clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mad Skills for the Writer

At left, Mayor Richard J. Daley and LBJ, White House. Photo courtesy the United States government.

I know a fellow who is writing. He's writing a thriller. He's compiling a list of the skills needed by a 21st century warrior in an urban environment.

I told him to look at the two on the left. They had it in spades.

You give a character the willingness and ability to exploit human weakness, then you have a character who is going to able to handle everything.

Mayor Daley isn't smiling. LBJ is. How you think that's going? Who's the boss of the boss, now?

You have a character do the right maneuvering to make things happen, he doesn't need a pistol or a sniper rifle or a lock-pick set.

He needs the phone number of someone with a pile to invest with a good return - say a better than market return - and a desire to be removed from whatever it takes to make that return happen.

You'd think after Madoff, there'd be less of that sort of thing.

You'd be wrong.

I told my associate two things: an ability to circumvent the campaign finance laws and a solid knowledge of zoning codes ought to do any urban warrior well.

Think I'm wrong?

Try putting in a drive-through in any city in America with more than 100,000 residents. How's that going for you?

I'm taking tonight off. I'm full of myself.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Murderer's Club

AT left, a trout rod with a wonderful reel. Trout club is a little like murderer's club. A little.

Do you kill 'em on the page, or off?

It doesn't matter to me personally, but it is a question of some curiosity to our members. It's a bit like classifying people by their chicken preference: white meat, or dark?

You might say "I write mysteries."  Oh, very sanitized. The killings take place off-page before your novel starts? Wonderful you!

How do you do it? Maybe you shoot 'em in the basement. Are you a basement killer? I bet so. You look it!

Not me, you say. I don't put anything so sordid as the actual murder on the page.

Doesn't matter.

If you have a a detective and you've given them a body, well. You're in the club. Come on in.

I've beat 'em with a hammer, pushed 'em out of helicopters, shot about a thousand. Some I even convinced to do it to themselves. Better a quick ticket out than a lingering death in the penitentiary.

Maybe you listen to Sting and kill 'em with poison. Bloodless, you see. ("Murder By Numbers" - The Police)

Drowning? Ah, the Natalie Wood  ending - not that she was murdered. Fur coats and cold water don't mix. There's a lesson for us all.

I like carbon monoxide, myself. Turns 'em pink. Love a bit of color in the prose.

You should just fess up and join the Murderer's Club. We'll get jackets. At parties, we'll have something in common to discuss.

Try talking about the latest victim of your pen in the coffee shop and see where that gets you.

We should get membership cards. I wonder if Milton Bradly will let us print them on the backs of get-out-of-jail-free cards?

I never leave the house without mine.

Membership is open. Apply within. Pardon the corpses. We're a working group.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rocks and Shoals

At left, a wreck from the shallows as photographed by Phil Carroll as part of official duties for U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

There are so many hazards in crafting a solid draft.

We know the story we want. The story we write is somehow a negotiated settlement between our idea and the garbage that accumulates in our early works.

I'm working on an opening. The first few drafts - horrendous. Showy, imprecise, slow, almost melodic in their hypnotic disinterest to a reader.

Gradually, the drafts get better. Gradually, I decide how to introduce a conflict early; how to reveal some of the protagonist's desire and the threats to that desire; how to tie-in the initial character and world building with the larger conflict we'll live with for 300 pages.

It doesn't come easy. For every one good way, there are a myriad of poor ways of writing a passage. In our drafts, we find these imperfect approaches too easily.

There are gems - beautiful passages which do the job at hand wonderfully well. For each of those, three that don't do as much.

The old naval rules and regulations were known to sailors as the "rocks and shoals" for an infraction's ability to ruin a man. Luckily, there is the draft method. In effect, writer's have the redo option when not on deadline.

I have an ending. I have a protagonist - mostly. I have a conflict. I need a crisp opening. I want to share the opening with a couple critique partners. It's important.

The ones we care about are the hardest to start. If it is a story we've carried a while, the opening is delicate. By steady work, the good parts emerge.

Now to hope that parts I think are the good ones are not hidden reefs which my draft breaks apart upon.

Oil clams the waves. Ink might do that, too.

All of you cruisers, steer for deep water. More ink upon the waves. Lighten the load for the shoals.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Little Lips Down to the Water and ..

At left, a mule deer on the John Day River courtesy of Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Great snap, folks! The photographer is listed as Dave Budeau.

The first rule of write club: We don't talk about our writing with non-writers. 

A friend asked about my offhanded remark a couple days ago when I implied talking about your work socially is ill-advised.

She thought maybe I was a little sharp.

Let me clarify:

You don't talk about your writing with non-writers.

Nobody cares about your works that are unavailable. You can't socially tell the story of your WIP because nobody can buy it.  That is a kind of rudeness: to discuss that which is not available for others.

Did you not bring enough bubble gum for the entire class, Marie? 

You really want to be the person who shows pictures of their summer vacation at a villa in the south of France on their cell phone at a party? Really?

That is who you are when you talk about unpublished works in a social setting. Argue all you like. Won't change the nametag the hostess set out for you one bit.

Better reason? Oh, Reason. You want reason! Here it is:

You can't talk about your work because when you talk about it, you - YOU - talk about it.

When we read your work, there is an abstraction that happens automatically correcting all measure of social transgression.

Case in point. Let's say you wrote Bambi. Almost.

You're to the part where you're burning down the forest. Fine. Let's see how this goes.

You to small captive cluster of almost friends: So they're running across this wonderful snow covered woodland and blam! A hunter's bullet blows Bambi's mom's brains out but Bambi doesn't notice and keeps running. He's ultimately orphaned in the depths of winter without survival skills. There's no way to see how this little fawn can possibly survive. Looks like the end of him. Real tear-jerker.

Them: You heartless sadistic prick! You wrote this for children? 

They won't ask if you're some type of pervert. They don't need your denial.

Didn't go well, did it?


You had to kill Bambi's mom to evoke the emotional investment which could carry your audience through the story. It's what you knew to do. It's what you the writer knew to do.

Everyone in that room had Bambi read to them as a child. Many have seen the movie. Nobody thought anything about it because, after all, deer are prey. They get shot.

You tell the story at the party then it is YOU telling the story, you twisted person.

Write the book about little girls whose teeth are pulled out after death by a female teenage murderer for the most trivial of possible reason and you get a prize for "best first novel" from the national writer's organization in your genre. Your party comrades pour you drinks and ask to have their picture taken with you.

If you don't see the difference, then you are in some real danger.

I advise you to either put down the pen, write memoir about your days in third grade, or have a steaming mug of STFU when you think of talking writing to non-writers.

We write about things that are wrong.

Nobody wants a story about happy bunnies taking a nap in a field of clover. Won't sell.

Write about a vicious orphanage whose children are "adopted"  into gourmet pate, and you might have something. 

Write about murder, come stand by me at the party.

Write about a mother who doesn't love the protagonist, well. I think Flannery was in the kitchen when I last saw her.

If you've got a character who can't reconcile his love of the wrong woman with his twisted self-important sense of duty, Ernie's in the library showing off a new rifle for bear.

I'd watch out.

He hasn't written anything in a while so I bet the gun is loaded. I bet he's looking to talk about some dramatic writing he's been considering.

Why don't you go ask him about it? I'm sure something will come of it. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Very Cozy, Thank You

It isn't a very good picture. At left, my new tea cozy: a pineapple.

It works, too. My last cup is not longer tepid but just this side of "not hot" which for the last cup is acceptable.

It's been in the works for a time. I'm getting old. My wife knitted a tea cozy. Hmm. Lucy me!

Big nap tonight after work. It's cold but there was some sun. It helped. Still with a cold though. Seems to be the winter of the constant cold. Thus, a nap.

Now, some ink.

I'm doing a little rewrite-edit dance: the sort we do on our earliest chapters when we're obsessive and need to get a couple of things back into the outline that we hadn't planned. It happens when we thought we know the story; but, maybe we didn't quite understand the story.

When you have an unexpected conversation with a neighbor erupt because you gave the protagonist a truck that wouldn't start and that became a whole "wife who ran off" sort of tale, you need to revisit the outline. You think - did she run off?

I mean, he said she ran off but no one was close enough to her to hear from her again and ... But no, she ran off. We want an element of doubt but we're not going to have him kill his wife. Are we?

So, it all gets muddy and takes another draft and a little revisit and you work a couple of details to a finer point and then, you have a revelation. You change motivation. The character turns a little in your hand and you get an entirely different face for the guy and ...

I've written about this phenomena in these pages. You have ideas emerge on the page you didn't intend to produce and you're not sure how they came to life.

You get these twists and turns because you're writing.

I think you get them because you're in a good mental state for writing. I think you're comfortable in the world you've made so changing a waltz to a tango doesn't phase you at all. Suddenly, the swanky new dance steps seem just right.

You become even more comfortable with the story.

You become cozy.

Then, it's off to the race and the prose staggers from your hand like the ink-drunk monkey you are. After all, if writing is making decisions, then we as a whole fellow writers are some of the worst individuals to be put in the road to make those decisions.

Brunette or blonde? Rich or poor? In the library with a candlestick or in the kitchen with a noose?

We can't even order coffee. I've seen you in line debating a double skinny crapachino with a shot of hazelnut. You, We put you in charge of a billion decisions in the novel.

 It works though.

Must be the cozy factor. It comes through when I curl up with your novel and feel all cozy, too.

Especially on dark Tuesday nights in winter.

I'm getting another blanket, just in case. And tissues.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Birds Do It, Bees Do It

Even writers do it.

At left, marker for the first successful nuclear explosion by the government of the United Kingdom.

Successful.

We are a self handicapping lot as writers.

It looks good. It feels good. We've plenty of time.

We sabotage.

I'm sabotaging myself writing this entry tonight though I had a pretty good morning session.

New storage materials arrived today because I'd filled some of the snap-together boxes I use to cool down various half-baked works. It's important to ice things. It's important to label the things you have cooling!  Annotations aren't a bad idea, either.

The library received a good sorting and a bunch of pending items were successfully filed.

Now, it is early evening and I have everything I need. I'm going to sit here in this chair with pen in hand for the next hour without a computer or tablet running within reach.

I'll not answer email. I'll not make a sketch. I will hold pen in hand and stare at the outline until I am writing.

There is no other way but letter, word, sentence, paragraph, page, scene, chapter, novel.

What is it of which you are hesitant? Success?

Close the computer. Try a few words now. They might - might - be the right ones.

I'm going to go find out myself.

We'll let each other know in the pages of the NYT Book Review.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

You Are Not Alone

Who am I kidding?

At left, Mark Twain writing at a desk with all his buddies in a photo whose copyright has expired.

You do your best work alone. Sure, you might go to a coffee shop or the library; but, when you are writing you are alone in your mind.

Depth of the grey days here. Does it show?

You are alone when you execute on your ideas. You long for those hours in the laundry room or the storage closet downstairs where you can slip away. "If I can only be alone for twenty minutes," you tell yourself.

You're lonely, though. You miss the interaction that is rewarding with respect to the topics you believe you care about right now.

It is my belief that those writers we come to admire write because they are innately unable to express some emotions in any other way.

There seems to be a class of writer who so desperately desires to be socially involved that it drives them to write. The people on the pages - the characters - provde the surrogates for the friends we do not find.

Not as friends. As people of interest.

It's a very one-sided relationship.

How can I explain to someone at a superbowl party that my most pressing concern is the treatment of a wife beating suspect in a small county jail? I'm concerned if the fellow wears a flannel shirt or a denim shirt. I care if the sheriff gives him a ticket to Denver or just threatens to burn him alive and bury him in a feedlot if the cops are called again.

How can I say I'm more concerned with the injuries sustained by a fictitious person than the cold your kid had last week that kept him home from daycare for two whole days?

There is a social disconnect when we have a story in our fore-brains. We want to make the decisions and solve the problems on the page. We want to share that experience and yet know to never talk of our writing socially. [ Just one "Oh, I have this idea for a book" conversation ought to teach you that, dear colleague].

There is something wrong with us for staying inside and writing when our friends are playing baseball after school.

It makes us lonely.

We can't help ourselves.

Loneliness or that horrendous itch of having a story you've slacked on and let drift away? Which is it you want rubbed into that raw spot on your psyche?

You are going to feel alone. You are going to feel isolated. You are going to feel that something isn't fulfilled there in your soul.

Isn't that a big part of why you started writing? Think back.

My guess is that you did not pick up a pen at the birthday party when the girl in the blue dress announced that you were her bestest friend for all time and that she couldn't wait to play with you every day after school.

If you started writing for fame or fortune or to be known as an "artist" - well. Maybe there is a clinic nearby to treat your growing disillusionment.

Retirement income? Well, good luck with that. Three words for you: cat food sandwich.

You don't get the monetary reward for writing that is equivalent to the emotional cost of whatever convinced you to start. Not. Even. Close.

You were happy and well adjusted and loved and secure and decided to burn a few years and a million words just to become competent at writing? I'm not buying it. 

Writing happens between you and the paper. You are going to feel lonely.

You are not alone, comrade. We're all right there in the hermit colony of the laundry room with you.

You see, we know. We know the collective self-doubt and worry and embarrassment of imagining success and the fear of the same when you mother sees herself on the page - or when we've botched the job and she doesn't.

We know what it is to give someone our work and that they might say "not your best work." We thought it was, when we gave it to them. We know how that moment stings.

Our psychic energy is that penetrating warmth you feel.

Or it could be the dryer. 

Rotate the laundry, will you? Sorry I turned the buzzer back on. Hope it didn't break your train of thought.

I'll give you another thirty minutes alone down there but then I need to talk to you about Julia's soccer game on Thursday.

How's the writing?

"Fine," you say.

"That's good," they say.

 And you're alone again with your thoughts, and lonely.

We know.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Happy Character

At left, my favorite clown: Enrico Caruso as Pagliacci.

Now, Caruso sung so long ago that recording technology barely allowed us to capture his voice. I'm fortunate to have some 78's of his arias. In the summer, under the trees, on the Victrola, echoing.

When I die, my thoughts will be of such evenings I've enjoyed. Oh, and trout fishing, of course.

Happy people.

I clean up problems for a living. I've too much the dour Scot in my blood.

I'm considering the unhappy protagonist: the fellow we put in crisis. Often the protagonist doesn't seem happy in our crime writing. Most of time, a body count has something to do with that unhappiness.

Pepper sweetens the soup.

We've got plenty of pepper in the protagonist's problems. Do we really need the dour Wallander clone? Again?

I'm going to try and write my rural noir protagonist with something other than an introspective depressed personality. I'm trying to think of happy noir.

I'm trying to envision a hard world populated by hard-edged characters who are happy and content in their surroundings.

I could use an example. Marlowe always seems reasonably happy to me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Deathly Silence

At left, a Russian silenced pistol provided with a waiver of all rights under the creative commons license on wikicommons.

The pistol is a suppressor equipped version of the Makarov used by the Soviets as general sidearms for police and a litany of others from the early 1950's through 1991.

It will kill. It is brutally simple in construction. It weighs slightly less than you think it would if it were cast of lead. The blowback action makes the slide really heavy.

Other than that, the pistol qualifies as a POS.

At under twenty yards  (the range for which pistols should be employed), it works just fine seven days a week. The Soviets weren't idiots.

It was manufactured in typical Soviet style: large numbers. It is a simple device. It operates in single and double action modes.

Drop it and the floating firing pin will cause a discharge some of the time - especially if it is dropped on its barrel.

For the safety conscious, don't be dropping automatic pistols. Arguing they are dangerous when dropped is exactly the same as arguing that your chef's knife  is dangerous when accidentally used on your husbands.

I show this pistol here because these little gems were used by the security services and a great many of these pistols are finding their way around the world. You can't walk into a commercially reputable store and buy the silenced version. You can however find them for sale.

Need a cheap rugged weapon for your killer? Then this is it.

It does not shoot regular 9mm ammunition. It shoots Soviet and Bulgarian made ammunition. You can have some fun with the Bulgarian variant. The East Germans manufactured ammo too though I doubt any of that is commercially available.

So, need to give your killer a suppressed weapon for use backstage at the opera? This is your choice today. The countries of origin do not exist so technically these are treated like antiques and not as production weapons. Scary fact, that.

Anyway, there is always the need for a killer to have access to a suppressed weapon that isn't precious enough so that discarding it is a concern. Here you go. Say, $1000 worth.

More fun, have the bullet traced to the Soviets and give the gun a history. I'm sure the CIA can tell you if this particular gun was used to shoot a British operative in South Lebanon in 1983.

There are always concerns about exotic weaponry and the possibility of obtaining it.

You can put this baby in Auntie Marge's handbag, have her shoot that two-timing bimbo Sara Ramsbottom, and toss the thing in the creek. She'll still have money in the fund to buy cat food.

Dogs won't even bark when it is fired. You can hear it, but it isn't as loud as a hammer strike on a two-by-four on Sunday morning.

I hope your silence is merely restful and not of the deadly variety.

For some of my characters, that is not the case at all.

Don't open the door Martha. Don't do it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Starting an Expedition

At left, from the Smithsonian a picture of Teddy in expedition garb. He's prepared. He's probably dressed to write.

Like all presidents, he's completely harmless when out of office. They're a tricky species to handle when still in office. Avoid them on their native ground.

Notice the pathetic plant in the background behind his left foot. It does balance the image.

The first chapter: the expedition begins.

What do we need in the first chapter?

(1) We need to make the reader care. She needs to care about the protagonist and his problems. Sure, we have to introduce a protagonist. We better introduce a conflict too even if it is a strawman.

But when the chapter is over, we writers must have made the reader care. We have to make them want to spend the next 20 pages in a tent with the protagonist late at night.

If your opening doesn't make a reader want to stay up and read for twenty pages while camping on vacation, you haven't done the job yet.

(2)  We need to show the protagonist desires something. It doesn't have to be explicit and it doesn't have to be stated to the reader. It has to fit with the protagonist's actions and words, however.

Strong characters need strong drives. You don't have to tell the reader what those are but by providing actions and words in communion with those desires, you make a complete and whole image of the protagonist believable.

"My character is in tumult and doesn't know what he wants! That's the point of the story."

Really? Hemingway did this all the time. His characters frequently didn't know what it was they wanted but they did want to know what it was they wanted.

Tumult is easy. Remove a desire and replace it with a desire to know any desire. Alternately, give them two contradictory desires and lock them in a Buick for a weekend.

You think this is flippant. I'm telling you it is the easy path to turmoil.

ex. I want Lucy. I want heroin. One is going to win. Show me the horse race. [ Yes, I know. -ed.]

(3) We have to show the world in which our story will take place clearly. Edwardian England? Great. New York in 1975? Works. New York in 2075? Lovely.

You cannot however take us to the land of "WTF?" and expect us to follow. You want purple trees: fine. Tells us something about the trees and why they're purple.

Don't leave us guessing that the Army of My Pretty Pony won the revolution.

Ground us in the world of the story. Science Fiction? Ground us in the otherworld of the story.

(4) We need to withhold safety, comfort, security, and complacency. Pick any two. It works out great if what the character desires is what we authors withhold.

There is a special name for writing that effectively thwarts complacency on every page: published.

Characters cannot stop. Problems cannot stop. In chapter one, there has to be something dangerously unresolved.

She doesn't love me anymore. I can't stay here. I need to go over there and the river is flooded. The cops are after me. My brother-in-law is dead on the bathroom floor and I think I did it. I'm all out of alien-B-gone and Zoltrivi the Destoryer just cloud-warped into my living room.

Of all the things to do in chapter one, destroying the complacency of a character is a strong first choice. If every novel you write destroys complacency, you'll do fine.

Inspector Rex thought it was his last day on the force with cake and punch in the conference room. Too bad his partner is John McClain. Look, the chief's car just blew up outside the station from the helicopter crashing into it. Guess there is something left Rex has to do.

Take the character's security blanket and throw it in the fire. The bigger and better you make the fire, the more you can heighten the contrast shadows of the character's desire.

You cannot get a strong story out of  an inner conflict over a Barbie Doll unless the lost Barbie was filled with cocaine and PitBull the neighborhood Drug Lord is at the door asking if you have anything for him that your uncle gave you outside the mall.

Not enough?

You cannot find Barbie around the house - your daughter's favorite Barbie - and your sister calls to ask how the visit with the doctor went. Is it early onset Alzheimer's? [ Prediction: next new overused dramatic element: Alzheimer's]

Short version:

Make me care. Make the character desire. Remove the ability to obtain the object of desire.

There is a piece of  advice that states over the course of a book you slowly remove all of a character's support and coping mechanisms. You remove every available crutch until he only has a dog left.

Then you shoot the dog and see what happens. Sometimes, that's the point in time where your book begins.

Characters we remember are people pushed over the edge of their ability to cope. We can't look away from the collision before us.

Are there other types of characters? Sure.  If you know them, then go write the tale with those sorts instead.

But to sell that book, make me care for all 322 pages. I'll endure a lot of abuse if you do that one job supremely well.

Now, saddle up. We've miles to cover and the emotional landscape we're going through is pretty harsh and wild.

It is as if we're on an emotional safari. It's as if we're writing a novel.

Hope you dressed for adventure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good Fences

At left, a copyright free picture from Wikicommons. Thanks George!

This is a sectional corner. It's a mechanism for bracing and stretching wire in long-running fence. The spools are only one-quarter mile long. That's about the limit of conventional wire travel without building a corner to stretch the fence.

A suspension fence is a style of barbed wire fencing that can be considerably longer. It is a fence suspended by few poles but employing "stiffeners" tying the wire strands into a kind of wire wall. When a suspension fence is struck it will slap back before you can get away from it.

The phrase from Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" is from his collection North of Boston. The line is: Good fences make good neighbors.

Frost didn't live in my part of the world.

Fences do keep your neighbor's cows from the road in the dark of night. A black cow on a black road on a dark night is quite shock. I hit one in a tinfoil datsun back in '79. I managed to get the car slowed down enough to barely tap it when the collision happened.  Almost ended me though.

Too fast, too late, too young, too inexperienced.

New outline tonight. I've a sketch completed but I've a bit more to flesh out on the characters in the early conflict. Always good to do a little fleshing out for the handholds.

It is a grand time of year to put down my head and craft some prose. The distractions are relatively few. I could buy some trout flies tonight from an outfit in Montana I know; but, instead I'll scratch some notes and move along to bed early.

I'm going to kill some characters in a nice little backwater of the world in the next few weeks.

Chandler wrote about Los Angeles and wrong in the city.

The country is no different. It just has more fences between people.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Opening the Oyster and Dreaming of Pearls

At left, from wikicommons a photograph of oysters by David Monniaux.

My eyes are different than yours and so the shading of this photograph strikes me as a more profound pattern than it does you. Color doesn't work for me anymore. The tones in the picture are however wonderful to me. I hope you enjoy it, too.
I'm certainly enjoying the privilege of having the image grace this page. Thanks, David!

I made oyster stew tonight. I'm drinking a fine cup of tea now. It's been a good day.

I finished a draft late yesterday evening.

The last big draft I finished, I took a day at the end to write myself the first round of "cooling" notes: those things that I thought I could resolve quickly in a next draft. I'll let the work cool in a drawer for a while, take it out, read my starting notes, read the entire draft slowly - twice - and then start with the big picture changes.

I'll also transpose all of the next draft into Scrivener as chapters are completed.

I solve big problems freehand better than I solve them in whatever writing software I use.

My first novel years ago, I staple bound individual chapters of the second draft, revised, then composed the new draft back into Word. It was so long ago that "track changes" was actually a bastardization of "team edit" settings! The first version was composed on Wordstar and imported, disk by disk.

Memory lane.

So, tonight: notes. Tomorrow morning: fleshing out the outline of the "next" as well as a critique session on the first pages of a novel a friend is writing.

I didn't find pearls in this version. I had fun and told the story. I didn't execute on what I wanted to say; but, I didn't quite know what that was until the end of the draft. It was difficult to understand my protagonist's desires. I know him better now.

Next draft will be the better for it.

Onto rural noir.

My protagonist is a sheriff. He's got a few skinned rattlesnake nailed to the wall inside his shed. He's thinking of custom boots.

Seems the snakes just keep taking a nap inside his mailbox.

There are a lot of hard edges to life when it's lived in those empty spots on the map.

Watch yourself opening the oysters. Mind you don't cut yourself.

Monday, January 19, 2015

At Least We Had Canterbury

At left, William Blake's depiction of the pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales.  

A friend is considering the sub-genre of post-apocalyptic dystopian literature. At least, I think he's considering dystopian literature. If everything goes to hell and it all turns out to be all picnics and flower gathering, who would care?

His premise is well reasoned: suppose the decisive failure of connected modern technology.

Some point in the worldbuilding premise, you put people on the road. Just like old Geof.

I forgot how much I loved the Miller and Reeve's tales. I forgot how much Chaucer included of the relations between people in his tales.

These are good character bits. I'm going to have to read them again.

The tales are ripe for the borrowing.

I plotted a new novel today over lunch. I didn't intend to do so;but, it happened. It isn't dystopian.

There is a body on page one. That's always a good start.

Chaucer should have used it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rented Mule

At left, a mule and miner from the California Historical Society. The copyright has expired.

I'm fairly sure the mule is rented.

I've worked like a rented mule today. In at the office, here at home. I even cleaned out the pantry which is a much needed annual duty.

Now that some things are caught up here and at work, it's time to turn back to the WIP. I made good progress yesterday. Time to make some tonight.

I'll make hot chocolate pudding as a treat should I get my scenes in this evening. It's cold here and that makes a pretty powerful motivation to me - now that I've located the stash of cook-and-server puddings in the pantry.

I didn't find any stray bodies in my cleaning effort.

I set mousetraps, anyway.

You can never be too careful.

Watch your toes if you're in the pantry barefoot. You've been warned.

Could be worse. Could be I didn't set the mousetraps and then how would that go should they be needed?

You pay for the mule. You work him 'till sundown.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

Girlfriends I Cannot Afford

 I only like girlfriends whom I cannot afford. At left is a lovely one on the grill of a Rolls.

Brendel posted this photograph to wikicommons for our enjoyment and I compliment him on the work. Lovely field snap. 

I have a wonderful girlfriend I married who occasionally reminds me I cannot afford another ex-wife. There's that.

Today I fondled a girlfriend I have no business pursuing. She's a 7'6" split cane fly rod and she comes with two tips. She loves a 4 wt double taper line and an even casting stroke. 

Now, nice bamboo fly rods run about as much as a good third-hand Subaru in which to go fishing. 

Great bamboo rods run about as much as it takes for your girlfriend to throw you out so you can sleep in a van down by the river.

They are not the sort of thing I should pursue.

This one is not a very pretty example. She's got a couple resin drops here and there  and the flame treatment is a little uneven. Her wraps are bumpy and she's just not going to be featured on the cover of "Delightful Old Fly Rod" anytime soon.

She does cast wonderfully. She's the product of a local surgeon who has aged a bit and who builds workaday rods. This is one and the taper is superb.

So, considering it is one tenth the price of a prize rod, I put a little money down to think about it for a month. It's on consignment.

I'll buy it. 

The girlfriend I married gave me a new wooden rod tube for Christmas - beautiful work - and I need something wonderful to go into the tube. It isn't right putting some modern piece of graphite in there. Bamboo has class. 

You take bamboo out at the dock and the guide calls you "sir" all day long. You get to pay for that in tips, too.

Anyway, it is by no means the most expensive rod I've ever bought. It isn't half of what I've paid for rods I've given away to friends as gifts. So, I think this one will be mine.

She's a little quirky. She won't stand too close scrutiny by the fly fishing snobs. 

She'll catch fish. She'll cast wonderfully. She'll make me smile.

Some of that is why we write. Maybe not the fish part. 

Okay, not the fish part. You got me.

I do like girlfriends I cannot afford, though. If it is expensive and bad for me, I want to order two.

Maybe I'll find another bamboo rod this spring, too. Hmmmmm. There's an idea. Can't have just one.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Critiques and Groups

At left, a cover of some works we all know. These are not however the works for you.

You must find a tribe. Terrible as it is, new writers must find a tribe for support and learning. Your schooling is not enough.

The story is quite simple.

You love to read. Old Will at left is a favorite. You devour Marquez and Tolstoy and think Russell is just grand. You might even read Flynn on the train (scares the locals, though).

They won't help you at this stage.

You have to see what you are doing wrong.

Your literary heroes cannot help because they've edited out all of their mistakes. That's why they're your idols.

You have to read and critique the works of other unpublished writers. You have to see your mistakes in their works because when they're in yours, you don't recognize them.

It's true. You don't recognize that your story is a collection of scenes without conflict and so: not a story.

Oh, but all the verbs agree and the adverbs are only really really necessary and I use commas perfectly and ...

That's not it. Your use of the language - perfectly - is merely the beginning. That's the minimum standard.

You also must tell a story, involve the reader emotionally in the character, produce dialogue which moves the tale along, and command the use of  narrative summary to prevent the story from being an overheard cocktail-party conversation snorefest.

Your writing isn't a problem. Usually. Your storytelling is.

You can't see it yourself because you know the story you want to tell. You know the story and so when you write you believe you've told it to the reader.

You do not develop the detector to tell when you have met the mission and when you've failed by reading Life of Pi. You develop the detector by reading works of your associates who make the same mistakes you do.

Find a tribe. Learn to critique constructively. Repeat the drill until you can critique your own work without passing judgement on your ability to write.

Your ego is fragile. You can write. You merely can't hold the reader's interest long enough to get a book deal.

You'll fix that. Your tribe will help you.

Welcome, comrade. Your seat is over there.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In the Library, With a Pen


Above, the pensive expression of a writer. Image from the US Government free of copyright restrictions.

Feel that way lately? Looks like we all do. The photo was taken just about the time Mr. Hemingway was in contention for the Nobel in literature. 

You've looked just like that this week. Get over it.

So, I'm a four weight man. 

I fished for years with a six weight because that was the rod I owned. It was a broomstick of a beast: an old hand-laid fiberglass model I bought in Gunnison, Colorado in '79.

I have a stable of rods now. 

I fish a Sage RPL two-piece seven weight with an eight weight Wulff line even though I hate two-piece rods and the seven weight is the least practical of the large rods. It isn't really big enough for salmon and it is overkill swinging streamers for trout. Over-lining a rod just to give it feel is just a cheat. If the thing was made correctly, it'd cast its rated line in double-taper without any compromise.

I've a lovely custom 4/5 Steffen that Mark McKellip laid up for me with a wonderful stacked leather handle.

I have a three weight from the Orvis custom shop which has my name on it. 

I have a pile of other rods including one inspired by the vibrational dampening of a Trident submarine. Yep, that's how it was sold: it'll remove any and all feel from the casting action. When did that become a good thing?

Nevertheless, the rod I love is the four weight: any four weight.

I'll go throw some midges on Sunday with a friend. The ice is breaking out of my local river and the stream with trout is already mostly free flowing. In two days, they'll be a midge hatch.

It'll be a reward. I'm running ahead on the WIP now. I always do near the end of the first draft. 

I start slow. I don't often know the characters as well as I like and it takes a bit to put the words and actions into their heads.

Oh, I'm a plotter; but, in the first draft my plot tends more to the premise than a series of emotionally influenced outcomes without resolution. There isn't much in the way of a loose end in my early drafts. I'm just trying to tell the story.

Which is what I think is happening in the picture above. I think Hemingway is trying to tell himself the story.

He's looking at the page thinking "why did I say that?"

I don't know ultimately what type of writer I might be. Could be complete rubbish.

I do know what type of fly fisher I am.

There's that out of the way.

Now, to the pen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Iced Up

At left, picture from NOAA in 1949 off Alaska.

It isn't quite that bad here; but, it's close.

My river has iced up. Like the sea in the picture at left, it is still there and still moving but to look at it, you'd never know.

It'll warm by the weekend.

I ate some leftover fruitcake tonight with my coffee as I moved into my library. I like fruitcake and I like leftover fruitcake most of all. I'm really the only one eating it around here so getting my paws on leftover fruitcake isn't a major coup.

I'm thinking of the small towns I've lived in. I'm thinking how the families all inter-marry - the ones whose offspring don't bolt in disgust.

I've found the kids who stay home to be surprisingly mercenary. "If I stay, then the business will go to me."

I've never heard my peers say something like "I'll stay because I like the summers" or "I think the picket fences are just great" or "The band in the gazebo on Wednesday nights just makes me feel like home."

The motivation has always been something else: dad's business; mom's acreage; sometimes the wife's family's business. There's some of that, too.

Anyway, I was thinking about zoning and what it takes to be a zoning commissioner and how corrupt the little town was when I came to school.

I realized I had all I need for a good string of murders in the little small towns I've known. I have good material for a fellow who comes "home" - probably back to his collage town - and knows the world's business better than the corrupt locals.

Five pages of quick notes later, I have something to explore.

My own little town in Kansas is having a little corruption problem because of business practices which have been prevalent but none of which actually stand the light of day. There's always that moment in local government when someone finally keeps asking "why" until the story has to make sense. Sometimes the stones turned over getting to the answer are more unpleasant than anyone really thought.

Mix a couple family relationships in there and we've got a good stew pot for fiction.

So, no shortage of ideas. I have a short story about a character who might work in my new aim. I never liked the story much and I need to age the character by forty years; but, I've got an idea.

Is there ever anything as dangerous as an idea?

An idea with a gun.

Stay off the ice. The water's moving quickly underneath and it isn't nearly as solid as you might think.

Oh, and where's your hat and scarf?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cheese!

At left, my own cheese photography.Cheese, Grommet!

That's Cougar Gold beside the saltines. Cougar Gold.

Many of my trout buddies went to Washington State University. Their creamery produces this great aged cheddar: Cougar Gold. It is a wonderful product from some pretty fine artisan cheesemakers. I'm addicted.

I'm working through a double murder.

I had intended the confrontation to be fast, clinical, and really an unremarkable event.

Doesn't work that way in the end. I didn't write that sort of draft so a flippant Bruce Willis moment isn't going to work.

I had neglected the emotional effect on my character of a violent confrontation. I had forgotten the impulse of emotion after a period of mortal stress.

I remembered it tonight.

I'd planned my draft as dry as saltines. Tell the story, move along. Commercial stuff.

Too bad about Timmy.

I've found more nuggets of tasty emotional cheese along the way than I wanted. It wasn't supposed to be that sort of introspective work. Those are other stories.

Damn it.

It's become more literary than I intended. I bought too big a block of cheese.

I'll have to do a little dance in the confrontation. I hadn't considered the stage time in this scene.

Surprise.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Gone Missing

At left, a reliquary courtesy Getty Images as photographed by Max Hutzel in his project to catalog art items in Italy entitled: Foto Arte Minore.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.

I think it is pretty nice of the Getty to let these images be used openly.

You notice upon inspection that there is something missing. What could it be? Oh, it's our finger bone of a saint gone missing from the frame.

A friend sent me an open submission call. Looks great. Irreverent guidelines, even.

I'm not ready. I don't have anything ready and to focus on it would take away from the current drive to complete a draft.

I'll say that again.

To Complete.

It's too damn easy to chase the shiny new idea, opportunity, prospect. Too damn easy.

I've volumes of little notebooks filled with ideas and sketches that I barely developed before going on to something new and different and ...

I did that for a good dozen years. The I spent another seven or eight on longer more promising projects that I would abandon before starting another.

Writing for myself, my close friends - it let me have fun. It was all fun.

It lacked the satisfaction of something well made. Clever just isn't enough.

Once upon a time, I devoted the discipline to create things that were well made before running off to feed myself, my family, whatever else I did with the years. Between then and now, I dabbled. I lacked the discipline to produce.

I've worked hard for the last three years to re-engage work habits and the discipline to see things through even when they are sub-optimal. Even when they're just drafts.

It doesn't matter unless the work is finished. I cannot allow the bright and shiny to distract me now that the product of focus is finally paying off. Some of this material is actually quite good.

If I make it good, it will be good. If I dash off after something else, I'll loose the focus I require.

One project, one paragraph, one sentence, one word, one letter at a time. One.

Not two. Not twenty. One.

I'm off to write. It isn't summer any more. I'm not chasing magic lights today.

You shouldn't either.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

No Sugar Added? Where's the Fun in That?

AT left, a photo entitled: Portion Schokolade im CafĂ© Tomaselli, Salzburg  as found in wikicommons as taken by Andreas Praefcke.

Mr. Praefcke, if you see this use know I am standing and applauding. Wonderful work, and so say all of us!

Mr. Praefcke's work has a whole narrative.

Not only is the subject present - an elegant hot chocolate presented in the right mix of workaday utility and refined contemplation - but we have the newspaper, the table, and at the very edge we have a taste of the room in which the repast is hosted.

All we're missing is the weary international spy about to meet his fifteenth useless contact this month who will have nothing to add about silent sleeper cells being activated in the latest wave of terror alarm.

The French are going to be made to look foolish in the press. They already are being made to look foolish if you read the NYT. They ended some surveillance and got burned when Bad Things Happen. [ Apologies Harry Dolan, wherever you are. Buy Harry's book. Plug. Plug. See? The blog is almost like watching Letterman. In a good way.].

Most intelligence work is horribly routine and dull. A great deal of the work is done in the back office coordinating disperate facts into confirmations and contradictions. Sometimes, the conclusions one can draw are ambiguous. Sometimes, these conclusions are unambiguous but incorrect.

It's a bloody mess to an accountant because there isn't a good alignment of evidence.

The goal of good fieldwork isn't to develop a network of confidential informants that, say, the DEA might use. The goal is to gain access to individuals who will provide primary source evidence about facts of interest to the state.

It's like writing a dissertation for a doctorate in history.

Your adviser reading your chapters is really going to want primary sources. A re-harsh of previously reported material is not as meaningful as conclusions drawn from information provided by primary sources: individuals and artifacts present at the events you study.

That's a bit harder than it looks in spookland. Sometimes, finding the individuals that can provide what you want is hard. Sometimes it is hard because your source doesn't know who that next-level contact might be.

The French had a problem in acquiring and assimilating intelligence. They got burned. At least no one knocked down their World Trade Center Towers this week. There's that.

Anyway, hot chocolate.

I'm drinking "no sugar added" hot chocolate because I'm trying to reduce sugar intake. I don't have any real medical need to do so (Well, I'm American which means I'm the size of two normal Europeans. There's that.) I just think eating twenty-five pounds or whatever of sugar in a customary American diet is excessive. I don't even eat a customary diet. I eat much better than that and I'm still addicted to the stuff.

Cookies. Those are a real downfall. I love cookies. I love cookies with tea, cookies with coffee, cookies with breathing in and out.

So, I'm eliminating the fringe areas of sugar I don't need.

I'm drinking "no sugar added" hot chocolate. It's a substitute food product.

Is it kissing your sister? No.

It's more like kissing your dog.

Better to skip substitute foods than try the "amended" products.

What about the writing? I read an e-book (it's doing okay in sales) written by a friend's boyfriend's cousin's son. You know the deal. "Would you read Johnny's book? I'd mean a lot for him to hear how you love it."

Sigh.

Chapter one contained the infamous self-description while shaving scene in the opening. Oh, and the self-description was festooned with more florid language than carts blocking the way by the free seafood sample section of a Costco. [ overwriting intentional. -ed.]

It got worse from there.

I could see the fingerprint of why the effort enjoys some success: the story moves along and the plot is interesting if vaguely reminiscent of a recent hit science fiction series. Hmm. Odd coincidence.

The work didn't survive its query process and is now loose on the world in direct e-pub. It's doing well in sales.

The writing is appallingly poor. It's a bit like no sugar added text: looks like writing, smells a bit like writing, tastes of poor preparation and revision.

I love that there is a direct to consumer market that is thriving today. There's a pretty good fast food industry, too.

Let's make sure our self-pub doesn't begin to take on the characteristics of McFood.

Please.

It's so disappointing to read no sugar added writing substitute product.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Il Returno de Hercules

No picture today. Copyright issue. Bill Murray owns his likeness.

I came across a reference today to a bit of cultural history I almost forgot.

It is an SNL skit from 1987 where Bill Murray plays Hercules - an old and out of shape Hercules. He's called upon to lift a boulder as a feat of strength to save to the life of a woman who loves him.

He blows out his back.

He ends pleading for a few more minutes to lie upon the floor. It will get better in a little bit.

I about pee'd myself when this aired originally for two reasons: I think I was shitface drunk and I'd seen the very act in person within my own family.

I come from a long line of "hard workers" which means "lift heavy things unaided" in one Western Kansas interpretation. Thus, by the time of solid maturity, my male relatives had "bad backs."

I'm thinking of the physical manifestation of weakness we can bestow upon our protagonists. Or antagonists.

I grew up on "action hero" movies. Books featured near supermen in the writings of Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth and Alistair MacLean.

Nobody had a bad back.

I have a bright protagonist. I'm giving him a bad back. It limits his ability to jump over guard rails and slide down embankments to escape bad guys. It makes him vulnerable to thugs who will try and kill him. It makes him a little more human in that he has more trouble when he gets more stress.

He's not a superman. Smiley had bad eyesight and resembled a dumpy little man. My protagonist is imperfect as well. He's best for the back office which is why I cannot let him hide there.

Time to shove you out, dear boy.

Dance monkey, dance.

Mind the back. It is the season of returning decorations to their improbably high and awkward storage locations.

Nobody writes well on sedation. I've been on codeine. Purple dragon. Or for you rappers out there, "purple drank."

Tastes like childhood again.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Smell of Ink, and Love

At left, from Lord Skunk on wikicommons, a lovely writing demonstration provided copyright free!

What you see is handmade oak gall ink darkening as it dries. Top line: immediate, bottom line, 3 minutes after writing.

Fascinating! I had no idea iron gall ink dried so much darker in such a short time. I knew it darkened but believed it to take weeks.

The first serious writing I did came in longhand. We called them letters, back in the day.

I was always bound "someplace else" and so my communication with young ladies whose acquaintance I might have acquired continued by mail. We wrote. Sometimes we wrote a little.

Sometimes, we wrote a lot.

I remember the young ladies today from their perfume which graced an occasional message.

I remember receiving a letter that had been mangled by the post office so they delivered it in a very nice little plastic bag. Great service.

I put the letter in a briefcase and went about my business for the day.

I opened the briefcase in front of some senior staff and out came a very non-business scent.

I endured more than a little ribbing for that and admitted that yes, it had to be a letter from a young lady I knew which until that instant I had not realized was perfumed. More laughter.

Then the query: "what did she say?"

I admitted I'd been to harried to read it yet.

I was sent away to read the letter with the admonition that anything smelling that much of love must be read immediately. More red-face on my part.

Tastes change with time and women who wear perfume strongly enough for my nose to detect do not use anything from my memory. That's good because for about a decade, if I caught a scent of certain elixirs, I was doomed to that memory.

Now I'm mostly doomed to the memory of where I left my glasses.

I like the smell of certain inks: probably the alcohol and acetone in the drying agents.

Now, if ink smelled of scotch, I'd be turning out more pages. That's for certain.

I don't think my grandsons will ever experience a letter with the perfume of a young girl wrapped around it, unless they are very very lucky.

As I was, a few lifetimes ago.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dog!

Al left, my dog Lou.

He's a foxhound. That's an ottoman. Properly, it is "his" ottoman when we mention it among the human dwellers in his luxury dog house.

I've got it bad. Worse, actually. New treatment plan today. We're working on it.

Being sick makes everything hard. You slip behind at work. You slip in your writing.

It's 0 F and snowing sideways. This is Western Kansas weather. I didn't need it here in the timbers of Michigan.

I have had a couple great ideas for twists here in the "middle third" doldrums of this draft. I'm happy with those. They normally don't come for a full revision cycle when I'm looking at the long middle as if it were the desert in that scene from Lawrence of Arabia. I think they called the desert "the sun's anvil."

Anyway, some bright spots.

Brightest spot? My dog. There is nothing like a dog curling up beside you to make the world feel like a better place.

Lou does "sprawl" quite well but he has a nice "curl up" too.

Writers need dogs. They are nature's esteem enhancing devices.

Get one. Or two.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Twists and Turns

At left, a cloverleaf from wikicommons graciously declared copyright free.

I love all the little twists and turns in crime fiction. The one I always want to see and so seldom do is however that "this is complete hooey" twist.

This is the twist where a character spins a tale completely preposterous and the detective most often goes along for a while until it falls apart. Televised British crime dramas love this bit.

I want a character that declares the whole business hooey and goes down a different path.

The light from Venus refracted off some swamp gas and made it appear that the headless horseman was loose on the moors. The gamekeeper swears it is so.

I love twists. I love the characters that react to the twists with a reasonable approach.

I love twists as a reader that I can say "finally, someone has a bit of reason" rather than the "Oh, shiny!" at the swallowing of the improbable twist.

I still have the cold. It's made me grumpy. I'm going to go explore my own twists and turns under a heavy comforter. It's 0 F here right now. Again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

And The Award Goes To ...



I've re-joined the IWSG after a disappointing turn last year in remembering to post on the first Wednesdays. I'm not very good are remembering these sorts of things but decided to give it a go again with more dedication and focus. Sound familiar?

You can find the fine cast of insecure writers here.

Today, I'm feeling pretty secure. That means, it is time to look deep into the well of anxiety and bring out something that can put us back in our normal place.

Today: Awards.

Most of us will never win one of these. I hope none of you are even writing to try and win one. Motivation for the writer is internal ... but look: shiny!

Part of knowing your genre is knowing how recognition is awarded. For we crime writers: a list.

Agatha:  awarded to the best traditional.
Anthony: attendee-selected award at Bouchercon.
Arthur Ellis: a Canadian crime-writing award.
Barry Awards: Awarded by the readers of Deadly Pleasures at Bouchercon.
Dagger: Tea drinker? This is the award for Brits.
Dilys Award: Presented by the independent bookseller's association at Left Coast Crime.
Edgar: MWA award. Looks like Poe on a good day. You've read "The Purloined Letter" recently, haven't you?
Hammett Prize: N.A. branch f International Independent Booksellers for English Language works.
Hillerman: S.W US based 1st novel as selected by St. Martin's Press.
Lefty Award: humorous crime. Left Coast Crime.
Macavity: Selected by members of Mystery Readers International.
Ned Kelly: Australian crime writing, naturally. I don't know if New Zealand counts.
Nero Award: best in the style of the Nero Wolfe stories.
Shamus: Private Eye Writers of America.
Thriller: International Thriller Writers Association.


Wow. That's quite a list. Considering I have no hopes of ever holding one of these gems (unless I manage to land a dinner invite from someone who is actually a decent writer), this is quite a challenge to security.

I'll trudge along grinding out my draft, hoping my characters find an audience, and hoping my mayhem is sufficiently interesting.

Who knows?

We're all just one good revision away from the mantle full of trophies!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Where We Write

I still have my cold. Could be worse. At left, Flu wing of AEF Hospital in France, 1918.

Chuck Wendig - and his site is not for browsing at work - over at terribleminds is crowing today about his new writing shed. It's worth the crow. Chuck has a series of books Blackbirds and Mockingbird and The Cormorant. I'd guess that puts him in good crow country.

It's a good shed. He hasn't filled it with all the stuff we writer's accumulate, yet. As such, it looks like someplace that needs a good does of fear-pee in the corner and blended scotch dripping off the desk.. It is a writing shed.

I write in my library. Pictures are on this site. I have a teak table I use as a desk. I've got a couple huge sets of windows which don't help the writing at all. I've got a few thousand books around me that also don't help at all. Occasionally I  look at my The Complete Pelican Shakespeare but mostly I just make stuff up.

This is a pretty good link to some author workspaces. Hint: remember that writer's lie for a living (fiction, anyway). Never believe an author who says she gets on her bike and rides to the beach to spend the hours of 7 AM to 4:30 PM in blissful composition on the sand near her home.

Bullshit.

Now, I'm off to scratch out a few thousand words as I hack and cough.

I'll get a cup of coffee. I'll forget to drink it. I'll be annoyed when I look up and find out it is time to go to bed. I'll be annoyed when I get up in the morning, look at the crap I've written today, and wander off to work to earn a living that allows me the privilege of scratching out terrible prose in my library.

I've a case of tortured artist syndrome right now. That is, the art I'm making I believe is garbage. It's a draft. It's supposed to be garbage. It'll get fixed.

In the meantime there is the writing. The next sentence. The next paragraph. The next scene.

It's always so beautiful in my head and always so different on the page.

Make a mess. Clean it up.

The writing room?

Don't waste time cleaning it up. If you're doing your job, it'll just become fouled again by all those discarded dreams and emotions lying about in the corners.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cats!

There is no picture today. You've all seen cat pictures.

My wife has two cats which is to say, she has two cats whose main duty in life is to be where I am in the house.

I don't like cats. I don't hunt them down and feed them to rabid dobermans; but, I prefer dogs. I'm not a cat person. Thus, the cats like me best.

My dog's name for my wife is "favorite person." When I enter a room where he is stretched out on his ottoman (my dog has his own furniture by default) he wags a lazy tail. When mom enters the room, he dismounts and follows her to her destination.

I call this phenomenon "crossed pets." When your pet likes your partner better, you have a "crossed pet" relationship.

When you write the antagonist in more sympathetic tones than the protagonist, you're also crossing your pets. You can like the antagonist better than the protagonist. The reader had better not.

My antagonists often turn out to be much better characters than my protagonists. They tend to be better rendered on the page, have stronger personalities, and because my default is for the protagonist to react to the actions of the antagonist, they tend to be more direct in action.

I'm balancing my roles through voice. I'm hoping that a closely voiced point-of-view puts the reader in much closer emotional association with protagonist. Unfortunately, I can't write first drafts in this fashion because my hero becomes quippy or snarky, depending.

I blame all those action flicks in the 80's.

So, I tell the story, discover the characters to be something other than who I believed them to be at the start, find the plot turns too intricate for anyone without a dissertation in the geometries of imaginary surfaces under their belt, and move on.

Second drafts fix a lot of things. Sometimes they even cure crossed pet disorder.

I have to go now. A cat just jumped into my lap and its tail is twitching across my face.

At least the dog has moved into the library with me this afternoon. That's progress.

I have to clean cat hair out of my pen's nib too frequently around here.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Pen!

 Excitement abounds here in the bear cave of writing. My new Kaweco Liliput copper-bodied extra-fine arrived today along with all of the inks I've ordered. Luckily, nothing froze!

So, the writing.

I wanted a fountain pen that I could use in my weekly travels to various writing groups/sessions. I've been carrying a Lemay Studio model for the last year which is lovely; but, it is a little delicate.

I'll explain.

Once upon a time, I had a wonderful celluloid pen of great importance to me. I wore a sweater and when I removed it at work, my pen came unclipped, fell to the ground, and the cap was ruined. Tile. Pen. Not a good outcome.

Never travel with something so precious its loss would render you crushed. This pen disaster rendered me crushed. I haven't managed to send it in to the manufacturer for potential repair because I am still crushed nearly thirty years on.


 So, I wanted a pen durable enough to be shoved in a front trouser pocket (or jeans) and not so precious that an accidental loss would be crushing.

Kaweco is a German pen manufacturer. Their latest in the Liliput line is a solid copper bodied pen which takes international short cartridges.

It is too small to store another replacement cartridge in the pen body so you need to have a reservoir of ink cartridges somewhere handy if you venture away from home supplies. I'll carry a six-pack of replacement inks in a backpack where I carry the full-size binders I use for full drafts.
At left, some pictures of my new pen. It is small. It is extremely well made.

The cap posts to the body of the pen and is actually threaded to the body when properly posted. This precision attachment allows the new extended body to be adequate for writing as seen in the top picture: pen in hand.

For reference, my hand is only slightly smaller than that of a full grown black bear. It is just as wide. Try finding a glove to fit with stubby fingers and a six-inch palm.

You can see in the pictures which follow: the pen un-posted against my customary text on 8 1/2 X 11 unlined bond; an example of the line with J. Harbin empire green ink; and finally, the posted pen against the same standard text in the earlier shot. My cell phone yellowed the picture unnaturally.
At the bottom of the page, is the pen in closed position against the small sized Moleskin pocket notebook ( 3.5 X 5.5 inches).

How do I like it?

Cursive is just fine. Printing (gasp) - which is how a great deal of my prose is written so that I can read it when working the second draft - represents a little bit of a challenge. The nib leaves just a tiny bit of wet ink on the stroke resumption when printing. It's a touch more than I like.

Now, I'm using the stock steel nib and I should admit that this is one of my least loved nibs of all time. The gold Kaweco? Joy. The steel? Not so much.

I'll probably change nibs in a couple of months when I make a final judgement.

Overall: fine product suitable for a several hour session of writing. We've all used bic ballpoints for writing term papers and the Kaweco is certainly much better than those plastic implements of destruction. I'd have to be a true monk-scribe to find the Kaweco too small for continuous writing. Three hour session? No worry.

I'm happy. I endorse the product. I recommend it for all my writing friends. It won't break the bank. You can drop it in the purse and be fairly certain to find it at the very bottom (it is a substantial beast in a good way).

Now, the ink.

I'm using Empire Green for my own reasons. You should not. The contrast is roughly that of pencil on paper and for a writer, that isn't good enough for all the horrible little dingy places we jot off a few lines!

Buy a decent dark ink in a water-soluble style. I like J. Harbin because I like the little silver tins in which the ink is stored. I'd say use the black as it is fine, and for the adventurous, Lie de The is a wonderful dark brown with good contrast. Both dry well enough to be practical.

I am off to write on the work in progress. I had some thoughts today on the evolution of the protagonist in my mind and have found the missing bits I needed. Now, to apply them to the page.

It's great when a character finally materializes in your mind. I start with what I think is the protagonist but it can take a hundred pages or more of the first draft for the "fix" to be applied. I have that now.

I hope the "fix" comes to you. Try a new pen. They're delicious. They're fun even when the writing is a slog - and that's when we need the help the most, no?

Use a decent ink. Get ride of that damn pencil. You're a writer, dammit!

Yes I know all about Hemingway. You're not Hemingway. Neither am I.

Use a pen!


Friday, January 2, 2015

Cold Water



At left, my desk right now.

It is cold here. We haven't had any snow beyond the skiff type that stays in the grass yet this season. I was snowed-in on this date last year.

It's more like an early November cold snap than a mid-winter day. The trees are naked in the wind yet resigned to the season. I'm less sure of myself.

I have trout gear out and around right now. I want to improve the utility of some of the gear I have in order to have more "dash and go" fishing outings in the spring. Thus, organization. Right now: reels.

In this picture, an Abel tr1, a Lamson Konic I, a spool from a Scientific Angler 706, a Lamson Konic III, a Battenkill large arbor (in case). Also, a 2" pile of leaders in original packaging. I think I am going to move to braided cutthroat leaders this year. I like braided leaders and am too lazy to braid them anymore. Luckily, the folks at cutthroat sell some which are far better than my efforts.

I bought a new Orvis Battenkill click-and-pawl last night for $70 shipped: never fished. These are great utility reels and I couldn't let this one in a 5wt size go. I'll spool a 5wt Wulff triangle taper on it and be ready for brown trout.

Anyway, the writing is going fine. I wrote myself out of a hole this morning with a little help from my buddy Dean. He didn't know he helped me; but, he did. Sometimes the push to just move things forward helps the writer and meeting with Dean has helped me just move some things forward.

I'm going to stand in cold water this year, catch trout, write murder, and have success at both.

I've worked long enough at both that my efforts are going to yield success.

I can't wait for brookie season. I can't wait to see how this novel turns out in the end.

I hope you can't wait to pickup your rod for spring opener - after writing a few hundred more words.

Remember, 6X leader is only 3 lb test. You have to play the words delicately or you'll break off your trophy brook trout or your reader.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Camped Out

At left, a photo from the US Fish and Wildlife service., 1973.

I am not much on resolutions. I don't trust international treaties, consent decrees, or the phrase "a little discomfort" as in "you're going to feel a little discomfort."

I will however be trying to make this blog a daily activity through 2015. I like the blog.

I'm also going to try and do a bit more camping this year. I live in a recreation state with great trout resources and I need to spend a little more time away in the outdoors.

I like cabins. I need more tent time. I need more trout time, too. There is something cleansing about the outdoors when you're living in it.

I've bought a new pen. The model I most wanted isn't manufactured anymore but there is a new one in copper so, I bought it. We'll see how it does.

I'm comfortable with my writing routine and happy at the progress I've made. I've more to make but I think I've learned things about writing that I am able to apply. I'm happy - not content but happy.

I hope the adventure that is your writing serves you well in the next year. We'll all going to get a little wet, a little muddy, feel a little cold and sometimes wonder why we're not back in warm beds.

We get to wake up and see the mist on the water that everyone else will be missing back home.

Makes it worth it.

Fair weather, good travels.