Post Storm Scribblings

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Yes, I have been writing again. That is a good thing and it’s largely due to the efforts of my writing friends (particularly Liz Hein and Noelle Granger) who got me into the A-to-Z challenge. It definitely challenged me to go ahead and put words on the page and pay attention. Once the flow started it continued and I’ve accomplished a great deal, I think, on my new book. As you can see from the above photo, I’m a throw-back to the days of the typewriter (this one is a Smith-Corona Skywriter circa 1951), coffee and fountain pens and I’ve been pounding on the poor thing for a couple of weeks now. I’m down on the Outer Banks of North Carolina doing work on our beach house (mostly done) I’ve also taken the opportunity to do research. Apparently I have a thing for period pieces. Beagle Club is set in the summer of 1936, as you know, but the new one is also period, as it’s set in 1947. The main character Max has come home from the war and settled in a seaside community for a nice quiet life and has purchased an abandoned life saving station house for a song.

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The one above is the one that now is just down the road from the house, at Chicamacomico. Yes, you too can pronounce the name, just say ‘Chee-ca’, then ‘ma’, then ‘comic’, then ‘oh’. A lot of the names on this island are old native american names, there Chicamacomico, Kinakeet, and Rodanthe for example. If you want to know exactly where I am, look for Rodanthe. The island is less than a half-mile wide at this point so I can see the inland sounds and the ocean at the same time. Pretty cool. Anyway, wandering around the station and talking to the nice folks here gives me a very good feel for the spaces my main character moves around in. Nothing like being there and smelling the place to make your writing real.

Speaking of real, a tropical storm has just passed me by, thank goodness. It never quite made it to hurricane status because it didn’t hang out around the warm Gulf Stream for very long, so Ana was just a tropical storm. She still brought plenty of rain and wind.

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I know the waves don’t look all that high when you look at the left photo, but the winds were very strong and when you look closely at the right photo you can see the beach just sort of fades out in a fog of spray off the water. As a continuing tidbit of nauticalia, when a ship is at sea and the wind is strong enough to atomize the spray into fog it’s called ‘sea smoke’. These were taken in between the large bands of thunderstorms. I tried to get some of those when they came through, but as it was mostly at night with heavy rain, that became problematic. Suffice to say that when the winds hit my house moved around quite a bit. All the houses are elevated on stilts by building code requirements because of the flooding that takes place when the big boy storms like Irene came through. She flooded at the house up to 7 feet and washed the A/C units right off their platform. Quite a mess.

I’ve got to get back to packing, due back home today and there’s still too much to do. Thanks for reading, it’s very much appreciated, more than you know, and I look forward to reading your blogs too.

B

September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up

Hi there …

The cool folks over at Sisters in Crime (www.sistersincrime.org/BlogHop) have organized a blog hop for mystery writers. You don’t have to be a sister (or even female for that matter). A great writing friend of mine Noelle Granger (at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/sisters-in-crime-september-blog-hop) is trying to drag this old hermit, kicking and screaming, out into the world of people and tagging me is one way she’s doing it. Her book about Rhe Brewster (‘Death in a Red Canvas Chair’) is just great and I heartily recommend you check it out. She has another one in the works that I hope will be out soon.

The blog-hop idea is that you answer a set of questions and then forward the questions to another blogger, preferably someone you like and whose work you would like to promote. Hippity hop, hippity hop.

Here are the questions:

  • Which authors have inspired you?
    • J. D. Salinger, Mark Twain and a remarkable woman writer named Beryl Markham. She was also an aviatrix during the classic years of flight and was the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean the hard way, against the prevailing winds. That sissy Lindbergh flew it the easy way, with the wind pushing him along. Before she did that she was a bush pilot. She wrote of her experience in ‘West With The Night’ and it is a great book.
  • Which male authors write great women characters?
    • My vote for this is Craig Johnson, who writes strong women characters in his Walt Longmire series. My view could come partially from the fact I grew up with strong women of character so that’s what I respond to.
  • Which female authors write great male characters?
    • My vote for that would be Charles Todd. I know, but stay with me here, because Charles Todd is the pen name for a mother and son writing team that writes the Inspector Ian Rutledge series of murder mysteries.
  • If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?
    • I would say if that’s the case, then that’s a remarkable coincidence. Good crime writing, in my considered opinion, depends on both plot structure and characterization. Neither sex has a corner on the market with regard to creation of either. I would also recommend not paying attention to whether the author is male or female, just look at the quality of writing and go from there.
  • What’s the best part of the writing process for you?
    • Oh, without doubt the initial rough draft. My process is to let the movie play in my head and scribble down everything as it happens.
  • What’s the most challenging?
    • Immediately following the chaotic process outlined above, the greatest continuing challenge is to prune, deciding which details best reflect what’s happening in the scene. My most challenging work to date is the present book I’m working on. It’s a light-hearted romantic mystery entitled ‘Suzy and Dodge.’ The main character is Max, a journalist home from WWII who is trying to live a quiet life, apparently without much success. Suzy is his love interest and Dodge is Suzy’s dog, who has quite a few tricks of his own. I find the main challenge in writing a mystery is that I have to write the story twice. First I write what’s behind the curtain, what all the bad guys are doing, then I write what is on-stage that the reader sees and have the scenes connect to the hidden plot as the main character investigates what is going on. It’s a lot of fun putting the puzzle together and I hope it will be entertaining when it comes out.
  • Do you listen to music while writing?
    • Yes, I do. Music is a great help to set my mood to match the scene I’m writing, and that helps my characters respond consistently to conflict challenges (within the bounds of character arc, that is).
  • What’s on your playlist?
    • Oh, scads of stuff. In The Fur, Fish, Flea and Beagle Club I listened to a lot of music from The Great War (‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile’; ‘there’s a long long road a-winding until my dreams all come true’), Eugene’s Ragtop performed by Snuffy Walden, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring-Rodeo:Four Dance Episodes – Corral Nocturne, Richard Bennett’s ‘Flatpicking06’ from his A Long Lonesome Time album and Walt Koken’s ‘Banjo Ma’am’ from his Hei-wa album.
  • What books are on your nightstand right now?
    • My nightstand bends under the weight of unread books, largely because when I’m actively writing I have to be careful what I read. If I read writing that is too good or too distinctive I find myself imitating, not a good thing. I want to write in my own voice. But to answer the question, I have the second volume of Twain’s autobiography, a bio of Camille Claudel, several WWII histories (research for the book I’m working on now), and the first book in the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.
  • If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?
    • The only piece of advice I would give is not to be afraid of making mistakes because as James Michener said, books are not so much written as re-written. That’s the only way to learn. Your audience will be unique to you and it might take a while for your readers to find you. If you keep working, keep at it, by the time they find you you should have a body of work that will keep them entertained. Good luck!

Now I pass the baton to another great writing friend, Elizabeth Hein over at http://scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com. she, like Noelle, is a properly dedicated crime writer. Her book ‘Overlook’ is a real winner and be sure to check out her new book ‘How To Climb The Eiffel Tower’ which is coming out Oct 1st. Her blog is a lot of fun too. So tag, Elizabeth. You’re it.

how to do it ….

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“The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in…”
— E.B. White, The Elements of Style

I’m asked, from time to time, of where my characters come from. Are they modeled after people I know, are the places I write of places I’ve known and are the things that happen things that have happened to me? The answer to that is largely no. There is the notable exception buried in camo, but largely no. Everyone’s process is different, but for me it’s a matter of watching the movies in my head and trying to write down everything fast enough before it disappears, rather like doing a dream journal. When you try to write down your dreams you must do it as soon as you awaken and are sentient enough to hold a pencil, otherwise the dream disappears. If you wait until after your morning coffee, wait until you’ve gone to your writing space, wait until after having gotten the kids to school or shaved or even showered, the details and the importance of those details vanish into the clouded chaos from which it came. To a certain extent it is also like being a kid again. When I was in college I was a rock climbing enthusiast (I was young and stupid … now I am just no longer young) I was told that when we are young we are natural climbers, climbing trees and/or the occasional fence, knowing instinctively where to put our feet and hands and suddenly, we are atop the tree (or the house, whereupon our parental units lose their aplomb) and we can see more things than we thought possible. It was not so much a matter of learning to climb as it was remembering how to climb. Writing is similar, in that it’s not so much learning to (apart from the details like eliminating too many adverbs and gerunds, which makes our writing easier to read) as it is remembering and letting our natural ability to imagine and communicate flow. And remember you can’t climb a rock by letting someone else do it for you, you must put your feet on the limbs and push upward. So my advice is turn off the TV, turn off the radio, silence the talking heads and listen to your own voice and write it down.
Write it down. Now. Before the dream disappears.

Blog Hop, this is new to me too

Though my blog here has been online for a while now, I’m still relatively new at the idea of blogging with any regularity. This I am attempting to remedy. Initially I began my blog just to fling my scribblings out into the infinite void in the hopes that somewhere reader’s eyes would pass over them. Little did I know that there is a world of friends and potential friends out there in the blogsphere (is that a word?). To that end, to lead this sometimes social inept to dip a toe into this wide blog world, a dear friend of mine Noelle Granger at Saylingaway (http://saylingaway.wordpress.com) sent me these blog hop questions. Silly me, I didn’t know what a blog hop was, and quickly learned that it is a short list of questions you answer and then send on to other bloggers as well. Sort of a truth and dare game, as in ‘I dare you to tell the truth about yourself.’ My initial thought was that of Mark Twain, i.e. that ‘Truth is the most precious thing we have so let us economize it.’ But in respect to Noelle, I hereby ignore Twain and answer the questions with truth … mainly.

1. What am I working on at the moment?

I am working on a number of things (my brain being one of the more chaotic places in the universe crammed full of more things than I can keep up with) but the primary project is a new book. This is not a follow up of The Fir Fish Flea and Beagle Club, though I am playing with the idea of a couple of prequel novellas based upon both Cyrus Connor and Sabastian. The present work is a romantic comedic mystery set in a coastal town of North Carolina involving a veteran assault correspondent returned from WWII, a delightful gal he’s desperately trying to avoid falling in love with (to no avail) and her magical Great Dane. I do plan for this work to be somewhat shorter than Beagle Club and hence more marketable, but also lighter in tone and more of a spirit of fun. Stay tuned for possible postings here to test the waters.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Beagle Club is multi-genre, both adult and young adult literary period fiction and addresses something I believe not specifically addressed before, that of young men going from the world of their mothers into the world of their fathers. It is coming of age, of finding out not only just how strong you are, but of what you will do or not do, of knowing where your internal boundaries are, what your values are and why and what love means. This is not to say it’s a heavy tome filled with philosophy, for it is told in accessible language, it’s a quick read and has light-hearted moments, but it is a serious work.

3. Why do I write what I do?

There is no easy answer to that. The characters appear in my head and move around and talk of their own volition. I find that when I try to move the chess pieces around my characters rebel by not talking to me. I have to let them walk and talk the way they want to or they don’t come out and play. My short stories have gone all over the place, from literary flash fiction published in Litsnack to The Fur, Fish, Flea and Beagle Club, to LBGT fiction published in literary collections of the Geneva Writers’ Group and The Main Street Rag. My mind is a mystery even to me, hell, especially to me.

4. How does my writing process work?

There’s no easy answer to this one either, other than to say I have to strike a balance between outlining and letting the characters do what they want. There was an old writing buddy of mine who wrote so clean he had trouble filling in any details at all; he’d come up with all sorts of plot structure but needed help filling in characters so they wouldn’t be cardboard stick figures. I’m exactly the opposite. I have a tangled garden that is just filled to the brim with details, characters, situations galore. My process is to lean back with a legal pad and fountain pen, watch the movie in my head and just write everything I see and hear. The hard part comes when I have to prune away what is unnecessary. Do I really need to tell the reader that Little Jonnie’s shoelaces are bright orange? Only if it’s germaine to the story and illustrates his relationship with his girlfriend who insists that something that they wear must match and that is the least obvious thing he can do so his friends don’t make fun of him. There must be a reason a detail is left in and in the process of sifting is where you decide what story it is you want to tell. The old adage says that the devil is in the details, but so are the angels of magic.

 

I’m sending this blog hop to a couple of wonderful folks whose writing I admire:

Elizabeth Hein, at scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com

Marcus Ferrar, at mferrar.wordpress.com

Please check them out, they are well worth it.

Maya Angelou

I’m sure you’ve heard of the passing of Maya Angelou. She was an extraordinary person, worked more different jobs than one would care to count, withstood personal tragedy and abuse, and survived, never letting the challenges of life defeat her. She was actor, writer, singer, dancer, poet, director and producer of movies and television programs, and taught herself several languages. Since this blog is more about writing than anything else, I will quote her words about her process:

‘Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It’s like a swimmer in the (English) Channel: you face the stingrays and the waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground – Ahhhh.’

‘I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.’

‘I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope that by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray globs down my neck, into my ears, and all over my face.’

There is interesting wisdom for me in these small quotes. First to acknowledge that even in a writer so great as she, she experienced great fear. I think that all writers experience this fear, but to have her openly state it and also openly state how she faced it, how she came to grips with it is reassuring and speaks to her strength of character. Second, the expression that writing was pervasive in her, a constant part of her, like breathing, resonates with me and tells me I’m not so very odd when I scribble in my tiny notebook whilst I’m out and about. But I think it is the last that appeals to me the most, a purely personal, purely individual expression of what she does to keep herself in her personal writing space. All writers have their little methods that work for them. For myself, when I’m writing in the voice of a particular character, I wear something that character would wear, whether it be a fedora, a particular piece of jewelry or a sword, like an actor wearing or using a prop. That helps me stay inside that character’s head. Each writer does is individual, so do whatever works for you, but hearing that from her reassures me that what I do is not so strange and I need not be embarrassed when my wife knocks on my study door and finds me at the typewriter banging away and singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. It’s all part of the process, all part of the magic.

That was Maya, creator of magic.

She will be sorely missed. 

I

Chapters 96, 97, 98 and 99

For the first time, a quadruple.  Herewith, my dear friends, is the end of the book.  It has been a long time coming, a lot of work and tears to get to this point.  I will still post here from time to time and hope you will come back to read more when I post.  I thank you for staying with me, staying with the story and reading my scribblings and hope you will enjoy.