Friday, August 31, 2007

Steal this idea - The Big Squirt

Stuck in a rut? Writer's block? Looking for that right-angle turn in your novel? Try insomnia. It's cheap, and it works. Makes new synaptic connections that will blow your mind. The reasons aren't important, but I've had six hours sleep in the last three days. While driving the countryside at four this morning, deer darted in front of me and conspired in small herds in the fields to abduct me. I tried to be friendly and joke with one along the roadside.

"Who are the three greatest philosophers of all time?" I asked.

She chewed her cud, flicked her ears, and twitched her tail a few times pretending she knew the answer.

"Okay," I responded, paranoid that she's sending message to other deer to sneak up behind me. "First one, 'To do is to be,' is Aristotle. Second one, 'To be is to do,' is Descartes." I'm laughing already at the punch line. "Third one, "Do be do be do," is Sinatra."

Humorless, the deer snorted and charged the car. I drove away. But their intentions got me thinking about animals taking over. Oh, yeah! There's "The Birds" and a really crappy movie about all the animals taking over because of radioactive fallout and of course, we've been plagued by giant grasshoppers, bunnies, slugs, rats (remember Ben and Willard), ticks, and probably many other animals, but there's a new bad boy on the block. One that is real!!! I saw a special on the giant jellyfish, some up to 400 pounds, in the Sea of Japan that are ruining the fishing. There's 30 BILLION of them. The fishermen, in their haste to apply their own solution, started chopping them up. Scientists discovered that chopping them up signals the release of a million eggs per jellyfish. What if they start taking over? Everyone thinks the next war will be over oil or water or Gummy Bears, but I think this is ripe for a Michael Critterdon type of thriller as the jellyfish take over the seas, people panic, create solutions that worsen the problem (of course ignoring the geek with the right solution), then Jellyfish invade inland waters, and then, they find a way to get out of the water. How do you solve (or don't) this ecological disaster?

I've to go take a nap. Six deer are outside my window watching me. They are like POD deer, thinking I'm Kevin McCarthy, Donald Sutherland, or Nicole Kidman, and are waiting for me to fall asleep and take over my body. Beside insomnia. It keeps me, ME.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Steal this idea - Alien Mulch in NC

Mention that you're a writer, and everyone has a story for you. I'm trying to buy leaf mulch to amend the cement, uh, clay that surrounds my house. During the call, he idly asks what I do for a living. Even though I've made only enough money to feed three mice for a week from my writing, I tell him, "I'm a writer." "Oh yeah," he starts, "well let me tell you about the time I was trucking across Texas. Man, I had to go real bad...(fifteen minutes later)...and when I looked at my clock, I was amazed. Those damn aliens had me back in my truck and only one minute had passed. And the most amazing thing was, I didn't have to go to the bathroom anymore."

He brings me no mulch, but you can write his story for him.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Publishing Pundits Pout

Rather than repeat, check out this blog about the current state of publishing and the other blog stories to which it links. Some might see the end of the world; others will see opportunity. Me? I'm going to open a new file and write a new story.

It was a bright and sunny day. The books were tossed between seller and buyer at the flee market like fish at Seattle's Seafood Market. "I'll give you fifty cents for HP#7," a stout man with a short cigar clenched between yellowed teeth shouted. "But it only came out two days ago," argued the vendor, wearing a funky, tall pointed hat. "Yeah, but it's used, seventy-five cents," the man bargained. "That author sweat ink to write that book," the old vendor said, pointing a small stick at the man. "Take it or leave it, you old gasbag." The old gasbag mumbled, "Flea." "Flee from what?" the buyer said. A cloud of white smoke replaced the buyer. The book hung in the air for the briefest moment before dropping on a confused bug. "Dumbledorf!" yelled an excited woman wearing the crown jewels of England last owned by Queen Elizabeth. "Sorry," he said. "Well that's three today. One more, and I'll never bring you back."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fresh Squeezed

I'm not much for banning/burning books. "Sit down, Beulah, you Nazi cow." But if I could ban the publication of just one book, "If I Did It" would be it. With or without any opening message by the victims family, even if O.J. never sees a penny, even if it supports the kids or any victims rights organization, it just seems sick all the way around to me. I'm stunned that some deranged or bereaved person hasn't taken him out.

Where are those "Burn the book" organizations when you need them?

Hmm. Is this the slippery slope that you don't realize you're sliding down until you hit bottom?

Monday, August 27, 2007

MMWUC for August 27, 2007

EXERCISE: Students gasp. The sign had indicated a guest lecturer, but no one expected Stephen King. King stands at the head of the aisle, unblinking, and wearing black. "I Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash plays over the loudspeakers lower than a whisper in church as King smiles a row of rotted teeth and limps up the aisle. Students ready to rush him for an autograph retreat. Eyes follow King as if tethered to his every move. When King reaches the dais, he adjusts the microphone. His hand falls off and blood squirts. Students scream. He opens his mouth and teeth cascade to the lectern. A girl in the front row swoons. His real hand emerges from his jacket sleeve, and he reaches up and removes the mask revealing Dean Koontz. "But aren't you dead?" the girl who swooned says. "Not yet," Koontz removes the mask to reveal King. He smiles and removes the rest of the false teeth. Some students laugh nervously; some look around in disbelief. "Close your eyes (no one dares), take a deep breath (no one does), and relax (no one can). For the next ten minutes, write from the antagonists POV, 'Daisies lined the cobblestone path, but all I could see....'"

MUSINGS: A friend is struggling with the beginning of her new novel. The story is rich in possibilities, and I responded by suggesting the many layers of meaning along with goals, motivation, and conflict the story could (and should) have to enhance the readers pleasure allowing the rich message in the story to soar from the hidden depths of despair in the black moment to crystal clarity of realization in the climax providing the protagonist with the silver bullet to thwart the antagonist. If your story seems flat, look to go one more emotional level deeper for your characters, one more universal truth that will make the outcome resonate with a larger audience. King could have removed the mask to reveal himself for a good joke, but now the joke/deception has struck a deeper distrusting cord. Well, at least, that's what it seems as King removes the mask to reveal Michael Chabon.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Steal this idea - The Space Eaters

I like outer space. Yeah, I thought about becoming an astronaut when I was little, before I became "four eyes" (with trifocals now, I guess I'm 'six eyes'), before I learned I barfed on the tea cup ride in Seaside Park every time, before I discovered I don't like small spaces. But space travel has always interested me, and I have my own science fiction stories about it, including a rejection in 1974 from "Playboy" indicating there's no such thing as binary stars.

But this story about the empty spot in the universe intrigued me. What if...scientists discovered an empty spot (better yet, the vampire of outer space-a black hole) forming nearby in space, in the direction in which our galaxy was spinning, and we only had twenty years in which to discover a new planet and travel there? Can you imagine the congressional delays? What if, there was a segment of society that didn't care and protested about the government spending? What if, there was another segment that thought it was God's way and we're distorting His plan. What if...(your turn, your story, your Pulitzer).

Cue the music. "It's the end of the world as we know it; it's the end of the world as we know it; it's the end of the world as we know it; and I feel fine."

And don't forget Tuesday's lunar eclipse, especially y'all on the Pacific Rim.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Money for the Muse

The North Carolina Arts Council announced the five winners of the $10,000 prose fellowships for this fiscal year out of 190 submissions as follows:
* Erica Berkeley (Chatham County)
* Bethany Chaney (Orange County)
* Brian Crocker (Guilford County)
* Laura Hope-Gill (Buncombe County)
* Sherry Shaw (Gaston County)

Congratulations to y'all. Hopefully, we'll see their verbs and nouns paint literary paintings in future works. The next grant round deadline is November 1, 2008. (Note: the web page hasn't been updated to reflect that.) Maybe my turn will come in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Until then, I'll keep the victory garden growing and search for my muse in the eyes of the potatoes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing: Up and Down

Two beta readers returned my latest novel with much praise and scant comments. Yippee for me, the writer needing those bones of optimism in a desert of publication hope. As I scanned the comments, fixing the few things identified, I noticed the word "up" used too many times in a paragraph. I wondered, "How many times have I repeated that word?"

The horror! 312 times in the first 15,345 words. Way too often I believed and then started looking at each occurrence of "up" and "down" in that file. Three hours later, only 123 "ups" remained, and the writing improved with each removal. "Down" was less offensive, but also diminished in use. People don't have to sit down or stand up. They sat or stood in most cases.

I've been good at spotting the obvious overuse of a single unusual word, akimbo being a prime example. It can only show up once in the novel even if the character stands that way a lot. It is a word that tells the reader "look at this word I used". That doesn't always help maintain the suspension of disbelief so desperately needed. do you spot the overuse of "common" words other than by stumbling across it as I did? And where is that program that can find every unique word and list it in an output file showing you all the words you've used and how often? I want it. I want it now. Down with those words that mess up my manuscripts.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

" long as we are being remembered, we remain alive." So goes the main point in this magical realism novel steeped in the mystery of why someone is burning all the novels of Julian Carax. It's funny in a way. My wife is always saying, "We remain alive as long as we are remembered." Did Zafon bug my house? Is this why we write? To remain alive after our pathetic bag of bones crumbles into dust? If you like magical realism, you'll love this novel. If you like mysteries, you'll like this novel. If you want a quick read, you won't finish it. I say 4.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Steal this idea - Weather Weapon Woes

We reached 105 degrees yesterday, the highest ever temperature in Raleigh, NC. This is the hottest and driest August on record. We've already had 56 days above 90 (average 37) and are heading for the record of 72 set in 1952. Yeah, Phoenix is warmer, but this ain't Phoenix. I feel like paraphrasing Rick from "Casablanca".
"I came here for the snows."

"Snows? There are not snows in Raleigh."

"Guess I was misinformed."
But what I'm really thinking about is a story about a man who really DOES do something about the weather. He kidnaps the entire staff at the Weather Channel believing they are in control of the weather and demands that it rains over his house within the next two days or he'll execute a weatherperson each hour it doesn't rain. Scientist consider options, including cloud seeding, to end the stalemate while the police attempt to gain access to the building only to find out that this man is a former military weapons expert and has one of those suitcase nuclear devices from the cold war that the government never agreed they had, and our intrepid reporter (Robin Meade) finds evidence that the government has lost track of six of the devices. Could they be with other people as unstable as this guy? Only you know the outcome....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Steal this idea - Trees from the Irish

Phineas McCall is stunned by the devastation in the Asian steppe country regions and begins a local movement to plant more trees. His innocent idea, that planting thousands of trees (fruit baring and others) will one day help the local environment and economy, catches on. Three years later, and thousands of trees, CNN does a story on him and his effort. Money flows into his organization, and he expands his efforts. The governments get wary; drug smugglers don't want the attention; water resources are hoarded. He seems up against the evils of humanity then...(your turn to make this a literary success.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

MMWUC for August 20, 2007

EXERCISE: Eyes hidden behind tinted shades, Leonard Elmore stomps into the packed room. Sweaty students cringe in fear and respect awaiting the fiery breath of the minimalism master to burn their pages with his rules. A Summer "Red" Tanager, Passeriformes Thraupidae, bloody from hours of attacking his image in the window, slides down a pane in exhaustion. Elmore eyes it. "Retrieve that dying ornithological disaster," he says. Elmore cradles the bird. A writing student, nurse by trade, passes him an eyedropper filled with sugar water. He feeds the Tanager like a new mother suckling her young. A smile cracks the dry canyons of his aged face. The bird revives, chirps, and then attacks his own image in Elmore's shades. They crack. Elmore screams. The bird flees with Elmore's right eye. He stumbles back, cracks his head on a riser. Blood oozes from his slumped body. The nurse rushes the podium and grabs the master's notes. "Don't breathe. Don't relax. Focus. Surprise your readers. Write for ten minutes from the protagonists POV, 'He crumpled where he once stood....'"

MUSINGS: I'm reading Elmore, Pickard, and Hammett, trying to inspire my muse to overcome my pedestrian writing with words that soar and plots that surprise so agents will sit up and take notice. I have to attack my own writing comfort zone, mix it up, make that right-angled turn into the "...and now for something completely different..." world of story-telling. I won't join a fight club, but I may get a dragon tattoo on my ass for inspiration. It's easy to fall into the trap of considering your twist different, but what is the litmus test for identifying your writing is really unique before being thumped by the industry professionals? How do you test your uniqueness?

Steal this idea - Fatwas on fatwas

What if the next middle-eastern war wasn't about oil, but fatwas such as the following one.

"The reputation of Egypt's religious authorities was further clouded recently when a lecturer at Al-Azhar issued a fatwa (a religious ruling) saying work colleagues of the opposite sex could escape the ban on unmarried men and women being alone together if the woman breast-fed her male colleague five times. The lecturer's rationale was breast-feeding established a maternal rather than a sexual relationship."

Imagine two people caught in a compromising position at a U.S. educational institution and brought up on disciplinary charges. The implications could spiral outward pitting Islamic fatwas against fatwas against U.S. law against the love that the man really has for the woman. And what about Naomi? Where would this potentially explosive story take you?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is my muse my birds?

My cockatiel, Sydney is sitting on my chest. He yawns. I yawn. The parakeets, Frick and Frack, in a nearby cage yawn. Sydney yawns again. I can't help myself. I yawn. Frick and Frack stop chattering and yawn again. The cycle starts over. It's contagious. We're have a yawnfest in my office. Yawn. Maybe I'll take a nap. Someday this little episode will find its way into a story. Life provides endless stories to tap. You just have to look beyond what's happening like that big bright light in the sky heading for my house...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Under the Radar

We've all read books that fly under the radar a bit, maybe made a small splash, but is not talked about much later on. It may remain a guilty pleasure for you, the reader. Mine is "about the author" by John Colapinto. So, what's yours?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Over the Radar

We've all read books trumpeted as the second coming; however, when we read it, we go, "Huh, I don't get it." Mine is a book that has ended up on a few "top 100" lists, and the author is widely praised. My "I don't get it book" is "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon. There's also a companion guide for this book. To me, that's always a bad sign when a book written in your own generation's time frame needs another book to explain it. So, what's yours?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We're Number 1 - Fooey!

Sure. Tell everyone. Forbes tabbed Raleigh-Cary, NC as the top place for jobs and living in the US. Now y'all be flocking to my neck of the woods. That's all I need--more construction. Just got my property tax bill - yikes! (But a heck of lot lower than NJ or WI.) Today: 100 (code orange air quality). 22/23 days without rain. Watch for Hurricane Dean to hit this area in nine days.

Write on! Write on!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!!

Thirty Days Before the Web

It's been a full cycle of the moon since I started this blog. What a great way to truly avoid studying for my PMI exam, looking for work, exercising my fat, writing the great American novel, cleaning the house, doing the yard work, picking vegetables in the garden, or visiting with family or friends. Because I'm constantly on the computer, I do get a lot of opportunities to visit other blogs and web pages, play freecell solitaire, answer my emails instantaneously, and tweak my blog. Hope you are enjoying it and find the links useful. I've tried to put up only the best, the rest can sit on my computer. But I've got to squeeze a few hours of writing in because...

...My protagonist is stuck in a swamp with alligators. His hands are handcuffed behind him, and he's got dead chickens from the recent heat wave tied to his belt. A dozen nasty dudes with Uzi's are after him with orders to kill, and the FBI doesn't care because he recently embarrassed them. His girlfriend just left him for Britney Spears, and his house burned down last night only hours after his insurance company terminated his contract because he didn't pay his premiums. His ex-wife still wants her alibi based on the wages he earned as a stockbroker from 1997-2000, and he has a cold. Did I mention he was blindfolded and hadn't eaten since the Krispy Kreme donut early in the morning. I'm sure if I took this to the Maass Seminars he'd say, "So why should I care about this guy, and can you up the tension a bit."

Okay. I'll give it a whack. He's the only person who can save Julianne Moore from the amorous charms of Austin Carr and defuse the bomb in Roger Moore's Porsche.

Hey, I wonder to where this link goes?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Scrutinize every use of "was" for passivity and weakness. Using "was" doesn't mean you are writing a passive sentence. However, it is the number one quick clue that you may be. Contrary to many "rules," passive sentences are not evil. In the right moment, genre, or scene, a passive sentence may be the perfect choice. Using "was" is easy. It may also create weak sentences even if they are not passive. Look it over. Is there a stronger way to write that sentence?

Monday, August 13, 2007

MMWUC for August 13, 2007

EXERCISE: Two soon-to-be famous authors, Donna (Shakespeare's inspiration) and Deidra (Marlowe's muse) strut up the center aisle of the classroom, dragging Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe--both sour faced--behind them like reluctant observers to an upcoming gladiatorial fight. Will is rail thin, a ghost of his former self; Marlowe's fingers drip translucent blood, ink, and booze. D-squared say in harmony to the assembled writers:

"Close your eyes tight like the night drawing nigh,
Catch your characters in loving embrace.
Release a held breath like a baby's sigh,
For ten minutes, write, 'The fool kissed her face...'"
"...and from the antagonist's P-O-V."
The instruction comes from a single voice.
"No, from the protagonist's P-O-V."
Comes the command for the opposite choice
As Diedra shouts, "Antagonist! I say."
Students place bets on the winner's name.
But Donna glares. "Protagonist! Today."
Smart writers capture words for later fame.

Willy groans. "We shall never be parted."
Chris: "Bloody sonnets. Let's go get wasted."

MUSINGS: Okay, this exercise (yes, there is an exercise buried in the sonnet) is an updated version of one I wrote a long time ago. I'd love to see D-squared's books come out in a matched set. That would really make the gloves come off in the respective Shakespeare and Marlowe camps. They could go on a book tour scripted like a WWF match. On some nights, the sheer weight of Shakespeare's writings would crush Deidra like a body slam from the Incredible Hulk. On other nights, Marlowe's wicked jabs would slice up Donna like Errol Flynn doing the Sheriff of Nottingham. They're still dotting I's and crossing t's in their respective tomes, but in today's publishing game, it's never too early to think about the marketing angles to produce a real winner. "And in this corner...."

Win a prize at Susan Goodwill's site, author of the Kate London mystery series. Ah, marketing.

Okay, what's in your wallet, er, marketing plan?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Steal this idea - The Tibetan Terror

After his wife and child die in an accident, listless Lead Detective Cho Ming is reassigned to Lhasa, Tibet from Beijing. Part Tibetan, he seems like the perfect candidate for "revitalization" in his ancestral land. However, a series of brutal murders shortly after his arrival forces him to put aside his grief and use his considerable investigatory talents. Investigating the murders puts him at odds with locals, who view him as an outsider, the party, which wants a political solution, and his superior, who think that Ming may be the cause of the murders. Soon Ming starts to think that his family's murder wasn't an accident, and that time is running out for him.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"One Chance"

He ran, hurried and panicked. The brush slapped his face, adding insult to injury. He knew it had been folly to go there, yet boastful and proud, he had to try once more. Hunger, and the promise of an easy meal drove him to take the risk, despite the danger to him, his family, and his comrades.

He paused and called to his comrades. No answer. They scattered when the first shot winged him. The blood oozed, leaving a faint trail behind him. He knew it lead to him. His pursuer's clumsy footfalls in the woods shouted his confidence of a kill.

As his breathing recovered, he stealed his nerve. He wasn't going down without a fight, but he didn't possess a weapon of such firepower. He waited. Footsteps came closer. A nervous cackle leaked from his throat, and then he shifted his position to the other side of the path. He scrunched down low. His opponent outweighed him by a hundred pounds, but he didn't survive all these years without learning a few tricks. His opponent stood a few feet away, looking in the direction of the last sound, bending over and peering into the forest thicket. His backside was exposed.

Bursting through the weeds, he ran the last few yards, leapt into the air, and grasped the soft flesh on his opponents backside. A primordial screamed erupted. The gunshot blast deafened him. His opponent thrashed in circles trying to get him off, but he only sunk his grasp into him further, his mouth, his only real weapon, biting at grasping hands every time one reached back. The opponent swore, but still couldn't loosen his grasp. The gun dropped to the ground, and the opponent ran up the path from whence he came.

He fell to the ground exhausted, tasting the warm, sickly sweet blood in his mouth. The fleeing enemy, thrashed through the bushes. Satisfied, he smiled and closed his eyes and lay where he had landed.

He lost track of the time. One by one, his family and comrades came by, and deferentially left small offerings. He nibbled some food. His strength slowly returned. He stood. He waddled his way to a small creek and took a drink. His wounds would heal.

He was "The Tom".

Friday, August 10, 2007

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Stark (befitting the apocalyptic story) and interesting (a flawed man's love for his sensitive son), it's neither poetic (his ungrammar distracts) nor revealing (starts/ends in limbo). This accounts for the diverse reviews on Amazon, and the "falling over themselves positive" reviews by the unsure media like praise for a star overlooked for a brilliant career and better performances. Still, It was a good nonstop read and will stay with me like Charlton Heston at the end of "Planet of the Apes", another apocalyptic story. 4 of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mind Implosion

104 (airport)/106 (home)/116 THI degrees. I melt. Sydney, my cockatiel, sits on an ice cube, lost memories of an egg, and sighs, mouth agape. Hollow-leg syndrome attacks--I'm eating everything (half gallon of Extreme Moose Tracks gone) and can't get full. I write on. A deer is straddling my bird bath, belly filling it. Tiny lizards drag race across my deck. Their overheated bodies crash into my weeping Weeping Willow bush. Hummingbirds hover at feeders, panting like mosquitoes outside a blood bank in anticipation. A goldfish (IQ=3) jumps out of pond onto rock, sizzles on impact. Raccoon in oak tree ignores it. Sleeps. Three tomatoes in garden explode. Sauceacide? Hawk screams on rooftop. Sydney's gone. I find bones in kitchen. Chicken? My air is out. It's now 105. Sydney emerges from closet, toes tapping hardwood floor. Looks up and asks, "Whatcha doing?"

IOSM - Chapter 6, Scene 2 (WIP)

We pulled up to Cowher's Nursery, and Detective Murphy opened the back door to let me out. Red Cowher ambled over, pulling a checkered handkerchief out of his well worn bib overalls. They held Red's seventy-six-year old belly in check. His ruddy cheeks squeezed his clear blue eyes. The long white hair hung loose. A near-sighted caterpillar could fall in love with his overgrown eyebrows. I didn't know Red's real name, but Kris Kringle came to mind when you first looked at him.

I found out at Tuesday's meeting that he had the largest tract of land at 478 acres with whom Largo had a contract, and that Cowher's Nursery wasn't much of a nursery. Red had raped his land for whatever he would get from it. A stable of Hispanics worked for him and did landscaping jobs on the cheap with Red usually driving the backhoe. They planted shrubs and trees from the nursery part of his business and cleared trees from other properties. A few cows and sheep roamed in a distant field to keep the agriculture status legit along with some sad looking acres of winter wheat gone to seed and feeding field mice. Like most places in central North Carolina, the land was poor. He didn't help it the way he managed it. He'd sold most the lumber off his land to small operators. The remainder he had chopped up and sold for firewood at inflated prices to unsuspecting people with more money than common sense. The resulting landscape looked, well, like a war zone. Three mulch piles, each as big as a fast food enterprise, occupied one side of the rutted driveway.

"What the hell you want with Miguel?"

Red also had a nasty mouth, limited to one foul word used interchangeably as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and sometimes a conjunction.

"Like I said on the phone, we need to speak to him." The detective walked toward a cluster of buildings as though on instinct. Two deputies urged me to follow.

"He's busy. Now get the hell off my property."

Red also had a nasty attitude.

"This is official business and at the present moment, it doesn't concern you."

"This is a hellacious thing. He gets paid to work not to yap with." Red sauntered closer to Detective Murphy and lowered his voice. "And I don't cotton with no boy getting in the face of my employees."

"Deputy Roosevelt. If Mr. Cowher gives you a problem, shoot him in the foot. The one he's got in his mouth."

"Yes, sir." Roosevelt smiled and tipped his hat in Red's direction.

Red was also a bigot. Something I didn't learn the other night.

The detective called for Miguel, and he obliged us with his presence in short order.

"Is this the man who delivered your mulch?"

"That's him."

Miguel's unbuttoned shirt revealed a powerfully built man. His arms looked like pistons. He sneered "Loco asshole. I dumped your stinking mulch right where you wanted it."

He took a step toward me, but Murphy pulled him back by the bicep. "That's not the problem, Miguel."

Miguel glared at Murphy. "What you want?"

"There was a dead body in the load."

"Jumping Hell Fire," Red said.

Miguel's eyes got wide. "Not in my load."

"What pile did you get the load from?"

Miguel showed them the pile. Murphy took more pictures of all the piles. The detectives moved some of the mulch to the side then had Red dig into it a bit while Miguel retrieved the bill of ladings. They looked for blood, clothes, a murder weapon, or another body. I stood to the side. Red asked several times who had died, but Murphy wouldn't tell him. Red eyed me a few times, and finally I saw his face light up in recognition.

"Hell! You're that damn Yankee from the meeting the other night, the one what married a Yates girl."

"Yes." I knew what he meant based on an old joke I' been told many times about the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee. A Yankee is someone who comes south and then goes back home. A damn Yankee is one who stays.

He spit on the ground. "Still plundering the south?"

Without a thought and forgetting my place, I mumbled, "Sore loser."

"The hell you say." He turned the bobcat in my direction.

Over a hundred and forty years later, Red was still mad about the war. I ran for protection behind the deputy.

"Welcome to my world," he said.

--- end of chapter 6 ---

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


One big reason I believe Stephen King's writing works is that he's not content to write, "Bobby felt afraid." No. He and other great writers aren't timid about tunneling down into emotions. Feel and felt filter emotion. Search for those two words and see if they can be replaced with words, actions, or dialogue that show the true emotion.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Steal this idea - The Last Coffin Maker

Saw a short article about Malawi coffin makers suffering as the health programs improve. It mind-melded to a "Star Trek" episode about a planet where few people ever died and they were running out of space. What about the life of the despised last coffin maker on a planet where no one ever dies or where everyone has died or as he has to make the coffins for his family (gee, that's depressing). What kind of story leaps into your mind?

Monday, August 6, 2007

MMWUC for August 6, 2007

EXERCISE: Holden Caulfield bursts through the classroom door. "I hate school. All book learning is crap. You want to know about life? Go to New York City penniless." A wheelchair squeaks. "The world breathes on every street corner as the parade of human calamity passes." A nurse wheels an oxygen tank. "Eight million lives in the naked city speak 186 languages covering all ages, colors, creeds, and religions. Live. Write so your words don't die in your pen." Holden rises from the wheelchair and grabs a breath from the oxygen tank. He scans the faces of the shocked students. "What do you want?" he yells. "I'm 73 years old and smoked like a California wildfire." He sucks another breath. "Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. For the next ten minutes, write from the antagonist's POV, 'The cold stream froze, but I...'."

MUSINGS: I have a turkey fetish. I cook at least four a year, and have done so for twenty years or more. After posting my short story nine days ago that included turkeys, I noticed that every single novel I wrote had a turkey scene in it (even the unfinished one set in outer space). My current WIP had a turkey scene in it! And every turkey scene I ever wrote got deleted. What's up with that? Great scenes all, but sometimes YOU HAVE TO KILL YOUR FAVORITES and get rid of shitty first drafts to make the story work. And each time I yanked the turkey scene, the story got better. It's something I have to take to heart when editing. If the scene doesn't push the story forward, it holds the writer back. I'm thinking in a few years I'll be able to concatenate all those turkey stories and publish a holiday book of turkey stories: "Turkeys I Have Known" or perhaps "The Great Turkey Massacre". Whatever, I'm just glad that Benjamin Franklin didn't get his way when he wanted the turkey as our national bird. Eagles just don't have enough meat on them.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Is my muse the weather?

It's hot. It's summer. It's supposed to be hot. I know it, but the dog days of summer always find me unprepared. I've run out of my personal anti-freeze that keeps me cool. Am I getting old? I remember nineteen years ago having to pitch two softball games on the last day of the big tournament in order to win. It was over 100 degrees the entire time--not desert heat hot, but North Carolina muggy and sticky hot. It peaked at 105 sometime in the second inning of the second game. Older players dominated our team in this mixed league; the opposition had youth. We dropped from twenty to fifteen players by the start of the second game. By the fifth inning, we had ten. Up by one run in the bottom of the last inning, we only had nine players. A hot wind kicked up dust in front of a cold front that was still twenty minutes away. Girl-boy-girl, the bottom of their order, and the batters were told not to swing. In the swirling wind, no one could put the ball in the automatic strike zone (a black patch behind home plate) successfully. Six pitches later, there were two outs. On the next pitch, a soft line drive to shortstop ended it all. Too tired to care, the field was empty five minutes later, no victory celebration, but the memory lingers strong.

Now, the dog days keep me inside, subservient to air conditioning. But the writing flows when my butt is in the seat all day, and bloody noir thoughts arise easily in my comfortable prison. Bring it on Mother Nature. Give me your best shot. I wonder what weather inspires other writers?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Free ideas for the taking.

Gene, a new writer friend, reminded me about the world's longest yard sale along highway 127 this weekend. In the past I thought, 'What a great event along which to set a novel." But I've had troubles coming up with a plot for it. What would you write with this event as a backdrop or metaphor for life?


This August, 2002 "Writer's Digest" article, "The Marshall Plan", and I advice you to check your word choices. Search for and replace, if necessary, the following:
* Redundancies like: armed gunman, personal friend, plan ahead, and totally destroyed.
* Unnecessary uses of "of".
* Sentences that start: "It is", "There are", "There is", or "It was", and their contractions.
* Phrases: "which is", "who are", and "who is", and their contractions.
* Vague modifiers: a lot, essentially, fairly, kind of, quite, perhaps, rather, seemingly, so much, some, somehow, somewhat, and such.
* Empty modifiers: genuinely, really, truly, and very.
* The unspecific verb "went".
* Vague adjectives: amazing, appealing, compelling, and interesting.
* Empty words: actual, actually, basic, essential, extremely, totally, and worthwhile.
* Weak words: anyway, arrive, as, attach, began, had, just, just a bit, look, off of, that, turn, and well.
* "ly" words: adverbs that are not pulling their weight and could be replaced by stronger verbs and nouns within the sentence.
It's not that any of these words or phrases can't be used, but they should be used when appropriate.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Character Holds Writer Hostage

Another writer wrote that a walk-on became a minor character and then demanded his own plot line. Yeah, that happens to me, too. Does it happen to you? How long do you fight this interloper? Do you go with this plot intrusion or do you fight to retain your original plot line? Why? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

IOSM - Chapter 6, Scene 1 (WIP)

A kettle of turkey vultures, Cathartes aura, had already started circling overhead, casting their shadows over Manny's body like some scene from an old western. Five evenly spaced bloody spots tattooed his torso. Someone was a damn good shot. The lawmen's stern faces pulled me into their world of crime and punishment. I swallowed hard, feeling yanked toward the punishment side of that world.

"Ethyl mercaptan," the coroner said, approaching me and pointing to the vultures. "It's the beginning of the decaying process in dead animals. Nothing escapes the olfactory lobe of a turkey vulture's brain." He tapped the side of his nose to give me a visual clue. "Of course, little else goes on in that small head of theirs." The detective trailed behind him. The deputies grunted loading Manny's three-hundred pound bulk onto a body bag on a stretcher.

"I'm Doctor Franklin Granger, the coroner. I'll figure it out soon enough, but it'd help with a time stamp. How long have you been hiding this man?"


"You know him?" Detective Murphy said.

"Yes. Well, no. And I wasn't hiding him."

"Which is it? Yes or no?" Murphy's stare intensified, and my responses shifted back and forth between the two men.

"He spoke at Tuesday's meeting at the Mt. Zion Church about the Largo PUD, but I'd never personally met him."

"Then why is he in your mulch pile?"

"I don't know."

"Did you have an argument with him?"

"No. I never even spoke to the man."

"Who was at this meeting?"

"About sixty people came. I didn't know many of them. Tabitha Isaman might know. She moderated the meeting."

The detective kept staring at me, and the urge to confess something to him came over me. All the priests and confessionals from my youth paraded before me. I hadn't done anything wrong, but sometimes that doesn't seem to matter.

The doc plucked a bottle of water from the icy tub. "How long have you had that pile of mulch?"

"Since Wednesday, yesterday morning. Some guy delivered it from Cowher's Nursery." I turned to the detective. "That's probably how he got here."

"Who is Manny?" The detective grabbed a bottle of water.

"Manny Klockman is, was, the Largo Development Company president. His company is putting up a planned urban development on a thousand plus acres straddling Bishop and Wake counties. He explained his aspirations at the meeting."

The detective had to have known all this. You couldn't throw a rock around here without hitting someone who didn't have a strong opinion about the PUD and what the development meant to this area. Largo has had contingencies on those acres for over five years. Town council approval of the project next Wednesday is a foregone conclusion despite Tuesday's meeting. If not approved before the contingency contracts expire, Largo will lose the buy-out prices set years ago and the non-refundable money they have been paying to hold that land hostage. If the contingencies on the properties are lost, anyone moving forward with development would have to pay millions more to acquire the same land. It wasn't hard to guess who would benefit from a delay, but would killing Manny prevent approval of the PUD? And why get me involved in this?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Avoid unnecessary dialogue tags. Search your story for said, asked, and thought. Reduce the use of said and asked, especially during action sequences. Once the action is set up, strong characterization should key speaker identification. This keeps the action flowing. Instead of "thought", show some physical action occurring during the thought by the person doing the thinking. When not using "said", make sure your tags are appropriate. Use speaking verbs (whispered, shouted, exclaimed, etc.) and not actions (laugh, smile, giggle).