clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dystopia Can Be Fun

At left, Mr. Blair. You'd know him as George Orwell. Died a young man of 46. Tuberculosis.

You'll have to excuse me of late. I'm working on a piece about two people in a technologically sophisticated setting which has become a type of dystopia. The story is about a crime and two people, but I set it in the near future because I've had enough of the recent past.

I'm a little sensitive to dystopia as shown in yesterday's post because I've re-read 1984 as part of the prep. I've read it many times so can cover the book in a couple days. It does make me sensitive however.

I know more than a little about toppling regimes, fomenting dissent, dirty tricks. I've read extensively of the course work behind such things. It is upsetting to see how the pieces fit and how they can be manipulated in my own back yard.

Anyway, working up this setting of dysfunction. Using an approach more akin to the movie Brazil for the setting though. The absurd little bits of illogic that we all encounter every day can become quite amusing with the proper handling.

Say for example, the carbon tax and its offsets.

Pollute, pay a tax. Or, sequester carbon and earn a credit which can be sold on the open market.

Apply that to McDonald's and a fat/sugar tax. They might ought to charge more for the food as a tax on the health costs their loyal customers will most likely inflict upon the rest of the risk group in their health insurance pools.

What if McDonald's dispensed insulin and Lipitor in little blue and yellow packets right along with ketchup and salt? See the conversation at the drive-though. "Ketchup, salt, insulin or Lipator?"

It's a little funny. In combination with fifty other bits, it makes the world funny. (like recording a busy signal for your message for your cell phone. People call and get two minutes of the busy signal before the "beep." It's the sort of thing a special type of person might do.)

Anyway, the absurdity of modern life twenty minutes into the future can be quite amusing.

"Do you like cats?"

"Only in bar-b-que flavor. I don't like the honey-mustard cat at all."

Please, don't eat cat. I tell that to my foxhound now. I'm not sure he's quite getting it. Neither do Cheeto and Chester, the resident mouse-eaters.

Off to write something of a future that seems a little bent. You'd expect otherwise?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Paying Attention

You aren't paying attention.

How do I know? You aren't frothing angry. You haven't used your own teeth to kill anything lately. Your bottles of booze don't have rags stuffed into the top. You're not angry.

And if you're not angry, you really haven't been paying attention.

Whatever side - 1%-er, 99%-er, communist, capitalist, socialist, democrat, republican, new progressive, tea partier - you just aren't watching.

There's a handbasket coming down the lane and we're all about to crawl inside of it and take the trip straight to hell.

I'm fine with that. I love it there.

Now, since you weren't angry before and you've found out I'm happy about the pending end of our little clubhouse of illusions,  you should be something else.

You should be shit-pants afraid.

Pay attention. Push something along. Make something better because in a few short months, you could see an election cycle that has people dying in our streets.

I've seen it before from this exact perspective. It just takes a little push. There are a lot of people lining up ready to shove. There are more of them than there are of us. There are more people who are better in the first morning of a revolution than they are in the current state of affairs.

That should bother you.

I like bodies in the streets. It's good for the business I know.

Don't let it happen. Make things better. You can't send someone to Washington to do it. That has never worked. You - you - have to do something to make life better for people in your own community right now.

I've done this for a living. This is a revolution that can be fomented, cheap. School trained bears are telling you it is so.

Get angry. Fix something.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Too Much Ice Ruins the Scotch

At left, a lovely frozen river in a photo taken by Geo Swan and posted on the wikicommons. My river looks like this now, without the barges.

I find ice ruins scotch. When it is this cold, I don't want any. I do want nice hot tea. I'm making some now.

The stove is going. The foxhound is eating a chew. The cats are downstairs with their mother watching lies from politicians. I'm not biased. I despise all politicians as scum. Great characters for someone like me, though.

I'm working up a piece tonight like most nights. I am however only paying the lightest attention to the "mystery" because the story is about the two main characters, their interaction, needs, wants, and a resolution for both.

I think all my stories should follow this ideal better than they do.

I love plot. I do. It's great. But, I love books because of characters and not plot and my own stories are too heavy on plot focus and not heavy enough on the characters. I've been reluctant to put on paper the desperate, lonely, hesitant, and emotionally conflicted sorts of people we all know and love. Hell, some of us are these people.

I don't know why I have been reluctant to write these characters. That's wrong. I know I haven't wanted to write these characters because I am uncomfortable examining the thin veil of control over my own emotions. To put these human characters on the page is to expose their vulnerabilities which do come in some part from my own.

There it is.

I've reached the point where I don't care to mask emotional tumult and turmoil from the author in well-balanced content little characters going about their lives but for the conflict of the plot device which I've subtly dropped into their front yard, like a tugboat.

The conflict is in the character. I need to keep telling myself this fact.

"Siri? Where is the conflict?"

"It's in the character, of course."

Off to write. You should do so, too.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Morose Volvo

I'm having a Volvo strand a character in front of an abandoned Pizza Hut like this one I borrowed from wikicommons.

We've all seen these. They used to be everywhere. Now, about a third are something else. I remember a greek restaurant in one - or was that an abandoned Long John Silver's?

The Volvo is a little bit a character in the story. It's morose. The setting of the story is an absurd little view of the world so it shouldn't surprise you that the mental state of the vehicle matters.

Now, I've been looking and thinking and working up characters who would be as distinctive and engaging as a morose Volvo. The story is important because it is for a contest and the judges want no
"normal shtick."  No hard luck detectives or heroin using crooks. No strippers with hearts of gold, either.

New. They want something new set within the broad genre of crime - my chosen field for now.

So, characterization. To me that encompasses speech, perspective, circumstance, and emotion. Throw in a little humanity and you have it. Easy? Bloody hard not to "borrow."

I'm off. I've got to cast a new story. Watch out for abandoned Pizza Huts. They're haunted by indigestion.

Write something.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Despot Island

It feels almost as good to decide what to do as accomplishing the thing. This must be a writer-ly thing because it makes no sense at all.

I've decided on the next longform project this morning. I'm grizzly. It's 10 degrees outside. I want coffee cake but settled for a fat-free egg substitute omelet instead ("kissing one's sister food").

Nevertheless, the bright spot of the day besides accomplishing a little of the day job work has been deciding on the next novel's topic. I will write Despot Island. I've two incomplete drafts that have been impacted more by the fear of doing them poorly than by the desire to move forward as a writer.


I'm strong enough in voice and confident enough in the broken characters I write to put this forward. I will do a good job, complete a draft, and ice the beast for next fall's big re-write. I'll start the outline in March, the composition in April, and conclude before July 4th. It's a first full draft instead of a rough. I have enough source material to fill the arcs and get this out there. I look for first full drafts to have something close to 75% of the story arcs I'll keep included. When my writing strengthens, I'll have 90% in there.

So, I know the project, some character sketches, some story arcs and sub-plots. I'm happy with this.

I've the current short to finish, another to write the rough and first full, and a third I want to re-write. I want to do some submission to a critique group this spring and that involves polishing, a task at which I've shown too little endurance in completing.

It's getting better. I see that. Work: seems to be a key, no? Work.

So, spurred by the discussion of the horrors of war crimes from Christina James at right, I'm going to write my piece on despots. A nicer bunch of villains you'll never meet. Hey, Last King of Scotland did well enough.

Never met Idi. A disappointment. Had a chance and didn't make it. Never let the opportunity to meet a despot pass by.

Write something. I'll write something despotic. Meet you on the other side.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Drawn to Water

At left, an mill pond from New Hampshire.

I'm using a pond in a story underway to drown a couple of boys. They are merely victims in the story and die from their own efforts. It's harder to swim across one of these than you'd think.

I like water in stories. I like The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler. It is a classic "identity assumption" story which I suppose works less well in today's highly documented environment.

I've had several thoughts lately about the nearly-constant connection in our current world. I have a story around the issue. Time for a second draft.

I walk around with a smartphone nearly always in "airplane mode." I return calls once a day, though I respond to email twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.

"Your clients," you say. What about your clients? They're served very nicely in this fashion. I'm not however in sales. I'm an "expect" and provide specific sorts of services. There's no need for the constant communication, constant connection.

Rare, I know. May daughter cannot believe that I'm not reachable most of the time. "What if something happens?"  What if it does? Hardly the case that I'm the linchpin in a global effort to repulse an alien attack.

Opps - gotta go. There are some suits at the door and a bunch of flashing lights. I think a helicopter is landing.

Write something while I'm away. Feature water in the story.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


As in Epic Sneeze.

I have a cold. At left, Edison's record of a sneeze.

I'm working up some short bits from a writing group. One has merit for humor.

I'll work it up and post it here.

I'm watching Cowboys and Aliens tonight. There's no accounting for taste. No, I haven't seen it.

I did think Zombieland was robbed of the Best Picture Oscar nomination a couple years back so that tells you about my sense of humor. Oh, I was pulling for The World's End this year.

I don't see many movies. TWE was damn sure better than Gravity, though. Hell, This is the End was better than Gravity simply for trying to exorcise Jonah Hill. (see what I did there?)

I did laugh all the way through Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained. Hilarious.

Shoot somebody. Oh, sorry. Wrong blog.

Write something.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Use What You Have

[ Rush County Historical Society web site link here] No trees so no wooden posts.

The part of the world where I came of age was filled with people who "made do." They didn't have trees a couple of generations before and so cut stone for fence posts.

When I was a boy, rainfall had risen by a couple inches over fifty years, trees grew along draws and creeks, and hedge was available for corners and line posts.

This picture would have been taken in early fall. The cattle haven't yet eaten the brush out of the fence line. They will.

Yes, it is this flat in places. It can be a sea of grass. Not everywhere - but in some places. Curvature becomes a factor in how far one can see. After about a dozen miles, it is hard to see anything but tall structures.


I need to do some critique work for some new writers. The errors I make stand out to me clearest in their work and not my own. I get better by reading their work.

I'm using what I have to get better. There are several on-line critique communities. If you're not using them as a resource to help your own writing, you might not be using what you have.

You can get better writing alone in a cave. You get better faster writing with others. Sometimes that's because someone points out what you are doing. Most of the time it is because you see your muddled effort in someone else's piece and it plays poorly.

I have a cold. I'd rather not have it.

Write something.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dancing Bears

Ok, so my friends at left might not be doing the waltz. I'm sure they're thinking that delivery food is a lot better than hustling up more seal.

Ummmm, sailor. It's what's for dinner.

It is polar here tonight. Woodstove going strong.

Went to a social writing group tonight that I visit irregularly. Had a blast.

Writing to short prompts can be a great exercises to limber up the mind especially when it is a fun group. To the outside, it must seem a little like a community theater cast party where there is ample singing of show tunes, one person at a time.

Anyway, a limber night despite the brutal cold.

Tomorrow, I act on the new outline for a story I have on the hook with 6 pound test. Special phrase for me. Ron Carlson wrote a story which appeared in Gray's Sporting Journal called "6 Pound Test." It had a great effect on me. The analogy is having to play an important fish quite carefully. You know you've got something special on the line.

I think I have something special on the line this time. Special to me, at least. I'm going to play it carefully.

Ron Carlson has been great for me even though we'e never met. Funny that way: how people you don't see help you so profoundly in this pursuit.

Write something carefully tonight. I will, now that I've had the fun of writing with complete abandon.

Mind the bears.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hot Writing, Right Off the Stove

At left, a woodstove. I have a Swedish model that is super efficient and is constructed quite a bit differently from the one pictured which I borrowed from wikicommons.

Mine would be right at home in a small ski chalet, which means it is almost completely out of place in my present abode. It's one of the last things to overhaul in our remodel of the lovely home we have.  We'll replace it with a guillotine door model of an updated Swedish design. The one we picked looks like a woodstove from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I know: doesn't make any sense but you can appreciate the design aesthetic.

The blower motor for my geothermal heating plant has gone out. Turns out, it needs to come from the factory and even that is in doubt. I'll be without heat for a few days at least. Thus, the woodstove becomes primary system during a spell where tomorrow it will be eleven below zero, Fahrenheit.  Not ideal, but that's it.

It'll be a test of the design. Right now it is twelve above outside while we have another unseasonably cool spell. Toasty in here now. Will have to keep the fire going to keep that effect.

I have a loft which will remain nearly tropical with the fire going. A ceiling fan (I have a 30' cupola so have to move the air) and the woodstove will heat the pubic areas. Thank Dog for open floor plans and engineered lumber.

Fire in morning, at lunch when I come home to walk Louis, and evening. A couple alarms at night and all should be fine.

Yes. It's a practical thermodynamic challenge and for an engineer, that's fun. Sorry writers, I solve problems. Sometimes I even solve my own.

I am tired from cutting a nearly a cord of wood tonight. Took three hours. I'm getting slow in the cold.

So, Problem Solving.

Valerie Laken taught me the trick last spring of never leaving my characters alone. ( Valerie )

I have a story in which I want the protagonist to overhear a disagreement between his aunt and his sometime mother. I was struggling just a little on how to do this since the character is supposed to be translating Caesar's Commentaries during the fight.

Easy. Thanks to Valerie, I rearrange the domestic arrangement and have one of the secondary characters stay in the same small room. It really doesn't need to be explained as we know the secondary is a half-orphan (mother dead) and the protagonist is a practical stray (farmed out from divorced parents). Both boys are shipped to the Way West so as to get in less trouble than they would in the summer untended at "home."  So, a little authorial magic and I have someone in the room for the protagonist to talk with in order to portray what I desire portrayed.

Thanks Valerie.

Don't leave the protagonist alone. Period. It really helps the "show don't tell" to have someone there for reasonable dialogue rather than that ghastly interior monologue I so despise. I hate the voice-over as if it's a C-grade science fiction movie.

Don't get me started on the soliloquy of "mommy found your red shoe" from Gravity. I was rooting for the space debris. Let's just get that clear.

So, solution to a lot of problems: put someone else in scene. Makes it interesting to have characters able to talk. It's still interesting if they have someone to talk to, and don't.

Buddy up.

Now, writing. I have a scene to outline. I've got someone else in it now to talk to, so I will.

Sing a chorus of "put another log on the fire" for me tonight. Do it while you're writing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Like Magic

At left, tea and cookies beside me.

I'm by the fire. The foxhound is snoring at my feet. My feet have the barest edge of an ottoman as the foxhound has almost every inch occupied.


I'm a cookie addict. I've not had a cookie for three months today, so I had one or two tonight.

Normal people don't know how long it's been since their last cookie. I know to the second. I can put down the bottle. The cookie is a tougher, well, cookie.

They'll be infrequent treats from now on, though. I want to run some recreational distance events and as a knee patient, that means lightening up. Working on it successfully, thank you.

I'm writing about the magic that happens tonight. I haven't got a clue how it happens but it does. We have problems in plot or the character actions on the page seem inconsistent with what we want to portray or we don't quite understand what it is we want to portray. Quandary. We have them.

Then, when working on something the idea of a solution appears. How? Why? I cannot say for sure.

I can say that solutions come to me while shaving 1 of 10 times. The other nine they come while working at the writing. Maybe I've skipped over the troublesome point. Maybe I've shelved a re-write because I cannot stitch the revision into shape. Whatever it is, the solution comes much more frequently when doing the actual work.

I write everyday. I have for years. What I've done in the past eighteen months which differs from the prior decade or so is write more coherently on one project at a time.

 Discipline isn't stifling. It becomes a liberating routine whose free flowing pathways established by the habit of toil allow solutions to emerge unaided.

Awful sentence that.

I will say that work is freeing - and I mean that without wanting to cause any disrespect for the horrendous suffering of so many who passed under these words on a gate.

I mean only that the habit of regular work can in itself offer solutions to problems that can emerge from time to time. I don't know how. I just know it happens.

I want to be a morning writer. I'm an evening writer by nature. Kids asleep: write. Work day over: write. Dinner served and the clean-up complete: write. It's a piece of family history for me.

I'm going to try and do the morning and evening thing for a while. I'll give it a year and see if I can rise and write as well as I can at end of day right now. I make morning notes already over the first cup of coffee after the foxhound has a good walk and a bowl of kibble. I'll see if morning notes cannot grow by a few hundred words.

I'm not really a morning lover. I'd be more excited if dawn came with cookies.

At least it comes with tea. After writing, then coffee. A familiar taste may fool my meager brain into thinking it is time to write.

I'm going to go and write now. It's a grand time to do it. Think of me in the morning. Try not to laugh.

Write something, and have a cookie. They're a kind of magic, too.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Nose for It

At left, Louis the Foxhound impersonating a lapdog. He's getting it down pretty well.

This is a Saturday confessional. I love literary fiction. I know, I know. There's something wrong with me.

I discovered The New Yorker way too long ago and back then, they were almost accessible to a competent writer. This innocent discovery led to the harder stuff. Yep. Gateway drug.

The Atlantic followed and yes, in those days they published fiction and occasionally fiction from new authors. When was this? Well, you could get something to eat at Max's Kansas City then wander down and see if the Ramones were at CBGB. I don't need the reproduction shirt from American Eagle or whoever is producing those bastardized reprints.

The Paris Review was rare and stratified air and it published - gasp - interviews that were nearly as mysterious and unobtainable as the stories within.

I danced between these for years - often at libraries. While The New Yorker was affordable and nearly a giveaway, it also built up around the house like soiled diapers from pre-toddlers.

Then, the kids were gone. The American Reader, The Threepenny, McSweeny's, Prairie Schooner, The Virginia Quarterly (before the colossal meltdown), Sewanee Review, and The Iowa Review.

I'm practically in need of a twelve step program for stories in search of the merest framework of a plot.

I can wax about some of the earliest stories that I enjoyed. Some I remember but have not been able to find again. There was an amusing story of a group that played "the game of world domination" on a formica table in a kitchen. There was a Johnathan Livingston Seagull flavored piece about the Tomcat F-14 which of course resonated strongly. [ I never was a Tomcat driver. Last trap was in 2006 for this wonderful platform. A loss at half the weight.]. I was never enthralled by JLS and have despised the positive thinking approach all my life. Of course, I deal with disaster, destruction, and death professionally.

I remember reading a story while a freshman in engineering school where the story ended without resolution and only hinted - to me - at the transformation possible in the protagonist. I can't remember the details though I remember spending nearly a month re-reading and wondering at the constructive transformation off the page drifting into the story as just a shadow.

Now, none of this is as solid as a body in the living room. I love bodies in the living room too. I love what they do to the people who walk around them.

When you open the front door and there's a smell of gunpower lingering in the hall. Ammonia strikes me first, then acetate. You know something's happened. The change starts there as you wonder. You move in calling names. You've lost caution because you're not confident in your first suspicion.

The confirmation is the same as those times when you consent to something knowing in your heart it will turn out badly. You knew when the door opened that it was bad. You just didn't believe yourself and when proved true there is the disappointment in yourself for not trusting judgement - snap judgement of the moment or not. You should have known.

Great stuff.

With literary fiction., I might not even care about the mystery of who or why. Telling Aunt Jane there's to be a funeral might be the major conflict requiring resolution. Not really the stuff you read in each Ellery Queen.

So, I love foxhounds and the transformative introspective nature of literary fiction.

Don't give the nephews subscriptions to magazines you don't read yourself. Don't do it.

Now, off to write. You should do a little character transformation tonight, too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tea Time of the Soul

AT left, a lovely tea cozy whose image I borrowed from the lovely wikicommons. Alas, it is not mine. I think I have the same model teapot, however.

I'll get to the writing part in a minute but first, the whining about tea as a friend puts it.

I'm American. Surprise. But tea has been very important to me throughout my life despite the fact that it is terribly unimportant to 99.95% of the American population. [ exception: iced tea in Western Kansas. The Japanese tea ceremony has nothing on the social status of the ice tea ceremony in that part of the world].

All one has to do is order tea in a lovely restaurant after lunch with colleagues and have some previously boiled water delivered in a slightly soiled bulbous glass container accompanied by the universal Lipton tea bag and a coffee mug. Maybe there is an accompanying wedge of lemon (not slice ...wedge, appropriated from barstock) and the dejected question "you didn't want milk or anything, did you?"

Really? This is as far towards civilization as we can manage to evolve?

I'll accept that we're the land of guns and violence. I'm fine with guns and violence. School trained bear. Sheep will be fleeced so teach all the non-violence you want, be prepared for the butcher's bill.

However, getting a tea cozy in this country involves....making it yourself or bribing frau bear to make one for you. Travesty.

Drink quickly because there are not two lingering cups of heat in a naked teapot.


Tea time of the Soul for me, borrowing from the late Douglas Adams. I'm getting through it.

What I mean is not perhaps the doldrums and near-depression you expect me to whine about. Rather, it is the odd trend of absurdity which abandons me when I want to invoke it and the alarming tendency of it to re-emerge when I don't.

Case in point. I'm writing a story about selling a secret lair to a very dangerous villainess. [ I hear you ...."is there any other kind of villainess?"].  It is meant to be a little absurd. De nada. Flat. Droll even.

I have another story of a literary bent making circulation of some beta readers which deals with a intentional killing by a young man of a pair of his associates by convincing them to do something they should not. Not technically murder, but we the reader know something the other characters work to find out and thus narrative tension and ... Well. It's an effort towards one of those Pushcart ilk literary short stories that may never get past the slush pile of the usual fine quality - but lightly subscribed - publications. Serious writing, from me.

The first Beta said something on return which was encouraging but slightly off base. Meh. It happens. She read it during the holidays. Zen master, too. Probably not really the best reader for cold blooded killing but she asked and I sent.

The second came back Tuesday. The verdict?

Hilarious. Nearly involuntary urination during the inevitable encounter with the county Sheriff who suspects, knows, and cannot prove.

Not precisely my intent; but, there it is. I re-read the passages carefully and can see the composition when I had this tight little smile as I re-wrote the original. Yep, there it was. The absurd flavor of life right onto the page.

I'm going to have to decide what to do with the sort of humor that evolved from a parent asking "Do you love me?"

Crystallizing moment, isn't it. We all learn ways to cope with madness. I've too much Dave Allen in my method for my own good.

I'll have to write something about it. I hope you will too. The little monsters are the most fun. They're so full of unbridled malice with just the thinnest veneer of control. One never knows just when the knife emerges.

Make sure it does on the page when you're writing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Big Black Dog

I'm fighting with this fellow this week.

He's just around the corner where I cannot get a picture of him. He's there, though. I feel him there watching.

I'm going to use him.

I'm a bit of a hermit now. I've left friends behind some years back and haven't bothered to make new. Associates? Sure. Not friends. Not people to trust or rely upon.

Now many of my closest are e-friends: almost imaginary in word and deed. Sometimes I could believe I dreamed them. Not the facebook kind, though. Thankfully.

I have a draft story about the near future where constant connected-ness works well for all but the 2%. You know us: "The blanks" to borrow from "20 Minutes Into the Future." An e-Hermit is a particular type of self-imposed gulag.

I'm going to revisit that draft and use this feeling of disconnectedness. I'm going to use the chance encounter card and play out the hand. I'm going to use the newly-sentient but morose Volvo. I promise it won't be Marvin from _HHGTTU_. It'll be a frightened kitten of a station wagon, like many Volvo owners. Not many bodies hauled in the back of those things.

So, Black Dog hanging around. I'm going to put the bastard to work. I can catch him with chocolate chip cookies. At least, it's always worked before.

Look around the corner - see if yours is there too. Offer him a cookie and see if he'll wag.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Joyous Winter Frosts

Winter here without exception. We've had our deep plunge and big snow and now, routine winter: four more months.

The time now is to do those things put off until this season. When the sun is shining and the meadow needs attention and the lawn needs a good pass and ... Now is the time to take advantage of the early dark, the hibernation, introspection, and bounty of ink. Write.

Tempting to lounge like the walrus at left. So easy to sleep. However, in mid-day I have the regrets of not working enough.

A scene or two isn't getting it. I need to increase the effort and find that balance of accomplishment which leaves me without the feeling of dread at having squandered hours better for writing than anything else.

I write well in spring and summer and fall. I fight with myself in winter. I want to have fun though it isn't anywhere close to recess. I'm good at writing in the evening when I have four other things to get done. In winter, sometimes I have laundry. Sometimes.

Winter is the time when I wish for the marks of accomplishment and success. There's nothing for it but to work more. At least, it is work I enjoy. I enjoy having written more than the writing itself but then, who doesn't?

We're staying after class writing unassigned essays, after all. There's something amiss with us as every fifth grade student knows.

We've too much the winter inside.

Try not to bask on the ice floes. Write something. I will.

Monday, January 13, 2014

With a Little Help

Despite my prickly ways of late, I have received a tremendous amount of help with my <could use help with typing - .ed> writing for which I am extremely grateful.

One of the best things about this pursuit is how very generous so many friends can be with their time and energies.

Maybe it is tribal. It is certainly appreciated.

Some days, it makes me want to dance my way to work after reading something especially useful or receiving even the smallest possible iota of encouragement to "keep at it until finished ... draft upon draft if necessary."

I'm in this whole pursuit because I was infected with the virus way too long ago.  I cannot describe why I want to write but to say I feel an irresistible compulsion.

Publishing? Well. Not really the reason I'm churning the butter here but for the desire to do things well, be professional, and obtain the recognition that the sum of my efforts have risen to the level at which the work can be sold. It's a mark of accomplishment and I am motivated by shiny objects, and checks.

I'd be lost without my writer friends. Lost.

Thank you all.

Oh - Hemingway manuscript at left. We all have these. Anything is possible.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Not Nice Enough for Tea

At left, my new tea kettle. I've fought with the stylish older kettle given to me as a present. I've had to move on. I love the two-tone of my old kettle but there is a seam between two plates of rolled steel two-thirds of the way up the side and so now it leaks when you pour.


So, onto a solid one-piece rolled model. Now, this one isn't perfect and takes a little modification to pour correctly (have to remove a silicone seal under the lid to prevent hot water "chugging" out irregularly.) Nevertheless, this works.

The whistle is functional but not is not a screecher. I probably need a screecher but we'll see how "field testing" goes.

Which brings me to tea. Civilized people offer tea in civil settings. "Could I make you a cup of tea?" is common enough between nice people.

I try not to be social enough to allow this event to pass. I know the consequences.

My humor is harder than most. I think that's why I like crime and murder. I can stand amidst slaughter and mayhem emotionally unmoved. Makes me just right for some things, not right for others.

It makes me not right for tea. It also makes me a little lonely sometimes for kindred spirits.

"I laugh at the wrong things" your mother would say.

 I wrote a paper in college on Greek sensibilities from the Aeneid and the Oddyssey.  I was drawn to the phrases such as "their heads dashed upon the rocks as extra puppies in an unwanted litter." Tells you a great deal about common animal control practices in enlightened Athens.

My underlying premise is that underneath the pale civilized exterior we create with the plaster of civility lies the common desire to harm, maim, murder, deceive, deprive, and oppress. You'll argue; but, I'm not really soliciting counter arguments. I've stood too deep in blood spilled by neighbors and relatives one against the other to believe any other assertions.

I think my perspective is of the man fully awake among those groggy from drink and addled by weariness.

How can I live with such a horrible worldview? Humor. The odd way the corpse rolls down the hill into the pool can strike me as funny. The two steps taken by a dead man and how he resembles Sheri Tewes on the dance floor in junior high is funny.

The head-back sprawl of an open-mouth corpse in a chair suggesting to me a monumental sneeze brings a smile.

The way I might find amusement in the unintentional release of a an engineered flu strain in Novosibirsk in 1977?  Really not for public consumption. ("it's just a cold" - actual last quote from a fellow in the aerosol disbursement program).

Macabre? Sure.

Not the fellow to sit in the cafe with over a pot of tea, however. My veneer is thin and worn.

I'm trying to put this little humour in the characters of my stories. It is harder to do than I thought while still making the character likable by the reader. A bit like my struggles to be likable. I'll have to try harder.

Off to write about the consequences of a corpse. Really changes that three-hour cruise.

Write something. Have some tea?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Grand Monument

I've been working on the profile of ego. It occurs to me that those who have enhanced their own because of the consequences of actions - such as taking over a third-world country - share a trend towards monumentalism in their shrines.

Now, the great dead houses I've seen are largely not visited and unknown. Taj Mahal I've not seen in person but it is certainly a visited death house as are the Pyramids of the Giza.

I am considering the point of view that the image of "after I'm gone" might be important to these despots. At least, it might be important to these despots in in my fiction.

Of course, writers already have some of these interests, don't we. Has anyone failed to consider the fact that grandchildren might one day have our books on their shelves? Well, maybe. Only one of my offspring even have a bookshelf filled with boks in their house. (The other has bookshelves but the daughter in law uses them for displaying items other than books - or, "shit" as I call it).

I hope the book shrine will appear int he grandchildren's homes. The children - lost.

So, thinking of the grand monument as a point of interest to villains. I'll have to consider this. I'll certainly consider it far more than I'll ever consider monuments to my own existence. I have my name on a very good fly rod that someone will use when I'm gone. That's enough of a monument.

Off to write about "the end."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

When it all Meshes

Andy Dingley took this wonderful photo of propeller reduction gearing for a Bristol Centaurus engine. It is a beautiful piece of work.

I'm not sure when you know you have lightening in a bottle. I do know that when you have a story that flows well to you, there is that flush of wonderment at how you got it here. I mean, there are piles of the things that are either "not good" or "okay." What makes that one you compose click?

There is a huge need to judge the quality of work without bringing into question the quality of your talent.

You will never be the brightest most imaginative writer working. Your work can however be stellar. Care, craft, attention to every single word and nuanced inflection of what a character does or does not do; does or does not say. You can be the brightest thing in the sky for just that second you first look up.

How does it happen that you go from the depths of misery to the peak of accomplishment all from a few hours when that mess of a rough draft idea jells?

I don't know how; but, I know it happens. I know I want it to happen more and more.

I get sidetracked by exploding chickens (funny to me) and zombies working at Starbucks ("Don't Eat Cat" Jess Walter) and how many times you have to hit someone with a piece of sucker rod before they look like a semi-truck hit-and-run along the highway. The core, though. It's bloody marvelous when it works.

We all try things that we hope work but which didn't: Changing POV in a Using first person present for a "gritty" approach that instead becomes ingratiating because the narrator is an ass. Adding Aunt Marge as a victim just because, well. You'd have to know Aunt Marge.

Still, it isn't about how you kill the beloved reindeer in Christmas Noir. It's about the story that just stands on its own and works for you. There's an audience for it when that happens. You might or might not be able to find it but there is an audience for fiction that "works."

I have to believe that. It's what keeps me going.

I hope you're going well, too. I hope you're writing. Write some more. It helps.

It feels good when you are done.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Given a Pen

Uncle Joe at left. Looks a lot like Barney Fife holding a gun to me.

"Giving Jack a pen is a lot like giving a kid with an ant farm a magnifying glass. He's going to kill a lot of 'em before he gets bored." - Ex-Best Man ( that's what you call the bastard that didn't stop you from making that mistake the time before).

I like my villains as dyed in the wool smiling murders. I'm comfortable with folks that smile and lie and kill. I've voted for several. It's the job and I want folks who can do it well.

Oh , sure. I'll take an air of disappointment over launching a tomahawk strike at an intelligence headquarters.

I want the killing done straight away though, regrets or no. 

I think that's why I like crime in fiction. There's the search for justice in prose - very popular. There's the evil as a sickness (in bad stuff) which is also very popular (he's just a bad man and does this because he's a bad man).

Then, there's the sport of it. There is a sense of finality. There's the knowledge that $.37 is the price of a life. Hell, use two. They're cheap enough to make sure. (Double Tap).

In fiction, we can adopt any perspective we desire. The killer in the closet? Been there. The victim scrawling the clue in blood (Rache). Done that. The surprised bystander - oh, this one is good. "He pulled out the pistol and fired three times. I was shocked."

I'd been told in fifth grade after a schoolyard fight that "violence never solved anything." I'm not sure Emma Causey ever recovered from me retorting that martyrs are dead people and that Hiroshima seems to solve a whole pile of problems.

She beat me soundly. Then my parents beat me soundly for making them have to talk to the principal - not for the schoolyard fight. That retribution made perfect sense. I didn't like her either.

I'm not so interested in the mystery. It isn't the element of justice which entices me (I read my Plato, thank you very much). It is the useful or wasteful employment of violence and destruction which interests me. It has such interesting effects on the bystanders.

A killing is a gravity well for the survivors. They're unable to escape the transformation that comes without the application of great force. That's the heart of it for me.

Sticks and stones ... but words ...

Unless the words about the weekend in Miami with the mistress, then those things will hurt you plenty. It's all a matter of the application of force. As writers, we get to control that application. Love that.

Where'd my magnifying glass get to?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Nearest Approach

At left, the trajectory of comet Kohoutek from 1973. I have a special place in my heart for this one because it was my first major astronomical event. It's where I learned about Kepler's three laws. Huge for a physics guy.

I'm thinking tonight of a conversation I had with a writer friend regarding spheres of influence. Discord and conflict arise are where the spheres of influence were in opposition in the story. In other words, where spheres of influence came under each other's effects at the point of nearest approach.

I was thinking of this conversation today as I considered an outline and rough draft of a short story I'm writing. I have strong characters and I have what I imposed as a conflict - though the real conflict should emerge naturally from the various encounters of these strong interests one with another.

There is an attraction to conflict as well as a destructive repulsion. So many times, it is as if what is the very worst for us becomes that which we cannot avoid. New Year resolutions begin to fade and this pattern seems true.

Douglas Adams said:
Funny how just when you think life can't possibly get any worse it suddenly does.
This is our story model. Pile it on, pile it on. If the protagonist is left with only a dog for company, shoot the dog.

I'm going to offer my own phrase here which emerged today in contemplation as the heart of several stories I want to tell.

When you really, really want something and finally get it, so often it turns out that you shouldn't have had anything to do with it all along.

Now, you too are stuck with the humour of the Gods as they ride about the heavens on comets. Miserable old bastards, really. That's what I think of this tautology: Humour of the Gods.

There's nothing like a bellyful of want that when satisfied delivers a fatal case of indigestion. Now, how does that fit into a philosophy of writing? Doesn't matter.

We were all buggered from the very start as writers. There's nothing for it but to write. Our perceptions were skewed long ago. There is something very wrong with us all.

Welcome, comrades. I love you all.

Now, go write something. You can look at stars later.

Monday, January 6, 2014

That's Absurd!

Douglas Adams.

I'd read a few things that were like Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide by the time I was acquainted with this work. The rebroadcast of the BBC radio adaptation was played on Hutchinson Public Radio which was my classical music station when the wind was just right.

Art Buckwald had a few fantastic pieces of absurdity which I'd read (the article about the Russian BatFox ..aka FoxBat ... was hilarious to me when the defense against this all-weather B-52 destroyer was in fact the Wright Flyer) .  Patrick McManus had the closing article in Field and Stream in those days and I found some of his stuff spectacularly absurd as well  ("iggles carrying off half-growed cows")

I was a boy. I loved to fish and hunt and was encouraged to work hard, keep my nose cleaner than it had been, and get smarter fast. Things that were funny were seen with a general air of distrust in my world. Remember, this was Western Kansas where the good are praised at the funeral as being "hard workers."

So, I discovered I liked the absurd. I liked the reflection in the mirror of absurdity of those things which strangled me. No, I saw a single Mad magazine in those days. My buddy Mike Day had one which featured Star Wars, a movie I didn't see for seven or eight years.

I miss Douglas Adams. My absurdity is not quite as developed, but then whose is? I'm trying. I'm trying.

I've done the satire and the cliche, the pastiche and the homage.

Now, it is the absurd twist that comes from my grubby little pen.

I once saw a play Dada Dada Dada. It's stuck with me.

I've spent a great deal of time watching the world in my life. People, events, politics, institutions, behaviors. It occurs to me that should humans have a motto,  it might well be "The logic doesn't follow."

I'm going to try the trick of absurdity in the most extreme of situations in this next story. We'll see how it goes. Might be shit. I think, however, Douglas might applaud the effort. It isn't based on convention.

I miss Douglas Adams. I'm going to write now.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


At left, this afternoon's partial snow. Six more inches expected tonight. Makes the picnic a little tough. Last season for the outdoor set so no push to tarp it this year. A good clean and it will do good service until the sales next fall.

I'm working up an outline right now and had a protagonist, a partner, an antagonist, a couple of minor characters, and a carnival of conflicts.

Then, the idea of strife between the partners hit me. There is nothing like difficulty with someone with whom you are close for driving up the tension and tumult.

External conflicts? Sure. Guns, knives, nuclear detonation, being fed to sharks? Great. Fighting with your business partner over a decision? Wham. Ball bat to the head. Just brutal tension.

So, strife among allies is a technique to remember in the little mental checklist of "how does it get worse?"  I've ignored it for years when not featuring marital discord as a primary conflict. Huge mistake on my part. Huge.

I'm excited to cause a little tumult now. Excited! Strife: a secret weapon. Shouldn't be.

I hope you are writing. I hope you are warm.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Real Estate: Finding the Evil Lair

At left, inactive power station near Vancouver B.C. [ photo McKay Savage] on a wonderful blue-sky morning.

The Erma Bombeck Writers' Conference takes place this April 10-12 at the University of Dayton. Erma was a humorist with a great following here in the US before her too early death in 1996.

I toy with humor. I am more of an absurdest by nature. I've no illusion that I'm in anyway funny from any natural bent.

Sure, I was the kid in junior high who told jokes non-stop as a social defense mechanism. It did't work out like Chris Rock or any of the other comics who profess the same origins. I suppose the lifetime of posters and artifacts from the space program which graced my room had something to do with the turn to engineering and science with some success.

I've done some satire. Likewise, I've written some absurdest stories which have been enjoyed by friends.

Heller is a hero of mine. Catch-22 is much loved. I'm stewing on the next story with a similar bent. Of course it involves deceit, unplanned consequences, and murder. Can it be funny? Not in the first round. In successive edits? Perhaps.

Time to try. I have this picture of a wonderful new evil lair in which to set the story. How can I not?

I'm going to have to think of humor in writing a little more. Maybe I can find someone who has a book on the topic. I've never looked.

Off to cause destruction. Hope it is lots of laughs. Boom, ha ha ha. Right. Needs some work.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Before the Flood

At left, a boy plowing a potato field prior to the farm being flooded in the TVA electrification project. This particular farm is on the edge of the expected hydroelectric project so may or may not have ended up under water.

Conflict. Man v Nature. Man v Man. Man v Unknown. These all work for me. Man v himself - not so much.

I love literary fiction where the transformative effect of an inner conflict is critical to seeing the transformation of a character. It isn't merely the external conflict driving forward ( aka the Die Hard effect).

 However, I also enjoy an enthralling and engaging exterior conflict. I need both.

Sometimes, when I am not conflict focused, I can create a story with the focus on inner transformation in the absence of a compelling exterior conflict. I find this lazy writing. I find it maudlin. I am ashamed of such writing.

So, conflict. That needs to be on my mind first when I'm scratching out a rough draft.

How about you? What is the piece of craft which takes active concentration for you?

I'm off to write, and concentrate.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ink Stains v1.0

At left, a Vpen from Pilot: their disposable fountain pen line.

I've written here that I prefer the initial rough and first full text prose draft to be composed in pen longhand. My next step is to type the text - delineated as scenes - into Scrivener.

I've worked this way since before college. I've tried other methods - such as composing directly in Word or Scrivener or even earlier products ( gasp WordStar ). I've tried composing on an ancient electric Royal whose report did not sound like gunshots (queue Greg Kinnear as the Luddite Frank in _You've Got Mail_) but rather like small howitzer rounds impacting the surrounding four walls all at the same time.

For me, the act of composition on white unlined paper provides a degree of satisfaction that provides precisely the re-enforcement I need to keep writing when I don't want to. I know that makes my approach a little "weird" as a daughter would say.

What I have pictured today - available from Jet Pens ( - is a lovely disposable which is great for editing at around $3 each. The ink flows onto the page with a satisfying line, stands out clearly, and is available in some great colors for those of you who see such things.

If you are writing in a dim coffee shop down the street from school before picking up the kids, this helps. The line is bold and clear and shows against even colored paper as a rich wet line.

The ink does not run but on "surfaced" paper. Luckily, such paper is nearly off the market. It was popular in the earlier days of the home printing explosion because it prevented the re-feeds common in ink-jet plastic pick-ups. Those old feeds are a think of the past and so luckily it appears paper takes ink, again.

Try a making a line with something other than the dentist's promotional give-away ballpoint and you might find that for writing you prefer the feel of ink on paper. I say this having discovered how flexible I can be in prose when writing by longhand. When composing on a keyboard, my prose is prone to unimaginative tones.

Try one of these. See how you like it. For edits, it works like a gem (but avoid the edits in red ... not good for the soul).

I've got to go apply pen to paper now myself. So do you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Warm Embrace

At left,a photo of ice on the water from Poland by the photographer Raffik.

I'm near Lake Michigan which is covered in rolling ice near shore. Beyond the rolling ice is slush which recedes into fog. It's snowing, will snow tonight and into tomorrow. At home, snow. More snow.

There's no point in going home tonight because its a holiday and the plow action will be slow. Tomorrow morning: full staff and full press. Today - not so much.

I'm warm, dogs are happy, chili in the pot, friends napping. I'm writing in the "snow room" [ what you call a "sun room" in winter ] with a quilted comforter on my legs and the laptop tray propped up by a large pillow. It's beautiful, quiet,relaxed. If I should die in a minute, I will have been at the state of peace we all would hope for in the last breaths.

Hard to beat that.

I've got some writing to do. I've done a little coaching, written an example of something, and thought of revisiting a story I haven't touched in months whose opening is too good to let fade.

Busy, content. Hard to beat that.

I hope you all are busy  and content. I've decided to shove work thought revision and critique to submission this quarter. It's been many years since I done the submission, query, and the shop around routine. Markets, styles, and form have changed. Time to get back on the horse. There is writing and there is not writing. If anonymity is akin to not writing, why would I think that brings happiness?

To work mule. Write, mule, write.

Hope you're writing. Hope you're warm and happy. Hope the ice is thick.


An "awkward silence" example

Suzi pushed her hair back over an ear. 
"You  dated Margie, then?" 
"A little, before. Well. Yea, before..."
Bob aligned his spoon with the precise edge of the napkin. Its near-bleached white browned by the last drop brought from the stir. He moved it away, started over.
" A little."
He looked up from the spoon and Suzi was watching the bus driver hustle bags into place out in the snow driven by wind. He was in a light jacket. She felt his cold.
Bob looked and stared too.
" Miss her," Suzi said.
Bob held his cup. Neither moved until the bus pulled away and the waitress walked by ignoring them again. A bell rang order-up.
"You're not," she said.
He stirred the cold dregs.
"Maybe not as much as you. I still feel bad."
Suzi looked for the bus and wondered when the next one came. She remembered the ride from Dallas. It was a mistake, too. 
"You're don't."
Bob pushed the cup to the edge of the table. Added the spoon, napkin. They sat unmoving.
"No," he whispered. "No."