Blogger Widgets

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Guest Post & Excerpt: Blood Drama by Christopher Meeks

Title: Blood Drama
Author: Christopher Meeks
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: White Whisker Books
Publication: June 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 240
NOTE: Graphic Violence


"Blood Drama is wildly entertaining with fast-paced dialogue and plot twists caroming like a steel ball in a pinball machine." -Linda Hitchcock, BookTrib
In the crossover thriller BLOOD DRAMA, graduate student Ian Nash, after losing his girlfriend, gets dropped from a Ph.D. program in theatre. When he stops at a local coffee shop in the lobby of a bank to apply for a job, the proverbial organic matter hits the fan. A gang of four robs the bank, and things get bloody. Ian is taken hostage by the robbers when the police show up. Now he has to save his life.
Chapter One

“Coffee?” Ian said in the discomfort of Professor Cromley’s office. The place looked like a small book depository with a view and a Mr. Coffee machine.
“Ian… Ian… Look, Ian. I’m—”
“I just thought we were meeting with—”
“We met.”
“Without me? I don’t understand.”
“Coffee?” said the gray-bushy-haired man, pouring himself a cup. “Maybe some coffee would put you at ease.”
“But the committee—”
“So I’ll get to the point. We don’t think you’ve shown enough progress in your dissertation.”
“Two hundred pages?”
“You’re taking the wrong approach on Mamet.”
“It’s still a work in progress.”
“People are like gloves,” Cromley said. “And sometimes they don’t fit. It’s not just the dissertation. It’s your whole performance in the program.”
Ian felt a rage building, but that wouldn’t help. A better approach was needed. He calmed himself as best as he could, flattening the new blue silk tie he’d bought for the occasion against his blazer. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “Maybe we’ve miscommunicated in the last few meetings. You’d given me certain dates, and I’ve kept to those dates.”
“We debated long and hard, Ian,” said the professor, sitting. The man looked toward Ian but not at Ian, as if delivering sad news to a war vet’s spouse. “Your research isn’t breaking new ground, and the recent problem with the class you taught—”
“I can’t help low enrollment.”
“I’m talking about your blow-up with that student—”
“Her rant against men—”
“No matter.”
The rest of the meeting felt like a slow-motion crash. He was out of the program, as easy as lights out at the end of a play. He stared out Cromley’s window at the wide view of campus, at modern buildings tucked into the green landscape, at trees still lush in October, their leaves blowing like moving fingers. The view was as if from Mt. Olympus. Was Cromley a god?
As Ian Nash drove his twelve-year-old Corolla the fifty miles north on Interstate 5 from the University of California Irvine campus back to his South Pasadena rental, he kept replaying the conversation. He was a glove? He didn’t fit the program? If it don’t fit, you must acquit, he thought. Ian had paid the tuition and taught. He attended the classes. Just because one undergraduate student was out of line was no reason to be thrown out of the program.
“Don’t think of it as failing,” Cromley had said. “Think of it as an opportunity to do something else.”
That was outright snide. What would he do now for money? What would he do now for his life?
He was so consumed with these thoughts, he missed the Marmion Way turnoff on the Pasadena Freeway, which, if you weren’t looking for it, came up so fast around a bend, you’d zoom by it as he did. Ian exited at Orange Grove, and, again so caught up in his thoughts, he drove without paying attention. He would need a job. What would he do for work without his degree? And what was to be learned here? After all, as David Mamet wrote in his book, Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, “We have our ability to learn a lesson, which is our survival mechanism.” The lesson was he needed money to live.
On Fair Oaks Boulevard in South Pasadena, moments after he decided he could use a coffee now, Ian noticed the logo of Carrie’s Coffee on the Landwest Bank Building. He wondered would Professor Cromley call that a “deus ex machina,” a coincidental ending? An ending to what? His morning? No, sometimes coincidences happened.
The gold-painted brick building stood out from its neighbor, the pharmacy. Carrie’s Coffee paid well, he remembered one of his students saying in a directing seminar he’d taught. The small franchise had a health program and offered flexible hours. Amber, his former undergraduate student, made manager in no time at a Carrie’s and loved the place. Perfect. He turned into the open lot. Ian would apply to Carrie’s. He wasn’t the kind of guy to mope around. He wouldn’t let Cromley get the best of him.
Inside, Ian was surprised to see that Carrie’s was part of the grand marble-floored bank lobby. Potted plants, mahogany wainscoting on the walls, and the same wood was used for the open teller area and the Carrie’s counter. It gave the place a friendly feel. Tables and chairs were for the coffee drinkers, and comfortable leather seats were placed near the inset fireplace with burning gas logs. This would be a great place to work.
Ten minutes later, a Carrie’s application before him, Ian sipped his coffee and shook his lucky Cross pen hard in a swift metronome motion to force all the blue to hit the tip. The pen hadn’t been lucky for him with Cromley. Ian made incessant circles on the back of the application. He knocked the pen against his wrist and made circles again. The pen came back to life.
He glanced around. Bank business was brisk. A long line stretched all the way back to Carrie’s tables. It was a Friday, after all. People were cashing paychecks or getting money for the weekend. There were more people working than he expected.
Ian returned his attention to his application and filled out most of it. “Salary desired” said one of the last spaces. As an undergraduate lecturer, he’d been making over forty dollars an hour, but he couldn’t get that here. What was minimum wage these days? He didn’t know. Was fifteen dollars an hour too much to ask for? He wrote it in, scratched it out and wrote in sixteen. Maybe it should be less, and he scratched out the whole space. Now it was too sloppy. He folded the application in half and put it in his blazer. He’d ask for another. He laid down the pen, took a sip of coffee, and looked around again. It was a great place to watch people as they came from all directions. 
Ian spotted a woman with a white scarf come from the hallway and restrooms to the left of the teller area. She sashayed toward him like a model, wearing tight jeans and a killer push-up halter-top in green, and, despite her sunglasses, Ian knew their eyes connected because she smiled. He smiled. Definite connection. She then fiddled in her purse, standing at the end of the banking line near him. Today was working out after all. Another possibility: she could be Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. She was gorgeous, had that sense of intelligence, and might be looking for kindness from strangers. Maybe she would be the one, his one, the one who’d make the last relationship fiasco with Pierra just a stumble on his path—not to mention the vitriol from his female student, the one who’d gotten him fired. How could he get her attention again? He cleared his throat. Nothing. Then he sneezed really hard. She and a few others in the line turned around. “Gesundheit,” she said. Their eyes connected again.
“Thanks,” he replied. She returned to her purse and pulled out a gun. She shouted, “This is a holdup. Everyone lie on the floor. Shut your eyes!” 
The tellers and everyone dropped. So did the people at Carrie’s. So did Ian. Only the music playing in the background, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” kept going. Stewart said, “Oh, Maggie.”
Ian’s blood pounded so loudly in his ears, and his breath came with such difficulty, that he thought he might pass out. He shouldn’t have come here. Coincidence again? He could hear Cromley quoting Mamet from Ian’s dissertation: “It is difficult, finally, not to see our lives as a play with ourselves as hero.” He didn’t feel heroic in the least. Was this determinism at work? If he hadn’t missed his exit, he would have been home and would have missed this. We are what we do.
Ian could hear footsteps near him, one set, then another. Accomplices? Ian didn’t see any of the action because his cheek lay against the marble floor and his eyes were closed. Best to do what they wanted. He could hear movement in the teller area, then sounds of bank drawers opening. 
Ian opened one eye. People lay around him like fallen mannequins, unmoving. The hold-up woman’s legs were like denim saplings. She wore tight boots with sharp heels.
A shot rang out, then another, and Ian squeezed both eyes so hard he’d hope it’d keep all bullets away. A man screamed in agony. 
“Why’d you do that?” shouted the woman.
“He had a gun,” her male accomplice yelled back. 
Ian looked. Who got shot? 
“Help… me,” groaned a male voice.
Ian lifted his head. The woman pressed hard on the guard’s shoulder to stop blood, which covered his shirt and her hand. She looked upset about it, ripping the guard’s shirt to make a tourniquet. Two men were behind the tellers’ counter bagging money. One of them, a tall burly guy with perspired underarms, had a ski mask on, but the other, a thinner man, had no mask, only a thin mustache, sunglasses, and a baseball cap. No one else moved. 
Ian quickly lay back down, but he was breathing faster. If he died, would anyone know to call his parents in Winnipeg? Would they care if he died? Did anything in his wallet say Winnipeg? 
At least he was in his good blazer and pants. His mother had told him as a kid to always wear clean underwear in case he was found dead that day. Today might be the day, and he had not only clean underwear, but also a new silk tie from Macy’s, one he bought for the committee. Maybe he shouldn’t have worn good clothes and clean underwear. Maybe the grim reaper would stay away if he’d worn yesterday’s boxers and a dolphin T-shirt from Tijuana.
“Zetta,” shouted the gunman. “Leave him be. We gotta go.” 
He said her name? That wasn’t bright, thought Ian.
“Keep bagging,” Zetta said back. In a softer voice she added, “You shouldn’t have done this.” Ian again looked up. He had to see. There was blood on the marble. Zetta, however, was twisting a tourniquet on the guard’s upper arm. The guard was totally immobile, breathing hard, and his eyes stared toward the ceiling. The man looked to be in shock, perhaps even close to death.
A siren broke the silence. No—there were sirens, plural.
“It’s past two minutes,” said the man with the mustache in a high voice and sweaty face.
“To the car,” said the woman, jumping up, and the two men bounded over the counter. 
“A hostage,” said the burly guy. “Which one?” Ian kept low, thinking to himself, please no, please no.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“How about one of the tellers?”
“The woman by your feet?”
“No,” said Zetta.
“Who then?”
Not me, not me, not me, thought Ian.
The woman said, “Him!” and Ian’s heart leapt, hoping it was someone else, but he was prodded. 
“You!” said the ski-masked man who yanked Ian up. “Go!” The man shoved what had to be a gun into Ian’s neck. Ian stumbled forward, his mind whirling, wondering if he’d live out the hour. 
“Hurry,” said the man. 
Two people lying on the floor, a young man in blue jeans and a white T-shirt near the front door and a young woman, perhaps his girlfriend, in a yellow short dress, sprang up panicked as if this were their only chance. Stupid! Ian thought, and the gun behind Ian exploded twice more. The young woman fell with just a thud, her head now showing brains, and the young man shouted, his white T-shirt starting to turn red on the side. Shit, shit, they’re dead, I’m dead thought Ian.
Author Bio: 

Christopher Meeks was born in Minnesota, earned degrees from the University of Denver and USC, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1977. He's teaches English and creative writing at Santa Monica College, and has taught creative writing at CalArts, UCLA Extension, Art Center College of Design, and USC. His fiction has appeared often in Rosebud magazine as well as other literary journals, and his books have won several awards. His short works have been collected into two volumes, "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea" and "Months and Seasons," the latter which appeared on the long list for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He's had three plays produced, and "Who Lives?: A Drama" is published. His focus is now on longer fiction. His first novel is "The Brightest Moon of the Century," and his second, "Love At Absolute Zero."

Guest Post: 

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -- Groucho Marx

As I tell my students, a good story is as important as a great brain surgeon. That’s because stories help us understand our lives. We only get one life each, and at times we zoom through our existence far faster than we can process. Will we live well and do the right things? What happens when we do something wrong or if life otherwise twists us around? Stories can help us sort things out.

Stories are told or seen in such forms as in books, plays, films, YouTube videos, songs, apps, and even around a campfire. Reading, however, is a special form because it uses the most mental energy. According to the Harvard Medical School, thirty minutes of reading for a 155-pound person burns 50% more calories per hour than watching TV. That tells me thinking is going on, and thinking can produce meaning.

This isn’t to take away from the other forms of storytelling. In fact, two recent films, Inside Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha made me consider my existence in a way I had not for a while. The protagonists, Llewyn and Frances, each drift from day to day without any particular plan. They have little money, and, in the case of Frances, no visible natural talent. Llewyn, in contrast, has incredible gifts in singing and playing the guitar. He’s mesmerizing. Both he and Frances, however, when given choices, have the incredible ability to make the wrong ones. It made me feel a deep ennui and a sense that life is meaningless.

That also made me think. Life is only meaningless if you don’t have meaning. I’m reminded of my wife Ann, who works at a Catholic all-girls high school. Since she became the director of the library there nine years ago, the number of girls and faculty who use the library has more than doubled. There’s something appealing and positive about Ann who others besides me have discovered. Ann and the other librarian, Julie, don’t make the place into a silent monastery but rather a friendly environment. She encourages reference questions and teaches individuals and whole classrooms how to research and annotate. She has purpose, and the girls sense it.

I’ve also gotten to know Sister Barbara there. In her mid-eighties, slightly bent and favoring pantsuits and not a habit, Sister Barbara not only still teaches, but she counsels students and the administration. With the gravity and wit of Dumbledore, she’s highly practical and down-to-earth. Teenage girls can bring drama and quick mood swings, yet Sister Barbara can sit any girl down and speak in a way that calms the young lady, who then listens.

Perhaps what frustrated me with the characters of Frances and Llewyn is that they couldn’t process the wise and successful people around them. Llewyn, for instance, travels to Chicago from New York to meet with a record producer, played by F. Murray Abraham. Once Llewyn wriggles his way in and performs for the man, the producer offers practical advice—which Llewyn promptly dismisses.

The universe, however, constantly provides. Just now, grabbing breakfast after having started this, I read an article in today’s Los Angeles Times about screenwriter and director Akiva Goldman, who won an Oscar for writing A Beautiful Mind. He produced the Will Smith superhero comedy Hancock and wrote, produced, and directed episodes of Fringe. When he read the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin thirty years ago, he cried like a baby, finding the notions of enduring love and eternal destiny magical and complicated. Goldman says he sees the world as “a grown-up fairy tale where nothing is without purpose.”

That last line leaped out to me at the breakfast table. Our existence is completely dependent on our own attitude towards it. Meaning is there for us to take. Years ago, Goldman wanted to make Helprin’s Winter’s Tale into a movie and optioned it. He wrote drafts of a screenplay, but it was never just right.

Goldman’s wife, at 42, died suddenly from a heart attack four years ago, and he was thrown so hard, it took months to understand, grieve, and accept the loss. He also realized that Winter’s Tale was not just a book he’d merely enjoyed and wanted to film. Everything about it mattered. He rewrote the script and looked for a way to direct it. He approached old friends such as Will Smith, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly to work for scale, and he kept his own salaries to a minimum to nail financing for the film. The movie comes out February 14th.

Goldman says, “I’m the kind of romantic who likes to see the meaning in things. Just in its natural course, life is sufficiently hard. And if you can find the hope underneath that, that there is connectedness and some reason to it, then there’s some comfort in that.”

I teach contemporary novels and memoirs in my English classes. I always hope for—and so far, have seen—students who don’t like to read finding themselves enveloped by a story to the point of wanting to find other books for themselves. Last semester, we read two memoirs, Just Kids by Patti Smith about her early twenties, living with Robert Maplethorpe, and David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, a collection of things that have happened to Sedaris, which he spins with humor. From what my students wrote, they found meaning.

My own novels are written not didactically. I don’t have messages from the mount. However, I usually work through five drafts on each because the process leads me to my themes. That is, my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something through my characters and scenes, and once I understand the deeper meanings, I then know how to edit the book better.

For instance, with Blood Drama, I started with a premise based on my correcting student papers often at a Starbucks inside a bank. The setting was elegant and even had a fireplace. However, after about a year of going there, I realized banks get robbed, and do I really want to witness a potentially violent crime? That gave me a premise for a book. My protagonist is taken hostage in a bank robbery gone awry, and he must survive.

When I write, I come up with interesting characters, and I simply follow what they do. I’m not out to hammer home any point, but at the same time, good stories need a point. Once I understood what my characters Ian and Aleece were really needing—needing in their souls—my ending came to me.

Reading, writing, and teaching gives me deep purpose, and I have to keep exploring while I can.

1 comment:

  1. "Keep exploring". Great advice for us all! Thanks so much for introducing this author to us and allowing him to share his thoughts with us.