Starting a Novel

In the beginning . . .

is the problem. The problem being how to begin. To outline or not to outline that is the question, whether it is more noble to create a roadmap and follow it through to the final destination at the outline’s end, or freelance and go where imagination (madness) takes you. In other words, take the road less traveled.

I opt, as usual, for madness. I like freelancing, making the story up as I go along. I have mentioned this before as I feel it gives the imagination free reign. I am also lazy and an outline is more work, and the less work the better. But in either case the opening is crucial. It must set the tone, it must draw the reader in to the story. It should introduce blah, blah, blah. Every writer has read all the advice about beginning  a story. And if you have read enough advice you have discovered conflicting ‘rules.’ So lets move on.

Let let me tell you about my new project because it has a bearing on how I start my new novel.

It is a murder mystery set in the spring of 1928 and is a follow up to my soon to be published e-mystery Head on a Grave. That story took place in the Pacific Northwest during November of 1927 when my lead Chet Koski having dispatched of a killer earlier in the year in Silent Murder, is given a vacation by his boss at Paramount Pictures, so he goes to visit his cousin in Centralia, Washington.

While the killer was caught, one person, who may or may not have been involved has proved elusive. Chet who lost his screenwriting job chasing the killer and not returning to work is going to stay in Washington to work on a novel.

That is the background to set up the next novel.

Research is important and during this time there was an artists colony on Hood Canal, which, by the way, is not a canal, but a fjord. It is a long story, feel free to click the link. So Chet, who is a writer, or at least he thinks he is, decides to go the Canal and find the artists who are painters, and blend in with the art colony. So that is the setting.

But we must begin the story with something exciting. Like the body of a dead woman washing ashore on the canal.  The opening paragraph is written in the omniscient point of view.

And then, as in Head on the Grave, I break the rules and change to 1st person as Chet gets out of bed and kills, or tries to, kill a black ant. This leads to a conversation with his actress wife and partner in solving murders, Eveleen.

So what have I accomplished so far. I have let you know I am working on a new novel, let you know a novel is soon to be published and given you a link to another novel, one I like a great deal and hope you read it if you have a Kindle or Kindle app, and given a link to the origin of Hood Canal.

I have done this because I am stuck on what happens next in my novel and was hoping to free up my creativity by writing a blog. That’s my story anyway and I am sticking to it.

And sense it is baseball season here is a link to the below e-novel based on a  true story you can read for 99 cents and help me feed my cat. Thanks for reading my blog.

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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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The dilemma of telling people you’re a writer

A few days ago I received my online newsletter from Authors Publish.  It contains two leads for publishing houses, but what caught my interest was a short piece about what happens when you tell people you are a writer.

Number one of the five is the imposter syndrome. I have always been hesitant telling people I am a writer. The reactions I have gotten have not been positive, leaving me at times, feeling like an imposter. To this point, other than a brief memoir in a book published in 2012 and two short stories published locally in an annual book, I have published three e-novels and two short-story collections on Amazon. I also wrote film reviews for a newspaper for eleven years and did a few freelance stories. I received positive feedback during that period.

Yet I still hesitate.

I told a woman the other day about my short story published in an edition of the locally published book and she told me she wrote a piece for them a few years ago-and then made sure she deflated me my saying -“They publish anything sent to them.” I don’t know why she blew it off, and I question whether everything send is published.

Another woman said she only reads ‘real books’ and e-books are not real. Perhaps she fears the digital world. Then there are relatives. My closest cousins don’t read much, if at all, and though one wanted one of the annuals where my short story was published, he has never read, to my knowledge, the story. He had said he would tell me how he liked it, but that was about seven months ago. No phone call, no email, no smoke signals, not a wisp of contact. My other cousin said she still has not read the story. She never reads.

Is there any doubt why I sometimes feel like an imposter and any doubt why I hesitate to tell people I am a writer.

My best experience was reading my latest short story at the kickoff for the last annual collection of local writers. One woman said she read the story three times, and the man who puts the writings together for publication told the group how much he liked the story, why he liked it, and pushed me to read the opening page of my short story.

Though I hesitate, I am getting better at it. I have learned that detractors often have insecurities as I noted about the woman who said they publish anything. Like the Taylor Swift line ” haters are going to hate” so stay away from the haters and the negative nellies. They are not worth your time. I have found a positive group of local writers to share writing and experiences with, so am moving forward.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the great make you feel, that you too, can become great.-Mark Twain.

I am coming out of  the “I am a writer” closet.

I am a writer, like it or not, take it or leave it.

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

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Falling Books Kill; e-Books Don’t-Alkan’s Mystery Death

Charles-Valentin Alkan, 1813-1888,  was a French-Jewish composer whose death was said to be caused by a falling bookcase. If you are an inveterate reader, is there a better death, than being buried under a bookcase and books? How sweet.

It was believed he was reaching on a high shelf for the Talmud when the bookcase fell on him. However, years later a letter from one of his students who wrote that Alkan died in his kitchen from a heavy coat-umbrella stand. His story goes that his concierge heard moaning and found him lying on the kitchen floor. He was taken to his bed where he died that night.

Well that kills my joy. But I ask, which story is better. Killed by an umbrella stand/coat rack or a bookcase?

It was further thought the bookcase story derived from the following legend about Aryeh Leib Asher Gunzberg, 1695-1785. I quote from Wiki.

“A legend exists of his death. During his studies a book-case fell on him, covering him with books. His students were able to rescue him after an hour or so and he related to them that he had been covered by the books of the authors with whom he had quarreled. He had asked forgiveness from all of them and they all complied save for one, Mordecai Yoffe (known as the Levush) who refused. He knew therefore that he was not long for this world, and pronounced the verse in Hebrew “Aryeh shoag mi loi yiroh”; i.e. that Aryeh (the lion, meaning himself) shoag (roars), but mi (an acronym of Mordecai Yoffeh, but can also mean ‘who’) loi yiroh (is not afraid).[2]

It is speculated that this legend is the source of the urban myth surrounding the death of the French-Jewish composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, whose family originated from Metz.[3]

Personally I will belive the myth of Alkan’s death. I find it inspiring.

Alkan’s grave.

The good thing about e-Books is your death will not result from a falling bookcase.

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Do You Agree With Pliny’s Quote about bad books?

“It is very rarely that a bad book does not contain some merit in the cultivated man.”- Pliny the Elder.

Writers will notice Pliny used the word ‘very’ and writers know to use that word, if at all, sparingly, very sparingly, but we must forgive the Roman Pliny for he lived from 26 AD to 79 AD and was unfamiliar with modern grammarians.

I admire Pliny for he loves to read, loves book, even bad ones, for he can find something of value where others can not.

But . .

Notice the phrase ‘cultivated man.’ The implication is that if you find nothing of merit in a bad book, something to take away from the book, you are not cultivated, therefore, or as Pliny would say ‘ergo’ you are unsophisticated, uncultured, unrefined, ignorant, perhaps outright stupid.   

Well who wants to be uncultured?

So we who want to be cultured, must of course, according to Pliny, find something in all books, no mater how bad, that we can learn from, or that brings up a pleasant memory, something we understand, that connects with us no matter how tangentially, anything at all.

I have tried. I have started books that had great reviews, or at least great blurbs on the back book jacket, and after twenty pages or so I am bored. I get what is going on. I just don’t care. Books talk to us. Each of respond differently to words, sentences, stories, just as we respond differently to food. Our taste buds are different. Sushi-never for me. Moby Dick-never for me.

Conversely, I have read books without any burbs whatsoever and found the story, the writing, everything about the book an absolute delight. Sometimes we are lucky and find these little treasures.

I do try to find something of merit Mr. Pliny, but I have many unread books, so I can set aside something that doesn’t taste quite right at the moment and try something else that looks more appetizing. But I do agree, every book does contain something for all of us, it is just a matter of connection.

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I don’t know about you, but I have an interest in words. Where a particular word comes from, its origin, the root of the word, for some reason fascinates me. So I did some research wanting to know why we call a book a book.

One Internet search claims that ‘book’ is derived from the Danish word for bog, and or beech tree. Keep in mind this was a search done some while ago and I do not have the exact information, but it was Danish. Being half Danish and a writer I was proud of the Danish connection to ‘book.’ I surfed the Internet trying to find that information recently, but nothing showing the Danish connection was found, instead it was those Germanic languages taking claim.

One site said ‘book’ came from “Old English boc “book, writing, written document,” traditionally from Proto-Germanic *bokiz “beech” (cf. German Buch “book” Buche “beech;” I see the word beech, a tree, connected to the Danish origin which I had previously found. But notice it is now Germanic. Like World War 2, the Danes once again are at the mercy of those Germanic invaders from the south.

I found another site which echoed the above origin, almost word for word. But as we all know-at least I think we do-the Internet is not that reliable, and one mistake will be repeated over and over. Example: in researching a theatre, I found every website said the theatre, built in 1930, cost $200,000. I believed it, but they were wrong. I uncovered the original document which said it cost $60,000.

Now I am not saying that the origin of the word ‘book’ being Germanic is wrong, but more research needs to be done. There does seem to be an agreement that early Indo-European writings were etched on beech wood. Thus beech evolved into book, probably because of the sound of the word for beech.

Danish is a northern Germanic language-so the Internet tells me-and so I will hold out that the origin of the word ‘book’ is traced back to my Danish ancestors. The weather in Denmark is dreary most of the year, and the Danes, like Hamlet-who was based on a real Danish prince-are melancholy, so I am sure the Danes began writing and reading on beech wood because there was no television or Internet, and they needed something to do. Which is why this half-Dane wrote this blog in the first place.

No beech trees, or any type of trees, were harmed in the making of these delightful e-books that you can find here. Each book you buy saves a beech tree.


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If you live long enough this will happen.

Today I have a firm handle on my remaining books. I dust them, talk to them, pet them like a cat, reorganize them on shelves. They are happy.

Why you ask do I do this?

I realized I had to do something.

I frequently go to library sales, Goodwill stores, thrift shops, and other places where books are found at cheap prices. During these expeditions I run across a book that gives me pause. I recall that I read the book years ago. I remember nothing of the story. Nothing. Then, as in the case of Robert Penn Warren for example, I recall other books of his I read. And though I recall titles, the story is lost, gone, as if never read.

Recently this happened when I found Paul Auster’s “Brooklyn Follies.” I recall reading his New York trilogy, but the stories, the characters, as elusive as the wind. What does this say about my memory? What would Marcel Proust say? Would I be a character in his seven volume opus? I think I would be more likely to end up in a Kafka novel as a comical, schizoid paranoiac character.

This happens so often two things occur to me. One is that I have read for more books than I have thought. So many stories they have disappeared from my memory; only when seeing the title, like a familiar face from the past, do I recognize it as a friend. And how many still forgotten books that I read are waiting for the title to be seen before I say, “Oh yeah, I remember reading that book.”

How, I ask myself, can a story that absorbed all my thoughts, that captured all my emotions, that engrossed my entire attention, be forgotten. How can this be? How can it be, in the end, so transitory?

The second thing is where are those books, where have they gone? I don’t remember disposing of them, not all of them anyway. Did I recycle them to second-hand stores? Did I give them to friends? Were some lost in moving? Did my mother throw them away like my baseball cards? (No!)

But still they have gone somewhere.

I wonder if being on my shelf for so long, feeling neglected, undusted, they decided to leave like a cat who thinks it is time to find a better home.

They must have snuck out in the middle of night, one here, one there, meeting up at a secret location, perhaps some used book store. A slow steady stream of books over time slinking out unnoticed.

With the story lost, they must not have had a reason to stay.

That is why I talk to my books today. I want them to stay around.

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The Dark Side of Being Organized

I recently downloaded an app that I thought would help me be better organized. Instead of writing Post-Its or making notations in a notebook near my keyboard, using scraps of paper, paper towels, or toilet tissue, I could put everything on this very organized app. I am going to tell you how it works, what I did, and how it created a dark side.

The app is called Get it Done and it is very helpful. There is an inbox, a today file, a next, a scheduled and a someday file. There is also a projects list where you can add and edit projects. You can do the same for something called Smart Groups. I have no idea what this is, but it is there. You can also add and edit people (if it were only that easy).

Keep in mind that this app is free, though there are certain functions for which you need to register and pay $39 per year. But for my needs the free features work quite well, thank you.

I have two items in my inbox. One will remain as it is a reminder of something I need to focus on each day, the other concerns upcoming events.  I have five items in my today function, one for today and the others for upcoming days. What I need to do, where to go, appointments; a daily calendar. I have 12 items in my someday file, though that could be in the projects folder as it has do to with my writing plans, projects I am working on and upcoming projects. So I may move it to that location.

Now keep in mind I had to set all this up, deciding what I needed to focus on, how I want it arranged and then typing in all my notes and so on. Upon completion my desk was clear and my life was organized in my cute little app. However, it took so long for me to organize my organizer that I had no time to write the blog I intended to write.

I also went to a book sale the next day and though I only bought nine books, in order to better organize things I had to spend three hours reorganizing my room in order to make my book case and shelves better organized, putting in alphabetical order all my unread books-now over 300 including e-Books-by size, alphabetized in three sections; hardback, trade, and paperback. All tidy, pretty, and organized. The problem of course is that I had no time to write my blog for the second consecutive day.

As you can tell, being organized is time consuming and leaves little time to get done what is on your list. I had to forego the blog I intended to write as I thought I should warn you about the dark side of being organized. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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Oscar Wilde, abandoned books, and us

Oscar Wilde said, “Books are never finished. They are merely abandoned.”

I know what he meant. If you have read Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, or even “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace, you know there are writers who write long, thick books that take a year to read. They love their characters, they love to see what their characters will do, and they love to escape into the world they created for their characters.  The real world can not be controlled, it is out of all our hands. But a writer can create a world, he can control what happens.

Using myself as an example. When I finished my first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugout” I realized, in part because of the ending, and in part because I loved my two main fictional characters, that I could not end their story. I had to abandon the book, it was finished, at least that one, so I took my two favorite people and placed them in a new story 11 years later in another town where I could hang out with them some more.

In the course of that e-novel “Loonies in Hollywood” I created another character, a flapper named Clancy. I fell in love with her as well, so when this book was abandoned because it must come to an end, I had to write a third e-book with all three of my friends. “That was “Silent Murder.”

Once that was abandoned I started another e-book with the same three characters. So I understand what Wilde meant. At least my interpretation of what he meant. He could also have been talking about the agony of rewriting and proofreading and that the writer reaches a point where he says ‘enough.’ But I think it has more to do with never wanting to escape the world the writer not only created, but inhabits with his characters, sharing their adventures. The writer is the fly on the wall.

Writers and readers do share a common bond and that is we both like to escape. The writers escaping into his world with his friends, secretly hoping to never have the story end, to write about them forever. And the reader escaping into a time and place, the world created by the writer, one the reader can also escape into. Perhaps we can find each other in this world. If you spot me, say hello.

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