Ice Pick Soup

VeronaTake a time journey to legendary Verona. Meet the Intuinoobs, Bubblers, spies, poets and catacomb crawlers. Return via a premier stage play in Newfoundland and have dinner in Kansas. Briefly step into the night line life of Alexis Mandell.

Short story, fiction, 13K words. Free. PDF format.

Download it here: Ice Pick Soup

Back then it didn’t matter who you were. It only mattered what you wore and how much you could drink on a given Thursday. – Unknown Poet of the period.

The best things in life are short, including people. – Orion Smiley, from the home land.

If you must make a point, never make it so sharp as to puncture yourself. – Verse from a Vin Intuinoob drinking song.

The Ice Pick Soup Saga

Summary of the Collected Works

A Note

Gregor and I have been invited to spend some time in Sogni, near legendary Verona. We will be meeting with the Intuinoobs, Bubblers and a number of other local characters, including catacomb crawlers. We can be contacted at:

Digipoint Locator ID: 395864385109:AA1:4004

using the approved trade craft and beamer protocol. We will also forward updates to this location as appropriate. In the meantime, thank you very much for the past year of fun and friendship.

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Secrets of the Dew Drop Inn: Let’s Get Backwards

Dew Drop Inn Forks WAYou’ve noticed the roadside sign, but have you ever stayed for the night? It’s the Dew Drop Inn and it’s much more than a cheap stopover. It’s not one place, it’s many. This is the sanctuary where writers keep their most valued treasures. You can think of it as a secret society for the pen-and-paper crowd, a storehouse of moldy mind tricks. Here’s one from the vaults.

Suspend your usual habits and your swaggering disbelief. Let’s make some heresy. Let’s break some rules. For now, let’s start at the end and give nothing to the beginning. Don’t worry about the story line, don’t even think about it. Instead, create a character.

When your character begins to take life, the story line will follow. Most everything at the DDI is different, just a little crooked, so none of this should be surprising.

OK? Let’s go.

Choose the character. Animal, vegetable or mineral? Human or not? No detailed qualities for these first few moments. Just make the barest outline of a character.

We’ll go with a human female this time.

Fill in a few blanks, just a quick sketch. Alexis. Small, a bit undernourished. Sandy hair. Pleasing, in a quiet way. Smooth movements, delicate hands. Likes flowing clothes that don’t reveal too much but are clearly feminine. Prefers pale colors, easy on the eye and mind. An ex-expatriate from Lithuania. Multi-lingual. Might be some kind of artist but it’s hard to say. Not physical, more ethereal. Definitely not a spy or weightlifter. Could be a dancer, maybe. Moves like one.

Say some more. She’s living in Italy now. Don’t know why, yet. Small town, rustic, narrow streets. In the South of the country. She likes the weather here, and the anonymity. Is this a hideaway? She walks everywhere, likes to move around. Drawn to street-side shops and carts. Hair is long and a bit curly. Never seen with others. Lives alone. Is always alone.

Scene. Today, she’s sitting outside a cafe. Not the usual scene. This is a junky street, cluttered, but not with people. Nothing opulent here. No tourists. There are tables up and down the street, each with junk for sale. Mostly odd, small items. She’s been moving up and down the strada, fingering through the goodies, saying nothing, buying nothing, apparently thinking about nothing. She’s an odd fit for this scene. Speaks to no one.

Say some more. She is lazily scanning the street, watching people come and go. Everything looks a bit dark. It’s overcast today. It’s late in the afternoon. A little breeze, but comfortable. Her mood is quiet but not sour. She’s not smiling, not frowning, just absorbed in some other place, another time. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Still, it’s not boredom that makes her muse. What’s on her mind?

Action. She hears her name being called from behind. It’s a familiar voice, too familiar. Her back stiffens and she turns toward the voice.

Details, please.

Ready?

Cut to the story line.

Reading, Writing the Perfect Book

reading

Like most writers, I enjoy reading. I’m always in search of that perfect book, that unique piece of work that finds a special place in my heart and mind. 

I’m looking for the book I will never give away, never leave behind, never forget. It can be fiction or nonfiction. It’s obviously a subjective search, changeable for every reader. There’s no predictable way to measure the perfect read, to agree on greatness. In fact, it’s hard to even define all the flavors that come together to blend the ultimate brew.

Let’s try anyway.

Legs. I don’t care about the hot genre of the day. They come and go. I want the book that has legs, that keeps its meaning over the years and decades. It has something to say that transcends the time in which it was created. What was important to the writer back then must still be important to me today. It just keeps on going, stays relevant and holds tightly onto its meaning. If the zombie apocalypse makes the tsunami of today, I’ll pass unless your zombie has something really special in store for me.

Easy read. I don’t want to trip over flowery sentences and over-polish. Sure, I enjoy a beautifully constructed phrase or a finely-tuned paragraph. But I’m not interested in only that part of the experience. I want to be able to get through the book without too much work. I want it to flow, to carry me along the story line and not distract me with glitz and fizz. Seasoned writers know this. First-time authors often get caught up in a love affair with their own words. I don’t want that love affair in my face. Keep me on the right track, move me along easily, grab me with the motion and pacing of the story line. Force nothing.

Break the Rules!

Breaking rules. Call me a miscreant, but I like writers who break the rules, so long as they don’t overload me with a manufactured style. Words and sentences are musical phrases to me. Punctuation is a way of making those phrases work well. So, go ahead and push a rule here or there. It won’t bother me at all, as long as its not fabricated or made the center of your style. Make up a word or two. That’s fine. I enjoy the uniqueness of style so long as it doesn’t distract me from the main thrust of the reading journey.

No phonies. I’ve been reading and writing all my life. I can spot a phony from thirty miles. If you’re not a sincere writer, making your art for unselfish reasons, I’ll sniff it out. Most readers will do the same. Don’t make me look at you too hard. If you’re a great writer, I will discover you for myself in your work. I must believe you’re a sincere writer to keep on reading. So, either be sincere or be such a good doo-doo slinger that I can’t tell the difference. Just remember that I’m no reader-pushover.

Move me. I want to feel that emotional side of your story, fiction or nonfiction. If I want a common, dry read, I’ll stick to cereal boxes and bug-chaser labels. If you can’t move me, I stop reading and never return. On the other hand, don’t try too hard. For me, a writer who is moved by his or her story line will also move me. It’s an automatic, transparent process. If you are moved when you write, it will shine through and move me also. If you try to force the issue, I’ll know it.

Make me wonder. I want to take something away from your words. I want to wonder about your story line, to become a part of that journey. Make me think as well as feel. When I put the book down for the night, I want to play with your words in my mind, walk along your story line in my own way, become a part of what is happening in your world. If you can do that, you’re my friend forever.

Surprise

Leave me different. You can make me happy, sad, angry, whatever. Just don’t leave me the same old reader you first found. Change me in some way, even something very small and insignificant. Reshape my views, rearrange my thoughts, tweak my emotions, take me on a little ride with your words. Somehow, leave your footprint on my heart and in my mind. But don’t try too hard. If you’re going to force the issue, I’ll know right away. However, if your word journey left you changed, I’ll likely follow suit.

Make me a better writer. Show me something fresh and unique. The best of the best show me a sincere and inescapable style that I cannot ignore. These works tell me I have more to learn, more to experience. They make me a better writer because I see opportunities and alternatives. In your words, I find a new path on my own journey. Teach me, if you can, but never try to do so. Lead me by your example and unique perspective.

Be honest. Even when you’re lying to me, convince me of your honesty. Can you do that? Great writers do it all the time.

Stay behind the scenes. Hide away behind your words and never let me catch you peeking out. I don’t want you to tell me you’re back there, just waiting to grab my attention. Let your story do the talking. If you’re a good writer, I’ll find you on my own. Don’t sell me, ever.

Don’t define yourself. I don’t want you to tell me about you. I want a little mystery behind my favorite writer. Be changeable. Surprise me. You’re a big part of my reading journey, so make it fun for both of us. Even if you’re the hottest swamp gas in the literary world, stay just far enough away from my doorstep that I wonder. Let me fill in your details. Make me work, just a little bit.

I suppose this list could go on indefinitely. Time to take a breath.

These are just a few highlights and they’re obviously personal. Your goodie list will certainly be different in many ways. Great writing is ultimately indefinable. Forget the sages of word theory and the alleged experts of prose. If it moves you, if you want to keep that book forever, the writer has done his or her job.

The big take-away is ridiculously simple. Keep it real.

Secrets of the Dew Drop Inn: Dream Characters

Dew Drop Inn Forks WAYou’ve noticed the roadside sign, but have you ever stayed for the night? It’s the Dew Drop Inn and it’s much more than a cheap stopover. It’s not one place, it’s many. This is the sanctuary where writers keep their most valued treasures. You can think of it as a secret society for the pen-and-paper crowd, a storehouse of moldy mind tricks. Here’s one from the vaults.

Being an old geezer, I don’t remember where I first learned this little gimmick. It’s been with me for decades. The journey began because I wanted to remember my dreams. But, I was lazy. I didn’t want to bother with a dream journal and I certainly didn’t want to wake myself up in the middle of the night to scribble notes on a nightstand pad of paper. All of this was just too much work. What I wanted most of all was to discover if my dreams could help me with writing in some way. Like most writers, I was constantly on safari for inspiration.

This is the simple process I discovered, and it works. It’s a hybrid, four-step mind-game that basically takes only 90 seconds when you wake up and no time at all when you’re falling asleep. The three steps used when waking up are critical. I wish I could lay claim to these but I cannot. I just don’t remember where I read (or heard) about them. This is why they are enshrined in the Dew Drop Inn. All I know is that they work. My contribution is the first step, and I found it by accident.

If you’re searching for fresh inspiration, and you like to create characters, this might work well for you. Simple as pie. I’ve used it to create many characters and even produce an inner writer or two to help me with the drudgery of getting words on the page.

Step One: There are those few luscious moments just before you fall asleep. You are partially here, partially there, but nowhere in particular. You sense that sleep is on the doorstep and you can feel its shadow. Now is the best time to begin to create a character. Let your mind wander completely unfettered. Develop a new character or just enhance one that you’ve previously created. Give the character all the detail and dimension that your sleepy, nomadic mind will allow. Hold nothing back and let your character romp across your psyche. Now, just drop off.

Step Two: You begin to feel yourself come awake. Don’t move, don’t open your eyes. Just lay there for 30 seconds, motionless and peaceful with your eyes closed. Make no effort. Be still. Easy enough, eh? Doing nothing at all can feel so sweet.

Step Three: For the next 30 seconds, let your dream images ripple through your mind. Eyes still closed, still motionless. Just let them drift by and enjoy those few seconds of image-entertainment. Maybe they’re dreams, maybe not. They could just be waking fantasies. It really doesn’t matter. The critical point is to not interfere with the process regardless of how silly it may evolve. Don’t judge. Just enjoy.

Step Four: Mentally grab a character during this last 30 seconds. Yes, there will be a character in there somewhere. He or she will have drifted through your waking mind in Step Three. During this phase, just grab the character you like from the images you have enjoyed. Hold that character in mind as you begin to come awake and start to move around. Let the character continue to move through your mind, free of your interference. The character will self-develop right before your mind’s eye.

Now, keep that character with you for a little while as you begin your day. Maybe you’ll want to make some notes about the character, maybe you’ll just play with him or her in your mind. It really doesn’t matter, so long as you keep that character with you for a time. Once the character has taken seed, he or she will stay with you for a surprisingly long time. The evolution process will take care of itself.

This simple technique works well for creating new characters or enhancing those you’ve already given life. It’s your choice. Just use Step One as the launching pad for the dreaming/creative process to begin. You may fall asleep thinking about a particular character and wake up with a completely new one on your mind. It happens all the time. Whatever the outcome, your morning character is one of your own creation and he or she now belongs to you. If the character pleases you, entices you in some way, write about it. If not, there’s always tomorrow night.

Note to the uninitiated: This process doesn’t work too well with the dreaded alarm clock. If you absolutely must use an alarm clock, make sure it has a snooze function!

How About Those Blank-Loving Writers

creativity

Here’s an important writing concept that gets overlooked regularly by many fiction writers. Readers need virtual blank spaces. They need breathing room. Your readers aren’t researching the microbes of your work, they are waiting for a good ride, looking at you to provide the vehicle.

If you give this idea some thought, you’ll realize that your readers want to fill in some of the blanks. They expect it, within reason. Reading is an interactive process. The reader spontaneously forms mental pictures from your words, images that carry him or her along the story line. Those mental pictures are personal creations based upon your words. A good writer wants the reader to keep those pictures flowing, one after another; to keep them interesting and alive.

Readers of fiction need just enough detail to help them form those mental images with a sense of reality. That means you must give the reader more than an outline but less than the finely-grained detail of a perfect landscape photograph. The goal is to get your reader to participate in the story line in a fun and meaningful way. A hint of mystery goes a long way.

Giving the reader some breathing room is a balancing act, and one that is created differently by each writer. That’s what makes for a unique writing style, among other elements. When you introduce a character, make him or her sufficiently real to be interesting and entertaining but not so detailed as to be rigid and inflexible. Allow your reader some breathing room to give that character some of the reader’s unique perspectives. In other words, let your reader help create some of the qualities of that character so that the reader feels close and involved with him or her.

The same technique works for locations, scenes, background characters and much more. Yes, you must be sufficiently detailed to create interesting, powerful characters and scenes. But, you must also allow your reader to participate in the creative process itself. If you do so, your readers will consider your work a real “page turner” because they have become an important, involved part of the process. The goal is to not just keep your reader’s attention but to get him or her involved in the story line, truly involved.

So, find that balance between detail and breathing room for your readers. It will take some time to work out the formula because it must be unique to you. That’s what makes for style and keeps your readers turning those pages.

Plot Synopsis: Mission District Murders

These are the worst of times for Lieutenant Chris Spell, once acclaimed as San Francisco’s premiere homicide investigator. At the heart of his beat, the City’s chaotic Mission District, women are being systemically murdered, their bodies mutilated and dumped on neighborhood doorsteps. Spell can find no connections in the case, no leads, and no way to stop the carnage.

Understaffed, desperate, and beleaguered by the press, the Lieutenant quickly assembles a rag-tag task force to take on the investigation. He recruits the station’s forensic psychologist, borrows an old friend and fellow investigator from a neighboring District, and convinces a young, inexperienced beat-cop to join his team. Unfortunately, they are no match for the careful, determined killer.

Over the next two months, the murders continue, with Spell’s investigators always a step behind. The serial killer becomes more brazen, more lethal, and begins sending cryptic, threatening letters to the press and Spell’s task force. In a stunning act of mayhem, he kidnaps the youngest member of the team, a woman who has an uncanny resemblance to the half dozen victims he has already claimed. Out of options and out of time, Spell formulates a plan to get her back and bring the killer down, but the price of the plan could cost the life of a second member of his team. Worse, Spell’s prey has already made a last, shocking plan of his own—one that none of his pursuers had considered.

In a final confrontation orchestrated by the serial killer, Spell’s world collapses when he learns the real motivation behind the murders and realizes that the means to put an end to the bloodshed has been within his grasp since the first day of the investigation.

Introduction: Suspect Zero

Introduction

In 1968, a notorious serial killer, who chose the moniker “Zodiac,” began his lethal career with a horrific double homicide in the city of Vallejo, California, just east of San Francisco. Within a year, he had brutally attacked 7 individuals at random, mostly young couples, killing 5 of them. This murderer would eventually lay claim to more than three dozen victims in a series of bizarre and disturbing letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle that continued until 1978. In the end, after two dozen of these letters, Zodiac inexplicably disappeared from the Bay Area scene, leaving investigators confused and empty-handed.

While an army of law enforcement personnel was unsuccessfully chasing after California’s most notorious fugitive in the late 1960s and 1970s, another series of murders was taking place less than an hour north of San Francisco, in the semi-rural community of Santa Rosa. Between early 1972 and late 1973, at least 7 girls and young women were slain in a similar way by an unknown male assailant. These crimes took place during the same period of time that Zodiac was feverishly writing to the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming more victims with each of his taunting and convoluted missives. Since Zodiac had attacked at a variety of locations around the Bay Area, including Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco, many investigators assumed that the Santa Rosa murders were his doing, although the fugitive himself never took credit for them. These crimes came to be known in the press as the Highway 101 Murders, and, like the Zodiac killings, the case has never been officially closed.

However, even unsolved cases of serial murder do have a resolution, somewhere. There is often a sea of certainty and understanding that lies forgotten or ignored between what is known and what can be proved in such cases. This was certainly true with the Highway 101 Murders. It was true for Lieutenant Manny Bruin of the Sonoma County Criminal Investigations Division—the agency in charge of the investigation—and for those who worked the case with him. It was horribly, unspeakably true for the victims of Byron Avion.

When traditional justice fails because of unexpected circumstances, lack of hard facts, insufficient resources, or unremitting confusion, there is still the possibility of a resolution, somewhere. What happened in Sonoma County, California, a few years ago is evidence enough to believe in that possibility, even when fiction must, of necessity, take the reins from fact.