Space Stuff!

Hardware Wars

Source: Pyramid Films

Monday, I began work on the SF novel. As I said before, the Dick Bachman to my Steve King is doing this one. In other words, my Dick is writing a novel. (I’ll wait while you guys groan over this tired old joke.)

So how’s it going?

Around 11:30 on Monday, I fled the building for a nearby park, grabbing my lunch on the way out the door. Driving to the park, about a mile from where I work, gives me about 45 minutes to write. During Holland Bay, I could just squeeze out 1000 words in this time. However, while Holland Bay can be considered a first draft, there was a draft before it. I already knew the story, even if it changed.

I don’t really know this story yet. It has resisted all attempts to outline it. I managed about 600 words. In reality, while I know who some of the characters are, and I’ve written one short story contained in the novel’s storyline, I still don’t know how to arrange everything.

Dark Helmet in Spaceballs

Source: Warner Brothers


I’ve been here before. The beginning of a novel is often the hardest part – lots of false starts and moments like Billy Crystal in Throw Mama From the Train pacing and saying “The night was dry but rainy… No, that won’t work!

The typical novel has three “acts,” like a movie or a play. The second act is difficult not because it’s hard to get motivated. It’s hard because Isuckitis sets in. Or you just get tired of the damn thing. Or you set several plotlines in motion with no clue how to resolve them all. It’s at the end of the second act I frequently stop writing.

But then there’s the third act, the payoff. Writing the third act is like sex. You don’t want to stop until you climax. More specifically, this is where you start to see where everything is headed. If you’ve done your job properly, you become your own reader, itching to see how it all ends. On all three Kepler novels, I actually took a day off to finish. The day I finished Bad Religion, I ended up writing 3500 words because I had to know.

For now, I wanted to get started. That’s hard enough with any novel. But it’s also a new universe, new genre, even a new byline. I have to get to know all these things.

Short Work

After finishing the latest draft of Holland Bay, I dove into short stories. I split my time between crime and SF, using the SF shorts to lay the foundation for the world I’m building for the novel.

The funny thing is that the crime shorts are usually over and done with in 3000-4000 words. The first SF short now making rounds checks in at under 6000 words. The second one, which I packed off to my new writing group, is about 4600. The SF writing is a lot tighter than it was when I made my first attempts early last year, but world-building is a wordy business.

In some ways, it’s quite satisfying to finish a first draft in a week to ten days. It’s also satisfying to have three works out making rounds in less than six weeks. Not only will a new Kepler appear in an anthology this fall, but there’s a second one, this one featuring Elaine, in the can.

Since restarting Holland Bay, I’ve had to keep writing. What happens a lot of writers is that they lose momentum after a novel, then when it comes time for the next project, it’s hard to get started. That happened to me a couple of times before. But there is an adjustment. A novel, whether it is written in first person or third, has room for a large cast of characters, multiple subplots, and lots of dialog and description. Short stories?

You have to narrow the focus. You can have only a handful of characters, often only two or three at most. Most markets want less than 5000 words. SF markets are more forgiving, though it’s not wise for an unknown or a newcomer to test those limits beyond 6000 words or so.

By the time this posts, I’ll be back into novel mode, my alter-ego working on an science fiction book. If it goes smoothly, I’ll be back into shorts by the end of the year. If it doesn’t…

Well, I’ll be hear whining that novels are just so damn long!

Thursday Reviews: Gun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman

Gun Church

Reed Farrel Coleman

Once upon a time, you had a series of writers who were the hot ticket in New York City, the very essence of the kind of people Tom Wolfe wrote about in Bonfire of the Vanities. They became enamored with their own talent and pissed it away in a blizzard of cocaine and an orgy of willing female playmates. Truman Capote comes to mind. So does Norman Mailer. Crime writer Reed Farrel Coleman steps out of his comfort zone to create just such a writer, 80’s wunderkind Kip Weiler.

When we meet Weiler, it’s been years since he’s written anything worthwhile. He is languishing in an eastern coal mining town, Brixton, teaching community college to writing students who are barely literate. Brixton itself makes the rough section of London look like Times Square during New Year’s Eve. The town and the college are a dead end. And that suits Weiler just fine.

Until a student pulls out a gun. Remember how he researched handling a Colt Python, the gun now held on him, Weiler manages to stop the kid from shooting, talking to him until he can grab the cylinder, which stops the revolver dead. Speaking of dead, in a sheer bit of luck, Weiler disarms the kid in time to watch him die in a hail of SWAT team bullets. Suddenly, he’s a hero. And he is recruited by two students: Renee and Jim, to join a special group. It’s called the Chapel, where members go to shoot each other (in protective gear no less). Weiler suddenly feels more alive than ever, even when he was “The Kipster,” the enfant terrible of literary circles. Soon he is writing again. Renee has crawled into his bed and becomes his muse. But just a little disturbing is Jim, who has an intense fanboy obsession with Kip. Jim loves everything Kip has ever written and can’t wait to read the new book.

But to Kip, it’s a chance to bury The Kipster once and for all and get on with the business of living.

The bones of this story is your typical noir, though Coleman, the master of the twist, never lets the story stray into formula. In the beginning, this story has a natural parallel to Fight Club, another tale of modern male ennui going violently wrong. But whereas Palahniuk’s Jack is ultimately fighting a split personality, Kip Weiler is trying to escape an old persona only to wonder if he’s fallen into a new trap. Eventually, the Fight Club parallel disappears.

This story is very organic, and several details resonated with me. Weiler spends most of the book, even when things start turning around for him, wondering where he went wrong and if it ever will be right again. And there is the fear all writers have, the fear that their talent will abandon them. Freed from the constraints of a series, Coleman has written what is probably his best novel yet.

Exteme Makeover – Nick Kepler Edition

rr_cover_newAs you can see, there’ve been some changes either done or to be done to the books I have out.

For starters, I did Bad Religion with a print edition, my first print book in eight years. Next up will be Road Rules. I never liked the formatting on Road Rules, and the cover has too much pixelation for my taste. So I’ve revamped the cover, redid the formatting, and will upload the book at the beginning of August.

I also plan to right a grievous wrong as I did not properly credit J.D. Rhoades for his introduction to the book. So, as you can see by the new cover, I’ve fixed that. It will show up when the various ebook pages are updated as well. And finally, there will be a print edition. No, I haven’t sold very many copies of Bad Religion in print. In fact, Kindle seems to be the preferred format. But there is very little cost up front for CreateSpace, none if you do an electronic proof. So why not?

NCShakedown-ebook600Come Labor Day weekend, a reformatted version of Northcoast Shakedown will appear, also with a new print edition. Jennette Marie Powell has been working on new covers for NCS, along with its follow-up, Second Hand Goods. Both books will have print editions as well, with Second Hand, barring any delays, appearing in early October.

Come Halloween, I will be putting out a print edition of The Compleat Kepler as well. So, by Christmas, you can have Nick Kepler on all the dead trees you want.

And finally, in December, the non-Kepler shorts will appear in a collection called The Compleat Winter. No, I don’t have a cover yet, but I do have a cover concept. I also need to collect the stories and put them into proper ebook and print formats.

In the meantime, we’ll be having a contest for Bad Religion. Stay tuned as I will announce it first on Twitter. Just follow @authorjimwinter and keep your eyes open. The contest will be announced this Friday.

Bad Religion: Robert Tilton Vs. The Rev. Calvin Leach

BadReligion-ebook600I make no secret that the televangelists of old inspired much of Bad Religion. Indeed, yesterday, I brought back to this space an old gag where I would pray for God to smite Pat Robertson. Calvin, however, comes across as a little more forward thinking in the scene where Nick and Elaine visit a taping of his show, The Unbroken Circle. Listening to Leach, Nick gets the impression that Leach really is a halfway decent man of the cloth. His problem is that he wants to be a master showman as well. He’s got an elaborate television studio, the choir from a large Baptist church from one of the black neighborhoods, a rock band, and even a theme song that bastardizes a Todd Rundgren tune from 1988.

But ol’ Calvin did not emerge from a vacuum. I conjured him up from many parts. Some of it I talked about a few weeks ago, discussing how nearby Akron was a mecca for some of the lower-tier televangelists in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But there was more. You can’t have an outsized personality like Calvin Leach’s without an outsized TV show like I described above. Some of what I came up with had its roots in the old PTL Club and the inexplicably still-running 700 Club. Some of it simply came about with, “How would I do it?” But Calvin had one other inspiration, a bizarre carnival huckster out of Texas, now based in Miami, named Robert Tilton.

Who’s he?

Comedian Ron White mentioned him in his standup act. Ron explains about what happened one night while he was flipping channels as he sat naked in a beanbag chair eating Cheetos.

Pastor Tilton, seemingly looking right at Ron, says, “Are you lonely?”

Ron White says, “Yeah.”

“Have you wasted half your life in bars pursuing sins of the flesh?”

“This guy’s good…”

“Are you sitting in a beanbag chair naked eating Cheetos?”

“…Yes sir!”

“Do you feel the urge to get up and send me a thousand dollars?”

It takes Ron White a couple of seconds before he says, “Close! I thought he was talking about me there for a second. Apparently, I ain’t the only cat on the block who digs Cheetos!”

What Ron is referring to is Tilton’s signature bit, the thousand-dollar “Vow of Faith.” You give God a thousand dollars, he claims, and God will make it rain up in here. Of course, he makes it clear that, to give God that money means supporting his ministry. So how did this genius cross my radar?

The first time was in 1992. My girlfriend at the time and I were having money troubles, and I was depressed. My girlfriend was a good Catholic girl (except that she shacked up with me out of wedlock, where we did all sorts of things the priests at St. Gertrude’s did not approve of) and was interested in all things spiritual. She received an ad in the mail for a cross that was supposed to make things better. She knew it was bullshit, but she ordered two, one for me, one for her. That’s when Pastor Tilton first entered my life. I carried around this cheap, plastic cross like a good luck charm, and it had it’s intended effect. I felt better. I was still broke, but I felt better. Then the fun began.

I received a letter from Pastor Tilton with a “genuine cloth of St. Paul” enclosed. I was to sleep with the cloth under my pillow for a week, pray without ceasing, and send Pastor Tilton back the cloth with my “biggest bill.” I think Bobby meant the ones with Andy Jackson, U.S. Grant, or Ben Franklin on the front. I was thinking the Christ Hospital bill I couldn’t pay or the telephone bill from back in my Wayne County days that I still owed on. Nonetheless, it further lifted my depression as my girlfriend and I took the letter and the cloth of St. Paul to parties and showed our friends what an idiot Pastor Bob was.

Then, one night, we watched 20/20. Pastor Bob was on, getting raked over the coals by Diane Sawyer, columnist John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs of TNT Drive-in and later Daily Show, fame), and the attorneys general of Texas and the United States. I’d never actually seen Robert Tilton preach, but it involved a lot of twitching, facial ticks, and “speaking in tongues.” I’d heard of speaking in tongues, even worked with a couple of Pentecostal holy rollers who talked openly about it. The thing is, whether you believe in that or not, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit would not repeat “Hoo baba kanda” ever time Tilton lost his place and needed to fill dead air. The longer we watched the 20/20 story, the more it became apparent: Pastor Bob wanted to get down, down on the ground, cocaine.

Yep. Turned out Robert Tilton loved him the white powder. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit causing Tilton’s Tourette’s syndrome. It was Juan Valdez’s drug lord neighbors. Because even when it comes to illicit sustances, mountain grown is still the richest blend.

And that was it for Pastor Bob for about ten years. And then a coworker called me over to his desk. “Hey, Jim, have you seen this?”

It was Pastor Bob. And someone had dubbed in an explanation for his ticks and utterances.

Someone had decided Pastor Bob needed some special effects. There were about six or seven farting preacher videos (Some marketed as “Pastor Gas”) done over the years. I even found one done around the time Tilton was investigated for fraud. In a final airing of his show before he went underground, regrouped, and moved to Miami, Tilton addressed his television flock from an empty studio, whining that anyone could be investigated and that the devil wanted him out of business. But like a bad penny, Tilton popped up again in the late nineties and early 2000’s in a shiny new studio with a shiny new blonde wife who, like Tammy Faye, “sang” during each show. The later versions of Tilton’s Success N Life also treated people to their two dogs and Tilton frequently talking about his and the new Mrs. Tilton’s honeymoon in Paris where they had “French champagne, French bread, French fries.” That Bob. What a cut up. It also still featured Tilton’s infamous facial and verbal ticks, rich fodder for more Farting Preacher videos.

The sad thing is people support this guy even when he’s been caught red-handed time and time again. During the 20/20 story back in the 90’s, one of Tilton’s fraternity brothers explained how this all started. Tilton and his buddies got bored one night and found a Pentecostal tent revival nearby. They went in to watch, gleaned all the mannerisms and verbage, then proceeded to “have a religious experience” in front of the adoring crowds. One of Tilton’s buddies later said it wasn’t fair that Tilton got rich off the gag. “I’m better at it than he ever was.”

And yet Tilton started his ministry, making as much as $80 million one year in donations. While my former girlfriend and I had fun taking his stupid little trinkets to parties to make fun of him, the fact was that we lived in a Zip code targeted by Tilton for its low income bracket and high level of unemployment. If we had lived in, say, Hyde Park or even Brady Bunch-esque Madiera, we might never have heard of the guy. There are, of course, those who like the big, flashy show to get their message across. If your following is as large as, say, Joel Osteen’s, you kind of need a big production anyway. But if the only thing anyone sees is your expensive car and house and suits and dogs and wife’s boob job, dressing it up as “prosperity gospel” only works with the desperate and the gullible. That Robert Tilton keeps coming back time and time again shows that some men are simply unrepentant and irredeemable.

Next week: A contest!

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Let Us Pray…

pat-RobertsonHeavenly Father, hear our prayer.

Lord, I’ve been good. I’ve laid off Axl Rose, mainly because it looks like cholesterol and fatty acids will eventually take him out. But look, Lord, we really need to revisit this Pat Robertson thing. He wants a “vomit” button for Facebook on pictures of gay men kissing? Seriously? I mean, WTF?

My big question, of course, is why Pat’s on Facebook looking for gay men kissing in the first place. I have several gay friends on Facebook, including two first cousins, and I don’t see them kissing in photos. Then again, I’m not looking!!!

How hard is that?

I can only conclude that ol’ Pat’s going senile. I don’t mean Alzheimer’s, either. I mean Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur senile, only not as funny. Pat has become the bitter old bigoted uncle no one wants to see outside of Thanksgiving, if only because the beer and turkey will put the old coot to sleep halfway through the Cowboys game. Unfortunately, Pat displays his inane rantings on national television, guaranteeing that, sooner or later, we will all know what he has to say, even if no one really wants to know.

But Lord, let’s look at this rationally, shall we? Pat used to give a weather report which involved commanding hurricanes to avoid the Gulf Coast. ‘Cuz, yanno, he’s a fundamentalist, which is another way of saying he thinks he’s smarter than You.

It’s just sad, Lord. And we all know how good You are at smiting. We need you to smite Pat. For the good of our beleaguered nation. And for Pat’s good. I mean, when you’re this stupid, life’s really not worth living.



He’s the guy (or the gal) sitting in the back. People make fun of him, and the job’s personality type tends toward a class clown mentality. But if the drummer’s off, the band doesn’t fly. Just ask Genesis. It took them four tries before they hired Phil Collins, including a brief turn at the beginning by Peter Gabriel.

In the beginning, the drummer was just a time-keeper. In jazz, that’s enough. In jazz, the drummer has a lot going on already trying to translate a time signature into something the rest of the band can use. There’s an old joke told by Spinal Tap in their subsequent regroupings about the high mortality rate of Tap persussionists: “All they have to do is count to four.” Outside of a progressive rock band, that’s not too far off the mark. But the simplicity of common time actually drives the modern drummer to be something more than a time keeper. If he can’t keep time, he’d better have style.

Ringo StarrIt’s Ringo Starr who noticed this before most other rock drummers. No one will accuse Ringo of giving Bill Bruford or Alex Van Halen a run for their money. But Ringo’s style was deceptively simple. It was very much a part of The Beatles’ sound. Before other drummers (with the exceptions of maybe Charlie Watts and Cream’s Ginger Baker), Ringo figured out that the drummer’s presence on an album would be missed if he changed it. “Love Me Do” is missing something “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Hard Day’s Night” have. Surprise! It’s the only song on the Beatles’ first album that does not have Ringo drumming. In fact, the drumming is rather dull on that song compared to some early recordings of Ringo’s predecessor, Pete Best (himself no slouch on the drums.) During the White Album sessions, Ringo reached the end of his patience with his more prominent bandmates and walked out. Paul McCartney attempted to take over. Except all Paul could do behind the kit is keep time. Ringo returned, better appreciated by the other three Beatles.

Charlie Watts

Photo: Poisen & Text, used under Creative Commons

Charlie Watts, though, redefined rock drumming. He was steeped in swing. In the early days, when Mick, Keith, and Brian Jones lived in a slum trying to put the Rolling Stones together, they always had a drummer. But they lusted after Charlie Watts the way most straight men lust after Marilyn Monroe. When Bill Wyman came aboard as bass player, he, too, wanted to play with Charlie. In fact, Watts was the carrot dangled in front of Wyman to get him to join. Never mind that they had not landed him yet.

But Watts is equal in importance to the Stones as Mick and Keith. Without him, they don’t sound like the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards all but says it in his autobiography, Life. Mick found out the hard way in the 1980’s with his brief solo career.

Keith Moon

Photo: Jim Summaria, modified by MachoCarioca, used under Creative Commans

Two drummers, however, defined the force of rock. They are the yin and yang of percussion: The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Moon will never be accused of being a time keeper. In fact, some of the more nuanced Who songs prior to Kenney Jones, Simon Phillips, and Zack Starkey’s tenures are actually played by Pete Townshend. But Townshend explained how the roles were shuffled in The Who. John Entwistle was really the lead guitarist. He just played it on bass. Moon might have played drums, but he functioned more as a keyboardist, adding style and color to the music. What he has in common with Bonham is power.

John Bonham

Photo: Dina Regine, used under Creative Commons

Bonham was power incarnate behind the kit. Yet much of this was illusion. Bonham lined his bass and tenor drums with aluminum foil and use “trees” for sticks. This resulted in a much louder sound that hid a more delicate touch. Bonham’s time keeping and style wove a thread through Zeppelin’s music so difficult to duplicate that only three drummers have managed to do it: Phil Collins, Chic’s Tony Thompson, and Bonham’s son, Jason. Bonham did more acoustically with the drums than Collins and later drummers did with noise-gating and reverb.

Go on. Click it. Find out how well Neil Smith knows drummers.

If I had more space, I could do a drummer list. But who do you put on it? Certainly Yes’s two drummers, Bill Bruford and Alan White. Rush’s Neil Peart took Moon’s technique and applied an almost mathematical approach to it. If Moon could play 64th notes with his feet, he’d sound like Peart.

There are the Siamese twins joined at the snare drum, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, who both prove punk-based drumming can be just as subtle and delicate as jazz or metal drummers. But what about Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason? Listen to the early Floyd albums. Mason is all bombast and flourish, yet his later drumming sounds lifted straight out of the big band era, particularly on Dark Side of the Moon.

I could go on and on, and I’m sure the comment section will fill with everyone’s preferences. How could I forget Jimmy Chamberlin or Patty Schemel? Where’s Buddy Rich? Alex Van Halen and Cozy Powell?

The styles are as varied as any list you could come up with.