"Grace, Period," by Graham Powell, in Bad Men.
Graham Powell was kind enough to send me a copy of this e-collection of short stories. As you probably guessed, the protagonists are not quite heroes. Most of them come to bad, if very interesting, ends.
Take Tommy Roccaforte, the main man in our current story. The witness protection program has just dumped him far from his home in Staten Island, supplying with a nothing job in a second-hand bookstore. But -- and here is what I love -- Tommy approaches the business like the wise guy that he is. Who is the competition? And how can we destroy them? So the big box chain bookstore had better watch out. The story is witty, with big hints of Elmore Leonard.
Having said that, I have to register a big complaint: I don't buy the ending at all. Some of the choices made by people around Tommy don't make any sense to me, and one of those characters is just too paper-thin for the role.
You can find a better ending in Powell's "The Leap," in the same collection, but it doesn't have a concept as dazzling as "Grace."
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Sunday, May 8, 2011
My friend Jim Powell has become our first repeat offender here at LBC. Last time I wrote that a Powell story "contains a fully realized plot stuffed with wild free associations wrapped around a bizarre central idea that, if it had occurred to most writers, would cause them to swear off late-night enchiladas."
In this case, the story is about Chief Inspector Bozo of the Clowntown police force. And this gives us a chance to talk about developing a series.
When you create the first tale in a series you may have already decided there will be more to come or you may think it is a standalone. But when you make the jump to story number two, you have to decide what to bring along and what to leave behind. Presumably you and the reader like the main character, and you probably want to keep the style and the mood. But something needs to change, right? You can't sell the same story over and over again (or at least, you shouldn't.)
Powell's first Bozo story, "A Dirge for Clowntown" introduced us to the concept of a metropolis inhabited entirely by clowns. The second story, "Elephant Pajamas," dealt with foreign policy, the possibility of Clowntown going to war. And this new story concentrates on the neighboring towns: Vaudevilleville, Mimeapolis, and Burlington (the last is where the Burlesque artists live).
Clearly Powell is filling in the details of his universe, which is what you do in a fantasy series. But the fact is this iswhat a good writer does in any series. Even a realistic series (and maybe the more realistic, the truer this is) is only showing a piece of the world, and each new novel or story is a further chance to define your territory, fill in the details of the map, perhaps extend geographically, chronologically or thematically.
But let's get back to Bozo. As I said before, Powell's strength is how, like a comedian riffing on a theme, he shoots out linked idea after idea on his basic concept. So in Vaudevilleville we meet a mute ventriloquist ("he threw his voice and it never came back") who partners with a mindreading dummy (who knows what jokes he wants to tell). The victim died of "a heart attack with severe side splits" from laughing too much. And so on.
Not everyone's cup of tea, I know. But I love it.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
This particular specimen is part of a series about Acting Sergeant Maynard Bullock of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But the central concept is this: in order to avoid infiltrators Canadian organized crime has banned members who meet the height and weight qualifications for Mounties. To foil this strategy the RCMP hires a special squad of undercover agents known as the Teapot Mounties (because they are short and stout, naturally). The one time these diminutive lawmen can wear their red uniforms is the night of their annual ball. This year, the regularly-sized Sergeant Bullock is present, running the soda stand. Naturally he stumbles into a fiendish plot…
So that is the main story line. Here are some random examples of the free associations that grow up around it:
* There was a Mountie named “Gimpy” Flanagan who had “sworn never to pull his revolver without drawing blood, an oath that cost him several toes.”
* Scandanavians tend to underestimate Canadians, seeing them as “a frivolous southern people much like the Italians…”
* The Canadians have sworn to defend the U.S. from an overland attack by Russia, because they know “that if Mexico ever tried to invade Canada by land, the United States would do the same.”
Mad as a March Hare and twice as fun.