James is providing that, which is groovy.

Anyway, here’s how it’ll go: I’m in the middle of writing book #5, tentatively-titled An Ill Wind Blows.  Once I’ve got the first draft on that in the can (probably sometime early July), I’ll be revisiting The Hidden Throne, originally the first full-length novel of the Hazzardous Materials self-published stuff.  Once I’ve fixed it up to better match the events of TIC, I’ll send it off to the publisher to start the process on that one with editing, cover design, etc.  It’ll be going through all that by the time TIC is published in December, I’d imagine.

Beyond that, there’ll be a mixture of editing/revising/sending in finished manuscripts (for books 3, 4, and 5) and writing up the first draft to book #6.  I’m also talking to my publisher about what to do with all those short stories I wrote and self-published.  There’s about a dozen of them, total.  Maybe we’ll release them as Kindle singles, or publish them here or on Royal James’s website, or something like that.  I want them back out there in the wild.  The shorts were always my favorites, and there’s a lot of characterization that goes down in there.  I like the space to spread out that a novel affords me, but I also like the quick done-in-one cases of the shorts.  We’ll see.

What it means is that, assuming everything goes as planned, there’ll be a steady stream of stories from me over the next few years.  Stories filled with ninjas, and explosions, and heavy drinking, and snarky one-liners, and more than a few weirdos and tough guys.  Arcadia’s a fun place to play around, and I’m glad I get to do it for y’all.

The Invisible Crown Announcement — royaljamespublishing.com

We are excited to announce the official release date for the first novel in the Hazzardous Pay series. The Invisible Crown by Charlie Cottrell will be released on December 19, 2016. Pre-sale starts November 21, 2016. The cover reveal will be November 11, 2016. To be a part of the cover reveal day click here to sign up! Blog […]

via The Invisible Crown Announcement — royaljamespublishing.com

Flash-Fiction Friday #1: Snake Handlers

 

There are basically two types of tent revivals.

First, there’s the hoopin’ an’ hollerin’, hallelujah-callin’ jumped up revivals, where everyone is dancin’ in the aisles and throwin’ their hands up in the air and shoutin’ praises.  There’s lots of singin’ – some of it is even on-key – and folks sharin’ their stories and their joys and their lives.

The other kind is all fire and brimstone, hell and damnation and suffering eternal.  You’re a sinful creature and you rightly belong in the deepest pit of hell for all of eternity.  The preacher wants you to know you’ve done wrong, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do to overcome your depravity.

But they’ve both got the same message, the Good News, capital letters an’ all.  In the good times tent revivals, it’s all about celebrating that fact, reveling in the joy of salvation.  In the darker sort of revivals, it’s the spark of hope, the single lifeline to grab hold of an’ cling like the Devil his-own-self was tryin’ to drag you under into darkness.  But you can only get there if you repent, if you accept your depraved nature and strive to earn that hope you can’t ever possibly earn.

When I was a kid, we had more of the latter kind of revivals than the former.  My daddy wasn’t much for softness, either physically or emotionally.  He’d hide us good when we did wrong – and my daddy could always find things you did wrong, even things you weren’t aware you’d done – and drive us hard even when we were doin’ the right thing.  He drove himself even harder, though, preachin’ as though there was a fire in his belly eatin’ him from the inside out.  He’d shout and holler and accuse, hurl invective and judgment from the pulpit like he was God sittin’ in judgment from His throne.  My daddy’d sweat and spit and near as like to catch fire; he’d work himself up into a frothing lather, foamin’ at the mouth like a rabid dog, screaming at the depraved congregation.

And they’d take it, accept his judgments as God’s own truth.  And they’d strive to be better folks.  They believed every word my daddy told ’em, all evidence to the contrary.

When I was 16, daddy decided to try snake handling.  He’d seen another preacher do it down in Okemah in early June, and he liked how it grabbed everyone’s attention.  So daddy found a snake wrangler and bought a whole mess’a snakes and put them all in a glass case and brought them to the next revival.

Daddy was a good preacher, full of fury and fire and passion, but he weren’t the smartest guy around.  He didn’t pay real close attention to the snake handler he’d seen, didn’t notice that the guy had only used harmless, non-poisonous snakes for his bit.  Daddy missed that part, and ended up with a whole bunch of poisonous snakes.  I dunno if the snake wrangler he used was stupid, too, or just didn’t care much for daddy’s preachin’, but he loaded daddy up with a couple dozen cottonmouths and a copperhead or two.

The night daddy tried out the snake handling, the tent was packed.  Every makeshift pew – usually made with a couple of boards and a few barrels – was stuffed so full the boards sagged and groaned.  People stomped and clapped and hollered along to the hymns, and the heat in the tent was so great that a couple of folks in the back passed out.  Daddy said it was just the Holy Spirit takin’ hold of ’em, but of course he’d say somethin’ like that.

It was gettin’ towards the end of daddy’s sermon, and he was tellin’ everyone their faith weren’t strong enough.  “But if you believe with all your heart and soul, the power of our Lord Jesus will descend upon you, and you can do wonders!”  And he reached into that glass case and pulled out a handful of angry snakes.  I remember watchin’ ’em writhe in his hands, coiling and hissing and lookin’ none-too-happy about the whole situation.

Of course, when a snake ain’t happy, it’s only got one way of lettin’ you know.  An’ these snakes sure let daddy know.  They sank their teeth into the flushed flesh of his hands and forearms, pumpin’ venom into him faster than the dickens.  Daddy yelped and tried to rip them snakes off his arms, but it weren’t no use.  They weren’t gonna let him go.

Daddy collapsed beside his pulpit and went into convulsions, shakin’ and shiverin’ like a body possessed.  Folks cried out in fear and surprise; some figured it was the rapture, others thought it was demon possession, and some folks with a bit of know-how recognized it as the venom killin’ daddy.  No one wanted to get near him, not with all those damn snakes sittin’ there, so we all just watched in fear and anguish as my daddy died.

Cover Reveal Participants Wanted — royaljamespublishing.com

We are looking for some amazing bloggers to participate in an upcoming cover reveal. It’s for the awesome short story BoyzNite By Xane Fisher. The date for the cover reveal is on June 15, 2016. Send us an email to royaljamespublishing@gmail.com or click here to join our blog tour email list. Thanks! About BoyzNite: Law […]

via Cover Reveal Participants Wanted — royaljamespublishing.com

Help my publisher show off covers as they get revealed!  Mine will be several months from now still, but you can go ahead and get in on the ground floor with June 15’s reveal of BoyzNite by Xane Fisher.

Discipline and Inspiration

A lot of my writer friends like to treating writing like any other job: there are deadlines, quotas to meet, specific goals to achieve.  And I get that.  If you just keep endlessly working on the same book forever, you’re never going to get to publish it any move on to something new.  But I also feels like it gives short shrift to the creative aspect of what we’re doing here.

Everyone decries inspiration as a fickle, fleeting muse, as though waiting for it to make an appearance is a form of weakness in a writer and a sign that they’re not a True Author (TM).  As if the only way to really, truly being a professional in the field is to spend each day putting words on the page, some good and some bad, and then going back and editing them to make them all polished gold or something.

That strikes me as a bit disingenuous.  Each of us started writing because we were struck with some bit of inspiration.  Maybe it was just a scene, or a character, or even a word or phrase.  Maybe it was a line of dialogue, or the brief description of an action or something.  We all started from a place of inspiration, not a place of discipline.  And while I think it’s great that some writers can crank out words every day without concern for whether or not they’re good words (or they’re words that can be fixed in editing), I’d still rather take my time, maybe not get something on the page every day, and make sure I put down the right words the first time ’round.

And maybe that’s arrogance on my part.  Maybe I’m not being as clear here as I’d like to be.  Writing about writing is always fraught with hand-wringing and sounding full of yourself.  “The Process,” y’know.  I always roll my eyes when creative folks talk about their Process.  It sounds so pretentious.  And I’m sure talking of inspiration sounds that way, too.  It’s a lot more down-to-earth to talk about being a writer through the self-discipline of writing.  You sound like a human, or like anyone could do what you do if they just built that discipline themselves.

But I’m not sure that’s true.  Maybe it’s a bit elitist, but not everybody can do everything, even with discipline.  I could practice every day, hire the best trainers and go through intense regimens, and still never be a better basketball player than LeBron James or Michael Jordan.  I could push myself to practice for hours a day, doing riffs and runs and arpeggios, and never be as good a guitar player as Prince was.  Those are (or were) all highly-disciplined people who spent years honing their crafts, but they started with the inspiration.  I’m just saying maybe we shouldn’t discount that part quite so much.  Discipline without inspiration is just so much hard work for nothing.