One Simple Lesson For A Happy Life

In Travels with Epicurus, subtitled A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life, the following story was told by the author Daniel Klein, who learned it had been told by Aegean islanders for a long time.

A prosperous Greek American was visiting one of the Aegean islands one day when “he comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the seas. The American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek, but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground. He asks who the trees belong to.

“They’re mine,” the Greek replies.

“Don’t you gather the olives?” the American asks.

“I just pick one when I want one,” the old man says.

“But don’t you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them? In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it.”

“What would I do with the money?” the old Greek asks.

“Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you.”

“And then what would I do?

“You could do anything you want.”

“You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?”

The above story is not unlike the old adage about stopping to smell the roses. If you are young, ambitious, want the big house and servants you are unlikely to take the advice. It is only the elders among us, who realize that sitting on the beach at sunset, drinking wine, watching the sun set, that truly appreciate what life offers. Simple pleasures are the great rewards, bringing peace and serenity. Stay calm, enjoy.

Skol!

 

 

Cortes, Burning Ships, Excuses, Writing goals

In Roger Van Oech’s book A Whack on the side of the Head, a book on how to be creative that is still going strong since it was published in 1983, he writes something I did not know about the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes that is, shall we say disarming.

When Cortes landed his ships at Veracruz he burned all his ships. He did this to eliminate one option, leaving his men with only two. You either fight, he told them, or you die. Going home was no longer an option.

Van Oech writes “Sometimes it takes more creativity to get rid of the excuses we put in the way than it does to come up with the idea in the first place.”

I must admit I am guilty of using excuses to get in the way of writing and my excuses are very creative, along the lines of the kid who told his teacher, “The dog ate my homework.”

Cortes took away an excuse about whether to fight or not. His men really had no choice. I suppose I could burn my house down and write at the library with my laptop, but that option would not solve the problem as I would still find more excuses, then have to burn down the library.

The thing of it is, we procrastinators, we excuse makers, know we are avoiding what we should be doing. We are not fooling ourselves.

Van Oech asks the question of what three factors will make it difficult for you to reach your objective? How can you get rid of excuses?

Getting rid of excuses requires self discipline. Take Map Quest or any other app that gives your destination with directions. You follow them-and if they are correct, not always the case-you arrive at your destination. In the process of reaching your destination you took each turn along the path.

Perhaps each writer, or anyone with a goal, should create a type of map with a starting point, an end destination, then fill in the steps to take in order to reach the goal. And if, like the occasional misinformation on the directional map, you run into a burning ship, you adjust and continue your journey; you either fight the fight or your goals die.

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How Writing Nothing Is Good For Writers

An intelligent man, or perhaps it was a woman, once said, “Do nothing and nothing will happen.” That makes sense. If you’re hungry and do nothing, you won’t eat. You have  to do something, like fix your meal, or at least, grab a bag of chips. If you want to write a story, you must sit down and write. . .

But that does not always work. I believe it was Winnie-the-Pooh who said “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

And there is truth in what Winnie said and it has to do with your brain. The best creative ideas come about when your brain is idle, uncluttered with random thoughts, white noise, distractive thoughts; anything that gets in your way. Sometimes writers overthink, try to hard and your mind is stuck in muck. You must listen to “things you can’t hear.”

But how?

Case in point from personal experience. I had trouble coming up with an acceptable ending to my e-mystery Loonies in Hollywood. The story is based on the actual murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922. The case remains unsolved. I selected one of the many suspects (I read four non-fiction books on the murder, each had a different killer), but could not figure out how to place the person at the crime scene because another person was standing outside the bungalow and there was a witness who saw someone walk away from the residence. It was going to be tricky. I thought and thought. Then thought some more. I gave up. Then a week or two later after ‘doing nothing’ I woke up one morning and the ending emerged in its entirety without any pop-up blocker to stop it. It was so simple. Why did I not see it before?

So I know from experience that by doing nothing, something will happen. That by not thinking of a solution your brain works behind the scenes, just like some things your computer does for you.

Don’t force your brain to a solution by overloading it, trust in nothing and it will work out the solution for you. It requires patience and a leap of faith but it works. Think about it. When was Winnie-the-Pooh ever wrong.

Never!

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Bookman’s Promise, Lichtenberg, and Me

I am only 74 pages into The Bookman’s Promise by John Dunning, the third book of five in the Cliff Janeway novels and I already know I will buy the other four. The reason is simple. The writing.

In the story Janeway is talking about Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. He mentions that after his death, Burton’s wife “torched. . .forty years of unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notes. . .to purify his image.” She did not want anything to taint his image with the Church, though it was a bit late. But that is another story.

Then Janeway says “This is why I am not religious. If and when we do learn the true secret of the universe, some kind of religion will be there to hide it. To cover it up. To persecute and shred, to burn and destroy. They stay in business by keeping us in the Dark Ages. Darkness is what they sell.”

This is strong writing. Comparing what Burton’s wife did to her husband’s unpublished works (bad girl) to a conspiratorial view of religious purpose, and making it short, concise and clear. There need be no elaboration.

This is the joy for me of reading. Not just the craft of writing done well, but learning about Burton, whose published  books, now rare, factor into the story as part of the plot. One should not assume you learn nothing in reading fiction.

Later, Janeway, an ex-cop, now rare bookseller is talking how the computer leveled the playing field in rare book seling. It tells people what books are selling for around the world, but not “how to identify a true first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Then Janeway quotes Lichtenberg, German physicist, who said, “A book is a mirror. If an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”  A computer, like the mirror, can only do so much. A computer can’t make us experts in rare books, and if both book and mirror are reflective, neither will make us more than we are.

Lichtenberg was also a satirist who said, “I thank the Lord a thousand times for having made me become an atheist.” He gave credit where credit was due.

So this was my joy of reading the first 74 pages of Dunning’s book this Sunday afternoon that I wanted to share. Now back to reading.

life is like a book

Spillane’s Assault and Insult On Why We Read

Mickey Spillane, famous for creating Mike Hammer, wrote hard boiled, tough, sexy  crime novels. The stories were short, packed a violent punch, and were big sellers, popular with men, but not with the critics or the literary world. Spillane didn’t care. Like Hammer, Spillane was a tough guy too.

What he wrote on the first page of his novel My Gun is Quick caught my attention. It is something we readers and movie goers know, but ignore, pushing it to the back of our minds. But Spillane confronts us with the following:

“You pick up a book and read about things and stuff, getting a vicarious kick from people and events that never happened. You’re doing it now, getting ready to fill in a normal life with the details of someone else’s experiences. Fun isn’t it? You read about life on the outside thinking of how maybe you’d like it to happen to you, or at least how you’d like to watch it. Even the old Romans did it, spiced their life with action when they sat in the coliseum and watched wild animals rip a bunch of humans apart, reveling in the night of blood and terror. They screamed for joy and slapped each other on the back when murderous claws tore into the live flesh of slaves and cheered when the kill was made. Oh, it’s great to watch, all right. Life through a keyhole. But day after day goes by and nothing like that ever happens to you so you think that it’s all in books and not in reality at all and that’s that. Still good reading though. Tomorrow night you’ll find another book, forgetting what was in the last one and live some more in your imagination.”

Spillane is right of course, but what struck me, and it may not have been his intent, is that it seems an answer to his critics, a defiant explanation of why people read and that he is writing for what his readers want, that being action, plenty of it, and a dame of course, nothing serious, just another vicarious experience. Mike Hammer will get involved with some tough guys, get in brawling fights, but we never will. Hammer will help out some blonde, the type we will never meet. But we will live through it in our imagination.

But there is something else going on in the quoted passage. “Life through a keyhole,” is  a punch in our face, like a blow from Hammer, telling us we have a dull life. Therefore we get ready to “fill in a normal life. . .someone else’s experiences. . .you’d like it to happen to you. . . nothing like that happens to you. . .”

Spillane manages to tell us why we read and insult us at the same time. I like that in a tough guy. We need not take it personally. Howard Cosell said, “I tell it like it is.” So does Spillane. I read a book or two of his years ago, so long ago I remember nothing of what I read. But I picked up a used book that contained three of his memorable novels, I the Jury, My Gun is Quick, and Vengeance is mine. So the stories are there for when I need a vicarious thrill. And I will read someone else’s adventure and be happy.

reader

 

 

 

TWO WEEKS UNTIL I . . .

Yesterday, Tuesday the 17th of July, I did it. I submitted, per guidelines of the publisher, my query letter and first two chapters of my next book, Blood Will Have Blood. 

On their website it says if they are interested they will contact you within two weeks. So two weeks until I know if they are interested or not.

I will be happy either way. If they reject-and the odds are they will-I can publish the e-mystery on Amazon where my other books are. But it would be nice if they said “We want to read the final two chapters.” It would mean getting more feedback during the process of getting into ink print, rather than digital print.

I have had rejections from agents and publisher with other submissions, so rejection is not a problem. It happens to all of us. But every time you try, you have hope and now I have hope for two weeks.

But I will not be idle. I am making progress on my next mystery by researching painting styles and what artists may have been doing in the mid 1920’s, writing character profiles, expanding and editing the first chapter, and determining how many characters I should have, not wanting the reader to juggle too many. I also have short stories to write for another collection.

So I will not be staring at the phone waiting for the call, nor checking my inbox to see if they will use email to contact me. On the other hand, though it has been less than 24 hours since I submitted, I think they should have contacted me by now. After all, those were really good chapters. Can’t imagine what the hold up is.

Getting back to reality, I found the publisher through a free subscription to Authors publish Magazine. They provide lots of information on publishers, markets for all types of writing, and free downloads of information. It is a good place to get leads of who is accepting submissions, whether in print or online. I get no kickbacks for telling you about them, no hidden agenda. Just pointing to something that can provide help for  writers.

And now back to working on my next book-whether in ink or digital format.

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A WRITERS CIRCLE OF GUILT

As I write this sentence I feel guilty because I should be working on my next novel, creating character profiles and expanding chapter one.

But I know if I shift to that project I will feel guilty because I should be researching events of spring 1928 that occurred in and around Hood Canal as well as Washington State, and America as well.

But if I shift to researching I will feel guilty as I must edit two chapters before sending to a prospective publisher, rewrite my query letter, and sent my email to them.

But if I do that I will feel guilty as I should do more social media, blogging, tweeting, liking your blogs, uploading new photos to Instagram, going to Pinterest, as well as other undiscovered sites where I can increase my guilt.

But if I to that I will feel guilt for not pulling weeds. If I put on my gardening gloves, grab my clippers and pullers, I will feel guilt before I hit the backyard because I hate pulling weeds.

Sometimes guilt is welcome. See above paragraph. So I put down my tools, pull off my gloves, happy to feel guilt (for once) and start the process all over again. As I write this I am currently in the social media phase. It is going to be in the 90’s today so the weeds can flourish.

That means skipping weed pulling to work on my next novel. But this is Sunday and I only do that Monday thru Friday. So that is out until tomorrow. I could research, but I must send that email to a prospective publisher, so more important to edit the two chapters and query letter.

Or, since it will be in the 90’s I could head to the beach where I can feel guilty about everything. That is a plan. A writer’s life is not easy.

put down the book

 

WINNIE THE POOH’S 6 RULES FOR WRITING MYSTERIES

Full disclosure, the six rules of writing mysteries were set forth by A.A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, but Milne does speak for Winnie, so there.

Milne also wrote a delightful mystery The Red House Mystery, that he dedicated to his father who was a big fan of mysteries.

So the six rules:

  1. The story should be written in good English

I thought that would be a given. After all, if you write bad English, you write a bad novel. So writing in good English should be obvious. I think this rule came from Winnie and Milne used to make Winnie happy.

2.  Love interest is undesirable.

Raymond Chandler also said the same thing. Of course there was Nick and Nora Charles, but being married their love is implicit. They sparred with wit and charm, with Nora being Watson to Nick’s Sherlock, although she was smarter than Watson.

Chandler, by the way, thought little of Milne’s mystery. He also trashed Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and virtually all British mystery novelists in the Golden Age of British mysteries, between the two world wars. Chandler was about realism, especially the writings of Dashiell Hammett. But Chandler missed elements of Red House Mystery, those being social satire, with a stab at comedy of manners. It is very witty with sharp dialogue.

3.  Both detective and villain should be amateurs.

Since the early 1920’s, when Milne was writing these rules, police procedural mysteries  have become a sub genre of their own. There were a few back then, but the genre has grown to the point that this rule does not apply. It is a matter of taste and preference and I prefer the amateur.

4.  Scientific detection is ‘too easy’.

I am not sure what Milne meant with this rule. But obviously nearly a century has passed and science is much bigger now in detecting clues and evidence. British mysteries in the golden age were more about puzzles, and figuring out who did it. Milne may have implied that the amateur detective should rely on getting clues, piecing them together to solve the puzzle.

5.   The reader must know as much as the detective.

This rule should apply to all mysteries of any era. The reader should have access to the information, not only to see if he can solve the murder before the end, but more important, not to trick the reader. You can not add information at the end when the killer is revealed that comes as a surprise to the reader. That is not playing fair and it pisses off the reader who has invested his time in the story.

6. There should be a Watson: it is better for the detective to Watsonize’ than soliloquize.

This is elementary. One could have a detective working alone and he can share his thoughts through the first person, such as “When I saw the gun on the floor it was too far away for it to be suicide, but then why was the gun ten feet away, perhaps because . . .”  In essence the reader could be the Watson. In my mysteries I use Chet and Eveleen, a married couple, who along with their flapper friend Clancy solve mysteries. I do this because I enjoy their interplay.

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This writers struggle to let go of his book

I thought it was just me.

But in The Golden Age of Murder, a book about British mystery writers between the two world wars it was said of Dorothy Sayers that  “. . . as  many authors do, that once she finished a book, she went through a phase of self doubt.”

I don’t know what went through her mind, but consider a writer creates a story, nurtures it, works to improve it, and when finished it is time to let go. Ah, it is the letting go that is the problem.

It is like raising a child and then letting it go out into the world. Your story, your work can be attacked by critics and readers, just as your child can be hated for reasons you can’t fathom. You love your child, you love your book and you hurt a bit when they are attacked. Each book, like each child, is on their own.

Self doubt, fear of letting go is real for many writers, myself included. I finished my latest e-novel months and months ago. I went through extended editing with grammar and punctuation and let it sit, coming to it with fresh eyes for another round of proofreading. How many times should one do this before letting go? I did it 3 or 4 times. Okay, maybe even more.

Now I am faced with creating a cover, or having someone else do it and I am also in the process of coming up with a new title. The original title was Head on a Grave, because the story begins with a woman’s head found on a grave. But I have two collections of horror stories, both with graves on the cover. I though another grave cover would be too much. I wanted more variety in my covers. Of course I could retain the title, but what image do I use on the cover?

I have two images from a town where some of the story takes place and I thought I would use that, but I still wanted another title. So I thought of Murder Bleeds out, or Blood will have Blood (from Macbeth), or Murderous Matters. Or perhaps Shadows in the Dark.

You see where I am going right.

I am still in a delay mode, while I ponder a new title, new cover, still having trouble letting go. It does not stop me from working on short stories or starting a new novel. The writing is easy, the letting go is hard.

But I have let go before, two collections of short stories and three e-novels on Amazon, so I can do it. I will get there. I just have to spank myself and get on with it.

Why Writers Lie and Why It’s Good

There is a reason why a novel or short story is called fiction. According to my American Heritage Dictionary fiction is defined as 1. an imaginative creation or pretense 2. a lie 

Putting the definitions  together we find a novel or short story is a pretentious lie created in one’s imagination. Shame on writers. And I do think you have to be a little pretentious to be a writer. And you certainly have to lie.

So why do writers create lies and why do readers believe the lies. We believe the lie you know. Readers talk  about characters as if they are real. When we read we get involved in what is going on with imagined characters who do not exist. If this happened without a book, that being getting involved with people who are imagined, said people get therapy and drugs for their hallucinations. I had an aunt who stood in front of a mirror in the hallway and talked Finnish to her reflection believing it was a friend of hers. She was ill. My aunt, not the reflection.(though that would make an intriguing story if the reflection was ill, and not my aunt). Anyway, you see the point. We have the book as an excuse for believing in non-existent people.

Writers create stories because they can not help themselves; they are warped.

Readers read for many reasons. One of which is that they like warped writers who create characters that interest them.

But here is the truth of the matter. If the characters seem real, if their actions are believable, if the readers can identify with situations, the reader sees the truth of the matter.

When you read the lies created by great writers human truths are revealed, for if they were not, we readers could not identify with the story. We sympathize, we feel empathy, we get mad, we laugh, we get scared, we sense tension. In short all our human emotions come into play, and in doing so we see the bigger picture, we understand something that can enlighten us, move us, learn more about how we feel, how we think, and it is all done through a lie.

I do not advocate lying in real life. Lots of trouble when you do. Let the writer do the lying, he will tell you the truth.