clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Writer's Desktop

At left, public image after a woodcut of Alexander Dumas at desk. Works this way every time for me. Well - the mess part.

Cleaning up the desktop for a few long sessions this weekend. In no particular order: the desktop contents.

\34 volumes -- most of my trout library -- covering angling.

1 pipe tobacco leather carry roll-up.

1 pickle jar of Old Gowrie Virginia tobacco now rejuvenated from near-desiccation.

6 fly boxes and fly wallets.

1 Vancouver Starbuck's souvenir mug, empty.

1 Seattle Starbuck's souvenir mug, mostly full.

An Olympus waterproof digital camera.

2 fighting knives, one stiletto and one a modified Alaskan skinning blade. Both large.

8 Advil in a plastic tube-style pill box.

1 leather button from a cardigan. Removed from the sweater by one of my wife's cats.

Draft of a story from 2007, unpublished.

Clipboard of notes regarding trip planning for a fly fishing outing to Wisconsin (spring '17).

Folder of notes, fly angling WIP. Non-fiction.

1 page of notes on the Bill and Veronica stories (glamorous professional criminals who have never quite "worked" in the drafts so far ...).

19 small slips of paper with hand notes on various topics. Un-ordered.

Compact field glasses.

DVD - The Heart of the Driftless by Robert Thompson. Fly fishing trip source material.

Blood pressure cuff.

Laptop - open and pushed to the side.

Apple ear-bud headphones.

Allen wrench, 3/8".

Catalog from The Angler's Bookcase -- a source of rare and out-of-print fine fly-fishing books.

Pens in a "suffering bastard" tiki bar mug.

3 pens not in tiki mug.

1 ink spot from fresh fountain pen refilling.

1 bag of feathers from Mallard and Wood ducks.

1 field water.

Spare glasses.

Good luck to all in 2017. Off to work on the projects. Well, off to decide which to finish.

Finish something for me while you're at it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

We Know You Are Watching

At left a gargoyle. Image by Jebulon and hosted on wikicommons. The work is in the public domain thanks to Jebulon's generosity.

We know why you're watching.

We know why you spend evenings in the laundry room after everyone is in bed. We know what's wrong with you.

It's what is what is wrong with us.

We cannot bring ourselves to make those easy carefree connections to our fellow humans. There's a piece that isn't there between our friends and ourselves.

What is it?

Is there an academic interest in the human condition lacking in our friends?  Weren't we hugged enough as kids?  Is there some sort of perverse self-delusion at play that our written words will bring the fame and success our daily toils and vocational ends lack?


Is it that we're too damn shy to be the people we are except with a very small group? Maybe with just one?

Maybe not even that.

Why are we compelled to toil at ink and page to communicate something about the nature of our characters that we can't say any other way? Why is the cloak of fictive disguise our best defense against what we actually feel - or imagine we feel. Do we feel too little?

We're not like other people. We watch, Always.

That inner dialogue you always have playing? Other people don't have that.

You write for a reason.

If it is about telling a story? Relating events? I'm not buying it.

I think you've got something to say. I think you can only say it in the text on the page.

There are worse things.

Stop keeping us in suspense. Write the story and tell the events as you see them. Then, re-write the story and tell us what you could not say through other means by manipulating the characters in the events you've drawn.

It's two drafts. It'll feel good. Go with it. We're all waiting to hear from you.

We're waiting to hear from the you we don't yet know.

Show us something. We're just like you.

We're of a kind and we know things about why you are watching.

We're watching you.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Opening, The Opening, The Opening.

Image at left hosted on wikicommons. Photographer: Russell James Smith. Lovely work and for the mere cost of attribution Mr. Smith allows its use here. Thank you, Mr. Smith. Great photograph.

Do you catch her eye and smile? Do you walk past and smile then? Maybe you wave at your friend at a table in the back along the wall and then smile at her before you start to walk.

It's an opening. She's there with friends just as you are.

Something tells you at first sight that that you should meet before the reality sets in and you know to just shuffle past to the pint waiting on the table. It's the better play. You won't forget the pint's name mid-conversation or find out she's Jeff's sister who you've already met twice.

For that instant though, you have a shot at the opening. You have a chance to meet and hold a conversation. You have a chance to say something.

That's your reader. They're just that elusive.

What's the opening and how can you keep them interested after smiling and saying "hi"?

In wading through my critique backlog (sorry all), I figure three sentences are about what it takes.

That's the reader's level of patience. You're in the bookstore. [ You know, place with books you buy. Google it. ] You're browsing. You open a book, look at the first page. You read a little and put it back.

That's what we've got as writers.

"A little of the first page."

Makes the whole she's-here-with-friends-just-like-you scenario look a whole lot easier.

The revolving door's swish-hiss didn't bring me out of Applied Thermodynamics there at the front desk as I held down the night manager gig. The sauntering tack-tack-tack of Saint Laurent's -- maybe Fendi's ? -- finest across the marble floor brought me right up on my feet. You learn things as the late-night man at a certain class of discreet downtown businessmen's hotel: expensive wives wear heels to a murder.

Maybe. Pretty staid. Has a mouth-feel after reading that's a little like cornmeal.

The sound of a pair of Saint Laurent's sauntering tack-tack-tack across the empty late-night lobby brought me to my feet, night manager and all. The revolving door at the front hadn't stopped its motion before she stands at the desk: a coiffed five-foot-nothing redhead walking on my month's paycheck worth of shoes, a Chanel suit smartly tailored, and an Uzi with the faint sheen of fine oil. She smiles.

Still slow to open. Nice -- but you're broken to the yoke. You know what to expect on the second one because you read the first. We don't get that in submission and it sounds like something else you've read from 1958, anyway. Hammett's books are still in print.


A fully coiffed five-foot-nothing of redhead steps out of the hotel's revolving doors and into the empty lobby wearing a smartly tailored Chanel suit and carrying an Uzi by its suppressor. She smiles at me as her heels tack-tack-tack a purposeful saunter across the marble. I smile back. My job. I'm the interim night desk manager, three years running.
Better. We're into something we didn't expect and perhaps a reaction we didn't anticipate. We might read on.

Not much difference between the words in these three openings. The first two drew a ton of passes, though. The third saw more success.

We're in the action in the third version from the first three words.

We're barely in the action on the first version by last sentence of the opening paragraph.

It's the second-to-last sentence in the second opening before we have anything "sharp" in the prose and then there's the last line twist, which I like.

The third puts us there and the tongue-in-cheek surety of the narrator ( whom we're sure is a smart-ass in the nicest way ) gives us reason to hope this isn't something we've read before. We can hope.

Coiffed redheads with Uzis? Break out the good stuff.

I've chased a lot of blondes. I marry redheads. I've got a thing for trouble.

Makes writing mayhem and murder a natural choice there, doesn't it?

Spill some ink like it was blood. Mind your opening moves.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Hillsides Hold Broken Souls

At left, St. Pierre in the Aosta valley, the Aosta autonomous state of north-west Italy. Photo by Tenam2 and hosted on wikicommons. Thanks for the use.

My own photos of the region are long gone. St. Pierre and La Thuile hold special for me. I broke my soul there, once.

What is it to know for the first time that what actions you are going to take are going to ruin your closest sense of happiness? What is it to know that you are discarding that thing you thought you wanted most?

The tumult is that into which we desire to send our characters on our pages.

We like the image of transformation and revelation in our literature though it doesn't have to have the Disney ending. In real life, we make choices that take the smile from our soul when we have to. Our characters should do the same.

What is it for our detective to know the endgame, drive ahead, and know that the consequences will forever change things in their own little world?

I'm working the rural noir and of course the challenge here is that my protagonist has to live in this little community. Things the protagonist does or does not do alters the balance of happiness in the place where he sleeps. How much of that change can you impart on a place and still consider it your home?

How much change before you have to leave?

If nothing changes, we have no story. If things change, one of our stories revolves around the effects of those changes on the resolve of our protagonist.

How much change can you stand? How much until you break your soul, your love for something, someone?

I left parts scattered on the hillside here. I tried eating the souls of others for a while to make up the difference. Never worked.

You move on.

Does your character move on or do they live amoungst the shards of broken dreams they keep in their pocket?

The discipline of the ink demands we know these answers. Maybe it is why we still write.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Dangers of Love

Its here. We've been holding off in my part of the world with a lengthy autumn.

Friday night we drove my convertible roadster to dinner for probably the last time. Yesterday and today, snow. Ice pellets are hitting my windows here in the dark right now.

I'm by the stove surrounded by contented pets. I'm writing. It's how I'll spend the winter evenings when I'm not in the library or tying trout flies.

At left, my entirely too bear-like paws on the keyboard.

I've a story which I'v been chasing for a bit. I didn't know until this morning that I'd been chasing the wrong conflict.

Years ago, Ms. June Sutley taught a crew of belligerent and unruly baboons about point of view, conflict, the three act structure of storytelling, and the Chekhov rules of screenwriting.

What I didn't learn then but know too well now was that in writing the story, the conflict which emerges isn't always that which the writer intended when he scrawled those opening sentences. Thus, it happened to me this morning. I had intended for one conflict to be the dominant driver yet it is entirely a different conflict which makes the story work.

If I'd forced the next draft the way I'd intended when I first jotted my notes on the story, I'd have lost what makes the story work.

I've got a couple bodies. I've got danger and intrigue. I've got an uncertain resolution.

I've also got a protagonist unlucky in love and and entirely too willing to walk into the dragon's den to find it.

Isn't that the way of it? Don't we like characters who knowingly act against the very advice they'd offer another character in a heartbeat? Of course we do -- when there's good cause.

My protagonist is a sucker for a dangerous woman. That last part -- a dangerous woman -- is always a pretty good cause.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holiday Gifts for Writers

At left, one of the best gifts for a writer: an alarm to place across the room on the dresser forcing the penmonkey to rise and write.

Public domain image hosted on wikicommons.

Nobody asks me about "what I should I get Rick the writer in my life for Christmas/Chanukah/ Kwanza/Festivus/Art Gidding's Favortie Day ?"

I thought I'd take it upon myself to share some unsought advice.

The clock/radio. Not just a clock. Not just a radio. The vintage flip face is a lovely feature. I had one of these for twenty years though of a slightly older model. The one pictured is from 1975. Out of bed and at the ink.

"But they have an iPhone and it has alarms ..." Ah, yes.

The iPhone does not however have vintage appeal nor does it force penmonkey out of bed to write. This gift with an inspirational note (say something like:  "I love your prose. This gift will help you to find time in the morning to craft more of it.") will do the job.

Some of us write best in the night. I'm one of those.  I edit and re-write best in the early morning. Yea, I know. Nothing about the ink game is easy or especially fun -- except the "having written" part.

George Gastin's great picture of a ewe at left. I couldn't find a public domain picture of a cardigan I liked but you've all seen sweaters.

This is the source of the sweater. Just add a great deal of labor and baaaa: a sweater.

Writers tend to work in laundry rooms, converted closets, the garage, the unheated attic overhead, and unfinished storage areas in the basement. There's a lot of cold and damp in this sport. (There's a lot of hollering out "can you put those in the dryer when they're done?" too).

A sweater is nice.

A cup of coffee. The image at left is from on wikicommons. Lovely snap.

A plain mug is best for writers. "Distraction free."

The plate is a nice companion piece because we are prone to incidental spillage. I'd make some sort of Mae West joke here but the children wouldn't get it.

A bag of beans is also a lovely gift. I don't know what it is about coffee and writing; but, there's something about coffee and writing.

I'm drinking a cup (decaf) now.

Poulpy took this photo at left. Especially nice photograph of an ink bottle. I'm told in the caption the ink is green.

All writers have pens. They have lots of pens. They're pretty particular about those pens, too.

Ink however is more of a cultured acquisition. A nice ink is always a lovely, thoughtful gift. Most of us have at least one decent fountain pen hiding about the library. Some have -- er -- more than one.

J. Hebin makes some lovely ink. Make sure you pick an ink that has good contrast on the page. Even editing where the text is already in printed form and our marks are just annotation demands a good contrast because inevitably we'll be working on the manuscript notes in dim light sometime soon and cursing the light grey ink. Green is nice. Red is trite.

Avoid red. Please.

Oh - water soluble ink, only. No one likes to have to clean a pen with Xylene because the ink dried.

Consumables. Preferably, consumables with class.

Madeleines as photographed by Evan Shelhamer and hosted on wikicommons. Blackberry madeleines, precisely.

Now, Proust was a pedantic bastard but he had the whole madeleines business down pat.

Cookies are a fair substitute.

Writing is a soul-trying activity and demands proper sustenance.  A tasty baked good from your own hand? Best gift of all.

So, while we can be complete bastards to live with, writers are remarkably easy individuals when it comes to the gift giving season.

One last caution:

Not a cat. God, no, please ... not a cat.

Public domain image at left.

If you want a demon to torment your writer through unwelcome jumping, demands for attention, the odd yowling, and the ever popular "something breaking from the other room" then please -- a cat is fine.

I've had one on and off my lap three times while writing this entry. The foxhound is asleep on his pillow just to my left but the cat? All over me.

No live animal gifts.

Maybe no dead ones, either. (public domain image of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" of Baker Street, London.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Make a Mess, Clean it Up

At left, public image of Hemingway writing away at safari camp in Kenya.

I'm cleaning-up some almost-ready-for-submission stuff. There is a bunch of that lying around and the tedious mechanism of "writing" rather than "telling the story" is all that is left.


So, drafts upon drafts. I've got a couple of commitments to shove out the door in order to return to the non-fiction. Nothing like wanting to do "project A" to make "project B" loom as suddenly quite important!

So, taking a piece, taking it apart, and putting it together again sweating every word choice, line of dialogue, omitted or included scene.

You tell the story on the page -- you make the mess. You write the story -- you clean it up.

It works that way for a lot of us. It's worked that way for decades and decades for a lot of other writers, too.

Not a bad gig if one can get it.

Hope your ink dries fast and doesn't smudge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Your Politics? Not My Concern

At left, Che and Fidel. Public domain image hosted on wikicommons.

Revolutions - all revolutions - eventually fail. Not my concern. I know how it turns in the end. I'm a school trained bear and can ride the little bike while juggling balls in the center ring of the revolution circus.

It's a political season but I'm only interested in the politics of doing wrong. Under any regime, there is enough going wrong to interest me.

I hope there is enough to interest my readers.

Fly the flag. March in the parade. Shout your position.

I don't hear your words. Your readers might. That might have a consequence.

In chaos, there is profit. There are also some lovely plotlines and twisted motivations.

Politics makes for dark deeds: all the better for our craft.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Telling the Truth

At let, a Bertucci field watch that's proven to be a solid performer this year. Keeps me from wearing my heavy hardware in the field now that it has passed to the league of "classic."

It's high time to tell the truth: so, a non-fiction project.

There are a lot of ways to break into the fiction game and its taken me a good part of the last decade to get comfortable with the type of writing I now do.

 In my youth, I had some success with a different style of commercial writing than I favor now. The fact that previous writing is a bit beyond vogue has only a little to do with my motivation.

Anyway, I'm quite happy with some of my rural noir but I've a double murder story right now that is a bear. I'm having some difficulty driving it along as I'd like, so I'm taking a break.


I've done a bunch of non-fiction for various projects over the years. Some public domain, some private. I've a knack for organizing complex information into digestible bits. That's probably because I can only manage the information in digestible bits.

I'm writing about trout.

I'll talk a little in the next posts as I grind through this project. The whole business is a little like having answers in the back of the book for a fiction project. get stuck, flip to the back for the answer. Simple.

I've the outline and production schedule set pretty firmly for when it needs to go to editing. I do have to master some preliminary illustrations and get them to the professional illustrators pretty quick. They'll be time writing and time at the boards doing line drawings.

It is nice to have something a little more in my bailiwick than the daughter of a priest, a dead husband, and a Methodist minister strangled in a meadow. Ok, so there's the kid at the low-water bridge. Three murders.

See my problems? Can't even keep the body count straight.

There are things I know really well, and things I just know.

Sort of like the time.

Bertucci. Built like tanks.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nobel, Not Noble

At left, a picture of horse dung courtesy an image hosted on wiklicommons as photographed by Basotxerri. Very nice photograph which is rewarded by qualifying as a "quality image" under wikicommons image standards. Nice job, and thanks for letting us use it here!

Bobby Zimmerman gets the Nobel in Literature.

What else can you expect from a Nobel committee who saw fit to give the Peace Prize to a President Obama.

Hey - before you lean all left and huff-up the indignant dial to "full-hater" consider: Carter brought Begin and Sadat together for the Camp David Accords and if you read the history of that little effort, you'll clearly see how much Carter's personal involvement produced the outcome of the agreement. This wasn't a  staff job.

Carter got the Peace prize. That's a pretty high bar.

Martin Luther King also has won the Peace Prize. Pretty high bar.

I don't think Obama has risen to Peace Prize level -- unless we give it to him for the effective use of drone strikes to combat world terror organizations. I do love me some remote control extra-judicial executions!

I love a constitutional scholar who believes in ordering the "unfortunate demise" of individuals not members of a recognized foreign government without due process or judicial review.

Obama qualifies for the ink job of "Kill 'em all - let God sort 'em out"  worn on the deltoid of Staff Sgt. Hernadez who was a nasty piece of work in every possible respect.

Hemingway won for Literature. Kipling. Yeats. George Bernard Shaw. Mann.O'Neil. Buck. Hesse. Elliot. Faulkner. Steinbeck. Becket. Solzhenitsyn. Bellow. Marquez. Munro.

I'm saying Dylan's verse does not rise to the level literature that the works of these other authors illustrate.

Everyone has an off day at the office. Today is the off day for this century's Nobel committee for the prize in literature.

It's a horseshit decision.

Everyone has opinions and assholes. In your eyes, I might be indistinguishable from either.

In my opinion, this is a poor choice that is insulting to the writers previously so honored.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One Giant Step

The image at left hosted on wikicommons is by Skytouch who allows its use here for merely the attribution. Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland (U.K.).

I've had an itch just like all of you. It's more than my constant summer's bout of poison ivy.

I've a series of stories I couldn't quite piece together into a cognitive whole. They've formed parts of a couple of abortive novels but whose plot and revelation lags and fails to knit as a whole.

I've solved that problem this week.

Now, this problem -- challenge? -- has been languishing inside me for almost thirty-six months.

It's been a most troubling aspect of these stories in that I have great joy in them but their integration into something more has failed so desperately. They were more than short-stories to stand alone but less than a novel whose strings could be pulled by a reader into any sort of whole cloth.

I've solved the puzzle of the broken pieces. What's more, I have tens of thousands of words invested in different drafts of the pieces and so making productive use of this effort is extremely gratifying.

I have these little stories with characters like a sheriff wearing snakeskin boots made of rattlesnakes sans rattles left in his mailbox, alive. I have a boy who learns early to play the game beyond the game and kill with words. I have a priest whose conviction is compelled by the association with a demon who drove his father to suicide.

I have unfaithful partners, untrustworthy guardians, duplicitous motives for both, and a confidence in my characters that tomorrow may not be better than today.

I carry a little soul in each abortive story so far and the prospect of resolving them into a work that might be read by somebody - anybody. Well.

You know that joy in a project when you pass from "this is all rubbish no one will ever want to read" to "unworthy as it is, it remains my best work right now." It's an odd sort of transition.

There's always doubt. That in itself is worth the ink.

Spill some on the page soon. You never know when giants will again walk the Earth and scare away all your literary devices.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I Found My Book

Image at left of Shakespeare & Co. as photographed by Christine Zenino of Chicago, IL from 2011.

She hosts the image on wikicommons and allows us to use it here for the attribution. Thanks, Christine! (And thanks to Shakespeare & Co. who in no manner condone or endorse this post, blog, or any materials displayed or referenced herein. They might however endorse some of the Shakespeare quotes if they're asked nicely, I'd guess.)

I found a book tonight I'd misfiled in my library and so thought it gone forever.

It's a simple thing finding a book that one believed had gotten away. Some of my books travel and I'd guess some of yours might as well.

I'm not a good book loaner because I've sometimes been a poor book borrower. I have a volume -- Bogmail by Patrick McGinley -- that I borrowed years ago and have to this day as a precious reminder of a very good friend.

Anyway, I found a book that really is a bit inconsequential on the surface covering various aquatic insects; except, it is inscribed by the author (just a general signing ...doesn't know me from Adam)  and I've come to use it as a nearly unimpeachable reference.

I thought it lost.

Now I have it.

I'm as happy as if it were my birthday and someone made me a cake.

I hope you tonight find something you've been missing and thought gone forever. Maybe a volume. Maybe a set of notes. Perhaps a pen with just the right feel.

Maybe a plot element or even just a word.

Maybe a single, precisely sonorous word which you will now use in the opening sentence of your next work and for that you too will smile, each time you read the sentence, before an audience of enchanted readers.

Yes. Happy finding, you.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nosing Around

At left, Lou the foxhound helping me with my re-writes. He's an in-close type of writing consultant. Likes to stick his nose right in my coffee, too.

The blog is static ...not dead yet!

It's been a tough summer for the ink. I've been working a story since late June and am now deep in a third re-write. I'm finishing that effort this week and putting together pages for a buddy to read.

This one goes out.

I hope your summer projects are progressing - even at a summer's pace.

They'll hound you for attention so there's no sense ignoring them. I could use a little fall. The weather has finally broken here and the house is open this morning. Highs in the low 70's.

You earn that sort of weather. You earn it roasting like dinner for a couple months.

Add a drop of water to the ink pot and stir. It comes right back to life, just like your writing.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Like Poppies ...

At left, poppy field in Turkey as photographed by Bernard Gagnon and hosted on wikicommons. Bernard allows its use here for only the attribution.

Kate Bush has a line in a song which I frequently play "Like poppies ..."  from the song "And Dream of Sheep." I find Kate Bush's lyrical qualities superb but part of that is due to the equipment I have and how her voice is reproduced.

I have a buddy who undergoes serious back surgery tomorrow. Opiates in the near future. I've lost one buddy to an addicted speech-slurred uselessness to back surgery and so I have concerns about Mike.

I haven't written much about drugs because the outcomes seem short-circuited to me. I knew several folks in the cocaine boom and the end was short and predictable in each case. I'm not sure I can write a story involving the recreational use of serious controlled substances that would hold a reader's attention.

Beto Unit.

If you wonder what the first ring of Hell looks like, read about the Beto Unit for detention in Texas.

I'm doing a re-write. I'm paying special attention to the change in tempo of interactions between people in tense serious conversations. Say, conversations in a room with the local sheriff.

Keep your powder dry and try walking a little more from now on. It helps the back.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Broken Angels

At left, copyright-free image of stone angel hosted on wikicommons as photographed by Roland Geider at the St. Peter and St. Paul cathedral (uncertain which one ... does not appear to be in St. Petersburg).

I'm finding the theme of broken angels - those who would do good but whose natures lead them from that end - to be quite compelling lately.

I'm drawn to the "incidentally bad"  which is to say those who normally do good but in an instance of crisis make the choice that then spirals beyond their control.

I hope your writing is taking you down the darker alleys of the human psyche. I've found my niche in rural noir. I've found my people.

Back to the ink.

I hope your fingers remained stained the darkest black and your fountain pens flow smoothly.

Watch the neighbors. They're not who you think they are.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Drowning in Limpid Pools of Love

At left, from the national archives a public domain poster from WWII.

I'm back. I'm back on fiction and I've got a good story. I think this one has real legs for the novel ; but, the short story is its own beast.

Yes, more than one murder with the same characters in the same setting. Surprise!

You write what you know. I know rural noir of the great plains. Will it work? Works for me.

I'm going to see if the folks over at Needle like this one. Right up their alley.

Anyway, I'm drowning a couple of characters. Do all the characters we kill come back to haunt us in our last moments? If so, I better put my death bed into the Super Dome.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead off stage. I'm just following the Bard's lead.

I'm back. Murder is in the wind. Mind the water. It is deep and cold. Ask Brett and Mark.

I drowned them both.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Choice of Words

At left, my morning image today from my library. I've a few words to describe the scene but they're not suitable for a public blog.

I'm working the non-fiction. Projects are always more involved in the middle than they seemed at the start.

The non-fiction exercise I'm now pursuing has introduced a discipline of word choice. There's a thin line between relaying information in a style befitting an educated and reasoned position, and being dogmatic. The difference is in the word choice.

I'm trying to craft my prose in a conversational without injecting too much personality.

We've all read fiction where the author intrudes. This non-fiction drill is certainly an eye-opener as to how easy an author intrudes on the topic at hand. In fiction -- in murder -- immersion matters.

I'm off to practice not intruding on my topic.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Black Dog Days

At left, the Black Dog public house in Weymouth. Image is from Wulfrunian1 as hosted on wikicommons and the generous Mr. (Ms. ?) Wulfrunian1 allows its use for just the credit. Lovely sentiment, that.

It's cool and rainy here but spring is creeping up despite March being a winter month in Michigan. I'm doing a little black dog dance and could use a little more sun. Perhaps with daylight time I'll get it.

I'm grinding away on the non-fiction and have a real opportunity to do some good work. I've made a substantial improvement in my topical library and am in a good place to follow-on some giants in this field by making their words more accessible.

We shall see.

The discipline of non-fiction for short concise writing is a good drill for me. Oh, and one of my friends has a short accepted by Tin House. Pretty inspirational stuff, that.

Off to the work of ink.

You should be off to yours. We'll talk fiction again later.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Talking Turkey

A few of the turkey in my yard this week. This particular rafter had one tom, one immature jake, and 61 hens.

I'm grinding away on non-fiction. I revised my structure a little this week and expanded a couple sections. Basically, doing exactly the sort of thing that happens in fiction when we try to write closely to our outlines: we blow through them.

Good results though.

Writing non-fiction tightens your command of a subject. In my case, I've a large private library collection of topical volumes on the subject and have read all of them quite thoroughly. There is nothing like teaching material to others to make you increase your own command of a subject.

I'm having fun. Spring is coming (my turkey are playing the mating game) and while I received ten inches of snow this week, spring is around the corner. It'll be near 50 tomorrow.

I better get back to the ink.

Cold ink flows faster, just like blood.

Shoot a character for me. I'm jonesing for a good murder mystery.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Still Alive

At left, reference materials at my desk.

I'm still working the non-fiction and will be for a couple months. I've got a decent stream-source library which is good because I'm writing about trout. Go figure.

Non-fiction requires a rigorous organization and structure. Think: dissertation.

You decide what the chapters are going to say before you write them in large part because of the cross-referencing necessary with outher parts of your treatise when you write "tight."

For a layman audience, you have to write "tight." They won't fogive rambling when no gunplay is involved.

The exercise is one I've done before and oddly after all these years I no longer dread the seemingly infinite amount of work that goes into saying something succinctly - when that something needs to be supported and documented.

My fiction will improve from this effort because it has been about a dozen years since I've sat down with any real verve and executed one of these beasts from start to finish. Even that most recent effort was only a few chapters for a buddy working on a topical survey as an introductory text.

So, I have things to say. I have the outline and layout of points, their documentation, citations, and sources. I know the manner in which I want to present my text, my quick reference sections, and my annotated bibliography so that I hopefully spur someone else to read what I cite and come up with the errors I might assert.

Now, if a little of this organization from an all-too-long academic interlude rubs off a bit on my plotting through the actions of my characters, yea! The sweat certainly will be worth it.

After all, I want to write about dead bodies in the living-room. Oh, I can do that already.

Now I need to tighten it all up so you want to read about my bodies in the living-room.

Well, off the to cold water and my documented topic.

Spring is coming.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Non-Fiction, or Not Lies

At left, public source woodcut image of library hosted on wikicommons.

I'm working on a little non-fiction at the moment. I haven't done that since the last time someone blew up a reactor. Okay, you've got me. It was a tsunami. Small difference.

I'm working on a caddis and mayfly primer for a fly fishing group.

I'm going to slip-in a murder on page three just to see if anyone notices.

Hold the fort. I'll be back to "just making things up" shortly. I've got one that has merit and so, trout then murder.

There's a cozy mystery title: Trout, Then Murder.

Maybe not.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Start With the Puzzle

CSCD on wikicommons lets us use the image at left of Rubic's cube for our discussion.

There are many mysteries in the world. This one is mine.

That's where to start. When you contemplate murder or other crime of note as a central item in the story: the puzzle is the thing.

It isn't necessarily the thing for you or even the readers; but, it is the thing for the characters. It drives them.

Why was he killed? Who killed him? Who found the body before George? Where was he killed?

Will I be killed, too?

That last one is a great one. What are the consequences I in danger?

There are many mysteries. My favorite is why Girl Scout cookies are not considered single serving items in their boxes. I mean, have you ever opened a tube of thin mints and not consumed them all in some guilty oblivious pleasure?

I you assert you have resisted, I assert you are lying.

And the lie - another great puzzle. Why should characters tell the truth? You don't You write fiction.

You lie like the rug.

Look, All I'm saying is don;t forget that a mystery is a puzzle and if you and the readers aren't concerned: cool. The characters are.

Nobody finds a body and the summer house then goes merrily on without a care in the world.

Dead folks change things. They change them more than the living.  In murder, they change things most of all.

They're a demarcation point in fiction: beyond the body nothing can remain the same.

Are your characters reacting to the body in a strong enough fashion? Are you sure?

Then throw in another body. You can ignore one. It's part of the landscape. Two ... well. Two is a problem no one can ignore.

Get to it, Jack.

Put one on the page. Change some things.

I'm off to do just that.

I've got an ending that needs revision. A good perspective on the murder will do that for me.

Bodies drive stories. They're puzzles in the flesh.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Finishing A Project

At left, Reliance crossing the finish line in the America's Cup, 1903.

She won.

I finish a project in the morning. I love writing the endings of a draft because at the end, I know more than I did at the beginning.

It means that I sometimes have logical inconsistencies, changed character motivations,  even characters who are entirely different in the end than there were in the beginning - and not in a good introspective literary fiction sort of way.

It is a line, though, It means the next draft can be much better.

This one's a winner and needs care and attention of much the same type as a racing yacht.

I'm writing.

I'm going into a period of transcribing, revising, and reading.

It's time to re-read Writing Fiction, A Guide to the Narrative Craft by Burrow and Stuckey-French.

The time to read books on writing is when you are not writing. Revision and editing make good tasks for me during periods of "professional education."

What do you read when revising?

Off to set-up the ending while the wind is strong and steady.

Bon Voyage.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cold Weather, Hot Ink

Image at left from wikicommons - and is actually boiling Turkish coffee instead of ink. Almost the same. (I love Turkish coffee). Thanks to Johnny MrNinja and Nate Steiner for allowing our enjoyment for just a mention. Great snap.

Cold dark nights are perfect for all those ideas that you've carried around all summer.

I've got a great story gem around the "found body" sort of business and of course, the body is someplace it really shouldn't be right now.

Shut in with snow tonight? Think of those grand Edwardian mansions with a footman dead on the front steps. What now? Why? What twists can we throw?

All warmed up?

Now put the body outside Uncle Ralph's summer cottage on Thanksgiving weekend.

Oh, the trouble we brew when it is murder we desire.

Dark. Deep. A little sweet.

I've got to go brew some mayhem in a pan. I'll be up for hours.

You shouldn't be sleeping either.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

By the Evidence I Will Know Your Guilt

At left, public domain image from wikicommons of the intrepid FBI doing their bits. Picture is unattributed from 2009 of an evidence response team doing the fine-tooth-comb two-step.

We lay out crime in our stories and in those stories we need to leave the breadcrumbs.

We don't have to leave them all. I hate "You Know, Bob..." as much as anyone. Doubly so in a Star Wars film.

We do have to leave some if the story involves pursuit.

In real life, evidence is a mess. There's a chewing gum foil wrapping gum on the curb where neighbors reported the murderer's car to be parked. Oh Joy!

Turns out, probably not from the killer. Also, turns out the FBI doesn't show up in droves to poke about. Big chance no one ever notices the piece of detritus.

I'm going to say that in murder investigations across the US, there isn't a great deal of "usually."  A gunshot through a window in Detroit, in Buckhead, and in Laurel, Nebraska are going to be handled differently.

Detroit had 10,000 unprocessed rape kit of evidence gathered from the medical treatment of rape victims that went unprocessed. The 10,000 were as of 2010.[ actually, reported as 11,219 as of 2015 in this article : kits.]

Point is: you get to have a lot of slack in your lines over the actual process revealed in a procedural crime story. Anything you can say happens somewhere almost every day.

So, there is a strong desire by new writers to be as "accurate" as possible in police procedure and the handling of crime - that is for new writers who have little background with the criminal justice system.

Relax. It's evidence. Reveal some of it to the reader. Don't go bananas over what it means.

You don't have to connect the dots correctly. Works better sometimes when the story connects the dots incorrectly. Some of the best have the detective pursuing a suspect who they falsely believe is the culprit.

That gum on your shoe? It's got a pretty good tail behind it.

Shoot someone. [ paraphrasing Mr. Chandler here. have a guy walk through a door with a gun.]

We have to have a decent crime to have a crime story. We don't have to have decent evidence.

Got to run.

I'm late for the scene of the crime.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mr. Writer In the Library With a Noose

At left, a public domain image courtesy wikicommons. Library is former den of Mr. George von Lengerke Meyer at Rock Maple Farm in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

I write in a coffee shop on Friday mornings with a writing friend. It's a chance to get away from this: an empty room.

I could however use a warthog over my bookcase. We have a "no dead animals" rule here and while I have a bear head on the wall of my library, it is a pottery piece of porcelain art.

I write mostly in my library with a foxhound on a pillow (he stole it from a visiting grandchild camped out in my library)  and a strong cup of tea near my hand.

I usually end a session with three-quarters of a cold cup of tea.

At the coffee shop I eat fresh scones (forbidden food) and drink several mugs of hot strong java.

Both places have their merits. I'm good at shutting things out. I went to an "open plan" school and so learned young how to do my work with the conversation of hundreds of people around me. I don't think schools are built in such experimental fashion any longer.

How do you work best and how do you handle the division between social and isolated environments? Does environment reflect on your stories?

These are things to consider. I do poorly writing when I travel. I do well in places of habit - even noisy ones.

Time to walk the hound. Maybe a new cup of tea, too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Addiction of the Ink

At left, a vial of morphine taken from wikicommons as placed in the public domain by Stickpen. Thanks for that.

Here we have it: morphine. Why bother with the middleman? Go straight for the hard stuff. This is it.

I've been writing. I've been ignoring the blog because I didn't think it helped me write.

Maybe it does.

It's been an especially creative period over the holidays. I hope you can say the same.

I have ink stained fingers. I am in a composing phase and have spent a lot of time with fountain pen in hand. I believe I am producing better stories. I'm happy about them.

I like the odd little perspective: the unusual twist. I like cleaning ladies who moonlight as enforcers for a drug dealer. I like lawmen who are as bad as the criminals. I like heroes who prefer to not do the right thing but who cannot help themselves in the end.

I like big dogs in little cars.

Stay off the sauce. Stay on the ink. The stories will come; but, you have to finish a lot of them for little tricks to all work out as you want when you are composing.

I have to get a little more ink on my paws tonight before I turn in ... and so do you. Keep that pen and paper handy. Kill your television. Cancel Netflicks. Block Hulu.

Tell some stories. Tell some stories you like ...

The hardest part is that first pass where you tell yourself the tale and then have the courage to turn right back around and re-write with little markers where all the juicy parts you though of "too late" in the first pass ought to fold back into themselves.

Messy? Sure.

But fun.

Take a hit. It's only ink.

First one's free.