clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Writer's Desktop

At left, public image after a woodcut of Alexander Dumas at desk. Works this way every time for me. Well - the mess part.

Cleaning up the desktop for a few long sessions this weekend. In no particular order: the desktop contents.

\34 volumes -- most of my trout library -- covering angling.

1 pipe tobacco leather carry roll-up.

1 pickle jar of Old Gowrie Virginia tobacco now rejuvenated from near-desiccation.

6 fly boxes and fly wallets.

1 Vancouver Starbuck's souvenir mug, empty.

1 Seattle Starbuck's souvenir mug, mostly full.

An Olympus waterproof digital camera.

2 fighting knives, one stiletto and one a modified Alaskan skinning blade. Both large.

8 Advil in a plastic tube-style pill box.

1 leather button from a cardigan. Removed from the sweater by one of my wife's cats.

Draft of a story from 2007, unpublished.

Clipboard of notes regarding trip planning for a fly fishing outing to Wisconsin (spring '17).

Folder of notes, fly angling WIP. Non-fiction.

1 page of notes on the Bill and Veronica stories (glamorous professional criminals who have never quite "worked" in the drafts so far ...).

19 small slips of paper with hand notes on various topics. Un-ordered.

Compact field glasses.

DVD - The Heart of the Driftless by Robert Thompson. Fly fishing trip source material.

Blood pressure cuff.

Laptop - open and pushed to the side.

Apple ear-bud headphones.

Allen wrench, 3/8".

Catalog from The Angler's Bookcase -- a source of rare and out-of-print fine fly-fishing books.

Pens in a "suffering bastard" tiki bar mug.

3 pens not in tiki mug.

1 ink spot from fresh fountain pen refilling.

1 bag of feathers from Mallard and Wood ducks.

1 field water.

Spare glasses.

Good luck to all in 2017. Off to work on the projects. Well, off to decide which to finish.

Finish something for me while you're at it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

We Know You Are Watching

At left a gargoyle. Image by Jebulon and hosted on wikicommons. The work is in the public domain thanks to Jebulon's generosity.

We know why you're watching.

We know why you spend evenings in the laundry room after everyone is in bed. We know what's wrong with you.

It's what is what is wrong with us.

We cannot bring ourselves to make those easy carefree connections to our fellow humans. There's a piece that isn't there between our friends and ourselves.

What is it?

Is there an academic interest in the human condition lacking in our friends?  Weren't we hugged enough as kids?  Is there some sort of perverse self-delusion at play that our written words will bring the fame and success our daily toils and vocational ends lack?

What?

Is it that we're too damn shy to be the people we are except with a very small group? Maybe with just one?

Maybe not even that.

Why are we compelled to toil at ink and page to communicate something about the nature of our characters that we can't say any other way? Why is the cloak of fictive disguise our best defense against what we actually feel - or imagine we feel. Do we feel too little?

We're not like other people. We watch, Always.

That inner dialogue you always have playing? Other people don't have that.

You write for a reason.

If it is about telling a story? Relating events? I'm not buying it.

I think you've got something to say. I think you can only say it in the text on the page.

There are worse things.

Stop keeping us in suspense. Write the story and tell the events as you see them. Then, re-write the story and tell us what you could not say through other means by manipulating the characters in the events you've drawn.

It's two drafts. It'll feel good. Go with it. We're all waiting to hear from you.

We're waiting to hear from the you we don't yet know.

Show us something. We're just like you.

We're of a kind and we know things about why you are watching.

We're watching you.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Opening, The Opening, The Opening.

Image at left hosted on wikicommons. Photographer: Russell James Smith. Lovely work and for the mere cost of attribution Mr. Smith allows its use here. Thank you, Mr. Smith. Great photograph.

Do you catch her eye and smile? Do you walk past and smile then? Maybe you wave at your friend at a table in the back along the wall and then smile at her before you start to walk.

It's an opening. She's there with friends just as you are.

Something tells you at first sight that that you should meet before the reality sets in and you know to just shuffle past to the pint waiting on the table. It's the better play. You won't forget the pint's name mid-conversation or find out she's Jeff's sister who you've already met twice.

For that instant though, you have a shot at the opening. You have a chance to meet and hold a conversation. You have a chance to say something.

That's your reader. They're just that elusive.

What's the opening and how can you keep them interested after smiling and saying "hi"?

In wading through my critique backlog (sorry all), I figure three sentences are about what it takes.

That's the reader's level of patience. You're in the bookstore. [ You know, place with books you buy. Google it. ] You're browsing. You open a book, look at the first page. You read a little and put it back.

That's what we've got as writers.

"A little of the first page."

Makes the whole she's-here-with-friends-just-like-you scenario look a whole lot easier.

The revolving door's swish-hiss didn't bring me out of Applied Thermodynamics there at the front desk as I held down the night manager gig. The sauntering tack-tack-tack of Saint Laurent's -- maybe Fendi's ? -- finest across the marble floor brought me right up on my feet. You learn things as the late-night man at a certain class of discreet downtown businessmen's hotel: expensive wives wear heels to a murder.

Maybe. Pretty staid. Has a mouth-feel after reading that's a little like cornmeal.

The sound of a pair of Saint Laurent's sauntering tack-tack-tack across the empty late-night lobby brought me to my feet, night manager and all. The revolving door at the front hadn't stopped its motion before she stands at the desk: a coiffed five-foot-nothing redhead walking on my month's paycheck worth of shoes, a Chanel suit smartly tailored, and an Uzi with the faint sheen of fine oil. She smiles.

Still slow to open. Nice -- but you're broken to the yoke. You know what to expect on the second one because you read the first. We don't get that in submission and it sounds like something else you've read from 1958, anyway. Hammett's books are still in print.

Again.

A fully coiffed five-foot-nothing of redhead steps out of the hotel's revolving doors and into the empty lobby wearing a smartly tailored Chanel suit and carrying an Uzi by its suppressor. She smiles at me as her heels tack-tack-tack a purposeful saunter across the marble. I smile back. My job. I'm the interim night desk manager, three years running.
Better. We're into something we didn't expect and perhaps a reaction we didn't anticipate. We might read on.

Not much difference between the words in these three openings. The first two drew a ton of passes, though. The third saw more success.

We're in the action in the third version from the first three words.

We're barely in the action on the first version by last sentence of the opening paragraph.

It's the second-to-last sentence in the second opening before we have anything "sharp" in the prose and then there's the last line twist, which I like.

The third puts us there and the tongue-in-cheek surety of the narrator ( whom we're sure is a smart-ass in the nicest way ) gives us reason to hope this isn't something we've read before. We can hope.

Coiffed redheads with Uzis? Break out the good stuff.

I've chased a lot of blondes. I marry redheads. I've got a thing for trouble.

Makes writing mayhem and murder a natural choice there, doesn't it?

Spill some ink like it was blood. Mind your opening moves.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Hillsides Hold Broken Souls

At left, St. Pierre in the Aosta valley, the Aosta autonomous state of north-west Italy. Photo by Tenam2 and hosted on wikicommons. Thanks for the use.

My own photos of the region are long gone. St. Pierre and La Thuile hold special for me. I broke my soul there, once.

What is it to know for the first time that what actions you are going to take are going to ruin your closest sense of happiness? What is it to know that you are discarding that thing you thought you wanted most?

The tumult is that into which we desire to send our characters on our pages.

We like the image of transformation and revelation in our literature though it doesn't have to have the Disney ending. In real life, we make choices that take the smile from our soul when we have to. Our characters should do the same.

What is it for our detective to know the endgame, drive ahead, and know that the consequences will forever change things in their own little world?

I'm working the rural noir and of course the challenge here is that my protagonist has to live in this little community. Things the protagonist does or does not do alters the balance of happiness in the place where he sleeps. How much of that change can you impart on a place and still consider it your home?

How much change before you have to leave?

If nothing changes, we have no story. If things change, one of our stories revolves around the effects of those changes on the resolve of our protagonist.

How much change can you stand? How much until you break your soul, your love for something, someone?

I left parts scattered on the hillside here. I tried eating the souls of others for a while to make up the difference. Never worked.

You move on.

Does your character move on or do they live amoungst the shards of broken dreams they keep in their pocket?

The discipline of the ink demands we know these answers. Maybe it is why we still write.