charles ray

A new collection of political cartoons

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A new collection of political cartoons

Just published! A collection of political cartoons that I’ve drawn over the past couple of years, primarily in reaction to the tumultuous 2016 political campaign, and the surprising victory of a former TV reality show star. I’ve chronicled his often outrageous behavior, as well as the reactions of those around him, in a series of pen and ink sketches that I think you will enjoy. The book is available on Amazon and other retail book sites, in paperback and Kindle version.

Get them here:  Paperback –  $9.50.   Kindle version – $3.99

 

‘Daniel’s Journey,’ from Outlaws Publishing, now available!

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Wagon's West
Ten-year-old Daniel on the way to Oregon with his family. Lots of adventures on the way.

Wagons West: Daniel’s Journey

Outlaws Publishing LLC.

 

I’ve written a lot about where my story ideas come from, but my most recent book, Wagons West: Daniel’s Journey, from Outlaws Publishing, LLC; the story of a ten-year-old’s view of a wagon train journey from his home in Iowa to a new home in Oregon, came about through the strangest way yet.

 

Several months ago, I was contacted by J. C. Hulsey, head of Outlaws Publishing, to be interviewed for his Internet radio show regarding my book about the famous deputy U.S. Marshal, Bass Reeves; Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. During the interview, we discussed our mutual love of the western genre, and ideas on how new readers might be brought to love it as much as we do. One of the way, we both agreed, would be to interest young readers. That led to the idea (I don’t recall which of us brought it up first, but it was likely me) of doing books that appeal to younger people. One thing led to another, and in the end the idea of doing a series of western novellas was born.

After some thinking, I decided that the best way to appeal to younger readers was to have a youngster as the main character. That way, the history of the west, and the genre could be made relatable. Some more thinking, and I came up with Daniel Waterford, a 10-year-old, and his introduction to the West. I started with the title, Wagon’s West, but as I neared the end, I added Daniel’s Journey. I deliberately kept it short, and kept the violence to a minimum, and added no foul language, so it can be read by, or read to, any age group.

I kept the historical input to a minimum, but did try to show the diversity that was the western frontier in the years after the Civil War—including some references to the war itself, and kept the main character front and center. The idea was to show this environment through the eyes of a young person.

Outlaws Publishing did a great job with the cover and editing. The hallmark of a well-edited book is that the Kindle version has no stray margins or glitches that often happen when the manuscript for a paperback is converted to e-format.

At the risk of sounding vain, I think we did a great job with this first book in what I hope will be an extensive series, following Daniel as he grows up on the frontier.

It’s available on Amazon at the following links:

Paperback:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/154631640X/. $5.40

Kindle version: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072L35SJF/. $0.99

If you’re a fan of the western genre, or you have a youngster that you’d like to get interested in reading, I encourage you to take a look at Daniel’s Journey. As always, if you like the book, a review on Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, or any other book review site, would be greatly appreciated.

Comments here rea welcomed as well.

 

Excerpt from WIP: ‘Here, There Be Demons’

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Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of  Here, There Be Demons, the third book in the Chronicle of Pip of Pandara series. Appreciate reader comments:

 

Pip sat at the large wooden desk, staring down at the pile of documents overflowing its top. He shook his head, and then bowed it, cupping his hands to either side, fingers entwined in his flame red hair.

“This is not how it was supposed to be,” he said to himself. “A soldier is not supposed to have to battle stacks of paper.”

 

Through slitted eyes he stared down at the unruly parchments piled there, silently swearing that they seemed to have grown in number in the few minutes he’d been staring at them. There were supply requests from the quartermaster’s office with Tamara’s untidy scrawl at the bottom of each. Tamara, a fairy of wood and water, did double duty as chief of the quartermaster unit and chief trainer for scouting and reconnaissance. It was the second duty that she much preferred, but her ability with figures had forced Pip to give her the additional duty of keeping track of the many supplies needed to keep his small army feed, clothed and equipped. The volume of requests from her office, though, was her way of getting back at him for the odious office duty which she hated, a fact that she reminded him of each time they met. Beneath that was a smaller pile of documents, mainly from his two regimental commanders, Godfred and Melchor, informing him of their training schedules, plans for recruitment to fill the ranks, and notifications of disciplinary actions—thankfully, there were only a few of these—mostly for minor infractions.

That each of his subordinate chiefs felt it necessary for him to see so much paper was for Pip a constant source of frustration.

What he really ached to do was be out in the field, working with the still green soldiers of Pandara’s national army. No, he reminded himself; fully a third of the ranks were filled by beings from the Land of Fire, making it a combined Pandaran-Land of Fire force. He had yet to think of an appropriate name, so everyone kept the name, National Army of Pandara, shortened to NAP by the soldiers and officers alike. That name would have to go, he thought. He did not want to lead a force called NAP, it sounded too much like a band of vacationers whose aim was to find a place to . . . take a nap. But, try as he might, he’d been unable to think of a more suitable designation.

He felt the beginning of a headache, a dull throbbing at his temples that always came when he wrestled with naming the army. Oh well, that’ll have to be a task for another day. He took the quill pen from its ivory holder, dipped it in the inkwell until the tip was black, and quickly scribbled his name at the bottom of each document. When he’d signed the final document, he stacked them neatly to the left side of his desk. After putting the pen back in its holder, he leaned back and sighed deeply.

A few moments later he sat upright. “Norbert,” he called. “Norbert.”

His aide-de-camp, Norbert, rushed into the office.

“Yes, your highness,” he said. “What do you require?”

Pip looked up at the young soldier. The gold star on his collar, signifying his recent promotion to lieutenant, reflected the light from the lamp on Pip’s desk.

“What I require, Norbert, is for you to call me commander, not your highness. We are in the army here, not the throne room. Here I am the commander.”

“B-but, your high-, er commander, you are the heir to the throne, second only to her majesty, Queen Daphne. It hardly seems appropriate for me not to–”

Pip waved his hand in a choppy motion, causing the young man to stop mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open.

“That is an order, Lieutenant. We will follow military discipline in this army. Am I clear?”

Norbert’s back straightened and he threw his shoulders back.

“Aye, sir, commander, sir,” he said.

“Good,” Pip said. He smiled. “Now, I want you to take this forsaken paperwork from my desk and return it to the authors. I am going to my quarters to have a few words with Lady Zohra, and after that you and I will go on an inspection of the army, so get our horses ready.”

“Aye, commander.” Norbert beamed a broad smile as he gathered the papers. “Should I bring the mounts to your quarters?”

“No, I’ll meet you at the stables.”

Norbert clicked his heels and bowed his head slightly. Pip would have preferred a salute, but the man was holding the documents against his chest with both hands.

“Aye, commander, I will wait for you at the stable.”

Pip rose as Norbert marched smartly out. He could not restrain a smile, thinking that young Norbert just a short time before had been a farm boy, new to the army, when Pip had taken him on the mission against the evil tyrant Tenkuk in Barbaria. The lad had acquitted himself well in that operation, and upon his return, Pip had made him his aide, recently promoting him to a rank befitting the aide-de-camp of the army commander.

Pip adjusted his tunic as he walked toward the door. At the door, he took his sword from the rack and belted it around his waist. Chuckling, he exited his office. Zohra, he knew, would chide him for wearing it when he visited her in her chambers, but he didn’t want to take the time to return to his office for it before joining Norbert at the stable.

As he’d guessed, his wife’s eyes went directly to the sword at his waist when he entered the bedchamber.

“So, now that I’m heavy with child, my husband finds it necessary to arm himself before approaching me,” she said wryly. “Am I truly that unattractive?”

Pip pulled up short, his mouth agape. For a few heartbeats he was at a loss for words. Unattractive? His Zohra? Far from it. He’d found that as her belly grew rounder with the life she carried inside her body, she seemed to become radiant, that he desired her even more. When he gazed upon her face, his breathing stopped, and his heart beat so fiercely he feared it would burst from his chest.

“No, my dearest wife,” he said when he could at last find his voice. “You are without doubt the most beautiful woman in all of Pandara; nay, the most beautiful in the entire known and unknown universe.”

Zohra, now in her sixth month of pregnancy, lowered her gaze. Her cheeks darkened. She could not stifle the smile that turned her carmine lips upward. But, Zohra of Avia, of the Eagle Clan, was not one to let her victim off easily.

“If I am truly such a beauty, then why do you find it necessary to wear your sword in my presence?”

Pip looked closely. He saw the twitching of her lips, and knew that she was having her amusement with him. He let out the breath that he’d been holding. Since she became pregnant, Zohra had been subject to many swings of mood, she desired many strange and exotic foods, and at times could not hold food in her stomach, especially in the early mornings. He could never know when her words were in jest or the signal for an angry outburst of recrimination or tears. Truly, he thought, what a child did to a woman’s body and mind was amazing—and quite frightening. At least now, though, she seemed to be in a playful mood.

“I am on my way to the stable,” he said. “I am riding with Norbert out to inspect the regiments at training outside the city. It would have been out of my way to have to return to my office for my sword. Please forgive me, my dear, for bringing it into your bedchamber.”

Zohra put her hands over her mouth. Her body shook. Then, she burst out laughing.

“Truly, Pip,” she said between gasps of laughter. “You are far too easy. You know I do not mind. In fact, I would like very much to ride with you. Being confined to this castle is driving me mad.”

That Pip could easily understand. Zohra had been one of her tribe’s most fearless warriors, spending much of her day on horseback patrolling the boundaries of their land and fighting off bandits and predators. Since learning of her impending motherhood, however, Queen Daphne had, through the palace physician, ordered that she remain within the confines of the structure, lest some misfortune befall the child she carried—a child that would fall just behind Pip himself as heir to the crown that the good Queen Daphne, Pip’s aunt, wore.

“I know how you feel, goodwife,” he said. “But, we can take no chances of harm coming to our son.”

“Or, daughter, good husband.” She put the cloth she’d been embroidering down on the table at her knees and smiled up at him. “You know there is as much chance of the child being a girl as a boy, given the numbers of girls born to my people, more in fact.”

She slapped the table, hard enough to make it jump, and cause Pip to flinch.

Check out my interview at BookGarage.com

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I’m the featured author being interviewed on BookGarage.com right now, with news about my latest release, Dead Ringer, an Al Pennyback mystery.  You can read the entire interview here.

http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Ringer-Pennyback-mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B01A1TVIVY/

Animal Posters for Sale

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Animal posters for sale at animals posters for sale

Help Turn ‘Frontier Justice’ into a Movie

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deadline poster

Help turn Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal into a motion picture. Click http://igg.me/p/the-deadline–4/x/10033849 to support independent film maker Josey Well’s production of ‘Deadline 200 Marshals,’ an adaptabion of my novel about one of the American west’s most famous lawmen.

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‘Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways’ Available Soon – an Awesome Anthology of Short Stories

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10624876_745543812159684_2965125530327861223_n What do you think happens when 21 authors, writers of different genres from all over the globe, collaborate to put together a collection of short stories? Magic – that’s what happens. Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways, was edited by acclaimed author Tahlia Newland, with the able assistance of Dixiane Hallaj and Richard Bunning, all three of whom contributed stories as well.

Published by AIA Publishing (part of the Awesome Indies family), this eclectic anthology has a little bit of everything. The diversity of the genres – from funny to far out – and the international nature of the authors, makes this a collection of short fiction that is unique. As it says in the introduction, “Awesome Indies listed fiction is often unique and sometimes ground-breaking. Our authors are the bold new voices in fiction . . .”

I got my start writing short stories, winning a national Sunday school short story writing competition when I was in my teens. For the past decade or so, I’ve concentrated on novel-length fiction and non-fiction, as well as blogging, but when I saw the call for stories for this volume, I decided to take a flyer.

I’d been working on a piece for several months about a zombie – but, I was trying to write a different kind of zombie story. I’d read an interview with comic mogul Stan Lee in a magazine in my wife’s doctor’s office while waiting for her one day, in which Lee had told the interviewer he didn’t like zombie movies or stories because they were always portrayed as shuffling flesh eaters. His view was, if someone has been given another shot at life, even as a zombie, they’re more likely to want to make up for the things they didn’t do in their first life – and chasing people down to eat their flesh wasn’t one of them.

So, I’d been working on this story about a zombie that knows he’s dead, but not how or when he died. He finds himself stuck in a strange city and his impulse is to help the weak. He runs into this girl who is not freaked out by his zombie status, and – well, you can guess how it might go from there. I’d actually written two stories, the second being a sequel to the first. I submitted the first, and the response was, ‘it’s nice, but can you make it longer?’ So, I combined the two stories, and I had to admit, it did read better that way. What was really surprising to me – it was accepted for the anthology. ‘I, Zombie,’ became one of 26 stories by 21 authors to be included in Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways. It’s not kosher to review your own work, so I won’t tell you how fantastic I think ‘I, Zombie’ is. Instead, I’ll recommend ‘Cut Throat’ by Joan Kerr or ‘Clearing The Shed’ by Tahlia Newland. Hell fire, why don’t you just read the whole thing. It’s a surefire winner – you can take my word for it.

The e-Book version will launch at the end of October 2014, followed shortly by a paperback version. If you’re a fan of short fiction, and you’re looking for something awesome to curl up with as the days grow short and the temperature plummets, this book will warm you up like nothing else. Check it out – you won’t regret it.

 

Awesome Indies Site to Relaunch!

In addition to coming out with this amazing anthology, Awesome Indies will be re-launching it’s Web site November 1 – 2, with giveaways, contests, and lots of other interesting stuff. don’t miss it.

 

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Awesome Indies Short Story Anthology to Launch on Nov. 8

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Awesome Indies, whose Web site will be relaunched in a newer more exciting version November 1 – 2, is also launching an anthology of short stories on November 8. The first 50 people who buy the anthology will get a free novel of their choice.

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Awesome Authors–Charles Ray

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A neat interview by D.V. Berkom, author of the outstanding Leine Basso and Kate Jones series.

DV Berkom Books

Author photo Today on Awesome Authors I’m pleased to interview prolific writer, former diplomat, journalist, and current intrepid world-traveler, Charlie Ray . I first became aware of Charlie through Indies Unlimited ,where he’s a frequent commenter. He’s much more active online than I could ever hope to be, as he maintains several blogs, regularly posts on Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook, not to mention taking the time to stop by other blogs to show his support. Not only that, but he pens both fiction and non-fiction, is a fabulous photographer, and a fine artist. Whew. I wish I had that kind of energy and talent! Intrigued, aren’t you? Then what the heck are we waiting for? Let’s get to the interview:

(From the author’s bio): Charles Ray has been writing fiction since his teens. He won a Sunday school magazine writing contest when he was thirteen, and having his byline on a short…

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What to Do When Things Go Wrong

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If there’s one thing in life that’s sure, other than death and taxes, it’s that things will always go wrong. The power will go out, the street you’re on will be closed, or some other roadblock will get between you and the destination for which you’re heading.

When things go wrong, you have to make choices; do you give up, or do you find a way around the obstacle? If you’re armed with a plan, whether it’s a personal quest or a professional objective, getting around or over obstacles becomes less of a problem. If you don’t have a plan, you find yourself wasting precious time trying to figure out what to do.

Make no mistake about it; if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Even with a plan, things will often go wrong – no plan survives the first shot. So, it’s not enough to just plan; you must plan intelligently.

Not to worry, though; learning to plan effectively is as easy as learning to ride a bicycle. I’ve written a little book, based upon my fifty years of experience in the government bureaucracy, of the lessons in planning that I had to learn the hard way. I offer it to my readers in the hope that it will help them get to where I am in far less time than it took me.

It’s simple really. My philosophy is, ‘there’s always a Plan B. When Plan A runs into a roadblock, I’ve anticipated it, and immediately move to Plan B. You can too.

 

If you want to learn how to make planning easy, and more effective, get your copy of There’s Always a Plan B today. It’s available in paperback or Kindle version at the links below.

 

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There’s Always a Plan B: How to Cope When Things Go Wrong by Charles Ray  (Oct 14, 2013)

$6.50             $6.18 Paperback                 

  • Order in the next 23 hours and get it by Friday, Oct 18.
  •     Eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping

There’s Always a Plan B by Charles Ray  (Oct 13, 2013)

$2.99         Kindle Purchase    

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When Pigs Fly

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When pigs fly

Where Story Ideas Come From – 1

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Ideas for writing come from all kinds of places.  My Buffalo Soldier historical series grew out of a combination of inspirations.  One day, I was sitting at my computer, surfing the Internet, and I came across a site about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry on the western frontier, and I realized that not many Americans know a lot about the colorful history of these African-American soldiers and the role they played in the westward expansion of the country.

"Buffalo Magazine Cover"
Cover illustration I did for the Christmas issue of “Buffalo” Magazine.

The germ of an idea was planted.  What if I did a series of short stories (more like novelettes actually) that introduced them to readers?  The more I thought about it the more it excited me.  Several years ago, when I lived in North Carolina, I was a writer and artist for a short-lived magazine, Buffalo that was based in California.  I had a regular cartoon feature, did a few historical articles, and did the illustrations for several of the magazine’s covers.

So, I already had a bit of grounding in the subject; it was just a matter of how to kick it off.  I decided to center it on a few fictional characters, with the main character, Sergeant Benjamin Franklin Carter, and show the kinds of activities they were engaged in.  While I strive to make it historically accurate, I try to avoid long lectures on history.  Instead, I insert the historical facts and incidents in through the characters’ dialogue, or short descriptive passages to establish context.  My main objective is to tell an interesting story that will keep the reader turning the page.

"Buffalo Magazine Cartoon Page"
I did a monthly cartoon page for the now-defunct “Buffalo” Magazine in the 1970s.

I can’t be sure I’ve succeeded.  Reader feedback has been limited, but what has been received is encouraging.  There is, for instance, this review of the latest in the series, Buffalo Soldier:  Incident at Cactus Junction that a reader posted on Amazon:

Charles Ray does a great job setting the stage for a slightly different classic western tale involving the “Buffalo Soldiers” of yore. The story follows Sgt. Ben Carter and the soldiers he commands on a mission to the sleepy town of Cactus Junction which needs help with finding out who is rustling the local rancher’s cattle. The townsfolk are surprised to see black men in uniform and are at first reluctant to accept them or work with them. However as Ben and his men take on the task of finding the missing cattle – and the tough men who took them – the town soon warms to the Buffalo Soldiers. The story was put together well with great characters and descriptions. Although the plot is simple and the story straightforward, it should satisfy those readers who, like me, enjoy the old American west tales of adventure and action. If you’re a western fan you’ll enjoy this one.

"Buffalo Soldier: Incident at Cactus Junction"

This California reader gave the book four out of five stars, which I take as high praise indeed.  My friend, Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri (Highway Queen), who has read and reviewed a number of my books, also commended the series, describing them as ‘good writing, and good reading.’

I use a lot of my own military background, as well as my childhood in Texas during the 50s and 60s, to establish the social, cultural, and geographic setting, as well as trying to make the language used by the characters as credible as possible.  None of the specific incidents in the stories are real, but they’re all based on historical events of the era after the Civil War when America was opening up the western frontier to settlement and development.

I do research on a continuing basis seeking new story ideas, and to make sure that the equipment, tactics, and events have a ring of credibility.  For instance, during my research, I discovered that the US Cavalrymen, contrary to what you might see in the movies, didn’t use repeating rifles during this period.  They used the single shot Springfield because the army viewed it as more reliable and durable than the new Winchester repeaters, and it was cheaper.  Even in those days, the government was concerned about the bottom line.  I also learned that white soldiers received $24 dollars a month pay, and black soldiers $12 – which wasn’t bad money in the 1870s when you consider that when I enlisted in 1962, my pay was $72 per month.

So, you see, ideas for your writing can come from anywhere.  You just have to open all the doors and windows in your mind and let the light shine in.

What to do when characters develop a mind of their own

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The one thing that you can be sure that all writers have in common is that at some point we have read a book or article on the writing craft. One thing that I have encountered a number of times in reading about writing is the statement that it is not true that characters can take over a story.

This is usually accompanied by detailed instructions on outlining a story, whether it’s a short story or novel, before you begin writing. I suppose if you happen to be a WWO, a writer who outlines, this is probably true. I don’t know what applies to WWNO, writers who never outline, because I fall somewhere in between. I usually start with a fairly clear idea in mind as to where I want the story to go, who the characters are, the nature of the conflict, and the setting. I write a concise description of the main plot, make a list of the characters, and even sometimes make a time line.

In most of the stories I write, things go according to plan. But, on occasion, things take a turn that I have not planned for. Because I tend to write serial stories, novels and short stories, I try to carry over the main theme from story to story. Sometimes, though, either readers who have taken a particular liking to a character, and offer compelling justifications for their views, or the characters themselves, turn my nice neat story line on its ear.

About a year ago, for instance, just for fun, I wrote a short story about an urban kid with money problems. He’d borrowed money from a loan shark and couldn’t make his payments. This particularly story had a postal theme, so I gave it the title, “Dead Letter.” The plot was simple; my protagonist was trying to lay low to keep from getting his legs broken, so he changed his name and moved. Unfortunately for him, the Post Office tracked him down by delivering a letter sent to his old name and address to his new digs and, you guessed it, the loan shark found him.

I ended the story with a shotgun blast through the door and him being slammed against the wall. Fortunately, I didn’t specifically say that the shot had killed him; I preferred to allow readers to come to their own conclusion. One perceptive reader, though, had taken a liken to my character, Louis Dumkowski, and sent me an email asking if I could do a follow on story bringing him back to life. While I don’t normally make such drastic changes because of just one reader, her email was so sincere, I decided to take a crack at it.

Since I hadn’t actually killed Louis, in the second story I had him regain consciousness with a chest full of splinters from the door, which had absorbed almost all of the buck shot from the shotgun. Now, of course, I had to give him a new challenge, so I put him on the run. After all, if the loan shark learned that he’d failed, he might try again. Doing the second story got me interested in Louis’s fate, so I did a few more, putting him in one crazy situation after another. Some readers liked it, and kept asking for more.

Louis matured a bit, but only a bit, from story to story; mostly with the help of his high school buddy, Cleatus Washington. And I finally wrote a confrontation story, with Cleatus convincing Louis to face the loan shark. That led to some more humorous situations as the loan shark, a superstitious street punk named Vinnie ‘the Enforcer’ Williams, was so freaked that he hadn’t killed Louis, he hired him to collect loans. For good measure, he hired Cleatus as well.

A couple more stories had the two of them encountering customers, and developing a conscience. Well, Cleatus developed a conscience, and drug Louis along, which brought me to the last story in the series – or at the last one that I’ve written.

My plan was for Cleatus to convince Louis that they should stop bleeding the poor people in the neighborhood and get into a more decent line of work. My plan was to have a confrontation with Vinnie, perhaps with a bloody nose or two, but with Louis prevailing in the end. As I wrote, I could see the story in my head like an old black and white B movie, and the dialogue was clear in my head. The problem was, these two reprobates didn’t want to say what I’d planned for them to say. And, when Vinnie appears near the end of the story, the confrontation just didn’t seem the way they wanted to go. He’d been around them so long; well, actually, he’d been spending most of his time soaking up Jack Daniels and coke in the local bar while they did all the work, but his earlier nearly religious superstition, and the fact that he was sponging off his uncle, didn’t make a fight logical. What the characters wanted to do, in fact, was become respectable and liked members of the community. So, I just let the movie play out, and the three of them end up shaking hands and deciding to begin helping the community – for a profit of course; they didn’t totally change their mercenary ways.

The response to “Outside Parcel” was immediate. One reader expressed pleasure that the guys were trying to go straight, and looked forward to their new adventures. As for me, I’m just curious to see what they might get up to the next time I sit down and start typing.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the adventures of Louis and Cleatus, check out “Dead Letter,” “Return to Sender,” “Unclaimed Package,” “Rural Free Delivery,” and “Outside Parcel” at http://www.fictionwritersplatform.net.