I had a dream. I got to spar with four favorite ebook writers whom I've never met:
CLAUDE BOUCHARD (CB). You all know Claude: the charming and amiable author of The Vigilante series. Claude, in fact, uses his charm to conceal his deadly skill at entrapment.
RUSSELL BLAKE (RB). You know Russell too, or think you do. Prolific isn't the word for this man. His output is staggering. So is his hype. I see Napoleon reborn—with the heart of a komodo dragon. Beware!
JOHN A. A. LOGAN (JL). You love the brilliant mind behind THE SURVIVAL OF THOMAS FORD and STORM DAMAGE. But did you know that Logan boxed and also served as a trainer? He'll pound all hell out of my penchant for fun unless my wits are reinforced.
KIRKUS MACGOWAN (KM). You know the gentle giant behind THE FALL OF BILLY HITCHINGS and WRATH. But did you know he's almost mastered the Karate technique 'The Black Hug'?
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
The stadium has filled. And refreshments have been served. Please refrain from throwing beer or carrot juice at the contestants. The Big Brawl begins in 4...3...2..Go!
CB: You've got so many names, Reb, I hardly know where to begin. El Reberoo, The Rebster...You've also gone by Kelley Wilde?
RM: Don't stop there, babe. Carry on: My other pen names include Dodge Cunningham, Johnnie Allegro, Nick Mercurio, Cherokee Blacke...
CB: But your birth name--
RM: Bubba, stop right there. Or I'll tell the world you're Italian.
CB: You watch your mouth, I was born in Quebec!
RM: But your accent's Italian.
CB: As if you would know! I've never even talked with you!
RM: Hey, whose dream is this anyway?
CB: Let's back up a second. You're not even Scottish, dude. You were born in Buffalo.
RM: Oh, for crissake. Next you'll be telling the world that I'm not pint-sized either.
CB: You're over six-feet talL, Reb!
RM: Okay, now I'm taking the gloves off. I 'd like to remind you my Aunt Esther said: 'From my earliest girlhood I worshiped men's feet. But now that I'm older I've had to cut down. One foot, give or take an inch, is all my doc allows me. Even so, I'm proud to say, there's no rest for the wicket in my door.'
CB: WHAT'S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING!
RM: As much to do as my having been born in Buffalo or anywhere. We find our real roots through long searching. The answer's in our blood, our bones. I'm from Edinburgh, not Buffalo.
CB: Reb, have some Ben and Jerry's ice cream...gargle with salt water...and you'll be fine. Maybe then I'll be able to tell if I'm talking with Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde or Andy Warhol.
RM: Lunch, you say? You're paying? Swell! In that case, you can bring a companion. Hell, bring one for yourself as well. I promise not to tell a soul who won't swear to repeat it.
(CB retires to his chair, signaling he's won the round.)
RB: Hey, everybody, check out these amazing 5-star reviews for Jet 3, 4, 5 and 6, the four latest installments of my new action series--
RM: Russ, please. Remember the rule? No touts or links allowed here.
RB: Rules are meant to be broken.
RM: Not in The Big Brawl.
RB: But I can't engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. What else can I do but promote my own work? You're not exactly setting the charts on fire, kiddo.
RB: I mean, just to set the record straight: You've published four novels a lifetime ago with two major publishers. One award but crappy sales. Now you've published four online. I publish eight in a year, at the least. So Big Brawl is a little misleading. More like Mosquito Smackdown?
RM: Yes and No.
RB: I get the Yes. But how's the No?
RM: Aunt Esther once said of her old friend Estelle: 'That woman adored getting married. The gowns, the gifts, the bands—the gifts! But terribly, invariably, the honeymoon always...began. Back to the salt mines on white satin sheets.'
RB: It would take me a lot more tequila than I'm able to afford to start to fathom what that means.
RM: In its own way, it celebrates nonsense. Just as you or I celebrate nonsense if we believe for a moment that we can control our compulsions in art. I don't believe you deliberately chose to work 20-hour days in order to turn out a novel a month. And length of composition is no guarantee of quality. If it were, no one would read a great quickie called ON THE ROAD. You do this because you must—you were born to write your way. And I never chose to spend 20 years on THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION.
RB: You just touted your own work!
RM: Why not, it's my dream. If I can't cheat here, where can I?
(RB storms back to his chair, flashing links to those reviews.)
JL: All right, lad, you've had your fun. What are you really up to? You've got two series going now that couldn't be more different, not only from each other but from everything else online. On the one hand, we have two short Christmas thrillers filled with poetry and romance. On the other, we have the thrillers starring Boss MacTavin, hardboiled and bloody and loaded with shocks.
RM: True, they do seem to be miles apart. But the Xmas thrillers have their shocks and the other books have their romance. 'Hard-won' happy endings are common to them all. There's more violence, for sure, in the MacTavin novels. But I'm as meticulous as I can be about the way I edit it—I've always preferred the Hitchcock way of cutting at the moment of impact.
JL: Do you think it's wise to proceed with your plan to re-issue your first book, THE SUITING, written all those years ago? That's much darker than your writing now.
RM: It's still a fun book. Why disown it? Besides, I'll reissue it as “The Perfector's Cut”, using the skills I've acquired since then to finetune and clarify, expand. I'll also add a new original piece. Re-owning this piece of my past is a vital step for me in owning my new work.
JL: One thing about you troubles me. May I...come out with both lips blazing?
RM: Do. But I'm demoralized that only one thing troubles you. Me, I love having high-maintenance friends, worth every emotional penny they cost. After all, as old Aunt Esther said--
JL: Reb, please. I swear to Jesus, I'll be ill.
RM: I hope not. You can't have your cake and toss your cookies, you know.
JL: Aren't you concerned in the slightest about this madcap persona of yours? You're a serious writer who acts like a clown. Show more respect for your work, for Christ's sake!
RM: I show due respect for my work, lad, any time I drop a jaw or turn an ear my way, perhaps catching sufficient attention to inspire a beleaguered, busy soul to download some opening pages. In a landscape that's cluttered with more and more signs, I do whatever it takes to stand out, proclaiming simply: Eat at Reb's.
JL: Will you just try that someday without dressing like Ronald McDonald?
RM: I can only quote Aunt Esther: 'Strictly stylistically speaking, sometimes I feel like a 44D stuck in a roomful of Twiggies.'
(JL, with enormous dignity, throws up his hands, says 'My round' to the judges and goes back to his chair.)
KM: Reb, as you've said, I'm a plain speaker. I want to come straight to the point--
RM: You know, I lived in San Francisco—where a strayed loin was the quickest way to get from Pant A to Pant B.
KM: That may be. But I'm talking about points and not about pants. My position on your work's grown stronger. Your word play really is unique—but it gets in the way of the story.
RM: In what way?
KM: In what way what?
RM: In what way does it get in the way?
KM: Sometimes a sentence feels....loaded, you know? Like, the sentence has more than one meaning. And every now and then I stop to wonder WTF or to enjoy the word play. Reb, the style should be in the background of a proper thriller. We shouldn't be aware of it. We shouldn't even be aware that we're reading something that's been written. I mean, we should feel smack dab in the middle of a movie on the page.
RM: Aye, that's one way of reading a thriller. And one way of writing one. But—let me mention two dear dead old names—if you read a thriller by Richard (The Manchurian Candidate) Condon or Lawrence (The First Deadly Sin) Sanders, you'd be amazed at how wonderfully and wittily they write.
KM: Okay. But times have changed. And, remember, we're writing for Kindle.
RM: Too true. But let's give readers whole worldfuls of choices, from enjoyable quickies they read in a night to books they may play with a couple of days.
KM: Dude, your sales are gonna blow.
RM: That depends on whether my instincts are right.
KM: And what do your instincts tell you?
RM: That there are others like myself in search of books they can, and must, and will put down repeatedly. To gather a tan in the sun of the style. Or savor a tryst with a foxy young phrase.
KM: Still, sometimes I like your Tweets better.
(KM goes back to his chair, certain his last quip has won him the round.)
The panel deliberates. And it's anybody's guess who's won. The Rebster may still have a chance—till Claude Bouchard springs from his chair, pointing a finger at Reb.
CB: As my Aunt Francine said, 'There's no Battle of the Sexes—just a Battle of the Sixes, waged by men who are jealous of those blessed with nine.”
Reb falls to the floor, mortally wounded, it seems. The hardly-needed countdown starts. 10...9..8..
But at 6, Reb's fingers twitch.
And at 4, he sits bolt upright.
And at 2, he's on his feet.
And before he's counted out, he roars:
“Abstinence makes the fond grow harder!”
The judges cheer. MacRath wins by a point.
NOTE: The above verbal exchanges took place only in my dream. But I thank my assailants for coming and I also thank all four for the fabulous novels they've written.