What Should Writers Steal?

I was sitting at a desk doing volunteer work for an organization I belong to, and sitting not far away were a group of six or seven middle age-or older-women at a long table holding a monthly meeting. I could not hear anything specific in their discussion, but since they were in my direct line of vision and since they were preoccupied with whatever they were discussing I was an unobtrusive observer.

And I could spy. And I could steal without being noticed.

One of the women had a hairstyle best described as worn-out Brillo pad. She chewed gum with intense fierceness, unlike a cow who enjoys her cud with gourmet bliss. At one point the woman got up and left the building, coming back about six minutes later. I believe she had gone out for a cigarette; she had that ‘air’ about her. And she had, what I assumed, was fresh cud-excuse me-gum in her mouth. She went back to her seat and resumed her chew. A short while later a man and woman came in.

The man wore a bright knit cap, knitted with the colors of the rainbow, plus colors that existed only on the cap, in a horizontal pattern that encircled his head. The man bent over to look in a display case. I noticed a perfect circle a few inches in diameter cut out of the top of the cap. He was bald-at least in that spot. I imagined that if he wore the cap in summer, he might have a cute little tan spot at the top of his head. I didn’t ask him about the strange circle at the top of the cap for I didn’t want to break my observation. A spy can’t make contact with his quarry. You understand right?

The point is not why he had cutout that small circle in his knit cap, nor is the point about what the woman was doing with her gum, but what you can steal from around you. What you can use in describing characters in your story.

When you observe people, what they wear, how they walk, anything that stands out, you make a mental note, or like me, write it down in my small pocket notebook-when nobody you are observing can see you of course. You are the spy, you are the thief, and you must be discreet.

Character traits, odd little tics and quirks, make your characters more believable and identifiable to your readers. When your reader sees the character in their minds they are more involved with your story.

My observations of people I have stolen from and transformed into fictional characters can be found in my e-Books on Amazon. The descriptions of the books can be found in my header.

 

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What should a writer pretend to be when writing dialogue?

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.

In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.

The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have  a setting. And now they must talk.

When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character , a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.

You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you chose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.

If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One will is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.

So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.

You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse, three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.

When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.

The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.

But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.

Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading.

The Disappearance-a paranormal short story to take your mind into a new dimension

My short story was published in Mason County Writes, a yearly journal of stories, poems, and drawings from regional writers.

 

Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.

As her right hand brushed lint off her cream colored skirt a few pigeons landed in front of her feet. “No food birdies, so off with you.” They stayed; looking at her, with what she thought was certain insolence. Stupid birds. She kicked out her foot and they hopped across the cobblestones. She looked at her watch. Gordon was ten minutes late. What he wanted to meet about he did not say. She had tried to get an interview with him in the past, but even before the disappearance of Annalise, he gave interviews as often as vampires got suntans. Was getting a confession out of the question? It would certainly enhance her career and reputation. Not much of a risk she told herself. No body, no crime scene, nothing to worry about. But what did he want from her?

Gordon was fifteen minutes late. Twenty minutes late. Looking down the cobblestone paths, Mayda saw elderly people out for a stroll, kids playing. She said out loud, not necessarily for the pigeons benefit, “I have better things to do on this beautiful July day than be entertainment for you silly creatures.”

But she stayed.

While debating whether to leave or throw a shoe at the pigeons, Mayda saw Gordon hurriedly coming down the path.

“My deepest apologies,” he said. “I could offer some excuse, but I have none that would justify my lateness, none that would appease you I mean. Late start to the day, things just went wrong. But thank you for waiting for I do need to talk with you, and need your help actually.”

“Do you have something to get off your chest, something about your wife, or just want to talk writing? A confession would be preferred of course.”

“Neither. That is, I mean, it does concern my wife, not her disappearance, but her reappearance at our summer home, the one in the country.”

“What do you mean? Is she back?”

“Well that is what I want to talk with you about. She is there, at the house, but also, not there. It is hard to explain, but . . .”

“Oh for God’s sake, make some sense. What are you talking about?”

“This will sound like I am nuts of course. Believe me, I have considered it. I have seen her in the house more than once, in fact many times over the years, but I am unable to talk with her. Look, I could say she is a ghost, but I do not believe in that nonsense. Besides she is not some shadow, nothing ephemeral, no wisp of a smoky thing, or whatever ghosts are supposed to look like . . .”

“So she is at the house, but she is not a ghost, though she could be, as you seem unsure about what you are seeing . . . well you’re a writer, you paint a picture with words, so relax and get into your writer’s mind.”

“Well let me get to the point. I want you to accompany me to the house, the sooner the better before I change my mind. Maybe I am nuts, but I want somebody to see what I am seeing, to confirm everything, perhaps to give an answer. Would you come to the house? Stay there for a few days, a week, or I don’t know, just to give it a chance.”

“Why not call those ghostbuster people? They can document it, get it on TV you know. Then the world can see Annalise.”

“I sense you are joking, but I am not. You see I don’t think she is dead, I don’t believe in ghosts. It must be something else. I can see her as clear as I see you, but when she sees me I can’t hear a word, a look of panic on her face. Then again I must question my sanity. I need a respected journalist, a skeptic, and you have a no nonsense reputation, somebody who the public, and of course the police, will believe if you see what I see.”

“Thank you for the compliment. I remain dubious, but that is what you want isn’t it? On the other hand, I did write, and I make no apologies, a rather brutal piece about you and your wife, so I have concerns for why you chose me to be a witness.”

“Because if I asked a good friend, or my agent, or my attorney, people like that, then credibility of the witness would be questioned. But if you verify what I have seen, that she is alive, the public and the authorities are better inclined to believe you.”

“Why not bring in a large audience?”

“Because,” said Gordon, “I am afraid that if a large group was there and did not see, anything, then word spreads so fast that I will look ludicrous and any subsequent attempts would be . . . well it just wouldn.t work. You are one person, not much damage done, even if you write one more negative story. I think you are my best shot.”

Mayda bent over, her head towards her lap, she brushed back her short dark hair with her hands. Sitting back and looking at Gordon, his gray hair impeccably combed, she said, “let’s go.”

 

Nearly 800 country acres of rolling hills and ponds is where Gordon and Annalise purchased a house, bought because Gordon professed he liked the country feel of the area, was tired of the noise and distraction of big city life; rich green lawn preferred to gray hard pavement, birds chirping and tweeting preferred to horns honking, deer and an occasional raccoon or two preferred to angry, hostile people. Three months later his wife Annalise disappeared.

The house sat in front of a large wooded area, the woods enveloping the house on three sides. In front of the house a circular paved driveway winds through a deep rich green manicured lawn.

As Gordon drove his British grey Bentley towards the house, Mayda, seeing the house for the first time, did not think the house was imposing in any manner whatsoever. Influenced by Gordon’s ‘ghost story’ she expected something ominous. Both relieved and disappointed she resolved not to make any judgement the rest of the stay. Watch, listen, and see what happens.

It would be a great story if indeed she saw Annalise. And if she didn’t she would still file a story, one in which people would think Gordon had emotional issues. Of course, she thought, he might be setting up some kind of insanity defense.

Entering the door was a long entryway deep into the house with stairs to the upper floor on the right. To the left was the living room with dark red carpet and floor to ceiling windows.

The entire house was well kept, the furnishings giving the appearance of an Architectural Digest photo spread. The difference is that some of the furniture had protective covering for Gordon spent most of his time in New York. Mayda thought the house warm, friendly and inviting.

“How often do you return here Gordon?”

“Usually on our wedding anniversary, her birthday, and sometimes just to come back.”

“But not on the date of her disappearance?”

“No. That is not a day to celebrate. But I have been coming back more often, usually when I finish a book. I can write here, but I am often distracted. I see things, things I hope you will see.”

“Noises, do you hear noises?”

“There are always noises, even alone in a big house. Wood creaks depending on heat or cold. I paid no attention, not much anyway, of noises, until Annalise disappeared. Since then when I hear noises, they seem louder, more menacing, more imposing. Is it my imagination? I don’t know.”

“Which happened first? You saw her, and then noises, or the reverse, noises and then you saw her?”

“Noises.”

Gordon then took Mayda to her room on the second floor, far left from the top of the stairs, a library and bathroom between her room and Gordon’s. Wooden floors didn’t creak when Mayda walked heavily on them as a test. Her mind eased, she smiled. Bright yellow wallpaper gave the room a cheerful look, the window facing the front of the house brought in lots of light.

“When you see Annalise, Gordon, do you see her downstairs or up here, near or in your bedroom?”

“The first time I saw her was in our bedroom down the hall. I had fallen asleep while reading, so the table lamp was on. I don’t know why, but I felt something wrong, even though I was asleep, and that I always found odd, but when I woke up she was standing at the foot of my bed. I thought I was seeing things of course. But she was as real to me then as you are to me now. As I said in the park, no specter, no shadows, nothing like what a ghost is supposed to look like. All rubbish I say. Anyway her mouth moved as if she was talking, but I heard nothing. She then seemed panicked and looked like she was almost yelling. She looked frightened and here is the odd thing, she was pounding the air is if it were a door. Now imagine me standing here and pounding the air. If I were pounding my arms they would not always stop in the same place, but hers hands did. In fact it looked like her fist had flattened out as if she was pounding on glass.
Of course there was no glass. Then she walked hurriedly away towards our walk-in closet, but before she could get inside she vanished into air.”

“I confess I have never heard of anything like that. I don’t know what to make of it. What about other sightings. Does she always pound the air with her fists?”

“Would you like to see the room Annalise and I shared?”

“Of course, but about my question?”

“No, not always. Sometimes I see her just walking into our room like normal. She stops when she sees me, with a resigned, forlorn look on her face. She stands there, her arms hanging down, looking beaten, not physically, like she had been hit or anything, but beaten by something, a hopeless, sad look, her shoulders drooping down.”

“And naturally you have tried talking to her.”

“Every time, except the first time. I was too stunned to say anything. I could not believe what I was seeing. But since then, yes, always. Once I got frustrated and said ‘where are you?’ Knowing that she was standing in front of me I felt silly saying that, but it was simply frustration. No matter what I say, she shakes her head, or cries, or both. Once she screamed with a wide open mouth and I heard nothing. Nothing; how can that be? She showed all the physical signs of a scream. Mouth wide open, eyes large and nearly bulging out of their sockets, neck stiff with those tendons on the sides of the neck stretched tight. Other times she walks into the room, sees me, shrugs her shoulders, and walks out.”

“Does this only happen at night?”

“No, it can be morning, afternoon, evening, middle of the night. Sometimes I can be outside the house and I see her looking out through a window. She evened waved at me from the window and I waved back, though I felt silly doing so. After I waved she shook her head slightly and walked away.”

“You said the first time she vanished into air. Does that always happen?”

“It can, but those times when she walks out of the room, I follow and though she is not there I can’t say for certain that she vanished. A couple of times I followed her down the stairs and she walked into the kitchen, but when I walked in she was gone.”

“If that is the case, I could see her anytime. So I had better be alert for anything.”

Gordon looked at her without emotion, his eyes dark and empty. After an awkward moment she said, “What’s for dinner?”

 

Over the next five days Mayda read two novels, one by Peter Ackroyd about a mystery surrounding Thomas Chatterton and one by Paul Auster set in Brooklyn; called her office twice; wandered around the house until she had memorized every room, corner, floor, ceiling, and piece of furniture; left the house to explore the garden and was startled by either a large dog or maybea wolf, she couldn’t tell which. She stayed indoors after that. Gordon spent long hours in his study which he kept locked.

At breakfast the next morning Mayda asked Gordon if previously there had been long stretches of time where nothing happened.

“Depends on what you consider long stretches. There was always a sighting, a noise, something every week.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m bored and I do not plan on waiting much longer. This is wasting my time and in case you haven’t noticed there is a lot going on in the world and as a journalist making my living covering news and people, I must get back to work. I can’t sit around waiting for a ghost to show up. Instead of me trying to verify whatever you saw, how about an interview. That is something you can do for me since we are both here. You owe me that for the time I have been here.”

“As I said, I don’t believe she is a ghost.”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Gordon put down his fork, swallowed his bite of pancakes and maple syrup, took a sip of orange juice, and said, “There are more things on heaven and earth . . .”

“Oh wonderful. You’re quoting old Will. Is his ghost here too?”

“No, he haunts the Globe.”

“Then spill it. What should I know that you’re not telling?”

“I would rather show you when I see it,” said Gordon. “It will be easier to explain. If I am correct and I have no idea if I am even close to understanding, but it will be harder to believe than a ghost. If we see it together, you will perhaps understand.”

“So you have seen something other than a ghost, something that makes you believe in something else entirely, is that it? And of course it has something to do with Annalise.”

“Of course.”

“I have to say I am disappointed by this shutting me out of whatever you think might be going on. So if something does not happen soon, I will call a taxi and head back to the real world.”

 

The next day Mayda was packing before breakfast. Before calling for the taxi she thought to ask if Gordon would take her back instead. She walked to his study and knocked, got no answer, opened the door, called his name, heard nothing, then walked into his bedroom. It was empty. She walked through the rooms on the ground floor and saw nothing out of
the ordinary. The car was still in the driveway. Mayda went outside, walked throughout the large yard and garden. There was no Gordon.

At least the day was bright and cheerful she thought. But concern began to fog her mind, her spirit incongruous to the weather. Mayda walked back in the house and starting with the ground floor, checked every room, every closet, everything she could see that could hide somebody, and she thought ‘the somebody’ in question would be dead. Her mind even thought Annalise might be found, her body rotting. But how could that be. There would be a smell. Mayda told herself to stop having these stupid thoughts. Don’t panic. Remain calm.

She reached the second floor, checked everything, even looking at the ceiling in every room. She remembered a jewel thief who said ‘always hide things in plain sight because the police will never look there.’ Once the police came to his home looking for stolen jewelry, but they never found it. They did not look at the chandelier in the ceiling. It was in plain sight.

She walked down stairs and thought she heard a noise, one she could not identify. She stopped on the stairs and listened. It was quiet. Was her mind playing tricks? No. She heard it again. It was soft, not of voices, not anything she could compare it to. Slowly she walked down the steps until, she reached the ground floor.

Mayda heard the sound more clearly. It was a blend of a kind of a hum, a sort of whistle, and a type of whisper; all in tune with each other. The sound was all around, not coming from any direction. She moved away from the stairs, and moved to the left and looked down the hallway.

And then she saw it.

It was a vertical line in the air, long, not straight, but shimmering and wavy. It appeared to radiate waves outward across the hall on either side, the visible shimmering waves bouncing off the walls.

Her first instinct was to run. But she was frozen in wonder.

She approached the vertical ripple cautiously; afraid any sudden movement would make it disappear. She stood in front of it with awe and fear. It was inches away.

Mayda tentatively put her right hand up to the ripple and put her hand slowly into it. Her hand disappeared and she quickly pulled it back. She looked at her hand and it was normal, no sign of anything on it at all.

She bent down slightly and stuck her head inside. She screamed, but heard no sound.

 

After taking a long sip of a gin and tonic, her hands trembling, her heart still pounding, her mind still in disbelief, Mayda leaned back in the comfy chair in the living room of the house in the beautiful countryside. She knew what she saw, but decided not to tell anyone. Who would believe her? She saw what she saw and she was not sure she believed what she saw. She started to smile, knowing in time, a long time, she would not believe it; it would be some dream she had.

But for the moment she did believe. Believe what is the question. When she stuck her head in the ripple she saw a man and woman embracing each other. Annalise and Gordon. They turned to her, perhaps after she screamed, or thought she screamed. Gordon smiled. Then he took a deep bow and laughed. At least it looked like laughter. Gordon and Annalise walked away, not down the hallway, because they were not in the hallway. In fact they were in a room, one she had never seen before. Everything in the room, which see saw only briefly, was old, like an antique store, only everything looked new.

Mayda never asked herself if she was going to write about this. She had a career. Then she realized that Gordon having disappeared like Annalise would open up a new investigation. Police would ask her when she saw Gordon last. If she called a taxi, then the driver would say he picked up a woman at the house. He would give a solid description. If she drove Gordon’s car, provided she found the keys, where would she leave it. Would someone see her?

Mayda wondered if Gordon knew this beforehand. Did he know if he could disappear into another time with Annalise with me as a witness that . . .

She got up and went to the hallway. The ripple was gone. There was no escape. But it might come back. Mayda waited.

 

I hope you enjoyed the story. More weirdness can be found in 2 e-book collections of short stories at Amazon.

 

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I raise the curtain behind a writers madness in writing a sentence

Writing is rewriting. The following is based on a short story I am starting. I thought it might be fun and instructional to show what goes through a writers mind as he/she tries to get a sentence and paragraph.  So let’s peek into my madness.

 

THEY COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH SOME COULD GET IN.

I know who ‘they’ are, the reader doesn’t. ‘They’ could be humans, or ‘they’ could be animals. The sentence needs clarity.

THE PEOPLE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE DOOR COULD GET IN.

More specific, yet dull.

A CODE ON THE DOOR WAS NEEDED TO GET IN. THREE NUMBERS TO PUSH, THEN A CLICK WAS HEARD, THEN ONE PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN, LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW TO MAKE SURE SOMEONE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, OR RATHER SHOULDN’T GET OUT.

Better, but awkward, does not say how the code is used. Does someone say “Alexa, please open door” or say three numbers, or are buttons pushed on a security pad. Also grammar is bad.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE CARPETED HALLWAY, THE WALLS HUNG WITH INOFFENSIVE CHEERFUL POSTERS LEADING TO THE DOOR.

Problem is the walls are not hung, the posters (framed-should have used framed posters) are hung, and that is not what leads to the door.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE INSTITUTIONAL CARPETED HALLWAY TOWARDS A THICK METAL DOOR WHICH HAD A REINFORCED WINDOW. FEW USED THIS HALLWAY, ONLY VISITORS AND STAFF AND THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE STAFF INSIDE THAN VISTORS. NEXT TO THE DOOR WAS A SECURITY PAD. THE MAN PUSHED THREE BUTTONS ON THE PAD, HEARD THE CLICK OF THE DOOR, BUT BEFORE PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, THE MAN BRIEFLY PAUSED TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOW IN THE DOOR TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE TO OPEN. THERE WERE PEOPLE WAITING TO GET OUT AND THEY MUST REMAIN. IT WAS CLEAR.

I like this. I used institutional carpeted to give the reader a hint of the type of building. I used ‘few used this hallway’ to make the reader wonder why (part of the hook if you will). And for the same reason wrote ‘more staff than visitors’ so that the reader will wonder what kind of place has more staff than visitors along with ‘few used this hallway.” The hallway and the building I hope arouse the reader’s curiosity. Then we have some action the man ‘pushed,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘paused.’ And finish with people inside must remain. And why.

If your first reaction is this is a jail, it is not. My intent is to describe what is inside the door through the actions or inactions of the people inside, doing so without telling you what the building is, but by describing what is going on it will become clear to the reader. Always better to show, not tell. I am not sure I am done with the opening paragraph. But it is time to move on to the second, to move forward, then go through it all over again.

 
The point for writers is to just write a simple sentence no matter how bad it looks, and then expand. Just starting gets the creative juices going. It may be slow for a bit, but then it picks up and you get on a roll. And as every writer knows, that is when magic happens.

My e-books are found on Amazon.

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THE DAY I MET A 1911 BASEBALL STAR

You know you are getting old when you can tell people you met a pitching star whose rookie season was 1911. That was over a century ago.

 
I’m not a time traveler, I did not meet him in 1911; but at my age when reflecting on early parts of my life it sometimes seems I am traveling through time. The present is a totally different world from the late 1950’s.

 
I was probably in grade school. My father had been a pitcher in his youth, playing in an industrial league where I grew up. He gave that up when he decided to marry and have a family.

 
One of the umpires in the industrial league was a former major league pitcher who had an eatery in downtown Hoquiam, Washington, where I grew up. He told my dad-this is dad’s story- that this umpire told him he was good enough to pitch in the Pacific Coast League.

 
Who Knows?

 
But my dad took me to the eatery and introduced me to Vean Gregg, a pitcher who had a Hall of Fame start to his career until his arm went bad. In his rookie year of 1911 with the Cleveland Indians he was 23-7 with a league leading 1.80 ERA. Had there been a Rookie of the Year award he would have won.

 
The next two years he was 20-13 both seasons with ERA’s of 2.59 and 2.54. Then arm woes. He was 9-3 in 1914 before being traded to the Red Sox where he went 4-4. He was with Boston through 1916, then the Philadelphia A’s in 1918 and a final fling with Washington in 1925. His career record was 92-63 with a 2.70 ERA.

 
I remember sitting on a lunch counter stool and looking at Gregg as my father introduced me. I recall Gregg had nice smile and I have this image of the three of us going to a back room where I got to see some memorabilia.

 
He played on the same team as Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the great hitters of the game. He was also a teammate of Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. Gregg also played with the only player to be killed by a pitched ball, Ray Chapman.

 
And oh, yes, when he was traded to Boston he was on the same staff with a 19 year old pitcher named Babe Ruth. I wish I could recall every word of the conversation. Did I ask him what it was like to pitch to Ty Cobb? I remember images, not the words of the conversation. Knowing what I now know of baseball history I wish I could have that conversation again.

 
But at least I have the memory of meeting Vean Gregg, a star pitcher for three great seasons. That is what baseball can do. Give you memories that link to a bygone era. Sort of like being a time traveler.

 

And this memoir about Vean Gregg is what led me to be a writer. In researching and studying the 1911 baseball season I remembered the story of Charlie Faust and in researching Charlie I decided to write a fictional account of his brief time with the New York Giants. And because I liked two fictional characters I created for the Faust story I continued with them in two more novels with another finished, waiting publication, and another in the early stages of writing.

 

Every writer has a journey. This is how mine began.

 

Charlie’s story and the continuing adventures of Chat and Eveleen are e-books that are on Amazon.

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Shakespeare and R L Stevenson altered our minds without drugs

Myth can be created by folklore like Paul Bunyon, a tall tale to be sure, but myths can also arise, inadvertently by an author, from popular fiction that takes on a life of it’s own.

Two cases in point.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The popular conception of pirates is that they buried their treasure because that is what happened in the novel. But there is only one known pirate to do that and it was Captain Kidd, who was more a privateer than pirate. It depended on whether his contemporaries liked him or not. More disliked him than liked him, so to us he is a pirate. Winners write history.

Think of it logically. Why would pirates bury their treasure and return later to dig it up. The entire crew knows where it is, so each larcenous crew member now looks at each other with distrust and paranoia. And don’t think the captain was the boss. A pirate captain was elected by the crew and he did nothing without a vote from the crew. And the crew wants the loot and they want it now. They have been at sea a long time and they want rum and women.

In truth pirates took ships, their cargo, and most of the crew of the captured ship. At one point, Kidd had three captured ships in tow. They would go to a friendly pirate port and sell everything they could, keeping supplies they needed.

The only reason Kidd buried nearly a million dollars in jewels and goods is that he was headed back to New York to answer charges of his piracy so he had to bury the evidence. Didn’t help. Most of his treasure has been found. But other pirates and ‘X’ marks the spot maps are pure fiction, not history. Thank to Long John Silver and R.L. Stevenson.

Another example comes from Shakespeare’s play Anthony and Cleopatra. Everyone believes Cleo was bitten by an asp while she was a prisoner of the Romans. That is what happens in Old Will’s play, but whether Will was passing on the lore he knew or he made it up, the asp is now our truth. Check any crossword puzzle.

The Romans found her dead. There were two puncture marks. From an asp? Well, according to other records she committed suicide by a poisoned hairpin, not an asp. Poison was a big seller in Egypt. Cleo was found in her private chambers. As a prisoner she would not have access to snakes, nor would she keep them in her rooms. But a snake is more dramatic because the audience would be more fearful of a dangerous snake than poison. Poison being more passive. 

And now you know the truth of the matter. Until it changes once again. You never know. It just shows the power of the written word, the power of story telling, and how we believe what we read, even if it is fiction.

Here are two of my fictional e-novels at Amazon. Both based on true stories. Perhaps another myth will arise from one of them. With your help of course.

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Character Reveal, Foreshadowing, and Toilet Paper

After you read the following excerpt from my soon to be released e-novel I will explain the intent, why the reveal and the foreshadowing, and tell about toilet paper and life. The time is 1927 and this paragraph ends a chapter near the end of the story

Driving back I felt a sense of freedom. I was free from my job, a job I liked I grant you, but you become accustomed to not working. Maybe I am lazy. But I sensed this story was coming to an end, that Bast would be found, arrested, and tried for multiple murders. That would free my mind, case closed, back to Hollywood, back to a new job, back to writing, back to normalcy. Chasing down a killer, being followed, being shot at, being lied to, are not things that are pleasurable. It may be entertaining to an audience watching a hero in a movie catch a killer; a hero with smarts like Sherlock Holmes, with brawn like any movie tough guy, and all the while wooing some dame with ultra-coolness, but reality is nerve racking, tense, mind numbing, the bullets real, the danger scary. I am not near as smart as Sherlock Holmes, not a movie tough guy, not even close. I learn by accident, I stumble through the carnival funhouse coming out the other side with unexpected answers. And I don’t woo any dame. I am married, happily so. Movies aren’t real. I know, I write them. Of course we writers like to twist things, turn the screw if we can, do a Henry James you know. If we are good, we are magicians, or maybe illusionist is a better word, making you look one way, then the reveal, the twist, the unexpected moment. I didn’t think there was one in real life. I said ‘didn’t’ with intent because that is past tense. There was a real twist coming, one that Henry James would not have seen. Maybe that Freud guy would have figured things out, but not a writer.

First, a word about character reveals. Normally you might see a character reveal a personality trait about himself through dialogue, action, or something descriptive, like a nervous person avoiding eye contact, tapping their foot, pacing around the room. Here Chet Koski is being reflective. He has been trying to solve multiple murders and because he is a writer, not a police detective or private eye, he is frustrated. Real life is not the movies and he is a movie guy. There is an implication that moviegoers don’t get it when they watch a movie. Maybe he is out of his element at times, another reason for frustration.

This character reveal segues into foreshadowing by Chet’s reflection on writers and why at the end of the story writers twist things; the surprise ending. It is the author (that would be me) warning you there is a surprise ending coming soon. By implying Freud may have figured things out evokes, I hope, a psychological complex ending. Naturally I used my fictional character to reveal the foreshadow. Writers are sneaky. However, the character reveal is solely from Chet.

P.S. There is also another foreshadowing in the third sentence: “But I sensed this story was coming to an end.” Once again I put thoughts into Chet’s head. I am so bad.

Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

 

“Peanuts” Character Reveals Writing Secret

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz appeared in a recent Sunday newspaper and the punchline exemplifies what some writing gurus have advised.

Linus is at his school desk writing on the theme of returning to school after summer vacation. Over three captions we see he has written this: ” No one can deny the joys of a summer vacation with its days of warmth and freedom. It must be admitted, however, that the true joy lies in returning to our halls of learning. Is not life itself a learning process? Do we not mature according to our learning. Do not each of us desire that he…”

And there it stops.

The next three panels show him taking the paper to the teacher’s desk, handing in the paper, and returning to his desk.

Then you see him saying “Yes, Ma’am? Oh . . Why, thank you . . I’m glad you liked it . . ”

The final panel shows him sitting sideways, one elbow on the desk behind him where Charlie Brown is sitting. Linus says, “As the years go by, you learn what sells!”

Linus knew his audience; it was the teacher. And he also knew what she wanted, in essence, to hear, so he wrote what she wanted, hoping to ingratiate himself, of course, and get a good grade.

If there is a hot market that readers are feasting on, you can jump on that bandwagon and if the bandwagon is not crowded and the market has yet to be devoured, you have a shot of finding an audience. But what is hot now can soon fade away.

Or you can write what you want to write and hope you find an audience. If you write in the genre that most appeals to you, I belive your writing will be better.

Each approach has its drawbacks, nothing is guaranteed, but you must chart your writing course through tricky waters no matter which direction you go. Write well, edit even better, and write a little everyday. And be cool like Linus.

I turned in my e-books to Amazon

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Paul Auster; who writers are; their output, part two

In previous blog I quoted from Paul Auster’s novel Brooklyn Follies about who writers are and what writing is. Today I quote from same book regarding the output of writers. rather than quote from the conversation I will list writers and how much they wrote or how long it took to finish a book.

James Joyce wrote three novels

Balzac wrote ninety novels

Kafka wrote his first story in one night

Stendhal The Charterhouse of Parma in forty-nine days

Melville wrote Moby Dick in sixteen months

Flaubert spent five years on Madame Bovary

Musil worked for eighteen years on The Man Without Qualities and died before he could finish

Milton was blind

Cervantes had one arm

Marlow was stabbed to death in a bar room brawl before he was thirty

 

The point is it takes as long as it takes to finish your story so don’t go into a panic if you have trouble finishing because of other things going on in your life. Of course you don’t want to write for eighteen years and then die before you are finished, and nor do you want to die a bar room brawl with a knife going through your eye. But at least Marlowe finished his plays.

Do what you can when you can. Persistence can take you down the road to completion.

The best way tp predict your future is to create it-Abraham Lincoln.

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Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

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