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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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 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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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.

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.

 

How writers should handle critiques

I woke up in the morning the day after publishing my first e-Novel with anxiety and dread my bed companions. They were not who I wanted to wake up with.

Every writer, every artist, has within them a lurking virus ready to infect the artistic insecurity with paranoia; imagination running amok seeing brutal judgements from unseen readers.

But the reviews over time were fair and more positive than I expected. Of course there was one review that upset me, but I realized he/she missed the point. Others got it, and that is one thing to remember. Whatever you write will be liked and disliked because some people, like my brother, does not like cheese, and others, like myself, love cheese. We have different tastes, different biases, and different views. Nothing is written in stone except the 10 Commandments and they disappeared..

Something just as unnerving is the anticipation of reading judge’s critiques from writing contests, like the one I recently entered, for these are professionals with stern judgement, so anxiety peaks, dread blackens, insecurity sinks, and paranoia makes you cower in the corner, so do not open the envelope like a six year-old at Christmas, ripping open paper to get at the goodies, for there are no goodies here; instead place it on a table, let it sit while you circle it for a few days, building up your immunity enough to open the envelope. You must be in command.

Here is what I found:

One judge did not like my opening paragraph and my hook. The other judge did. The judge who disliked my hook did not like my tension/pacing, but the other judge did. One liked my grammar, the other didn’t. There were some things they agreed on, so what did I learn and what can you learn?

Here is what I learned:

You must read a critique with a critical eye. If two judges disagree you must strive for objectivity-not easy when it comes to your creation-but again, I let it sit before going back my story. Your story must be read as if it was written by somebody else. If I thought one of the judges was correct, I changed something because I saw their point and agreed, but if I believed one of the judges was wrong I left it alone. Case in point, one of the judges who did not like my hook, thought one passage should be cut, but the action to me tied in with the end of the story and since the other judge had no problem with the opening and after numerous reading of the opening I left it as is.

Finally, one must realize that each judge has an opinion, but that is all it is. We all see things differently and we writers must critique the critique and not take other’s judgements at face value.

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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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