PIZZERIA FAKE NEWS STORY FREE ASSOCIATION EXERCISE

yeah, i’m looking at you NPRThe story sounds like a drug-inspired paranoia trip. But here it goes.

Some conspiracy whack jobs on the interwebs told everyone that a pizza shop in Washington D.C. was a front for child-sex trafficking and satanic illuminati shenanigans. The conspiracy loons said Hillary Clinton was involved. Their mindless bilge was all propagated as news, when in fact it was fake-news. Fake-news seems to be more profitable than real news.

People believed these lies unconditionally and didn’t bother to check the facts or consider the source.

Death threats were made. Innocent people were harassed. Someone went into the pizzeria and shot off a couple of rounds from an assault rifle. He said he was investigating the claims about Clinton.

I told you it sounded crazy, didn’t I?

In my novel The Little Girl Waits (which you should buy right now) I have a scene where the traffickers are using an auto repair shop as a front for their evil, and the good guys go in to investigate. It is one of the better scenes in the book, IMHO. But that is fiction. This loon took a real rifle into a real pizza restaurant. A PIZZA RESTAURANT! That is not fiction.

So, the next time someone tells me that the elements in my novel aren’t “believable” I’m just gonna point to this.

I’ve come to think that believability in a story is slightly overrated. (By the way, have you bought my novel The Little Girl Waits yet? Go Ahead and get the follow-up to it, How Great is The Darkness while you’re at it.) When I pick up a novel to read, I don’t want it to look exactly like my everyday world. I want it to be different. I want the unexpected. I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations. In fact, I like that sentence so much, I’m gonna set it off in its own quote bracket to highlight the point like they do in fancy publications.

I want to see believable characters in unbelievable situations

This gets back to another thing I believe in so deeply. Character trumps plot. We love characters. We tolerate plots. The plot only exists to reveal the integrity and grit (or lack thereof) of the character(s). I’ll use Harry Potter because it is so easy. The plot of what is going on and the whose it, spell it, when it, is very inconsequential. We care about Harry, his friends, Dumbledore, and the showdown with Voldemort. The characters are the plot.

Of course, the plot matters. I don’t mean to say it doesn’t have a role to play in the development of a good story. What I am saying is that character development matters far more, and it is the characters that keep the reader engaged. The moment the reader stops caring about the character he or she is likely to put the book down and go turn the television on  and watch the Gilmore Girls–because that is all character.

But back to the pizza shop. It is actually a place called Comet Ping Pong Pizza. Disclosure–I’ve never been there, so the pizza might be lousy.

I think they should lawyer-up and start the lawsuits. If I owned that business, I would sue everyone I could find that pushed that fake news story. I’m not generally litigation happy, but for crying-out-loud there needs to be some accountability here. Free speech is important, but I can’t shout, “Fire” in a movie theater and fake news propagators must be held accountable.

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This is not a real news story

 

There are two problems at play here, as I see it. The first problem is, as this (click here) article on slate points out, conspiracies to hurt children exist. One only has to think of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the Catholic Diocese of Boston highlighted in the film Spotlight. It is sickening to think about, but true. The second problem, though, is different. It is the problem that we attribute the worst possible societal crime to our political opponents. It is not enough to suspect a child-sex ring, but somehow it must be Hillary Clinton’s fault. Before the progresses get all high and mighty about this, they need to realize they are equally to blame when they all but accuse Donald Trump of having white hoods in his closet.

This is all problematic. But you know what else is problematic–who we blame. If  I hear one more person blame “the internet” or “social media” for this (yeah, I’m looking at you NPR), I’m gonna do something serious like eat an apple without washing it first. Dont’ try me!

This is not the internet’s fault. The internet is neutral, like a car. You can drive it wherever you want. The internet takes you places and grants you conversation. The problem is not the medium. The problem is that people have lost the ability to think critically. I don’t when it happened, somewhere since my childhood the important skill of analysis has vaporized.

Fake news stories have been here, since, like, forever! The National Enquirer was based on it in my childhood. People read it, but they knew it was garbage.

Somehow we’ve lot the ability to chuckle at the stupidity and move on.

The reason is we want to believe the garbage.

It reminds me a bit of my theology of zombies. You read that right. Zombies have a theology. The short of it is that the zombie genre and our fascination with it hints at a deep down feeling of unease that we have with our life. We have a sense that something is out of balance, something is not quite right in the world, and we are just one bad moment from ending the whole thing. This thinking has crept into our political world. We expect there to be a political apocalypse any day now, when our darkest nightmares are confirmed. It is fatalism that flows from a lack of spirituality. To read more about the theology of zombies, click here.

Therefore, the political enemy must, necessarily, be completely evil. He or she can’t just be wrong on the issue or the policy, he must be completely evil. So George Bush was compared with Hitler, Obama was a secret Muslim, Trump is a Nazi, Clinton is the Illuminati, and on and on and on. This kind of though pollutes our national discourse.

One more thought. Chew on this for a bit. A pastor friend of mine shared this week that someone he knew refused to pray for peace because he believed that the world needed to get worse and worse so that Jesus would come back.

That is how you end up with assault rifles at pizza joints where people are looking for presidential candidates sacrificing children.

 

 

 

A SAMPLING OF THE FICTION WRITER’S CURSE

I can’t help myself, I am a writer.  There should be some sort of 12-step program for fiction writers, because sometimes we need help with our imaginations.

Mrs.Greenbean’s dog, the idiot dog named Dobby, immediately investigates the same spot at the corner of the house whenever I take him to the front yard.  Every.  Single. Time.

He played a writer in this movie, remember?
He played a writer in this movie, remember?

This is where the fiction writer in me takes over, and I wonder what the idiot dog is picking up on with his supercharged sniffer.  My goodness, the options are limitless.

A.  It could be where a body is buried.  I don’t know what kind of body, but perhaps before the concrete was poured for our home, one of the workers with a nefarious past dug a shallow grave and hid the body in that spot, at the corner of the house under the concrete slab.

B.  That spot is where the aliens landed.  Their tiny spaceship filled with tiny, but potent invaders from another planet landed in that spot two years ago.  The dog can sense the difference.

C.  The government has hidden invisible equipment in that spot to spy on me.  The dog can sense the odor from the G-Men who come every night to check the footage and biometrics.

D.  A combination of B and C could be in play.  There is invisible equipment there, but it is not tended by G-Men, it is the ‘duck blind’ of aliens studying human life so they can better understand and conquer us.

E.  Once every full moon witches come to this spot, hallowed from before the time of the Comanches, in the ancient days, as a place for sacrifice.  On this spot they slaughter stray house cats and rogue gerbils as they make incantations to the devil.

This is the fiction writer’s curse.  Even the most mundane aspects of life erupt into plot that will never be developed.  The good news is, as curses go, this is a very delightful and entertaining one to have.

image from www.standard.co.uk

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THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS PLAYER’S NAMES . . . AS FICTION

Where do you get the names for your characters?

Hunter Pence--A name and look made for a novel action hero.
Hunter Pence–Action Hero

That is one of the most common questions I get from people who are kind enough to read my books and stories.  The best answer is from anywhere there is a list of names.  Graduation lists are great resources, people in photographs in the newspaper, church bulletins, anywhere really.  The eye is the portal of creativity.  It is often good to take first names and match them with other last names.

But inspiration can come from anywhere.  As I watched game five of the World Series last night, it occurred to me that the entire starting lineup of the San Francisco Giants have excellent novel names.  In my mind I built a plot for each one of them.

CF Gregor Blanco–An assassin who specializes in international jobs.  He has a handlebar moustache.

2B Joe Panik–1960s era private investigator.  That he plays in San Francisco just screams Bogie

C Buster Posey–Banker from the 1920s-30s.  He wears suspenders and a bow tie.  A close personal friend of Daddy Warbucks.

3B Pablo Sandoval–A desperate artist who lives in Miami.  He probably has a sordid past,  maybe a couple of children he left behind in New York.

 
RF Hunter Pence–My favorite!  He a loner who makes an incredible discovery about the origins of the cosmos while backpacking through Mongolia.  (Note–If you want to know what my mental image of Wyoming Wallace, Hunter Pence is pretty close)

1B Brandon Belt–A bartender who has lots of luck with the ladies, until he finds the one girl who is the gin to his tonic.  Soul patch, tall, lanky. 

LF Travis Ishikawa–This name just screams scientist.  Ishikawa develops a time machine that . . .

SS Brandon Crawford–Brandon Crawford is a Hollywood superstar, but beneath the perfect smile and hair he hides a dark secret.

SP Madison Bumgarner–President Madison Bumgarner must overcome international terrorists and domestic political division to unify the nation before its too late. 

Yeah, these are some great names.  Sadly, Kansas City just doesn’t have quite the pizzazz that the Giant names do.

image of Hunter Pence from www.kshb.com

MAKE BELIEVE STORIES NEED MAPS THAT ARE REAL

Every evil scientist needs a secret lab, right?

I gave the bad guy in The Deep Cove Lineage, Dr. Sleeth, more than a lab.  I gave him an entire underground complex fully funded out of the covert operations of the United States.  Yeah, I was having  fun with that.  His job was to create a monster that could be useful in warfare, that could be unleashed behind enemy lines and turned lose, so to speak.

Of course he succeeded, because that is how the Deep Cove monster came to be.

The last two weeks I’ve been working on the next installment (I hope to have it out by Thanksgiving) and it is set almost entirely in the underground complex named DECOSOL, which is an acronym for Deep Cove Special Operations Laboratory.  I gave it a long acronym name because when I was in Port Orchard I was surrounded by government employees and sailors in the Navy, and those people use acronyms like you wouldn’t believe.  I mean, everything is an acronym.  Whenever they talked it was like a whole other language.  So, I made this one up as a tip of my hat to them.

Continuity has been an issue with this story, now the fifth one in the series, but the biggest problem has been the actual layout of the compound.  In The Deep Cove Lineage I mostly described individual rooms–the lagoon where the monster was kept–the cafeteria–private quarters–administrative areas–you know, the places things happened.  What I didn’t do was work on a unified map of the complex.  Shame on me, because now the plot requires an almost systematic walk-through of the facility, and I need to describe where the characters are, where they are going, and how they get there.

So, with my large red Sharpie I made a map.

TOP SECRET:  A map of DECOSOL
TOP SECRET: A map of DECOSOL

I am not much of an artist, but in my mind I need to know where things are because those things matter when telling a story.  I recently read a novel that had people on a spaceship and, although the book was good, I never could get a mental map of where they were on the spaceship and what was happening where.  I don’t want my readers to have the same problem.

I don’t think sharing the map gives too much away, and you probably can’t read my handwriting anyway.  The bottom of the map where it says “Above/Below” is the entry place.  I really liked that piece in the story.  You’ll have to buy it to find out why.  From there, on one side of the compound is the lagoon, which I sometimes call the lair, and on the extreme other side (top left) are the private quarters for the bad guy Dr. Sleeth.  I had to shrink them down a bit because I ran out of paper.  In between those two areas is essentially an H-shaped facility.  Again, I was thinking about government buildings here.  One hallway is filled labs that heads into the cafeteria.  A hallway joins that large room to another large room, what I call the workroom.  To the right of the workroom is a hallway that runs parallel to the labs, but it has living quarters for the scientists.  Above the workroom, along a zigzag hallway is Dr. Sleeth’s bedroom, living room, and private laboratory.  There is lots of cool stuff inside his private lab.

The blue ink line represents the water line.  Everything to the right of that line is actually built under the lake.  And yeah, that matters.

I share all of this just to say that when writing it is sometimes helpful to draw it out, or diagram it, even if the actual picture or image never makes it into the text itself.  This kind of grunt work is a part of the background story, and that is what I think gives even far-flung fiction like government engineered lake monsters a feeling of reality.  I am reminded of a story I once heard about C. S. Lewis.  Apparently he made the first map of Narnia when he was about seven years old.  When he was an adult, he could write about Narnia as an adult with clarity, even though Lewis still had some major continuity problems, but that is a topic for a different blog.

I resisted the temptation to put a “You Are Here” sticker on the map.  I am proud of myself.

If you’re interested in reading the first four stories, head over to my Amazon author page (click here) and pick them up.  Most of them are only 99 cents.  The first two, Deep Cove and Deep Cove: The Party Crasher are pretty short, but The Deep Cove Lineage and The Deep Cove Investigation are both good sized short stories, about 12,000 words each.  Those last two are also more sci-fish than the first ones, which are more horror/monsterish . If you read Lineage and Investigation, you have the essence of the story.