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Something I'm fooling around with...

Looking for a bit of hard-boiled sci-fi. Partly, I'm trying to work with a characteristic that I'm calling "voice" -- the impression should be that the character is telling his own story in his own words.

Let me know if that seems to work.
*********  ********* ********* ***********
The Tragedy of Merlot
(c) 2018 by Cliff Robison

     I hate Merlot. Not the wine. Well, I don’t like wine either. I’m more of a whiskey kind of a guy, or if you don’t have whiskey, beer will do fine. Simple tastes for a simple mind.
     I admit it. I’m not a smart guy. Not like Merlot. Merlot’s some kind of genius, some Einstein or something. I guess I can’t complain about that, since it’s how a big dumb guy like me made Lieutenant. Still, I hate that guy.
     Maybe hate’s a strong word. Geez. What do I know?
     Here’s the thing: Some case comes in and nobody’s got nothing on it. I give Merlot, near as we can figure, the time and place. He comes back to me with a photo of the guy who did it. Just like that. Sometimes he even gives me a video.
     What the hell, right?
     But here’s the thing: He always tells me, “This isn’t evidence. You can’t take this to court, cause you can’t prove where you got it.” Only he says it nicer.
     I told him I’d subpoena his butt into a witness chair or die trying. He says it wouldn’t matter. He can’t prove that he took the picture, so the case would get thrown out. I say, hey, the picture proves you took the picture. He says to ask an ADA about that.
     And besides, if I ever screw him over, he stops helping me. I know a good thing when I see it. I’m not gonna goose the duck with the golden eggs, you know?
     Anyway, who’s the schmuck that has to compare 20,000 mugshots, and tell the brass I got a hunch that it’s this guy here, and then go shake him till he gives it up? Well, until I made Lieutenant, it was me. Now, I tell the Sergeant that we got an anonymous tip that it was this guy here, or that the murder weapon’s in a tree by the park, and the sergeant sends somebody to check out my hunch.
     Captain thinks I’ve got a bunch of C.I.’s out there, sweeping the streets for dirt. He wonders if I’m a little dirty, and if I’m playing both sides. I tell him I’m not smart enough for that. He knows it’s true.

     Anyway, I was down at that little pub on Gabilan Street. The one that used to be English and then turned into a sports bar. Yeah, went from trivia nights and stout beer to football and American lager. You know the one.
     Merlot came in with a woman. That, I expected. Problem is, I knew this woman. She used to be married to a meth cook out in Prunedale. And way back in high school, I used to date her sister.
     “Evening, Glennis,” I said, before Chris had a chance to introduce us. “How’s tricks?”

**************************

Comments

  • Skoob_ym said:
    Looking for a bit of hard-boiled sci-fi. Partly, I'm trying to work with a characteristic that I'm calling "voice" -- the impression should be that the character is telling his own story in his own words.

    Let me know if that seems to work.
    *********  ********* ********* ***********
    The Tragedy of Merlot
    (c) 2018 by Cliff Robison

         I hate Merlot. Not the wine. Well, I don’t like wine either. I’m more of a whiskey kind of a guy, or if you don’t have whiskey, beer will do fine. Simple tastes for a simple mind.
         I admit it. I’m not a smart guy. Not like Merlot. Merlot’s some kind of genius, some Einstein or something. I guess I can’t complain about that, since it’s how a big dumb guy like me made Lieutenant. Still, I hate that guy. 
         Maybe hate’s a strong word. Geez. What do I know?
         Here’s the thing: Some case comes in and nobody’s got nothing on it. I think I would make it clear by this point that the speaker is a cop or detective of some kind, so that we know what "case" refers to.  I give Merlot, near as we can figure, the time and place. He comes back to me with a photo of the guy who did it. Just like that. Sometimes he even gives me a video.
         What the hell, right?
         But here’s the thing: He always tells me, “This isn’t evidence. You can’t take this to court, cause you can’t prove where you got it.” Only he says it nicer.
         I told him I’d subpoena his butt into a witness chair or die trying. He says it wouldn’t matter. He can’t prove that he took the picture, so the case would get thrown out. I say, hey, the picture proves you took the picture. He says to ask an ADA about that. A good rule is to not introduce an acronym without previously using it in full (unless it is something widely familiar, such as "USA" or "NASA"). For instance, a first-person character would refer to the "Wall Street Journal" in full when first speaking of it and then later use "WSJ."
         And besides, if I ever screw him over, he stops helping me. I know a good thing when I see it. I’m not gonna goose the duck with the golden eggs, you know? Great!
         Anyway, who’s the schmuck that has to compare 20,000 mugshots, and tell the brass I got a hunch that it’s this guy here, and then go shake him till he gives it up? Well, until I made Lieutenant, it was me. Now, I tell the Sergeant that we got an anonymous tip that it was this guy here, or that the murder weapon’s in a tree by the park, and the Sergeant sends somebody to check out my hunch.
         Captain thinks I’ve got a bunch of C.I.’s out there, ditto regarding acronyms sweeping the streets for dirt. He wonders if I’m a little dirty, and if I’m playing both sides. I tell him I’m not smart enough for that. He knows it’s true.

         Anyway, I was down at that little pub on Gabilan Street. The one that used to be English and then turned into a sports bar. Yeah, went from trivia nights and stout beer to football and American lager. You know the one.
         Merlot came in with a woman. That, I expected. Problem is, I knew this woman. She used to be married to a meth cook out in Prunedale. And way back in high school, I used to date her sister.
         “Evening, Glennis,” I said, before Chris had a chance to introduce us. “How’s tricks?” Who is Chris?

    **************************
    I think the voice sounds great...and pretty convincing, too. I would just try to include a little more scene-setting, especially regarding your speaker's job and position.

  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    I like the voice as it reminds me of some people I've known.

    If Chris is Merlot's first name, you might use the full name earlier to avoid confusing people.

    While I know what a CI [Confidential Informant] and an ADA [Assistant District Attorney] are, others may not. It's kind of like S-2 and G-2 [relating to military intelligence] or 1N3 [military interpretor], to people in the line of work or familiar with same it's obvious, while baffling to an outsider.

    I agree with Ron, set the scene a bit more. Once you've done that it will pull the reader into the world you've created.
  • Thanks for the feedback, fellows.

    Great thoughts and dead on. I might change ADA to lawyer, maybe spell out confidential informant, and make "big dumb guy like me" into "big dumb cop like me" to clarify that he's got a badge. That should give it a context. I can wait on calling him Chris until after he's dead (sorry, spoiler).

    It just kind of hit me that there a lot of "Smart Cops" who solve crimes by having a 200 IQ and being able to read minds, so maybe going the other direction might work. Had another scene pop into my head a few minutes ago... I might try to work this into a short story and if I like how it comes out, shop it around to some magazines.

    Thanks!
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    One thing to bear in mind is that extremely high intelligence is not necessarily the advantage a lot of people think it is. There is a scientific correlation suggested between someone being on the high end of the scale and suffering from mental and / or physical disorders. The perception of tortured genius therefore has some basis in reality.

    As well, in the societal aspect a high IQ is no guarantor of success, as far too often such individuals are viewed with distrust, meaning tolerance toward them is limited. Consider that often enough a supervisor or manager of just over average intellect will stonewall the advancement of a subordinate who is appreciably smarter due to the idea the subordinate will one day take their job or simply because they just can't relate with how that subordinate's mind works.

    Perhaps that will help you set Merlot more in context.
  • There is that: The smartest person I know is absolutely nuts. I've seen him break down in tears from an off-hand remark, or become so angry over an objectively innocuous subject (charities, for example) that he would leave a party and walk home. His wife would have to drive herself home later, by which time he would be rational again. Nice guy, never violent, but very ... fragile...

    On the other hand, it was interesting to watch him watch Jeopardy: He knew all the answers. All of them. Every single one. I haven't seen him lately; he encountered an issue that caused him to abandon his life and start a new one (same identity, but new surroundings) on the other side of town. And he took up knitting. But we digress.

    The thing about this story... I was reading about Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, an associate of Shakespeare who would have been remembered as an even greater genius, except that he got knifed in a bar fight. "The Reckoning," they call it, because it might have been a dispute over his bill...

    He was said to have been a police informant, but also a frequent arrestee, and prone to starting bar fights in whorehouses. Secret agent, but arrested on a secret warrant. Very colorful character. So part of my plan was to drag him into the present day, give him a science-fiction device that lets him see past events (with limits), and then have him die in a bar fight. This leaves the policeman who depends on his tips to solve the murder.

    Twisting Marlowe to Merlot is a bit of slight of hand.

    Plowing too deep, maybe? But then again, the actual stories about Marlowe are just too good to leave them alone. They beg for stories to be written. But then once more, there are too many smart detectives ... Hence my slower model.

    So maybe I'll do something with it. Or maybe I'll bury it in the sock drawer and see what it looks like a year from now. It feels like it has potential, but all stories feel like that in the beginning... Yeah, so... We'll see...
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Librarian
    It does sound like the basis for a good story.

    The thing about intelligence is sometimes you find the sports, who are just below genius level while being 'scary smart'. Neither a sociopath nor a psychopath, but easily capable of disassociating in a predatory way in order to commit violence sans remorse while leaving little in the way of evidence.

    Perhaps your Merlot runs into someone not quite as smart as he but far deadlier?
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Many geniuses say that they are just clever people who work very hard at what they do.

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Skoob_ym said:
    Thanks for the feedback, fellows.

    Great thoughts and dead on. I might change ADA to lawyer, maybe spell out confidential informant, and make "big dumb guy like me" into "big dumb cop like me" to clarify that he's got a badge. That should give it a context. I can wait on calling him Chris until after he's dead (sorry, spoiler).

    I actually disagree on changing things like ADA and CI. If we're getting the perspective from a "big dumb cop" he's going to cling to those industry terms because it is what sets him apart from other "big dumb people" out there. Yes you might risk confusing a reader or two, but I think the value in building the character is greater here.

    It just kind of hit me that there a lot of "Smart Cops" who solve crimes by having a 200 IQ and being able to read minds, so maybe going the other direction might work. Had another scene pop into my head a few minutes ago... I might try to work this into a short story and if I like how it comes out, shop it around to some magazines.

    Thanks!
    Overall, I think the voice is very well achieved. It felt almost stream of consciousness, but didn't strike me as "loose" in the way that kind of writing often is.

    I do agree with the sentiment that we could use more scenery. I would say specifically this could be helpful in further understanding our narrator too - the way he sees a street corner or his office might reveal more of his "big dumb cop" mentality.
  • ...
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    That's easy for you to say.

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Paul_Lulu said:
    Skoob_ym said:
    Thanks for the feedback, fellows.

    Great thoughts and dead on. I might change ADA to lawyer, maybe spell out confidential informant, and make "big dumb guy like me" into "big dumb cop like me" to clarify that he's got a badge. That should give it a context. I can wait on calling him Chris until after he's dead (sorry, spoiler).

    I actually disagree on changing things like ADA and CI. If we're getting the perspective from a "big dumb cop" he's going to cling to those industry terms because it is what sets him apart from other "big dumb people" out there. Yes you might risk confusing a reader or two, but I think the value in building the character is greater here.

    It just kind of hit me that there a lot of "Smart Cops" who solve crimes by having a 200 IQ and being able to read minds, so maybe going the other direction might work. Had another scene pop into my head a few minutes ago... I might try to work this into a short story and if I like how it comes out, shop it around to some magazines.

    Thanks!
    I think things like unusual acronyms have the danger of confusing more than just "a reader or two."  I think you would in fact be detracting from character-building by taking the reader out of the moment every time they stop to wonder "huh?"

    That being said, having established the character as a "big dumb cop" right from the get-go helps to alleviate that problem to a small degree since the reader might rightly assume that it is just "cop talk" and skim over it. Still, it is better to try to introduce the actual term as soon as possible, especially if it is one that might be used more than once. For instance, while the narrator may consistently use acronyms, he may quote others in conversation who use the full terms. 

    A good model for police procedurals---or at least books written in that style, which this one seems to be leaning toward---are the works of Ed McBain, especially his 87th Precinct series. He was a master of introducing police language in the most natural ways possible.

  • McBain was a master of the procedural. IMHO, he outshone Del Shannon and was usually a notch up on Wambaugh.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    And of course there are the ones who pretend to be stupid. Colombo for example.

    There's also the great Vimes in the Discworld books, who people make the mistake of thinking he is stupid, because he came from a 'poor' background, and at times acts stupid (just a slow mind, really) and stereotypically, starts off as a drunkard.

    http://discworld.wikia.com/wiki/Samuel_Vimes

    BTW. Was Del Shannon not a singer?

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • There was a singer of that name.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Indeed. A run run run runaway.

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Actually, the writer was Dell Shannon, vice Del. Mea culpa.

    Both names were pseudonyms.
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    What a difference one L can make.

    Myself and my friend combined know everything there is to know, but he's not here.

  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Teacher
    edited June 16
    So, as a follow up, this came out to be around 21,000 words, and in the edits it will probably go a touch longer as I expand things that were just brushed past or not entirely spelled out. I'm expected a finished length of 25,000 - 30,000, which is solidly in the awkward novella length.

    I might have been able to go Novel length with Lt. Elton Earl Licowicz, here, but I found that around 20,000 the voice was fading and the story seemed to be headed for its natural end. I always try not to force the story longer or cut it short -- It always winds up looking like the characters stayed at the Procrustes Inn and Suites.

    Moral of the story: I just offered it to a magazine as a novella (they wanted 25,000 to 50,000 words and an option for book rights if accepted. Apparently they publish paperbacks with 3-4 novellas each as well as the magazine proper). If they decline and no other takers appear, I'll probably save it till I have two or three more pieces of about the same length, and then make my own three-novella book.

    The cover email (as per submission standards) goes like this:

    Hello, Editors.

    I propose to submit a novella of about 26,000 words regarding a loner police lieutenant, with a 92 IQ and a love for alcohol, who finds things going very badly. It starts when his chief informant shows up to a meet with the sister of his old ex. It gets worse when the informant dies violently, and the ex's sister shows up in the lieutenant's trunk. As his friends start to doubt his story and his sources of information start to dry up, he finds himself on a one-way path to the low tide mark, wearing concrete waders.

    Length tends to vary during the buff and polish, so the completed length may be slightly over or under 26,000, but will definitely be within the 25,000 to 30,000 range. The attached sample should give you the general flavor and style of the story.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Cliff Robison


    So, I'll give you a further update in 8-12 weeks...
  • Wish I had these people's talent for writing. I really like it Skoob. I only read a paragraph or to but it reminded me of these old black and white cop movies with the detective narrating the show.
  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Teacher
    All I can say, Ninja, is thanks, and keep plugging away. For every page that flows like butter, there are 500 that I burned because they sounded clunky and lame.
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    Good luck! 👍 
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