clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mummy Dearest

Boris at left from The Mummy.

The blog has been a little dark lately. Family obligations.

Back to normal now.

We're not dead. We've been "wrapped up."

Hope all goes well in writer-land. It's pretty decent here. Despite the blog outage, my WIP is progressing.

It's a curse I cannot escape!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Rural

I'd like to be an urban fellow though I've spent most of my life in more pastoral surroundings.

At left, a lovely fawn by Walter Mains who allows us to use it through wikicommons. Thanks, Walter!

I have twin fawns in my west meadow.

I'm thinking tonight of setting. I've considered recasting a conventional suburban story to a more rural setting. The focus is on the interpersonal relations and how they complicate the intended actions of my protagonist.

I suspect a rural setting with the more barren environment for socialization may do well. I need someone for him to speak with, though. Thus, a dog. He'll talk to the dog.

I don't think the dog should answer. I'm not Karen Russell.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Midsommar

I'm not Swedish but my daughter-in-law is. There's enough murder from Sweden in the recent wave of crime novels to make it of special note. [ Photo from Markus Bernet in 2009. Thanks for the loan from wikicommons, Markus. He has contributed many wonderful images. Lovely camera work, really. First rate. A collection is : here.]

Nothing like finding a body under a may pole.

Why am I excited? Because we're about as far from snow as we get around here. After last winter, that's enough reason to rejoice for me.

Bonfire this week. Roast weenies. S'mores.

Have some summer.

Blueberries and ice cream. Together, Separately. Get some on you and wear it around. Smile.

It's summer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rights of Passage

At left, ice cream photographed in Sweden in 2005 by Väsk and posted to Wikicommons. Thanks, Väsk. Great picture.

There are many rights of passage. One of the most important this year is to take a breath and enjoy summer. Yes, I know you don't believe it; but, it is summer. 

It's almost Midsommer.

So, if you haven't had an ice cream cone on a park bench, I want you to make sure to do so this weekend. It is an essential part of the creative process to sit on a park bench eating an ice cream cone so the next "killer idea" can catch-up with you.

You have to give these ideas a chance to match the pace of your life. Park benches an ice cream make that happen.

Oh, put the phone down when you eat it. Please. Smart phones are creative idea repellents. Hell, throw the damn thing in the duck pond if you like. You'd be surprised how well you do afterwards.

If you haven't got a park bench and an ice cream shop near enough to where you live, you know what I am going to say: move.

I'm thinking summer; but, I have a body under the ice - at Christmas. Nothing like calling our fire rescue on Christmas Eve morning to recover a body. Makes everyone go "Ho , Ho, Ho" and so fits right into my little noir effort. No - it isn't the WIP. I was cheating. One page only.

Back to work. Stop cheating. 

Have an ice cream. Let those ideas come to you.

No, I haven't any proof that things work this way. What is the worst that can happen? You have another ice cream cone in a park?

So, sue me. You know you cannot call or text to complain. My phone is off.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Not a Production Plan

At left, a munition factory in wartime Britain.

Photo from the Imperial War Museum. Thanks!

Writers like the illusion of schemes and plans.

Tuesday I'll do this and Wednesday I'll do that.

Sometimes it works. Not so often as you'd notice.

The creative process is a messy affair. If it were a linear activity of so many hours with so many motions, then everyone would be a novelist.

It looks like organization - but it isn't. There are new ideas and new perspectives and a whole pile of "sick of it like this" in the process.

If you read from the blogs of writers who seem to have it all together, let me tell you that there are occasional three AM scamperings to the desk to make notes about this and that and the other that they're throwing right out. There are also the sleepless nights about scenes that doesn't work, premises that are too contrived, and dialogue that is as stilted as it comes.

I love to imagine putting the table outside in the front yard, having a nice glass of tea, and writing for five hours a day as a living.


My creative muse has her hair on fire most of the time and as a result, my work habits are hardly reflective of anything but enforced management rules.

In the chair X hours a day with pen in hand.

Sometimes that produces real progress.

Sometimes it doesn't.

This isn't a regular production gig. There are times that the scene between husband and wife doesn't work despite the three days you've spent at it and so something has to give. No one runs a factory like that.

Then again, you're not a factory worker in a wartime munitions plant for whom everything is piece-work.

That is, unless you expect the novel to be a bomb.

There's the steamworks whistle. Have to go. So do you.

Where, I have no idea. Bring a notebook and pen just in case. I will.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Myth and Mystery

When we read Joseph Campbell about the pervasiveness of myth, we often think of direct conflict: war.

Mystery prevails in myth as well. Oh, we don't always think of it that way.

We are authors and it is our job to believe that what is presented as truth is in fact falsehood. The clever bit is the mystery of "why?"

So, think about your life. Think about the myths you've encountered in the form of mystery.

Don't take the truth as presented. Starting from the meager premise that you are being deceived is bound to present some tremendous tales.

Lock the doors tonight. Don't use the telephone.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How Progress Arrives

Progress: attributed to the sum of individual steps.

At left, K2 in a lovely photograph shared on wikicommons by Maria Ly. Thanks-you, Ms. Ly.

Twenty-five percent of all the climbers to attempt this mountain die.

How does one scale such a peak. Well, you know how. Training, preparation, and a lot of small steady steps.

Sounds a bit like a motivation pitch, doesn't it?

It also sounds depressingly true.

Off for a few hundred more words.

You should do the same.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not Dead Yet

Detained by other commitments.

Held in irons.

Compelled to work.

Still writing WIP, though. I can sleep when I'm dead.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wide Open

A lovely meadow and horizon from wikicommons. Properly, these are moors down below.

I'm working in the close confines of my WIP lately longing for those white-page days when the future is wide open and nothing need fit with anything else.

There is a beauty in wide open spaces and, for me, a beauty in the first blank page.

I'm making notes on the next story, though.

Have to keep the canvas filled.

Need something to keep notes in? Shinola.

Beats Moleskin all to hell. (That's a Hemingway-ism. I'm practicing my pontificating. Next I'll practice my drinking in the afternoon.)

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Problem with What You Want

At left, a caddy '53 as photographed by Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden in wikicommons. Thanks Lars for letting us use this snapshot. Lovely work.

The caddy convertible is a cruising monster. The problem: it's a convertible.

It's allergy season.

I drive a different convertible and right now, The top is up and the air conditioner is on.

I'm a little out of it because of the hayfever. The writing suffers.

When your body says go to bed, please - just go to bed. The garbage coming out of the pen isn't at all helpful in a state of exhaustion.

Sleep tight, everyone. Convertible dreams!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Very Much Like Something Else

At left, a lovely turn-of-the-century rectangular cow. This was from the days when agriculture tried to imitate geometric ideals and thus we have Blackbird at left.

What makes our story accessible? What makes it the subject of "must read" lists?

Premise figures in large part.

Dialogue that moves the action is another part.

Our execution of the story with the air of emotional attainment is a third.

We must understand or recognize the emotional position of the characters or, if not in the print, we readers must be able to formulate our own emotional reflection of their state which fits the evidence provided.

We have to understand what the character feels and we must understand that puzzle in the context that we see the character.

We don't want to know "Suzie's mad."

We want to know Suzie feels uncertain and insecure about her husband Brad's conversation with Jeanie across the room at the party when it appeared Brad and Jeanie had an understanding between them of more familiarity than Suzie suspects is reasonable.

Brad has a demonstrated relationship with Jeanie which is of a closer nature than Suzie's relationship with Jeanie. This fact seems out of place to Suzie.

Now, in a couple of paragraphs of dialogue, we need to show Brad and Suzie in conflict and display Suzie's distress without her actually telling Brad why she is agitated (because wives rarely come out and say "I'm angry you seem to know Jeanie better than I do").

If we execute these two snippets of dialogue in the car properly, the reader understands both emotional perspectives and - in the interaction of husband and wife - the status of their marriage at this point.

We haven't yet come to any action.

Aliens landing on the road in front of them? Easy, compared to presenting the emotional status in very few words. Hell, I can't describe the need to describe the perspective in as succinct a manner as a writer needs to make it happen on the page.

If we handle every interaction in our stories with an eye to the Jeanie and Brad dilemma, we have a story that is emotionally attainable and stands a chance of being an accessible piece of fiction.

We materialize our premise in the broad sweeps of story. We materialize our characters in the interaction between them. The strongest stories for me do both things.

I suspect you as the reader might say the same.

As the writer, it's easy to focus on the machinations of our plot. The reality: characters are people readers want to know and whose emotions we readers want to understand.

It's getting better everyday. Breathe. Write.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Moosed Up

Photo at left from US Fish and Wildlife.

I don't know about the hundreds of collisions part, but breaking for Moose just seems reasonable.

I sound like a moose. Allergies. The spruce trees went off this week and it is brutal right now. They'll be done by next weekend and I'll be better but right now, moose calls (sneezing).

Extraordinary. In a writing group today, we talked about the extraordinary. I recently had somebody ask about what I was writing and I gave the brush off, twice. They were persistent so I finally answered: there is a murdered wife in the library spread all over the back wall. The cops come and suspect the husband and so down the road we go.

I got precisely the reaction I expected: " Wow, that's pretty extreme."

Well, of course it is.

Molly's angst as a new school teacher over wages and tips she failed to report to the IRS the prior year while working as a waitress in a blind pig off Troost in Kansas City : not much of a story. Inner angst, unreported income - who give a shit?

Now, trouble that follows here to a "clean" teaching job after being anywhere near Troost vocationally? That's a story. Here is a great tour of KC. Sums it right up.

 As you might know, Troost is a street in KC where you don't stop.

No, that's not a bigoted reflection on the historical black-white divide in KC. That's a comment on the crime statistics in the last twenty years regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, creed, hair color, brand of tooth paste. Troost is where "shit happens" and just avoiding it is a good plan.

I live near Detroit now. There are places in Detroit you won't tell your mother because no good happens there and going to those places where "shit happens" get's you a whuppin' even today. Not long ago, one of those places was the Mayor's mansion (Hey! Mayor Kwame - you readin' this? Probably not from the federal pen, huh? If you are, leave your address. I'll send cookies.)

So, of course our writing is extreme. Nobody cares about "cat took a nap in the sun" except somebody I know named "Rory Bear."

We care about problems. Dead wife in the library and cops think you did it? Problem. I might read on.

I hope you might, too.

I'm off to bed.

If you're out this evening, stay off Troost.  [ Oh, the bar in the video is Kelly's which appears in the pages of The Last Cattle Drive, so there's a literary connection. Also, it used to be one of the civilized spots in the world where you could get a proper Guinness. Thank Dog that's changed in my lifetime).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Earth Shattering

At left, shattered Earth from Hell's Half Acre in Idaho. Courtesy US Department of Interior.

Occasionally, things emerge from the fog and find you standing like Keanu Reeves in any one of a number of bad movies saying "Whoaaaa."

You know the critique: "All they do in this book is talk."

Well, of course. We're listening-in on somebody else's conversation when we read a novel. That's what it is.

What people mean by the critique above is "All they do is talk too much."

I call it the skeletal approach. I've written before where I put everything in a draft with the intention of taking it out later.

I've written stories about a murder where the carpet under the killer's feet found its way on the page because I the author thought I wanted to say something about the dense wool pile of expensive floor covering.

Better to leave it all out in the early drafts. I've been wrong for years.

Show me the bones.

The fist sketches on canvas for me are structural. Once I have structure, I can proceed to place the flesh on the framework and fill-in the line drawing as a three dimensional representation. First, the bones.

I'm re-drafting a work now by going back to bones. Sure, I've the ugly draft where I tell myself the story. It has lots of detail for ... me. Useless thing, really.

For you, just the bones. That goes for dialogue, too.

Every scene of the bone draft drives the story forward. Note I said "drives" and by that I mean pounds the tale forward like a hammer driving a nail.

There is a ringing in the dialogue: short passages of staccato interchange capturing just what I need and nothing more. If the cop is interviewing the protagonist, we eliminate the dry bits and focus only on those most telling.

I'll illustrate below with an entire scene from the draft:

Detective Evans made a spitting sound towards the wall clearing a coffee ground from his lip.
"Why'd you wait five hours from getting home until calling 9-1-1?"
Denis crossed his left palm over his right fist resting the table and leaned forward into his hands.
"I told you, I didn't know my wife was dead in the library until I came down for water and smelled something funny."
"What was funny?"
"What was funny? What did you smell?"
"You smell gunpowder often - maybe from a gun range?"
"OCS. Quantico." Denis almost smiled. "It's been a while."
"And as a Marine - what, twenty years ago -  you knew that's what it was when you smelled it?"
"No," Denis said looking down at the table. He cleared his throat. "I smelled gunpowder, human shit, and that stale smell of a pack of chicken in the fridge which meant blood that'd been sitting around."
"I knew it was the smell of death and I'd better go look where it was coming from."
"Standing in your kitchen you smelled death?"
"My father shot himself when I was eleven. It was November and the house was closed up. Came home from school and found him. I knew the smell from memory. I knew death." 
Here are the bones.

I didn't have to tell you the cops think Denis is the murderer. I didn't have to have an in-the-hallway scene between two detectives discussing if they should bring in the husband to go over his statement again. I put the husband in the room with a cop and you knew what was going on.

The first question shows you the relative contempt the detective has for the man he thinks killed his wife. The first question shows you there is a problem with the timeline and the husband's account of the events.

Denis' answer about noticing the smell tells you he's not a couch-monkey intimidated by the law. He's got a harder background than we might have known up until now and he's in command of the interview at this point ... which tells us something, too.

There's not enough to see that Denis emotionally ambushed the cop with his own question in this draft. As the author, I know it and I'll make that clear in a subsequent draft by continuing the interview and having it turn the way Denis wants it which is not an easy task to execute on a seasoned cop. I can clarify that later.

That's flesh. We're bones here.

And I move along. I might add a couple sentences of Denis declaring the interview over, the cop protesting a little, and Denis reading from the back of his attorney's business card.

So, bones. We keep the draft to the bones omitting the lovely transitions, backstory not introduced directly by a character for cause (in the example above, Denis uses it as an emotional bear trap for the cop), and observation either between characters or from a character as an interior dialogue device.

We want story in draft. Move and move quickly. A draft of 95% dialogue works if the dialogue moves the story.

Ask someone about the scene and they won't say "it's all talk."  That's because it did something for the story.

Now, rattle the bones.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I'm trained in many aspects of flight. If you ask any albatross, they'll tell you it isn't nearly as easy as it looks.

That happened this week with my writing.

I read a passage by Gillian Flynn and she's made me consider the current approach of the draft of this WIP.

I'm looking again with an editor's eye. What are the essential scenes to tell the story. How are my characters acting and speaking to convey the story.

Is my intention to spend a little time here early in this draft's progress to be as clean and lean as possible with my core story and the characterization which I intend.

Perhaps, if I am clean and sparse and disciplined, my tale will emerge like Caesar's commentaries: intended as notes but as a whole, the better draft of the history then the biographers could muster.

I'm off to tell myself the story cleanly.

Preparation is essential for optimal landings. I'm using my time to line op my approach.

You should check your heading and make sure the gear is down, too.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tiki Me, Tiki You

From wikicommons, a graciously shared image of a Tiki: in this case a deified ancestor.

I have a green light on constructing a detached screened porch. Ostensibly, I'd use it to write into the evening on lovely summer nights.

I'd also equip the room with a fold-out bar. A .. ahem ...Tiki Bar.

There was an advertisement some time ago which featured blind pigs: unlicensed bars. I've wanted one since seeing the advertisement.

Most unlicensed bars are in a basement or garage. Mine would be in a screened room with a very few tasteful Tiki accouterments. Oh yes, my associates would indeed flock to the bar.

When the Paris Review comes for the interview, we'll be able to conduct the affair civilly over a couple of Suffering Bastards (my favorite Tiki drink) in the summer house.

I'll also be able to write, smoke a cigar, and not be consumed by all manner of flying bloodsuckers we have in Michigan. I live adjacent to a wetlands - which you know if you've seen the seasonal announcements of "Frog Day" here at Mayhem. It's pretty wet. I have wood ducks breeding in it.

Anyway, there is something to work for now. How can I have the trappings of a well accomplished writer of mayhem and murder without actually killing 'em with the debut novel?

How indeed?

I think I'll save pouring the footings until I have a clean prose draft in hand of all three acts of this work-in-progress. That's a goal. You've read it here. The working title? Despot Island. Fitting, no?

Now, before I get the Tiki Voodoo HoooDoo, I'm off to write.

Remember what happened to Bobby Brady? You should leave the Tiki alone and go write, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writing in Summer

Carl Larsson painted the image at left before 1919 - exact date unknown. It does look like a lovely day.

Haying my meadows will be upon me in another three weeks. For now, they are tall and lush and full of mosquitoes and other critters. Hare, mostly. The foxhound isn't doing his job.

(He's snoring behind me right now).

I'm trying to evolve my meadows into a seasonal wildflower patches and that takes care and control to eliminate brush and sumac at its earliest stage.

I'm doing much the same with my writing. I'm being careful, steadfast, regular. I'm trying to prune the story into a form which tells the tale through the characters and less through my machinations.

I'm feeling good about the progress.

I'm considering building a summer studio. I'd like a separate studio from the house where I could spread out and fill all the corners; but, there's no need for it.

I would like a screened porch where I could work into the evening. My house doesn't lend itself to such a thing thus I'm considering a screened studio near the raspberries.

It probably won't come to pass. I hate to shingle anything and building a studio - even a screened deck of a studio - requires a proper roof and a roof means shingling and that's just right out for me. No proper writer has a contractor build his studio!

So, incentive to make a go of it: I get a summer studio from which to work in these brief summer months. After all, once we have the Hollywood contract for famously oddball ideas they'll be money aplenty for such things, right?

I've a nice library with a ceiling fan and two walls full of windows. I should be content.

That's just it, though. Writer's aren't content. If we were content and happy, we'd have nothing to say.

Scratch a little bit and you'll find a person who is comfortable in about 2% of their daily life. That's about the same yearly ratio as we have those perfect summer days to enjoy, isn't it?

Welcome, comrades.

Now. Let's write about murder. I'm chortling with glee. Can you hear me? Try a little chortle, too.

It's good for you. As you write. In the summer.