clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dam. Dam. Dam.

J.J. Harrison shot the picture at left of the Gordon Dam in Tasmainia.

So much of the effort of writing interesting fiction comes down to finding the way to navigate the dam - like the one at left.

We have these stories. They're the bits and pieces we've contemplated and sketched and made half-finished works about.

Now, we need to release the fiction into well formed rivers of prose.

Some of that effort comes from being comfortable with our story-telling. Some of it comes from being comfortable with the approach of the fiction we craft. Believe me, fiction craft changes over time. Audiences become more discriminating all the time.

We're all finding ways to let the torrents of prose loose. Relax. Breath. Write another draft. Smile.


It read better when you were smiling as your wrote it. I believe that now. I'm older. I can taste the words with a more refined sense these days.

Smile. Open the gates. Let some water flow. You're the dam to your own prose. Smile.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Back to Basics

Bacon and Eggs, left. The basics.

It's story, character, tension, conflict, and emotional investment. These things make the short story work.

I'm using them. I'm working on them. I'm crafting.

I hope you are too.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


At left, stairway from the U.S. Library of Congress archives from Welfare Island Insane Asylum.

We all could use a trip here from time to time.

The point today is to consider your characters' mental state. Many people are walking around with the long term consequences of unresolved pasts.

 I'm dealing with someone in that state now. It makes them different than they were in the past; but who isn't different now than yesterday?

So - it happens. Everyone is a little crazy. Build it in. Build it in.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


At left, workshop instructors Chiang, Winston and Franklin R.

I'm not going to a conference in 2014. I've waffled and wondered and puzzled and pondered. I'm not going.

I went to Bear River ( here ) last year and it was good for me. I learned some things. I also learned I didn't want to attend any more conferences where the entrance is not in some way juried.

I'm going on a retreat to catch trout and write this spring. I've invited some friends. Right now, this year, I feel the need to produce and grind and submit and publish. I'd like to go to a conference, meet wonderful people and have a good time.

I'm an introvert. I'm not the sales guy. I go into a room and can easily leave after a half-hour having met no one. I've perfected the invisible man act: the meaningless cocktail banter which ends before introduction is required. Perfect, actually. My native state: the edge.

I don't want to be that way but it happens. I won't get out of an agent/editor conference anything of meaning (I've read Miss Snark - all - and Janet Reid. I have a small clue. Small . ). After a couple of pieces published in respected magazines and a couple completed manuscripts vetted through betas, then I'd have something of interest to say. 

Workshops? Lovely - but I am more ready now for craft and critique than for more study. I have textbooks from the MFA programs. I've worked through one and am on another. I have a solid professional library from which continuing lessons can be gleaned. I'm not done learning by any means. I am done with face-to-face work for now.

Yes, I've had a writing group collapse. My first of - I'm sure - many to collapse. The cause? Ultimately, a lack of writing. Talking about material and completing material are two different things. I've been finishing too little.

So, no conference. A week's retreat: sure. Submission, critiques, production, reading ? Of course.

I'll add a caveat: I'll go to a professional conference should I win an award. I'm not packing any bags any time soon. I might dream about it one night in May just to see how it tastes. I'll not linger on the maudlin sentiment of success. Nothing like a boatload of rejection for motivation. Makes it better on the Bestseller list.

So, no conference. How about you? Anyone going to Iowa this summer? Tin House? Breadloaf?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tea Time

I like tea. [ Photo Prakhar Amba]. I like the first cup in the morning. I like the last cup at night. I drink a lot of coffee - I'm American, after all.  I like tea. I drink coffee.

I don't know why I find tea, honey and some milk to be almost as satisfying as a meal. I used to have cookies with my tea. Now I might have some pecans. I love pecans.

I also have notes with my tea. There is little as pleasurable than having a night hot cup in one hand and a pen in the other, making notes about the piece I'm writing. The little hooks, the tie-backs, the twists come most regularly with a cup of tea at hand.

The Holiday is over. The cubs are happy. I'm home. The stove is burning. The cats are playing. The foxhound is sound asleep. I'm working up a story about which I'm very excited,  and the kettle is on. It's thinking of boiling.

I'm off for the nice hot cup of inspiration on a cold night. I hope you find the same.

Why tea? Damned if I know. It works, though. It works.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Craft Done Well

I'm a fan of the photographs taken by Arthur Fellig under the byline WeeGee. Many of the pictures are "reaction" shots to something out of frame which is viewed by the subjects. I found that technique highly revealing of the human conditions. Exploitive, but revealing.

I like crime. All of crime writing is exploitive to some degree. There's a dead body on the floor in most of it. That didn't happen by accident.

I'm thinking tonight - on the last post of this holiday week - about that feeling of knowing you have lightening caught in a bottle but that it just hasn't been discovered yet. It's that little feeling of joy an before your first novel comes out.

You're a known quantity once you're on the shelves. Until then, despite all the frustration at having "not yet" there remains a little joy and excitement and fear of ironing out the craft.

There's a little bit of a wrapper around the "not quite yet" inside you at this stage. It's like a present.

That taste of a little bit before the success: it's a precious fleeting emotional state.

I'm off to pack, then write. I've got to stomp this little feeling out of existence by getting work out there - and that means finishing. That means gaining efficiency in execution of the craft. That means honing the storytelling so the revision process isn't a fishing expedition, at night, in the swamp.

I love Spanish moss and pecan pie at Christmas. I like pound cake better but no one but Aunt Mamie puts nutmeg and rum in theirs. Hell, no one makes a pound cake anymore.

I remember waking to the sound of the surf pounding from a storm offshore one Christmas morning and walking to Mamie and Ralph's barefoot.

Mind the Holly leaves if you cut though the back. They're prickly.

And write something.

Merry Merry. Happy Happy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sliding to Chaos

The laws of entropy dictate that all is sliding to chaos. At left, illustrated by Bob Embleton's lovely image, a tanker once full of utility now forever hauling futility.

I need to outline some of my nea rterm projects here for my own good. If I disclose them here, I'm likely to complete them.

Unwanted Presents: finish short story in Christmastown.

Wabi: revise short-story murder in Wabakimi Park.

Kait: redraft this bloody mess. Get a conflict for the short-story.

What the Crow Saw: draft the short story.

Banker's Son: Shoot Gene Angel and get away with it. Cut this short out of Last Days in Paradise and draft it cleanly. It can stand alone.

There, that's some work.

I don't want to blow to seed. I think I am going to submit Crow to Beat to a Pulp. I hope it can make the cut.

Now, work the plan. Write mule, write.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


At left, my view of the twitter bird. A rook?

One hundred forty characters. Really? Is that useful?

Turns out, it is. Quippy? Sure. Useful, though.

With that in mind, I've turned to recording some of my thoughts on writing crime, mayhem, deceit, even murder on the threads of @jacksblackpen. The blood is still damp on some of them. Don't get any on you. Hard to explain to the cops how it got there. Trust me.

Note that if you use JackBlacksPen, you might get something much funnier.

I haven't looked for Jack Black on Twitter yet, though it is amusing to imagine our audiences switched. [ Maybe not so funny for Jack's agent.]

A friend cautioned me: "what if something happens and the police look at you as a suspect?" When I answered "again?" I'm not sure they saw the humor in that.

I'm a trained engineer in weapons delivery and disbursement with a library of books on toxicology, venom, anatomy, physiology, hunting rounds and their advantages, and a solid collection of aviation accident reports from the FAA. I couldn't pass suspicion if the cat fell over of old age at 30. The cops would think I did it. Might as well go with the flow - and use a pen name.

I'm really excited about this new year. Really excited. Go to the gym and work off some excitement excited. I can almost smell the new next year.

Do you get that way?

This whole "I'm feeling good about what I've learned" business reminds me of the heady days in college when you'd get something in your head and go down to dinner just beaming with the sense of accomplishment though to the rest of the world, nothing changed. Well, it works that way in engineering school anyway.

So, out last night at a party of the dead. You know the one. Obligatory spousal date and that circle is filled with professionals who are tangentially related to my field but only on the farthest stretch of the rubber band. Thus, I exchanged pleasantries (and remembered one name: Fred) while imagining each as a murderer cast in a short story. Nothing came of it but it passed the time pleasantly.

I wonder if the elegant older woman on the settee knew I cast her as "Strychnine Sue" of Akron, OH?

Have some fun. I'm off to use a chainsaw. Bwaaaaahahahahahaha. Not that way. I have to cut some wood to size for the woodstove because the ice storm is likely tonight.

Write something at a party. Hide the body in a closet upstairs. Wait for the fun to erupt.

Ah, parlor games. So much more fun at holiday time.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Early End of Year

End of year, when we revisit all our writerly sins. I've plenty.

So, plan for half the year in 2014, fill the other half with the unanticipated from opportunity.

Biggest thing? Write more. Discipline. My friend above illustrates the point. The paper at the sides of his head? Total revised output for 2013. Not really good enough.

So, in 2013 I learned a lot about what works for me professionally to keep the wheels turning and "progress" occuring on projects on a daily basis. Never this year did I have the occasion to say "I should have but I didn't." That's great.

Now, my work process is solidified as rough draft, revise, full prose 1st, revise, critique #1, revise, edit, critique #2, minors - out to submission. Great. I have confidence in this process and feel solid about its execution. It's taken a decade to adopt the formal work habits to make this a reality. Of course, there is more iteration in the revision cycle than illustrated but it's a defined process I no longer have to think about. I do. I create.

Now, craft.

I'm going to work on the revision of short stories and their submission cycle in the next quarter. I know that the market is poor. I know success in publication brings almost no indication of success  as would come in a novel's release. My writing will however improve from this effort. I like short story. I like the discipline. I think working on the shorts will help restrain the urge to vomit all over the page in a novel, again. 100,000 words are not an excuse to be sloppy. I've been sloppy. Surprise.

This is a plan. This is a goal. This is a deadline (not disclosed, but they're in there). This is the difference between "wanting" and "doing." Writing is "doing."

I've joined the MWA as an affiliate (well - sent the app). That's the condition of membership when you raise your hand and say "I haven't sold a qualifier, yet." Humiliating. I'm paying as an "incomplete" as full disclosure of my lack of accomplishment and credit in my chosen avocation. Might as well get that out of the way now. Know shit? Sure. Done shit? Not that can be measured by sales - meaning I haven't accomplished shit you can buy and read. I'm invisible. I don't exist.

Oh, aspiring? No. I'm not aspiring. I'm writing. I'm producing. I'm revising. I'm editing and submitting. I just haven't convinced anyone to pay, yet.

This year, I've got stories I can execute which will pass muster. It's a mater of effort, and skill, and discipline.

I hate being managed. I hate managing myself. It has taken a while for the frustration at not engaging in the act of communicating with strangers through my writing to grow sufficiently burdensome to encourage myself.

Come to find out, I like strangers best. They are less disappointing than friends. They'll say horrible things - but intend to say them. When you write and you write because your emotions are so raw and unsophisticated and primitive, then the company of strangers offers a zone of safety not possible with friends. Strangers grow to be your source of defined kinship. They're "others" who haven't proved unreliable or unintentionally discourteous or casually hurtful.

We rely on people we've rarely met for the emotional fulfillment it is difficult to receive from the people who otherwise should be close to us. We speak to them through the monologue - our preferred means of communication. We write in dialogue. We express ourselves through monologue.

Writing is a malady. Once infected, it doesn't go away. Communication is the salve for the raw exposed nerves.

Write, mule, write.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Speed Helps

Speed helps, but it isn't everything.

At left, an F-104 designed by Kelly Johnson. It was capable of Mach 2 and sustained operatins at Mach 1.4.

It was also a widowmaker and landed at nearly 200 mph. Man in a missile.

The problem was, the thing didn't do the job very well. Pilots when in advantage had a good high-speed run at the target, but closing speeds make opposing head-on attacks nearly impossible to manage. The turning radius was poor and the plane had a very unpleasant pitch-up tendency.

In short, it was blazing fast and that wasn't the best solution for an air-dominance platform.

I'm grinding out scenes. I'm making progress. I'd like to see 2000 words a day instead of 600.

It's progress. I've figured out how to work optimally. First right, then fast.

I have my stride. Content mule, yeeeeehaw. It's taken a bit to get comfortable with the plan and execution of repeatably reliable text. Revisions need some attention. They'll get better, too.

Hope your work is going well.

Watch your six.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Garbage, and other truths

At left - look familiar?

Ron Carlson has a great text I've referenced here before : Ron Carlson Writes a Story.(here)

There is however something left out in Ron's version. In my efforts, there is the rough and then the draft and then late in the draft there is the walking around the room paralyzed in angst because what you've written is complete shit.

Lately, my quality control bullshit detector (aka the Hemingway Device) has been going off at 4 AM where I wake up knowing fifty things dreadfully wrong with the work in progress.

Then, there's the contribution by Elizabeth Spann Craig (here) whose blog has me writing with a little more structure (aka professional hours) where I write in the evening and then compose notes in the morning on areas for improvement, edits, revision from the previous sessions. The morning notes illustrate an increasing array of deficiencies.

So, no draft is of any use but in the birdcage unless finished. There's always the revision cycle. It's a holiday themed murder and the polished story isn't ready this year? Finish, revise, submit in the summer for publication next fall. You weren't going to make any deadlines with it this year.

I do want to get rid of the "walk around the room in angst" part of the drill. I hate it.

My bullshit detector is calibrated. It just works on a six hour delay and that's disturbing my sleep.

More to write. The story's not done. Go finish one of yours. Don't let it get away.

Hide the trash cans if you have to.

Monday, December 16, 2013


At left, a page of the Voynich manuscript.

Now resident at Yale, this particular text has been a cryptographer's puzzle for a couple centuries. It's been used as a type of test on occasion.

It is a manuscript created by hand and as such we know quite a bit about it from the pacing of the writing, the care, and the continuous flow of text. We don't know what it says.

I thought it was interesting to present a manuscript which has all the foundations of being a meaningful treatise though its content is almost completely unknown.

The plants depicted are not indisputably identified. The text uses no known alphabet.

Perhaps a jest? Perhaps a draft in need of revision.

Does it read clearly? Does each paragraph do a job? Will a reader understand?

I'm off to craft understandable prose. You should do the same. No Voynich allowed here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Shovel, baby, just shovel

At left, old picture of Stockholm removing the urban snow.

I had 8" in the last twenty-four hours. It's occupied a little time though I do have a 4 hp snow blower. It isn't the twin-drive cat-track mounted model I want; but, it does the job in one pass ninety percent of the time and there is no need to replace it.

I just want a giant new model. I don't need a giant new model.

In essence, I have a story I'm working on now with the shovel. I've done the rough drafts, have the outline, and am shoveling the text onto the page. I feel better about focusing on prose when I have the story and some of the plot interlinks all mapped out. When I feel good about a story, the prose goes better.

Amiee Bender has a podcast somewhere here on the net that discusses mental states when writing. She doesn't assert that we do our best work when we're comfortable, though we're almost certain not to do our worst.

Interesting - and it seems to work for me.

It's cold here now post snow. Fire going, foxhound on the ottoman with my feet, chicken and dumplings in the pot. Time for some serious prose progress.

I hope this evening sees the same for you. There are so many things that have to be done to be a "writer." Once and a while, it is the actual production of finished text. Seems like it happens in sessions  too far apart - between research, mulling, tea drinking, scribbling, plotting, revising, editing, and reading. I'm writing snippets of bits and pieces every day but so far, going back and sorting through the detritus hasn't happened. It's just the "daily write."

The good stuff seems to stick in the fore-brain. At least, I hope the concepts that stick are "the good stuff."

Write tonight. Feel good about it. You're doing what you set out to do when all alone in your mind: communicating with people you don't know so that they know you. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Cellar of Discarded Ideas

At left, what becomes of ideas when untended.[ Photo Keichwa]

Writing is a process of decision. Each word, structure, character, and speech matters. We know these things.

We walk around thinking about our scenes, our characters, their feelings or lack thereof. We come home and endure horrendous Christmas music blaring from our spouses when we most desire quiet.

 We try to hold those thoughts we had earlier in the day commuting, eating, walking. We try and then in the sorting bin of prose, we discard the intent or sometimes the very idea itself. Out, damned spot.

Where do these go? Where did they come from, anyway?

I don't know. John Boyd tried for the last years of his life to capture the magic fire in a bottle that is the associative nature of ideas. He tried to teach. It took, a little.

I try and keep my discarded ideas huddled in the cellar of my mind, shivering at neglect but still hopeful of release and rehabilitation into cognitive association. Sometimes I can do this. Sometimes they die of neglect.

King speaks of this a bit in his _On Writing_ and while I generally don't like that particular text, there are gems that stick.

It takes a while to try on ideas, mull them over, and decide which to use in prose. I think that makes me the "contemplative" writer. I have a friend who simply pours forth the volumes nearly formed in thousands of words a day. I manage a few hundred. Now, when writing prose I can do several thousand - yet these come after several drafts of rough outline where I'm telling myself the story.

This year, I've gotten better at telling myself the story.

This next year, I'll get better at telling the reader the story.

I have an odd sense of hesitation lately that I might be able to do just that: I might be able to tell my stories. It feels a little like giving up the blanket of ineptitude which has sheltered my prose for so long. I've felt it "wasn't good enough" and so shared so very little. I certainly haven't shared my best stuff.

Off to write. I've something to finish to submit to some critique partners. I need to get it out there.

Write something.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Eight Tiny

At left, Dasher. Snacking actually but there he is. US Fish and Wildlife took the photo. Nice, eh?

I've been thinking lately about the happiest place on Earth. You know it as Disneyland (as opposed to DisneyWorld, the one in Florida). I've not been there but I'd buy that it is the happiest place on Earth. I'm gullible like that.

My quandary came with "where was the happiest place on Earth before Disneyland?" Wouldn't that be 'Christmastown" at the North Pole where Santa lived? Of course it was. So what happened?

Unions, middle management, the guilds, immigration, outsourcing, wage pressure, quarterly earning, WOW (Worlds of Wonder) and its collapse [ the Longterm Capital Management scandal of the toy world].

So, Christmastown is now rather like Paris without the charming French. Oh, the streets are ice and it is very cold so take that Paris architecture and shrink the windows by 80%. There. It looks a lot like Moscow without the charm of Socialist utilitarianism ... in the newer parts. The older parts look like St. Petersburg in January.

Fuel prices are sky high so automobiles are scarce. Sleighs are prevalent as are those double-decker coach buses from London though these have small coal stoves near the middle of the lower level.

Charming. I'll keep the oddity of talking reindeer and the dominant population of elves. There'll be some humans who just have to deal with every indoor space being sized by the same folks who design airplane interiors for United in coach.

That's now. That's what happens when you fire Roy Disney as a Christmas Card illustrator when he wants to introduce a cute mouse as Santa's helper. [ Mouse? Mouse! We don't need no stink vermin. We've got reindeer! Out !]

Yes, Christmas town is no longer the "happiest place on Earth." When you factor in the secret police with the attitude of East Germany under the Stasi for an atmosphere of corporate purity,well.

Then there's the murder. The coroner said Blitzen was just found with a lump of coal shoved down his throat.

Oh, I love the holidays. So much ... opportunity.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Away From Me

A holiday project got away from me tonight. It escaped from the box, ran around the house, and had to be shot.

Actually, some baking ate the whole evening after I made dinner.

The project escaping and running amok made a better story.

I might have to use that sometime.

Butler mopping bloodstains from the marble in the atrium as guests arrive a tad early, their host explains that one of the holiday projects escaped and had to be shot for everyone's safety. Still, looks to be a great weekend in the country manor, what ho?

Oh, do lock your room doors at night, just to be certain. Better to wait until first light before coming down for breakfast.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Too Cold

It is seven degrees here. Seven. In December.

I'm going to bed and will do my writing in the morning. You should too.

Oatmeal, tea, and prose.

Oh, and these...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Smells Like Trouble

A left, someone who can really sniff out trouble: Louis the Foxhound.

Notice the steely-eyed stare. Ate a bag of shelled walnuts this week. Don't ask how that came out because it did.

On my mind today is the element of suspense within our crime writing. Mystery, detective, cozy, crime: whichever it is we all have malfeasance and, to quote the King, a good case of "somebody done somebody wrong."

The problem comes when we open our little texts and we know something has gone wrong and - boom - there it is in the first chapter. Now, I love a good hook. However, having the body on page five leaves me with no suspense or tension about the crime. Sure, I get to wonder if it is the only body and if Ms. KnittedScarf can solve the crime. I've been cheated out of narrative tension from the crime.

I'm writing about this after reading a handful of stories and a novel draft for critique and finding - gasp - the lack of story. Bloody good writing, though. Great words on the page.

I also need to say here it is my own worst enemy: a linear series of events without so much as an iota of narrative tension and risk. There. I admit I have some baseball-dull bits lying around this yer. Horrendous.

I'm recognizing it before submission to critique and I'm working on changes (though maybe not so well the first half of the year). The bits I've read these past three weeks drove home the point. That's also what critique groups are good for: showing you your problems. Mine is linearity and a lack of tension and so, I saw it in these stories.

So, the emotional journey to a land where we've not been before involves characterization, risk, and tumult. Got to have all of that right up from. Risk. Emotional tumult.

The best stuff is loaded with it. The stuff you read on airplanes has a taste of two of the three. The flavor is as strong as the taste of those pretzels. When did Delta learn to remove all flavor from food? Did that come with Northwest?

I'm off to cause a little tension, enhance some risk, and spill emotional tumult all over the page.

"They have a history" was a phrase my Grandmother used to use about couples that had broken up. I'm going to use that tonight.

You should too. If your going to follow your nose, make sure of what it is you're smelling.

Don't want to sick the dogs on your draft. I've got one that'll eat your homework, too.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

13th Arrondissement

I have a story set in an old city and for the model, I use Paris. Why not? Public transportation, infrastructure, some very old and some very new.

Now, the 13th happens to be a place of immigrants at the moment. However, any place of immigrants soon evolves to a place with long tails and eventually "the old city." Lovely trend, that.

At left, a little early snow. This was the picture I used when I first started the piece though now in my mind there is much more snow.

There is a little snow here. Yesterday was entirely consumed and so this evening - Sunday - I am wondering where the time went. Time too feels a little like this picture: there is the means to move through it but conditions tend to preclude anything but the walk.

I have a fire in the wood stove, pets surrounding me, banana bread baking in the over, and some cold roast lamb to go and forage upon. I'll finish this entry, make some tea, forage, and settle down with pen to craft some prose around the bones of the story I've outlined.

I hope this evening finds your home quiet and your pen active.

Write something. Then write some notes on something else. It's almost winter.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Know your Shinola

Detroit has a lot of pride despite a lot of crime and a lot of debt. One of things to be proud of is Shinola - a firm that manufactures watches, bicycles, and some great notebooks.

My new notebooks came today - putting Moleskin to shame. The binding is tight, the pages take ink better, and the overall feel says "quality." The cloth cover is even press bound with binder's glue and has a workman-like feel.

Better, look how they came - just because it is the holiday season! Gift wrapped without even asking!

I'm sold. I needed a couple of soft and a couple softback int he spare collection. Now that I have these which are actually made by a bindery here in Michigan, I won't be going back. I love them.

Link here:

So - now I have a first-class notebook. I better be putting in some first class notes. That's actually a problem. All the little slips of paper at the end of the day. I really need to glue them into a folio of some sort (I'm a one-side of the paper guy). I hate to go to a craft store but maybe an extended browse in an office supply store could help. The bloody things multiply with snippets of dialogue and points that just come to me out of the blue.

So, enough with the sales.

I have an interrogation to write - you know: the scene where the protagonist confronts the fellow you think is behind all the trouble and then he rolls over revealing someone else as "Mr. Big?"  In my story I've filled a miser's bedroom with tinder-dry Christmas trees as he slept and my protagonist is enjoying an especially large Meerschaum pipe. Makes for an especially nice turn on the Marley-Scrooge conversation. No supernatural elements, though. Not much on Christmas ghosts.

So, mind the smoking in bed. It's been the cause of many a blaze and when you're bound hand and foot with actual silk ribbon, it can make getting away a real beast.

Off to play twenty questions. Maybe you should do the same. Pick up the pen and ask the antagonist all those pesky reader questions. His answers may surprise you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


At left, the unique Giant's Causeway [ photo: Skytouch ] off Bushmills in Ireland. Yes, the home of the favorite whiskey has another attraction: the remains of a bridge Giants used for a fight.

I am considering how much is unique and how much is the unique combination of perspectives. By this, I'm thinking of all the literary tricks in our baskets which are comforting in some way to readers. However, it is the manner in which we assemble these tricks and slight-of-hand descriptions that marks our work as distinct when successful (and trite when unsuccessful).

Consider for the minute an attribution of action in narrative summary.

A speaks to B. B's action is described.

She looked away with her heart leaving the room to do so.  

Right there we have a continuance of description which tells us all we need to know of the state of the relationship between A and B. Yes, we could perhaps place a few more lines of dialogue between the characters to illustrate the point but in a brief summary here we've conveyed to the reader the distance that now fills divide between A and B.

Is it a slight-of-hand? Yes. It is properly a tool. We've injected our authorial voice into the narration and portrayed what we want to convey by blatantly stating it to the reader in what we pray is an acceptable fashion.

If we have too heavy-handed a voice we risk the editorial return with the comment "too much you, not enough A and B" which is a heart-breaker in itself.  I hate missing the target and so do you. If however we draw out the illustration in the continued dialogue about - oh - the dinner, then we risk losing the point and boring the reader with a meaningless interchange (seemingly) that does little to illustrate the point of the divide. It drives us in revision to inject horrid contrived devices

"Say, the doctor said I had cancer today. Have to get that taken care of," he said. 

"Or not," Mary answered. "I'm not sure I care. Whatever."

Yes - it too illustrates a break, but; did we need to give Mr. A cancer just to show the state of affairs?  Really?

I'll admit to shooting characters for sport. Giving them cancer? Maybe not.

Off to write the interview with Vixen tonight. What do you ask a reindeer? Did you kill your husband?

Write something festive, then shoot somebody. I'm going to...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's In the Trees

The title is from Kate Bush "Hounds of Love."

At left, an oak.

You can look at this tree and easily imagine it full of trouble: crows, magpies, rooks, ropes, aliens. It's such an odd concept for we ground-bound mammals: trees. Why would anything ever go "up."

Well, because of what is "down," of course.

It's time to watch Anthony Hopkins in Titus again. Also, Ian McKellen in Richard II.  I could see The Lion in Winter with Richard Burton and Katherine Hepburn as well. Maybe Polanski's MacBeth for good measure.

It is winter and my blood runs a little colder than normal, anyway. Nothing wrong with a little revolution in the family. My own children are not strong enough to want me dead. It isn't much of a generation that way but I can hope. Maybe they'll be murder among them yet.

So, the oak pregnant with the thought of something wicked. Makes good story.

I hope you are finding good story - even if it isn't quite wicked. Put a bad character in there just for me. Let him watch a beaver drown a duck as I saw on a morning two weeks ago. You wouldn't think it of a beaver; but, I saw it.

Write an evil beaver story. One of my favorites of late is I Want My Hat Back.

Who said anything about eating a rabbit?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Like Papa

It is the Holiday season and a young man's mind turns to trout. At least, mine does.

It turns to murder,too. I've a great Christmas Noir underway. I'm quite proud of it but it is just underway. I'm planning on doing the full flight polish and sending it out. Someone will like it for next year.

Apart from that, we have Papa at left as a boy fishing Walloon Lake in Michigan. The family still has a cabin there.

I went to Bear River last year on Walloon Lake in Northern Michigan (we distinguish Northern Michigan form Upper Michigan.) Lovely place. The writing workshops were fine. Lots of poets which isn't quite my cup of tea. Most poets don't leave bodies about or shoot wives in bathtubs or - well. The is Mayhem and poetry seldom goes that far.

This year, I'm renting trout cabin on the Holy Waters for a week. Tea, writing, and fishing in the evening. Basic living: eggs, bacon (or sausage) for breakfast or maybe oatmeal and walnuts if cool. Turkey chili for supper. Ham and cheese for lunch or - if I'm off the bread - maybe turkey, avocado, hummus wraps.

I'll have the morning walk and maybe coffee at the fly shop. Then armed with anticipation for the day and the report of last night's hatch, I'll walk back and write. As Ron Carlson says: I'll stay in the chair. 

A few hours later when I could go on I won't saving a little for the start of the next morning.

I'll have the nap. Perhaps a long walk afterwards in the sunshine then home for a quick take on dinner. I'll have a taste before heading to the water for late day hatch. Then in near dark, a return for the remains of dinner, a Bushmill's against the evening chill, and a novel.

I'll spend some time reading about writing for the month before - a practice which I do not do when I am writing seriously because it leads me to a type of paralysis.

And now, vision pleasantly in head and inquiry to owner in hand, I'm off to write.

Think of something pleasant and go write yourself. It'll give you an excuse for new shoes when they call you to the podium to accept the award for best new wonderful bit of fiction next year. Smile, and write.

Mind the bodies. They do pile up this time of year. Family.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's for You

Classic line of a million flicks: "It's for you."

At left, the candlestick phone that none of us had in the hall. However, we all know the model, heft, and utility from a million visuals pounded into our heads.

Those little words so pregnant with meaning: It's for you. Now, cellphones/smartphones and their inherent screening and linked voicemail, make the associative pressure of the answered phone evaporate. Don't recognize the number? Don't answer.

It was the cops? Well, I didn't talk to them, then. That moment of tension passes.

Of course, the cops don't call. They're at two doors at once if you're in my business. Basic stuff executed with efficiency. Patrol around back, detectives at front. No chances.

But the telephone. Now email. Now again text. The foreshadowing of interest - unwanted interest - that is so powerful an image of tension in a certain style of crime is still needed. We know the protagonist is in trouble. We know he's made a bad decision and then another. We know that he'll be a "person of interest."

Do the cops just show up? Does the phone ring? Does he get a text from Joey at the bar that two plainclothes were asking after him? Does he see the prowler park the next street over by looking between the houses across the alley from the kitchen window?

Cat and mouse. The game has real meaning for tension. It allows our character to demonstrate competence or flight or fear. He might confess to someone with something we readers didn't know. He might just load a shotgun.

We can handle it a number of ways but gone is the old standby of the candlestick in the hallway and someone growling into the receiver "yea?"

Unless we do period pieces.

I'm waiting for a call. That's how they tell you to report to the big league, isn't it?

I hope your call comes tonight. Until then, we ought to write something. I'm going to.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cold, Weather and Otherwise

Sorry. Neglectful blogger here.

It has been very cold here. I have a cold to match. I have been just wiped out.

Real post tomorrow.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Drinking Heavy Water

At left, little Nikita.

It is "Kennedy Day" and while I am partial to Jello and the boys, I'll give pause for the "almost was."

The saving grace in a system which harshly punishes failure is that it immobilizes free action and without compulsion, nothing is done. As much as any other factor, this gave the Soviets pause from launching a nuclear exchange that would have degraded to a near-conventional war . They would have gained all of Europe, the middle east, and North Africa.

Of course, being master of the cinder has some small consequence. The extensive studies by the Soviets during the 1950's on the scientific ramifications of contaminated coal being used for firing power plants had something to do with hesitation. Unfortunately, our targeting patterns did not generally favor the targeting of fossil fuel resources. No one told the Sovs that fact.

The early cold war is characterized by mis-interpretation and the over-estimation of resources and processes.

Exporting world-wide communism? Not so easy. Also, not so desirable without massive economic support from an already strained motherland.

Turns out, the places where revolution does best are also those sorts of places without the infrastructure to see everyone eats well, children go to school and emerge better than their parents, disease and strife are minor issues, sanitation and public health are effectively deployed.

I really am past the point where the politics of the matter are foremost. I'm concerned with the difference between what one wants to do and what can be done. I am a mechanic to the machine of state.

It would be good to consider your characters in light of Kennedy and Khrushchev. One speaks and the other hears something else. Incited to action, he replies against the first who in turn hears something entirely different and interprets the posturing attitude in a light completely different from that intended..

We see this when the animal opens its mouth and slowly wags its tail. Is it a gesture of play? Of contentment? A greeting? A threat?

Those sci-fi folks have all the fun.

"Look - it's a cuddly scaled kitten! Must be like their version of a cat around here."

Then, the screaming. Story title? "Lefty."

Think of the cold war first for your communication problems. It's easier to understand than your mother's hostility and a reader's first guess is always wrong. There's something in that for us.

I'm off to write. You should do so as well.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not the Reindeer You Were Looking For

So, the line is borrowed from Star Wars. It got you here.

At left, a beast of burden. Why yes, I realize you do feel just like this from time to time.

Here we are with our stories and their scenes and the intricacies of plot - all those things we can look at in someone else's work and say "almost" and look at in our own work and say "WTF?"

It is as if these unitary building blocks are completely foreign in our own hands but so elementary when in someone else's.

Yes, we've covered in these pages the need for the critical faculty of evaluating one's choices - questioning - without evaluating one's talent: doubting. Hemingway call such a device a "bullshit detector" and mine is constantly going off these days. That's good.

However, the bloody thing sounds like a fire alarm after a piece of toast got stuck and that is annoying. I''d guess I wouldn't hear subtle voices and I think maybe you wouldn't either.

Ah, there we have it. There we have tonight's point. We need someone in our circle who can tell us when we've gone astray. We need the someone who says "you can do better."  Some of us also need someone who says "you've been an ass" but that's an entirely different problem. My friend donkey also finds the term pejorative.

So, composition: how? [ Someone asked. Why me? chalk it up to poor judgement on their part].

We all have scenes we like when we start thinking of a story. These are often key confrontations and clever bits to which we are emotionally attached as the story evolves. I say keep all of those bits and use them in the first rough draft which is little more than the urge to stitch our favorite bits (sometimes merely what passes for favorite: familiar)  into a linear story.

Here's the bit: the linear story won't have legs. It needs suspense and narrative tension and heightened conflict - meaning conflict not predicted by the reader. I needs a sense of place and a defined characterization that makes the protagonist reachable in a few short words.

It needs time and polish and re-write and sometimes aging in a cellar and a re-blend with some other story. It is unlikely to emerge and stand on its own in the first 100 you write. Sorry.

You don't have to write 100 to get one published. You do however have to do everything in the first published story that it might take you 100 to develop a full set of tools to do on demand.

I had a magician explain a simple card trick to a blonde at a bar once. The card trick involved managing the tactile presence of the card with the palm of his hand, a little friction, and a sense of timing. The blonde said "That's easy." The fellow replied, "It just looks easy."

He was a slight of hand fellow who did "close" magic: Three Card Monte with cards coming in and out of the game unnoticed by you type of stuff. Fun stuff. He was also a cannon and could lift your wallet like Fagin.

Keep your passport close. Huge stink when it goes missing and you are in Shitcanistan.

So, write a story?  Write the drafts of ten. It'll be easier to get a good draft out of the sum of all ten than any single story with which you begin.

Now - Content. I liked this drill. Take an opening - Moby Dick - in my case. Cut it in your prose but convey the what you believe the author conveyed.

Melville's opening:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.


Unlogged Hours
My mother called me Denis for a few years while I was in school but eventually came to use what everyone else called me: Jack. There is irony in a name that’s slang for cash when your worldly possessions leave ample room in a rusty Subaru wagon stalled south of Safford on Arizona 191.
“She’ll run forever,” the man said. He should have bought a dictionary with the proceeds. California, I guess: forever doesn't last so long.
It happened from time to time. I’d be alongside a road in too long a twilight alone but for the smell of a girl who wouldn’t have stayed; waiting for the stars and wishing for a decent scotch. When it happened, when I’m waiting for the next “it” and I’ve had a bellyful of life, I crawl back in the cockpit.
I crawl into a cockpit on a jungle strip and take off into the night hoping the fuel had too much water in it, or that the Federales didn’t think the bribe was enough, or that I plain was out of luck. I called it my Colombian stoicism. No one gets the joke; but, my business associates haven’t read Plutarch or his stories of Cato. There’s comfort in their lack of knowledge: their lack of existential blight.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Fine Vixen

At left, a twin-boomed Sea Vixen of the Royal Navy.

The aircraft shared the twin boom design with the Vampire of the same maker: de Havilland.

I'm still working on the Christmas story though I had a great day today talking about writing with a friend. He's got some great experiences that will make wonderful stories. Now, to get them onto paper.

I have a little content from a writer's group I'm in. We re-wrote the first few chapters of various classics. I am especially happy with how a story structured on the opening of  Moby Dick turned out. I'll post it tomorrow.

Time to sleep and dream of sheep.

Head for deep water. Sounding.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Opening Day

It is deer opener here. At left, whitetail. Pretty fair 8-point. Saw twelve pointers on the buck pole tonight. Pretty good harvest for opening day.

Working on Christmas list. Much to do. I've bought some delightful books for the children. Tuesday by David Wiesner figures for several. The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg is on the list, too.

I'm not quite sure about the adults.

I'm still working on my North Pole Noir. I added a bar called The Fruitcake. It's a tiki bar, of course. [ Jimmy Buffet reference here...."Fruitcakes"].

Having fun with the story. Hope you are having fun as well. If not - shoot someone.Nothing like a body on the rug to liven up a party.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ho Ho Ho !

Reindeer? We don't need no stinkin' reindeer!

At left is a ducted-fan propelled sleigh from the hands of Henri Coanda in 1911 owned by a Russian Grand Duke. Note the complete absence of shielding for the occupants.

Hard to get a girl in it for a date regardless of how fun it looks.

So, back from the gulag. The season ran up on me and the whole election cycle snowballed into "civic wonderland." I'm only an amateur at this. Professionals do better at managing their time. They also don't hold down some other day gig while they're politicking. No - I wasn't the candidate. Rest easy. No Putsch this year.

Onto the writing. I missed the Insecure Writers this month (second in a row). I probably will be thrown out. It's a long sad list of organizations who have this distinction. Maybe there's a pattern?

Anyway - holiday writing.


This season before things get crazy, some writer friends at I are going to write our Christmas (or Holiday) stories. Literary, crime, suspense, commercial, and historical are all represented genres. The goal is a short story of around 3000 words with a distinct holiday element - namely that the story wouldn't work without the holiday association - in the style of our normal writing.

Yes, everyone is busy. Few of my writer friends participate in NaNoWriMo. Sure, we can pound out the text of a draft in a furious pace; but, we're not to the point where we can do quality work on demand. We're working on it.

Anyway, short stories to exchange with one another. It's a fun bit of diversion from the recent doldrums and the real need to get the twisty-plot and suspense things going in my own writing. Too bloody linear and too little of that of interest. Short stories whet the knife. It sounds fun enough to hold interest for a couple weeks to write, revise, and polish.

I'm proposing a watering hole as the "gift" exchange. Everyone can use a little cheer during the holidays.

So, why not play along. Holiday story exchange. It's what writers have for gifts, anyway. Stop giving away Bic pens this year. Write a holiday story with me.

I have to go work on the draft of mine. I can't be late with the story.

I've got to choke a reindeer on a lump of coal. No fair - I said it first.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Election Season

It is election season here ....which is a little like duck season.

I'm wrapped up until after Tuesday, November 5th. I've a horse in the race this year. He's a good guy with a difficult campaign challenge.

Write something while I'm away. I'll be meeting future characters.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


AT left, a Lamy Studio fountain pen.

It has the same nib set as the less expensive Lamy safari line. The hand feel is nicer and it is a metal barrel. Nevertheless, it has all the hallmarks of the (nearly) indestructible Safari by Lamy which you should try first if you think you might want this particular model.

Ink flows smoothly. I'm using Sailor Jentle Ink in black for its colorfast properties. I only use water based inks in my pens. Makes it easy to remove the ink sheen from me.

I gave something to a writing partner a while back and his criticism on return was "you can do better." He's right. I needed to hear that.

It was an early piece for a longer work of fiction and I was trying on a couple of characters and the subject of their attention: the despot Deti O'Tombo. Nevertheless, I didn't even get the basics of the story craft polished well enough. The setting had "white room disease" and the characters have "stock actor" syndrome also known as "sock puppet characterizations."

I needed to hear that. I know I failed to adequately develop the tension in the scene in which the bulk of the story transpires. However, The parts that I did write were horribly under seasoned. Gordon Ramsey wouldn't scream "it's raw" and that's about the only merit the work has in its present form.

Off tot he edit and re-write pile.

What my partner did for me though is put the latest short story I'm working on in another light. Another full re-write taking each scene slowly, carefully. Choices. Writing is about choices and I need to make them carefully. I was not. I was pressing for a shell of a story and not the immersion we need.

Too many words? No. Not the right words. Fifty will do fine over five hundred if they are the right ones.

I recommend the Lamy studio line of pens. Lamy in general is well engineered. They're German. Of course I use German pens. You cannot write well with a #10 Stanley Awl.

I'm off to write. You should do a little as well. Five hundred words and you'll sleep like a baby. A fitful angry baby.