clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, August 31, 2012

Short Story

A friend asked me today who most I admired as a writer of short stories.

I only thought for a minute. While I have read extensively, the earliest stories keep coming back to me.


I love Twain. I enjoy a wide array of science fiction writers. I enjoy a collection from Hemingway I have floating around the house. I enjoy Capstick. Likewise Ruark.

It was Poe who captured me when I was in the sixth grade. He does it again on infrequent falls when I feel like a little does of the old terror.

I couldn't resist the next page. For a short story, that does a lot for me.

"The Cask of Amontillado."

I don't visit the wine cellars of associates as a rule.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How could I convince you ?

The ideas are so fantastic that it is hard to understand when a reader might suspend belief.

Jesus returns in a second coming as the estranged son of an absentee father. He doesn't believe he is the second Christ and even in the end, he isn't sure. [ burning bush ? Try a cellphone next time. ]

Aliens land and are taken hostage, beaten, and publicly stoned to death by religious zealots during the crusades. Thus, the encounter between aliens and modern humans causes an interesting juxtaposition. [ Vivisection ? Bit of fear for them, eh ?]

There is a commercial organization which is run like a sovereign fund whose wealth comes from assisting those with "jobs for life" in retiring to a peaceful island ... populated by others who formerly had jobs for life.

A blog appears online where the author provides advice on all sorts of matters. Of course, the author seems to have unknowable knowledge. There emerges a bit of social upheaval around the communications. Is the author a psychic, a government spook, an alien, a deity, AI ?

Write well and these can all come off nicely. Write poorly and they are doomed to the round slush pile and a not quite right letter.

I have to go write now. The coyotes are yipping outside my windows.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I despise prologues that are merely excuses for an artificial history lesson. There are the character conflict prologues (Janie hates peas because ...) and the SF/F historical bit.

They all remind me of the opening on the movie _The Fog_.  If you don't have Adrienne Barbeau in the prologue, ditch it. [ Well, ditch it anyway and move her into the book proper].(_The Fog_ for babes in the woods.)

Start the story in an interesting place along the plot line. Trim if necessary. Illustrate setting, tone and conflict in your first chapter. If a background is needed, then your first chapter needs work.

The book is set after "some horrible thing" and you want us to understand ? Trust me - do it well and we'll get the picture.

Nothing you tell me in a prologue can be as horrible as what I can imagine. Let me have some fun, too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I want my hat back

Re:  Writers and Bears.

The children's book _I Want My Hat Back_  shows us all that bears solve interpersonal problems by eating things and lying.

I would contend that writers solve interpersonal problems by eating things and lying.

This is only a "compare" essay. I haven't got a "contrast" argument. Sue me.

[ Oh, because I grabbed the image ... buy the book buy the book buy the book. Please buy the book. Buy Buy Buy. There - I have voluntarily promoted the product. Also, it is a very good book. You should buy it before you go eat something and lie. Again. ]

I Want My Hat Back (E. B. White Read-Aloud Award. Picture Books)

Monday, August 27, 2012

England, England

I think I'm composed of odd little bits. That's standard in this business.

The woman on the train into Chicago from Midway becomes a murder victim. The fellow who sells me popcorn at the art house cinema becomes the killer. A kid I vaguely knew in college becomes Jesus. I give Gimple a spear and laugh.

Some - very little - comes from things I've read. I hope this is true.

One of the things I've read that did stick with me was _England, England_  by Julian Barnes. (available here)
England, England

 It was an odd little piece I bought during a time in my life when I was broke, almost out of a job, out with the wife, and drinking enough whiskey to get fan mail from distillers. (Partly why I was broke and almost out of a job).

There are odd little bits in it, too. It's a strange composition from my point of view. Someday over a decent scotch I'm going to have to ask Mr. Barnes a couple questions about the characters he developed and those he left in literary purgatory. [ You know the sort... "Mr. Kellet sat down to dinner and frowned at the earlier confrontation."  The character is never heard from again and is doomed for all time to be there, frowning. You'll understand if you get to spend your eternity as a minor in someone else's novel.]

 Of course, I also enjoyed it very much. I knew his protagonist once upon a time.

It's right up my alley. It might be up yours, as well.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fred and Doug

What is my approach ? Here it is, in the nutshell.You can skip the rest.

Disturb the status quo by one small perturbation. Illustrate the absurdities in our human response to the new. Allow my reader to construct in their own mind the process by which my theme is illustrated.

I wanted to say a little about Fred Hoyle.

Years ago I was required to read _The Black Cloud_ as part of an NSF program in which I was fortunate to participate.  The author and scientist Fred Hoyle described an interstellar cloud coming to our solar system as a fueling stop on its travels. Of course, there were serious consequences of this immense being surrounding our sun and harvesting its energy. If there were none, it wouldn't have been much of a story.

The text seems to have gone out of print.  Disappointing.

Shortly after reading this venerable old salt of a Sci-Fi novel (which I hold in great esteem), I heard the rebroadcast of _The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ from the BBC on our American NPR stations. For me at the time, it was "the NPR" station and the weather had to be right for me to get even that station.

For whatever reason, Fred Hoyle and Douglas Adams came to rest in the forefront of my mind for the next thirty years. Fred Hoyle was a brilliant scientist who was considered for a Nobel Prize. However that works out, having your name in the same sentence as Nobel Prize means you're at the top of the human intellect pile. Douglas Adams was an irreverent genius but by measure still quite a genius. We'll talk about why some other time.

When these two came along into my mind I was really digesting _Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid_.  If you haven't read it, you should. _GEB_.

Unfortunately, I think from the point of view of the authors the wrong parts took root.

From Adams, I learned that that absurdities in observation required more grounding for contrast than I thought his adapted script contributed. What I mean is that I loved the little bits of strangeness sprinkled through his work but when those existed in the context of only other strangeness, it became a little tedious. I loved it - don't get me wrong. However, having the Vogons use the same justification of the destruction of Earth as the Islington planning commission had done for Arthur Dent's house lost something for me when I heard the caricature of Vogons themselves. They were strange beasts doing strange things for me. It wasn't that much of a stretch. [ Imagining the Star Wars Imperial planning commission do the same thing was a bit more entertaining. Of course, I had by then read  _Star Wars_. I didn't see _Star Wars_ until nearly a decade after its release. I know, I know. ].

Adams did have me thinking about these things.

Hoyle had me thinking of the logical suppositions in the evolution of a story. His fiction was based on a tiny perturbation of a fact: the visit to our solar system by a massive cloud of dust and gas. He let everything else continue apace in a logical fashion. He had no absurdest intention that I could see  beyond a surface conflict between scientists and administrators. I say absurdest because Hoyle's scientists win in their conflict with politicians.

_GEB_ had me thinking of general irreverence. It was all the Lewis Carroll business. It was also the text's compulsion to illustrate through entertainment that sort of set my nerves on edge. I didn't care for the "come on a journey with me" approach to the narrative. I was young. I chafed at the lead.

Somehow, these works coalesced uneasily into my early voice. I found the slightest perturbation of reality coupled with an absurdest perspective or two drove my plots. This part came quite easily.

Now, the _GEB_ bit. I enjoyed what the text conveyed but was annoyed at the force feeding (my impression) that I endured in my consumption of the material.

I wanted to arrive at the points with less dialectic direction. I wouldn't have. My mind would not have made the same conclusions that the author revealed to me through his methods. I didn't care. It was the method that annoyed me.

So, the trick for me as all of this stirred for so many years became this summation :

Disturb the status quo by one small perturbation. Illustrate the absurdities in our human response to the new. Allow my reader to construct in their own mind the process by which my theme is illustrated.

Let them discover my revelation in their own way. Will some miss it ? Of course. Let them.

Matisse doesn't explain to me his changes in his construction of images in  _Music_. He allows me see the way it is now and piece his changes together in my own mind. I like the opus the better for it. It is why I enjoy the work. I like to think that is why he left his changes so visible.

I want to let my readers do the same.

Do I misapply some imagined artistic intent from painting to my writing ? Probably. It is one of my better mistakes.

File:Matisse - Music.jpg

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sunday early

This is the Sunday edition early.

I've provided a link at the right to Nathan Bransford. He calls himself an author.

That isn't quite accurate. Nathan is a walking treasure trove of "do it right" for aspiring writers. He's in the game, has been around the game, and shares almost everything he knows. He's a gem.

Not the least, you should read him because Janet Reid has recommended him in the past.  If you don't know Ms. Reid, then you probably haven't shopped a novel this decade (or the last).

Seriously, Nathan's blog doesn't have all those publishing awards just because he's a nice guy. Oh, and he's a nice guy. Buy him a drink if you see him.

No, I've never met him. I will however buy him two drinks when I do.

We'll talk about commercial fiction this week. I promise. Really.

Off to write more. You should go do that, too.

Weegee, our kind of lense

Weegee would be proud of the snap. Of course, in crime, mystery, suspense and generally all of literature the death is as important as the life. At least, the death gives us all plot elements. Occasionally, we also get images.

[Disclaimer ... blah blah blah real life blah blah blah fiction. Know the difference. My threshold of revulsion is asymptotically infinite. Yours is not. Get over it.]

Permalink  - you want image #5 of this exhibit. The _NYT_ isn't allowing direct links (or, I'm inept).

I haven't see this well a framed crime shot since the mob hits of the 80's.

Weegee ? ->  Weegee

And ... as we are all about books : Getty Exhibit.

Also, there is a good discussion of the image by the media covering the media here.

Credit : Sam Gewirtz  

Also of interest,his piece about the 

Right up our alley

Ms. Saltz of the _NYT_ covers a great piece of theatre that is right up out idological bent :

“Hanafuda Denki (A Tale of Fantastic Traditional Playing Cards)”

The story revolves around a funeral home which itself is run by a family of the dead. Conflict emerges as the daughter falls for a live young man.

While I have not read this play yet, you can bet I will. Oh - did I mention it is a musical ?

From Ms. Saltz story (I couldn't describe this better so am including her words here):

The brainchild of Shuji Terayama, a Japanese playwright, filmmaker and all-around artistic provocateur (he died in 1983), “Hanafuda” claims a debt to Brecht and Weill’s “Threepenny Opera.” That influence comes not in story but in style: the mordant humor, the catchy, poppy songs (by Makoto Honda) and the tweaking of social orthodoxies. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

I had a delightful morning because I killed a guy last night. I was sitting by my wife with my dogs at my feet and I did it.

I knew his name, what he looked like, and how he took his coffee.

I killed him with a chicken coop. Blunt Force Trauma.

There aren't many places when you can confess to a murder. A writer's blog is certainly one of those few. Delicious. I had a vulture's quiet smile all morning.   

I also dreamed about my own version of the hand of glory found inside a cavity in a book. My friend who is a bookseller had purchased a collection and some odds and ends came with it. Inside one of those odd bits: the hand.

The mechanism of the actual severing was the point of interest. I suspect I have read several takes on this dismemberment theme but I cannot recall the specific sources right now. No matter. It will come.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We begin.

As required by the gods of marketing and social media, I must be transparent and "reachable" by an audience.

Readers and the finished product of the writing effort I love. Everything else, I despise. Oh - agents, publishers, marketers, book sellers, store owners, other writers are all individually very nice people. They're fun to talk to over a cup of coffee. They're all engaging.

Many writers are hermits. We like it that way. If we could manage our own emotional lives, we won't turn to the lovely controlled worlds we create in print. It's too bloody easy to be run to somewhere we don't want to go because to refuse, resist, redirect, or retreat is rude.  "Answer the bloody question or comment on my brilliant supposition" is the look we get with every sentence markedly thrust in our direction. [ Never admit to being a writer at a party, but then you knew this already. At best someone has heard of your work, maybe read it, and will be forced to lie to you about their enjoyment. Don't do that to them. Say you're in the insurance business right off and save everyone the trouble.]

Sensitive ? No. I think the rest of the world is merely insensitive as the side effect of some communal industrial disease transmitted by email, cell phone, and - gasp- Facebook.

Writing for me is a horrid solitary act. It isn't a period of intense introspection followed by revelation and release. It is dentistry. Properly, it is bathroom dentistry in the mirror over the shelf of deodorant, shaving cream, razor, toothpaste, and a small dirty glass. There is a fly buzzing around, also. The floor is cold. The air is hot and damp. Every tool I touch has a layer of condensation that reminds me of someone else's sweat soaked into an airplane seat still warm from their six-hour from Dallas.

That seems pretty "reachable." I suspect my readers will understand that image well enough.

Now, off to write. I think the fluorescent bulb over the mirror has developed an annoying flicker. Surprise.