Bookman’s Promise, Lichtenberg, and Me

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

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 .forty years of unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notes.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

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

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 Comparing what Burton’s wife did to her husband’s unpublished works (bad girl) to a conspiratorial view of religious purpose, and making it short, concise and clear.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

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

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

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

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

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

life is like a book


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Writers Trick to Pronunciation

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton, the lead character Charles is walking with his son at the beginning of the story looking for an address. When he finds the person he is looking for Charles introduces himself this way:

‘ Hi, I’m Wychwood.’

As a reader I immediately wonder if it is pronounced Witchwood or Wickwood. I not only like to read words, but I like the sound of them, and I do like to pronounce them correctly.

Ackroyd solves this problem for me and all readers by continuing with the scene this way:

“Mr. Leno sounded puzzled. ‘Which . . .?’

‘Wood. I telephoned this morning. About the books.’ ”

Since Charles did not correct Mr. Leno, we readers can surmise the name is pronounced with the sound of ‘which’ or ‘witch,’ as a minute later Charles is called ‘Mr. Witch.’ Now we have the author reinforcing the sound of the name, just in case we missed it the first time.

We learn the pronunciation of Charles’ name in a seamless manner, Ackroyd not telling us, but showing us through character interaction, a scene with humor no less.

It is not just a clever trick to pronunciation, but a way to introduce information without telling. It is so much better to learn things through characters than be told. After  all a novel is not nonfiction in which we are told things. We like novels, because-lets be honest-we are eavesdropping on people. And in this humorous scene which continues Mr. Leno, Mr. Leno, and Charles is fun to watch and listen in on.

The characters should tell the story, the author should be in the background, invisible; an observer like the readers.

Two of my five e-novels on Amazon are:

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Five simple words to begin a novel

“Once upon a time” no longer works, we are past the fairy tale age, so how and why does a writer start chapter one. Writers are told to make the first paragraph interesting, give a hook, something to make the reader move to the 2nd paragraph. Some writers think that means  a slam bang opening, or beginning in the middle of some compelling mystery. Writers are free to choose their own opening, but . . .

Consider the simplicity of a single sentence. The first paragraph of Charles Bukowski’s “Post Office” is an example. He begins with five words. Bukowski writes, ” It began with a mistake.” Notice he did not say who made a mistake, not he, not her, not anybody, just ‘it.’ So what is ‘it’?  What is the mistake? What was the result of the mistake? How did the mistake affect the characters?  ‘It’ must be an action, don’t you think. Something happened that in the end was a mistake. Could the mistake have  been averted, or was it something innocent that turned out bad? There is no action, there is no beginning in the middle of something, there is no tension between hero and adversary.

Just five simple words.

Those five words bring up lots of questions and aren’t you curious to find out what the mistake was? Something bad is bound to happen, after all there was a mistake.

Writers too often try to overdo everything, including a novels opening. Like a young baseball pitcher trying to impress a manger by throwing too hard with no plan for the pitch a writer tries to hard to impress. Sentences overflowing with steroidal adverbs meant to dazzle, instead fizzle. The best thing a writer can do, the very best thing-yes I just used ‘very’-but it works here-is to get out of the way, not only of your writing, but of the characters, of the story, of everything. Writers should not draw attention to themselves, but be invisible.

Thus the simplicity of ‘It began with a mistake.’ Bukowski was not trying to impress, he was luring you into the story. And that is impressive.


Cornell Woolrich twists a readers mind into a pretzel in “Fright.”

Cornell Woolrich, 1903-1968, wrote great crime stories including, “It had to be Murder,” made into the classic Hitchcock film “Rear Window.” In fact over thirty movies have been made from his stories, including two by French director Francois Truffaut, “The Bride Wore Black,” and “Mississippi Mermaid.”

But one that escaped the moves is one he wrote under the name George Hopley. The title is “Fright” and it is about a man who kills a woman on the day of his wedding because she is blackmailing him and he wants nothing to upset his plans. The story goes into how he tries to evade the private detective he believes is after him. He and his wife move to another city and he believes a new man in the office is the detective that is after him. The killer murders him and another person. He clearly has that paranoia/guilt that you find in the killer of Poe’s tale, “The Tell Tale Heart.”

The story winds down to an what seems an appropriate ending, a type of justice, because after what he has just done, there is no way out. But the problem is that while you are reading this ending you are aware there is one more chapter.

I won’t tell what is revealed in the final chapter, but I will say my jaw literally dropped open. It is the  “You got to be kidding” type of ending. The phrase “I never saw this coming,” is accurate to the nth degree. It is the type of ending that makes you reflect on the entire story, makes you reevaluate, makes you ponder something more than justice, takes you on an entire new journey of thought. I read the book about a year ago and the ending still haunts me.

As a writer you can not help but admire what Woolrich did. The book is not a mere crime story. It is more than a story about guilt, worry, paranoia. It goes far beyond that. Woolrich leads you down an expected path with wonderful writing, then twists your mind into a pretzel.

Does Woolrich play a trick on the reader? I will never tell. But it is a perfect book for writers to study, to figure out for themselves how to construct a great ending.

At the top of this site is info on who I am and  what my novels and short stories are about. My Seattle Mariner blog  is here. Thanks for reading.