Saturday, February 05, 2005

Thom Bray's Pulp Museum

Well, folks, after all my ranting about new methods of distribution for short stories someone has had the guts to try something new (not that what I said had anything to do with what Thom is doing). Thom Bray, writer and actor, has a "modest proposal" for published authors.

Thom is starting a zine called "
Pulp Museum" where he will experiment with some different business models in order to see if he can develop a market for genre short stories that pays pro rates.

"I've observed, alas, that most [zines] do not pay writers for their stories. I
certainly understand why: these hearty and brave publishers have not found a business model that permits them to make enough of a profit (if any) to be able to pay for material. The obvious question I ask is, is a non-paying publication the only business model that is possible for short fiction? Hmm...

I've decided that the way I can help nourish short stories, besides continuing to write them, is to experiment with different business models for publishing them. I am convinced that we must keep trying to find a
way to expand the audience base through publications that pay writers
professional rates (which means charging readers to read their fiction),
otherwise short fiction will go the way of the theatre in this country: either
it will become a non-profit arts model that relies upon government and corporate support to survive, or it will simply disappear and/or be left to amateur writers, the professionals going where they can make a living. We can not keep counting on our best writers to write short mystery and fiction simply for the love of it. Would the great Asimov have spent hours in front of the typewriter, writing short story after short story if he could not have sold them to put food on the table? Of course not.

I look to two business models as my inspiration: Fictionwise and Apple's iMusic Store. They both share, as a common thread, the downloading of electronic formats of intellectual property.

Everyone has heard of iPod, and not much has to be said about it. Apple has, like Kodak before them, created a piece of hardware and then provided the software to go in it. By using the principal of micropayments, it has carved out a powerful product base at a price point that can't be beat. It is a model to be emulated."

Thom will be publishing audio files of stories as well.

"In addition, we'll experiment with a feature called Pulp Radio; the recording of a certain number of stories into mp3 format, also available for downloading. As a professional actor and voice talent, I'm in a unique position to bring spoken word stories to life. I believe that this may--may--represent a huge potential audience of people who hate reading electronic material but love listening to mp3's on their iPods, and are used to paying for their content. Notice that word: paying. I'll charge for the intellectual property in The Pulp Museum. And if I can't convince enough people to buy, well, at least I will have tried, and I'll go back to the drawing board."

I think that there’s a decent chance that this will work. With the right price point and a good and ever-growing selection of stories this could be a big deal. Probably the mp3 section has a better chance of making money than the print side to begin with. As Thom says iPod users are used to paying money for content.

Thom Bray is going up on my Wall of Heroes. Here is a man with the guts to put his whatever where his mouth is. I encourage everyone who reads this to drop over to the
Pulp Museum website and read Thom's proposal. Right now he's got the best game in town for expanding the paying short story market. I've already signed on.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Tale of the Closet by Susan Brassfield Cogan

"The Tale of the Closet" by Susan Brassfield Cogan, Hardluck Stories, Winter 2005

This very short tale follows two guys who want to get rich quickly. Better living through burglary.

Harry and Mike break into an uninhabited house where Harry used to work. The house belongs to a rich old man who supposedly ran off to South America with a young woman, the daughter of his butler. Harry, the professional housebreaker and safe cracker, knows the old man kept large amounts of cash in a safe hidden in a room behind his closet. He figures the house has been put in mothballs awaiting the old man's pleasure, thus the money must still be there.

In due course, very quickly in fact, they find what they expected. They also find a couple of things they didn't expect.

Technically speaking, the story is well written and easy to read. There are even a couple of instances of engaging imagery. Unfortunately the story isn't long enough to provide more than just a couple.

I must admit to a personal bias here. I don't find many stories this short to my liking. There's no space to develop plot or characters. Take, for instance, Mike. Mike is a schlub, and a little dimmer than your average schlub to boot. I can't figure any reason for him to be there other than to serve as an expositional foil. Maybe with a little more room, Ms. Cogan could have given us a reason that a professional housebreaker would bring a dimwit along on a job. Or maybe not.

In short, it's too short for me.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Karma by Walter Mosley

"Karma" by Walter Mosley, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

Leonid McGill makes his living as a PI in New York. While he does things on the far side of what the Licensing Bureau would call ethical, he's not a bad guy. His wife left him for a sugar daddy. When the sugar daddy booted her out he took her back in, and she stayed, though there appears to be little love left. They have three kids, two of which Leo knows aren't his, though no mention is ever made of it. They're his kids whether they share his genetics or not.

One day a beautiful woman named Karmen Brown ("Call me Karma.") tries to walk into his office, but he tells her through the locked door that he's only the janitor and takes her phone number so Mr. McGill can return her call. She wants him to find out if her fiancé is cheating on her. He meets her later and takes the case.

Meanwhile an old girlfriend of Leo's, Gert Longman, that he still cares for is murdered. There's no apparent motive, the only clue is the bullet that killed her, a .22. This haunts Leo through the rest of the story.

Leo runs a scam on the fiancé and gets the proof Karma wanted. He takes the proof to her apartment. She thanks him and pays him, including a couple of pieces of jewelry her fiancé gave her as a bonus. Leo asks her if she wants revenge. She offers to have sex with him saying that would be her revenge. Leo, who's been aching since he found out Gert had been killed, takes her up on her offer. When he leaves he passes a young street skell wearing leather gloves. He wonders why someone would wear leather gloves in the heat.

Leo hurries back up to Karma's apartment. He discovers that Karma wasn't all she represented herself to be. The sex wasn't her revenge against her fiancé, it was vengeance against Leo. She had Gert killed and there are a few other unexpected twists. She doesn't call herself Karma for no reason. Now Leo could be in very hot water. Can he get out of it without getting scalded?

This is a long story, novella length, but it reads very quickly. The length gives Mosley time to make Leo into a living, breathing man, putting both his flaws and virtues on display. Both characterization and convoluted motives make this story something special.

In short, well worth the time to read.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Listening Room by Robert J. Randisi

"The Listening Room" by Robert J. Randisi, Murder and All That Jazz Edited by Robert J. Randisi, Signet Books, $6.99, Mass Market Paperback.

In this story Mr. Randisi's retired New York cop, Truxton Lewis, makes his third appearance. Tru has moved to the wilds of Missouri, a small town of 1,380 people about 75 miles from St. Louis. An old friend of his from the Job, Billy Danvers, has opened a jazz club in St. Louis. He calls Tru and asks him to come to the club to talk about some problems he's having.

Tru arrives at the club and is told that his friend will see him after the 9:00 pm set. The combo playing consists of a female singer backed by a trio of piano, drums and bass. Tru's waitress comes and tells him that Mr. Danvers had told her to send him back to the office when they start playing the last number in the set. She points him in the direction of the office and leaves. When Tru opens the office door he finds his old friend dead with a letter opener in his chest.

Tru manages to contain all the club's patrons and calls the police. When the detectives arrive, the lead detective allows Tru to help out with the questioning. Of course Tru has noticed things that the detectives haven't. The murderer is still there, and he/she is unmasked before the end of the evening.

While the time period of the story isn't specified (my one quibble), I suspect that it is in the 'seventies or maybe a little earlier. The reason for this is some, I guess you could call it, disrespect of the crime scene. And there is no mention of DNA regarding evidence found at the scene. These are omissions that no contemporary police department would make, especially one in a city as large as St. Louis.

Mr. Randisi plays fair. The clues are all there in plain view. The questioning leads logically and clearly to the culprit. Once the suspects are narrowed down there is some fast and furious, back and forth, questioning that reminded me of some of the better cop shows on TV. One of the St. Louis detectives even indulges in a little trickery to trap the murderer. Like the clues this trickery is fully visible to the reader -- if he's sharp enough.

"The Listening Room" is a straightforward cop story done by a master of the form.

In short, an engaging read.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft) by Laura Lippman

"Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft)" by Laura Lippman, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

This is an amusing story, though I suspect that women will find it more amusing than men for a reason that becomes all too apparent in the last paragraphs.

This story details the adventures of a young man stranded overnight in an airport after missing his flight. As the title suggests, he meets a beautiful and willing woman who takes him home for the night. He's never the same again.

There's not a lot of plot here. It's more of a "trick" story, depending for most of its impact on the final twist. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Thank you, Mr. Seinfeld.) I enjoy a good trick story, and this one's pretty good.

It's a little longer than necessary, a fact that the character writing the story freely acknowledges, spending too much time on build-up. But it's not a fatal flaw. It's just that ending. (Shudder)

In short, (flinch) read it.

Monday, January 31, 2005

A Man's Gotta Do by Patricia Harrington

"A Man's Gotta Do" by Patricia Harrington, Hardluck Stories, Winter 2005

This story takes place during the Depression and follow a man and his family when they make the move from Kansas to California. The family moves into a run-down motel on the outskirts of Hollywood run by a man named Petrilleo who is, in turn, run by his shrew of a wife..

The man from Kansas (known from here on out as The Man since he is never named) is a man of some skill as a handyman. He offers to fix the motel up in exchange for the room he and his family occupy. It is an arrangement that seems to suit both parties.

Time goes on and the motel gets into better and better shape thanks to The Man. Then one day Mr. Petrilleo decides that he needs to put in a swimming pool. He asks if The Man can do it himself. The Man, being a poor Kansas farmer, has never even seen a swimming pool, but he figures he can do it. So Mr. Petrilleo gets a loan from the bank, and The Man builds his pool. Of course there are some nefarious motives involved, and The Man sees opportunities. As he says himself, "I may have been raised on a farm, but I wasn't raised a fool."

Ms. Harrington does a bang-up job evoking the atmosphere of the Depression. Her characterizations of The Man and Mr. and Mrs. Petrilleo are equally skillful. I particularly liked the ending.

In short, well written and easy to read.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Kid Trombone by Julie Smith

"Kid Trombone" by Julie Smith, Murder and All That Jazz Edited by Robert J. Randisi, Signet Books, $6.99, Mass Market Paperback.

Julie Smith is a licensed Louisiana P.I. and an Edgar winner. One of her series sleuths, Talba Wallis, headlines this story.

Queenie Feran, a well-known jazz singer in New Orleans, comes to see Talba Wallis straight from the funeral of Dupree Howell, Queenie's ex-husband. It seems that Queenie and Dupree, while divorced, were still close, close enough that he lived in the other side of the shotgun duplex where Queenie lived. She believes that Dupree was murdered, even though the death, barbiturate and alcohol poisoning, was ruled accidental.

Dupree was a no-account drunkard that had been, and occasionally still was, a good music critic. Just recently he had written the obituary of a man called Kid Trombone, aka Tyrone Falgout. Tyrone was born into a musical family, New Orleans royalty, and was a child prodigy. Unfortunately he had an addictive personality and wound up playing on the streets for tips, when he was sober enough. Rumor on the street said Tyrone had been killed by a hired gun. Dupree was still looking into Tyrone's death when he apparently OD'ed on pills and booze. Queenie thought that whoever killed Tyrone must have killed Dupree.

Talba, a computer whiz, gets on Dupree's computer to look at his notes. Unfortunately the file she's interested in is password protected, and she can't guess the password. So she takes the obituary Dupree published and starts retracing his steps. Talking to street performers like drummer Freddie "Red Man" Martin and mime Terry the Clown she is led to a rapist serving time in the State Penitentiary in Angola. This man, Marshall Bridges, was the scion of a shipping family who had been seeing a young woman who was a member of a fundamentalist church. He couldn't get her to put out, so he bought a Roofie from Tyrone, who was supplementing his income with a little low-level drug dealing, and did it the easy way.

The girl's father, a man named Powers, hired a couple of thugs to beat Bridges to within an inch of his life. Bridges told him where he got the drug. Powers then ratted to the police about Bridges, and Bridges ended up in Angola. Bridges is sure Powers had Tyrone killed.

With this information, Talba goes back to Dupree's computer and breaks the password. There is little in the file except for a note that he was going to see Mama Cille Falgout, the matriarch of the Falgout family and it's last remaining member. Talba decides to go see Mama Cille herself, which may or may not be the smart thing to do.

Ms. Smith has written a short story with a plot so tangled that it's something you would expect to see in novel length. She makes it work, though. New Orleans and Southern society is so well drawn that the conclusion is completely believable. I can see why Ms. Smith won the Edgar. Though she's written quite a few short stories, there haven't been many since about 2000. Here's hoping we start seeing more.

In short, well done!