clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dragging Along

At left, a dredge.

I'm dragging along. The alergies are killing me and I'm all out of witty comments by the time I get around to making a blog post.

My writing output is abut half of what I'd desire, too.

Only a couple more weeks. This early spring mold is brutal this year. Winds are blowing the pollen in from the south.

I'm not complaining, mind you. The glacier has receded at last and there is a joy inside me. It's just obscured by the red squinty eyes that look like bullet holes in a corpse.

How do I counter the lack of output blues? I read. I'm devouring books right now.

I hope you are as well.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bucking Trends

A little wordplay here. At left, Buck Rogers in Amazing Stories.

Buck is appropriate for tonight because I'e been thinking of both the commonplace and the extraordinary.

It's easy to make the extraordinary be fantastical and stunning because it is extraordinary. Having my characters react as such is expected. [ Oh, attractive zombie vampires...let me swoon.]

Aliens land in Central Park: run in circles; scream and shout.


Now, aliens land in Central Park and everyone carries on normal daily existence except for maybe a group from P.S. 143 hiking over to the Metropolitan? There's a story.

Oh, fifth graders always stare at aliens. Always. Commonplace or not.

I've made a couple of mistakes in stories making the mundane too mundane and the extraordinary too much the "gee whiz golly" shock and awe.

My trick should be to make the extraordinary appear completely normal to my characters and thus use the juxtaposition between the reader's reactions and the characters reactions to creative inherent narrative tension. When you don't know the rules of the game, even tennis is an exercise in tension.

Likewise, aliens? These should be normal and customary.

Remember the bar scene in Star Wars? Luke didn't stare. He didn't even look around.

We did. It was a bizarre and strange new world to us but to the character: ho-hum. There was narrative tension between our expectations and the developing story right there on the screen.

I don't know why this came to me. I have been re-reading some old stories to see what elements I fumbled beyond those I remember fumbling. They're so old, they read like a stranger's work.

It's proved interesting. I've learned.

I learned something about Buck Rogers. The fantastic was his commonplace and we were along for the ride.

Ok - I'm too young for Buck Rogers. So are you.

Go write something you can grow old on. I will, too.

Lt's make it extraordinary. We'll both act like it is commonplace and shock the natives.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dawn Patrol

Allergy season has hit and I'm struggling with late-day-attention-deficit-what-was-I-saying?

I'm going to switch it up and try the pre-dawn ritual this week. I have no focus left in the evening now. I'm duplicating my work bringing in points I've already gone over.

So, at left, the sun.

I don't think those are sunspots. I think it is pollen build-up.

When the routine isn't working, don't hesitate to adopt new work habits.

Just keep working.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Busy. Busy.

Sometimes the pieces fall apart. Sometimes we knock them down. I'm working on the WIP.

Tonight I worked on it in a sloppy way. I watched _Michael Clayton_ just for the sly smile on Clooney's face in the cab. I wanted that for a character I put in trouble.

I'm off to get him out of it now so the reader can cheer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Opera Plots

 Opera Plots - space opera, that is.

I am not sure why but for the last week I have wanted to read some space opera.

It happens from time to time. When I'm working a problem in the back of my head, I often need some immersive item to consume rather than savor and enjoy.

Now, there is some fine science fiction writing out there. That is not however the material I am suggesting I'm reading. I am consuming pulp.

It is one step from self-published (and there is some great self-published material out there) and by that I mean the:

"He stopped at the cabin door looking into the mirror and thought 'who is this old man with short-cropped hair thinning on the right where the oxy burn had scalded him on Ares 23?'"
Pulp. The stuff at its highest recognition was printed on pulp.

Everybody eats a Hersey's bar once and a while and that's damn poor chocolate, too. Most of the time, you'd still take it were it offered to you.

I like the kind with almonds.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Young Man's Thoughts...

Yes, spring.

I don't know what young men think of in spring; but, I think of brook trout now. A left, a fine litho.

It is spring here after 3" of snow on the 15th. I was lucky with three. The river valley held its warmth.  Half-a-dozen miles south of me they had nearly five inches.

I'm grinding on an improved outline from a completed draft of the first section of the WIP. I feel good about that. I'll clean up some structural deficiencies,  make some scene-by-scene notes to tighten some characterizations and solve a couple of inconsistencies, then draft a full prose first draft that I can use for limited re-writes and edits.

It's good to make progress in the spring. It feels right.

I hope your writing is going well. I hope Easter provided a decent nap sometime as well.

Off to dream of trout. Only fitting that murder writers sleep with fishes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Going Well

At left, a photo by Myrabella.

When things are going well for a writer, he's like a - well - like a hog in mud.

Look at the face of this guy. Written anything lately that made you feel this way?

I'd suggest, telling a story you want to tell. It's surprising how writing the material you personally enjoy brings a sense of contentment.

It might not be your best material; but, don't you deserve just a little contentment this spring?

Let me see your mud face, writer! (Apologies to Senior Drill Instructors everywhere. )

I'm not sure "mud face" is going to go viral.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Getting to Know You ...

At left, Kennedy and Khrushchev from June 1961. The Cuban missile crisis was in October 1962 for those of you keeping score along with the game.

I've been away from the blog but not away from my writing.

As I wind down the rough draft of this section of the novel-in-progress, I'm struck by what I know know of the characters.

I give my characters names culled from people I knew in places I've been years and years ago.

The personalities of the people I change as soon as I decide to borrow a name or even a part of a name. I use parts of people I've known but they are never represented in the slightest in these "working names" before I perform substitutions in the final draft. They're placeholders.

Every story I write has a "Bob" in it when I run the first draft. Yes, sometimes "Bob" is a woman. There is a lot of emotion for me in a woman's name so in drafts I often use a placeholder. "Bob" it is.

As the story shapes up, the characterizations become stronger and the personalities coalesce for me. I get to know these folks on the page. I almost universally like them - even the bad ones. Of course, I know the whole story of the character and the reader does not.

Our views on these people I conjure therefore differs between author and reader.

I was just struck as I revise the outline of this rough draft how, when I started, the characters had a certain form and now a couple of hundred pages in they have a completely different form.

Some of the changes came from the plot points they had to negotiate. Some of the change just came from the blue.

I like this part of the writing process when you know the characters you're working with as if they're old friends and they've not yet overstayed their welcome in your house.

Oh, they do.

By the time final line edits and proofs are done, you never want to think of some of them again. But now, they're welcome and good company.

I wonder, am I alone in seeing these friends of ink and paper in such a realized fashion?

They're as real to me as my own family. No wonder we write.

I'm off to do so now. You should, too. There are characters to meet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More Bear than Bee

At left, bee and pollen courtesy Ragessos on wikicommons.

I like honey. Bees like honey. Pollen - I like less.

I've been laid low by allergies.

When I wake, I'll continue posting. Right now, I'm sleepwalking through my meager day heavily medicated and gasping.

I leave the flowers to my friends the bees. I had 4 inches of snow yesterday but the mold is still in the air from all the rotting detrious of winter.

Off to wheeze.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Chain Gang

At left, illustration of convicts at hard labor.

I awoke in the middle of the night suddenly aware of what bothered me about a contemporary story I had read before bed: a lack of fear.

The protagonist stumbled along wrongly accused of murder and destined for prison. He makes some bad choices on his road to ruin and that - as we say - is the story.

I couldn't quite place what stuck me as off. Then in the middle of the night: a lack of the transformative effect of fear and desperation.

Sure, there was a transformation. I missed it on the page because the author provided us clues in only narrative description and not in the outlook or revelations of the protagonist himself.

In a "close" story where we are alongside the protagonist, we can lose the point if the author interrupts immersion to shove it at us. We're so used to blocking out ham-handed attempts at info dumps that we miss the point in our haste to read on and get back into the immersion.

Several lessons there, I think.

The least of which is: normal decent Joes have a healthy fear of justice: miscarriage or not. Trust your fellow man in a jury trial? I'd sooner play Russian Roulette.

I always play Russian Roulette in my head. 17 black and 29 red. - Tom Waits.

A pithy quote from T Bone Burnett here:

Someone stole my identity and I feel sorry for them.

 That's a story in one line, folks. The story that goes along with it? We all should write one.

I'm off to put some fear into a character. You should be afraid, too.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grand Budapest

I went to see a movie last night. I enjoyed it. I have an odd sense of humor.

I loved Willem Dafoe's character. I like crime.

I'm struck by an editing technique used by Wes Anderson in his movies: the more preposterous something is, the more likely he is to just cut to the next scene where the implausible has flown by us unchallenged.

I like that technique. I write rather implausible events from time to time - increasing so - and I think the whole bit of confidence which has bothered me is the logical explanation of the implausible.

I'm done with it.

Things just happen in my life. I see crazy people all the time to whom the implausible occurs and who cause implausible events all on their own.

Things happen. In a Wes Anderson movie, some of the characters embody the implausible.

I'm finding legs in what I most enjoy crafting. The theme:

"When unusual things happen to seemingly normal people, and when seemingly normal things happen to unusual people"

I hope you find your legs.

I'm off to solve a problem I have now with the Wes Anderson cutting technique. See you in the pictures.

Friday, April 11, 2014

No Flies On Me

At left , a lovely dry fly from wikicommons courtesy Sebastian Aguilar.

I've had to do the day job a bit lately and have neglected the blog. The choice was to neglect the blog or the WIP and the blog lost.

I wish I were fishing. Instead, I was doing what I do. There it is.

In spring, a young man's fancy turns to love and for the rest of us, it turns to trout.

The truth in confidence is that I prefer the part of being outdoors in the beautiful spots trout inhabit far more than the act of fishing. Sure, I buy the fishing gear too. It also is quite beautiful. The fly above is an example. All of this just - if most fortunate - to end up in a trout's mouth.

I was thinking of the desires of characters this week. I am considering not those mere wants. I am considering those compulsions that compel action against reason.

I have a lifetime supply of fly rods and fly reels. I occasionally buy more of each. I do so against reason. Why? Probably the same reason I populate my library with more books than I'll ever get through: I like them.

What is it my protagonist desires beyond reason? Is that desire or compulsion related to the plot, or not?  What does it benefit the story is the protagonist has too many hats or a coat collection or owns forty-seven pairs of loafers? Is there an angle? Does it influence his actions in a way that aids the plot without the air of absolute contrivance?

I wonder about these things.

Once upon a time, I knew an older gentleman attorney skilled in the ways of oil rights. He was quite a character who had a collection of fountain pens. He used them with great flourish in various establishments as a means of making himself memorable to the rather ordinary residents of my little world. I knew him in the days when attorneys did not advertise.

He explained to me that these were the sorts of tricks one used when in a "special" profession. He had been in the intelligence field for a while as a younger man and walked with a cane because of a bad back and hip.

He had a service letter on his wall from Allan Dulles next to his Harvard Law diploma.

I think about the quirks of character that put individuals in unusual positions. I wonder if it is the twist of their interests and attractions that lead them to be in such unusual positions as in our stories, or if the unusual position their lives put them in reinforce what would have been quirks dismissed in a more ordinary life and not allowed to take root.

I'm not sure of the cause and effect relationship tree. I do know that many of the more influential  individuals I have known had rather unusual passions and these passions often intruded on their normal course of duties and responsibilities.

Standing in cold water and looking for trout is hardly a reasonable manner in which to procure dinner - especially when one is an avowed barbless catch-and-release fellow. However, it does influence perspective, judgement, and habituation.

Maybe you characters should adopt an ungrounded passion. It might make them more interesting.

It might make them more interesting to you and after all, that's what matters most isn't it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Frog Day

I've been swamped lately which makes it only appropriate that we're deep into frog days!

At left, leopard frog in a photo taken by Stephen J Dunlop from wikicommons.

Frog day is the day when the frogs comes out from burmation and start doing their frog thing. The first day seemed to be Saturday. Today is deafening. All the frogs are frogging it up.

Spring is upon us. The urge to create something new is strong.

I'm considering conflicts in the story-after-this.

I like man-against-the-sea tales and think that a recent book on submarines I've read will allow me to confine characters. I'm thinking man v space.

It is hard to argue with the unrelenting pressure of nature. It makes a powerful adversary. Lose a door seal and you have a pretty exciting story for a while.

Why did the door seal fail? That's a question for the investigating board. Right now, we're fighting the casualty and trying to save the ship. That can be powerful, I think.

Well, I have my idea. Do you have yours?

Have somebody about to "croak" perhaps?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not the Feast

At left, an especially nice photo of a sandwich from wikicommons taken by Memm.

Sometimes the reader needs a whole feast. Sometimes a toasted club sandwich will do nicely.

Where to serve which meal is the problem of a lifetime.

I like a sandwich. I like a fast bit of food that does the job. I'm a fan of that sort of writing.

I like banquettes but I don't write them. I can't pull it off. We all know wonderful feasts hosted by a favorite aunt that featured a couple of meats, a huge salvo of sides, a wonder cake for desert (a 21" triple decker chocolate devil's food number).

I also know the cold piece of chicken and peas Holiday Inn Christmas feast.

When I try to write the feast, I put the reader in the Holiday Inn.

I'm off to get a piece of cheese now, Gromit. I've gone a bit peckish on this topic.

Have a snack, write something.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Good Breeding

At left, the assembly of a proof-of-concept breeder reactor EBR-1 , 1951. Not very big, is it?

The breeder reactor is a curious thing. Automajically, it is able to create more fissile material than it burns by bombarding a "blanket layer" of unreactive material and turning it into a fissile isotope able to fuel its own chain-reaction.

It's nuclear science. Alchemy on the atomic level. I won't endeavor to explain it here. Trust me on this one: it works.

Kim Jong-un is living proof.

Though, there is an odd bit of speculation that suggests the Nazi's might have been farther along than we public think with their nuclear science. I find this concept a little off but hey, when Bigfoot is on Letterman I'll look like an idiot then, too.

A reactor pile from Nazi Germany was found and disassembled. We know they had real trouble managing the criticality (keeping it working from a sustained reaction).

Of course, not everything one tries works the first time and the Germans were great at trying many different things in many different groups. Intellectual capital they had aplenty. Maybe we found the project that got a "D" that semester.

Case in point:

Submarine U-234 (now THAT is a confusing moniker in this context) surrendered to an American destroyer at the end of the war. She was a converted mine layer bound for Japan with a disassembled Me-262 jet fighter, a radio-controlled glide bomb (300KG warhead), what her captain said were fifty lead cubes labeled U-235, mercury, technical drawings and some special passengers. The navy reports listed 1200 pounds of unenriched U-238 as well.

Today, given these materials, a reasonably competent mad scientist could produce a fast breeder reactor, create sufficient fissile plutonium Pu-239 to fuel an atomic weapon, deploy such a weapon in a copy of the glider weapon, and kill a modern aircraft carrier.

This is possible with knowledge and the inventory of the submarine.

The problem: Glen Seaborg didn't isolate plutonium as a known element until 1940. [ He won the Nobel in 1951 and while still living, had element 106 named Seborgium in his honor. That's a pretty big deal. ]

Did the Germans know of Plutonium and its uses as a fissile source? Unlikely. Did they master a fast breeder reactor (the mercury would be a moderator for such a reactor if one were desperate. A liquid metal reactor doesn't tend to blow up like steam-producing liquid cooled reactors do) ?

I seriously doubt the Germans mastered a way to generate plutonium or to master the design of a fast breeder reactor. I will qualify this assertion by saying a fast breeder with no power production requirement is a pretty simple beast to build. Got a used envelope? We can do the math on the back.

Do we know everything about the German atomic program? No. Unlike the Nazi Germany rocket program (aka , NASA for three decades), we didn't quite embrace "atoms for peace" with what we discovered about the axis technical prowess in nuclear engineering. There were lots of reasons for this policy.

Thanks to Uncle Harry and the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, we didn't share any of our knowledge of advanced nuclear design - civilian or military - with even our closest allies for years. 

The Brits almost killed the countryside making plutonium at Windscale in 1957.

The help the Americans had extended before this accident was "don't put water on the graphite fire your're going to have one day ... it makes it worse" and , especially helpfully: "those graphite blocks you built the reactor out of that you think are inert ...well, they grow after you irradiate them for a bit - and they release heat energy oddly after you get them nice and glowing."

The Brits responded "thanks so much" and proceeded to cram the thing with every bit of radioactive matter they could find.

One day, during tea - it all went to hell. To their credit, they didn't catch the graphite on fire. They caught the uranium fuel in the reactor face on fire. 

Milk from 500 sq KM of farmland downwind was poured in the Irish sea for the next month as the Iodine-131 took a while to decay. Really, that's a 20 x 25 km patch of land and that's not so bad. Made pudding a bit expensive for a while, though.

Anyway, speculative fiction is fun. It requires a little suspense of belief.

I would say that if you gave U-234 to me in 1945, I'd have sunk at least one battle group. I'd of at least dramatically lowered the price of real estate in Honolulu.

The question is, if you give U-234 to the Japanese in 1945, could they do anything with its cargo?

There's your novel. Go to it.

I'm off to write my novel.

Don't drink coffee near those pages you're working on. The electrons won't like it when the spill you have one day soaks into your motherboard and corrodes it.

Carry on.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Good China

At left, what I consider the "good china" in this house.

This is a "biscuit plate" frau bear bought for me from an artist in Palm Springs. Very nice. Of course, "biscuit plate" means "cookie plate" to those of us on the North American continent.

I'm not really allowed to have cookies.

I couldn't remember if I showed this image before or not. I'm wrapped up in plots and murders and the action of despots and so have lost track of some details.

Apologies if you've seen it.

The plate is an illustration that we writers need support and we need support of all different kinds.

Everybody needs a cheerleader. Most of us can find that person in the family. We don't write to their taste. They don't care. They're behind our nightly efforts one hundred percent.

Then we have the critique group: those people who give us an unvarnished read on what we write. Invaluable help those folks. They only get one shot at any single piece of material without being tainted so you need all of these folks you can get.

People who will tell you the truth are rare. (Maybe that's just in my stories. Sometimes the 4th wall is transparent.) These folks are behind our individual writing projects one hundred percent.

Then, we have the professional supporters. These are the unsung heroes of your writing career that make it worthwhile to show up at the desk every day.

These are the folks who compose the citizens of the community to which you aspire. You know them for their writing and their industry knowledge and their experienced advice.

They don't help with your writing. They help with you. They're behind the you we've yet to meet.

There are lots of things writers say they need to be successful. Quiet. Tea (or coffee). A decent keyboard. The lucky pen. The soundtrack to Born Free.  (Oh, come on. You know the words! Everyone was twelve once.)

What you really need are these three groups of supporters. You can make do without any of the material accouterments. I know firsthand that you can write short-stories in a noisy lunchroom with a broken pencil and a warm can of Diet Coke.

You need these supporters, though. You might take a minute and tell them thanks.

Here: Thanks. I owe you huge: Cristina and Alex and John and Andy and Elizabeth and Gene and Wook and Gary and Suleman and Mary and Chip and Kevin and Beargirl and Janet and the invaluable Miss Snark (wherever you are).

Now, back to work you. Those characters are not going to just shoot themselves in dark alleys. (You all are crime writers, right?)

Oh, the cookies on the plate are mine. That gun? Consider it a warning.