Check out my new Dystopian short story!

Unnamed Future depicts a soon-to-unfold society in which all political, cultural and personal differences are erased from humanity by giving every single person the same personality. Oddly enough, things don’t go well — at least not for our heroine, who rebels by experimenting with an illegal drug that provides her with something exotic and dangerous: a personality of her own.

Buy it on Amazon here!

Will Tarantino the novelist Spark a Revival of Pulp?

Having previously threatened to retire after his tenth movie, writer/director Quentin Tarantino further clarified his post-film plans a month ago by announcing the release of his first novel, a novelization of his ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It’s scheduled to hit books store in the summer of 2021.

Those of us who’ve spent much of our lives reading and writing crime fiction of the hard-hitting, pulp-ish variety might want to welcome this as good news. After all, Tarantino could well bring a barrage of new readers — lovers of gritty, tough crime thrillers who tend to get their pulp kicks in the film world while leaving the reading up to the more refined, effete fans of literary fiction. 

More precisely, Tarantino could help usher in the re-birth of gritty crime fiction that focuses as much on the seedy world of the criminals as nerdy pathologists that populate much of today’s most popular crime fiction.

I’d say Quentin is as likely a candidate as any to trigger a renaissance in this sub-genre. After all, it’s not hard to imagine a fan of the novelized ‘Once Upon…’ becoming an avid reader of the works of Max Allan Collins, Eric Beetner or Christa Faust. Stay tuned…

Massacre on 34th Street

What was Santa like?

That’s what people always want to know.

I always answer: “He was a real gent, sweetest guy in the room, always smiling, a kind word for everybody. And in the end, he was awfully handy with a pump-action shotgun.”

It’s a long story.

I first met the big guy on a gloomy Monday morning, three days after my probation officer told me I’d been approved for a work-release program. I shuddered at the thought of what kind of work would be available for a four-foot-two convicted car thief, but when the words Santa’s helper hit me it seemed like I had just traded one nightmare for another. I mean, The Big House was no romp through a field of roses, but at least I had a trace of dignity in that place.

I scowled my way through a tour of the toy factory, got fitted for a red and green jumpsuit and just like that, I was ‘Skippy’ – a minimum wage-earning ‘seasonal recreation assistant’ with a facial scar I couldn’t wait to explain to the kiddies.

“Welcome aboard, son! Here’s hoping every day here is a merry day,” my new boss chuckled. 

I was sick of him already. The laugh, the Grateful Dead t-shirt (he’d save the suit for delivery days) the bits of Cheez-whiz in his beard. Mostly I hated that joyful shine in his eyes. How could he be so goddamn cheery with my life spiraling down the toilet?

But it turned out not to be such a crappy job after all. 

Nice benefits, decent hours and apart from the occasional dust-up with one of those pricks in packaging, I got along fine with my co-workers.

And when things did come to a boil, the big guy could always cool us down with a belly laugh and a sedative or two. He was good people, a gentle giant in our peaceful little valley.

But somehow I just knew things would come crashing down. And the first step in the demolition was a visit from the consulting firm of Henderson and Rawls.

***

They were a husband and wife team, Emily and Rob. A real couple of drips. They would’ve needed more charisma to be accountants. But they had come to save the day:

“We’re aware that you’ve been struggling lately,” Emily chirped.  “Profits falling, clients lost, rising shipping costs. But we’ve done some research that can help.”

Then it was Rob’s turn behind the riflescope: 

“According to our focus groups, your target market would respond more readily to a number of changes.”

Then they unleashed a parade of stupidity designed to reel in the fast departing youth market: rapping reindeers, eco-friendly presents, Mrs. Claus’s yuletide blog.

“This is bullshit,” Santa mumbled. But they were just getting started.

“And then there’s your Santa…” Rob said.

“Now don’t get us wrong. We’re all for traditional Santa Claus iconography: the red suit, the boots, the sleigh,” Emily said.

“But it seems your Santa is skewing a little… older than would be ideal.”

“The kids want a hipper, more vibrant, more… health conscious Santa.”

“You want to put me on a diet?” Santa yelled.

Rob’s eyes couldn’t lift from the table. 

Emily gave it a try: “Not exactly…” But she was afraid of the truth.

The truth was that Santa was being fired. 

Silence hung over the room like a fog. That joyful shine in Santa’s eyes had flickered out. And I could tell that Christmas would not be a silent night.

*** 

Six months later, five of us found ourselves in a van outside of FAO Schwarz. A wind whipped through the night like a samurai’s sword. But inside the van all was calm, all was bright. Mainly because we were packing some serious heat and had the plan down colder than a polar bear’s balls.

Santa loaded his shotgun, addressed the troops:

“Alright, fellas we know why we’re here. With old St Nick getting the sack we have to do some ad-libbing to get the kids their presents. I’ve made my list, checked it twice. Are we ready to do some shopping?”

Nods all around. But the boss wanted a precise breakdown. He aimed his chin at Fluffy, all scary four feet of him.

Fluffy answered without being asked:

“I get us through the security system at the back door, then I go to the doll department, make this a merry Christmas for some little girls.”

“Thumpkins?”

“I secure the east wing, then I take care of the action figures, costumes and toy helicopters.”

“Gris-Gris?”

I grab what I can from the automated car section, then stand guard at the front door?”

“And Skippy?”

“I stay in the van, keep my eyes open, honk the horn if we get company.”

With a final pump, Santa was ready. And so were his soldiers.

“Let’s get this done, boys.”

They slid on their masks, emptied the van, leaving me in the creepiest quiet I’d ever felt.

Within seconds, I heard glass shatter. The alarm whimpered out a warning, then died a fast death. I could hear the plan snapping into motion: the determined patter of feet, more shattered glass and whispers.

Then Gunfire. And screaming – a desperate wail from Gris-Gris. 

Now the place was exploding with gunfire and loudly shouted regrets. There was no plan now, only survival. I raced from the van, maybe too quickly, but fuck it – better to spring into danger than to sit around waiting for it to find me.

I slipped into the back door and caught enough of the scene to know the next move: the security guard turned, stunned – a fifth intruder?

Fuck yes. He caught two in the chest before knowing what hit him. 

Footsteps from the hallway, Santa turned, pumped, took off the second guard’s left shoulder, sent him to the floor with a wordless cry for help. He dropped next to Gris-Gris, just another casualty. Another tax on the price of admission.

“Let’s take care of business before we get more surprises,” Santa said.

Game on again, we scrambled back into motion, taking out bags and loading up. Toy cars, robots, dolls, action figures, shit that didn’t even exist when I was kid. 

Then the siren crept up. We froze for a second, then gathered the bags in one spot, ready to scramble for the back door.

But good luck scrambling home with the cavalry charging in like that. There was a team of them rushing in, enough footsteps for an army. 

“You guys make a run for it. I’ll hold them here!” Santa ordered. 

“Are you crazy?” I yelled.

He wasn’t crazy. It made sense to scamper out with the toys because that was what this all about, wasn’t it? But this couldn’t be right, letting Santa go down alone like this.

He waved us off anyway. 

As the footsteps closed in I pried myself away and out the back door. Santa found a nook in the hallway, settled there and took aim at the charging mass of blue.

Fluffy had pulled the van up and we loaded the bags, shut the door and hoped we’d have another passenger soon. But we could hear all we needed to hear from the back door: the profanity-laced demands for surrender, the hail of gunfire, Santa’s kamikaze scream – “and to all a good niiiiight!” – and we were off into the plan’s next phase: delivery.

We missed the boss, of course, but we had to go on because what would be the point if we didn’t? The kids, as always, were full of Christmas cheer. There was singing, snowball fights and good will toward all. So basically it was just like any other Christmas. Except that when we got to the Henderson-Rawls residence, we snatched a laptop on our way out. 

Santa would have wanted it that way.

A Tale of Two Santas

This is the six-year-old me kickstarting my literary career with a heartwarming tale of yuletide joy, redemption and excessive eating. Fat shaming and typos aside (I had no editor or sensitivity reader in 1973) it’s fun for the whole family, a glimpse into the untarnished soul of a future spinner of yarns.

Decades later, I’d write another story with the same protagonist. This one was a little darker…

Stay tuned for Massacre on 34th Street!

The Letterman to Tarantino spectrum. Where do you fall?

Few things in life bore me more than cliches, and sadly, the whole-low-esteem-imposter syndrome-hate everything-I-write thing has become something of a cliche. As with any cliche, it doesn’t matter much how rooted in reality it is. It is tedious, boring, tiresome, repetitive and nearly as redundant as the sentence you are reading. 

I like Quentin Tarantino. I don’t just mean I like all his movies that aren’t Deathproof. I mean, I like the guy. Kind of. 

Yes, he’s a brash and arrogant blowhard who is way too pleased with himself and his films, but in a weird way, I like that about him. 

Let me explain.

A return to the days of the badass scribe would be great, but I suspect a list of true badasses would likely begin and end with Hemingway. And a deeper dive would probably reveal he was terrified of bulls. 

Fast forward to today and we get Quentin Tarantino, a filmmaker as bold as he is brilliant. No insecurities here. The guy loves his movies as much as you do. The clever dialogue, the stunningly inventive structure, the brave casting choices. He even seems to feel okay about his acting. 

And if you’re like me, you probably think he’s going about being a writer/artist in the wrong way. He’s not supposed to consume his art, and he’s certainly not supposed to enjoy it.

David Letterman, on the other hand, hates everything he does and readily adheres to the stereotype of the self-loathing artist, eternally nursing a case of impostor syndrome. After all, what better way to illustrate that you are a real artist than to express the belief that you’re not a real artist?

Outside of rappers, porn stars and occasionally rocks stars, Tarantino’s brand of confidence is nearly unheard of in the arts world. And I like it. It’s a fun change of pace and it provides a great role model. We should all love what we do as much as Quentin does. Not just because it makes you a better talk show guest. But because it’s fun. As an artist, it’s a good idea to lean back from your canvas and savor your creation. It’s healthy and it energizes you to create more. Who doesn’t want to do more of something they enjoy and excel at?

The problem is, it’s not so easy to be Tarantino. Personally, I’d say I rank somewhere between Quentin and Dave on the Self-esteem-o-meter. More precisely, I tend to bounce between the two extremes, unable to make up my mind if I’m brilliant or awful. I suppose I feel I’m capable of good, even — dare I say it? — great writing and writing makes me wonder why I bother. 

How about you, fellow scribes and artists? Where do you fall on the spectrum?

Nothing to Kill or Die For

By Copper Smith

It was the weirdest job I’d ever taken. No double-crossed thugs, no unpaid loan sharks, nary a cheating spouse to be seen. Just a creepy loner who needed a bullet to the skull before he could push into motion a sick plan to make the world a lonelier place.

And damned if I’d ever had to do that much travel before. But they told me the payday would be worth my while so I sailed off strapped with a 9mm. and a head swimming with 80s nostalgia.

Fighting off a stiff December breeze I wove through the Manhattan streets, eager to find my mark and get the job over with – but good luck fending off the distractions of that gorgeously insane place. The sidewalks were a freak show, alive with coke-fueled craziness and the promise of dangerous sex.

I spent my first ninety minutes spinning deeper into that breathtaking web, absorbing everything.

The sights – even the subway graffiti was somehow beautiful.

The smells – real food, made by real first generation immigrants.

And the voices – Deborah Harry cooing, David Byrne hiccupping, Joey Ramone whimpering, Grandmaster Flash cutting, scratching, reinventing the beat.

How could I not lose track of time? Shit.

I raced from the subway, determined to get across town to The Dakota before it was too late.

It was too late. A cloaked figure – arms extended – closed in on his target rising from a limousine.

“Everybody get down!” I shouted, and both bodies dutifully dropped.

I waited for the gunfire. But it never came.

The autograph seeker turned, his face frozen. Unfamiliar. He wasn’t my mark.

I slipped into the shadows, chagrined.

Then I heard the steps and the gun being loaded. But saw nothing.

“Get down!” I wheezed, no voice left after the false alarm.

I still saw nothing, but tried again:

“Somebody’s got a gun!”

Smirks all around. Who’s the wiseguy? they had to wonder.

My head swiveled, swept the shadows, the alleys, behind the dumpster. Nothing.

Another click. A hammer yanked back. No more steps.

A silhouette emerged, stepped into the moonlight.

“Mr. Chapman?” I asked.

He turned. This was my mark. Sharing that demented grin, glassy eyes shinning on. Like the moon and the stars and the sun. I could see the marquee beaming in his head. He was there already, finished, famous, complete. Nothing left to do but add the exclamation point.

But I had to fuck things up by being a quicker draw.

“The dream is over, motherfucker,” I said.

And I shattered his face into a mess his mother wouldn’t recognize. Twice.

I dove back into the shadows and scampered away, the scene now bathing in stunned silence.

It was time to get back to where I once belonged, back to the winter of 2020, a world that could now watch Yoko grow old with her walrus.

Imagine that.

Post-apocalyptic Non-fiction?

As we lurch further and further into a future of danger, chaos and growing uncertainty, has the idea of post-apocalyptic fiction began to feel less and less fictional? And not just because of the continued threat of COVID, but also the panic and cultural upheaval that has accompanied it. 

It doesn’t help matters that talk of an upcoming vaccine, far from quelling the political storm, has simply nudged the storm in a different direction, spurring on the rhetoric of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and — surprise! — political opportunists

Allow me to move the topic to a selfish place: What does all this mean to fiction writers?

If Amazon’s book charts are any indication, the pandemic’s deadly spread has been a boon to writers of viral apocalypse novels. Apparently, people like reading deadly fictional tales that mirror the real-file horror of our daily lives. Does this make sense?

It’s not usually the case that people like fiction that close to home. I’ve known a few war veterans in my life and none seemed eager to immerse themselves in the fictional accounts of violent conflict. Nor do most abuse survivors relish tales of violence and torture. 

Maybe it’s different when the apocalypse is happening generally to the world, but not to you and your family or circle of friends. 

It seems to me that people like fiction that hits close to home — but not too close. 

What do you think?