New Release: Study in Black and Red

Kindle: $0.99 Always free to read in Kindle Unlimited.

Struggling artist Leslie Jefferson keeps finding strange paintings on dark and disturbing themes in his studio. To all appearances, from the signature to the style, they are his work. Yet he has no memory of making them. Are these paintings the product of a sick mind, perhaps even his own, or do they portend something more terrible than he ever imagined?


Study in Black and Red
by
David L. Burkhead

Leslie Jefferson slid the key into the lock of his apartment door.  Karen, his girlfriend, not content to wait until they were within, tickled the back of his neck.

Leslie pushed the door open and turned.  Karen melted into his arms and tilted her face up for Leslie’s kiss.

“It’s been a long day,” Leslie said as he broke the kiss. “Make yourself comfortable while I grab a quick shower.”

“Don’t take too long.”

While the apartment was in one of the less affluent districts of town, it did have plenty of hot water.  A few minutes later Leslie stepped out of the shower and wrapped a robe around himself.

A cloud of vapor billowed out of the bathroom when he opened the door.  He did not see Karen but did see the open door to his studio.

Despite the warmth of the humid air, he felt a shiver run up his spine.

“Not again.”

He crossed the hallway to the studio, his feet leaving wet footprints on the fake wood floor.  In the studio he saw Karen looking up at a painting, a big twenty-four by thirty-six piece.  Acrylic on canvas.

“Leslie, this is your best one yet,” Karen stood admiring the painting. “If a bit dark.”

The painting showed Philadelphia burning.  Thick black smoke blotted out the sky.  Tiny people ran, clearly screaming, in the streets beneath buildings engulfed in flame.

His work.  His painting.  Any inspection would show that.  From his signature in the lower right corner to the style.  Right down to the brush strokes.

The only problem was Leslie did not know where the painting had come from.  It had not been there when he had left for his date with Karen.  More than a dozen times he had found paintings in his studio, his paintings, but with no memory of having painted them.  He thought he had been sleep-painting or having some kind of fugue state.  But this one?  He had not even been home and here the painting was, a painting showing a terrible scene of fire and death.  But a painting that was clearly his work.

Where had it come from?

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Getting Started in Writing: A Blast from the Past

Wrote this when I started my original “blogspot” blog back in 2011.  Not much to change, really except, well, I’ve learned more about one of my earlier inspirations/mentors that, well, put me in a very odd place in my head indeed (and make me very glad that my interactions were all long distance and strictly limited to the subject of writing).


Getting started writing isn’t rocket science.  The late Marion Zimmer Bradley defined it quite succinctly: “Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the typewriter chair and stay there until you get results.”  There’s really not much more than that.

Well, there’s not much more to it than that unless you want to write stories that sell.  Even here, it’s hard to determine any hard and fast rules.  It seems that for any rule one might name there’s somebody out there breaking it successfully.  Still, there are some things that can help.

1) If you want to write, you have to be a reader.  Read voraciously.  If you want to write in a particular genre–science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, westerns, romance, whatever–then read that genre.  But don’t read only that genre.  Stretch your horizons.  Read classics.  Read non-fiction.  Want to write Science Fiction?  Read Romance.  Want to write Romance?  Read Westerns.   Now, in addition to the reading, think about what you’ve read.  What did you like about it?  What did you dislike?  If you liked some parts and disliked others, try to figure out why.  What was different?

What you’re doing here is learning what goes into a successful story, what works for you and what doesn’t.  You can read reviews to get an idea of what worked and didn’t work for others, and that can be valuable, but in the end it comes down to what works for you and no one else.

2) Get out and meet people.  Watch them.  Talk to them.  Take notes, if only mental ones.  In the end, stories are about people.  All these interactions with people in the real world–good, bad, or indifferent–are ingredients that will go into your characters in stories.  If your only source for characters comes from reading other people’s stories your characters will seem derivative and shallow.  They will seem that way because they are derivative and shallow.  So bring some real people into the mix.

I’m not a big fan of basing individual characters on individual real people but taking a bit from here and a bit from there and one can build interesting characters that will seem real to the readers.  And that’s the goal.  They don’t have to be real.  They have to seem real.

3) Above all, write.  Write character sketches, story ideas, complete stories.  Write write write.  Then take what you’ve learned from the reading and look at it again.  What does and doesn’t work in what you’re writing?  Something not working?  Can you fix it?  If so, try that.  If not, set it aside (after all, there may be something you can mine out of that later) and try something else.

A “truism” in writing is that one has to write about a million words worth of crap in simply learning the craft.  Now, there are some exceptions to that rule (you know who you are; yes you do) but that’s a pretty good rule of thumb.  While there is a “talent” aspect to writing and storytelling they are also crafts that can be learned.  But here’s the thing, you can’t just write any crap.  You have to be trying your absolute best, writing the best crap you know how to write.

I started writing sometime in grade school.  I was, at that time, a big reader mostly of science fiction.  I was a big “space buff” and was writing mainly to get more stuff to read.  During those years I wrote a lot of story beginnings but very few if any complete stories.

Then came 1977 and That Movie.  I loved the movie.  It inspired me to write a screenplay of my own.  It inspired me to finish a screenplay of my own.  Now, my screenplay was a cheap ripoff of Star Wars.  It was a bad cheap ripoff of Star Wars.  I mean this thing was seriously bad.  I live in fear that somebody, somewhere, might turn up the only copy of the manuscript (written by hand on notebook paper) and threaten to release it to the world if I don’t pay blackmail money.  Bad.  But, it was nevertheless an important turning point.  It was the first piece of any length that I had finished.  I could finish a story.

And so my next big story was a novel written in study hall at school.  It too, was very bad.  Hackneyed, cliched, and implausible.  Oh, and the main character was a complete Mary Sue (Marty Stu?).  But, again, I demonstrated that I could complete a work of significant length.

Shortly after that I joined the Air Force and played around with writing a bit more.  I had discovered SF magazines and realized that people paid money for short work, including short work from new authors.  And so I began writing short fiction in earnest.  Most of my work in this period was still quite derivative I wasn’t having any success.  Writing was still an occasional thing with me but I’d write stories on my computer (Apple IIe), take the printed copy (9 pin dot matrix) over to the library to retype for submission, and send them out to collect rejection letters.

This was a very frustrating period but, without realizing it, I was learning the basics of the craft and the stories were getting better.  It was in 1991 when I made my first sales. (More on that another time.)

A snippet

Detective Sergeant James Ware had not yet arrived so I ordered an extra large coffee–none of the fancy names of some trendier places just small, medium, large, and extra large–with cream and sugar.

While waiting, I set my phone to browse news.  Several news outlets were making much of the rash of slasher murders.  I skimmed through three editorials using the rise in slashings as an excuse to call for more gun control.  I shook my head at that.

One headline caught my eye using the word I never wanted to see in the news.

“Vampire Murders Sweep Nation.”

This wasn’t Weekly World News or even the Enquirer.  This was Fox.

I tapped on the edge of the phone for a moment as I thought, then I tapped the article to open it.

I had gotten no more than two paragraphs into the article before realizing that if anything Matei had been underplaying the problem.  The reporter here had pulled a lot together.  Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Kansas City.  The hospital in Indianapolis had been the worst single incident, but already several hundred people had been slaughtered.

A vampire only takes at most about a quart of blood at a feeding.  Their stomachs are no bigger than human stomachs after all.  Most of their feedings are only about a pint.  It takes repeated feedings in short time to kill that way.

So you don’t end up with bodies drained of blood like you see in the movies.  Instead, you have someone with wounds to a major artery–the neck is common but not the only target–and the body is simply someone who has bled out.

If someone thinks to check they might notice the amount of blood spilled and the amount still in the body don’t match up with what should be present but even that’s not likely.  The problem comes when you have hundreds of bodies, all bearing double cuts from the fangs, many with additional teeth marks.  People start asking questions, uncomfortable questions.

The article speculated that the kills were the work of a terrorist organization, attempting to strike fear by mimicking vampire kills.  Even so, they were getting entirely too close for comfort.

Feeding the Active Writer: Leftover Pork Gravy

Oops.  I got wrapped up in a story I was writing yesterday and forgot to post.  In any case, today is another simple, easy, low-carb recipe.

One thing I do from time to time is season and roast a pork loin.  I then cut off slices over the course of a week or so to have as breakfast or what have you.  After a while, depending on how often I carve pieces off, the the remainder dries out and is not good.  Rather than let it go to waste, I wrap it in foil and toss it in the deep freezer.  Then, from time to time, I’ll dig out some of these leftover pieces and do something with them.  This is one of those things.

The result of this recipe is a kind of pulled-pork gravy that can be served over the vegetable of your choice.  It’s low carb and actually rather low fat.  Still, the result is tasty.

Ingredients:

  • Enough pork pieces to approximately fill a 5 quart slow cooker–irregularly piled in so there’s plenty of air space between the pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 3 Tbsp Xantham gum powder
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar.
  • 96 oz (3 32 oz boxes) beef broth

Note, I don’t use a lot of seasoning in the recipe itself.  The meat was seasoned originally so the pieces bring those flavors with them.

Put the meat in the slow cooker.  Sprinkle the onion, thyme, and Xantham gum over it.  Pour in the vinegar and beef broth.  Ideally, the liquid should come to just about a half inch under the rim of the crock without the meat overtopping the rim.  You can adjust the amount and arrangement of the meat as needed.

Cook on low for about 6 hours.  Open and stir to break up the pieces of meat.  Ensure that any large pieces that don’t break up are immersed in the liquid.

Cover and cook on low an additional 4-6 hours.

Uncover and stir again, breaking up any remaining big chunks.  If they don’t break up from stirring, remove and pull apart using two forks then return to the pot.

Stir once more and serve over the vegetable or noodles of your choice.

Range Trip

Took my daughter to the range today.  It had been a while.

For various reasons, I wasn’t up to the hour-long drive to a free outdoor range over at Wilbur Wright Fish and Wildlife Area.  Free is good, but sometimes…

There’s an indoor range not too far from where I live.  Relatively decent and, unlike some places I’ve been (that I never too my daughter to, thank the gods) I’ve never felt unsafe there. The range serves distances up to 50 ft (that’s feet, not yards).  It’s meant for handguns so 50′ is fine for most practice–and if I need longer, well, there’s always one of the outdoor ranges like Wilbur Right (free!) or Atterbury Fish and Wildlife area (that one costs money, although it’s admittedly a much nicer range).  The price at the indoor range isn’t bad.

If there’s a downside, it’s that you often have to spend time waiting for one of the clerks in the store (it’s also a gun store) to get free and come check you in.

Since Athena and I both mainly shoot .22LR rifles, we’re fine at even an indoor range.  Today, however, I left the rifles at home. (No, I did not forget them.  This was a deliberate choice.) I wanted to run my CZ75B (in 9X19 mm).  Athena was a bit reluctant to shoot handgun–almost all her previous shooting (after initial familiarization) was with rifle and she’s really good–as I have mentioned here and there:  in a zombie apocalypse, I load her for (and take care of close in threats).  Still, she was willing.  This store is the only place I’ve seen her favorite targets and I thought we could buy a few extra (at a buck each) for the next time we go out to Wilbur Wright.

While there, we got one of their rental guns in .22LR for her to try.  I ran the CZ75.

No, I’m not going to show target pictures, because, frankly, I’m embarrassed by them.  I’ve been shooting rifle almost exclusively and, well, the lack of practice with the handgun shows.  When I first started, my shots were mostly falling to the left and down.  Later in the session, the group started clustering around my point of aim.  Probably anticipating recoil at first, and clearing that up as I focused more on proper trigger squeeze so the actual shot was more of a surprise.  Practice.  Need more practice.

Athena’s groups were far larger than when she’s shooting rifle.  This, too, is no great surprise.  Still, easily getting “minute of bad guy” at 25 feet, a good “self defense” distance.

Despite Athena’s initial reluctance, she enjoyed herself.

In summary, a good time was had by all.

The Range was Indy Gun Bunker.

Two Hundred Twenty Years Ago Today.

On July 7, 1798, the United States Congress annulled the Treaty of Alliance we had signed with France during the American Revolution, leading to the undeclared “Quasi-War” with France.

This came as a result of the XYZ affair.  In July 1797, three Diplomats from the US:  Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall (who would later become the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court), and Elbridge Gerry traveled to France to negotiate problems that threatened to lead to war between the US and France.  Among these problems were the French seizure of neutral vessels that traded with Great Britain, with whom they were then at war.  Great Britain had likewise been neutral ships trading with France but the US had worked out an accommodation with Great Britain via the Jay Treaty.

When they attempted to seek these negotiations the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand demanded bribes and a loan before formal negotiations could begin.  While this was common practice in Continental European diplomacy to the Americans it was highly offensive.  Despite nearly a year of attempts to meet for official negotiations Pinckney and Marshall left France in the Spring of 1798 without ever engaging in any formal negotiations.  Gerry, hoping to avoid all-out war as Talleyrand had threatened to declare war if he left, remained until someone with more authority could replace him.  It was not until later in 1798 that Talleyrand sent representatives to the Hague to open negotiations with Williams Van Murray, allowing Gerry to return home in October of 1798

Documents released by the Adams administration, in which the names of French Diplomats Hottinguer, Bellamy, and Hauteval were replaced by the letters “X”, “Y”, and “Z” respectively, leading to the name “The XYZ affair” being attached to the incident caused outrage in the US.  Federalists used the incident as an excuse to build up the US’s military. (Never let a good crisis go to waste.) Considerable anger was directed at Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans for their pro-French stance and Gerry (still at that time in France) although himself non-partisan, was attacked as having significant responsibility for the commission’s failure.

The upshot of this outrage was that Congress annulled our Treaty of Alliance with France on June 7, 1798.  This began the “Quasi-war”.  Neither the United States nor France declared war on each other but for a period of two years they fought naval engagements attacking each others shipping  in the West Indies.  The nascent US Navy along with 365 privateers (privately owned vessels armed and authorized via “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” to fight our nation’s enemies) fared surprisingly well against the French.

The success of the US and Royal Navies (the Royal Navy was also operating against the French in that area although not in any joint capacity with the United States), along with the more conciliatory position of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, severely reduced the activity of the French forces in the West Indies.  The Convention of 1800, on September 30 of that year, ended the Quasi-war.

 

Right to protest: A blast from the past

People are at it again, claiming that some “right to protest” lets them do whatever they want, assault others, destroy property, harass, intimidate, whatever.  So long as they do it as “protest” (at least “protest” of which they approve–let someone else claim the same in retaliation and watch the screams) it’s acceptable behavior and should be free of consequences.  I’ve written on this subject before.


A black man is shot while assaulting a police officer.  People riot.

“Right to protest” people say.

Another is killed while resisting arrest over a tobacco tax violation.  People start blocking traffic and more riots.

“Right to protest” people say.

A man that many people do not like is elected President.  People riot, block traffic, assault supporters of that President.

“Right to protest” people say.

A gay conservative seeks to speak at a college campus.

More riots getting the college to rescind the invitation to speak.

“Right to protest” people say.

Well, here’s the problem:

There. is. no. right. to. protest.

I know, this is a surprise to many people, but it’s true.  There are a number of rights we have, but none of them are “to protest”.  They can be used for protest but simply “protesting” does not exist as a right separate from these other rights.  The closest to a right to protest is the right to petition government for redress of grievance.  You can tell government what you think it’s doing wrong and ask it to do something to fix the problem.

Instead of a right to protest you have rights to Free Speech, Free Press, and Peaceable Assembly.  You can use these rights to protest.  You can use them to say you think everything is fine. You can use them to say you think Rutabagas are better than Strawberries. (Weird, but “De gustibus non est disputandum.”)

You do not have the right to destroy (let alone steal) private or public property even if you call it protest.

You do not have the right to hinder people going about their lawful business even if you call it protest.

You most certainly do not have the right to assault people even if you call it protest.

“Protest” is not license for criminal behavior, not matter how strongly you feel about the thing your protesting.

Now, some people will bring up the idea of “civil disobedience”, of Gandhi’s “Salt March”, of Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus, of the Boston Tea Party.

But note the important factor in each of those, and other examples.  In each, the law they were breaking was one they themselves considered unjust.  The Sons of Liberty did not go burning their neighbors’ fields because they considered the tea tax, imposed on the colonies without the colonies having any representation in the taxing body (British Parliament) was unfair.  Their disobedience to the law was directed specifically to the taxed tea with an absolute minimum of other damage–indeed when they broke a lock on one of the ships to get access to the tea they later replaced it.

Similar with Gandhi’s Salt March.  It was considered unjust that the Indian people were forbidden from making their own salt, from the ocean waters on their own coast, without having a tax imposed by the British.  So they marched to the sea to make salt.

And Rosa Parks.  The law requiring certain citizens to move to the back of the bus in favor of others was unjust.  So she simply refused to move to the back.

The Boston Tea Partiers did dress up like Native Tribes in their protest but that fooled nobody.   Membership in the Sons of Liberty was pretty much an open secret.  And they were invoking either the British government backing down or retribution on their heads–either of which would underscore the unjustness, as they saw it, of the law they were violating in protest.

Gandhi’s marchers also knew they were subject to that law and that enforcement of it would highlight how unjust, as they saw it, it was.

Rosa Parks knew she was subject to arrest.  And she was arrested.

This is civil disobedience, direct and deliberate violation of unjust laws.  It can be a very courageous act since it invokes punishment for the violation specifically to show how unjust the law is.  And if you’re wrong about people rising in outrage against the law you believed was unjust, you still end up facing the punishment.

See the difference between that and seeking anonymity in a crowd, wearing masks, and breaking laws that have nothing to do with whatever the subject of the protest might be?  Such violation of the law does not show anything to be unjust.  It merely shows that the “protesters” are rabble, seeking only their own gain rather than serving any true cause whatever rhetoric they might spout.

The best such “protesters” can hope for is a general breakdown of rule of law in which chaos a few strong individuals might benefit at the cost of loss and blood for the masses.  At worst you get a government crackdown which does nothing to rally people to your side because your actions demonstrate that you deserve that crackdown.  In between are various levels of misery for various people that do nothing to further your high-sounding ideals.

Perhaps you hope for that breakdown of rule of law and, in the chaos to follow, you will come to the fore and take power.  However, consider, in such cases the people who start that kind of revolution rarely if ever are the ones in charge at the end.  The “idealists” who start the revolution are the first up against the wall, even if their side wins and the people seeking no more than their own personal power and wealth become the ones to rule.

Wither your high-sounding ideals then?