COOL: The Mysterious definition of cool.

I have always associated the word ‘cool’ with hip slang of the 1950’s and also with jazz. Imagine my surprise when reading Moonstone by Wilkie Collins published in 1868 when I came across the word ‘cool’ used thusly:

“She has been a guest of yours at this house,” I answered. “May I venture to suggest-if nothing was said about me beforehand-that I might see her here?”

“Cool!” said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

In other words, Bruff liked the idea. The usage seems contemporary as in ‘good idea’ not from a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. I had to explore the coolness of this find.

My Dictionary of American Slang has three columns on ‘cool.’ In the 1920’s cool was slang for killing someone, no doubt a gangster term. ‘Cool’ can  be ‘to postpone; to wait for; to be in control of one’s emotions; aloof, unconcerned; thrilling, groovy; satisfying, pleasant; crazy, gone, mad, wicked, far out, among other meanings.’ And yes, the weather can be cool.

None seemed to fit what Bruff meant. So I checked Online Etymology Dictionary and found the following: “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Now that is what fits for Bruff’s comment. Franklin Blake needs to talk with Rachel, a woman who refuses to see him. But it is imperative he talks with her to help unravel a mystery. So when Blake sets forth his idea, Bruff thinks it is an audacious plan. Cool!

Who knew?

Wilkie Collins was hip to use ‘cool,’ the perfect word for the reply. It reminded me to always search for the right word for the right reason in my writing.

Here are my cool e-Books, two fictional mysteries and a collection of short stories.

 

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)Cemetery_Tales_and_other_PhantasmsA-351x597

 

 

 

 

 

Two exercises to tone up your novel writing

In order for your novel to flow smoothly, keeping your readers interest, there are two writing exercises to challenge yourself with to make the writing better.

One is to experiment with short stories, and I include flash fiction as well. Writing a short story  is like going on a diet. It forces you to take the fat out of a story, leaving you with lean writing. In a short story you can not pad with cake and ice cream, meandering through a landscape of unneeded calories as you struggle to build a word count acceptable for a novel. Short stories and flash fiction  mean getting to the climax quick with shorter wordplay, using fewer words, and less is more. It is about thinning your writing, compressing and condensing.

The second exercise is to write poetry. I confess my creative sense and sensibility does not lend itself to this discipline. If I could overcome this obstinate obstacle my novels would be better. But do as I say, not as I do. Challenge yourself. I do have a degree in English Literature and have read and studied poetry, so I have background to fall upon. What poetry does is force you to develop a better understanding of imagery and metaphor. And of course a rhythm.

Imagery are the sensory feelings and thoughts conveyed to the reader through words; so use the right words for the right image. For instance, take the cliché phrase ‘He has as much chance as a snowball in Hell.’ Blah. How about ‘He has as much chance as a Dracula does of getting a suntan.’ Two things here, a cliché has been eliminated and a more colorful imagery has been put in it’s place.

All writing, even a novel is an experiment, but through short stories and poetry, you are preparing yourself for a marathon called a novel and the better prepared you are the better you will do. When you compress your writing from exercising through short stories and mix in appropriate imagery you will be a lean, mean writing machine.

I could have written more, expanding on my theme here, but I am trying to cut down on words.

At Amazon my E-books, fat or thin, depending on your sense and sensibility.

dugout (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

 

Inside a writer’s mind and choices made

My soon to be published e-mystery, like my previous three e-novels, is written in the first person. It was the best choice for my first story, and because I have used the fictional characters in two other books, I was stuck with it. Not that I minded, but it does present problems.

But I thought to open my new book with a short scene in the 3rd person to set the stage, then revert to 1st person. The following is the opening:

Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.

Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off.

He had thought about stealing a boat at Gig Harbor or there about, but decided to take the long way, driving to Shelton, then up toward Bremerton, before turning right and heading south through Key Peninsula until he reached Home. Many people honed in on Home, a beacon to the wayward thinkers of the world, the originators, the oddballs, the free thinkers, the loonies, and sometimes, a hideout for those on the run. Otis was running.

Then Chet Koski, the main character, and his wife Eveleen find a head on a grave.

But writers like to tinker and though I liked the opening, I decided to take a paragraph from later in the story and begin the novel using it. The following, with some editing is how it began. I should mention we begin in the middle of a conversation. More about that later.

“Like I said, writers are cheap and replaceable, but you’re welcome. My secretary said something about a murder down there. You kill anyone? Or maybe a suspect, as neither would surprise me.”

“Neither at the moment. But I have a great story to make a great script.”

“So how does the script start?” said Zukor.

“I start with a man putting a head on a grave. . .”

“Can you read the beginning to me?”

“Yes. This is how it starts. Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.” I heard a loud yawn coming from the phone, but I continued. “Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off…”

“Okay, stop. What the hell are you doing, writing a novel or a script? I get the first part, the guy putting the head on a grave, there’s blood, and he’s trying to wash it off. Good imagery, but what’s the point of this ‘life abused body?’ ”

“He is a laborer, works outdoors, not a common criminal. He needs to look a certain way.”

“Fine. But why put in the part about ‘nothing he could do about the blood?’ We just need to see what is going on, that is what the audience wants. Don’t put in anything to make the director think about anything. Just give action and dialogue.”

“Right, I was just thinking out loud.”

“Leave thinking to philosophers. You write movies; you’re not a writer. Correct? No need to answer. You got till the end of the month, take notes, it might make a movie, you never know. Have a happy Thanksgiving and see you when you get back. You don’t need to stay any longer, so be here 1st of December. You can write in your office here on the lot you know. I have things to do and you’re wasting my time. Bye.”

The point was to incorporate the original 3rd person opening into a conversation between Chet and Paramount head, Adolph Zukor. I liked it. The problem was now with the conversation that took place in the middle of the story now gone, subsequent events did not work.

And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the original opening. So it went back in. I had saved the original opening (just in case), so I did a cut and paste over the phone conversation opening. I had done a cut and paste of the phone conversation, but because I did some changes to the conversation for the new opening, I had to rewrite a bit of the conversation when I reinserted it where it belongs.

I mention this because writers face more challenges than what characters say, grammar, proofreading, descriptions, punctuation, creating characters, scenes, and so on.

I like the original 3rd person opening, then changing to 1st person. It serves as a brief prologue and I hope gets the reader into the story. At one time book editors would say never do that, but so many writers wrote novels with different points of view, now only fuddy-duddies care.

After we learn about Otis and the blood, his dinged up Ford, I now have the following which was of course the original.

The last thing I expected on vacation was to find a bloody head resting on a grave. Actually it would not have been the last thing expected as I never would have expected it in the first place.

My wife Eveleen and I had taken a train from Los Angeles to Centralia, Washington, to visit my cousin Alma whose car we borrowed to drive around and visit other relatives while she was working at Farmers and Merchants Bank. We had been in town a couple of days and on our third day, after visiting two cousins, we drove around exploring the countryside and in returning got lost and ran out of gas. Getting gas however, was not the immediate concern. More important was my bladder that was near bursting. The cemetery was nearby.

While I found a spot away from the graves Eveleen was idly walking among the dead. When I finished I saw her standing still, so still I thought she must have walked upon a rattler, but this is Washington, they only have friendly garter snakes, at least on this side of the Cascades.

When I reached her she looked up and I looked down. There on the top of Hugh Pemberton’s grave, propped up against his headstone was the head of a woman, the neck bloodied, but otherwise no pool of blood anywhere.

I hope you enjoyed my reflections on opening a novel. Choices, choices, choices.

Here are two e-books with the same fictional amateur detectives.

They are on Amazon.

 

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

John Calvin and His Book that Bombed

John Calvin (1509-1564) is best known as a religious reformer. He, like Luther and many others, broke from the Catholic Church when the Church become too corrupted with rampant scandals.

But I am not religious and I am here to talk about his first book,  Commentary on Lucius Anneas Seneca’s Two Books on Clemency, and not religious historyHe was 23 at the time and like any scholar with ambition eager to make his name known. He had to pay for the publication himself and like any author sat back to see what happened.

Nothing happened. As in zero book sales. Now you might look at the title and wonder why anyone would buy the book in the first place. But it was an age of ideas and change and literate people and other scholars relished argument, debate, and ideas. Except the Inquisition party-poopers of course. Besides there was no Stephen King books. Fiction? What was that?

Timing is everything and Calvin’s timing was off. His book was not to condemn the catholic Church, but an inoffensive argument, not a bad one to be sure, but not one the public was eager for. They had been, but now were very anti-pope and wanted an attack not something conciliatory and mild.

I mention this because other works of Calvin did sell and he made quite a name for himself with books, sermons, and letters. So if you write and self-publish, or write e-Books for the digital age, or even are a first time published writer, do not get discouraged if the book does not sell.

There are a few million book titles on Amazon. And with considerable competition growing daily it is easy to get the blues, become despondent and eat a freezer of ice cream and a semi of maple-leaf crème cookies. Yum!

Loonies in Hollywood sells better than my other books and it is my second e-Book. So write your second book, then your third. The future is bleak only when you give up.

Here are my five books at Amazon

dugout (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

How To Write a Novel in 60 days + 24

Not only can you write a novel in 60 days, but it only takes a few hours a day. And that leaves you more time for watching cute animal and baby videos.

I am about to give you a formula that you can use to write a novel in 60 days, plus an extra 24. The extra days I will explain later. This formula is predicated on math, but  the formula is something you can play with, adjust, and toy with as your mileage will vary.

But it does give you a road to discipline yourself, something a writer needs. Especially me.

It works like this. An internet search will tell you a novel is anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words. It is not a law, there are exceptions, we are using this as a guideline. Let us use 90,000. It is not difficult to write 1,5000 words a day. Of late that has taken me three to four hours, depending on what little roadblocks I encounter. If you write 1,500 words a day it takes 60 days to reach 90,000. Feel free to do the math, that was never by strong suit, but the calculator has told me 60 is the answer.

See how easy that was. For many who have not tried writing a novel because it seems overwhelming, the math says it is doable in 60 days.

So what are the extra 24 days for? After each five days you take two days to review your previous 7,500 words, using this time to edit, correcting grammar and spelling, and doing so in painstaking, letter by letter, period by period if necessary, manner. Do that for the first day and the second day make notes of how you want to the story to move forward and of what you want your characters to do next.

I pause here to remind that there are two approaches to writing fiction. One is to map out the story ahead of time with outlines and everything necessary to where you only have to fill in the details. I can’t do that, too much work. I prefer, like Ray Bradbury, Elmore Leonard, and many others, to make it up as I go, trusting the characters to let you know what happens next. So that is what I do the second day. Make notes for the next few chapters. And I run with it for the next five days.

So after sixty days of writing and two days after each set of five days you have written a novel, have done the editing and rewrites and you breath a sigh of relief, congratulate yourself, and eat a cookie. Take six days for your vacation to the Bahamas and you have 90 days. Since a year is over 360 days, you can actually write four novels a year with 24 days in the Bahamas. You are prolific. You are as crazy about writing as Stephen King. Scary isn’t it.

As I said, it is a formula, a place for you to start and tinker with. Good luck.

I wrote the following e-novels before I figured the math. They are found at Amazon here.

dugout (1)coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712

 

 

What do Kafka and Virginia Woolf owe their fame to

Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf both had emotional problems, but they had more in common than mental issues. Both are literary icons today, but neither were much regarded in their time. So how did they go from obscurity to masters of storytelling?

Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and though his short stories were published in magazines beginning in 1909, he did not set the literary world on fire. He died at the age of forty to tuberculosis. Before he died he told his best friend Max Brod to burn all his writings; to not even read the unpublished stories, just burn them.

Had Brod followed Kafka’s wishes we would never have heard of him. Brod kept the writings and it was not until the 1930’s, years after Kafka’s death in 1924 that his works were translated from German, and not until the 1940’s when the French existentialists, primarily Albert Camus and Jena-Paul Sartre discovered Kafka and extolled his works.

It was a chain of events over decades for Kafka to be found, to have his works praised, to have is work admired, respected. He died not knowing his legacy to literature.

Virginia Woolf, born one year before Kafka, in Kensington, Middlesex, England, died at age 59 from suicide in 1941.

At the age of thirty She married Leonard Woolf in a marriage of convenience. They were part of the famed liberal Bloomsbury Group of artists and intellectuals. The Woolf’s published Virginia’s book with their own Hogarth Press. (Perhaps all writers should own their own little publishing company). She only sold a few hundred of her books before her death. Had they not had that press, she may not have been published.

But the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s brought fame to Virginia as women saw in Woolf’s books much fuel for their fire, due in large part to Woolf’s 1929 book A Room of One’s Own. The awakening feminist movement reawakened the novels of Virginia Woolf, decades after death, raising her from obscurity to world wide fame.

There are other writers who have gone from obscurity to literary prominence and honor. The message is just write, that is a writers job. Many popular writers of their time have been forgotten. The only things you can control is you keyboard and your imagination. Whatever happens, happens. It would be nice to have a friend like Max Brod though. Thanks Max.

My e-books, a couple in obscurity despite good reviews found on Amazon

dugout (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

Was Tristram Shandy, 1723, the 1st post modern novel

Post modern literature,  according to literary scholars,  came about following World War II. In the above link many examples are listed, and like anyone with a list, not all will be agreeable to everyone. Some of the titles stretch the concept.

Of course post-modernism is often difficult to categorize, and the link I provided in above paragraph doesn’t get to the heart of it.

Much of post modern literature revolves around the author, the narrative, and nature of fiction. It is experimental in nature, it looks inward, is playful, chiding the author, the story, and the reader. Think Donald Barthelme, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon, just to name three of many.

My favorite novel is The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, proprietor. It is about  J. Henry Waugh who works for a small firm of accountants and bookkeepers. He likes B-girls and delicatessens and loves playing his creation-a baseball game played with dice. He has created teams, players, and results, not only of plays, but of histories for all his players. The game is as elaborate as any novel. As we get deeper into the story the more the players take center stage and J. Henry Waugh slowly disappears from the story until all that is left are the characters Waugh created who now have a life of there own.

Robert Coover is the author of the novel, but Waugh is the creator of the game-of course Coover is behind it all- and Waugh disappears, his (Coover or Waugh’s or both)characters are important, they are of interest, not the author. This is one of the playful non-narrative narratives of post modernism.

What is the nature of fiction? Of the author? Post modern writers play with these ideas through satire, humor, digressions, and all sorts of tricks.

But the nine volume The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne was written between 1759-1767 was not written post World War II, but two centuries before anyone heard of post modernism. Yet Sterne’s Shandy is bawdy, satirical, and has all the signs of post modernism. Shandy sets out to tell his biography, but his stories go off in so many tangents, he never gets around to his biography. Midway through his third volume he seems apologetic for not having gotten past the first day of his life. And now he realizes a year after starting this biography that he has 364 more days of his life to cover. He will never catch up.

The post modernist traits to Stern’s epic indicates to me the old Peter Allen song, Everything Old is New Again. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

I don’t belive my e-novels at Amazon are post modern, perhaps not even modern, but there might, perhaps could be, but probably not be . . . well who likes categories and pigeon holes anyway.

dugout (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

 

 

 

What Writers Should Do Second, Not First

When writing a story writers can fall into a trap, one based on what they have read or seen in movies, a trap they  must escape. Let me explain.

A short story I wrote, Flowers for Martha Clemens, was based on something I saw, then I ran away with it into the twilight zone. I saw an old man, perhaps mid 70’s, carrying a shovel  in a cemetery. He walked with purpose among the graves, his clothes not those of a cemetery worker. I stopped to watch the old man, but then thought if I saw what he was going to do it might make sense and I would forget the whole incident. Better to turn away, not see what he was going to do and make up my own story.

The first thought of a writer would be obvious. The old man is going to dig up a grave. We have seen and read about grave robbers, and though the idea of a 70 year old grave robber has a bit of interest, I though it better to ignore my first instinct. Instead of robbing a grave he would dig up the grave for another reason, one more macabre. One reviewer said she liked the story “for the hauntingly melancholy vibe that sucks you into the story.”

Because of her comment I knew I made the right choice, one not based on the obvious, but one going in a new direction. That is why writers need to make unusual choices and not trust your first instinct. Better to play around with choices, bouncing things around in your mind, coming up with a few to choose from is even better.

Creativity is found in challenging your mind, writing outside the page, creating a sense of play, and getting a bit weird if need be. Creativity is challenging yourself to make new things. Writing need not be stolid, it should be fun.

How a Candy Bar Changed My Life

It happened when I was four years old. A seminal moment I will never forget for even at four I realized something, and what I realized changed my life.

My aunt was driving me someplace, the where and why forgotten. I remember she stopped at a drugstore and went inside to purchase something. She came back out and handed me a candy bar.

I was curious as to what the candy bar was called. I was a year away from learning how to read, so I needed some help.

“What is the name of this candy bar?” I said.

“You know,” she answered.

“Now I don’t.”

“You know,” she said a second time.

Being four and being a boy, I was subject at times to a temper tantrum. I was on the verge of one by saying with strong emphasis, “No I don’t know. I CAN’T READ!”

I stared at the still unwrapped candy. It was long, had a silver wrapper and some letters on it. I kept looking down at it while my aunt pointed to the first letter. She said, “This is the letter U and this is the letter N and this is a O. It says U-No.”

“OH!”

I realized the power of letters. I realized the power of words. I learned the power of being able to read. I felt I was on the outside, that I was at a disadvantage.

This point was driven home when I learned how to read. Beginning with the Dick and Jane readers, progressing to the Hardy Boys, moving on to Jules Verne, I kept reading because the power of words, what they meant, what they symbolized was like having a super power.

I still read. I read fiction, non-fiction, e-Books, magazines, newspapers. And candy bar wrappers. I read because knowledge is power, but knowledge is gained from reading and discerning, analyzing, and thinking about what I read. And it is the letters, the words, that convey all that you need. U-No what I mean.

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

Reading also led me to writing as these e-Books on Amazon attest.

dugout (1)

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

 

Dangers of writing contests

I once read where people submitting their story to writing contests closer to the deadline had a better chance of winning. I don’t know if it is true, but I always put off until the near last minute.

But there is a danger to waiting.

I wrote a story that I was going to enter in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) unpublished contest. The writing was easy enough, as was the editing and punctuation checking. In case of course, it was easy because I did not catch all the mistakes. Writers tend to have a blind eye. We can’t see the comma through the period.

The main thing, however, in entering a contest is not the writing, but following all the directions. A self addressed stamped envelope (2 stamps) to receive two critiques whether you win or lose. And make sure you place the category number on the outside of the main envelope to the contest address.

There are requirements that must be stringently adhered too like double spacing, the margins, the font, what needs to be in the upper left corner of every page, namely the title, the category, the page number.

It is fun if you are obsessive compulsion going over everything a dozen or so times. Every day. But even after everything seems set, the unexpected happens. I have a computer that must be mad at the printer, for even though they came out of the same box from the same  manufacturer they frequently have trouble talking with each other.

When I click print-and this happens often-it says printer error. I try to delete in the queue, and though it says deleting, it will stay that way for eternity and never delete and that can prevent me from printing anything in the future. Sometimes turning off computer and starting it later it will automatically print. That is the usual modus operandi.

Not this time. Day after day nothing happened. Finally five days from deadline I did a troubleshoot. I have tried this in the past without any solution as troubleshoot and computer do not speak with each other either. But this time they were on friendly terms and my entry form printed.

Whew!

As I write this it is three days to deadline. The only thing left to do is one final check of the story, once again checking grammar, punctuation, and those fun things. Today it will be submitted online. Although I could do it tomorrow. I still have one day, unless of course my computer fails to talk with me tomorrow.

I better get to work. Tomorrow is to late.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt   

I have two collections of twilight zone, paranormal, bump in the night stories you may enjoy. The e-books are found here.

Or you can read something about them as well as a review or two by clicking on the title at top of blog.