clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Pen, The Pen, The Pen

LAMY studio black  Fountain pen

Above, image from Lamy's web site used here for illustration: the Lamy Studio Pen. (here).

If you are looking for that perfect Christmas gift to make the long nights in the laundry room a little more bearable in the next year, the Lamy Studio fountain pen is a pretty nice item to put on the list.

I've burned several tens of thousands of pages with mine. I like it is much today as when it was new from the box. More so, really. The nib has flattened and shaped itself to my writing stroke and glides without effort across the page. That helps with those difficult scenes.

I've a couple pens with which I'll travel and I always have a Kaweco Lilliput in copper hanging around my writing bag. The studio stays at my writing desk and in it I find comfort early in the morning or late in the evening.

The act of composing works best for me when I am on an even keel and able to use my most creative impulses for my prose. I'm not solving some interpersonal issue in the background or worrying about finances or even thinking about a new boat I shouldn't buy.

I'm writing.

The tactile familiarity that comes from a pen which is now a comfort helps transport me to my story, my characters' minds, and my vaguest of plot intentions.

I know a great many writers compose on the keyboard. Save the backspace key!

Try a little longhand and the cross-out. The composition pass of transposing your longhand chapter into the electronic format gives you that "one more chance" to tune the prose before committing it to your opus. Hemingway did this with his writing.

Besides, a little ink stain on your finger looks writer-ly when you stop by the coffee shop. Anybody can wear a big woolly sweater. Inked fingers? There's a mark of distinction.

Okay. So the noise canceling headphones might be a better idea to deaden the sound of the dryer while you write.

I lived in a laundry room for a few years. I can sympathize. The card table upon which I wrote evolved into the sorting and folding table so I had to move.

It's difficult to plot a murder while under the threat of the leaning tower of underwear.

Consider the pen. It feels good in the hand.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Clarity of Weather

Left, trees in Colorado as photographed by Tim McCabe for the US Department of Agriculture. Image hosted on wikicommons. Public domain image.

A little change in the weather here and things become clearer. I don't have quite this much snow but it is a Christmas Card out there this morning. Roads are almost clear. Snow clings on grass and trees.

It'll be gone as the sun rises and the slightest breeze comes past us.

The snow acts as a filter bringing the deep shadows of the trees into sharp focus. It's a neat trick.

I've had to break a chapter into two.

I hate doing that but there are things a reader must know and putting all in one chapter can be a tedious slog.

Re-write for the absolute barest details relayed in the sharpest of dialog interspersed with narrative summary, Split into two related settings as an excuse to split the chapter.

It isn't a technique I use with the greatest ease but I've read it in the works of better writers. I use the inspiration.

I'm looking at snow and contemplating summer writing workshops. I'm focused on the deeper shadows.

In the interim, the season of snow and ink. The seasonal confinement brings into focus the need to write while the call of other activity is low.

So, to snow, to snow. It's off to write I go.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Old Friends

Image at left from Rodrigo Paredes of Argentina and hosted on wikicommons.

I encountered a group of old friends today and was struck at how easily we took up conversations suspended for years. Helps that they're my countrymen and in our part of the world, this is how things go.

We'll probably end up in the same hermit colony.

It occurred to me that introductions and new interactions are frequently the stuff of commercial fiction.

When was the last scene you remember coming across where the characters had a great deal more history and context behind the encounter than the reader knows? How was it handled?

I recall a business encounter with a close friend also in the business ... she kissed me on the cheek. My subordinates were shocked. I was a little shocked, too. That doesn't happen much in my world.

Would make a great scene, though.

Unexpected familiarity makes a great bit of drama on the page both for the reader and for the other characters in the scene. Yes, we have to provide context; but, we don't have to tell the reader everything.

Old friends make a great encounter I haven't used enough.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Scene I Have to Write

A public domain image at left of a first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays. Image hosted on wikicommons.

I'm sure it happened to the bard. There are scenes don't work well in the end and are cut or changed or mashed into some other scene.

We have to write them in the draft.

I call it "hamming it up" -- where there seems to be a payoff scene I want so badly to write but I know that in the end I'll probably cut or re-craft it to a fraction of what I desire to compose.

I have a story about a Madoff-style grift in action. We never see the end as the payoff in the story is a relationship change between two principal characters. 

For years, each draft included the beautiful explanation of the intricacies of the fraud. The story suffered for it. In the final draft, the fraud is just a passing thing described as if a baseball game. There's "Tiger's won 2-to-1 in the eleventh" and there's the detail description of every pitch in the last three innings.

I find scenes I have to write. I have to get them out. They're close to the pitch-by-pitch business above.

I hope now that on the "second pass" I will clean-up all this indulgence because I know when I start out on the page the first time that I'm wasting the ink.

These scenes make us happy. I at least have to write them. They encourage the longer work.

I wonder at what scenes Shakespeare "had" to draft that he later discarded as indulgent?

I wonder if he had any? Did he tell himself the story over and over until he'd pared down all the fluff before he took up the pen?

I'd like to know.

He paid more for his ink than I do mine. Did he place a higher value on committing it to paper?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Placing the Clues

At left, public domain photograph courtesy the US Forest Service.

Here, two experts discuss the optimal placement of the second body in the plot map of the story.

We know the first body comes in the first act. Duh.

I have a holiday story that I've played with for a few years now. Ugh.

I hate writing that.

Anyway, cute opening (for a holiday murder)  as my former police detective makes his way to an all night diner where the investigating officer devils him a bit. We learn the officers married sisters and only one marriage took. Only one career took as well.

Guess which one?

Anyway, the story just never works in the last two thirds.  I'm two slow on the second body and the whole business drags.

I'm not Chandler. I cannot delay the complication indefinitely. I can't have my character drive around blithely in the car engaging in an internal monologue.

I need an action event.

Now, my second body is going to be immaterial to the primary case -- or so we think until the twisty bit at the end. That's beside the point.

I have to get the reader to the end of the story for any of my slight of hand cleverness to matter.

I don't know why I haven't realized the second murder comes too late in the story before now. In some versions, I don't even have the second murder.

I mentioned it is a holiday bit, didn't I?

I'll make some notes over Thanksgiving and box it for next spring when I'm letting the long-form project cool on ice. This holiday diversion is a short story.

I can't believe I didn't see that the action was dragging.

I honestly thought it was the language. I thought the tone was too noir.

I can be an idiot sometime. Where'd I put the body map?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ink on the Page

Here it is at left.

I'm conducting a complete re-draft of an earlier work because I've figured out how to use a murder to twist a bit of commercial fiction into detective fiction which holds the hook longer.

At the left of frame, a couple attempts at this chapter. In the composition book, the chapter.

What you don't see is the set of outline notes (Scrivener) and the handwritten draft after it has undergone another tweak as it is transposed into Scrivener.

I file my completed longhand chapter in another binder (for reference) and start the next chapter in the composition book which holds my ready-reference of arcs, characters, and bits I think have to go into the tale "somewhere about here."

I've used this mechanism with success in non-fiction but less so in fiction because - gasp - I had to spend some serious time this year studying the mechanisms of telling a story in long form. Hey, I don't have the M.F.A. and hadn't internalized some of the pieces of fiction upon which I really ought to have had a better handle.

I had to get smarter. It hurts a little both to say now and to do previously.

So, pen to paper two or three times to let those little bits of compositional brilliance -- you know the things you think of "on the fly" that end up being the best bits of the piece -- coalesce into a contiguous whole then into the electronic version with the language edit to catch the little errors we make when too absorbed.

Don't be afraid of the ink. It allows for revision and refinement in a free-form way which is unassuming and keeps the voice of self-doubt at bay. At least, it works for me.

There's literary fiction hiding behind so many works that are commercially more accessible. Making that change on the page is easier for me in ink.

Besides, having a little ink on your paw at Sunday dinner is a good feeling.

We could all use that good feeling about our writing -- especially so when we can have it without saying one word to family or friends about the pursuit.

Get a little ink on yourself. It's good for the soul.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Carefully Darling, Carefully.

Broken egg illustration hosted on wikicommons. Lovely picture courtesy Etat sauvage from 2007. Outstanding image. Thanks for the use.

You know the type.

You're at dinner thinking about your writing or something related to your writing being "all quiet" keeping to yourself (because you are that huge introvert nerd writer) and some bore insists in asking what you are thinking about.

What lie do you tell?

I mean - honestly. Between us.

You sit at a dinner with seven other people in a restaurant and you wonder how your murderer can kill 'em all. Maybe he only wants to kill one of them but a little collateral damage isn't that bad. The character is a murderer. He has to do bad stuff.

Maybe he kills everyone in the restaurant ? Sure.

He poisons the water supply and just pokes at his food. Everyone else gets it. Of course, he has to explain how he survived when all the other patrons die but there is probably somebody else who makes it. Maybe the redhead bulimic over by the door pulls out, too? 

Hey -- it's not a terrible thing. It's a condition and it might save her life ... if she's in a restaurant full of poisoned people. You play the cards you'e dealt. I'm colorblind so the scintillating alien mind-beam from over in the science fiction stories isn't going to get me. 

My point is you're at dinner and you are plotting the demise of a person, people, a continent. Whatever.

Somebody pushes and pushes and wants to know your thoughts.

Do you mention you were thinking of how their liver might go with fava beans?

Of course not. You lie and say you were thinking of Yosemite or your honeymoon or the Caribbean beach of last winter.

You can tell me, though.

You can admit you were thinking the low lift-over tailgate of the new Subaru is perfect for your petite soccer mom contract assassin to drive because it makes her afternoon murder easy to tidy-up after. Maybe if she used the dog ramp to roll the body up into the rear. Hmmm.

You can tell me.

The pushy person at the dinner? Well.

Don't ask what you don't want to know. Every good attorney in a crime novel knows that one.

 Fava beans?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Composition Tango

Nate Grigg allows us to use his photograph at left of hay bales through his generous sharing on wikicommons. Thanks, Nate!

One after another into the stack they go.

Bales become time. It isn't 2 o'clock. It's another 130 bales since lunch. Another tier on the stack.

It's another pass with wagon and bale lift.

Another paragraph before coffee.  Run the edits on chapter seven before eating. Transpose three more chapters into Scrivener before the weekend is over.

I never knew stacking hay was preparation for the real work I wanted to do. I certainly didn't think so at the time.

My characters don't spend enough time relaxing as the crew re-positions their yacht for the winter. I thought of this on the way to the day job yesterday morning. I should research the filthy rich. Better scotch. Learn to like caviar on toast points. Maybe bathe in champagne..

I haven't a story with a filthy rich noir-style protagonist. Ah, the black hearts and broken dream of the super-privileged. There's always angst. There's envy. There's murder.

I remember a comic from my youth where Scrooge McDuck squared off against the Beagle Boys. Hmm. One versus many. I liked the beagle boys better.

Sure, it's a not the most identifiable of character schemes. It would however be fantastic research.

One has to plan and plot.

Off to the ink. I wonder if I can get a tour of a bank vault if I asked nicely?

The Britannia 74 below. It's a semi-custom on an established design making it affordable luxury. Even the very wealthy have to be careful with money.

Lovely yacht.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Not Gonna Row Itself

At left, an image of a  rowboat hosted on wikicommons and made available here by amanderson2. They title this image our little row row boat Bled Slovenia. I'm assuming the case choice for the title is germane to their intent and have preserved it here.

The photo is delightful as it illustrates the dilemma of re-casting a novel: it doesn't write itself.

Sure, we want help with the work. After all, writing is decision making. Usually it is at least 130,000 individual decisions. Having someone make some of those decisions for us would be lovely!

Is this character too likable? Not likable enough? Too minor and I should bring them back later? Too annoying (Hello, Jar Jar) and I should push them down an elevator shaft in the next act?

Writing is decision making and even recasting a work that you've passed through a couple drafts requires the entire litany of decisions, again. The feedback from a couple test readers can be a life preserver on a stormy night ... only after the draft is done. [ Bulwer Lytton Fiction Prize ]

I'm putting words on the page. I think they're the right words. I'm happy with the words. I've solved plot problems. I've re-crafted characters that needed some attention.

I'm rowing the boat.

Just like you.

It's nice to think I'll go into spring with a full re-write and detail edit of a work that has too long been a problem for me. I suspect if the thing keeps springing into your head over most of a decade, you must tell the story

What is it Bukowski says about the prose must come bursting out of you

He never said it has to come out in the same form in which it goes to publication!  

I'm rowing the boat. I'm scratching the itch. I'm telling the story.

I'm whistling in the dark walking past my personal graveyard.

Just like you.

Keeping pulling on the oars. There's something out there. I can hear it.

I have clam chowder on the stove. Then, the ink and the snoring of a foxhound.

Not a bad evening, I think.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Cleaning of the Pens

At left, the cleaning of the pens at hand.

I use the copper Lilliput from Kaweco despite it requiring cartridges. It travels well even on airplanes.

There is a Lamy Studio pen in there with the ink converter reservoir. Also a couple of Cross pens one of which is an anniversary gift from 1999 and so never leaves the desk, now. It's an adventurous pen.

I've completed a couple of non-fiction works over the course of the spring and the summer. I've been to Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone Park in that same time. I've chased trout a great deal. I've rolled out a new product to a customer. I've improved my chess game.

It's been a good year so far but for fiction.

I have drafted a few incomplete runs at short stories that have gotten stuck in my throat. They're still there.

I've written a couple of new short stories both of which need some work. One is quite good but needs the polish I haven't done in the last month.

Now, back to long form fiction and a story I've figured out how to tell.

Am I good enough yet to tell the story I intend? We'll not know unless I do the work all the way to completion.

First, the washing of the pens.

Now, the writing of the prose.

It'll be a grand autumn. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Details, Details

It's been a bit.

Image at left hosted on wikicommons. Original: Stephane Magnenat. Thanks!

I told myself I wouldn't update the "writer's blog" until I'd reached a milestone in the latest project. I have.

So, keep at it. Every word helps.

The devil is in the details. Good thing old Nick and I are on familiar terms.

I'm still at it. I'm making progress.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

On the Page

Image above from Przykuta and Ellywa as hosted on wikicommons and used here with attribution.

I spent some time this holiday going over some iced drafts of short stories from early 2017. Each of the five had been iced after a considerable bit of work marking each as "nearly ready" but for another word choice pass and maybe a little more trimming-down.

I find in each of the three dark stories I have broken characters but too little of the "broken" part is spilling onto the page. The characters are not sufficiently wounded or react with a sufficient wince to the stories' pin-pricks dwelling on their past mistakes.

Too little mayhem on the page. I know, right?

The topics are serious. The conflict is serious (is there any other kind?), the stakes are high; but,  the emotional tumult of the situations are inexpertly expressed.

Remember in The Road the early section where McCarthy has the father and child enter the old gas station and the father picks up a telephone to call his own father's number from the "before" and the child turns asking, "What are you doing?" That pinprick of criticism in a child's voice bringing all the missed opportunities and unfinished business of the "before" and the almost scathing reminder to focus on the "now" resonates so clearly that even my inept relation of the piece here makes sense to you.

The father is burdened by his memories and experiences of what he lost. The child knows only this present desolation and has no patience for anything but the current, the "now" -- nor should the father indulge himself given the current tumult.

I need this pinprick of resonance and I've missed it. If my protagonist's adversary is a mirror of his opposite's twisted experience and wounded perspective, put it on the page!

  So, the light pieces where crime is sanitized and acceptable, fine. In the pieces I intended to master when I started with the pen seriously again here eight years ago, I missed it.

I see it now, though. Revisions can fix anything. I've almost got the chops now to say that with real confidence instead of false bravado.

Almost. Pretty damn close.

I've got some good stuff in here folks. I'm going to get it out very soon.

I hope you do as well.

Let's spill some of the best and brightest ink we can this winter's session.