clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Scare

The scariest man I ever met dressed like a banker down to his shoes.

He didn't raise his voice or boss anyone around. His requests would be simple: a glass of water perhaps.  Once I saw him request a cup of coffee.  I think he wanted its smell in the room.

He made measured movements and spoke with considered ease. He was free of all tension and conflict. He was in all aspects professional.

He was a normal gentleman of business in all normal respects save for two peculiar traits. He never answered questions of any sort. Even a simple inquiry from the rare observer would be ignored or - worst of all - be addressed in hushed tones by one of his attendants. Also, he conveyed the most profound sense of having no soul whatsoever.

A spider is never on the side of a fly once it is in his web. No matter how long it takes, the fly is never faced with any but one fate.

I think many files must die of fright well before they would be otherwise dispatched by the spider. At least, they would if they could reason.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It seems quite easy to look in the mirror and see if I've shaved well enough for the day.

It is time to consult the writing mirror and ask the same question. A couple more content works and the edit for submission process starts.

The writing mirror is the junior submissions intern who makes the initial "crap" and "not crap" piles. There are a few of these on the net as well.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Halloween Mystery Present

My scary story this year :

Fellow shot in a deer blind. He's hit with something huge and custom. 620 nitro express according to ballistics.

His name is Frank McCarthy. He's white, 52 years old, recently married. He has a small import business that  acts as the NA distributor of wheels manufactured in Thailand for custom shops around the mid-west. He resembles in all respects a middle-aged former auto-exec who branched out on his own.

Why kill him and why go to so much work ?

Ballistics says that is is completely a custom job. Only the trigger may be stock but everything else points to one-off custom murder weapon. Also, why the massive overkill ? A 620 nitro would be heavy for Cape Buffalo. Frank took it in the upper left torso and it almost blew him out of the well-built plywood blind. He'd have died if the bullet hit anywhere on the torso. He'd have lost the limb if it hit an extremity.

The place the shooter stood is found. It's 85 meters from the deer blind slightly to the right and slightly below elevation. The killed stood behind an 20" oak tree and used the trunk as a leaning side-rest.

Background shows Frank didn't exist until eight years ago. Prior, he was Walter O'Malley - priest.

My detective begins to craft a theory. Of course, it has to be shattered. It's a scary story. Walter wasn't  a pedophile as far as anyone can tell. He was a diplomat of sort. Walter was a natural polyglot in Asian languages. He traveled all over Asia as a special envoy.

Walter was an expert on the rite of exorcism.

The metallurgy is in on the bullet fragments the M.E. pulled from ribs. Copper jacket, most likely. Also, gold. The ballistics guys think the core could be gold as well. Plausible from the ballistic performance but why ?

The detective gets a call. A local priest has something for him. One of the deputies on the scene found something and took it. His conscience got him and he wanted to see the detective got it even though it is ruined as evidence for conviction. He used his local priest as the means to "turn it in."

It is a gold medal. St. Michael. It's 6 mm thick and a little over a half inch in diameter. The priest says the deputy saw it on the leaves downrange of the deer blink opposite the direction of the shot. He though it was unrelated since it wasn't really "in" the crime scene but he was worried it might have meaning.

The ballistics guy has a look at the state crime lab. It's actually two full medals of St. Michael and part of a third fused into one wafer. They've been glued with an epoxy. It could be to create a composite fused core for the bullet that killed Walter.

So, an ex-exorcist and envoy from the papal see is murdered in a deer blind in Baldwin, Michigan by an unknown killer who used a weapon never commercially produced. His bullet was designed to kill without finesse or sophistication yet he had gone into the woods presumably before Walter.  The killer stood downrange within eyesight of a man who was actively scanning the woods for a deer. The target was armed with a 30-06. He was killed with a single bullet from a weapon that itself would have cost the equivalent of a nice new Honda at its cheapest. He was killed with a copper-jacketed bullet filled with gold St. Michael medallions.

The detective misses a phone call. There's a message. It's from his former partner in Atlanta. It tells him to let the case go unsolved.

The detective calls back. Voicemail. He tries later in the day. Same.

The next day when calling the department he learns his former partner is missing. The day following that the partner is found dead in a dumpster at a church.

Our detective is worried. He's also scared.

So am I, by now.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lucky Read

I have an uncle who would call things that he found to be useful a "lucky read." I enjoyed that phrase and will probably use it forever.

He was the same uncle who enjoyed changing words (snattlerake for example in referencing our local rattlesnakes). He was quite the eccentric. He was also an oil company owner and tool pusher in his earlier days. If you need a character who is all-go no-stop and for whom God himself would do as he was told on a drilling platform, talk to a tool pusher.

Back to Lucky Reads.

I've had a couple this week. My pile of TinHouse material is quite nice. However, in a sojourn to a favorite book haunt I bought an armload of books and the latest _Gray's Sporting Journal_. Look at the profile and you'll see I have a thing for fish. [ Large symbolic fish, thank you very much Steve Almond].

Ron Carlson has a fiction article in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue called "Six-Pound Test." The story is an extremely nice piece of craft from where I stand. He also has his protagonist express exactly why fishing and writing are so linked in my mind. I will quote here:

Miles before he returned to his room and his writing, he thought about it all, how there is always something in a real life that calls to us: desire, hope, some fish. He had his story and he had to be careful with it.
I've been in Canada with a light six pound rig holding a ten pound fish on seventy square kilometers of nearly open water. It's the sort of experience where even the slight bobbing of the boat can over-stress the line and create heartbreak from joy. You and your boat partner have to move easily and not roll the boat about with your preparations in readying the landing net.

I enjoyed Mr. Carlson's work immensely. I enjoyed it to the point where, upon finishing and looking out the window to reflect, my wife saw my face and asked if anything was wrong. I said "no." She said she didn't believe me.

You and your characters have to move easily and not roll the reader about with your preparations to land the plot. It's exactly the same as managing a glorious fish on six-pound test. (4X tippet, in my case).

Gray's Sporting Journal.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beautiful Prose

I read a piece the other night that was beautiful.

There was some far reaching descriptive passages that maybe were a little too far. There was some nicely crafted narration.

The beauty part was in what was absent.

In the end of this scene of physical danger there was a moment of escape. There was a quiet room where we stood and looked, and then we took a couple steps and stood and looked some more. We saw something. It was connected to the horror we just escaped but in its present position it just provided us a moment of reflection of the danger we've escaped. As we reflect, the danger is upon us again and the fast breathing maybe-this-is-the-end-rend-from-body-and-limb panic came back in waves.

I liked the effect. Aimee Bender gives a short reading of an except from Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ in a podcast lecture. She notes how the author slows down the action in a purposeful manner to accent the displacement of a character's final action in a scene. It's set off by the other character asking "What are you doing?" Innocuous, yes ? We've all written those words then crossed them out. Too mundane.

In this passage, the shock of performing a simple act needs the punctuation of "What are you doing?" because that act is all so common for those of us NOT living in the scene of these characters. The shock effect would have been lost had the author not made the scene deliberate, purposeful and unhurried.

These were two intentional decisions by an author that accentuated and conveyed the sense of isolation from the past his characters endure. These were good decisions.

The bit I read had that same purposeful and unhurried pacing. It was lyric.

I am a sucker for emotional writing that isn't on the surface emotional.

I'm a sucker for the character finding a pen beside the pantry door. It's just a very-nearly-empty blue bic. It's the one his wife must of used to write the note saving she was running over to her Mom's and that he should eat the leftovers without waiting for her. It's the last thing in the house she touched. He holds it a moment longer then puts it in the kitchen trash. He goes out the back door to his pickup and starts it up. He drives away. The kitchen light shines halfway across the yard to the tracks of his tires. He didn't lock the door. He's nothing to protect there.

Books came from TinHouse today. They are very nice. You can order them here : books    . You should.

I'm going be absent a few days. I have some heads-down work to do.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Those Notes

First, the confessional.

I have been writing like crap on the project that is currently on my active list. Oh, I've fleshed out three other stories - two literary and one pulp - but the one I need to finish has proved to be a beast.

I had to take three runs at a long dialogue to get the tone correct.

The first run was great Woody Allen stuff. We've all seen _Bananas_ a coupe of times by now and don't need more from me.

The second was Albert Brooks all the way through. I like the aroma of dismay and confusion but that wasn't correct for this work either.

Finally, I have hit upon my tone. I have the twist and a couple small turns that I enjoy and which I want on the page.

I also have definitely decided to craft the pulp for give-away content. I've written a number of pieces through the years for my buddies. Some have been tolerable and some merely can be said to have been in English. Nevertheless, I do like writing short bits for fun.

Now, today I find yet another pocket completely full of notes and scribbles.. I do this while I'm at the day job. I come home with a handful of scene ideas or a caution or a "try this" or sometimes a little piece of dialog.

It is a hazard of having a day job that is all about just thinking about stuff. Horrible, isn't it? I have this great day gig where I think about how to do the most abstract of things and as I get up to get a cup of coffee I'll think something like: he should feed his political opponent to a pool of crocodiles. Or, today: missing husband has an envelope behind his doctor of engineering diploma labeled "in the event of my unfortunate demise."

I wonder if I'm the only one who has this small stack of brilliance to look at in the evening and reflect: WTF ?

I cannot be alone in this growing eccentricity. Please.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writers Writers Everywhere !

Like many writers, I browse the blogs.

I say "like many writers" because there are a ton of writers on writer bogs commenting, linking, reading, re-posting, and summarizing. We have become a self-referential business unto ourselves. We blog about our writing, other's writing, the act of writing, the act of not writing. There are blogs which are "advice blogs" commenting and advising on the sources of advice to consider: other bogs.

It is clear we need to be a little more active at attracting readers than attracting other writers. I would caution as a group (those of us in the bottom 85% of the writing royalty/income ladder ... and $0 puts you there solidly) we should be working more for readers as a means of differentiating ourselves.

So, what do readers like ? Why would they come here ? Content. Well written, edited, juicy, enjoyable content. Hmmm. If I had that lying around, I'd pass out the books.

I will challenge myself to post some well-written (best I can do now, anyway), edited, juicy, enjoyable content. I will use this forum for a weekly pulp installment. I need to think a minute about how to enable this goal..

Following Miss Snark, before I post as serial any story it has to be done, proofed, and put to bed. I'm not going to try and create ahead of deadline the content that must go up right now! I'm not a newspaperman. There is however some 50's pulp in me and which I am unlikely to develop without a few runs at it. This is a place for a few runs at it.

I will look at my means of distribution, content creation, and sharing. I have a couple of mornings a week to work on content for this pulp mission which otherwise would be spent squandering time.

I will consider this option. I think I can do it. It might clear some of the "pulp" out of my head which intrudes when I am working on a serious piece that I need to nail. That self-sabotaging muse takes many form and conceiving of detective stories in the middle of a literary fiction piece is one of her favorites.

I will think. I wouldn't hurt me to do some polish and scrub work right along, either. That wouldn't hurt me at all.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wonderful Reads

I have two works at the moment that I am enjoying very much.

John Scalzi  (_Old Man's War_ ) has a nice text lifted from his blob linked here : You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop

Larry Phillips edits _Ernest Hemingway on Writing_  here :  EH Writing.

Both of these have vastly different structures but both have the same practical tone. That makes sense because both Hemingway and Scalzi are first and foremost professional writers. Different times produce different vocational aspects of writing. Both are however frank, objective, and insightful.

Scalzi's book goes down like a warm beer in a frat party beer bong. Hemingway's goes down like a liter of Bushmills in the same beer bong.

Wow. You'll have to read them because I can't do justice to either. There isn't a clever "quippy" way for me to distill two professional writers discussing the nuanced reasoning behind their thoughts on their profession.

I can say Scalzi has a very solid outlook throughout the pages I have thus far consumed. Writing is work so roll up your sleeves, check that bloody ego, and get to it.

Hemingway in just the first few pages has knocked me completely on my ass. Among his thoughts are that nothing in the world is as pleasurable as actually doing the writing task itself. ( I feel that way) Editing, research and all the rest is the price we pay but the power of the writing act itself is tremendous. Also, the best qualification for a writer [ remember, this is Hemingway who believes in the "truth" of a thing and the resonance of an observation with the measured reality of the reader ] may be an unhappy childhood.

Scalzi is constructed of sections lifted from his blog Whatever. It is Scalzi's wisdom dispensed with the nuanced application of a fire hose.

Hemingway is constructed from excerpts of personal letters, notes, and the rare interview. The piece trickles out across the page in broken fragments. It reminds me a great deal of pouring  Scotch out of a flask into tin cups for friends after an especially fine morning of fishing. ( Yea ? Well, get on a float plane sometime. Fly three hours from civilization. Spend the first day of a very expensive fishing trip getting blanked. Then, on the first fish of the next morning land the baby that you know will be the big fish of the week. You'll share that precious 16 oz flash of Scotch with your buddies at the 11 AM pit stop too. 16 oz flask ? You bet. Let's not go overboard with the rationing. They still make the stuff, you know. )

I enjoy both of these books on writing and wonder why I didn't buy them sooner.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Superlative Inflation

Really ?

I bought cat litter for my wife (actually, for my wife's cat Cheeto).

Extreme Cat Litter ?  Yea - that was the label on the box: "Extreme" cat litter.

I am using superlative as the adjective meaning "of the highest order."

However, it won't be long until the actual modification of the adjective occurs and we read descriptions of the "Extremest" cat litter. I know it isn't OED but I don't think the guy printing the cat litter box will give a damn.

Am I just a grumpy bastard for thinking "mighty fine cat litter" would be good enough ? Cheeto doesn't need to use the damn stuff while he's in the air at the X-Games BMX competition.

Drives home that writer's conference bit about "excessively florid language" in a new writer's novel now, doesn't it ?

Keep those florid and exaggerated descriptors low. Keep the cat litter setting to "mighty fine."  Save me from "extreme." Let it go.

Dangerous Beauty

I don't have a femme fatale story. I should but I don't.

I've mentioned that I am writing a pile of short stories at the minute. I'm in the "content creation" mode and will switch to edit, polish, rewite, and tune (EPRT) this winter.

I have a hole in my portfolio. So far :

Outside Paradise [ Jesus in Western Kansas]  (falsehoods, deception, faith, and anomalous miracles in the modern world)
K through 12 - the  story of a normal (?) high school sophomore from an unconventional family (mom - spy, dad - mad scientist).
Obits - the exploding chicken detective case. Murder (though unconventional) as vendetta.
Despot - the retirment plan for folks with a job-for-life
Rateater - a false flag specialist. Intel guy making a mint in the commercial sector.
Denis Ivonovich ( or Job's Tears) - the truth damns a man but the lies of his emotions are a salve to those around him.

I have the antagonist in Obits but she doesn't appear int he story. She as the murderer is more of the plot device than a character. Could be changed - but it then the story isn't about the femme.  I could use a vicious beauty. I know next to nothing about writing women.

Lipstick ? - check.
Shoes ? - check.
Browning Hi-Power ? - check.

I'm on the way. I'll have to work on a story where the cool calculated use of force gets her what she'd like. I'll give her a man's sensibilites (because I don't understand those of women) and send her into the target rich world of victims.

Motivation (used for illustration, without permission)  :  I believe this is from _The Big Sleep_. Martha Vickers is Carmen Sternwood holding the gun. Bogart comes over and takes it away from her. 1946. Warner Bros.

Carmen wants something and is direct about it. Of course, my femme doesn't bargain. She'd shoot then search.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Learning to Lie

We learn to lie in some very odd ways.

I've thought of this for quite a while. Naturally, it is something of interest to me as my characters are liars and murderers and murderers who lie about murder.

I have now something to share. It is not the finished beast that I will submit, but it is the germ of the story and a tumult for our character. It is a bit of my journal.

My interest is that in the more severe emotional perspective our character can compartmentalize neatly (thanks to an intimate understanding of lies) and that the less well-handled outcome is due to a truth.

I'm not writing here for a message. I am writing for the observation that I have seen too closely : We are quite comfortable with the correct and proper lie, we are uncomfortable with an ill-dressed truth.  It isn't a "new" revelation or something hidden from all other authors. It is merely a subject I care enough about to treat (I believe) well. In so, I think it has merit.

I share.

In a current work I have a fellow who is going to tell the truth. It will change his life drastically. Friends, business associates, maybe even his wife. All the negative consequences come from the truth.

As he is contemplating this event, our protagonist is revealed to be living in crisis. He has few emotional responses, little social involvement, few friends outside of work. As he and his wife enjoy a retreat at her sister's country house - sans said sister - his wife confesses in a horrendously messy manner that she was having an affair with a fellow who was actually in his fraternity and was a part of their wedding. He's broken it off and she wants to tell the protagonist because she works it around in her head that it was the protagonist's "fault." He wasn't sufficiently inclusive of her in his emotions. He wasn't making her feel "special" [ whatever the hell that ever is ...]. So ...

He confides in her that he is about to take action that will forever change their life.

She's not happy but the emotional revelation that she's been having an affair requires her to push the "don't you care" button. He admits he has know for some time and chose to avoid the confrontation of  any of the more clever means of discovery and declaration because he was waiting to see how it worked out in the end.

She has it in her head the "change" regards a divorce. He allows her deception to go forward partly because he just doesn't want to clarify the bit with her and hear more of her talk. Partly, he allows the illusion to go forward to see where it leads. He's going to let the untrue part run its course.

She's furious. He waited to see how the affair might turn out ? What kind of detachment is that ?

She asks him in the "this is THE big question" manner that fractured wives and girlfriends have been known to do : "do you love me, really ?"

We go back and see him as a child of five sitting on a bed. His mother - who any reader would attribute as a nutcase as I introduce her - asks her son "do you love your mother ?" Presumptively, the question stems from some household mystery and the emotional extortion of "do you love me" followed by a "then if you love me , tell me the truth about X."

However, the child - our protagonist at a young age -  sees, understands, and has already rationalized that this and other episodes of the commonplace emotional dysfunction of a 60's household leave no room for the illusion of love. He answers frankly. He tells the truth. He says "no."

The mother quickly packs and leaves. A period passes uneventfully as the child goes about a day free from concern. Some TV, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. The father is absent and unknown so we just know the mother left and the child is fully functional. He reads a bit of the newspaper.

In the late afternoon, Aunt Betty - a neighbor who is addressed as Aunt - arrives and discusses in child-talk the need for his mother and that he really must love her and that life changes horrendously without a mother [ the orphanage threat]. A call is placed and the mother returns home for a hug-filled reunion after a prompted (and reasoned) admission of love. The child's own poorly executed surface lie of "I was only kidding. It was a joke" is not embraced but allowed to pass with the "you never ever lie about love." From the source, we can see the opposite message etched in stone upon the protagonist psyche.

The child reveals in thought that the calculation of lying about feeling any love preserves his world. The scene of course ends with the mother pressing on to ask about the loss of X and the child's involvement (to which he lies flawlessly and now is believed).

We return to the wife ( a mess by all estimation) asking if he loves her. "Of course," he replies. 'I could only wait to be assured you loved me.'

She flies to his arms and sobs with the delight of reconciliation.

He suggests air - cool air might be a good thing for a new start. They walk out through the woods and down to the lake. She never asks about the revelation of "changing our lives" thinking that it had to do with "going to the lawyer's" as part of irreconcilable differences.

He considers the model of change - moving to a small town, a small accountancy, the effort at recruiting new clients in a static economy, and the effects of the stigma of being party to a RICO charge against a Fortune 50 financial firm.

He's weighing the truth versus the convenient lie. We leave without resolution but with the protagonist recounting the theme of the Hardy poem "Neutral Tones." [the poem]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fix It , WTF

What a pile of horseshit.

Tortured artist syndrome can only go on so long. Tom Petty ot Tom Waits can get away with it - for they are accomplished (in my world, published).

It's hard ? Do it or don't do it. Quit whining that it is difficult for you. If it is that hard, find something else like volunteering as a crossing guard or throwing coupons into bags of dog food *.

The purpose here is to build an audience and in fifty or so posts I've wandered all over the place without doing that. I haven't put out material of any interest to a reader. None. What kind of marketing failure is that?

Fix it. Sorry dear reader. Head-in-ass disease. Who the fuck cares about an e-journal. People read for content and insight. Some read in anticipation. Some read for footnotes.

Now, let me get the crowbar and see if I can't pry this sucker out. I feel like a Boise State student. **

* - demeaning manual labor job held by the destitute in a town where I once lived. Now Jackspeak for shitty mindless occupation.

** - In college, I had an associate from Oregon who used a coffee cup with the caption "Boise State's problem is obvious." The illustration showed a fellow with head-in-ass syndrome. Despite their recent football success, I have always looked upon Boise State with a degree of clinic detachment. Anatomist in me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing motivation

A cup of hot cocoa and a couple cookies makes me good for at least 1500 words.

Sometimes I need that motivation because my direction is unclear.

Sometimes that motivation is required because the direction is clear but the execution feels shaky.

Sometimes I need the motivation because it all just might work. There is nothing like potential success to bring out the self-sabotaging demons.

I have a plan. I'm on track for the plan. It's a good plan. Work the plan. Work the plan.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I've been thinking hard the last week on some advice I heard.

My characters are not disenfranchised. They are however insufficiently at risk. They're insufficiently at emotional risk. They might be unusual; though, they're altogether too safe.

I have to fix that.

Now, the emotional spectrum is difficult for me because emotions are not the first or even second thing I think of when evaluating any challenge.

The relationship between characters should involve more than the possibility that Miss A. will kill Mr. B.

I consider the terror from yesterday and I have the synthesis. My character will have and share the foreknowledge of suspense with the reader as they struggle with two or more bad choices (their perspective).

Suspense is knowing I have a gun and a dislike of someone in the room. Surprise is discovering the  same fact after the killing.

I want to convey suspense in an outcome that the character suspects,  which the reader foresees, and which all the effort of character is unable to stop once events begin cascading.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This one takes a minute.

It took me a while to understand the difference between terror and fear.

Terror prevents the normal function of a person and when implemented well, it disrupts the normal function of a society.

I've always been concerned with the atomic element of terror. [ Not that - atomic as in elemental as opposed to nuclear ].

I was a bit obsessed with the emotion of fear as a child. I suppose because it was visceral and had the ring of truth I trusted fear more than any other emotion.

As I grew older, I learned fear could be controlled  First there was the fear of things like an empty house,  lights in the sky, hunger, lack of comfort, injections. I devised ways to control these fears. I learned to not fear the dark by sleeping in a room with blackout shades (northern latitude) on top of the bed completely uncovered. If I could learn to sleep "exposed" to all the monsters and loud noises, then I could learn that my fear was irrational.

I used other means to overcome other fears. I had an upholster's pin when I was in junior high. I would repeatedly stick this 2" pin into my thigh or arm until I wouldn't flinch any more. I overcame my fear of injections. I stopped when I feared the marks would be seen and thought to be injections of heroin.

I learned that fear could be rationalized, examined, conditioned, and exterminated. Fear could be removed by the power of the mind.

Terror was an irrational disruption that I wasn't able to overcome. I understood its operation, purpose and aim. I understood the difference between inflicting and experience terror. I also began to understand that my personal terror was evolving.

It changed from something that caused physical harm (myself or others) or implied harm. Terror became more and more the consequence of my own actions that I could see but felt powerless to prevent. I suppose this evolution came with the whole embrace of an inability or unwillingness to care for others.

I could set in motion events that ultimately came to cause the disruptive effects of terror in myself.

My family was the dog who wagged until it bit.

The there was the horrible pain of knowing more than your age and feeling that horrendous pain of "this is doomed" but doing it anyway only to feel that misfortune. It is a popular marketing phrase now say "he's doing it for the right reasons." The thing is merely doing or not doing.

The doing had consequences and for a while, prevention of those consequences by not doing was nearly impossible. It was a nightmare existence. I was propelled by wants and desires I could not stop. Every young man has them : the desire for his own family, to make his own way in the world, to know what it is he enjoyed, to feel useful, to feel accomplished, to feel loved.

Terror is most that dream where everything looks and feels familiar but whose functions are completely twisted and perverted. The light switch that turns things off in the on position. The medicine cabinet opening the wrong way. The neighbor's house which looks the same but for the wrong neighbor.

Terror is in the familiar which is disconnected from the desired and conventional and whose behavior is uncertain and unpredictable. It causes us to second guess our actions. It causes us doubt. It causes us irrational considerations.

It causes unnatural disruption.

We cannot train ourselves to conquer terror. We train ourselves to ignore it. We train ourselves not to feel.

Unfeeling may be the most frightening consequence of terror.

I want my stories to embrace this sense of terror : that the consequence of actions return to protagonist and that he knows that he will fall under the avalanche of his own making. He commits these acts because he is compelled to do something, anything to answer wants and needs and desires. It is also that he knows without  any sense of resignation that there will be consequences and that these consequences will most probably be doom.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Too few

Too few dogs are used in stories to indicate the acceptability of a character.

Too few umbrellas are lost.

Too few cups of coffee are weak and stale.

Too few jazz clubs aren't smoky.

Too few detectives have given up drink.

Too few newspapers being read are a day old.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Read, Write

Sunday night and I've read far more this weekend than I've written.

I had to go back and read some story transitions by some of my idols.

I'd make a long speech about how being inspired by the masters can rescue otherwise mediocre work. We all know that it is easier to write well after reading something that was written well.

So much for the speech. You now know he point of this drill. Occasionally, we have to look beyond the trench. We have to get out of our own mud.

Friday, October 12, 2012


I dreamed of Rabat last night. That hasn't happened in nearly a decade.

I wonder if it still smells like spiced flesh ?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I shot a guy in a story the other night. I had a psycho girlfriend (someone I knew) pull a .22 out her purse in a coffee shop and put two in his head. Saturday night special job.

Normally, even a couple of .22 might have let him make it but in this case no. He was dead.

It was a VSS of the first order and just a fun evening with some other writers locally. I heard "the world's worst date" going on around the corner at the armpit of a coffee house where we were writing. The girl sounded familiar: vapid, but familiar.

I thought about the story a little over lunch and the direct violence made it less interesting than if I had set the story five minutes later AFTER she killed him. Maybe I could have had her going into a bar a block away and being hit on by some impostor. You know this guy. He chases any flag and has no actual personality.

The after-story would have been more interesting than the shooting. I prefer my violence off the page. I like Weegee. I like the photo after the gangland hit. I wouldn't care to see it in realtime.

I'm taking tonight off. I haven't the right frame of mind to do justice to my lunch date with a despot and I'm not ready for the other, yet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Update 1

"Back in my garage with my bullshit detector;
Carbon monoxide making sure it's effective" - Joe Strummer, _The Clash_ , "Garageland"

Steve Almond says something in a lecture on the Tin House podcast about what we should write.

To that end,  I haven't spoken to Andy Deckert but once briefly on the street in the last dozen years. I'm not very good about reaching into the past and Andy while critically influential is most certainly from the very distant past. He encouraged me to write a play once (properly, collaborated on the thing): _Overberry_.

Something happened years ago for which I was forced to use Andy as an unwitting intermediary.

I'll have to put that embarrassment, angst, prescience, and resignation into a story. I can physically taste the emotion of those events even now.

That's what I should write about. It is what I will write next.

Books About Writing Books

My new volume of _Tin House_ arrived today. That and _The Paris Review_ day are big deals here at toil central.

I couldn't resist ordering a set of writer's resources from an add in this month's volume. What I bought wasn't what they were selling. Hmmm. Sounds like a line from "Alice's Restaurant." [ No - that was way before my time. It was a very popular tune selection in the Katskeller one summer when I was hard at the books far from home. It was about fifteen years old by then.]

So, I bought this set : the-writers-series-print

I've also thought long and hard about Steve Almond's admonition that the reader must be apprised of the specific set of dramatic circumstances that surround the character in order to have any chance to empathize with his predicament. Simple, clear, and worth more than a little of my focus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Torsion

Writing is that activity most like a torsion.

There is the twisting of the soul where you desperately desire to tell a story for reasons not understood and that sane reflection that "you suck" and "nobody will want to read this" because if they did you'd have eclipsed Steven King long ago.

It is a horrendously self-effacing activity to say "here, I made this"  knowing that even of your friends 90% will go "meh ..."

I've got _Catch 22_  beside the bed waiting to start it on the evening of our first snowfall. Probably not a lot of people digging out Heller for a re-read these days, either. My friend Gene tells me the life of a novel is frequently quite a lot less than the lifespan of a cat.

The tremendous push to go on when one side of you says "you have to get this out" and another side says "it won't matter" is just indescribably brutal. It certainly creates an emotional state not unlike depression. You're excited about something and absorbed by something and thinking all the time in the back of the head that when this draft is done (done !) you'll put it away for future editing because you know this minute "it isn't good enough yet and until I see no flaws I will not send it out of house."

That is a good desire. I want to polish and perfect and make that one chance of success for a work to come to fruition. At the same time, the immediacy of reward is completely self-contained unlike almost everything else in life. [ Never show a work in progress to a spouse, child, sibling, friend, colleague, or stranger. Feedback before the creation process is complete is horrendously unhelpful. I haven't done this but I've heard for others who claim it ruined that story/novel/essay. ]

There is certainly a great deal of the twisting and rending of self in the serious pursuit of something you care about. It is easy to learn to disconnect ego from a position in the workplace. It is much more difficult to not see yourself in this writing when you are first serious. Self and the work are too closely connected.

It is a strange sense of madness.

I dip a shirt in the lake water on a hot day and wring it out before slipping my arms back through the sleeves. A little of that twist and bind from the cloth rubs against my skin. It rubs just as the current writing project rubs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Is It Any Good ?

Here is the quandry: Is It Any Good ?

The question that torments we writers who have yet to develop confidence and experience with our voices.

I've written about Hemingway's "bullshit detector" which is designed to determine bad choices we make from the less frequent good. My own calibration is still in some doubt.

I have made progress in crafting some work. I'm not yet satisfied with any of it. I am approaching the stage where I need to use exposure to the works of other struggling writers to recognize the garbage in my work. I can smell it. I know it is on there stuck to the page as if my work had been put to use storing fish. I can occasionally see the crap and scrape it off.

I am not sure I am perfecting my work or making it less shitty. Of course I know. I'm making it less shitty.

I've posted an add for Murderer's Row on a local meetup group whose weekly gathering of writers I attend. This would be a group of crime writers pushing their works along. Maybe to share, maybe just to read and discuss. it will probably not be a critique group if I can steer it. I suspect at this stage "things we like about it" delivered with a little honesty is as much as most of us can endue. The big bit would be the sharing.

No bites yet.

I'll probably put up a sign in Gene's bookstore. Maybe I'll put a sign in Agatha's too. I hate to resort to the internet because the face to face discussion has so much merit. Skype won't do the job for me. It could - but I'd really rather it not have it pressed to service.

Anyway - grinding it out. Tuning the detector. Felling solid about the progress on Despot and a little concerned that this one matters so very much to me. I am hungry to do well and pass my intended spring audition with at least two of the six works I'll churn out this fall.

I want to learn the craft. I want some decent pieces before I break down and go to a class. When the requirement to attend is to submit a recently completed work, I want to show I can hold my own.

I want to take a scalpel to the stories and tune them. I do not want to use a chainsaw on an onion.

Sunday, October 7, 2012



I remember this movie years ago and I was compelled to watch. It wasn't the story that drove me forward but rather the belief that something would transpire of meaning. It had WTF? syndrome. I didn't care about the protagonist. I cared about all the weird events and wondered when one might occur next.

It wasn't compelling as a story. Some of the events and characters were compelling as in so twisted I wanted to see their next action.

I need to remember as I construct Despot that the palpable sense of tension and danger stems from story as well as the twisted characters in it. One does not exclude the other.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lunch with a Despot

I've got a story where a meeting takes place over lunch.

The antagonist is a despot. Saddam, Idi, The Shah, Mobutu, General Sani. These are the guys.

My protagonist has a meeting with the despot in a civil setting on the despot's home territory. Probably on a terrace of the palace. I'd like to set it near a great fountain (where the despot fed a political ally to a group of crocodiles in celebration of the revolution. Nice touch, that).

So, you have lunch with a despot in a nice location with tropical palms and lovely blooming things. You're next to "the fountain" where he earned some of his more infamous notoriety.

What do you eat ?

I'm thinking classic french cuisine. I find bush meat insulting for the air of civility I want to portray. I toyed with Swedish delights.

Hmmmm. I will have to think as I cut wood and burn sumac today. Those are good projects for having ideas "pop" into the head.

I'll have ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. Not as notable an occasion as a despot encounter.

Friday, October 5, 2012

White Room

I read a piece from a friend about five years ago before I relocated. We traded bits once in a while and he had a great story going. He was on his third re-write after taking his second major overhaul to a critique group he'd been invited to join.

After his re-write he asked me to give it the once-over because his group had a "one and done" policy. This fellow was a bit of a serial "can you?" fellow but in a really nice way. He went out of his way to repay the favor. I liked that.

Anyway, I read his third. His first was assembled from various attempts and bits so by the time he got to the  third it was really polished and nice. It was a hard scifi bit. I liked lots about it except the dialogue.

He had an extended bit that was critical to the story. However, it took place when two of the characters were doing nothing. It was all dialogue: just tags.

Now, I've recently read this sort of thing from another writer and that dialogue worked great even though the action was very subtle and nearly non-existent. The difference? My first buddy's scifi bit had early action as a hook and late action as a resolution. This section of dialogue was not only a bad pacing for the story, it was devoid of action and could have taken place in a Denny's just as well as on an assault boat diving towards the moon's surface.

I hate to offer any criticism that is less than neutral. I'm not an editor and I don't want anyone trying to write to my screwy sense of literature. I like Russian novels and Hemingway. Nobody needs more of that.

So, I said blah blah that it had a great action hook and I felt compelled to read all the way through it. I let it go at that. He knew something was up but that's where we left it.

I saw it in print and heard it's got some sort of film deal now. Awesome.

The dialogue section had been completely redone and incorporated into the set-up for the resolution action bit. It was no longer two guys in a white room.

I love dialogue. I love natural speech when it flows - both reading and writing.

I hate dialogue that has no contextual action. It reminds me of spending time in a car with my ex-wife. It was fine when it happened but I wouldn't want to read it in print.

I still am really terrible at feedback. I'm not going to give less than neutral, though. I'll let an editor do that. Or I'll let the writer themselves do it after icing the piece for a while.

Never tell a spouse she looks like she gained weight. Never tell a fellow writer you thought something was in need of real correction. Friends and spouses are too hard to acquire.

Don't trust me to be honest. I write fiction. I lie.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Unexpected Fun

I had a blast last night meeting folks at the Aunt Agatha book signings. I bought new works by :
Loren Estleman
Sarah Zettel
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Alyse Carlson ( pen name of Hart Johnson)
Dan Johnson
Sharon Fiffer
Rick Blechta
Vicki Delany
Rhys Bowen

They were all great. It was a book signing cattle call so there they were stacked behind little tables in an overstocked bookstore (I like that by the way). It was a little difficult to put author with book because I didn't know any of them previously except Loren Estleman. He's nice but a little intimidating for a novice hack.

I had looked up to see if Rhys was a man or a woman. I'd searched what books they had out and the characters. I had a little trouble putting all the facts in order personally because of the atmosphere and the number of authors all together.

I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask but I chickened out in the end. I have only read one of Loren's books in the past and none of the other author's works. I'm halfway through Dan Johnson's  _Detroit Breakdown_ after plowing through _Sense of an Ending_.  I didn't feel like crowbaring questions without knowing their works better.

It would have seemed like a panel discussion to say something. I did get to talk a bit with Rick Blechta who I really liked in person.

All the authors were fun and gracious. None of them seem to spend much time in seedy bars like Old Town and I went. I need a little more grit on my authors. Maybe a little more scotch in them. I couldn't see any of them offing the local yappy dog let alone burning a neighbor in a woodpile.

 Hopefully, I didn't seem too much like the sort that WOULD off a yappy dog.

I have a short story : The Detroit Safari Company.  You can figure the rest out, Rainsford.  [ credit Richard Connell ]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Great Time

I had a great time tonight at Aunt Agatha's and at Motte and Bailey !

I love book folks.

I just had a blast tonight meeting folks and seeing old friends.

It energizes me to write. I want to take an award out of the hands of some  of these folks when they're the presenters.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Thanks to reading a ton of the "first page" entries in an old Snarkives submission blitz, I have redone an entry into Despot [ WIP working title. Short story. - ed. ]

Thank-you Miss Snark.

I'm happy with these three revised paragraphs and a change in the setting.

Revision while creating ? Sure, if it helps move things along. I needed the revision.

Tomorrow is an outing. I'm going to go celebrate a successful bookstore in the same town where Borders died. Yep, we still have 'em here. Bookstores.

I'm going tomorrow to meet some authors. No worries, they were writers first.

Well, Lauren Estleman might have just been created as an author. He has something over 65 books out there now. Oh ... I hear someone thinking something snarky out there. Don't do it.

The crew I'll see tomorrow can write. They can all tell a good story. I think they'll be nice folks, too. I'll be buying too many books from them. That ought to soften even the most jaded author right up.

Sales. Ohhhhh. (shudders) Just like candy.

If you haven't done it, check out Fredrick Pohl's blog I have linked over on the sidebar. I've read his stuff all my life and enjoyed it. I enjoy his blog as well. He sounds like a great guy, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I have tried to disassociate the writing from the business side of publishing. I want to get an agent, write, and let the rest happen.

I also want the Easter Bunny to bring me candy.

There is an excellent post by Marsali Taylor over at Murder by 4  [ Get Selling ] that clarifies reality as the antidote to this mild poison of fantasy.

We as writers are our brand. I want to write but in desiring to publish I also know that I need to be an active participant in the business of authorship. I cannot write well enough to avoid all the efforts to promote myself, my product, my future product, and my potential. Sales matter. Connections matter.

So, Marsali has a very succinct outline of some of the basics. It isn't too much different from what your father told you. I've never met Marsali but I like her already. Probably the boat thing. Short handed sailors are to be trusted if they live for long.


Shake hands firmly. Look them in the eye. Remember their first name. Be engaging and memorable without being boorish or overbearing. Exchange cards. When they ask you a question, answer it truthfully but directly.

One of the first questions writers ask each other is "what do you write ?" to which we shy and uncredited weasels mumble something [ Uh ...I write about murders and stuff ...I guess].

Wrong. Fewer than twenty-five words. Get 'em down. Memorize them. Get them out when asked. Smile. Be proud of what you are.

Mine :

I write humorous stories and satires about flawed characters propelled by event cascades stemming from murder or deceit. 

Examples (if asked) -

I have a story about a fellow murdered by exploding chickens. The detective is brilliant about the physical world but functionally illiterate about women. He's thrown in with a lesbian partner who knows far more than he does about the matters of the heart. Both detectives arrive at the same conclusion as to the identity of the murderer but do so by completely different paths.

The son of God is alive and well in Western Kansas. He of course is a functional atheist and ex-soldier. In a moment of minor crisis, he heals another character's thumb severed in a band saw. The element of self-deceit weighs heavy on the young man as he faces increasing evidence of some unusual ability. He confronts divine existence expressed in the unique manner of the western plains. He strives for some resolution about his identity.

That's enough without actual work in print to reference. It explains who I am, what I am about, maybe that my ideas are well-formed, and that the potential of execution exists even if it has yet to emerge fully.

I'm the exploding chicken coop murder guy. That'll do fine for a moniker right now. Just fine.

Good night Douglas Adams, wherever you are.