URGENT: Need some help from my readers. Book 1 of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Manuscript, is now FREE at B&N. I could use some help from readers by having them go to Amazon and right under the rankings, select the button that says “Tell us about a lower price” and then enter the B&N link and 0.00. The B&N link is: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-delphi-chronicle-book-1-the-manuscript-russell-blake/1108076528?ean=2940032924692&itm=1&usri=the+delphi+chronicle%2c+book+1+the+manuscript
The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006NAY30O
Thank you everyone for doing this. It helps Amazon maintain price matching, and is good for everyone.
Normally, I write books. On the whole, they’re serious thriller pieces, third person, past tense, and don’t veer into the realm of the speculative or the absurd. Over the holiday I decided to try my hand at first person, present tense, in a decidedly silly and surrealistic mood – the truth is I wanted to do something new, push the envelope, climb a new mountain. The result is, well, different than anything else I’ve written.
I used a few paragraphs from my parody of writing, Gazillions, as the starting point. I deliberately wrote something unlike my stock in trade, while struggling to keep the whole mess to about 3000 words. I’ve toned down the obscenity to what you’d hear on talk radio. Mostly.
I hope you find it diverting. All rights reserved, as always.
NEWS: Great interview with Write Into Print essential reading for those interested in more info about my process and plans.
BREAKING NEWS: Fatal Exchange receives honors as one of the top books of the year at The Kindle Book Review.
ANOTHER COOL INTERVIEW: Just went live with @jambalian about writing, King of Swords, & my WIP, The Voynich Cipher.
JOHN LESCROART INTERVIEW GOES VIRAL: My interview with NYT Bestseller John Lescroart got featured in prominent lifestyle periodical InClassicStyle. It’s a good one, so if you haven’t read it yet, check it out. Thoughts on process and craft.
The words of a long dead bard grate on my skin as I speed along the ribbon of asphalt that bisects the high desert between Vegas and the Pacific coast—the obvious unfairness of scale that a million monkeys can bring to the party glares evident in the simplicity of those six succinct words: To be or not to be. I’m not so much bitter that some scribe had synthesized the entire human experience into so few syllables. The rough rub is that I haven’t approached the same level of rhetorical perfection, my delusions of grandeur and superiority complex notwithstanding. My ‘calling’, as I laughingly refer to it, is twisting words to do my bidding—to bend them to my will—to make them dance and tremble, mambo and bop, performing as and how I command them; to amuse or torture or reveal all, each tap of a key chipping shards from the marble to wrest the fettered figure from the block—to the delighted acclaim of the marginally interested, their porcine noses pressed hard against the stained Plexiglas, unappreciative of the miracle of creation cast before them.
Another swig from the plastic jug of Ballerina vodka stills the furies as the tumbleweeds and cactus blur by, the heat of the morning sun distorting the horizon into a shimmering mirage as the miles fly past, leaving echoes of a silent but obvious judgment on my unworthiness as a master of this realm. F#cking Shakespeare always pisses me off once my blood alcohol reaches a certain point and the cocaine edge dulls, and I know my sleep tonight, such as it’s likely to be, will be haunted by the bald, mustachioed head of the smug prick, the stiff collar and antiquated clothing a fitting foundation for the smirk on his face, which mocks the very universe that hosts my sorry existence.
I take a series of deep breaths and reach over to stroke the cold, comforting steel of the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum I like to fire out my of window at the imagined silhouettes of clowns when I’ve slugged back enough meanstreak to fuel my mischief. It’s just a thing I do to soothe my soul, a cordite balm for the open sore my festering lack of talent keeps raw. I should have gotten more sleep before trying the drive, but the moment my eyes opened, it was time to hit the road. I must have freaked out the cocktail waitress—who’d supplied such amenable company after her shift, with her gymnastic prowess that had almost placed her in Cirque du Soleil’s third tier of anonymous contortionists instead of toting watered shots of Jack to losing writers playing blackjack tables on the ghost-shift of a low-level casino, whose façade featured a steer’s snorting countenance as its come-on to frisky cow folk and Vietnamese grocers on holiday.
She’d been dozing after regaling me with tales of her boyfriend, Vinnie—who’d soon be getting out of lockup to take her away from the sordid trailer park reality that imprisoned her as surely as any bars, when I’d bolted awake to the bard’s words mocking me in a gritty tremolo. She’d reached for me, for anything, to fill the void left when her soul vacated the premises after a lackluster run, but it was time for me to get back to the vicious reality that was my daily existence. It was Monday, six in the morning, and I had a life-changing meeting in Lost Angeles at noon I couldn’t miss. If I made serious time I could shower and just make it—some things you didn’t want to blow off. All it would take to get there was willpower, some liquid bravado, a little help from my friends and a full tank of gas. I could do it. Veronica, or whatever, had slitted open an eye as I pulled on my jeans, then upgraded to a blinking accusation: another in a long line of men who’d abandoned her after getting what they needed, leaving her soiled and brimming with ire for her trouble.
“It was fun. Be good,” I’d told her as I negotiated the hotel doorknob with numb fingers that seemed to belong to a leprous stranger. A sigh of unspoken recrimination had dripped off my back as I kicked shut the door behind me.
Like the song, or at least like I think some song must go, I’d known when to hit the road—‘cause I’m a ramblin’ man.
~ ~ ~
The sky-blue Oxford button-up shirt collar chafes my neck uncomfortably as I sit waiting for the light to turn green. The faint stink of fuel-rich exhaust mingles with the musty smell of the ancient Pontiac’s perfectly preserved leather interior; an odor redolent of pimp slappings and drug deals sealed in bygone days. I contemplate lowering the convertible top to celebrate the sun’s burning through the brown haze of smog that hangs over the city like a toxic mantle, but discard the idea. I don’t need a wind-buffeting to make me any more disheveled. Red eyes and three days of stubble stare back at me from my rear-view mirror, a silent testament to an extended weekend of excess and debauchery in Sin City; another long stint in a seemingly endless orgy of indulgence.
Working as a B-list screenwriter is a double-edged sword. The pay’s good, when it comes, and the hours can’t be beaten. With a few rewrite jobs under my belt and an action-adventure flick languishing in lesser theaters throughout the country during the holiday season, I now have enough game to drag most of the dim-witted hotties doing the bar circuit home whenever I want. That never gets old, until morning, when they inevitably want to start talking.
The talking is the worst.
Same story every time: In tinsel town from some small berg where they’d won a talent show or had been crowned Miss Cornhuskers, and after watching too many reality shows, they’d mistakenly computed they had what it took to make it. L.A. is awash in misguided hubris and attitude substituting for talent—an entire industry caters to the delusions of the newly-arrived or the perennially-hopeful. Praise the flickering neon Hollywood Jesus for the lean, hard bodies of the aspiring. Their single-minded focus on getting ahead is my entre, and all I have to do is circle the herd, probing for the telltale signs of the weak and slow and stupid before I streak in for the kill. I’m just one of many predators in an uneasy truce at the watering holes, but my line is a little more convincing than most because, now, I have a movie out. The mention of my name in the credits has an aphrodisiac effect on a certain type of entertainment industry social climber, and once I hint that I have sway in casting, the quarry is down, exposed, supine—another easy conquest.
A strident horn sounds from a bombastic Benz behind me, interrupting my reverie. I goose the worn metal pedal and the gas-guzzling V-8′s reassuring burble propels me down the road. Nervous over the imminent meeting and edgy from the half tab of Dexedrine I choked down as an eye-opener with my coffee, I reach for the dashboard and stab the power button on the stereo like it owes me money. AC/DC blares from the speakers with a thrashing of guitars, the singer’s giddy vocal leer lamenting jailbreaks gone wrong. Keeping time with an anxious hand on the cracked plastic steering wheel, I fumble beside me for a can of warm beer. Coors Light, of course. Breakfast of near, or soon-to-be, champions.
I’ve subdued the flitter of butterflies by the time I pull onto the studio lot, waved through by security who spot the access sticker decorating my windshield—a remnant from a spit-and-polish job I did on a pilot two weeks earlier in Building B. What a cringe-worthy pile of shit that had been. Zero chance of ever being made, but someone’s cousin was blowing the right exec, so at least an hour of unwatchable script had been churned out of the sausage machine, in desperate need of a fix—which is where I came in.
I run my hands through my still-damp hair and pat it into straggly place, in an effort to appear at least marginally professional for my pitch session.
After killing the engine, I swing my feet out onto the pavement and stand, stretching to my full six-foot height with a groan. I should have cooled it with the partying yesterday. And the day before. Oh well, what was done…
I make a guttural clicking sound with my tongue, reminiscent of African tribesmen in television documentaries. In response, a brown furry form scurries from the back seat over the center console—which I f#cking hate with a passion. I shake my head in disgust. We’d covered the proper way to exit a car hundreds of times, but some of us were just too stubborn to learn.
The entry to the administration offices looms ominously across the lot, and I move unsteadily toward it, my companion scampering blithely by my side. It’s time to remind everyone who is boss. I clear my throat and stop on the front steps, turning to lock eyes and ensure I have the reprobate’s full attention.
“This is an important meeting. Don’t be an ass-hat. Don’t crap on the carpet, don’t disrupt things, and let me do all the talking. And please, whatever you do…no masturbating.”
My voice sounds disembodied, as though it’s drifting from afar, from down a long tunnel lined with cotton. Maybe the speed hadn’t been such a wise move. I twist the door lever and push it open, fixing what I hope is an amenable smile on my face.
Jarred by the sound of our entry, a breathtaking brunette glides from behind a backlit orange onyx-faced reception desk. She approaches across the Italian marble floor with an indifferent expression, all tanned, sculpted legs and muscled buttocks sheathed in a black executive skirt cut high enough to hint at heaven. I note with approval that she favors five-inch stiletto heels, foregoing practical business flats in favor of a little spice. Things are suddenly looking up.
“Russell, right? Thrilled to finally meet you. Come on in. Sol’s expecting you,” she says in a dusky voice, assessing me in the way spiders eye flies.
“Super. Lead the way,” I reply, the words sounding flat to my tuned ear.
“You want some Pellegrino or Fiji?” she calls over her shoulder as we make our way down the long hall.
“No thanks, I’m good,” I assure her, admiring the view.
We walk through the cavernous building, my furry associate holding my hand, his leathery palm a reminder of what has gone badly wrong with my life. I should have trimmed his nails, but he could be a regal pain about some hygiene niceties. Whenever I brandished the clippers he went berserk—you’d have thought I was trying to do a root canal on him. At least he’d occasionally acquiesce to file them himself, though doing a slipshod job of it. Amateurish. Another source of irritation for me in an already difficult situation.
The stunning assistant holds the door open for us and we edge past her into a large, wood-paneled office with film posters and celebrity photos plastered on every wall. Row aside row of awards are proudly displayed in a custom-made burled walnut armoire, replete with down-lighting—the better to make them twinkle. The heavyset man in his sixties, wearing the inevitable suit vest and loosened neck-tie, rises from behind the largest desk in the world, and pushes an ashtray bearing a smoldering cigar out of the way. Sol extends his arms wide in friendly greeting.
“Russell. Sweetheart. You look great! You get a little work done around the eyes? Nice. Not all Mickey Rourke. Tasteful. But please, sit, sit. Mi casa, and all that.” He pauses. “So whadda ya got for me today? Zombie cats? Space dinosaurs? Just tell me—I always have time for you, but man, today I’m jammed, you know? Tom and Kate are throwing a hissy fit, and Johnny’s…well, he’s Johnny, you know?” Sol hesitates, noticing my silent companion for the first time. “What’s with the f#cking monkey?”
I regard my simian friend, who is toying with the straps of his well-weathered Lederhosen, fingering the ornately embroidered leather suspenders. I lightly smack him and he drops his arms sullenly. I contemplate correcting Sol—chimps aren’t monkeys, they’re apes—but decide not to lecture.
“Sol, this is Emeliano, the chimp. But he likes to be called Ricky—it’s his name de plume, so to speak. He’s my writing partner. Does great work. Fast, and a wizard with dialog,” I explain.
Ricky glares at Sol with malevolent sunken eyes, and then cocks his head and bares yellowed teeth. Sol pulls back his extended hand, reconsidering his choice of greeting.
“All right. So you got a monkey partner. What the f#ck. You shouldda met my third wife…well, maybe not. No problem. Hey, but, Russ, I gotta tell you, your latest, in the theaters now? Magic. Like poetry. The reluctant vampire ex-CIA assassin who takes on his wife’s murderers in the Russian mob? Unexpected shit, that. Not everyone can write on that level. And I love the gender-confused sidekick, from the hood. Total brilliance. We’ll put a push on it after Christmas. It’s got the legs.”
“It was Ricky’s idea to make it personal this time. He’s good at back-story,” I disclose. It was important in the business to be humble and give credit where it was due.
“So whadda ya got for me today? Your girl said you were excited. When you’re excited, I’m excited. Lay it on me,” Sol invites, reclining back in his sumptuous burgundy leather executive chair while motioning for us to take seats in front of his desk. Ricky hops up and squats easily on one, but I prefer to stand for my pitch; to lend it additional gravitas. I close my eyes, draw in a deep breath, and then launch.
“Sol, look, here’s the setup: you have these beavers, and they’re just lovable little furry f#ckers out in a field with blue skies, and butterflies, and nature shit, doing whatever the f#ck beavers do. I don’t know…eating acorns or chewing grass, and then suddenly, they go Mission Impossible on your ass because an oil refinery project threatens their river! Think Dogs and Cats, think Ice Age, think a Bruce Willis smartass fast-talking beaver with a crusty-but-lovable Chris Rock sidekick! And here’s the best part: their sworn enemies are wolves! So they gear up in ninja suits, and it’s two hours of brain suck! Can’t you hear the dialog already? Do I even need to tell you? Every other line’s a wise-crack, and it’s written so kids will love it, but idiot parents will laugh their asses off too! By the end, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves, as will the beavers.” I stop, assessing Sol’s facial expression. You never want to talk past the pitch. Rookie mistake. Let it settle, steep like tea, and don’t talk. Ricky raises his eyebrows expectantly and picks his ear.
Sol slowly stands and removes his reading glasses. He slams his hand down on the desktop and rolls his eyes heavenward.
“Jesus. You’re a genius, Blake! The merchandising will be worth a hundred mil domestic alone! Ka-Ching! Come over here. Gimme a hug. Where do you come up with this shit? Whadda ya want? Three mil? Four? Okay, ya got me. I’ll go five against the usual back-end, a producer credit, full creative control, and you get to pick the director. You. Look at you! F#cking ninja beaver motherf#ckers. You’re killing me with this shit!”
I hesitate to embrace him. “Sol. Do I look stupid? You want me to mouth-f#ck you or something? Don’t insult me or treat me like your bitch. We’re friends here. Five, the usual back-end plus points, executive producer, fifteen of the merchandise including international, and who gives a shit who directs? It’s a f#cking CARTOON! Now where do I sign? Come over here, honey, and sit on papa’s lap!”
Sol grins at me, and we both throw our heads back and laugh in awful unison.
“A cartoon! Beavers! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”
Ricky joins in with the hysteria and executes a perfectly timed back-flip off the chair, landing on Sol’s desk, scattering paperwork everywhere. Sol finds this the height of amusement and cackles with glee, as does Ricky.
The receptionist shimmies into the office and smiles at Ricky after glancing neutrally in my direction. The chimp always has that effect on the ladies. It’s eerie. Ricky decides to push it and show off, and begins lewdly thrusting his pelvis in an elaborately choreographed dance of his own invention. Everyone is amused, even when he leaps off the desk with a somersault and grabs the receptionist’s bottom, fondling her leg in what can only be described as an inappropriate manner. I’ve seen it all before, so know what’s coming. Sol and I watch as the impish primate gropes the young woman’s thigh, and then turns and affords us with a salacious wink.
The next thing I know, the sun is streaming bright through my bedroom window, another dawn having encroached its way into my existence. My head feels like I’ve gone ten rounds with Tyson, and my mouth tastes like I’ve gargled cement.
A noise from the front room rouses me into stark wakefulness. I trudge out, bleary eyed, to be greeted by the spectacle of Ricky and the receptionist lying on the couch, sans attire, though their nakedness is partly covered by his cherished neon-pink felt Hello Kitty blanket. His trademark leather shorts are perched jauntily, if a little precariously, on the receptionist’s head. They’re sharing a cigarette, the stereo crooning Barry White even as Ricky smirks at me in triumph.
I pad back to my room in humiliated defeat and close the door.
F#cking chimps have all the luck.