clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Family: Two Drink Minimum

At left, a stout and buttered bread by Jon Sullivan who is kind enough to let us use this image from wikicommons. (More images here ).

I'm thinking tonight of families, orphans, and strays (the in-betweens).

Family to me denotes a two-drink minimum. That is, two stiff drinks are the minimum before I can interact with any of them.

Saul Bellow mined friends, family, any close relationship for material. I guess in a way, I do the same.

Many of my characters have marital problems. I suppose that's because I know that marriage is often a limiting factor in the actions characters can take and I'm more in touch with my protagonists developing new relationships there in front of the reader or dealing with the failure of old relationships also there in front of the reader.

Well adjusted characters who call home to ask if anything is needed before they leave the office are not the sorts of fellows of interest to me right now. I'll use them later when I am rending their world to strips right there on the page.

The separated, newly divorced, unattached, and widowed are of interest to me because by the time I use them, they've hardened to a point and can cope with day-to-day life as independents.

In my current WIP, my protagonist opens the story with a wife ostensibly dead from a self-inflicted shotgun blast but he's oddly unemotional about the affair because he and his late wife resolved their issues of tactical dependence on each other some time ago. They're married in a strategic sense.

The detective who is from a horrible marriage existing on mutual distaste and betrayal cannot easily understand the reaction of the husband unless, of course, the husband was wrapped-up in the killing.

Family is a bus ride.

It's a bit of a self-esteem defeating experience. You're trapped with people not of your choosing. Someone always seems to have a pastrami and onion sandwich. Someone's most meaningful contribution seem to be their snoring. It's family.

You didn't choose them. You inherited them.

Now, you wouldn't display that horrendous lamp left you by your grandmother, would you?

Their taste is not your own even if, yes, you love them.

Characters are family we choose. They become a part of our intellectual life for a while - a terribly important part. We pick some strange company to spend the time with then, don't we?

I've a lot of strays in my stories. I've characters lost from home and family.

How about you?

Friday, May 30, 2014


At left, a chicken coop as photographed by a member of the Farm Security Administration. If you haven't looked at the photographs taken in the Depression by members of this federal arm, you are missing out.

I need to make some progress on this draft revision of the novel this weekend so I am of course thinking of chickens in a short story. An upbeat sort of chipper-happy writer would compose a blog post on "cross pollination" or the "contagion of the creative muse."

I'm going to admit instead to screwing off while otherwise on duty. ( SOWOOD ).

I've written several stories about chickens.

One of my earliest mystery efforts involves a rural barter society, the theft of a chicken, and the tinker who is pressed into duty as the reluctant detective. I could never decide if it was a post-apocalyptic chicken mystery or a medieval morality play cast in secular clothes. I first wrote the story in the summer before my freshman year in college.

I kill a man with a froe in the story which seems to indicate that the reeve did it only to find it was the reeve's wife's brother who did it in the end to obscure the attention the chicken theft was receiving.

You haven't read it anywhere because it wasn't a very good story.

Oh, it was a fine mystery. A great mystery - very intricate. Of course, you never gave a shit about any of the characters but the tinker who sort of wanders out of the narrative for two-thirds of the tale.

I learned a great deal writing that story. I owe it to the chicken without whom I'd have been laboring still under the illusion that story was "enough."

Characters are the story.

The effort for me is to make friends of the characters inside me so I care enough about the outcomes of my efforts on their imaginary lives to make the narrative come alive for you, the reader.

You have to like some of my characters. I have to love them all. Sure they can be horrible pieces of worthless flesh.

Maybe it is I have to love them in a Christ-like fashion to embrace them with their flaws intact. I sit at my desk in the library with my murderers and thieves and liars and whores and out-and-out villains.

I love them. I do love them so.

And, I love that first chicken. It's all her fault.

Off to write before the light fades. I need to go to bed early tonight.

The rooster's crow will summon me to task.

I hope your chicken scratch on foolscap is going well.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is Like a Bowl of Blueberries

I don't know if writing is like a bowl of blueberries but I know it is my preferred summer breakfast! ( Picture at left courtesy US Fish and Wildlife service. Steve Hillebrand took the shot.)

Actually, I like blueberries because each one is a little morsel composed of dreams. Warm summer mornings, cool evenings, cream so cold it bites, angel food cake so soft it melts like cotton candy, and blueberries: this combination is summer to me.

I also like short stories.

I think short stories are composed of dreams.

Today, I had an idea to lump a trio of my stories with maybe a half-dozen more into a fun collection. Nothing is ever quite what it seems and a writing friend tells me never to hope for the release of a short story collection.

"You're not going to win any prizes because you're not an MFA fellow from any of the 'right' schools. Those are the sort of people who get short story collections published. Let the Pushcart go. Write the novels."

I love well-meaning advice about as much as finding I picked a bee instead of a blueberry.

I've got some amusing premise short stories in me. I'm going to write them. I can always give them away for Christmas.

Have you ever toured a secret lair? Well, I have. It is a surreal experience that begs for a short story.

I'm just the mad scientist to write it.

The cream is on the table. Berries are in the basket. Have a big helping of summer - then get to work.

It's time to write.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I'm fighting mosquitoes.

I wish they were this lovely model (crown copyright expired) at left but alas, deviling me are the small bloodsucking variety.

I went away to fish and it was spring. Grass needed cut but once a week. The meadows were still short. The raspberries had yet to leaf.

Now, a week later in my part of the world and it is summer complete with the little devils in horrendous numbers.

I have a mosquito magnet which is a technological device for managing a local population. It does work quite well though it takes a little time.

You have to remove the breeding females from the population and that takes a little bit. The bats and frogs help, but the headstart of the breeding this year has produced an explosion that I have to get a hand on or lose the deck for the season.

I've added a new class of villain to my work-in-progress. I feel good about that.

Turns out, there was a whole class of nefarious sort that I had neglected to gather into the folds of my premise. I'm glad to have them in my clutches now before a reader raises a hand as says "what about left handed knife-throwers ...why didn't you have them in the book?"

Oh, I have an answer: poetic license. Covers all manner of ills.

I've a slight pang of regret that I'm not heading to a conference this year.


I have plenty of work to complete and making progress on that body will do more for esteem and confidence than any workshop can do right now. I still need the learning experience though I need more to apply some of the wonderful advice and coaching I've received to date.

Content helps more than sales. Content helps confidence.

I'm off to work on some of my content. I've a lovely cup of coffee, a nice evening, and the promise of a very productive weekend looming on the horizon. Now, to work.

I hope your session goes well tonight, too. Cheers. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hitchcock Storytelling

I went to see this movie on a new print in all its glory at my local art house movie palace tonight.

The big screen is actually a big screen here. Very big.

There are so many things you miss in the chopped and reduced formats. Hitchcock's storytelling is a bit ham fisted to me but then, I've seen the movie before. The movie plays well to an innocent eye.

There's a great scene in the early part of the movie where Tippi drives to Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds. Tippi drives very fast and on the corners, the lovebirds in their cage lean as the car rounds a corner.

This sort of thing is amplified by the screeching tire sound track and the sped up footage. If you never saw an exterior shot of the car, the lean of the birds would be enough to convey the speed. Why did Hitchcock add the redundant effects? His audience was not attunded to subtly.

I'm thinking about that now with my intended readership. I always despise the ham fisted actions of an author to portray an emotional state of a character then cast that same emotion in reaction from some continuing conversation between two characters about it.

You know the drill.

"Wow, Bob was really steamed about Heidi and Tom," said Billy.

"You know, I didn't think he'd take it like that."

"No accounting for taste, Mike. No accounting for taste."

"I guess you're right," Mike agreed.

And so it goes. There is a passage like this in a Hemingway short story I like and I can't stomach it.

Now, off to have some words of my own take flight. I don't think I can count on Tippi showing up to stay the weekend. I don't go to the barn in an ascot and sweater much these days. Rod Taylor does in the movie, though.

Write something. Don't search the Nordstrom site for an ascot. You don't need one either.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fish Camp News

At left, Mr. Hemingway with style, form, and trout. Walloon Lake, Michigan.

I spent a week on the Au Sable in mid-Michigan and now I'm home. I've tackled the jungle that is the yard, cut the path tot he berry patch in the meadow, and attended to much neglected tasks.

I've also been to see Godzilla and, let me assure you, there is no accounting for taste.

I finished a draft that has been dragging, started another that has been looming, cleared my head, and regained a focus.

It is good to be home. The fishing was difficult. It only turned "spring" up north on last Wednesday and Thursday. They had snow flurries a week ago last Friday. Fun to drive into that news.

I caught trout. I caught brookies and browns and rainbows. All is right with the universe. I ate enough Spikeburgers to summon a cardiologist from the golf course. I saw friends up as my guests.

I hope writing has been going well for you. There is nothing like a little time away to clear the head after a long winter. There's nothing like a little longer trip away to make on miss the desk, their things of comfort, and the regular work habits that keep us sane. Well, sane-ish.

I'll sleep tonight and dream one last dream of trout; but, then I'm off to the land of untold stories.

I'll meet you there and we'll write our way out. Surviving the rough draft is the first step.

Mind the water.

It can be inky deep.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hemingway Dreams

On my mind - not the literary type but the sporting type of Hemingway dreams.

I'm going north next week for an indulgence of fishing and writing. I'm hitting the spring exactly right with warm afternoons, endless hatches, and hungry fish.

At left is a custom rod built for me on a Steffen blank by Mark McKellip. It's a dream to cast. Now to bring in big fish with it ...

I'm all set on the work to do. I'm excited about the voice I've given characters and the bits and pieces I've written in an interim draft that let me play with the dynamics between the fictional cast.

I say fictional; but, to me they are very real people.

I like them. I think that's important because I'm going to be spending a lot of time with them over the next 18 months through this draft, a revision draft, line edits, re-writes, and critique submission.

I feel like an expedition is afoot.

If you haven't been on an adventure, the week or so before is filled with all manner of mixed-up emotion that becomes one the night before a strange sense of calm. That's me right now. I've been on many adventurous outings and they all leave me with the same build-up until there's nothing left to do but wait for dawn and breathe deeply.

I'm wishing all of you big fish, happy travels, and adventure. I might help myself to a little of that as well.

I'm back on Memorial Day. Until then, take care. Write something bold.

Papa would.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Return the Hermit

At left, the Hermitage on Peter's Rock.

This was a hunting lodge built on a peak new New Haven, CT in the pre-depression era and - like many lodges - failed during those troubles.

I've been stewing over a piece of writing. I wouldn't say it was a case of writer's block as much as writer's confusion. I needed a distinct character's voice. I wanted departure from the first draft dullness that drifted through the work in progress like a stale aunt.

I've solved the problem and have the character in hand as well as many others. It makes for a better work.

So, now I'm starting a full prose re-write of the first draft. There are a few structural changes; but,  this is the time for the story to come to the forefront. I've cut and trimmed and added and plastered over details of inconsistencies and items which became uninteresting.

I'm off to catch trout and write next week. It's a Hemingway thing. I don't believe it is any sort of "lucky pen" problem but rather an investment this year in a writing retreat to really focus on the first 15K words of the work in progress. I'll also catch some wonderful spring trout.

I look forward to a little North Michigan. Ah, spring and the air is full of murder.

Lock your literary doors. My characters are on the loose.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


I'm puttering along but I've been overloaded this week.

In the coming week, I'll do better.

By being full of other duties as required, I've been more sensitive to my writing time. I'm wondering if I'm alone in that?

I've had better ideas in the limited time I've made available to write than I've had int he whole of the past month. That is itself rewarding.

Writing appears at time a little like Tourette's : when I am fully occupied by something else, my focus in writing has laser-like precision.

So, I hope your beast of burden is still speaking to you. It's spring. There's plowing to do.

I'll be away for a glorious week of writing this month. My retreat? On a world famous trout river.

Look out, Papa. It's "Not So Old Man and a Fish."

I can hardy wait.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


At left, Tippet.

In the world of fly fishing, tippet is that last little bit of line connected tot he fly. It's the business end of the fly fisherman communicating with the fly to hopefully entice a nice trout to take.

I'm reworking an outline.

 I also have a fire tonight. It's wet and raw and cool here. I built a fire. May or not, it was cold.

I'm thinking tonight that we writers have tippet in our method, too. It's that last little bit of effort that makes a journeyman piece of work into something special. Sure, we have to find the audience and we have to sell and ...

But that tippet, that little bit extra effort makes the story we're peddling something special to us. Convincing the world? That is beyond your control. Writing well is under your control.

Make sure that the prose gets that little something special that lets you communicate with the audience. Just telling the story? Not enough. The job doesn't pay well enough for just "ordinary" sorts of effort.

Trout? Why yes, I'd love one. We'll see how the fish feel about my efforts.

Off to write then dream of cold clean water.