Pages

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New home

Okay, instead of apologizing again for my lack of updates, I'll show you a good part of the reason why this has been so slow. I have a new website. Like, a real website. ericbeetner.com, because that's how clever I am.

It remains to be seen how much I'll do double duty both there and here. Really I'm just waiting on news on many fronts to be able to say something worth reading about. Thanks for your patience if you do follow along here. News about my busy October for appearances is on the new site.

2015 looks to be a busy year so I'll have much to report both here and there.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Giants among us

I was recently hunting down more vintage paperbacks (not an unusual thing for me) and musing on how great it would have been to rub shoulders with the men and women of the classic pulp age (also not unusual). I'd leave Chandler in the bar and go talk ink ribbons and broken underwood keys with the likes of William Ard, Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Margaret Millar, William P. McGivern, Lionel White, W.R. Burnett, Dorothy B. Hughes. The list goes on.

Then a thought struck me - modern day giants walk among us. Writers who have been publishing for decades and came up in an age when those paperback heroes were beginning their rides off into the sunset. They crossed paths, met and mingled, learned tricks of the trade from the originals. There are links to this black and white world who still write, still pump out words by the thousands. I don't want to make them feel too long in the tooth, but I felt like I was spending too much of my adulation and appreciation on writers who were dead and gone. Yes, the words live on, but how many of these pulp hacks ever got the recognition they deserved in their day? Maybe some, probably not enough.

It would be a shame to let the next generation suffer the same fate. So I say reach out and praise these prolific links to the past, these masters of their craft, and do it today before it's too late. (And before their books go for triple digits on ebay)

Right now - today, people! - you can find authors like Bill Crider still slinging out the pages. Crider already has a back catalog as long as both my arms and a leg, but he still churns them out with every word in exactly the right place. He may have started on an IBM selectric rather than an Underwood (but who knows? maybe?) but let's take time now to appreciate the output.

And what of Bill Pronzini? His nameless detective series is, I believe, now the longest running series in crime fiction history. And he's still going! He's not a museum piece. I picked up a signed copy of Femme just last year.

Ed Gorman continues to educate us in the classics through his excellent anthologies and blogging, but let's acknowledge his place alongside the greats. Again, still crankin' them out. Not a fossil, a vibrant and entertaining writer we could all learn a thing or two from, I'd bet.

I've been catching up on my Max Allan Collins lately. What better example of a writer who bridges the gap between the old school and today. The man was best buddies with Mickey Freakin' Spillane for cripes sake. And hot damn he's one of my favorite authors, and his stuff from the 1970s is just as good as his stuff from today. In my fantasy world we'd get to be friends like him and Spillane and he'd let me take over Quarry after he's gone. Hey, I said it was a fantasy. I'd take Nolan too if Quarry is too personal. We're both Iowa boys so maybe? Ok, you're right. I'll stop.

Lawrence Block. Holy crap, Lawrence Block. The man uses social media as prolifically as a high schooler but you can still pick up copies of his early output that is 100% pure pulp goodness. Find me a darker shade of noir than Mona (AKA Grifter's Game) and that was first published in 1961! And there he is, still kicking, still typing, still going strong and teaching the young punks how to do it.

Robert Randisi, Wayne Dundee, James Reasoner. These are links to our past and guys who probably don't really love being portrayed as old as I'm making them sound. My point is, these are writers who were slinging ink before there was any debate over ebook vs. print. These are guys who haven't been triple platinum sellers for the most part. But they kept on writing. Tradesmen. No, craftsmen. Constantly working, constantly honing their art, never giving up in the face of a changing publishing world.

These are today's pulp wordsmiths. They write because it's who they are to the core. They won't last forever and someday another up and comer will lament never being able to know these artisans of wordcraft. But we don't have to let it be that way. They're out there, and thanks to social media, they are often only a click away. It might not be the same as sharing a stool at the bar with Gil Brewer or Chester Himes, but it's better than missing out.

Make them feel appreciated. I know I wouldn't be here without them, and many others I forgot or don't know yet. There are giants still out there. And we are standing in their shadow.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Killing Dan Malmon

So to get the full story, you need to go here and read Dan O'Shea's blog. Then come on back and enjoy this story where a perfectly nice man I've never met, yet truly like, gets way worse treatment than he deserves. Or maybe it's exactly what he deserves. Until I meet him in person, the jury's out.



HOW YOU DO IT
(for Dan & Dan)

Before the phrase, “He’s a cop,” left Rudy’s mouth, a bullet left his gun. Dan heard the start of the sentence, then the bang drowned everything else and the pain blotted out the rest of his senses.
Gut shot. Shit. Detective Dan Malmon had never seen one of these end well.
Another of the uptown crew, a large man in a tight black t-shirt, ran into the room, gun drawn. He looked at Rudy, smoking 9mm in his hand, then down at the floor and Dan clutching at his stomach, hissing short breaths between clenched teeth.
“Rudy?” the man asked, looking for an explanation.
“He’s a cop,” Rudy said again.
“How do you know?”
“Saw his badge.”
The burly man stepped forward to where Dan was trying to sit up. Some part of his diaphragm muscle was torn and he couldn’t bend in the middle any more. Probably the least of his worries. 
“Check his pockets, G.”
The big man, G, moved his gun to his left hand and frisked Dan’s pockets with his right. He came out with a wallet, flipped it open and saw the badge.
“Told you so,” Rudy said. “So what now?” 
G said, “We kill him.”
Rudy seemed offended at the statement. “I already did.” 
“He ain’t dead. He’s moving.”
Dan tried again for a sit-up, but collapsed to the cement floor with a stifled cry of pain.
“He’ll be dead soon,” Rudy said.
“Says you.”
“Says the fuckin’ bullet in his liver.”
“That ain’t no way to kill a guy.”
Dan feared a demonstration on proper technique was imminent. He rolled to his right. From his vantage point on the floor he could see the pistol taped to the underside of the small table. Only ten feet away. Ten agonizing feet to crawl.
“Don’t tell me how to kill a guy,” Rudy said, his chest puffing out with bravado.
“Apparently I need to,” G said. He lifted his gun arm and fired a shot into Dan’s back. The detective smacked the floor face first, blood seeping from his mouth.
G turned to Rudy with a satisfied look on his face. “That’s how you do it, mother fu–”
Dan groaned from the pain of his missing teeth, not the bullet in his back. There was a knife-edge sharpness in his ribs and he was finding it hard to breathe, but the impact of his front teeth on the concrete created a more immediate pain.
Rudy laughed out loud. “Some expert you are.”
“He’s wearing a vest.”
“He’s not wearing no vest, G.”
Rudy stepped over to Dan, hooked a finger through the bullet hole in the back of his shirt and pulled, tearing a wide rip and exposing bare flesh, not Kevlar. 
Dan inched closer to the table, his broken teeth crunching under his palm as he reached for a firm enough grip to drag his body forward.
Rudy, standing over the wounded man, said, “You gotta put one in his head, dude.”
He lowered his gun, fired a shot that entered Dan’s skull just behind his right ear. G wiggled a finger in his own ear, the sound of the repeated gunshots making everything temporarily muted.
Rudy did a wild west finger spin of his gun and slid it, barrel first, into his back pocket, closest he had to a holster. “Now that’s a dead cop.”
Dan’s hand slapped the floor as he reached for more inches in his drive toward the underside of the table and the gun waiting there. Both Rudy and G turned and looked at the bloody man on the floor with a mixture of awe and fear.
Blood poured from Dan’s skull. The bullet had run a clean path behind his ear and come out near his cheek bone. He was totally deaf in that ear and his face hurt like hell where the bullet had blasted its way out, but he was still alive and only five feet from his prize.
Breathing became harder, his progress slower, but the two men intent on killing him were stunned into curious onlooking for a long moment. They watched as Detective Malmon pulled himself along the blood-slick floor, unaware of the pistol at the end of his journey.
“I shot him in the fucking head, man.” Rudy said just above a whisper.
“You put it too low.”
“The fuck I did.”
G pointed to the crawling man before them. “You gonna fuckin’ argue with me?”
Dan reached the table leg. He grasped at it, unable to get a grip. His hands were painted in blood. He pushed up with his left arm, a half hearted one-hand pushup. Years of academy training and daily workouts paying off in what could be his last moments.
“We gotta finish this punk,” G said.
“I got it,” Rudy said.
“No. You already fucked it up twice. I got this one.”
Dan put a hand on the pistol handle, tried to grasp it, but his fingers weren’t strong enough to pull it free.
“I said I got it.” Rudy marched toward Dan, grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over on his back to see the face of the unkillable man. In turning Dan, the torque ripped the tape from the bottom of the table, putting the pistol in firing position in the cop’s hand. Rudy’s eyes widened as Dan fired.
One shot. No question about it. Blood and brain told the tale.
Too weak to sit up, Dan tilted his head forward. G stared into the gaping hole below his eye.
“That,” Dan said, spilling blood from his mouth, “is how you do it.”
He fired again, dropping G with a single shot to the heart. Dan slumped to the floor, spent. He coughed twice, blood spraying, then relaxed, wondering if he’d pass out before he drowned on the blood in his own lungs.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Feel Bad For Me

It was the email you always want from your agent. "I think I sold your book."

This was back in May, the weekend of the Edgar awards. The book in question is one I truly believe in, and one that had been rejected before. But this time – with a new imprint and a new editor charged with bringing in exciting new content – it seemed like a go. All we were waiting on, it appeared, was a conference call with the head office. A few weeks of silence followed. Not unusual. Nothing was a given and my standard operating procedure is to assume it will all fall apart.

Today it did. Exhibit A books has closed down.

But don't feel bad for me. There are other writers whose books had sold. Contacts had been signed. Edits had begun. Immensely talented writers like Matthew Funk, Patti Abbott, Rob Hart, Nik Korpon and a host of other writers I'm not lucky enough to call friends like these folks. Books that had been finished and circulating for years in some cases. These are the people you should feel bad for. I was still in a state of hope, a place all writers seem to float in until the ink is dry on the contract. These people were down off the cloud, looking forward, thinking of things like cover art and book tours. All gone now.

And what of this intrepid new editor? Well, Bryon Quertermous is out of a job. That sucks big time. His enthusiasm for Exhibit A was infectious among the crime writing community. You got the sense this was an imprint on the verge. The verge of what, we were misinformed.

And Dan O'Shea, who was two books into a trilogy. What happens now?

The book business is brutal. This is not news. I'm sure Angry Robot, Exhibit A's parent company, didn't come to the decision lightly. They absolutely wanted to keep it alive. But if the numbers aren't there, they aren't there. Not much to be done. No blame here. I feel bad for them too.

So I go on. Back to square one, a place firmly imprinted with my footsteps. A place I spend so much time I ought to pay rent. After my deal with Guilt Edged Mysteries I felt like I'd climbed the first rung of the ladder. That turned out not to be true. Good folks, great books, but that imprint has fallen victim to a rethinking of what exactly they are all about. My trilogy of books ended at one. (#2 is written and sitting comfortably on my hard drive for 2 years now.)

But all the authors above will keep on writing. Bryon will get another job and he has his own book deal to look forward to. The now homeless books? Right now agents are scrambling to find them new homes. It's not the end of the world, but when hopes are dashed it makes us all into middle schoolers experiencing our first heartbreak. Our date to the dance has stood us up. Mine was still busy making up her mind when I heard through the grapevine that she dropped out of school.

We're alone, but surrounded by the characters we create and the other writers who all have their own version of this story. I've been here many times before throughout my screenwriting career. It is soul crushing and depressing and hurtful and discouraging. But if I haven't quit after all the bullshit up to this point, I'm sure as hell not going to quit now. So don't feel bad for me. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We're going Down and Out

Every time I go on here to give a good news update I realize there are several things I should be mentioning, but I tend not to post about every little thing. That leaves me with a backlog of releases and things to announce, which I guess is a good thing.

In this case, it's a very good thing. Let's start with the big news. I wrote another book with my sometimes co-author, JB Kohl. We collaborated on those two books over there on the side, One Too Many Blows To The Head and the sequel, Borrowed Trouble.  (back in print and available for cheap!) One Too Many was the first book I ever had published and Jennifer and I have been writing together off and on ever since. We wrote a whole book that nobody wanted and half of a sequel to that one before pulling the plug. Then we started on this new one, Over Their Heads. After we started Jen moved half way across the country, changed jobs and I continued writing several other projects I was working on. So it dragged on for a while. A year to be exact. Odd for us, but we kept it going through the down times. (one lag left us with a whole month off after I sent her the updated draft and she thought she was waiting on me to get back to her. Confusion where we both thought the other was a total slacker only to end up going, "Oops. Sorry.")

We love the book. It's a crazy caper with a SUV full of drugs, a family on vacation, some stolen money, a drug mule named Skeeter, several errant gun shots, a woman giving birth, stolen identities, and so much more.

But us finishing isn't the good news, though it felt damn good. We're going to be publishing the book through the good folks at Down & Out books!


They are a great indie publisher of gritty and original crime novels and we're proud to be a part of it. We're on the schedule for early 2015 and we're going to get a cover by the ultra talented JT Lindross.

Speaking of amazing covers, a release I haven't mention yet is Pulse Fiction. This throwback pulp anthology is another from the mind of Paul Bishop and Tommy Hancock of Pro Se productions. This is classic pulp fiction in a variety of stories and it includes my caper, Diamonds Are A Girl's Worst Friend featuring cat burglar Holly Lake and her adventures in early 60s Paris.

Seriously, look at that baby! All the stories are exciting and offer two-fisted action and all the great pulp characters and storylines you know you love. Check it out.

And we're up to Book #4 of The Year I Died Seven Times! We're over the halfway mark. The craziness keeps on rolling. Book #5 drops in July. Each installment only a buck!
The print versions are going through a small update. They're getting cheaper! Book 4 reflects the new price with the others to follow. A lot of making-the-sausage stuff you don't want to know about it, but just trust me that Beat To A Pulp publisher David Cranmer is a man of infinite patience. 


We're getting dangerously close to the release of Trouble In The Heartland, the anthology based on Bruce Springsteen song titles and one that promises to be a big deal. I really like my story in that one, even if I did take a risk by doing something fairly off beat that I'm sure some people might not like. But, oh well. You have to challenge yourself as a writer now and then.

More news soon. Sooner than later. And there is some big stuff coming.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Done with the lie

I used to say I wasn't a series guy. I didn't really read series, didn't care for them, wouldn't get on board. Well, I can't honestly say that anymore now that I look at my bookshelf.

I still prefer stand-alones, in most cases. I like the added jeopardy. It's always been one of my biggest beefs with a series character – you know they're going to be fine. There's no stakes. My other trepidation is always the ongoing series that started way before I became aware of them. I'm just not going to devote so much of my reading time catching up on, say, Sue Grafton's series starting from A. Not gonna happen. She's a lovely woman and I'm sure she writes like a dream, but I'll never know.

But more and more series have been creeping into my life, mostly series I was able to get in on the ground floor of. Even a few older series have been taking up a lot of my reading time because they're so damn good.

Let's start with a few classics. I've read about half of Chandler, and the novels never did much for me. I love his short stories because you get all the hardboiled patter usually without the mystery/P.I. plot. I discovered a long time ago I'm not much for traditional whodunit mysteries. I like a story that propels forward and the traditional mystery is all about piecing together bits of the past, looking backward, adding up clues which leads to scenes of misdirection, dead ends and all too often the scenes/chapters of hashing out and reminding the reader what is known and not known. Dull, I think.

However, take the Parker novels of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). These I can get behind. I've read more than a half dozen Parker novels now and I really liked each of them. As a character I like him, the plots are exciting and Westlake is a no nonsense writer. My type of guy. I plan to keep working my way through the Parker canon.

I think Chester Himes is one of the most underrated crime novelists. His Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed series are respected by those in the know, but relatively obscure by the general populace. These books are exciting and always surprising. Himes knew how to throw you off the scent while still entertaining the hell out of you. The journey to solving the central case is exciting as hell, even with Coffin Ed and Gravedigger off stage for much of the action, unusual for a mystery novel.

I've done 7 of the Lew Archer series and I think I'm about done with those. Too much dialogue, too much action happens off stage. People are always stumbling in on an already dead body. I like the action, not the mystery. This is why I don't care for Agatha Christie either. I like Ross MacDonald's voice as a writer, I just wish Archer weren't so passive a character.

Most of the series I anticipate new releases in these days are writers I've met and admire. Kelli Stanley has a new book in her Miranda Corbie series coming soon and I'm genuinely excited for it. Imagine that. Me, a series book excites me. I feel the same way about a new Owen Laukkanen entry in his Stevens and Windermere series, though those play less as a series and more like linked standalones. He seemed to fully embrace that he was writing a series with Kill Fee, putting his two main characters much more front and center than in the first two books.

I've praised Steve Hockensmith's Holmes On The Range series before, usually with the backhanded compliment that I shouldn't like these books so much. But, dammit, I do. There are five of those, and that seems about right, though if he writes a sixth, I'll read it.

Trilogies feel good to me. Duane Sweirczynski's Charlie Hardie series was a great rip-snorting trilogy. Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky's Ania trilogy is a great trio of modern crime novels. Charlie Huston's Hank Thompson books are a great three and out.

Let's not forget Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books, too. Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel books are a great peek into a world I knew little about in pre- and post-war Berlin.

And then there's Hap and Leonard. Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite writers, and my slow doling out of the Hap and Leonard series (not done yet, but close) is a great treat every time one comes up in my TBR pile. Like two old friends, I'm glad to see them again. Perhaps more than any other, these two made me appreciate the value of a good series.

Max Allan Collins' Quarry series is another winner for me. Much like Parker, this flawed and morally questionable character is just plain fun to read about. 

And I've read all the Sailor and Lula books by Barry Gifford, though those are more like branches on a tree than a real continuing series. 

So you can see, I can't say I'm not a series guy any more. I'm sure I'm forgetting some and there are some still on deck I haven't invested enough time in to comment on properly. Then there are series still in their infancy. Johnny Shaw's sequel to Dove Season is out very soon and Plaster City is one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year. Christa Faust dangled in front of me that she is starting research for a new Angel Dare book and that was exciting news. 

But I'm not afraid of them anymore. I still won't be starting anything that is already 15 or 20 books in. That ship has sailed. But my reading has broadened because I'm no longer afraid to say I read series.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

No longer OOP

I'll admit for a long time I had no idea what OOP meant in reference to books. When I realized it meant Out Of Print I felt like an idiot. Well, now none of my books a have that awkward sounding label. See, nobody noticed but the two novels I wrote with JB Kohl, One Too Many Blows To The Head and the sequel, Borrowed Trouble, had gone out of print. 

We regained the rights from the publisher, who were kind and generous people to work with and we are forever in their debt for giving us a chance to publish those books. But the books had played themselves out after nearly 5 years (!) and 4 years, respectively. So we took them back and now have self-released them for super cheap. The ebook anyway is only .99 now and forever, save an occasional free promo. The print versions are working their way through the system and should be available shortly at $12.99, which was basically the minimum we could set the price. Deal with it.

Also, I included them in the Amazon matchbook program so if you purchased a print copy in the past, you can get the ebook for free.

We really hope these books continue to have a life. We think they're really good and so have most people who've read them, which might not be many but they're dedicated. 

So welcome back to the world of being a book, my two oldest children. And Jen and I are kicking around ideas for a third book. Three seems right, doesn't it? And since we're in charge of Ray and Dean now, why the hell not?



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

White Hot Pistol still loaded

My novella, White Hot Pistol, is out and about in the world, but with little fanfare. Naturally I think that's a shame because I'm the author. The good news is the people who are reading it are liking it. I submit as evidence, this review which calls it "A fine example of hardboiled modern pulp."

So, if you like a story that, "starts at quite a pace and it doesn't let up for an instant," you should check out this nasty little slice of noir. Book 2 in the Noirville tales will be out before you know it and you don't want to miss out, right?

Want a taste? The first chapter is right here.




Thursday, April 3, 2014

Interview with David Oppegaard


David Oppegaard has a new book out, And The Hills Opened Up. It's a wild and weird trip to the old west where outlaws, miners and isfits do battle with the fabled Charred Man. Part horror novel and part western gunslinger this, like all of Oppegaard's work, is a unique book to say the least. 

Curious about where these crazy ideas come from, I asked David a few questions. 


You write cross-genre hybrids. What are your influences for that stuff? You seem to be operating in your own little world.
I read a ton when I was very young and I guess all the genres sort of mashed together in my brain. We had a reading program in my elementary school that gave out prizes for reading Newbery books and reporting on them. I’d show up in the school library almost every morning and give a fresh report to the librarian. I don’t even think I really understood the concept of “genre” until high school.
Do you start with a conventional story and then twist it as you go or do these ideas come fully formed out of some twisted furnace in your brain?
Every book’s a little different, but I suppose I start with an idea for a story that interests me and purposefully twist as I go along. The Suicide Collectors, for example, started as thought experiment-could I come up with a unique apocalypse?  My goal is to never write the same book twice.
And The Hills Opened Up is a little like a campfire tale. Is there any true to life origin for the story?
I love a good campfire tale!  I did base Red Earth on a few copper mining towns in the northern Sierra Madres in southern Wyoming around roughly the same time period. These were remote company towns that revolved on working twelve hours underground a day, drinking, and sleeping. I did a lot of copper mine research for the novel as well.

Why was it important for the story to be set in 1890 instead of today?
I think the past is underserved in horror literature-think how much darker and horrific the world must have appeared to be back in the day. Plus, I love westerns and 1890 fell right on the far edge of the typical “western” time period.
You’ve written about meteors falling to earth, the end of the world or at least The Despair, and now the Charred Man. Why do you want to destroy humanity?
I don’t want destroy it, personally, but I do think it’s doing a pretty good job at destroying itself. It was reported recently that a NASA-funded study stated industrial civilization was headed for an “irreversible collapse”.  I thought the most telling thing to come out of that study was how nobody really gave a damn about it, even the folks who acknowledged it was probably true. The human race seems to lack the ability to truly understand that failure is an option, that we’re not too big to fail. Which, of course, is the downfall of every smug villain in history.
Do you ever feel silly having to state “this is a work of fiction” at the start of your books?
You mean on the copyright page? Yeah, I guess that exists to cover everybody’s ass. I’ve also noticed every novel needs to have “A Novel” marked on the front cover beneath the title. Back in the day people knew a goddamn novel when they saw one.
Behind the curtain question: how have you liked working with a smaller press (Burnt Bridge) on this book? Is And The Hills Opened Up the kind of book a big publisher is just not going to get behind these days?
HILLS certainly made the rounds at major publishing houses and earned much praise but never sold. My agent believes it was the western part of western-horror, that people aren’t buying much western fiction right now.  My editor at Burnt Bridge was Mark Rapacz, an old buddy of mine from the Hamline University MFA program.  Working with Mark was great and I had a lot of input in the cover, the overall layout, etc. An ideal process, really.
Obviously you eschew the "write what you know" school of advice, or else you have a really interesting life. What's the thing you know now that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
That’s an interesting question.  Maybe it’s better not to know too much when you’re starting out, because if you’re too self-aware (or truly aware of how hard the writing life is to pursue) you might never set out at all.  I’ve written fourteen novels total and it’s been a constant learning process.  I might tell younger Dave to make sure he’s truly enjoying whatever he’s writing about and to make sure that sense of enjoyment remains a constant guide.
I see a lot of Joe Lansdale in And The Hills Opened Up, and that's high praise from me. Who do you read on a regular basis and who should we be reading more of?
I think folks should just be reading more, period. I visit my library at least once a week a leave with a handful of books. I sort of plow through everything, let it sift through my brain, and hopefully it all makes me a better writer and person. Still, I admit I watch way too much TV.
In the western vein of literature I recently read and highly recommend Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. 
---------------------

I can second my love of The Sisters Brothers. Thanks, David, for stopping by. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

I had to

A few weeks ago Steve Hockensmith and I were trading quips on Twitter, as you do. It's common knowledge that Hockensmith is quippier than I and somewhere in the exchange where I threatened to turn to writing for children he suggested some fake titles. Well, they were too good to pass up. When I first read Charlotte's Web Of Deceit, the ideas flowed. And I'm not one to leave a good idea on the side of the road. So I had to.

So blame Mr. Hockensmith (then read all his books, which are all top of the heap excellent) and to Steve, my apologies for dragging your name into this. 

I decided to put the story up here because really, who's going to publish this? Of course, if you want to, just drop me a line. Otherwise, feel free to link to it, copy and paste it, print it out and distribute it to a first grade class. Just give me credit where credit is due, and don't leave out Steve Hockensmith. He ought to suffer the same wrath I do from the legions of fans this book deservedly has.



CHARLOTTE’S WEB OF DECEIT
by Eric Beetner

(For Steve Hockensmith)

From high in the rafters above the pig pen, Charlotte watched as the afternoon crowd of curious onlookers pushed and squeezed against each other for a look at her web.
"Well, folks, that about wraps it up for today," Mr. Zuckerman said. "Wilbur needs his beauty rest."
"He sure is some pig," someone in the crowd said, echoing the words woven into Charlotte’s web.
As the crowd began to disperse the folks waved at Wilbur, some blew kisses, but same as the other days since the first message appeared, nobody thanked Charlotte. They didn't glance upwards to the rafters where she hid, nobody mentioned the skill of the web making, only the words written in silk as if some divine hand had put them there and not the midnight artistry of a skilled weaver. 
The animals in the barnyard all said a goodnight to Wilbur. The sheep and the lambs spoke in a chorus. The goose with her fast talking skronk, “Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight Wilbur.”
Even Templeton the rat paused as he left the trough with an armload of uneaten apple cores and corn cobs. “‘Night Wilbur. Save me some breakfast, will ya?”
“Will do, Templeton,” Wilbur said cheerfully.
But did anyone say goodnight to Charlotte? No.
Below, Wilbur strutted with a newfound pride while overhead Charlotte simmered with her own new feeling – jealousy.
That pig, who wallowed in filth all day long, was seen as some sort of miracle, some great achievement. And for what? Because someone said something nice about him in a web? What did he do to earn their respect and adulation? Nothing.
She was the one. The artist. The inspiration. The savior. She kept the axe from his neck and nobody even knew she existed.
As the sun set the spider rubbed her forelegs together and gave in to the arachnid thoughts playing across her mind. She decided that night to weave a different message.

•••

"Pa, come quick. There's a new message in Wilbur's pen!"
The excitement across the barnyard never seemed to dull with each new message Charlotte spun. As the farmer and his wife gathered at the gate with Lurvy the farmhand and young Fern beside them, they all stared up into the web, still glistening with early morning dew and cast golden by the breaking sun reaching the barn posts.
The usual excited chatter was, this morning, replaced by a slack-jawed silence. Mr. Zuckerman broke the quiet first.
"Am I reading that right?"
Wilbur, who couldn't read, let the piggish smile drop from his face as he turned to the rafters where Charlotte hid in the shadows. She was exhausted from the night’s work, but she had to see the reaction first hand. The looks on their faces were as delicious as a horsefly caught in the center of her web.
The animals all joined the Zuckermans, little Fern and Lurvy as they stared up at the new word: TASTY.

•••

They kept it to themselves this time. No crowds came to gawk. Nobody patted Wilbur's rump with its stiff bristly hairs and smell of manure and rotten leftovers from the farmer’s kitchen.
"Maybe it's like a double meaning," Lurvy said. "Tasty means good, right? Maybe it's just a different way of saying good."
This seemed to brighten everyone's mood, or at least clear away the confusion.
"By golly I think you're right," Mr. Zuckerman said.
Charlotte steamed in her hiding spot as the call was put out to let the rubberneckers come. They were told a new message was written in the web and it meant good. In no time at all the word passed through the crowd and gained new meaning. That new car Del got was mighty tasty. The rains brought crops this year that were awful tasty compared with last year. Fern’s new dress looked positively tasty on her.
When evening settled and the humans had gone, Wilbur thanked Charlotte in his usual childlike squeaky voice, a voice Charlotte had begun to despise.
"Gee, thanks Charlotte," Wilbur said. "I sure wish I had your gift of vocabulary. Sometimes you use words I never knew what they truly meant."
"Yes, of course, Wilbur. My pleasure. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm dead tired because of all my hard work on your behalf." Charlotte retreated to her hiding place in the rafters. "Why, it's been two days since I’ve caught so much as a mosquito. These new webs aren't exactly designed for catching dinner you know."
"Gosh, Charlotte, you’re ever so nice to me."
That's all she got. Not an offer to tear down the web so she could eat. He'd rather her starve than stop the flood of well wishers and sycophants coming by to pretend his dung didn't stink. Well, it did. 
That night she knitted a word in silk that no one could misinterpret.

•••

Mr. Zuckerman's slack jaw had an extra quality to it the next morning. A bit of drool forming in the corners of his mouth.
Absently he licked his lips as he stared up at the newly spun word in the morning light. His eyes went from the web down to Wilbur, then back to the web and the word frozen there: BACON.

"What's it say, Charlotte?" Wilbur asked.
"It says bacon."
"And what's that?"
Templeton slithered out from under the slop trough. "You don't know what bacon is?"
Charlotte cut him off before he could continue. "More important than what it means, Wilbur, is the fact that everyone loves bacon."
"Everyone?" Wilbur asked in a hopeful voice.
"Everyone."
Chilled by the spider's calm demeanor, Templeton slid back into hiding, away from Charlottes compound eyes, which seemed to glow a little bit red today.
Talk around the farmyard was hushed that day. The farmer and Lurvy stood to the side and whispered, pointing at Wilbur and then shaking their heads as if they didn't know what to do.
But Charlotte did.

The next morning Charlotte unveiled her masterpiece. Rendered in silk, in 3/4 scale, was a complete outline of a hog with dotted lines (a tricky feat in web silk) marking the different cuts of meat. She'd outlined ham hocks, pork chops, the loins, the belly, the rump. It was a rendering worthy of the finest butcher shop in town.
A meeting was called in the Zuckerman’s house.
The sheep avoided the area of the pig pen all day. The goose kept a squinty eye on Charlotte, half starved yet looking fully satiated.
"Gee, Charlotte," Wilbur said. "Sure is quiet today."
"That's life on a farm, Wilbur. Trust me, things will get very exciting soon. Don't you know what they say about the calm before the storm?"
"Golly you're smart."
And you're dumb, thought Charlotte. Ignorant. Dimwitted. Imbecilic. Moronic. All the juicy words she could weave into her web were delicious on her tongue.
No crowds came that day. No parades, no songs in Wilbur's honor. The silence, to Charlotte, was blissful.

•••

On Easter Sunday the eggs were gathered from the chicken coops and hidden around the yard. Fern and her cousins all shrieked as they ran to find the hidden treasures.
The mood in the barn was quiet different. Sullen, the animals shuffled feet and tried not to lift their noses to the smells coming from the kitchen in the farmhouse. The sweet glaze over the ham, the salty tang in the air of slow roasted meat.
The pig pen stood empty. Above, Charlotte was busy spinning a web. No words, nothing fancy, just a time honored method of gathering food. The circle of life and all that.
She felt the hard glare of eyes below and Charlotte stopped her work to look at the sheep watching her. Templeton stared from the fence post and the goose narrowed her eyes from beyond the pen. 
"Yes?" Charlotte said.
"How could you?" said the sheep.
"How could I what?"
"You sent Wilbur to his death. Now he's supper on the table."
"Wasn't that always to be his fate? Isn't that the fate for all of you?"
A murmur ran through the assembled crowd of animals. The goose stretched her long neck and spoke to Charlotte in an accusing tone. "What kind, what kind of monster are you?"
Charlotte smiled and went back to her web spinning. "Why, a black widow of course."