My Short Story "The Nudge" Published in Print Anthology
I enjoy promoting the publications of other writers in this newsletter. Allow me to share good news about a recent success of mine. My speculative short story “The Nudge” has been published in the 2021 Guilded Pen print anthology by the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. The story is featured alongside many compelling short stories, essays and poems. You can support your local bookstore by ordering it through bookshop.org or buy the print or Kindle version from Amazon.
“The Nudge” features a shady first-person protagonist who has a special mental gift that he uses to conduct petty crimes. His use of this gift with an even more shady character triggers an unexpected change in him, leading to dire consequences. I’ve posted a teaser below (warning, some sexual content):
Our mark emerges about ten yards ahead. “That’s him,” Jimmy says under his breath. I agree. The guy’s about forty and dressed like a boss. His suit is a work of art, perfectly tailored with a light sheen that shouts class and money. His crisp white shirt is a blank canvas for a teal silk tie. Maybe I could buy an outfit this nice after we roll the guy. Looking that good will up my con game. Better marks, bigger bucks.
A quick glance confirms we’re not in anyone’s line of sight. Jimmy and I have run this hustle at least a dozen times now and we’ve never been spotted. Our bench is tucked away behind hedges along one of the park’s less used paths. We ignore the joggers and dog walkers, who rarely have much cash on them. Our prime bounty are office workers like this guy escaping, ever so briefly, hermetically sealed torture. Occasionally one of our victims has more than a hundred dollars on them, especially if they’re over thirty and don’t pay for everything with their damned smartphones.
When the dude’s a few paces away, Jimmy stands. “Excuse me, sir, do you have the time? We’re supposed to meet someone, and I think she’s late.”
Now it’s my turn to use The Nudge. There’s a reason I call my gift that. When I connect with someone mentally, all I can really do is push them to do something they’re already inclined to. For the longest time I only used it to get laid, hitting nightclubs near closing time and targeting women projecting desperation. Now The Nudge doesn’t always work out great once I lure one back to my apartment. I don’t just detect and manipulate another person’s desires. If they’re aligned with my own, ours become one. Too often when drilling a woman I sense her desire to come, and just like that I blow my wad. This will be easier. I’m not trying to bang the guy, just roll him.
The man stops in front of us and tilts his head. He’s easily over six feet, broad-shouldered with defined pecs. I stand as well, looking up into his steel-gray eyes. I allow my mind to clear. The park and the man shift to a blur, like the clouded vision you get when you’re drunk and trying like hell to stay awake. As I begin to read him I realize he hasn’t looked at a watch or pulled out his phone. I sense now he has no desire to give Jimmy the time. He has another desire, just out of reach. I feel its intensity like heat from a too-close radiator. His emotional state becomes a covered pot on the verge of boiling. I want to use The Nudge on Jimmy, to find whatever part of him has doubts and push that to make him back down. It’s too late. I’m locked in with the mark. Already feeling disconnected from myself, I force my right hand up and place it on Jimmy’s left arm. He ignores my signal to stop.
You’ll have to order the anthology to read the rest!
More Hammett, Less Chandler
Reflections on Sexism, Racism and Homophibia in Harboiled Detective Novels
I’ve been rereading numerous hardboiled detective novels in recent months, including works by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker. This is because my subconscious is demanding I write a novel in that genre, one of my favorites. In going back to classics of the genre, some nearly 100 years old, I knew depictions of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals might not be up to modern standards. What I found was both expected and surprising.
First the surprising: The father of the harboiled detective genre, Dashiell Hammett, was pretty progressive for his time. I haven’t read enough to form a clear picture of his depictions of race, because for him minority characters were usually versions of White (Italian, Irish, Jewish). An exception is Joel Cairo, from The Maltese Falcon, who is Egyptian. He’s more important as a gay character. We’re told that through some fairly stereotypical clues (dress, mannerisms), yet Hammett doesn’t make his sexual preference a factor in whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. It is actually of use to Cairo, as we learn he once successfully gained intel from another gay man who proved resistant to the sexual charms of Brigid O’Shaunessy, the book’s femme fatale. Hammett even some tender moments between Cairo and a young gunman doomed to go to prison. You can’t call Hammett a feminist after seeing the cold manipulations of the amoral Brigid, yet move forward in time a few years and you’ll see that Nora Charles of The Thin Man is one of the strongest female characters published during the Depression. By this point Hammett was dating playwright and social activist Lillian Hellman, and she proved an influence on the creation of Nora. (Confession: Ever since seeing the movie as a kid I’ve had a crush on Myrna Loy.)
Now the expected: Raymond Chandler is no Hammett, at least on this score. Again, it’s hard to judge on race, as many characters in his novels are white. Philip Marlowe has little respect for women or LGBTQ+, however. In The Big Sleep, he easily defeats a gay man in a fight because no “f*****” has the strength to fight like a man. It’s the misogyny that overwhelms me, however. There are, of course, the characters. The two main female characters in The Big Sleep are both amoral deviants who use sex and money to get ahead, and one of them proves to be a sociopathic murderer. The only woman Marlowe shows any respect for shows up near the end of the novel, and she’s really more of a concept than a real character. He doesn’t even call her by her name, instead using a physical description, “Silver Wig.” What really jars, however, are the occasional blanket statements the first-person Marlowe makes about the worthlessness of women. I knew this genre had issues with sexism; I hadn’t remembered how bad it could get.
Robert B. Parker seemed determined to knock all these down with his first few Spenser novels in the 1970s. In The Godwulf Manuscript, Spenser’s debut, we see a cop disparaging witnesses for being gay. The police chief chastises him for bringing their sexuality into it. In his second Spenser novel, God Save the Child, we meet Susan Silverman, a thirty-something Jewish divorcee with a psychology degree who works as a guidance counselor. Spenser is immediately smitten by her looks and her intelligence, and Susan appears as an on-off love interest in every single Spenser book after that. Not helpful, however, is that in their first meeting the two discuss a teenage boy who they speculate may become gay because of gender reversal roles in his parents (a domineering mother and weak father). Ouch. Later books also feature Hawk, a Black tough guy who knows Spenser from their boxing days. In some respects Hawk seems to have walked right out of a Blaxploitation movie, but he is a sympathetic character who allows Parker to fault the racist underbelly of Boston.
I plan now to shift to books published in this genre in the last ten years, to see how modern authors and publishers tell stories in this style while avoiding some of the genre’s more troubled historical issues, most notably the depiction of women. I experimented with writing my novel from a female point of view, but it clearly didn’t work. My protagonist is a straight white male, and as such I’m not at risk of misappropriating anyone else’s voice. How my protagonist interacts with others is what will matter. If I can channel the best of Hammett with modern sensibilities, I should be okay.
I've learned to do as she says
My Uncooperative Muse
My day job has consumed my life the last few months, leading me to neglect my muse. She has exacted revenge in two ways: 1) She keeps finding excuses for me to not query literary agents about my completed urban fantasy novel. 2) She keeps demanding I work on a new novel she’s making me dream about every night.
In all honesty, I can’t blame my muse for the fact that I’m not sending queries. I believe it’s driven more by a fear of rejection. An agent can’t reject you if you don’t query her; she also can’t offer you representation.
And while I’m being honest, I’m enjoying writing the new novel. As I note in the item above, it is a hardboiled detective novel, with the twist being that the protagonist is not a detective, so it’s a “fish out of water” plot. It is proving so much fun to write. Perhaps I shouldn’t have shifted genres to mystery while querying a fantasy; I do have a sci-fi element in the mystery plot, however, so it’s still speculative fiction.
I could tell you about this novel all day, but perhaps I should stop now and send out an agent query.
Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to peruse my latest newsletter. Feel free to pass it along to others who might be interested.
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