Soft Kiss, Hard Death, full squirm

I made an American squirm

And it felt so right…

Nick Lowe, American Squirm

This is going to be a fun one.  Way back in very early January, I got a late Christmas present.  Ed Kurtz, author of the fine and crazy gory Bleed, (which I reviewed here), shot me an email.

He’d created this character, Sam Truman, a PI in an unnamed city closely modelled on New York (though it can also look like LA at times) around 1960 or so.  He’s disgraced after shooting a man who he thought was waving a weapon at him. Turns out it was a dildo, leading to the loss of his PI license and constant abuse by the cops of the city.

Or to put it more succinctly, from the SamTruman.com site:

Sam Truman is a disgraced and unlicensed former private investigator without a proverbial pot to piss in.

So now he takes fringe cases.  The ones no decent PI would take.  Or the cases that his clients don’t have the money to pay a real PI for.  Either way, they always take a weird turn.

So, the esteemed Mr. Kurtz, having read and apparently enjoyed Vanishing Hope asks me if I’d be interested in writing one of the Sam Truman mysteries.

Well, let’s see.

  • I tried writing one mystery about a year before and it was a dismal failure.
  • I know nothing about PIs beyond what I’ve seen on television.
  • I was born in 1962, so my memories of 1960 are non-existent.
  • It takes place in New York.  I’m a Canadian boy.

So, of course I said yes.  I didn’t even have a damn story idea.

Yes I was living in a wonderful world

Everything was fine

Nick Lowe, American Squirm

The good thing was, just a week before, during the Christmas holidays, I’d compiled all my story ideas as I was going to write 500 words a day in 2012, come hell or high water.  So I went over all the ideas with an eye toward what could be thrown back to 1960.  And then I found one.  A story I’d started but never completed called Out.

It’s a nasty story, let me tell you.  The original concerned an on-the-road sales guy who picks up a strangely alluring hitchhiker with some…disastrous results.  I did a little literary magic and presto change-o, it became a Sam Truman Mystery.

I started writing the story Jan 21, attempting to double my 500 word/day output to 1000 and 21 days later, on Feb 10, I finished the first draft.  And I will admit right now that there was a couple of awkward moments.

Tried to mate in a horrible state

Deep, deep into the night

Nick Lowe, American Squirm

The first was when I tried to Google a fact in the story.  I’ll just indicate that it involved certain…elastic properties of a specific area of the human body.  My son came down as a page loaded and immediately expressed concerns over my choice of websites.  Okay, he referred to me as “a sick freak.”

The second squirm-worthy episode came when I came to actually write the scene that involved the research I’d been doing above.  I don’t know about you, but squirming in a chair while trying to compose a tense scene is…not easy.

Anyway, I finished off the story, then sat on it for a much shorter period of time than I normally prefer.  I usually like to let it sit for a solid couple of months.  This time, I gave it ten days, then three days of edits and sent it off to Ed for approval.  Shaking in my freaking boots all the while.

Ed came back singing my praises.  There was a little more editing to be done, but about 80% of the novella’s first draft, which I’m quite proud of.

The first Sam Truman Mystery, Catch My Killer, written by Ed Kurtz, involves Sam getting involved with a corpse reanimated by a dead woman, more walking dead, and, ultimately, an army from Hell.

The second, The Last Invasion, finds Sam searching for a lost girl and instead running into the beginnings of an alien invasion.

Then comes mine, Soft Kiss, Hard Death.  And, while admitting to perhaps a slight bias, I think the cover artist, Joshua Hansen outdid himself.  Seriously.

The plan is for Abattoir to release a new novella every six weeks, so after mine, the next one should drop somewhere around August 15.  As well, for those who like to hold the actual paper copy in their hands, an omnibus edition will be coming around the end of the year, likely collecting the first three or four mysteries.

This is my second novella to be published (the first being Vanishing Hope through Burning Effigy <plug plug>) my second publication this year, after my short story Stealing Corey appeared in the Whispered Words anthology (through Piquant Press) in late May.  I’m crazy excited as this is a whole different direction for me.

I hope you like it.

As always, if you do like it, I’d love to hear from you.  If you don’t like it, I’d love to hear from you even more.  I’m always interested in what my readers think, good or bad, so don’t hold back.  Let me know.

**UPDATE: It’s out now and you can buy it here.

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In the hair tonight

Well the hurt doesn’t show, but the pain still grows
It’s no stranger to you and me

I can feel it coming in the hair tonight, oh Lord

with apologies to Phil Collins.

I don’t know what the hell it is with the Wife, but just when I think she can’t surprise me, she comes up with some new freakish behaviour.  The good thing is, it keeps me blogging.

We both work from home.  The wife is five days a week, I’m most of the time.  I go into the office a couple of times a month.  We have adjoining offices in the basement, which is cool.  I get to spend coffee breaks and the odd lunch with the wife, even though we work for completely different companies.

But there’s a darker side to working alongside the Wife.  The ugly side.

The times when one of her screens craps out and suddenly I’m her first tech call.  The times when she’s on a call but still wants the damn mail and I’m the first call to go get it. The “hey can you go upstairs and bring me <the laundry/a coffee/a glass of water/something else>?” moments.

And then there’s a few days ago.  Shit got weird.

I’m sitting in my office, doing my Work Stuff when I hear a small, pathetic, “help.”  I didn’t know what she was calling for, but it wasn’t her normal shriek, so I finished up what I was doing, then strolled over to her office.  I rounded the corner of the doorway and I saw the Wife sitting in her desk chair, her head tilted toward me imploringly, her face to the floor.  She said, “what the hell took you so long?” as I realized what she’d been calling my help for.

Snaggled in her hair was her over-the-head telephone headset.  I don’t know what the hell she’d done, but that sucker had firmly ensconced itself in her hair.  And she obviously couldn’t get the thing out judging from the way her hands fluttered about it.

It was quite humorous, let me tell you.

So after I finished laughing at her, we got her untangled and I went back to my office, chuckling.

About an hour later, she’d run up to have a quick shower during lunch.  I got something to eat, then wandered upstairs to see if she was done so I could hop in myself.  On the way up, I knew she was done because I could hear the curling iron-blow dryer thingamabob going.  Then I heard something else.

I heard a plaintive cry for help.

I laughed and continued moseying up the stairs.  “Real funny,” I said.

I rounded the corner and saw the Wife standing at the bathroom counter, her head tilted toward me imploringly, her face to the floor.  She said, “what the hell took you so long?” as I realized what she’d been calling my help for.

Snaggled in her hair was her curling iron-blow dryer thingamabob.  I don’t know what the hell she’d done this time, but that thing had pretty much chewed up her hair and made itself a brand new nest on her scalp.  And she obviously couldn’t get the thing out judging from the way she held it with one hand while the other fluttered about it.

It was quite humorous, let me tell you.

I laughed even louder this time.  She demanded that I get the thing out.  “Okay,” I said.  “But can we shut it off and unplug it first?”

That’s when her nervous giggles started.  While I unglued the thing from her head (it truly was stuck on there better than an alien facehugger), she told me that she’d been starting to panic, not knowing how she was ever going to get me if I didn’t get within earshot.  Because she was essentially anchored to the wall.  With a running blow dryer.

It never occurred to her to shut it off.  Or that she could unplug it.

Honestly.

I swear the Wife is not blonde, nor is she a stupid woman.

But man, there are times…

Over the course of the rest of the day, she also managed to to get a brush and her sunglasses snagged in the same fashion.

So, she’s kind of like a Medusa with no control of her locks.  Or they’ve been possessed by a capricious demonic force intent on sucking anything in that comes close to her melon.

Or her head’s got some magnetic power.  Call it telemagnesis.

I’ve heard of people letting their hair down, but never being let down by their hair.  Until the Wife, that is.

Mother and son

Nothing good ever comes from a 2 am call.

My mother’s been in and out of hospitals for the past year or so, first breaking her arm high up near the shoulder where it can’t be cast, then, over the past few months, with her back.

I’m honestly not sure what’s going on there, as I’ve heard it described as her back being fractured and the discs collapsing.  To me, those sound like different things.  I do know it’s to do with her osteoporosis.  And I know it’s getting worse.  When she ends up in the hospital, then extended care simply because she bent over to wash her hair, you know there’s a problem.

Tonight, in the extended care facility, she apparently was dreaming that someone was in the bed beside her and she had to get out of it.  What that means is, she fell out of the bed, hitting the tray that all hospital beds have beside them on the way down.  So the ambulance was called and she was taken back to the hospital for x-rays.  That’s when I got the call.

Andrew Pyper mused in his book, The Guardians, that hospitals seem to paint their walls with colours rejected by society.  I don’t think he’s wrong.  There’s not much sensory input when you’re sitting in emergency, you mother mostly incoherent from the painkillers, so you tend to focus on the banality of the surroundings.  The nurses discussing an upcoming maternity leave, their shifts, the advantages that some of the surrounding hospitals have over them.  And the colour of the walls.

Occasionally, mom came to and asked a couple of questions, but it was obvious the fog of the painkillers didn’t allow her to catch all the information coming to her.

It was reasonably quiet in the hospital, so it actually took very little time for them to get mom into x-ray, determine she hadn’t done any more damage, then arrange transportation back to the extended care facility.

It’s painful to watch them move her from the bed to the stretcher and back again.  Any sudden movements obviously cause her a great deal of pain.  It’s the only time she’s lucid.  Pain is the only thing that seems to cut through the fog.

Then we’re back in her room.  She thinks it’s a different room from where she’s been staying the last ten days, but it’s not.  The on-duty nurse gets her comfortable and checks her vitals.  All seems good.

The nurses and orderlies at both the hospital and the care facility are nothing but wonderful and caring through all of this.  They do what needs to be done, then get out of the way.

Then we’re alone, with just a dim light off to the side.  My mother, who has never really looked her age, now looks every one of her eighty-five years.  She’s tired and helpless and groggy with drugs.  If she moves, she’s in pain.  Her mouth is dry, so I’m constantly feeding her sips of water.  She seems to get lost, even in bed, not being able to manipulate the blankets the way she wants, not finding the Kleenex box placed right under her hand.  She closes her eyes and I think she’s asleep, but then they’ll slowly open and stare unseeing at the ceiling.

When I ask her what she’s thinking about, she says in a soft, weak voice, “I’m trying to figure out what happened.”  I know she’s talking about the fall, but I wonder if she also might mean how the hell a relatively active, healthy woman could see such a change in fortune in such a short time.

I know my presence is keeping her awake, so I’m unsure if I should leave or not.  She tells me to leave, to go home and get some sleep, then grabs my hand and tells me she’s glad I’m there.  So I sit, her hand in mine, a hand that’s somehow grown old and infirm without me noticing, her skin cool and papery to the touch.

My mother and I have had a stormy relationship for a while now.  This isn’t the place to go into it, and this isn’t one of those situations where, when one is ill, the issues are brushed aside and forgotten.  I guess you could say the issues are muted for now.  She’s too stubborn to let them go, as am I, but we can set them aside for the time being.

Being a son during a time like this is a tough thing.  It’s hard to watch your only remaining parent suffer.  It’s hard to see someone who’s been pretty tough most of her life now frail and dependent on others for damn near everything.  It’s hard to know what to do to help at times.

So instead, I sit, holding her hand, doing the only thing I know I can do that’s right.  I just sit and be with her during this ugly, difficult time.

I guess all I can be is her son.

I wish life was simpler.

Hey Nineteen

My daughter turns 19 today.  I can’t believe it’s been a year since I wrote this post, and quite frankly, I don’t think I can match it.  It still says almost everything I want to say about my baby girl.

I even went looking for an appropriate song lyric to toss in here, immediately thinking of Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen, but the only appropriate lyrics tend to speak more to me than to her.

She thinks I’m crazy

But I’m just growin’ old.

Ain’t that the truth.

A lot has happened in the last year.  She’s changed direction in her education and changed schools as well, moving from a Journalism degree from Carleton to a Public Relations degree from Durham College.  That was a tough decision but it’s one she made on her own, which we’re proud of.

She also came back home and searched for a job.  Again, not an easy task.  She put out about 300 applications and had some pretty abysmal interviews, but she persevered and started working at the Ministry of Finance.  It’s nice to see her interacting with adults in a work environment.  I think it will teach her a lot.  I just hope they don’t follow through with trying to set her up with every cute guy who shows up in the office.

Thankfully, she did manage to get a part-time role as a model for a photography class at Durham College.  Everyone’s told her she should be a model.  I don’t disagree.

Photography by Barb Dionne

And she also filled her time by volunteering at her old high school, helping out as a teacher’s assistant.

She’s a good kid…well, at nineteen, I guess she’s not a kid anymore, but she is to me.  Still she does have her diva moments, which, when we point them out, she gets all indignant and looks at us and says, “What?  I’m a frickin’ delight!”

It always elicits laughter.

She has a great sense of humour and she has some interesting idiosyncrasies…which can be used against her to great hilarity.  She has an unreasoning phobia of feet.  She doesn’t like them.  She especially doesn’t like anyone touching her with their feet.  If you kind of bat your hands at her, she’ll pull her arms up tight to her chest and flap her hands, sort of like a spastic squirrel.  Oh, and her head will also tilt back, eyes close and mouth drop open.  She’s quite hilarious.

When she laughs, her nostrils do this weird flaring thing.  And if she’s bored with you, her eyes will close at different times, one following the other down.  If you point it out, she’ll rub at them incessantly.

It’s quite easy to irk her too.  If she complains that her sunglasses are crooked, just point out it’s not her glasses, but one ear that’s lower than the other.  It will send her into paroxysic spasms.

She’s my kid and I love her dearly. These are all the things that make me love her even more.

Happy birthday, baby girl.  I love you.