clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Wine

At left, an image from wikicommons as provided by AndrĂ© Karwath. Lovely snap. Thanks for the use.

I used to be able to drink wine and write prose without difficulty. I drank fairly rough stuff. I'm a fan of Italian reds.

Now, it is too relaxing. I cannot do it anymore.

Scotch - sure. A taste over three or four hours seems just fine ( a taste being one finger).

Burger night here. Had a bottle of red with the burgers. Now, too bloody mellow and relaxed to do the serious harm my stories require.

I'm not up to grinding a character's hand in the disposal.

I think they're upping the alcohol content in the mass market stuff. More sugar, more alcohol.

Anyway - it did me in this evening. There's nothing for it but to tie leaders for fly fishing and generally do "not writing." I could use a break but a chemically induced one is not what I had in mind.

Stay off the juice.

I'll deny it if you attribute it to me. However -

You heard me.  

It's "Noir at the Bar" and not "mellow writers laughing softly at the bar."

Friday, February 27, 2015

And Now, Curry

Chowtimes.com generously allows the use of the image at left from wikicommons provided we attribute the photo to them.

It doesn't mention if Chowtimes.com ate the curry in question. I'd hope so. Looks lovely.

Check them out online.

So, tonight's writing was obstructed by and outing for curry.

I'm a bit of a curry hound. Surprise. It is zero degrees outside which is up from the twenty below at dawn. A nice curry goes well in such weather.

I'm writing a pair of guys stuck on an island. I have something there. I have to be careful.

You know that feeling where your story has come tot he point it can be wonderful or a complete disaster? Sort of like balancing a hot curry on your lap.

There we are. Ink doesn't freeze easily at all. Good thing. I'll be slinging it all weekend.

Spill some of your own. Order in some curry if you can't tear yourself away from the manuscript.

Better to get friends and pile into a deep booth for a hot dish, though.

A hot curry will do you good. Feed the creative engine creative foods.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Twenty Pounds of Mud

At left, the contents of my fly fishing bag.

Twenty pounds of mud, indeed. I forgot the jerky was in there from November.  Louis the foxhound did not. Helpful hound.

I don't think I need to be carrying three pairs of hemostats. I'm not taking out an appendix. Well, not yet I haven't.


SO, new trout bag: The Essex Side Bag from Finn Utility. Handmade in Vermont. Brass, leather, heavy canvas.

It'll last a good thirty years. It'll last fifty with a little care. This is the gold standard in wading bags. Hardy and Chapman have nothing on my Yankee friends.

After a little selective editing, all I needed fit nicely in the new bag.

I'm revising a story now. I had to do some major structural work last night because it wasn't optimal. The story worked; but, it could work better. Out with the word saw.

Tomorrow means I start "the careful draft" according to the reader's map I've laid out. Much of what I need is in the "silver" draft I have now. Some language needs some attention for content and the new story continuity.

I  find a story is about X when I start but it is about Y when I finish. I didn't know it was about Y until my characters showed me my error.

Then, I play catch-up. That's where I am now.

I had twenty pounds of story mud. I have a ten pound submission limit. Thus, we're doing some work.

I hope you are doing some work, too.

If you call it a "fishing purse" I'll have to correct you. A "fishing purse" is the item you buy your wife as you disappear on a brush plane each summer. As one must spend as much on one's wife's gift as you spend on the fly-in fishing trip, they're damn nice bags.

I either need a cheaper fishing trip or professional sponsorship.

Maybe Finn needs a spokesmodel.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Wrong God

A copyright free image of Buddha from wikicommons. This photo is from a temple in Sri Lanka.

SO, we have a little garden statuary.

My wife wanted a Buddha several years ago and while I threatened to counter with Mary in a bathtub, I got her the statue for her birthday.

Fine.

I went to the local garden store and bought a statue of the serene one. It was about three feet tall, cast of  stone and epoxy, and weighted something under three hundred pounds. Barely.

I put it in the passenger seat of my Jeep - the trout car at the time - and fastened his seatbelt.

It's at this point I went tear-assing around town. After all, what could happen? I had to have pretty good karma riding with me.

Turns out, I bought a Buddha that was four or five times the intended model's size and had to return this back-surgery inducing symbol of enlightenment.

I haven't figured out quite how to use this in a story, but I will. The title is too good to pass up: "The Wrong God."

All gods drink blood.

I'm uncertain for whom to attribute the quote; but, it rings true with the world I've seen.

Your mileage may vary.

Some of my miles come with a god as my co-pilot. Doesn't talk much.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Hermit Colony

At left, a photo by Simon Egan on wikicommons. It's a type of hermit crab.

Wonderful picture. Great that Simon allows it to be used.

I love the eyes. Beady.

Remember the Monty Python skit where all the hermits hung out in a big colony?  I loved that one.

I received some advice three years ago. Storytelling is more exciting when you character has someone with which to speak. Conversation enhances the tale.

I try to follow that myself. I really try and follow it when something dramatic occurs.
I read some work for feedback tonight where the tale came to the reader straight from the internal dialog of the character. Never once was there interaction with another individual.

It was no a tale of nuclear holocaust.

I critiqued the language and sentence construction as the author requested. They didn't solicit more general input so I didn't offer any. Nevertheless, the story was a non-starter for me.

I'm reading Thanks, But The Isn't for Us: A (Sort) of Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected. Jessica Morell is the author.

No writing book is perfect; but, her lessons are consistent with solid craft advice. It is more direct than Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French.

But then, that's good.

We cave dwellers can use a little straight talk once in a while.

Look deep into my beady eyes. I too am crabby and a little like a hermit. It's the weather.

I'm off to straighten out some edits.

I hope you're doing the same.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Complications

At left, a copyright-free image from wikicommons of a nail knot.

It's more simple than it looks. Bwahahaha.

The nail knot is used regularly in fly fishing though I as a fly-fishing sailor-man make it a practice NOT to try and tie one while up to my chest in freezing water. Nail knots are necessary but not pleasant things to have come out consistently well.

That's our theme today, too.

Complications.

The character doesn't only walk across the room. He doesn't merely kiss the broad. She doesn't just leave her husband. Nobody simply shoots the vicar.

In crime, every action provokes two reactions. The good stuff makes both those reactions unanticipated.

When you think the story is flat (and I have many in the cooler), think of the simplest actions in the narrative. Then, crumple the expectation of a direct and straightforward action-reaction pairing. Crumple it right up.

The character gets out of the car to go inside. He's on the hook for cash he hasn't got. He's on the way in to tell the wife they've lost it all due to his degenerate gambling.

The neighbor is loading a rug into the station wagon only it seems the rug is a little heavy.

Now, a simple action-reaction pair has become something else.

Tell the wife you're into the sharks, she walks. Tell the wife the neighbor is hauling a body of the house, something else takes off.

When the pair peek out the curtain to see if he's still at it, he's standing by the door having a smoke, looking at their house.

Gambling debts don't look so bad. Might not even come up in casual conversation.

So, don't just pass the salt at the dinner table.

You can think up something better. I hope I can as well.

There's plenty to do.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Charting - One Way or Antother

AT left, an copyright free image from wikicommons. This is a chart of Pedro Reinel from 1504.

This image is one of the finest on wikicommons. Image of the day back on '09.

One way or another we all make charts. This is especially true in re-writes for me.

I have a story in mind. I craft a working outline with instructions, bits of dialogues, a scene list.

I have some idea of the narrative arc that I want to employ and some of the specifics of the character interaction to portray.

Then, the prose drafts and a couple passes it seems to fit in all the bits that come in while the creative juice still flows in a new story. I always have ideas about new characters or new scenes int he early prose rounds so I include these.

I am usually just finding a story's center at this point. There is what I thought the story was about when I started the outline, then there is what the story becomes with these changes.

Finally, I'm down to a pretty round and readable draft.

 I have "the story" and this component with some of the edges rounded off is my first revision draft. Seldom does a story grow at this point. It shrinks, though.

At this point, I'm revisiting the story in a new outline looking precisely at the arc and the moment of revelation where my character is compelled to act differently than when we meet him.

This is the heart of it. Example?

Bad guys doing crime and one of them decides - against the wishes of the others - to rescue a couple kittens.

Melodrama, sure. It is illustrative here. No, I don't have kitten rescuing criminals. Cats sell, though. Don't put it past me.

After I know the actual center of the story, I can revise the narrative map of what I have that leads up to the instance and what to substitute to make the arc work. Likewise, more complication is needed after this point and sometimes I don't have it.

I don't like character arc where someone plays against type, everything is easy, and we head into the conclusion. Not good enough. I like to make characters reaffirm their conviction by experiencing a loss after revelation. Something changes and they must now endue a choice: their path of change or something shiny they want. I don't let them have both.

The girl doesn't meet them at the door of the plane. No happy-ever-after.

It usually comes down to having to re-outline and re-craft a good third of the existing prose.

It is also at this "uncorrected" stage that my manuscripts and drafts sit. There is a ton of work for me in this last bit of improvement before the detail language and craft of language edits.

I've been lazy. I can call a draft complete when in fact the story isn't yet the story I'll want to tell.

If your builder worked this way, your new kitchen counter-tops would never be installed. Hey, I've hired that guy!

I want to not be lazy. I want to be disciplined enough to see things through to completion. To me, it is the difference between avocational and vocational writing. Professionals finish - to the end. All of it.

Today, I'm your brother-in-law remodeling your kitchen.

With a little discipline and a couple story charts, I might be somebody you'd trust to do the job.

The chart helps. It helps you find the story you might not have recognized when you started.

We're all sailing to the uncharted shores of new-story-land.

Try not to fall overboard.

Not sure I can turn this thing around and find my way back.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Glaucoma

Recovering from a personal tribute to Hunter Thompson.

The beverage of choice: Glaucoma.

Ingredients: classified: need-to-know.

At left, the cure of ... wait for it ... more booze.

Picture from wikicommons of a lovely Bloody Mary set-up. Photograph from Evan Swigart of Chicago, Il. USA.

Wonderful snap. Even nicer that he's allowed us to use it here. Wonderful work.

I have work to do so will not prattle on much.

You wonder perhaps what Hunter Thompson has to do with crime writing?

A little bit I posted elsewhere explains:
When I'm not sure what to do in a story I'm writing, I think of having a man with a gun enter the room. [ Chandler] When I picture that man as Hunter, scares the hell out of all my other characters and they get right back into the action.

Works every time.
And now, it is back to recovery for me. Oh. Caught me.

Writer colloquialism for killing off more characters.

The are still fictional dumpsters that don't have bodies in them.

Let's stamp this out in our time.

It's a cause I can get behind.

Maybe we can get little bands or lapel pins.

Insensitive?

Of course. I put bodies in a dumpster for an avocational pursuit.

Don't look to a crime writer for moral guidance.  Mayhem is good for sales. So are bodies.

I'm off to make some of each.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Great Shark Hunt

Today's image at left from wikicommons as shared by photographer Albert kok. This is a tiger shark.

Yes, it will eat you.

Today's little essay commemorates Hunter S. Thompson.

He took his own life on this date in 2005.

Ten years without him. His tale "The Great Shark Hunt" is one of the reasons I write. I thought after reading it that any tale of debauchery so sensationalized had to be fiction. My actual words were "I can make up wild shit like that."

The different being I can make stuff up. Hunter? There is a great deal of "inspired by actual events" in some of those pieces..

I'm going to write tonight about a couple characters whose moral compass is suffering from some inherent field deviation.

The correction card reads "correct 180 degrees, all latitudes."

I'd rather drink a big pitcher of Glaucoma: a drink invented at the world marlin championships and featured in the story "The Great Shark Hunt."

Then, who am I kidding. I can't down half a glass without pissing myself and passing out.

I miss a world with Hunter Thompson in it. The one he left became crazier than his writing.

Shoot at something tonight when you're writing.

You can patch the holes in the wall tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Because, Exploding Kittens!











Kittens napping from the photo on wikicommons taken by Stephan Brunet Macphreak. Thanks for the use. Lovely cute snap.

This is not a commercially monetized use.

Also, the Ivy Mike explosion mushroom cloud. An oldie but a goodie.

Today is a special day in my world. I've found an audience.

I'm not talking about the cat food sandwich eating English majors down at the Olde Town whose bitter and jaded outlook makes them perfect for a Noir at the Bar outing, either.

I'm talking about the folks who donated eight-and-a-half million dollars to The Oatmeal and pals in a Kickstarter campaign for a card game called "Exploding Kittens."

That's 213,000 backers by the way. The project still has an hour to go on Kickstarter as I write this and is 10,000% funded.

The game? Yep. It's about drawing cards until you get an exploding kitten. Then, you're out of the game. Dead.

I know. Aunt Marge would not approve.

However, I and my ilk would. My sense of the macabre makes this perfect.

Doubt me? Here's the link to the Kickstarter page. Exploding Kittens.

Now, I'm all for these guys. I love the humor.

I haven't purchased/contributed because I don't need to. My entire life is filled with exploding kittens which result in an MDK. (that's murder, death, kill for those missing the Sandra Bullock vehicle in the theatre.) I'm a crisis guy. Pays well.

Let's me be a professional miracle worker without being deaf or blind. Did I say that? Sorry. Literary reference. Here's the book. Buy it. We'll both feed less - oh - bad. Book.

I love despots. I think feeding your political opponents to fountain populated with crocodiles at your inauguration is hilarious. I think throwing your old friend and closest political ally into the same fountain instead is brilliant.

Never trust a suck up.

Gasp. Horror.

I think a limited nuclear exchange isn't just inevitable - it's desirable.

Light 'em off.

I got a list of good candidates right here! Let's start with Short Round. How about we just nuke his tin-horn ass back to the stone age. 

Of course, that's about what his family has done all on their own to crazy-land but if you can't have fun exploiting your own citizenry, who can you exploit? (Pick a Central American state for fun. I dare you. Oh, is my United Fruit showing? Bob Dole fans wore pineapple hats at the conventions - see the origins of Dole Food company, will ya?)

That's right. Dark stuff.

Ohhh. I hear you. Vicious nasty little bugger me.

You went to Book of Mormon. Did you laugh when General Butt Fucking Naked made his entrance on the stage an introduced himself? How about the bit when the populace related in all seriousness that AIDS can be cured by raping babies?

Oh, laughter. Funny stuff.

Now.

I put you in a room with an Interim President for Life and ask you to make nice as you try and convince him to intervene in an internal conflict of his neighboring state where genocidal tribal warfare is in full swing. Oh, the side that is losing? That's a tribe his grandfather hated, his father hated, and he probably hates.

How many C-131 Hercules you gonna give this guy to help you out? Maybe some Blackhawks? Oh, Stinger missiles. That's a good deal right there, I tell you.  Too bad we got that whole air transport problem with commercial airliners.

Course, smart people fly in small private aircraft now. Give 'em away.

You cannot make this shit up. It is crazy in our world and it is crazy funny.

You play a card game about exploding kittens, you're my kind of reader.

I got some gangster-in-a-dumpster stories you gonna love. After all, a card game of exploding kittens pre-sold - yea - pre-sold $8.5 Million to the tune of 213,000 units.

How'd your last book do?

Wait 'till they get a load of me.

I love these guys. Made my whole day. How was yours?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Prickly

I had enough whining today from people who want things to be different than they are.

For example: the weather.

I should qualify this by saying I live outside the city of Ann Arbor. Logic and reason are not the bastion skills of this particular incorporated area.

There is a great deal of "want it to be" but not a great deal of "how to make it so" in this city.

Thus, there is a great deal of whining.

Typical property taxes approach $1000 a month in this enclave as well. More bitching ensues.

Hey, not my railroad. Also a point of contention. Rail transit.

So, back to writing. The lesson tonight on all this: there are things we writers control. Our content is one of those.

Not happy with sales? There's always the option of writing a better book.

Not bad advice. I think I'll follow it tonight.

The pen is the pointy one that ink comes out of right there by your hand, in case you are wondering what to do.

We write. We re-write. We edit.

Off to pull the plow. My job. My control.

See you in the morning. Mind the cactus. It bites.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Thing of Beauty

... is a joy forever. - Keats. "Endymion."

At left, an image of our own little stunner. Thanks to wikicommons and Downtowngal for such a lovely snap and permission to use it here. Great image. Nice framing.

Writing crime, you see these dumpsters all over the civilized world. Isn't it lovely we have body disposal devices so handy?

I've got a WIP where I've put some bodies in a dumpster.

Easy.

Getting rid of the bodies? Well. If you bribe a couple of garbagemen to move the dumpster to somewhere off route, then who knows when the bodies might be found. In Detroit, it might be months. I mean - old dumpster pushed in behind a walk-in cooler box at a closed diner. Who'd look in a dumpster behind an boarded up building?

Somebody, sure. But not everyday.

Good stuff is in dumpsters outside - oh - an apartment building filled with college students.

So, you've got bodies and they're in a dumpster.

You're half way there. Downhill even. Almost like the thing was rolling.

That's not a bad story either.

Run a dumpster into a car outside the condos on the B&O canal. Lots of people look out the window but the fellow whose 5-series has a some active bodywork is the only one out on the street.

"BANG."

And, there's a handy dumpster in which to put the body.

Maybe you'd like that shot to go "bang."

Let us not forget to allow the bad guys have some fun.

I'm having fun. My story isn't good yet. It's getting better. It's getting better.

No need for a dumpster.

Yet.

Re-writing is where things get better. Back to it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

There Is a Plan!

At left, a page out of the Pynchon novel Gravity's Rainbow as produced on the pages of the Paris Review's website in an article citing the poetry of Richard Nixon as lifted from the transcripts by Jack S. Margolis and published in 1974 as The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon.

The poem cited whose text is in the image is unimaginably succinct for a career politician today.

You can find the Paris Review page from their blog here.

I've been struggling over things that are in the future. Don't most writers?

So, I've the five year plan for the successful release of #1 and #2 which are not ready for submission. There is a draft of one of these in my hand and maybe the other (if I want to do a scorched-earth revision).

How can I support the release?  What do I have?

Content.

Content is what I have.

I've been ignoring the outlets for author produced content! I've been seeing them as parallel sales streams instead of what they can be for me: marketing stands.

Am I willing to give away content to make a novel successful? As it happens, I am. I have short stories. I have a couple novellas I'm not willing to expand.

I'd do just about anything to make the novels earn out. Luckily, I have some short stories with the same quirky macabre gallows humor featured in my novels.

I've others that aren't in that league; but, I'm after attracting readers to my writing that will then pony up cash for a crack novel. My stories and novella's need to have some of that tone and voice and character combinations.

I have a way to execute this plan. Novellas cheap through Amazon. Wattpad short stories. Maybe a bundle of three for a small themed collection - giveaways - in a POD likeness for Goodreads.

I've been looking at the options as a confusing mass of "doesn't work for me."

What I wasn't doing was seeing that I'd do anything to help the novels reach an audience of readers.

The novels are what to build. the other comes under the column of "marketing."

A trio of pub credits, my little gaggle of short stories and novellas. A novel release.

I can make this work. I can use what i have.

Now,  off to create more content. I'll rephrase. I'm off to revise content so that it is suitable for publication.

Ah-hah! Ah-hah!

It all still has to be top-shelf which is the kicker for the content salvation plan of writer exposure.

It has to be good.

Cut to Nixon poem:

//

What?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Screw Your Courage

"... to the sticking place." Macbeth. Act 1, scene 7.

I'm going to a conference. There - said it.

More, I signed up and paid last night.

There is a decent early-bird discount before Monday so it's worth considering the early move.

I go to a book festival every year that features a number of author talks about writing. It isn't a workshop but it has workshop elements.

This year: craft workshop.

There's a bit of courage required for me in this endeavor.

First, there is the conference. I'm not a huge "joiner" but I figure this will be like an engineering conference: extroverts will be looking at the other guy's shoes. (rimshot, please).

I should wear my Al Green two-tones.

Then comes the point where I'll run across a bit of instruction that will highlight some hideous inadequacy in my craft.

Inevitable, really. Pain, not injury. Walk it off.

I'm going to get better at crafting my prose. I'm going to be a better story-teller.

Hemingway says that you know you are writing well when you fill the waste bin with good stuff.

There is work to do.

Lady Macbeth has it right. We can't write crime without spilling a little blood.

Some of it must necessarily be our own.

Off I go.

I'll be the guy in the two-tone black and white leathers, if I get the courage up.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mender of Broken Dreams



At left, Tiki Ti from Hollywood, California. At left, a copyright free image of the entrance provided by a generous soul on wikicommons. Thanks!

I'm not showing the inside of a tiki bar. No such thing should ever be photographed. You might steal its soul. Or, you my get punched in the snoot by an occasionally single husband inadvertently captured in the image.

It is Valentine's Day and thus in that spirit: you probably can make use of an official Mender of Broken Dreams. You're a writer, after all.

Try Psycho Suzi's here.  St. Paul in the Twin cities. Worth the plane fare.

Closer than Hollywood and you really don't want to go to Hollywood, anyway. The rest of us look like malformed bumpkins kept in the basement compared to the plastic perfection of movieland. It isn't a place for normal people. Really.

Suzi does the job quite well. She'll mend your dreams or kill the brain cells that held onto them.

I didn't say the cure was painless or even safe.

I normally love the aspect of crime in a story but today was thinking of the Madam Zelda archetype. We know about matchmakers. Perhaps in the fashion of Mr. King we need a story about a professional mender of broken dreams.

Faust did a fine job. Winston Wolf is a fine on-screen character. Let's mix them a little and throw in a little V.I. Warshawski.

Getting warmer?

It's a little Fantasy Island in premise, yes. We have someone who through means not understood at the start of the book makes things happen for the benefit of the subject client.

Things turn out differently but perhaps not without the loss of a limb or two - or even a life.

You're Bernie M. You're in your office. You know it's all gone down the tubes and the Feds are going to be here tomorrow or the next day.

What if there was someone to go see, someone to ask for "help."

"It's gonna cost you Bernie,"  they say.

But Bernie has money. He thinks that's the price.

It's just a starting point in the satisfaction of the bill.

Sure, it's a little loosey-goosey. I came up with the premise wishing I had a Suffering Bastard in my hand. That's bound to have some sort of consequence.

I'd love to hear your idea for a Mender of Broken Dreams.

Know any?

[ Not that I'm - you know - asking outside of a "professional" literary interest or anything].

Friday, February 13, 2015

You Know Me

At left, a drawing of a broken mirror by Rocafort8 on wikicommons. Provided copyright free.

Thanks!

Solving problems tonight.

I have a story of a garbage man who has a shaky relationship with family. No known friends exist. He's basically a hermit but for work.

He's my protagonist's partner. Hye, anyone can have detectives in crime. Pick someone without a badge and see how that goes for a while.

I need more conflict and in this story, I wanted a dual conflict to emerge in the second act. I wanted risk of discovery (he's doing bad things) and I wanted risk of discovery on an emotional level.

I wanted a broken mirror.

I put a family member in the second act of the story.

There is nothing that someone who is hiding wants less than to encounter someone who knows them really well. 

If you have a character who is running away or hiding from something, how to show that on the page? You show it by their interaction with someone from "before" who knows them and all their faults.

It reads better when the discovered character is appalled and ashamed and afraid their transgressions will be laid bare when the new character who knows them takes it all in stride.

Instead of Aunt Marge chastising your criminal, have her lovingly embrace him despite his faults. If she does this in front of other characters makes this transition even more torturous for your subject.

That's the point of having a revelation and transformation, isn't it? We get to put the character through hell - inner and outer - and see how they react and how they change.

So, have someone hiding? Have them run into someone who knows them very well and who knows all their faults. Lays bare their intricately constructed walled fortress for the silk curtain it is.

I'm off to read tonight. I've solved a problem. Tomorrow, I'll write it into the story.

Yes, I am quite proud of myself.

You went to high school with me? Uh, no. I'm not that guy.

Really. You mean somebody else.

Never been there.

Not me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Clockwork

At left, a photograph from Deutsche Fotothek in wikicommons.Roger Rossing is the listed photographer and of course, the work is stunning!

The photo of the watchworks was taken in 1950.

I love it when disparate elements in a story come together. I don't quite know how to summon this magic on demand; but, I enjoy it when it happens.

I'd prattle on about various techniques and my experience with their success and failure; but, there is something more important to read tonight.

I've experienced the look of disdain or disbelief when asked "what do you write?" and I answer commercial fiction or crime and mystery.

With dead bodies and stuff?

Sure.

I like to make the killer a sympathetic character.

Maybe they are not the only killers in the book. Sometimes I write about the after effects of being a killer and how life evolves around them. Sometimes I just write about killers in otherwise normal situations - like when you get a fillet-o-fish in the drive through after ordering a Big Mac. [ disclaimer - I haven't eaten at McDonald's in nearly a decade but there was a time ...]

Too much information. Too visceral. Too many bodies. Too gallows a sense of humor.

For those of us who enjoy genre writing and reading in any facet: here. I find this a wonderful essay.

Please visit Do Some Damage and read Alex Segura's great piece on his perspective.

Curb your dogma.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Middle Name is Earle

At left, special valentine's day cookies. My photography doesn't do them justice.

I'm eating one with a cup of coffee even now. I did put them on a cookie plate. I'm my own coffee shop in the evenings.

My cookie plate has an x-ray of a model 60 S&W revolver on it. One must stay true to form.

The title today comes from a line in a Tom Petty song: " A Mind With a Heart of Its Own" off the solo album Full Moon Fever.

He's relating a string of details involving the subject of the song and sings "my middle name is Earl" in a manner implying he's revealing a secret.

When I first listened to the song, I thought he must have meant a heart with a mind of its own and just twisted the lyrics.

Twenty-five years on, I know what he means.

Writers have these two hearts. We have a heart as individuals which frequently fall broken, or outraged, or whatever. Some writers show their heart. Some don't.

Then, there is the writer's heart. We fill this beast with dreams and angst and disappointment and secret joy, Surely nobody is writing because of short hours and great pay.

A little bit of that heart is entrusted to those works we think have merit - that are good. We send them out in the world.

What no one tells you is that you feel things in the writer's heart as deeply as in you own person heart. If you knew the job would extract an emotional price, would you have picked up the pen?

I'd guess yes. You are a risk-taker. You call it fiction and say at parties "I just make it up" but it's you in every single word. It's you. That has a price.

I'm cutting and re-doing a short story draft. It's an old story that I wrote in 2002 and on which I just created a new draft last weekend.

I wrote the thing "pantser" in 2002 and it shows. The structure is poor. None of that original story will be usable but for a little of the characters and the premise of the conflict. Everything else - out!

I completed the last three novel drafts (on ice) with a solid and detailed outline which gave me great handholds as I added the actual prose text in some places and expanded sample prose text I'd included in the outline in others. Great confidence comes from a solid working outline. I think it shows in the resultant prose.

The draft still aren't very good but that's because they haven't been re-written. That's where "good" comes from!

You make fewer huge messes and have a much better narrative structure with a detail outline.

I also write much faster when working to an outline. I can do an outline from scratch in from three to six weeks. I can do the novel draft - full prose draft - in about three months. Maybe four if there is some big thing that requires immediate sorting out while underway.

I have two full novels on ice that I just "winged" in the past decade. One took over a year to complete and I don't even want to touch it again. I don't want to read the draft!

Structure is the foundation for the storytelling.

The outline allows you see that structure before you invest in scripting the dialogue and descriptions and character v character interaction and reaction and all the other "writer" bits we create when we compose.

That composition represents an enormous amount of work.

It kills me that I've done all that work and in these two draft novels, don't even want to look at them because the structure of the story is so poor.

I beg you: construct even a strawman outline of a couple pages telling yourself the story. 

If you cannot find the acts of the drama easily in that outline, do it again. You've read enough to be able to see that if the telling of the tale is not like something you've seen before, you're probably not going to be able to interest an audience into staying with you for one hundred pages just to figure out WTF?

You are not Pynchon.

Shakespeare used a defined narrative structure in his storytelling. The audience recognized that structure.

Worked pretty well for Will.

I'm sure he put little bits of his heart into every work and was filled with angst and anticipation whenever someone read his last and final draft prior to deciding on staging the work.

His middle name was also Earle.

My middle name is Glenfiddich. Doesn't go with the cookie, though.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Guerrilla Library

At left, a lending library photographed by Anton-kurt in wikicommons. Copyright free image.

It's a public art installation.

I like the photograph at left very much.

One of our local free lending micro-libraries was disturbed by vandals. Couple that with the trouble our friends in the U.K. are facing over their libraries and I have to do something.

I have a library.

So, I'm going to construct something on the order of the case you see at left and install it along a public paved walking trail along the river down the hill from my home.

I have some 5/8" oak plywood. I suspect with a little waterproof deck stain I can get a hardy product. I like the glass front. I'll have to work on that detail. I suspect a little consultation with another writer I know - who is a solid woodworker - and I can make something to last.

I suspect I'll need to work out site transfer.

I also get to have the fun of selecting books to install in the initial release. There is a park bench in a nice spot that gets sun through the leaves of some birch trees. That's a good spot for a little read and so I've got my location.

What'll they do to me? Cite me for disturbing the peace with a library?

I suppose if I pick the wrong books, I could be littering.

1984. Got it. Definitely going in.

Oh - and a children/ YA shelf, too. Fiction, non-fiction, Children/YA. Perfect.

Anyone on the bench in the spring without a book handy - well. There's the library right there!

I'm going to name it, too. Just in case the authorities search for the name, I'll just keep that detail off the nets.

If you email me, I'll tell you.

Title suggestions appreciated in the comments.

Wind in the Willows. The Pooh collection. Charlotte's Web.

Maybe Walden. Certainly a book of Frost and Sandburg. Updike? Maybe a birding guide - one with bird calls.

I feel positively subversive.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Trout People

At left, copyright-free picture of a woman fly fishing in Nova Scotia in approximately 1900.

"Keeper."

I've considered the fly fishing mystery.

It only works if the detective finds the body on the river. I can't make the fisherman the murderer.

Why not?

Because fly fishermen (and in that I mean women as well) are too damn nice. It just doesn't resonate with me that they'd be murderers.

I'm sure the sport has some royal pains in the ass. I've not met them. Ever.

Most of the time, the fly fishermen I meet are open and warm and sharing of their favorite spots and what works when and why. Everyone I meet who has a cabin extends or nearly extends an offer to come fish with them on first meeting.

"Just give us a call."

They share where the locals eat, where they like to vacation, their best days fishing, local secrets, and favorite techniques. Likewise, they're interested in your version of the same. It's insane.

Nice people give me a rash. I'm more at home personally on the streets of D.C. or Manhattan than in a room full of fly fishermen.

Don't think you can pull something over on them, either. I went to a meeting tonight and I believe I was in the minority in that I don't have a doctorate.

I'm serious.

There were forty people in the room. I recognized three distinguished professors from a major university.

The good bit? We all try to catch trout. Not one person who knows the business ever goes out saying "I'm catching trout today." The little fish has the upper hand in the man v. fish contest.

I'm trying to change those odds.

I've got new types of flies and new fishing tactics all lined up to try this spring in hopes of dusting my buddies and taking home the Fish Camp prize. Last fall  it was a stainless steel pint glass. I won a shirt with a beer brewery's label on it a few years back. These are serious stakes.

Fly fishing is great for meeting some of the most open and generous personalities on the planet.

For finding suitable villains? Not so much.

Now I'm off to bed to read about the soft-hackled fly in The Soft-Hackled Fly Addict  by Sly Nemes. I wonder how it turns out?

I bet the trout did it. Drove him mad then, bang. Got him with a #12 Adams right in the heart.

Never was the same.

Nor will I be.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Bad Fruit

Rotten oranges at right provided copyright free from wikicommons via the gracious Downtowngal who posted the lovely picture for our use! Thanks. Perfect.

Little smells as sweet as rotting fruit. Rotting meat - well. That's the "bad" smell. fruit when it starts to rot gets that cloying aroma.

It's that smell that tells you something is amiss.

I like my characters as fruit in the orchard. You know they're hanging there with all the potential in the world. If I let them twist in the wind a little longer than ripe, they'll go bad.

And we so love the bad ones.

I love a dyed in the wool through and through killer. I like despots. I like angry villains with an eye towards mayhem.

I'm not big on the sneaky killers. For whatever reason, I like killers. Just killers. The killers' defense in my stories are that anyone who is going to try pursuing them for justice doesn't have the tools, capacity, experience, whatever to do the job.

That is, unless our murderer runs up against a real killer. 

You run up against someone who looks at you and smiles not because he thinks you're pretty, but because he knows you smell like pork when roasted: that's a guy we want on the case.


He - or she because one of the hardest edged individuals I ever knew wore a skirt every day and looked nice in it - expects the worst parts of people. Wears on 'em though. Makes 'em want to retire to where they see the mailman and the grocer and maybe Alan at the hardware store and that's it.

I'm not talking about cops. Police detectives follow the rules, pay attention, cover the ground, and do a fine job of an unpleasant task. They're not given enough credit. 

They're pretty hard-edged, too. They have to be. Sometimes they find mom killed her own child. That's a tough job.

I'm speaking of the sheriff who gets a call from the county supervisor because one of his mower guys was going along throwing crap on the dirt road from mowing the bar ditch when he sees a human hand lying in the clear back behind the mower.

He's out and looks and that's all there was: a hand. Doesn't look like his blunt blade cut it off anything and he walks the ditch for a couple hundred meters looking for a body. He finds none and calls it in.

Now the sheriff has a hand in a bag. He's pretty certain it didn't just fall off and when his officers walk the whole mower route that morning to make sure it wasn't just carried downstream somehow, well.

He's go a body out there that goes with the hand. That's not a casual "accidental" shooting.

He's got a killer. Good thing he's one too. Carries a shotgun. Wears a badge. Doesn't have a lot of call to do it; but, he likes it. Dreams of it.

Now we've got as story.

Ever read those spy v. spy bits in Mad Magazine?

Put a badge on one.

I love those sort of stories. I've no patience for the amateur but show me professionals at work: great drama.

Properly, great narrative tension.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Flies, Damn Flies, and Writers

Couldn't resist.

Horrendous photo at left from my spring fly collection. These are three soft hackles (called spiders in the U.K.) and a franken-fly: an Adams Wulff. It doesn't look like any specific bug but trout do not seem to care.

I stand in cold water to catch fish by the most difficult manner possible (yes, it is easier to fish by hand than with a fly rod - noodling is easy compared to achieving a dragless drift in fast current).

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. -Thomas Mann

This is us, comrades. We struggle, toil, procrastinate, doubt, contemplate, regret, and revise. Others just write.

There seem to be nearly as many books and prophets selling quick tricks to success as a writer as there are successful living writers. That indicates something in itself about the task.

In the end, we're storytellers. We do it well, the audience listens and quietly motions for another drink instead of guzzling beer and breaking into bawdy songs over our best efforts.

I struggle with fly fishing. I fish too often to selective fish on technical waters at the wrong time of day (my fish are almost all nocturnal). There are easier places to do it. There are easier places to fish.

I'm drawn to this pursuit. I can't help myself. I'm hoping now in my spring fly order I have the "magic" fly that I'll be able to put on the water at the right time in the right way for the 25" brown trout to consume.

I'm looking for the magic verb to remove all of my supporting adverbs and help a weak,text become stronger.

Practice is needed daily on both fronts.

I hope you are writing. If you want to go fishing sometime and are near Michigan, let me know. My favorite "not writing" activity is "not catching fish."

Both pursuits benefit from a well told lie. After all, I write fiction.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

- No, Wait! Arrrrgh!

It's the Thursday edition of the IWSG because I haven't got enough to be insecure about having missed the requisite Wednesday post!

You can find the fabulously insecure here.

I notice for the first time today that this is the Insecure Writer's Support Group, not the insecure author's support group.

I'm insecure today because of the little drama indicated above in the title.

I prepped something important, read it twice, sent it. Then, thought about shooting myself.

I had addressed the plural of "want" with a needless apostrophe. Naturally, I missed this gem.

Then, I inadvertently dropped a "y" on "they" and confused a sentence.

What was I sending? A cover letter for a anthology project. Yes, I sent an email cover letter for a writing project and failed to exercise due diligence.

Cheap lesson. I wasn't an "author" before I hit <send>.  Wasn't likely to be afterward, either.

I got lucky and drew a little sympathy. Lucky. Bloody lucky.

What if I was writing the agent-most-likely-to-sell my project? We've all heard the stories: best foot forward. Perfect or out.

Anyway, the whole gist of this little morality play is that when it is important, wait, Wait until morning. Wait for another day after that and look it over again.

Change one thing only? Then wait another day.

We know in our writing that fresh eyes see problems in our prose we missed when working ferociously on the tale.

Use that same perspective in your professional writer-ly correspondence.

The level of angst at missing a shot because of your own screw-up might not be as bad as that which I experience. I bet it's still pretty bad, though.

I'd spare you that.

Ice your most important correspondence before a round of inspection and line edits.

I beg you.

You're insecure enough. So am I.




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lucky Me

At left, mug shot from New York Police files of "Lucky" Luciano. Deported in 1946. Died in 1962.

I've got it good. I've got a story to write.

The issue?

I've not made that writing a priority since last Friday.

Excuse excuse. Blah Blah Blah Ginger. (Hello Gary Larson, wherever you are).

The graveyard is filled with unwritten stories that might have been great but went with their authors to the worms. I'm being generous with the word author. The dead, and all.

Most of the time we slave away in invisible ink: nobody reads what we've written. If fortune favors us and we've studied the craft well enough, somebody may read our works. If we're very lucky, those somebodies will press the book and more than the mere handful of contributing producers will read our words.

If we're lucky.

If we don't put in the sessions into the night; if we don't refine our drafts; then we're writing in code with invisible ink. The story is never translated and the pages are never read.

Shame.

A bit like being run out of our adopted home before our time.

That would be a crime.

I'm off to write. You should do the same.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Music for Murder

Hot dog and fries from Gene and Judes Hot Dogs in River Grove, IL.

Photo from Erik TheRedder on Wikicommons. Thanks Erik.

Tonight: murder. When I think murder, I think of food like that on the left: it'll kill ya.

I love a good murder. It's why I like crime fiction. I get to dress up the dull parts.

Tonight, I'm going to share a little playlist of music that works well for any killer crime gathering. I write to some of these once in a while.

Mostly I write to Bill Evans but a good jazzman will kill you too. Comes with the sense of style.

Nevertheless, I'm hosting some real life killers at a party and this will be the playlist in the background.

Don't leave your glass sitting about. I'm just saying. Some of these guys work in a place where the sprinkler heads are pressurized to dispense formaldehyde.

Some music for murder and crime, mayhem style: songs about murder, murderers, and liars. We're fiction writers. We're not to be trusted.

Lil' Red Riding Hood, Sam Sham and the Pharoahs
Your Heart is as Black as Night,  Melody Gardot.
If I Tell You That I Love You, Melody Gardot
Never as Good as the First Time, Sade
Goodnight Moon, Shivaree
Little Black Mess, Shivaree
Would I Lie to You, Eurythmics
Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Annie Lennox
Back on the Chain Gang, The Pretenders
Black Friday Rule, Flogging Molly
The Seven Deadly Sins, Flogging Molly
The Boys from County Hell, The Pogues
Hard Time Killing Floor Blues, Chris Thomas King, or Mr. Buddy Guy
Dirt in the Ground, Tom Waits
Psycho Killer, Bruce Lash
So We Meet Again My Heartache, Melody Gardot
Sinnerman, Nina Simone
Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley  (Hey, it's the king. Show some respect)
Stack Shot Billy, The Black Keys
Watching the Detectives, Elvis Costello
Murder in the Red Barn, Tom Waits
Watching the Detectives, Duran Duran
Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Warren Zevon
There Goes a Tenner, Kate Bush
The Fat Lady of Limbourg, Shivaree
Mr. Bad Example, Warren Zevon
Bang Bang, Frank Sinatra
Boom Boom (Gonna Shoot You Right Down), the immortal John Lee Hooker
Machine Gun Blues, Social Distortion
Know Your Rights, The Clash ( a public service announcement, with guitar)
St. James, The Devil Makes Three
Little Lies, Fleetwood Mac
Smoking Gun, Robert Cray
Old Number Seven, The Devil Makes Three
State Trooper, Bruce Springsteen
The Guns of Brixton, The Clash
The Friends of Mr. Cairo, Gio Aria
Atlantic City, Bruce Springsteen
Murder By Numbers, The Police
Run To You, Ryan Adams
Dirty Laundry, Bitter::Sweet
Smooth Operator, Sade
Ball and Chain, Social Distortion
I Shot the Sheriff, Bob Marley
Friend of the Devil, Counting Crows
I Gotta Go, Robert Earl Keen
Dirty Deeds, AC/DC
Watching the Detectives, The New Standards
 Kryptonite, 3 Doors Down
The Killing Moon, Nouvelle Vague
One More Kiss Dear, Vangelis
Ghost Train, Ricki Lee Jones
Bela Lugosi is Dead, Bauhaus
Breaking the Law, Judas Priest
The Vampires, Paul Simon
A Whiter Shade of Pale, Anne Lennox
One Thing Leads to Another, The Fixx
Whip It, Devo (theme song to Beirut foxtrot. Think "enhanced interrogation")
Back in the USSR, The Dead Kennedys (some of the killers I know kill nations)
Everybody Wants to Rule The World, Tears for Fears (some of the killers I know kill nations)
Crime of the Century, Supertramp
Panic, The Puppini Sisters
I Will Go Quietly, Shivaree


Monday, February 2, 2015

Letters from Grandmother

At left, sixteen inches of snow which fell between 3 AM Sunday and 7 AM today. A bit of digging out to do today.

This blog has become a bit like a letter from grandmother. Most of you younger than 35 probably never received these kinds of things. You've barely lived your adult life without email.

Grandmother's letters include - not necessarily in this order - a run down of her health; grandfather's health, the health of the family and extended family including neighbors you might have met once; the weather; cattle futures; oil patch news; land sales; and in my case, unusual bird sightings. We are a little strange in that the whole family is filled with amateur naturalists. My grandmother was a first rate ornithologist.

We also get dinner descriptions, future dinner plans, social plans, bridge game results - if positive - and the ever popular sewing/knitting progress report. Deaths and the dying figured heavily in the narrative too because when you get a little old, everyone dies. When you get a little older, that part drops out because they're all dead.

Sound familiar?

I'd get these things in the scrawled hand on onionskin from someone crippled with arthritis.  The narrative was a kind of code.

Now, letters like these were not mere missives for one person. You put them in the pocket and shared them. At college, a bunch of us who came from "the sticks" would get these sorts of letters and would read each other's on the weekly basis. I'd invariably have to translate various phrases because she wrote in two languages simultaneously.

If I wrote to my grandmother, I'd get money. Being the grandchild often with the modifier added as a praenomen "stubborn" or "wild hare," I wouldn't write because I couldn't be bought.

Anyway.

These rambling missives told you a great deal about the people and family in a way that the facts of the letter never would.

If a pregnancy of one of the cousins was listed in the first paragraph or so, grandmother thought it time. The couple could manage a child.

If it came at the end. Well, she had doubts about the marriage or the financial resources or the timing with career and school or - you get the idea.

What mattered most in those missives is that I could tell from her words what she thought. If she went to dinner and commented that the meal consisted of a "sort of grainy, cold ham" then you knew she was disappointed because in our family: the food you served said something about the care you held for the guest. I never once had anything out of a can in my grandmother's house.

People you care about don't eat someone else's food under your roof.

So. The nuance was the thing. Knowing her mind was the point of the letter. No one cared about the grouse hunt especially. I cared that she cared because it was a tie back to her father who was a great sportsman. World class famous sportsman, sort. When she mentioned grouse to me, it meant she wanted me to know she was thinking of her father.

I'm a little sorry that this blog has evolved in that way a little more than it should. I want you to know my mind and so often I don't want to come out and say it.

I never warned you of that and you , probably not having the grandmother letters, never learned to do that sort of interpreting.

I think that is our nature as fiction writers.

We take a character and create a conflict and a worldview and cast doubt into the continuity and comfort of that character (if we're doing our writer-ly jobs) with an eye towards saying something without coming out and saying it. 

We trust the reader to understand how we loved that character even as we twisted their soul with conflicts and problems probably much larger than their psyche allowed. We want the reader to care because in that emotional journey, we think we'll impart a little of our thoughts on the reader.

We think we'll let the reader know our mind.

That's something important to a few of us. If you read this, it's probably something important to you.

I like a good formulaic pulp read.

I love when that pulp read on the surface is constructed in such a way I know the writer's mind about some aspect of the life I've just read.

Isn't that reason to write: so that you might be able to show someone else your mind on some topic you'd never otherwise be able to say in conversation?

It snowed sixteen inches here yesterday. I worked extensively from my library on concerns of the day job. Today I did some clean-up, ate, and washed some clothes. I also was a little lonely today. Louis and the cats and I are alone this week. I'm thinking of buying some flies for spring trout fishing. I talked to a couple friends about trout.

I'm imagining standing in a river and  feeling the current pushing on my legs. It's like a small child pulling on you to come and play even when you have work to do.

I have a body to introduce in the WIP.

Pay the piper, call the tune.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Prisoner of Work

Sorry folks.

I'm still doing the day job today. I'm also snowbound which normally might be wonderful. As it is, I'm dealing with work issues and it is miserable.

Back to writing tomorrow.