clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, October 31, 2014


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

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

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

I've been reading and thinking.

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

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

I'm shy.

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

I lie.

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

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

I've been playing at it.

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

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

So, enough. Off on the new.

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

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

I used to write love letters and they worked.

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

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

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

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

It will be a shadow and not the real thing.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Warms You Twice

At left, Lou and my new woodpile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've got some stacking to do...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Murder in Paradise

Image left from wikicommons. Lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing up my sleeves ... but murder.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


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

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

So, how to avoid the cliche?

Make trouble. Interrupt plans.

Conflict is great. All Hail Conflict.

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

Make things go badly for the well-prepared protagonists.

Have the cops not be idiots.

Have the marks be unpredictable.

Have competing interests intervene.

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

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

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

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

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

I'm off to offer complications to some characters.

Run Jane. Run!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Conversation

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

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

It is a stunning piece of work.

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

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

A link: Bunnies.

The figures appear as in conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's look.

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

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

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

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

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

Does the detail add? You bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The conversation.

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

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

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

Converse among yourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back from the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More bodies - some in the woods.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Streamers of Joy

At left, streamers.

I'm rigging trout flies tonight.

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

Multi-tasking, the criminal way.

Catch a big one.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Right Fishing Partner

At left, black bear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see my fishing partner.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mind On My Trout

..and my trout on my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Work Therapy

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

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

Back soon. Short term "all hands" drill.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No Flies On Me

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

Trout love these.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014


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

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