clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rocket Science.

Apollo 15 from NASA archives.

Some things are rocket science. I've been working on a couple of them.

I am back. Now, more scenes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pestilence and Its Twin

Business is booming!

I've been vocationally occupied these past few days.

For a fellow concerned with the certainty of death, business is ramping up in my industry. I deal with a different part of the inevitable right now; but, the uncontrolled spread of disease is a subject of interest.

That said, we'll have to discuss the realities of space exploration sometime. It has its own members of the imminent doom club.

Until then, stay off airplanes. Wash your hands frequently.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thorns and All

Left, from Morguefile, a blackberry cane.

Something is being eaten outside in the woods as I write this. It's probably best since I'm considering the second murder in a story rolling around my head. Whatever is being consumed is protesting.

My victims tend to go quietly. We find their remains but not their actual demise. I guess I haven't the stomach for it.

That's the problem with crime: it's a thorny issue.

I love my brambles but I get poked and scratched every time I work out among them.

You break some eggs, you make some crime. I pin the body under a sweeper in the creek. I leave the body in the library on the couch, the floor, some on the back wall. I feed one or two to the crocodile. It happens.

I received my re-up notice from MWA today. I'm only the associate member. I'm not sure if I'll send my fees or not. They haven't proved too useful to me.

I've gotten a single issue of crimespree in the last year. I got a huge packet of stuff - mostly far back issues - with the MWA Edgar awards announcement. The whole thing doesn't seem current or helpful to me.

Of course, I'd probably feel differently if I sent something out and had the bona fides to say "I'm a crime Author."

I'm in a project.

Just like at a party, you do best keeping your mouth closed about writing. No one wants to hear about what they cannot read.

I'll probably join MWA again just in case they are doing something in the background to help authors. I wouldn't know. I'll retain an agent or publish nothing at all. Whatever she says, I'll do.

This is an avocation. I don't plan on feeding myself with the outcome. I do plan on being professional. I do plan on continuing to work at the craft. I don't plan commercial success.

If I leave enough bodies in my wake, I'll be able to find my way back home. A find Hansel I make.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rural Noir

When you find your tribe as a writer, it is a grand day.

If you've been on this blog for any time at all, you know I have an attachment to B.F.E. (rhymes with rum truck).

Actually, I grew up west of B.F.E. That part of the map where the census people say no one lives? That's me.

Now, I've seen the oil and cattle business up close and can say that Detroit has nothing on me. It can be as rough as a drug deal gone south. Add a little family in the mix and you've got a nuclear explosion all over the page.

I've got several stories set in Western Hell which are not very good stories. That is, the conflict is weak and our connection to the protagonist through the conflict is poor. The pieces are aspiring literary fiction which is to say they completely suck as stories. Oh, they're great character studies full of atmosphere and regret. They do miss a sense of conflict though.

SO, I wrote a quick re-draft of something over a couple lunchtimes with an eye towards Hammett set in Western Hell. Damned if that sense of doom running at the protagonist like a T. Rex at an ice cream social didn't have merit.

I have to thank some of the Tin House folks - Steve Almond - one day for showing me a couple of narrative tension tricks, too. When the reader knows something the other characters don't - well. That can work in the set-up.

Anyway, I cannot wait to revisit the land of inadvertent tractor turn-overs and blasting caps and rattlesnakes in the pick-up cab.

I had a rat run across my foot while driving a feed wagon once. Almost like a blasting cap.

I lived. Not so for the rat.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tin House

Picture a tin roofed house. We'd call this a "summer house" where I come from. No fireplace, you see. It's probably situated where it catches the breeze in the evening and is small and light to cool down quickly once the sun goes down.

Big Victorian ranch houses catch the heat and keep it tight like suspicious dogs. In the deep summer, it is nice to get away from such a hot box so these little shacks are nice. This one looks to have a bathroom in the back. Probably has a large salvaged tub from some older farmstead ready to fill with cool water.

This place probably looked decent a decade or two ago.

Anyway, Tin House. I've enjoyed my Tin House The Writer's Notebook I and II. The essays are very approachable and I find myself re-reading them from time to time.

You can order them here. I'm not affiliated with Tin House and get nothing from the sale except the knowledge that the essays on writing are worth a damn.

Hope your house is cool in the evenings and the prose flows well. I hope the rain lulls you to sleep on your own tin roof.

Oh. Tar the seams every other year. Rain is nice - on the outside.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Time and Tide

Some boats even the tide cannot help set free. At that point, move on.

In every draft there are things that are not working. They clog up the works.

We try a couple re-writes and sometimes it gets better. Often not.

I speak here of the parts that are rough, abrupt, out of phase, ill fitting, or that you the write just bloody well do not like.

It happens.

Move on.

There is so much to do that scraping and chipping and welding in a new plate and seaming it with 5200 just isn't going to do the job right now.  You might well be trying to patch a hull that's been beached too long.

It doesn't mean you are out of the sailor business. It means this hull may not be seas-worthy from your efforts right now and - in time - may not prove sea-worthy at all.

Take it in stride. Make a good effort and move on. There are other parts that will respond to your attention.

Next draft, you may be able to patch this section that right now is ugly. It's a draft.

We all want a single effort perfect single-draft.

Not going to happen.

Let it go for now. Get on with the work at hand. When you've let the work season, you'll come back and decide that the tone is obtuse or the character roles need reversed or some other writerly trick will cure all ills. For now, hit and move.

The wallowing doesn't help. Trust me.

Make a pass at it. Unsatisfied? Allow yourself one more good effort and if it isn't working, flag it and move along.

Progress comes from movement. Efficiency comes from practice as you become surer and stronger in your technique.

You cannot go couch today, marathon tomorrow. You can do some work and have a pretty good chance as a solid mile in a couple of weeks. Take what comes.

Hit and move. Don't let the wallowing get to you. It doesn't help and annoys the others at the dock.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Still Image

At left, from morgefile: the rolleiflex. I couldn't find a free image of a Graflex Speed Graphic.

I'm refining scenes. I know all the details. The reader needs to know "just enough."

How much is just enough?

This is precisely the sort of question that comes to me when I read books about writing. I understand the points "distill" and "essential to the events." What I question is "what is that amount?"

Of course, this is where being a reader comes in, isn't it?

We've all read descriptions of a setting and environs that reflected some lyric majesty. At two-thirty in the morning, I can do with less majesty.

We've also read prose where we have to go back and re-read the scene because the whole thing was a white-room; but, the author chose something about the white room which proved essential and we missed it. Without our handhold, we fell from three floors up in the tale. We had to go back. We didn't like that.

So, what is the proper amount cine-graphic scene setting? The proper amount. What does it take for we writers wearing our reader-hats to understand the setting in which our events transpire ? That's the detail we need.

Aunt Tilley's hand-hooked run in the entry-way of the farmhouse means little to the story ... unless Uncle Joe is lying upon it with a cleaver in his back. Then, the rug adds something as we let the reader know in our opening that Joe lay dead upon Tilly's rug. The reader will deduce the cleaver might be Tilly's as well.  Helpful, that rug fact.

I've got a body in a November creek. It's unusually wet and the creek is running. The sheriff, a deputy, and a priest are at the scene. The priest is in a pick-up on the road and stopped as the pair of officers return to the sheriff's vehicle to wait for the county coroner. How much detail about the gravel road, the location (formerly an informal dump when ashes from the burn barrels of the residents in town might be emptied) , the vehicles, the sky, the threat of rain, and the hour should I include?

The answer: the amount that grounds me as a reader in the scene.

Hate those descriptions so sparse in a mystery where every detail mentioned becomes significant in the plot because that's all the writer keeps in his revision cycle? Me, too. I've faulted some big-name crime guys for this very trend.

I want enough detail to feel connection to the action and not too much so I find myself saying "ok, enough with the burnt umber color of the road, for Dog's sake."

How much is enough?

How much is enough for your reader self? Keep that level for me. I'll buy your books.

Cut down to something less, you lose me at the scene. Too much more and I think your narrative is bloated.

Enough is enough. That's the answer for so much of our craft.

Also the answer to how long I should make this blog post. Good-night.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Season of Crime

I can't believe I haven't posted since Wednesday. That in itself is a crime. No excuse!

I had a great session with a friend and fellow writer today who helped me crystallize the subplot of a current WIP. I've had some trouble fitting the co-protagonist's story into the tale and the drill of "what does the character want, what does the scene do, whom does it affect? " Really helped.

It's is sticky humid here and murder hangs heavy in the air. On heavy summer nights when the breeze goes away, I feel the mayhem in the woods beyond my meadow. I can see two fellows burying a corpse or tossing out a pistol used in a murder.

I don't know why I suspect the night of malevolence. Experience, I guess.

Keep a light on. You might keep it on even as you go to sleep. You never know for sure ...