clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tyranny of the Plot

At left, one of my favorite tyrants: Uncle Joe.

Pol Pot is my all-time favorite but you wouldn't recognize him. Bad press agent. Stalin? Great press. Ask Putin.

Anyway - tyranny of the plot. This is the reliance on a chain of cause-and-effect relationships used to tell your story. Too bad it doesn't work.

Shit happens.

Why did sharks eat the marlin in Hemingway's classic? They were hungry? They had time before the #13 bus?

Who knows. Hemingway knew the reason was to increase the barriers to the protagonist's success. In the end, he uses this to redefine the protagonist's success.

You have a story. It seems reasonable and balanced and - to quote John Mellencamp - has "little pink houses for you and me." Burn. Them. Down.

Why? Who knows. Wildfire. Careless smoking. Brother-in-law is a firebug. You can't have aliens do it unless you are pitching science fiction. The devil can't do it unless you are willing to endure the scorn of paranormal haters.

I've read a bunch of well-crafted even-keel work lately where problems are solved, can be solved, and bore the snot out of me by being solved.

Please, cascade some chaos into that logical-worldview model you put on the page. Nothing in life follows the logical-worldview model. I know. I spent a lot of my life mapping it. In the end, a great deal is determined by individuals exercising control beyond their strict limits of authority and egos drive actions more frequently than considered reason.

We're walking balls of whim as much as logic. Make some shit happen. Then make some more shit happen.

Ignore the asshole who in your reading group who says: "that won't happen that way."

Of course it will. You the author are going to present it to me and I in turn am going to suspend disbelief because of your wonderful prose.

Cause isn't effect. Write that down. Cause isn't effect. Also, an event chain is chaotic. The killer does something we don't expect. The secretary is in on it. The wife already knows about the cheating and has her own lover: the soviet spy. The phone call isn't answered. The hero cuts the blue wire instead of the red one.

Walk around the room and do something unexpected. Take off your pants. Or, in the case of Alyse Carlson (watery tart) .... put some on.

Now, write something then write something more. Tinfoil hats get extra-credit.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

clam clam clam

The picture at left from on wikicommons.

I'm in Michigan so do not have beautiful clam pictures on my phone

However, I love clams in the first cool of fall. Love them.

It's fall here. I can't help thinking of how the leaves gently cover a body in the woods. I've never understood the "hunter finds body" story very well. I suspect that many of the bodies are found in early fall when hunters are scouting. When the leaves are down, finding the remains would be much harder.

I've a story where I want the body to just emerge with little cause. I want its discovery to be the problem in the little community. I'm not interested in the "who done it" part or the forensic bits. I'm more interested in how a body in a small community can - if prepped right - precipitate mistrust and accusation.

I'm thinking of a story where the act of killing causes permutations far more meaningful to the characters than the actual murder.

I hope you're writing Tonight, I hope you're writing about clams.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jill Kato

She's referenced in yesterday's post on the journal The Threepenny Review.

I don't know who she is. The short story "The Bullet of a Gun" is her first piece.

If she stops writing, I'll cry a river.

Amazing stuff. Amazing. It isn't a linear short. It's almost essay. It's still amazing.

I've said my piece. I've had cannoli. I'm going to bed.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Grinder

Put it in, turn the handle, good stuff comes out. [ Photo courtesy Manfed Heyde]  Rather, stuff you use to make good stuff.

There we have it. That's out writing analogy. Those hours alone turning the handle makes material which itself might not be that good...but which can be used as an ingredient in something pleasurable.

In the can tonight: The Threepenny Review. Wonderful. The thing is gorgeous. The writing is engaging. The photos are stunning. Even the crisp paper is pleasing.

Subscribe. This issue: A Symposium on Revenge. Wonderful writing. In bed tonight I'm going to read the short story The Bullet of a Gun by Jill Kato and the poem Heretic That I Am by Tomas Morin.

Now Jill Kato is a mystery. I can't find a thing about her. This is a new work and I don't see squat on the author. The magazine simply says she is a native of Southern California  and this is her first published work. Tomas Morin teaches at Texas State and has been around a bit.


I did the "books on the nightstand" routine tonight prompted by Elizabeth Spann Craig.Wow - what a varied pile that is. On top: Thomas Hardy's Complete Poems.

Poetry helps when you are grinding. It helps more than that television ever will. Throw that piece of shit to the curb right now. You're a writer. You don't need it. Those are other people's stories dramatized. You've been alive and watching for more than twenty-five years. Get rid of other people's stories and write your own.

Write. Grind. Make something that becomes something good. Oh - and subscribe to the magazine. I subscribed for $25.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Content Night at the FUBAR Corral

The pier beside the Isadora was quiet; but, across the quay a dozen men worked the cargo and hoists on the older, dirtier twin: the Cuba Libre. Bill ascended the last few steps onto the ship and the crew set about pulling the gangplank. Rumbling from within became vibration as she backed slack into her aft mooring lines.

"Puts the 'tramp' in tramp steamer," Veronica said emerging from a hatch in a navy blue trench coat. "The fog's coming on so damp with cool - there's that."

Bill smiled. "You wanted adventure and mystery. Adventure and mystery. Well - here it is. When we get to San Lupe, the world will have turned."

Veronica walked past him with heels tacking the deck plates, measuring their resolve. She almost turned as she strutted ahead pulling a .32 automatic from her pocket.

"Your definition of mystery," she said admiring the pistol and hearing distant sirens. "Are those yours?"

"Probably not. No."

"The mystery left me lacking. I had to make some of my own."

The ship quieted as a yawn, then lurched forward: nineteen days until the next port.

"Really?" Bill asked.

Veronica stepped inside the superstructure at the next hatch dropping the pistol back into her pocket.

"Just try finding the bosun."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Like Breakfast for Supper

I made a roast for dinner but the root vegetables were not done. Thus, I had breakfast for supper.

At left, biscuits and bacon. No, those are canned biscuits. I was lazy. This is another of my "cowboy meal" culinary specialties. Biscuits and bacon were a favorite bachelor supper of my youth.

The bacon is from my butcher. It doesn't come in plastic vacuum bags. Lovely stuff.

So, enough about dinner. Tonight's work is very much like breakfast for supper, though. I'm taking a piece of writing that is in rough form and retelling it with the best one-night polish I can muster in four separate point-of-view vignettes: Subject 1, Subject 2, the victim, and the invisible parrot (empty narration). I'll touch it again briefly Friday night and drag it into a writing group for appraisal on Saturday morning.

I could use the serious work, actually. I'm in draft mode on WIP and so I am a little sloppy around the edges.

Now, after this lovely dinner, something new.

I ran across the blog for Cristina James, Crime Novelist (two available on Amazon here). You have to be a little careful on this side of the pond because the OTHER Cristina James on Amazon writes the sort of "Fifty Shades" type of content. I'm all for sex in literature ... but I prefer murder and crime so suggest you look carefully before buying Operation: Spank Me in error. No - I'm not making this up.

I added Cristina to the list on the right because I want to see what she's up to and because you'll want to see as well. She's the sort that has frank discussions with her husband about body disposal. Right up my alley.

So, check out her blog. Buy a book. I'm going to.

Off to write (and shortly, to package a pot roast and trimmings for leftovers this week).

My Muse is a Piece of Work

I don't mean that in a good way.

Why is it that when you're hip deep in some serious piece of work you are puching through to the finish, you come up with all sorts of sexy project ideas beyond what needs to be done?

It isn't that I dislike my muse. I just think she has the self-control of a high-school cheerleader at a frat party.

Might as well get her another beer.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gettin' All Sappy

 [ Image removed ... cannot find attribution ]  A sap. It's also called a blackjack.

This is "usually" a less-than-lethal weapon containing a leather-covered weight of some sort. Buckshot, tungsten, a piece of sucker rod, a chunk of cast tire weights. Surprisingly, it doesn't take too much.

The operative use is for the blow to cause pain and discomfort without breaking the skin. Mostly, it happens that way. It's really difficult to result in a depressed skull fracture but the one stuffed with sucker rod will do it if the wielder gets "out of hand" with the device.

Applied to a sensitive part of the victim - the scalp, the face, the ear - it is almost certain to incapacitate anyone who isn't int he business of being hit for a living. Now, your fist will do the same. The sap allows the blow to be delivered without the consequence of putting your wrist in a cast.

On Bob the Baker, it's a great tool. Try it on Bob the Biker and it might not be as effective.

Like I said: it works well against people who are not used to getting hit frequently. Don't think this does any good against a boxer - or in Michigan - an amateur cage fighter. (NYT Sunday last sports section. There is a story there about the underbelly of cage fighting in Michigan that'll make you puke - and not from the fighting description).

Why do I show this?  I gave one to a character. I gave one to a guy who is in the "tough guy" business but should find a new line of work. You hit someone with one of these, it is a bit of a crap shoot. He's going down or there is going to be a real ugly follow-up to your action.

I shared this with a "peacekeeper" once upon a time. You can't just have a bunch of bodies laying around a checkpoint full of holes. Well, you can't do it anywhere there is regular air service ino because that air service carries reporters (unless you shoot a couple of those "too" ... or have the "rebels" do it).

You give a character a less-than-lethal weapon, good on you. Just remember, they don't always work.

That might make for a little fun right there. Nothing like a character waking up on the sidewalk looking eye-level with a tooth and suspecting it might be their own. That's a character building moment right there.

I hope you're keeping your head down. I know you're writing. Go for the knockout blow.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bill, Veronica and The Party

Finally, a cocktail shaker of the proper proportions!

At left is the Sasquatch available here. It's the only type of Bigfoot hunting that attracts me.

Content follows:

Bernie Aston was hosting the party. One of his soon-to-be-flop productions had its premier earlier in the evening. His West Hollywood home was the current after-party of choice for the well-dressed indigent of the cocktail-party circuit.

A very thin knife blade snicked down the outer jam and Bill stepped into the guest suite closing the door. He held the knife menacing the pair within.

"With Bernie then - is it?"

Veronica barely turned. She was in her silk slip and heels standing by the oval guest bed built upon a three-step platform in the middle of the room. Pastel wool tumbled down and across as wall-to-wall. She held a bottle of Chanel in one hand as another woman might hold a champagne flute.

"Yes, Bernie." Her voice pulled the name out. Berrrrrrnnnnie.

The subject of the accusation lay upon the bed in his underwear, his hands secured by gold ropes which previously held back the curtains. His mouth was stuffed with an uncertain item of clothing unlikely to have been his own.

"Forget your date?" Bill asked. He took two steps closer and needed nearly a half-dozen more to be a real threat. The tuxedo tried to hide a Chicago tough but the  knife flashed the fact as a marquee.

"Hmm... memory problems seem to be the party game tonight," Veronica answered. "I forget you. Bernie forgets he's married. You forget to bring me a drink."

Veronica turns and stretches out a her hand. "I forget my lighter. Be a dear?"

Bill pulled a Zippo from his jacket pocket and flicked it through the air. Veronica's red-cawed fingertips snatched it and in one practiced motion struck a flame.

"Oh - and Bernie forgets the combination to the safe."

Veronica spritzed the perfume over the prone man applying the lighter for a flame effect. Bernie could have used that trick in the movie: Sinbad's Eighth Labor.

"I told you: safe-cracking is effortless."

"... and I didn't believe you," Bill said. "Bad on me."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Off the Map

Have you been chugging along lately grind on your WIP and suddenly you look up and realize you're completely off the map?

You've gone to the land of emotional adventure. I think the chap at left might have been there recently. He's looking to his right and expecting one of his characters to make an entrance any minute.

I had a character take a turn I didn't expect, then another and then another. I have no idea where this state of mind came from but I like it. It's better than I plotted.

SO, looking at next year's conference schedules. I might have to make a couple just to see what they are like. I've been to the lovely Bear River [ CAUTION - full of poets and memoirists ] but would like to go elsewhere.

I only expect to gain a little energy and maybe meet someone.  Maybe not. I'm pretty shy at these sorts of things. I made an effort this spring at Bear River. I guess that worked out better than I thought because I did meet a fellow there who turns out to live a couple of houses from me. [ I don't know my neighbors. Better in the end that way. ] He's working on the craft as well. His stories are sharp.

SO, thinking about making an east coast and a mid-western run then tell myself "no - useless effort that would be spent finishing a couple stories." Probably right there.

I haven't found the bit for me. I need to look harder.

Backspace? Maybe. I think I joined but I haven't used the site.

What about you? Thinking about an adventure yet?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Letters I've Written

....never meaning to send. - Moody Blues, "Nights in White Satin"

Angst, regret, longing.

Have you put these in your characters and if so, did it matter?

I tend to think it didn't. Characters who do things do not live in the past in my works. They have enough going wrong in their present to make up for it.

Now, there are wonderful novels where characters are plagued with their past regrets. I'm generally not crafting those stories.

I thought I would be. I thought for a very long time that I'd find the trick of tying the past injustice of belief to the present tyranny of existence. Not so.

I turned the knob to "11" on present tyranny and liked it better. It's worked for a while.

I'm just wondering about the motivation from the past. We're driven at times to try and right past wrongs - those we've committed or those committed against us. As a primary motivation for my character - maybe not.

Repentance implies a degree of regret and an admission of wrong. My characters have none of the stuff. They've done wrong and they're comfortable with the discomfort it's caused.

I'm piling on my characters lately. Almost makes me sorry for them. Almost.

Shoot somebody tonight. Put a body on the ground. The reader could use a little chaos and there's nothing like a .38 in a lady's handbag to put some chaos on the table.

I'll have double, thank-you. Scotch. What are you having?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thursday is Content Day

I came back into the living room with the bottle of tonic and they stood by the fireplace looking at me.

They looked at me a little too long. I just stepped into the kitchen around the corner so it shouldn't have been that big of a surprise.

I guess I wore my doubt with the same smudge Veronica wore her lipstick. Joe raised his arms a little bit with a pathetic sort of bleating.

He stopped right around the third slug from my .38.

Veronica started right in walking over to the coffee table and lighting a cigarette in a huff.

"Jesus, Bill," she said blowing smoke out her nose. "I just had this room done. The carpet cost a mint."

"I can't stand a cheat."

"I can't stand decorators so it looks like we're both in for disappointment."

I opened the tonic. She wasn't going to let up unless there was a drink in her hand. Soldier on.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

End of Day

The poster at left from the movie Armageddon - which wasn't quite what I was going for tonight.

At the end of the day I frequently have little notes in my pocket. Sometimes they stand alone ...often they just are to trigger thinking about something else important. They're a little like my own version of a cockney accent.

I'm producing some on the desk right now for your amusement.

Aur Atoll. Look into the equatorial launch facility.

Have to wait 'till yesterday's here. (Tom Waits lyric)

Swimming Lesson needs more than evil little boy - needs conflict for revenge to matter. To kill Brett, need something in story sufficient. remember _Fell From the Sea_...

The air raid shelters are now blooming clover (Kate Bush lyric)

Voice, tension, some sort of unexpected.

Superhuman compassion in the face of persistent misbehavior (Steve Almond quote)

considerable narrative tension can be wrung frm a situation in which the reader knows more than the character (Steve Almond, again)

Push Kait farther. Mom is a James Bond super-agent .... Kate names steps int he kitchen for super villains as she walks across in the dark.

Sin is the currency of the realm, boy. Murder puts brass in the till. (My quote).

The overturned tractor crushes him slowly. Delmar dies and Ollie watches. The Ollie goes and calls the fire department.

So, maybe my little end of day notes are not so far from the End of Days. Fratricide always closes the chapter nicely. Too bad for Abel.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

18th and Vine

I saw Ella Fitzgerald at an outdoor concert one fine fall evening thirty years ago. I remember sitting in the seats with a buddy so early no one was at the venue but the staff wiping down the seats from a washing with a fire hose.

I wrote a quick story outline on the back of the program for the performance about a young man in town to drive for his uncle - hired to kill a Civella gangster. In the story set at the venue, the kid meets a young girl there to listen to the concert who turns out to be the gangster's niece. Star-crossed.

It wasn't a story I ever put in full form. It was just a piece I outlined and thought about as I waited for the little combo to finish tuning. I remember it clearly though. I remember my tiny scrawl in ultra-fine cross ballpoint across all the whitespace in the little program.

Ella put on a double concert that night. Joe Pass -  the other half of the bill - was ill and so she did four sets. I suspect my gangster story came from Joe's bio in the program. [ Sicilian ].

Great night. I remember the smell of popcorn. I'll have to write that story sometime.

You should listen to a little jazz tonight as you warm up to write late into the morning. It'll give you the strength to feel what you need to feel for the page.

Good night, Ella.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Holiday !

At left, my current mood. [ Dead Kennedy Album cover copyright was in doubt so instead, Pol Pot from the Romanian photo archives of communism].

I get like this once in a while.

I wrote a little about despots this morning early. I'm putting some things in place. I know the humor in the forbidden just like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. You laugh nervously about the serious dark side of life.

You laugh though and cannot look away.

I have an article on my desk tonight from The Times of India from Saturday past. [ Read Widely. Start every single writing class you teach with that admonition. Writers are first broad readers ].

Thirty-Seven dead in Russian psychiatric hospital fire located in Luka 137 miles SE of St. Petersburg.

Wooden building. No sprinkler. Middle of the night fire. Hard to say what caused it though they did have a pyromaniac admitted this past summer. Sixty male patients were housed including fifteen who were bed-bound.

There's a story there, too.

Horrible topic, you say.

The Diary of Anne Frank ? How about something less horrendous: The Good Earth which won the Nobel prize for Pearl Buck. Only a little famine and infanticide there. I know. Slaughterhouse Five or maybe Catch-22 which certainly is a cleaned-up version of the human suffering of war.

Horrible topic present us with the mayhem and maelstrom that unhinge our characters and remove from them refuge. They struggle with the horrendous and through it free you to feel  - but feel less than if you too suffered.

Horrible still, you say?

Read - not watch - read Life of Pi and tell me about the horror and fear of tremendous fiction.

Do some harm people. I know you are writing.  Write something other than the martini being warm.