clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Birds Do It, Bees Do It

Even presidents wading to their knees, do it.

Apologies to Cole Porter. I couldn't resist a sitting US President fly fishing.

We'll pass on comments about his style and form. The smile itself is good enough.

I've been off and about for Christmas. For my troubles, a cold courtesy an eighteen month-old grandson. We'll cut him some slack, too.

Glad to be back in the land of murder and mayhem.

Let's see, how does it go? Ah yes. Murder by numbers. Always an easy place to start.

I have a a couple of Stasi-trained thugs loose with a flamethrower in Tampa. "Fire cleanses all."

So, off tot he land of murder and mayhem.

Good luck in your own WIP. The New Year is a fantastic time to grind out some scenes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Rocky Road to Love

George and Ira penned today's title in "They Can't Take That Away From Me" in 1937. I'm partial to the Billie Holiday version.

I was talking with a friend a couple weeks back who confessed that somewhere along the way in their first drafts, they fall out of love with the book and abandon it. They labeled themselves a "serial starting novelist."

I kept my teeth closed because they didn't ask for advice and as writers, we hate unsolicited advice. Put it on a blog instead!

My favorite old salt is: "I want to see my book on the NYT Bestseller list."

The retort: "Write a good book which people buy."

Hardly helpful.

I just wanted to confess that I fall out of love with the WIP in every single draft. I think most writers feel the same.

The difference between published and stuck under a table-leg in the dining room is in the twin keys of completion first and revision second.

I don't get it right in the first draft. I don't get it right in the second. I'm fixing. I'm resolving. I'm striving.

Everyone does this.

Professional writers who master their craft make fewer omissions and require fewer revision cycles than we aspiring authors. They've managed to coordinate conflict, characterization, voice, point-of-view, and premise such that their first drafts are economically rendered.


I have a character who is wandering. His driven desire is not evident from page one of the story and he's being driven forward by events rather than actively driving events forward. That's fine when the character is someone to whom life happens and the reader knows how the daily blows are crushing their wishes and desires.

The reader knows their wishes and desires through word and action.

My reader today does not know "why" or "what" my protagonist wants. I know it. I haven't got it clear enough in the draft.

That's why it is a draft.

Yes, I am displeased when I look at the work objectively. Why continue then?

I have to tell myself the story. It's how I work.

When I know the princess is going to fix roast dragon at the end of the story and the knight is going to stay home scrubbing floors and raising children, then I can do a better job of incorporating her heart's desire of regaining the throne of Bearland.

Until I know she's going to go conquer Bearland and how's she's going to resolve role obstacles with her traditional role minded rescuer, I can't focus on her motivations and desires. It isn't how I think.

Better characters evolve in the second draft for me given I know the plot structure from what I've been able to actually write rather than what I outlined.

We all plan things that we cannot pull off as well as a reader might desire right there on the page. These weaknesses becomes transformed on the fly to some other strength and the plan then conforms to reality in the execution. In. The. Drafts.

Write to complete. Make the mess, identify the problems, fix them in subsequent revisions whether you work full draft or in sectional replacement.

You are not going to love the story with which you begin after you grimy little hands were on it.

You love the story it became after nights of revision, angst, doubt, inspiration, and a whole lot of perspiration.

If you are my friend and read this, please know you are not going to love any first draft.

You might love something about it, but you'll not love the execution until this is about your twelfth effort. AT that point, you're in a different league.

You don't have to love where it is now. You have to want to love what it is going to be and you alone have to trust you can get the work from one state to the other.

Please, try.

There are too few good books in one lifetime. There is always room for another.

The "good" shelf is nearly empty. Let's add one.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Backyard Hockey

At left, pond hockey from Spencer Gillis on wikicommons who graciously donated this image free of copyright. Thanks! Great picture.

I live near one of the iconic North American college towns. It's where I drive into work and play.

However, the little village closest to my home in the country  (just voted to be a city ... size no matter) is quaint and everything one could expect of a holiday town.

The backyard hockey ponds are going up this week. The skating rink in the park at the gazebo is being built. Lights are up. Sleighs are out. Even the hundred-foot spire on St. Joseph's seems a little straighter this holiday season.

We've no snow; but, that's fine too. Bicycles outnumber sleds as Christmas gifts.

I've set-up my porchade box in my library. It is normally used for plein air painting where my meager skills can be covered by the haste of wet-on-wet construction. I'll do some still life work through the winter, I think.

I find painting with oils and drawing in charcoal both help me solve the problems with my long-form fiction. There is something about working pigments in visual arts which frees my mind for working out the intricate dance I need in a novel.

I don't know why; but, some of my cleverest twists come while drawing or painting.

Oh, I'm subject to improvisation when composing a draft. However, those problems we have when working out a novel have this nasty way of being compounded by the dreaded "I don't like that" and at about 2/3rds of the way through for me: "I hate this."

First drafts seem so amateurish when we pause to take a breath.  It's important to find a way to let your problem solving address the holes you write yourself into without struggling to compose a solution.

When we force, we end up despising. Isn't that so?

"Light touch with purpose and a hefty dose of the craft."

I received that advice once when standing by an instructor staring at a painting that had "gone wrong."

Brushes don't fly across the room if we grip them lightly. No fork has flown across the kitchen lately. Grip the brush no harder than that.

When writing the drafts, grip the story no harder than when reading immersive passages of your favorite writers.

Lightly, with purpose. Allow yourself to solve problems in the text without seeming to search for the answer.

Another art can help. I don't see color and tend to paint in one or two color schemes. Terrible stuff.

I'm a writer. Not a painter. One helps with the other, though.

Hope your scenes this season glitter with the master strokes of Velazquez, Eakins, and Sargent.

I'm away until after the feast. Merry Christmas all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


At left, an image of Santa and sleigh from wikicommons which is listed as no longer under copyright.

I went to see the Santaland Diaries last night. Good show. Small intimate theater. Dinner with friends before, and drinks afterwards.

These were members of my "chosen family." I'll explain.

There's the family you have because of blood relation and marriage. It's a kind of random number generator for relationship potential. It has about the same success ratio as random chance, too. There's all sorts of people in your related family with whom you'd have no social contact were they people you encountered in everyday life.

My own wife doesn't talk to either of her sisters, for example. I'm contact with but one of my own daughters.

It isn't something with which I'm proud.

I could relate the allegations of deplorable precipitating history but it wouldn't matter to you. It's a judgement call. In my judgement, I don't want to associate with my relation. Think of it as leaving the train platform and taking a cab after someone falls (is pushed?) onto the tracks, is crushed by the incoming train, and you having no responsibility at the site whatsoever decide to distance yourself from the events as if they were contagious.

For me, that's it. I don't want the worst parts of my family to "stick."

The chosen family are those folks you choose to have in your life as the surrogate for the loving and supportive folks you were otherwise not blessed with by the gods of random biological chance, or marriage. Don't forget those pieces of shit you suddenly inherit by virtue of your spouse.

Too harsh?

My own mother treated my first bride horribly even at the wedding.

Now, mothers ... you should consider this carefully. With whom is your son more likely to spend his life in loving partnership: you who are a horrible esteem-defeating bitch to his new bride or his chosen bride? Think carefully. You get one chance.

So, horror stories of social events aside, we have those inherited by chance and those we inherit by choice and invitation.

I love my chosen family.

I'm going to be away spending the holiday with my step-son and the grandchildren.

It's my own version of Santaland: the fake commercial environment subject of plastic merriment and satirical literature.

I'm playing my part though. I'm wearing the dickey and the elf shoes and smiling with all the authentic joy I can swallow from a bottle.

I'm doing it willingly.

Know why?

I have a dream of a world in which the fucked-up familial bullshit of which so many of us have suffered does not extend to the next generation. I want my grandchildren not to know petty hurt which becomes with time great chasms of emotional ruin. I say this knowing I'm hurting the industry by which legions of psychologists and councilors earn a living. Sorry guys. Nothing personal.

So, in the eternal advice of Mrs. Marie Bloom - a loving and patient kindergarten teacher who endured my antics - let's be nice to each other even though we're all different. We all sit at the same tables together through the whole school day, after all.

I was at the redbird table in kindergarten. Donna Allen was at the bluebird table.

I've been disappointed by that happenstance of geography for forty-five years.

I hope she's having fun with her chosen family.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Cards

The one at left is an image of a Christmas Eve scene from 1880 on wikicommons.

I'll send some next year.

I'm not very good about Christmas cards. Oh, the household sends some. I myself however am a little weak about the drill.

I don't even have an ugly sweater. I'm going to have to remedy that some time.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Well Seasoned

'Tis the season.

I like fruitcake (you knew that, I suspect) and eggnog. I like fruitcake soaked in Irish Whiskey. I like eggnog soaked in rum.

I like crime fiction soaked in both together or alternately.

Sorry for the departure on aliens yesterday. The day turned odd on me and so there we have it.

I'm back at WIP tonight knowing that as I begin to loath the effort at present, it is because the idea has grown more mature and the last chapters will incorporate items completely absent in the early ones.

Shitty first draft: it is what happens when we tell ourselves the story. The next draft begins to move toward what we might enjoy.

It is a bit like fruitcake. Until the whiskey cure, there isn't a lot to love. Afterwards, the flavors meld and the richness of the tart amber against the prism of candied fruit makes it all work together.

I wanted to say in this entry tonight that I am here in the writing by the light of a single bulb in my library because of a teacher long ago. If Andy hadn't been adamant about "make a mess then clean it up" as the key to the modern construction of prose, I'd be wandering among the headstones wondering where it all went.

He convinced me that thinking like a poet was not a bad thing.

Now, off to fiction and the land of lies.

Hope the rum helps you sleep. Try the fruitcake! We've got lots.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I don't have a picture today because I haven't any pictures of aliens to share.

It's late. I've been at work for a long day. My creative engine turned wonky on me today.

I read a little last night about Douglas Adams largely because I miss the relief I first felt at hearing on  public radio the audio of the BBC television broadcast of  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I knew that if someone could write the things Adams did, I was in the right universe.

Turns out to be a little harder to do the same than I may have thought at the time .

Anyway, there I was today thinking about my WIP while I did what I needed to be doing with all my full concentration (you see the problem here).

Lem's Roadside Picnic came to mind. The story of Adams hatching the premise of Hitchhiker while lying in a field in Switzerland got all crossed up in the Roadside business and there I was thinking like I had an idea.

I've had aliens on the mind lately for no good reason and then with these two crossed up the story draft I have of a guy killed in a park in Canada when he's hit by a bear carcass wouldn't go away.

Now, the point is this: who meets their demise by colliding with a bear carcass thrown at them (roughly 600 mph else the bear comes apart a little. Don't ask how I know) ? Does it make any sense at all?

That's the point. Aliens are not going to make sense.

Sure, there's the "sufficiently like magic" premise of advanced science. I get it. What if there is also the "completely crazy" part of advanced alien science? What if the leftovers from alien visits/encounters are so bizarre we just don't comprehend the meaning at all?

Picture this.

Sir Issac Newton - a pretty swell physicist despite later delusions he was the son of god - finds a bit leftover from an alien picnic. Let's say it is something you and I can imagine. Better yet, it is something Douglas Adams imagined: a knife which toasts bread as it slices it.

Here is Sir Issac with this knife which makes toast. He knows toast. He knows a knife. He's pretty good at optical transmissions and celestial mechanics. Oh, he's pretty good at abstract thought inventing calculus, too.

He uses the knife to cut an apple and it toasts part of the fruit.

He's not a cook. He thinks the thermal alteration of the apple is some sort of accelerated decay effect. It's a toaster knife. It doesn't make dutch apple pie. It makes - er - toasted apple.

Newton believes the mechanism which he does not understand (physics but not nuclear dynamics or thermodynamics) is a type of decay-inducing weapon (it is a knife). Completely wrong! Bizarre!

Now. Put yourself on vacation in the Canadian wilderness and you find something else. Would you know it and would you understand it? Would you be able to explain its meaning to anyone else based on your observations?

I don't think so. I think that's the problem. Lem really made his world in Roadside understandable according to special rules to we readers. Strange? Sure. But, the world had a definitive logic.

I don't think the alien leftovers from an actual encounter on the Earth would be in any way "logical" to us.

There's the premise. Now, some characters and a good story of, well, murder. Has to be a murder. They're aliens. Somebody would kill over aliens.

Oh, you're right. I'm talking about Canadians. Ex-Nay on the Murder-ay.

Still, there would be conflict. I'll go with conflict.

See? Bloody odd day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Little Murder

Ebi ducked under the murder tape at the diner’s entrance with a little help from Sgt. Murphy, crossed the tables to the sixty-cup percolator at the end of the counter, and poured a lukewarm. He ignored the M.E. sitting on the last stool.

Ebi tossed the coffee back in a single slug as a shot.

“Good to see you, too,” Sherm said, watching. “Took you long enough.”

Ebi was the sort of detective who knew the day of the week by who was behind the bar over at the Ugly Sweater. Sherm was the kind dentist who moonlighted as the coroner in a bankrupt municipality when no decent pathologist would take the job.

“Phone’s broken.”

“Happens when you don’t pay the bill.”

“Lucky guess,” Ebi said reaching over for the last cigarette out of the pack in front of Sherm. ‘What’ta we got?”

“You,” Sherm said fishing his lighter out of his pocket. “You have a walk-in full of hamburger: freshly ground waitress and cook. Real mess. Buckshot - and a lot of it.”

“Robbery then?” Ebi coughed. He was on the third week of the same cold. He’d have it all winter at this rate. “Why’d you call me?”

“You’re all the homicide we got left,” Sherm stood to move away. “Till’s full - no robbery.”

Ebi growled under his breath half trying to clear his throat and half sounding desperate. “You’d left Murphy alone in here it’d be a robbery.”

“Your part is down the hall in the head. Guy choked to death on a lump of coal - but that’s unofficial. I’m just spit-balling, really.”

Sherm pulled out a new pack of cigarettes and beat them on three different axis before tearing the foil.

“Except for the lump of coal down his throat.”

Ebi swore.

“Best part of my day right here though,” Sherm laughed. “Ready for it?”

Ebi put his hands in his coat pocket.

“Driver’s license says the guy answers to the name of Donner. Picture matches.”

“You’re a real piece of shit. What’s it called? A masochist?” Ebi asked.

“It’s sadist, bright boy,” Sherm laughed. “I’m a dentist. In my nature. Thirteen days left in the year and you get a real case. That’s fifty bucks to me. And you? You get to work for the big man’s office, again.”

Ebi took a flask out of a coat pocket and discovered it dry.

“Which list were you on this year? Remind me,” Sherm said.

“You still sleeping with my ex-wife?”


“Then I owe you an even hundred,” Ebi said starting down the hall.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fan for Life

At left, a lovely Kawasaki electric fan as photographed by Sasihinka and provided to wikicommons under a very generous license.

I was asked today about "fan fiction."

I gave an enthusiastic endorsement.

Nobody started out as Tolstoy or Hemingway. Even Leo and Ernie.

You need to tell stories, master you emotions, have a sense of what you can accomplish on the page and what you cannot. How do we learn these things? We write.

So fan fiction borrows a world and characters largely formed by other writers' efforts. What of it? It isn't like we all don't have a vampire (Thanks Bram) or a zombie (hat tip to George Romero) or a ghoul (Mr. King, Mr. Poe)  hanging about in t he short story (or longer) pile.

Somebody asks me about fan fiction as a way to develop into a writer and my answer is that there are no two paths the same but for the pen, the pad, the keyboard, and the time alone in your own head churning out a mess you will fix later. If that mess is Harry Potter, well. Have some Hogworts for me.

So, after dispensing this sage advice which boiled down to "whatever," I thought about some really horrendous ideas for fan fiction premises. I share some here.

Armageddon - the big budget boom "oilfield in space" Bruce Willis vehicle. Say they don't blow up the asteroid in the nick of time and the astronauts watch two pieces of the rock crash into the planet while they float around in an introspective space junket. Write on. [ For $5 extra, bring Bruce back from the rock. He made it out).

The Beverly Hillbillies - practically writes itself. Jethro and Drysdale are indited in a white collar Madoff-scam and go on a cross-country dash to avoid prosecution. Write among yourselves.

G8 (or G7, today) - The leaders of the economic club of "haves" get together without their spouses or reporters at various locations around the world. What we hear about as "economic talks" are alternately: world anti-alien efforts; hot tubs, taco bar, and marathon poker games with bets like "The Ukrane" ; or the world's most elite book club (but they still do the stuff book club participants do ... namely, not read the book). Write, write, write.

Vogon Cultural Appreciation Society - In the world of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe (Douglas Adams), write about the Chicago PR firm (pre-explosion) hired to promote Ishtak Nuembumanzer's folio of spring poems. No pressure. The fate of the Earth hangs in the balance of the sales number the team can produce. Yes, for $5 you can use publisher math (like anyone knows how THAT works, anyway).

Dilbert's Guide to the Galaxy - the characters of Scott Adams in the world of Douglas Adams. Cheap, I know. It was lying on the floor and I just picked it right up. I'm like that. Write anyway.

Harry Potter, suburban wizard. The great flaw in my mind of the whole Potteresque world is that the magic folk just blend in most of the time. Maybe that isn't a flaw. Remember Salem? Didn't go well for the witches. Cool tour now, though. So, give Harry a job in middle management, a mortgage, and a son who thinks pops is just "weird."  Or, make him a junior high history teacher. That ought to be fun. Put the school in , oh, Texas. West Texas.

Sunday Night Mysteries. Put the crew of your favorite detective shows together in Chicago. Columbo, Castle, Magnum P.I.,  the blonde from "The Closer," Sherlock - the annoying one (okay, pick any of the recent ones) and they form an agency. Give them government sanction if you want. They solve cold cases. Ice 'em down.

You see how the game is played. Character, setting, premise: write.

 How hard can it be? Really?

Hey Buddy - How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Clean and Tidy

I cleaned the library today. Filing, discarding, cleaning, re-stacking: all of it.

I've been working in a sty and I think it carried over to my energy and effort.

I've been feeling punky - thus the absence of entries here - but have managed to keep going otherwise. This blog tends to be the last thing I do in the evening before reading for pure pleasure. When I'm pressed, something gives.

I've written a little for fun today as I bumbled about the house. There's a little invitation over on Scribophile for a piece on Christmas and of course, how can I resist Noir?

It is so easy to cast the North Pole as Detroit at the depth of bankruptcy. I believe Detroit is on the way back (helps that property is cheap) with a new renaissance.

I might well share the bit tomorrow if I get it proofed and do another draft on the opening couple of paragraphs to move the hook a bit forward in the tale.

I need additional bookshelves quite badly. Is there ever a writer who cannot confess to the same? Am I alone in the wholesale piles which just collect?

Yes, I have a Nook and a Kindle. Yes, I still by books in hardback, trade, paperback, new and - gasp - used. I buy non-fiction used that are usually out of print. Good volumes on the Soviets are not the current vogue but they interest me.

I have on my desk now: The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, Notes from the Underground, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont.

I feel more alive when writing than at any other time of the day. I thought I was crazy; but, if I am, it is the same brand bought by Anne and tens of thousands of other writers.

I'm hoping the clean desk, clean library will help make the writing a little cleaner, too.

I hope your writing area is clear, neat, tidy, and efficient - just like your writing.

My birthday present from my lovely wife included two wonderful crow bookends. Pictures below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bloody Cold

I've been fighting a cold all week. Writing? yes. Little else besides work, writing on the current WIP and sleep.

AT left, I'll share a picture from my desk at the shop.

Yesterday was Christmas Party day.

Pie. Given enough whipped cream, does pie even matter?

Trudging along.

More this weekend. Have some pie. It's good for you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dim Bulb

At left, a lovely copyright free image generously donated to wikicommons.

We often look for the big idea - the bright light.

Novels are a marathon, not a sprint.

A good idea for the premise helps. One is all you need. Lots of lessor ideas come along as supporting cast members when you compose the text.

They don't seem like much at the time and mostly we notice them as little bits of bling in composition - the little things that we think are more clever than our usual bits. (Maybe we end a chapter without showing the body to have the next chapter begin with a detective interviewing our protagonist, for example. We never mention the killing act.).

Put enough together and you get a whole basket of  holiday lights and display contest winners.

I'm stringing together little lights. If I'm lucky, I'll find a few strings of C9's to wrap up in this work as well.

Everybody loves a well-trimmed tree. I hope the cat stays out of yours. Neither cat will stay out of mine this year.

At least the dog has no interest in the thing. Artificial. Hate artificial; but, beagles are stubborn about a few things. Trees are one of them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Last Summer's Leaf

The leaves at left are a year or so old, found on the pathway of the Vancouver waterfront. They lay strewn about as so many corpses.

Fire, eggnog, spiced rum, murder.

I'm having a grand holiday season.

I even put up lights.

I hope you too are having fun.

Holidays are the time that brings together family. As a murder writer, there is nothing like the holidays to provide inspiration.

Most victims knew their murderer.

Don't let the season pass you by. Kill a character  at a party. There's always that room in the house that is closed off. Put 'em in there.

'Tis the season.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Under Steam

Locomotive picture courtesy 0484 from Wikicommons. Lovely picture.

This is the Union Pacific "Big Boy" which operated until 1959 pulling heavy freight over a particularly steep piece of mountain track. It is enormously powerful and rather fast (sustained operational design at 80 mph).

Back in the swing and in at the office. Minor crisis is the name of the day gig and they oblige by returning to their normal operation as well.

I will spend the evening by the fire with a pot of tea (later, eggnog with rum) and pen in hand.

It's good to be in late fall.

Feels right. Feels like it is time to pull the load.

Hope your tracks are clear today. Shove the coal. Make the steam. Time is right for pushing on.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rumors of Demise

Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.

I'm alive and well. I've been traveling for the Thanksgiving Holiday and generally ignoring the electronic world.

I answered a total of three texts or emails all through the break.

I did take a call from the office. Otherwise, you got voice mail and a note that you will be ignored: truth in advertising.

I'm an e-hermit but the whole separation from the 24-hour news cycle of panic and indignation did me well. At left, a picture of my toes in the sand of an outgoing tide. Pasty toes. (Michigan weather makes an Irishman cringe.)

I'm working happily on a draft that I am enjoying for the first time in a very long time.

I get excited about projects just like you. I get all misty-eyed at the wonderment of prose I will deposit on the finest linen paper which might be worshiped for centuries.

Hemingway rolls over a little in my fantasy.

Then, the composition, the outline, the reality of the shitty first draft (and if your first drafts aren't shitty, you're lying to someone. Check the mirror). The culmination is the depression over "not what I intended."

Everyone gets it. Published authors push through, anyway. Effort and consistency are a fine match for talent and inspiration.

Updike speaks of his process in an article here. The operative quote {paraphrased} ? For every published novel there is another unpublished or aborted work in his collection.

This is Updike. The guy worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker right out of college and , yes - it was a literary seal of approval even then.

It's been thirty years since I felt buoyed by a work-in-progress. Maybe I'm dying?

It's a taken a bit of devotion and dedication to get enough words out on a regular basis to again embrace the process of composing the novel.  When you are young, it is easier to be moved by the emotion of your writing action. When you are older, it is hard not to see those emotional events as maudlin indulgence.

Writing is emotional for me. The act itself is emotional. I would suggest that it if doesn't effect you on an emotional level, the odds of you having the perseverance to stick with it are low.

You didn't start writing for medals and sales. You started to write because you could say things which otherwise you felt you could not express.

There are a lot of dead pens which go into the effort. Most of what they write has nothing to do with the novel you end up with ...

SO, deep breath, shitty draft, finish it: FINISH IT! It's wanking if not finished. Then, revise something else, maybe draft the next, come back to this one with a fresh eye and fix it.

I don't know everyone's process but that works for me. I've got four in the bin worth the time for another look. I've got about nine (read: "about" means unfinished hideous draft) total that are source for other things. I've file boxes full of short story drafts that may or may not get the attention they deserve in the next six months.

It is process. It is daily progress. It is the sun in winter and the summer rain. Nothing is how you want it. It is how it is.

Back from the beach with ink on my hands, murder in my heart, and key lime pie on my breath.

Is there any better?

I missed this blog just a little. To whom can I tell these things, otherwise?

Sunday, November 16, 2014


The word is from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.

There is a woman - Mrs. Hogwaller - who has left the husband and child. To explain in front of the child, the husband says she has up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T.

Louis, pictured in his barn coat, has R-U-N-N-O-F-T.

We stacked wood today for about four hours while he was on a long cable lead and anchor. He played in the meadow and did foxhound things.

My wife came out, inspected our efforts as I was finishing, and offered to call Louis into the garage as practice for our "beagle home" drill we do a little of to ensure we can get him home if he gets off leash.

Fine, but for an unexpected cat.

Then, the woods.

Then, a scent.

I was gassed from stacking wood. He was not. I managed to get close enough at one point with leash and biscuit for him to sit, take the biscuit, then scoot off at high speed.

He was a quarter mile east of me in the woods and going strong when I lost him. He had no interest in staying close as is his normal drill.

Signs. The authorities. Social media.

He's a foxhound in a little coat. It is snowing. It is dark. The coyotes are out.

I'm resigned to not seeing him again. Beagles are rarely found. Chipped. Collared. Has his coat on. Still, odds are poor.

So, that look in the eye of the photo? It is not domestication.

Whatever you love, breaks your heart.

***** UPDATE *****

At home, on the ottoman as if nothing happened. Snoring, actually.

Probably will have the shits tomorrow from eating dead things in the woods. Ran onto a nice woman's porch about three miles away this evening. Probably thought it was dinnertime and she'd feed him.

Still a heartbreaker. The feet in the bunny pajamas are NOT mine. I'm wearing the boot socks, for the record.

Yes, Louis normally hogs the ottoman for about 17 hours a day.

Now, back to work for me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm So Confused

The grand Bouchercon has begun out on the West Coast.

I'm a little envious as I wanted to go - book in hand. Of course, I'm at home at the desk crafting said book. Actually, three downrange from said book. Hey, this one has a chance.

So, I look at the schedule and events and all the fun authors doing fun author stuff. I walk the foxhound in the snow while thinking about the scene I'm not writing tonight.

I return to look at the events again. I find the following:

"Author Speed Dating Hosted by Smith & Wesson 
Enjoy a continental breakfast along with tableside pitches from as many as 50 authors. Promenade 104 A-B-C"

I don't understand who is spending time with whom. I suspect the readers are being pitched by authors on their newest editions. I think. I really don't know.

I do love breakfast. Being pitched or pitching over breakfast? Not my ... giant pile of waffles. 

I can't figure out one event. I think I'm not quite right for Bouchercon. I'd need a guide. 

I'd also need the will to introduce myself to strangers. 

Better perhaps to stay in the library tonight.

Waffles. Waffles! 

Maybe I'll write through until breakfast.


I lived with a fellow once who described these sorts of mornings as "crispy." At left, a little crisp on my deck for you. First snowfall. 

It sticks in the woods, the grass, my road.

I've never liked the word "crispy." It just isn't one of my favorites.

So, snow. 

What will the tracks left in it reveal?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tiki Culture and The Writer

At left, my latest tiki which I received for my birthday.

Bobby Brady didn't start tiki culture but for me, he might as well have.

After the war, Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific and tiki culture was firmly here to stay for writers. You might know the musical version of the work better: South Pacific.

 I know among the recent literati there is a distinct attitude of dismissal towards Michener and his later works { Centennial, Poland, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Space} .

I am not in the camp. I might punch you in the snoot if you dismiss these works around me. Michener is a great storyteller. Always will be.

Also, the Michener Center for Writers at UT- Austin was a pretty kick-ass thing to do.

Anyway, Michener won the Pulitzer for fiction with Tales of the South Pacific which is a distinction no one should sneeze at. They don't give those things away - ask Karen Russell.


Martin Denny and Don the Beachcomber and in the modern day, Pyscho Suzi and her fabulous Motor Lounge (here) all did for tiki culture what the Sex Pistols did for punk and kids that couldn't sing: it gave them an out.

I'm a tiki guy because so much of tiki culture is about not joining. It's about not fitting in.

It isn't a licensed property one can buy at WalMart and embrace. It takes some effort, some dedication, and a willingness not to back away from a Zombie (ingredients: rum rum rum rum, lime juice, and rum). Wild Uncle Phil and I ? Tiki guys.

Writers need to know tiki. They need to embrace tiki. They need to be tiki. Crime writers, especially.
Remember Bobby and idol? Don't disrespect a tiki god. Bodies result.

My new tiki will go in a place of honour in my library this winter and in spring, a couple coats of black with a little silver overspray for the highlights, a sealer, and a fern for the head (wild tiki-god tropical hair .... which we all get after the third Suffering Bastard).

I keep my pens in a tiki mug (Suffering Bastard mug). I open bottles with an ironwood tiki God.

I often write to Martin Denny.

Now, Yma Sumac, that's one I can't quite handle when crafting prose.  She's fun though. She's fun like Tiki.

Watch your idols. They can get cranky, like writers.

Monday, November 10, 2014


At left, Robert Frost with his birthday cake at age 85, Waldorf-Astoria, NYC.

There comes an age when your birthday cake looks increasingly like a monument. Better to let it slip by a bit.

I flew to Dallas to take delivery of a special automobile  for my birthday one year. That was a good year. The automobile? Not quite so good.

The car had a great engine, and horrible secondary systems like the fuel pump, oil pump, suspension members. Well, some things have to be babied. I didn't keep the car long.

In Soldat, Siegfried Knappe  describes his pre-war Mercedes coupe and having the mechanics his armored unit make new springs for it so he could drive from the eastern front back to command and general staff school during WWII. That's a pretty tough roadster. Not my brand, though.

I drove with the convertible top down today. May be the last time this year. It's deep fall here and I'm writing about the cool fall of Florida where I've set several murders.

I remember one Christmas walking to the neighbors' house barefoot. I did step on holly leaves in our yard and got stickers in my foot. Life is different in  the south.

Have a happy armistice day.

Read a little Wilfred Owen today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Watch Your Head

This week starts firearms deer season in my part of the world. At left is the Stormy Kromer I wear when out with Louis in the meadow. Never hurts to be a little safe even at the expense of some Elmer Fudd comparisons.

The head is a marvelous item for crime writers. There's the melon that we shoot, the grapefruit we bruise, the hangover we house all from this one delightful body part. If humans didn't have such a component, we'd have to invent it.

I'm grinding onward.

There's nothing like running down the path of a novel to make you think about short stories that didn't work. I've a pile of those and I'd bet all of you do as well.

We learn from shorts that don't work.

I don't know what we learn from shorts that work except how to eat a little better from cashing the check.

I seem to reach some clarity on project A when working on project B. I feel as if there is some form of the unconscious mind that must be free in order to arrive at the inspiration for creation - or more commonly these days - repair.

What I do know is that this sort of clarity comes increasingly from actually doing the mechanics of writing. Plotting, outlining, revising - all great tasks. However, it is the production of prose centered around character action and dialogue which seems to trigger the thinking on what might not have worked elsewhere, why, and how it might be corrected.

Sounds odd, doesn't it? It sounds odd that actually writing makes us better writers.

Okay, so it doesn't sound so odd.

I bet that a lot of us struggling through our various stories could benefit from a few tens of thousands of words more versus the puzzling that comes in the revision cycle.

I could be wrong. I've got a couple banker's boxes of "not quite right" here under my feet.

Take investment advice from someone who doesn't have a day job anymore.

Take writing advice from someone with those little award statues and a boat that says "first novel title."

I'm off to get there. Maybe not tonight, but soon enough. For now, fun with a draft. Remember: fun.

I like fun on adventures even if someone might be shooting in my general direction.

Wear the hat.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Writer's Day

I had a writer's day today which is to say that the items I accomplished of importance are almost unnoticeable in comparison to the menial material tasks I completed.

At left, William Faulkner signature. It, at least, is in the public domain.

I worked on a new novel today making good progress. I ate a good breakfast in a new cafe in my little town. I bought new mantles for a lantern. I obtained the requisite brand of dog food for Louis. I drank coffee and furthered a story solving the "put off until tomorrow" sort of problems we writers too seldom put off until tomorrow.

I'm on a draft. I'm telling myself the story. I'm having fun doing so.

If you are not having fun with your first draft, you're writing for the wrong beast. I recently read a post by John Scalzi which outlines a novel he was writing under deadline last fall where he had to scrap the draft and write a new one at 2500 words a day. He's pleased it is doing well.

I'm surprised it is doing well.

I'm not a professional writer. I wanted to be back in my youth; but, I found better ways to make money and so I did. I've done just fine. Everyone could spend more; but, I've earned all I need.

Scalzi is a professional writer. he makes his living - schools his kids, feeds the family - by pen work. That's a burden most of us don't have.

Enjoy the lack of burden. Write with some abandon and see what happens. The best thing a writer can do is write. The best motivation - shot of a shotgun - is fun. Have some fun. There are enough parts that are not fun (line editing. Ick.) that at least in draft mode, let something happen.

So, having a blast despite sleet and hints of snow.

The foxhound is softly snowing. The wood isn't completely stacked. My laundry isn't done. I haven't attacked mouse issue that I heard last night at three (mouse in walls ..despite mouse removal agent 1 & 2 alert and armed).

There are things to do. The story however is coming along just fine.

Is there ever a better outcome for an investment of time?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Great Tools for Writers, Vol 2

Above and left, pictures of a lovely notebook cover. The hideous photography is my own. I'm not a visual media fellow.

I carry little moleskin cahier notebooks to combat the problem of "little scraps of paper." I also carry one because taking three minutes to write down an idea is worth about three hours of trying to remember just what was the "perfect" little addition to a piece I thought of earlier.

I never know where I'm going to need to jot a few notes about the WIP. Sometimes it is at a bar waiting for a buddy for lunch. Maybe it is waiting for the dentist. It happens.

I prefer to take notes on full-sized unlined paper which I then put in the three hole punch and place in the binder of the WIP where those notes seem most germane. Most often, they go in where the prior night's bit stopped and before tonight's bit starts.

The "full size paper" notes is a bit of a barrier. You don't have paper when you want it. Thus, the cahier.

The problem? The cahiers self-destruct in your pocket. They cannot stand much abuse and thirty days is about all one will last for me.

The Renaissance Art folks (web site here) make wonderfully thin leather notebook covers. My pictures don't do them justice. Also, they're very reasonably priced. 

With a cover, the pocket travel produces no wear or bending. The leather is soft enough to conform to a trouser pocket throughout the day. Also, it feels good. 

Holding the little leather covered cardstock notebook makes you feel better than the coffee sodden notebook alone.

So, a pen (always) and the little leather notebook. Suit jacket, sport coat, shirt and slacks, jeans and wool on weekends: works for all of it.

I desperately want a nice small brass fountain pen (like this one) which fits in trouser and jean pockets. You know the problem with a nice pen? It slips out and you lose it. 

I write longhand with great pens that seldom leave my desk at home. My working pen is most often a uniball because they write well and the loss isn't a worry. A fine fountain pen - even a "sport" pen - is a pile of bucks, even to Buck Rogers.

Yes, I've used disposable fountain pens. Uniballs do far less in the laundry and I do my own laundry (thus I wash a few pens).

The little leather case is good for you. It's a great a survival tool. After taping cahiers back together, I'm looking forward to a little more protection for my traveling kit of words.

I'd love to hear about writing kit that's worked for you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wire and Canvas

At left, a lovely photo of the Sopwith Camel from the US archives - copyright free.

I'm in a rough draft (Not a NaNoWriMo but just a coincidental long form starting here in November).  It's a fragile little beast.

Oh, I like it fine. That's why I'm writing it. I'm having fun with the characters and events and playing fast and loose ...all of which will be sorted out in the next full draft.

Nevertheless, I'm telling myself the story and trying to survive the event. It struck me this evening as the foxhound/beagle snored how much this process is like taking flight in an old biplane. Snoopy the beagle was the mnemonic there.

If you look at the photo, this beast met only the minimum structural standards for flight. There is no redundancy in any of the parts. Should anything fail, the whole craft was lost much to the operator's disappointment.

The rough draft first-telling of the novel is the same. You're searching for handholds amoung the myriad of character actions in the attempt to bring the premise to life.

Some idea set you off: chickens are deadly when they explode. Now, you have an exploding chicken murder on page one, a reluctant detective, some contradictory evidence, a couple red herrings (called ex-wife and girlfriend's current husband), and then you are adrift. What to do? You blow up another chicken.

Bodies are good for stories.

Anyway, the point is that a first telling is a mission into the blue. You have an idea, a sketch, a premise, maybe even a solid character. You don't have a good idea of what is going to work. Your story is at risk.

I like outlines in the revision of the rough into draft number one. It lets me discard the pieces I didn't like and start the formal drafting process from a place of security. I'd like to say I can trust my outline for the very earliest germ of the story. I can't. I need to make a mess, then clean it up.

That's a fine theory of writing Andy J. taught me (he got it from someone else): make a mess, clean it up.

I wish I could remember the attribution. Have to run. I've lit the fuse on yet another chicken.

Mind your Sopwith. Check your six. The story is gaining on you. [ great name, eh? Sopwith.].

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


It's the 5th of November. We all remembered to bring our treasonous plots to class today, right?

I favor the guy at left. Oh, I'm a capitalist swine. A good communist is a dead communist. I'm willing to help them get that way.

I have to admire this guy, though. He rode the big wave. Lenin. What a guy at parties. He looks like a fellow who would dance under a lampshade for a hat.

Vodka. Does a body good.

It's a good day for revolution. Give yourself a little revolution. Do something different. Go wild.

Me? I'm writing about dead Russians who thought they were cached and out of the game. So, how'd they end up dead? My protagonist - being Russian - wants to know.  He could be next.

No rest for the wicked.

Ah, the 5th of November.

Got a match?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Judy Blume and Stephen King, Together!

Comedy and Tragedy at left.

I went to a play at the Ringwald in Ferndale last Saturday. The work was written by Lisa Melinn and Dyan Bailey. Are You There God? It's Me, Carrie.

Hilarious production partly from the writing, partly from the acting, and in large part because of how well Judy and Stephen's works fit as co-inspiration.

I think both authors have produced some frightening work. They're a natural match.

I love satire. I loved Art Buchwald and Mike Royko. We are the less without them.

I have a revised outline based on a draft of a lovely work I want to publish as satire and humor, though I'm not good enough yet. Joseph Heller I'm not - at least not today.

So, on with a new work just like all of you. There are the books we want to write and the books we're able to write. Sometimes these are the same. Often, they are not.

Doesn't stop us from dreaming. Or laughing.

Go see a play. It'll be good for you.

Friday, October 31, 2014


At left, a lovely shadow from Cornava as posted in wikicommons.

A shadow is not the same as the thing. It is true to the thing only in a passing glance.

I've had a horrible early fall cold this week and have made it to work, but little else.

I've been reading and thinking.

I've a good idea for the next novel which is the first really good new idea I feel I've had in the last decade. It's been about nine years now since I started pressing again to finish work and about two-and-a-half years since I have been writing seriously - meaning with dedication - again.

It's just about the correct time for something to come trickling back through.

I'm shy.

I don't look it and apart from not dancing in the middle of the room at parties, you wouldn't know it.

I lie.

It's the first form of defense. I become something other than myself and protect my shyness by an act. It happens. I'm actually painfully shy when I'm not acting.

I've been shy with my writing, also. I've shared very little with colleagues who write. I've not done a very good job of presenting my work when I have shared it. I've stepped into the water only to retreat and think it might be warmer later.

I've been playing at it.

I've been shy for fear of drawing a spotlight to something I produce. I've not wanted - really - to point and say "this one is mine" for rejection or harsh critique or whatever. Seems odd since I generally don't give a damn about what someone else might think or say or do.

Well, I don't give a damn when I'm acting.

So, enough. Off on the new.

I know I can write well enough to get my point into the hearts and minds of readers.

I know I can create characters well enough to have them worm their way into your hearts.

I used to write love letters and they worked.

That's all the confidence I need. It's also a good object lesson to overcome hesitation. There's nothing like putting your heart into a letter that goes into the mail and know those words determine your fate.

No one born in this millennium will know that angst in quite the same way.

I lived through that experience the subsequent periods of success until in acting I'd act the ass.

I can live through a decent novel. I'll use a pseudonym, anyway. It's like acting for the shy author.

It will be a shadow and not the real thing.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Warms You Twice

At left, Lou and my new woodpile.

Wood you cut yourself warms you twice. Mine warms me a dozen times as I cut, split, haul, stack, cut for the stove, re-stack, haul into the house, burn.

I get good mileage out of a couple cords of effort.

I'm thinking tonight of stories we love to read again. These warm me multiple times as well.

I'm a sucker for The Big Sleep, 1984, The Once and Future King, and Hemingway's short stories.

I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide about a dozen times, too. I guess that counts.

I'm wondering what it is about these sorts of works that makes us want to read them again? Sometimes, the language becomes a bit of a pain (T.H White's doesn't stand close examination).

Nevertheless, like a fire we've created for ourselves, old saws we continue to re-read provide a type of comfort from where we were in life when we first read them, or what they meant to someone close to us who influenced our tastes even as those tastes have evolved over the years.

My desert island library might be different because I'd want to talk the things I haven't finished or never started. The Brother's Karamazov, Commentaries on the Punic Wars, The Satanic Verses, The Hours, the Rabbit novels.

I hope you're reading something you are enjoying on the bedside table right now.

I hope you'll share your twice-warming list with me as well.

I've got some stacking to do...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Murder in Paradise

Image left from wikicommons. Lovely.

I'm madly scratching away at a murder. Happy is as happy does. Yes, there is a decapitated corpse in Paradise Creek. Yeaaaa, me.

Someone wrote and said it appears I don't like anything. I'll list a few things here which I do like.

Ebola. Fascinating stuff for a guy who deals in public health.

I like the Marburg virus, Ebola, Spanish Flu, H1N1, SARS, bubonic plague, and the common cold. Biological warfare is fascinating. Anthrax - not so much. It's a pain in the ass. I hate spores.

I like Fukushima ( did you know they are making final preparation to remove fuel rods from reactor building No. 1 ?  $20 says they short it.)  Windscale and Chernobyl. Three Mile Island? Not so much. Fermi No. 1? Love it.

Russia out of Ukraine. Britain out of Ireland. Mexico out of California. U.S. out of Afghanistan - and Texas.

I'm a blast at parties. Since I regard social media as so much a cocktail party, you can see where I go from here:  right back in the hermit cage.

Probably a good thing because I have murder to write. Next time they have Noircon, I'm going to have some noir to talk about.

Nothing up my sleeves ... but murder.

Where did I leave that headless corpse? Oh yea, the Paradise Creek.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I'm writing a story in which I present characters as "ahead of the curve."

Think James Bond - always great intelligence and the perfect gadget for whatever he encounters,  It's a bit Sherlock Holmes, too.  Unknowable knowledge cast off second hand as if any fool has the study of bicycle tires at his fingertips.

So, how to avoid the cliche?

Make trouble. Interrupt plans.

Conflict is great. All Hail Conflict.

Tension is what we desire. Tension, not necessarily strife.

Make things go badly for the well-prepared protagonists.

Have the cops not be idiots.

Have the marks be unpredictable.

Have competing interests intervene.

Have the special key obtained through an elaborate series of bribes not be the correct key.

Obstacles. If things are going swimmingly, drown someone. Make trouble. Crime isn't easy.

Have the gun jam. Have the park be filled with fifth-graders. Have the city trash crew empty the wastebasket on the street with the special package inside.

Make the best laid plans fail, have the characters scramble, hit them again, then show their brilliance in a completely unpredictable way.

I eat that stuff up when I am reading. I think I know what the solution should be three steps in ... and then I am surprised. I like surprise. I like being wrong: not tricked, surprised.

I'm off to offer complications to some characters.

Run Jane. Run!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Conversation

I want to have a photo of an installation at Art Prize in the Grand Rapids Art Prize from this fall.  The work is Self-Portrait as Bunnies from Alex Podesta. It is my vote for best work at the show.

What the static frame cannot show is that in the current the figures bob and weave slightly as if in conversation. I'd say they're slightly larger than man-sized.

It is a stunning piece of work.

The fair-use bit is this: for recent art, its reproduction by any means is an infringement of the artist's copyright. So, while I have a photograph taken during a public display at an outdoor installation, it isn't kosher to reproduce the work here despite how I might tout its qualities.

I've gotten a little smarter at this business over the past couple of years - sometimes to the detriment of my writing fund. However, I wouldn't want anyone photocopying my work for a workshop on wonky pieces for revision and so, no photo.

A link: Bunnies.

The figures appear as in conversation.

So many scenes are conversations. The characters are doing something and that something is usually not too critical to the plot. It is what the characters say which matters. (Unless there is gunplay with the conversation. Then, the action matters too).

In my drafts, a cardinal sin which I have to correct in re-write is the "entire conversation" appearing on the page.

 I'm hovering about, catching the interaction, nuances, and every .... single ... word.

Now, when you listen to people talk, they don't say every word. If communication happens, most of the conversation is in fragments and abrupt interruptions.

Dorothy Allison has a great talk on this point at a podcast over at Tin House ( see my links at the right hand side ...dig about the site and you will find the lecture).

I have to go through in the re-write and chop most of the start for some sort of summary (and there are so many mechanisms to do so - even in dialogue itself - that I can't cover them here tonight) or I drop the start of the conversation entirely and begin in the action.

Let's look.

Criminal A and B are meeting in a diner to talk about crime stuff and a disagreement.

I can start the scene - and usually do - with the arrival, seating, the initial topic, the waitress interrupting, the mild insult of A to B over sugar in B's the coffee, then the tension over who is going to pay, the time being wasted, the need for a resolution, and away we go into crime details.

None of that scene I illustrate above is going to survive the re-write. None.

I'm going to start the scene after the coffee insult and its petty disgust A with B, leap into the detail of the problem (Big Jim says that was my take in my hunting grounds which you fenced and so you owe me. He also said it was my problem and I could work out a deal with you. So, tell me how this deal works other than I roast your kid over a burning tire until you agree to give me a cut? ) .

We don't care that they're still wearing their coats, that the coffee is bad, that the waitress is small-town desperate for a ticket out, that we're dealing with $3500 of goods, or that one guy drives a 1987 F-150 and the other fellow has a '79 Chevy Vega station-wagon carrying a good two-hundred pounds of Bondo on its remaining body painted all mouse-grey?

Does the detail add? You bet.

The scene has to work on the bare bones though before I add stuff back.

If the reader (meaning me with my reader's eye in the draft) doesn't care about the conflict between these two, they're not going to care about a puddle of grease under hash browns on the plate in what turns out to be the world's worst breakfast joint.

I cannot cover up the meandering attention-thwarting conversation donut by applying sprinkles on top.

A half-done fried dough ball is a horrendous bite and knowing the whole process the baker took since getting out of bed this morning isn't going to make the thing any better in my mouth.

The conversation must work within the story in its barest form before any of the color attributes are going to help the overall story's charm.

The conversation scene - if it works - might be left with only Mr. B tracing a circle in spilled sweetener from the pink packet on the table and finding the table-top too sticky to let him finish the effort. That's it : that descriptive event and the core of the dialogue ... that's all that might survive from fifteen pages of scene in the first draft.

 The conversation.

If you can't tell the story in the communication between characters and make it interesting, do you have the reader's best interest at heart?

So much for my favorite form of communication tonight: the monologue.

I'm off to drink dietetic cocoa (which is distinctly like kissing your sister) and spill blood on the page.

Converse among yourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back from the Woods

The picture at left is from Morguefile. It's better than any of my north wood photos so I'm using it.

I've been away standing in cold water, not catching trout, and thinking of murder.

I went to scary-part-of-the-world where you'd have to think about approaching a cabin if your car broke down. You might know these sort of places.

Instead of a "no trespassing or "no soliciting" or even just a "posted" sign stapled to a tree, there's a hand lettered pine slab nailed to the tree using six penny nails saying "go away" in red paint.

When you see this by a two-track drive entrance which leads straight up to a  cabin with a deer blind in the front yard, you wonder.

Nevertheless, I had a blast and made lots of notes on stories.

I also read a book on the forensic anthropology facility at the University of Tennessee. Fascinating stuff.

So, back to the grindstone. More stories, more mayhem.

More bodies - some in the woods.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Streamers of Joy

At left, streamers.

I'm rigging trout flies tonight.

It isn't all a literary loss. I'm thinking on the demise of a Methodist minister in the river.

Multi-tasking, the criminal way.

Catch a big one.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Right Fishing Partner

At left, black bear.

I'm going on a fall trout outing this weekend and will see some of these fellows. The river I am fishing has a dam downstream which keeps the salmon from running the river so I won't see too many of these fellows. I will see some.

It's going to pour here all week. Sounds like bad news but is actually great for my chances of catching bigger fish. Trout can't see as well when rain pounds the surface of the water and yes, I am in the river when rain pounds it. I'm wearing waders so why not?

I have a mound of trout streamers here on my desk. I'm keeping them next to a pot of Sailor Jentle ink, the charger for my camera, a headlanp, and half a packet of beef jerky. Your desk probably looks the same.

I'm getting ready to write a big payoff scene tonight in a story I'm been pounding out.  The story has a confessional bit.

There is a witticism about confession and the soul. I can't quite recall the piece. All I can remember is that a soul tastes better with gravy.

Maybe I've been around the wrong crowd too much.

You see my fishing partner.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mind On My Trout

..and my trout on my mind.

I'm prepping for fall fish camp. At left is a wonderful fall brown trout. Morguefile, again.

I managed to push through my "work therapy" and to write a scene this morning.

Grinding away but without much int he way of great inspiration.

Tomorrow, I'll show some of the giant flies we throw to catch the big trout this time of year.

In the meantime, you know what I'll be thinking.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Work Therapy

I'm addressing some priorities for my career as "other than a writer."

It is easier to eat and write than write alone. Thus, earn.

Back soon. Short term "all hands" drill.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No Flies On Me

At left, an Adams-style fly that appears to have a wet hackle design.

Trout love these.

I'm back and hitting the text hard. My daughter was in town the last few days and she absorbed all my attention, as daughters usually do. I don't get to see her much so that is no complaint about the attention.

I've also been to Art Prize -- a contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- to see some wonderful pieces.

I bought some flies tonight for a fish trip in a couple of weeks, read a little Hemingway, and solved a cat feeder problem which was leading to a cat "self-feeding" as a growing problem.

I have to write a diner scene in the next day or so. A hard case is on the trail of my protagonists and they surprise the fellow by joining him for breakfast in a Detroit diner. I can't do anything cheap as in rob a scene from any number of movies.

I'm thinking of having the owner on a stool by the cash register call my protagonists Mr. Wonderful and Ms. Beautiful when the enter.

I used to go to a restaurant where Mrs. Wong would call me Mr. Wonderful when she saw me. I miss the place. Family sold and moved to the gulf. Chef Wong taught Nixon and crew about formal Chinese cuisine for the China trip. Can't beat that sort of food. Wonderful people.

"You'll get me if you reach for it, Bobby," Winston said across the table. "Clean - too. You're a professional bad guy, after all. It's what you do. I haven't got much hope."
He buttered the toast with the edge of the knife and butter barely glazed the crumb. 
 "But Pete over there will open you with the cobra he's holding under the cash register. If he misses, the boys at table eight eat breakfast on me every morning. A white man in a suit like you ... in here? You'll never eat another waffle." 
Bobby smiles.  
"They got that berry syrup here. You ever try that?" Winston asked.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I am bogged with some details of the life not spent writing of crime.

When I think of something witty to get me out of trouble, I'll be back here extolling the virtues of mayhem and murder.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Even Money Bet

I like characters without an even money bet: they haven't got a fair chance.

I like to see that piece right at the opening. I like it when we the readers know that the game is rigged long before the character resigns themselves to this fact.

Where I grew up, the local constabulary consisted of a three man sheriff's crew, a sheriff,  and a state trooper who lived in the county. That's it.

There is always the idea that rural sheriffs are like Andy Griffiths in Mayberry: didn't wear a gun. I can tell you my sheriff wore a gun and when there was sheriff business to do, those guns were out and pointed at you.

The policy was to apologize for the weapon but keep it pointed at trouble.

Anyway, I don't like that policy as a writer because it doesn't give enough chance for things to go wrong and this week, I'm all about things going wrong. I'm a bag of trouble just out throwing it around my protagonists living room. I hope it works.

To that end, a little revision. I don't think my example from the other night is quite what I'd like to represent as an example of current posturing. With that, I revise for the things we readers know will downhill by starting with small problems right off the bat.


Bill inherited the worst eighty in the county. Cows won't eat scrub. Crops won't grow in clay. Bill ran for sheriff after Betty left for Hays, and won. Luck runs in threes like that.
He swore and started down the drive for Harry's house opposite his own. Grass crunched with frost under his boots down the strip between the ruts. Harry never married and occasionally pointed out his sixty years of good fortune to Bill. He'd probably do it again now. 
Bill didn't have a chance to knock.
"What are you up to this early on a Sunday?" Harry filled the kitchen door. The crumbling concrete steps  under Bill put Harry two feet above eye-level. 
"I know you're up, Harry. The light's been on for a good hour." 
 "Two," Harry said. " I'm no bag of bones to be lying in the bed." 
"Well, I could use a little more of it." 
 "Which is exactly my question."
 Harry crossed his arms behind the bib of his overalls he'd scrubbed within an inch of their color. Bill noticed Harry was shaved, too. He frowned, more. 
 "Piece of shit again." Bill gestured with a thumb sideways.  
Harry waited. He had his price.  
"Somebody in the creek. Dead."  
 "I didna' think that he'd be swimming in this frost." 
"It isn't a 'he', Harry." Bill squinted east towards the dead Bronco. "Can you hurry?" 
"The body'll still be there,"  Harry said already starting down the steps. He smelled of soap, bacon, and coffee as he passed close.
Bill wished he'd found socks before slipping on his boots. The frost damp was seeping in on him. 
He wished Harry would have offered coffee. He closed his eyes and just wished.
"Who is it?" Harry called back while heading to the tractor's shed.
 Bill swore in a whisper. He never won at cribbage, either.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pocket Water

In fly fishing, we call this "pocket water." That's a wonderful turn of a phrase.

This sort of water can hold surprisingly large fish. It holds small fish, too.

These little feeders can be quite cool when spring fed and the pools can hold large trout who have made their way up towards the cooler and more heavily oxygenated water.

A nice 12" brown trout in a little pool like this makes it all worthwhile.

I'm focusing on language tonight. That's something I think all of us love to do but it gets lost sometimes in the pressure of plot and characterization.

I love the local language of villages. I think of phrases like "son of a buck" and "nevercould."  The first is sort of a civilized expression of exasperation. The second is a type of admission that something is beyond the speaker.

"How'd that horse you bought from Smithson work out? He turn into a cutter?"
"Seventeen hundred dollars worth."

I have a story in which the speech the protagonist uses to let us know his mind is the delicate balance of the story's immersion. I break the trance, I lose the story.

I'm working on it.

I'm not willing to see it turn nevercould.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Never Still Water

At left, the St. Francis dam near Los Angeles in 1928.

This dam broke that year, killed 600 people, and ended William Mulholland's career. He'd inspected the dam less than a day before it completely let go.

Water will find its way. There is no such thing as still water when time is considered.

I'm searching for conflict. I've a pile of stories which could benefit from secondary arcs of conflict within the confines of their narrow banks. One plot arc will not do for publication.

I've spent a bit of time tuning the "Bullshit Detector" of late (a Hemingway term). I'm growing much better at observing the failures in my drafts without casting internal doubt on my ability to repair the faults.

It is easy for the observation of failures to become paralyzing.

I know.

The mythical bullshit detector is that item of equipment a writer must have on hand which finds the weakest parts of one's own works and allows them to be objectively appraised and repaired without impairing the writer's appraisal of their own talent or acumen

It's too damn easy to read something and think "this sucks"  meaning instead "I suck." A properly calibrated bullshit detector offers critical feedback to the writer without drawing into question the writer's ability.

Critique groups? Yes, these should do it as well. Too often they don't.

In the end, the writer has to perform much of the same function themselves. No one likes submitting work that requires obvious revision.

I'm working on it lately. No one likes to get caught up in a flood.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tight Lines

It's a fly fishing saying; "Tight lines."

Seems to work for writers, too.

In sailing, we say "under load" to mean a tight line. Not the same thing at all.

As a child in an occupied state, I recall a truck driving around with a large steel pole protruding vertically from the front bumper specifically to defeat "tight lines" -  lengths of thin wire strung across the road to decapitate passengers. The trucks patrolled to keep these sort of elements from injuring the civilians. Liberty: not a universally welcome ideal.

I'm writing shorts and "tight lines" are the ideal. There is a lot of casual writing that just will not do in a short. Every sentence has to pull at least its weight. A story full of sentences which only pull their weight are in a special class: unpublished.

In a good short - meaning one an editor said was good enough to print in his/her fee-to-read journal - most sentences have to do double duty. They have to do their job and part of the job of the one next to them.

If it all works well, at the end there is a whole landscape panorama of story in the reader created from a few brief slides snapped from the window of a moving car.

Something isn't clear to the reader from the staging of the dialogue and interaction? Well, a touch of exposition might work in a novel; but, it absolutely will not do in a publishable short.

I'm not a fan of Stephen King's novels.

I've read his stuff. I respect his accomplishments. I'm just not moved by most of  his long-form fiction.

I read one of his short stories first when I was in seventh grade.

"The Mangler."

This is an excellent short story and I believe it is in the short story that Mr. King excels. Maybe it is that I find his shorts so well crafted that his long form fails to deliver on the beauty I might otherwise expect of his work.

I don't want to see anything Scorsese paints either. I want to see his movie.

I've become lazy in working on the last two of my own long-form fiction drafts. My language in them is inexact and I am getting by on approximations rather than the precision the craft demands.

I love the short-story.

I know I must produce novels for commercial success. I am lucky in that I've no audience at all now. Lucky because I can work on seeding that audience. I can justify working on crime shorts of my own flavor.

If I were pulling the wagon as content mule and tied to a contract while trying to avoid the fate of cast-off mid-lister, then I could not spare the effort.

As it is, I can work on shorts and smile and be pleased that I'll have them in submission and soon, in print.

I'll be able to tell an agent I have published X and Y and Z in Fine Publication  while Exhalted Editor has encouraged me to submit future works to her journal via a hand-written rejections offering advice on future treatments ("hey kid: if you're going to submit work that stinks like this, please do so on 17"x 34" used fish wrap so that my intern staff can recognize its quality immediately and give it the treatment it deserves.")

Alice Munro winning the Nobel in literature did a bit for my ego this spring ... so there's that. Short story is an art form.

I've toyed with regret over not pursuing my writing as passionately as I could have - maybe - when I was younger. Without a couple of movie deals and the one-in-a-million commercial best-seller, I wouldn't be eating nearly as well.

But then, I'm spending my Friday night in my library with my foxhound working on a short story.

I'm pretty happy. Lou's chewing a bone and he seems pretty happy.

Now, better prose.

Take a wrap and tighten your lines, too.

Tight lines land more fish.