Saturday, December 11, 2010


I knew I would eventually see it, but it was still a surprise when I stopped at an intersection and looked into the car facing me. There were four passengers and all of them had their cell phones pressed to their ears. There was a time when getting together was just that. Your friends had your attention, conversation ensued to some degree or the other, and you experienced what is called companionship.

So what does this have to do with writing, you might wonder. Actually, it has everything to do with writing, which is supposed to reflect what we see and do in the real world.

Cell phones are one of the most marvelous inventions of all time. They have transformed our lives in too many ways to mention – or at least in more ways than you DO mention in your stories. Television programs have jumped into this more than movies. Phone calls interrupt the characters, usually supplying the needed information to solve a crime, stop a wedding, save a life – you name it and it is all there – intruding, condoling, cajoling, altering, but getting the job done. Most people have a love/hate relationship with their cell phone, yet they hang on to them like a child with a pacifier. So the question arises – are you giving the proper respect to the telephone gods in your current WIP? I will hate your guts for doing so, but it is an important element of the world in which we live.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Every time we change our clocks, articles appear on the news telling us how wonderful this practice is and how it improves the quality of our lives. Reports quote energy savings, boost to the economy, and how candy sales are up due to children being able to participate in Halloween activities. If there was a daylight savings Scrooge, I would probably be it. I have clocks everywhere, and two watches that I have to change after searching for the correct instruction books. I think we should get on one time and stay there year around. The only downside I can think of would be the people who schedule changing the batteries in their smoke alarms to coincide with the time change. We should never forget the story, which might be true, of how the idea for the time change came about. There was a crazy Indian who cut a foot of material off the top of his blanket in the winter time and sewed it on the bottom to make it longer. I really hope that story isn’t true.

Monday, October 25, 2010

DreamSpell Nightmares

It goes without saying that one of the greatest thrills of writing is being published. One of my stories, Bear Essentials, will be appearing in an anthology called Dreamspell Nightmares, published by L&LDreamspell, a Texas publishing company. If you like scare stories, you are going to love this book. Visit their site at:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Startling Results of Harris Poll

Publishers Weekly has published the results of a new Harris Poll that concluded that mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels have edged out the chic-lit and romance novels by a large margin.

Reader preference is divided disproportionately among crime, mystery, and thriller novels (48%), science fiction (26%), ‘literature’ (24%), romance (21%), graphic novels (11%), chick-lit (8%), with western books trailing the list with 5% of the market.

You can follow the title link above to read the entire article at Publisher’s Weekly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

An interview on Susan Whitfield's blog!

I was pleased when Susan Whitfield invited me to her blog for an interview. Susan is not only a talented novelist, she is knowledgeable about the craft of writing, and has created a site that is entertaining, inspirational, and informative. Click on the title above to read her interview concerning my two most recent novels. While you are there, take the time to look around for some other interesting information.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Love thy antagonist as you love yourself!

I read a lot of mystery and suspense novels. Authors ruin many of them for failing to develop their antagonist in a manner that makes their downfall gratifying to the reader. Sometimes we don’t even know the name of the murdered. When we do, it turns out to be some throwaway character that hasn’t touched us in a meaningful way. We turn the last page, stretch and yawn and feel vaguely dissatisfied without know why. Murders, bank robbers, and terrorists aren’t supposed to be likeable, you’re probably thinking. Well . . . maybe and maybe not.

Mistake number one is inviting some unknown character into your plot. You don’t know very much about him, and neither does the reader after they’ve finished your book. We know he is bad because his appearance is out of kilter. He looks nothing like the people we want as our friends, and we certainly wouldn’t invite him to a dinner party. He might be too handsome for his own good, and therefore mistreats the women in his life. He might be unattractive, with all of the prerequisite snarls, sneers, and grimaces. He might use the f-word, or one of the many b-words. No one likes him, and we aren’t going to like him either.

Ask yourself this question while you’re stirring up your next batch of characters. Who is the most frightening; the unknown guy who lifted a finger at you in traffic this morning, or the live-in boyfriend who left those marks on your best friend’s pretty face? What about your supervisor’s son who likes your dress a little too much. Ahhh, you say. Now you’re getting personal. Of course I am, and that is the major element that makes a story hang together in a suspenseful manner. The devil we know is a lot more frightening than the devil we don’t.

What makes someone intensely frightening to me? He or she must have some ‘in your face’ characteristic that makes it impossible to avoid them. They must have some logical connection with my main character in a way that is going to bring about a major collision. At some point in the story, I must become the main character and feel what he or she feels. I must have that feeling that they are going to tangle their fingers in my hair at the wrong moment, go after my bank account, attack some family member, or otherwise damage me in at some indefensible manner. And the most telling point of all is the fact that I must feel somewhat guilty in defending myself. The villain must be more – much more – than a faceless thing. In our heart-of-hearts there is no problem in taking a golf club and pounding a ‘thing’ until it becomes a mound of dead flesh. The really great novels are little more than morality plays where otherwise loveable characters run amok. Don’t make your character curse at me; instead give me a reason to slap the helping hand aside that he extends in my direction. You need to know what he is doing, or thinking about doing, and it must keep you awake well into the night . . .

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I have a large stack of yet to be read books that friends have passed along to me. All of them are good, but if I spent all of my waking hours reading, I would never catch up, nor would I get any writing done.

When a family member passed along a copy of The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, I was delighted until I picked the book up and weighed it in my hand. I like books that end around 300 pages or less, but 973 pages are a bit too much. I complained to a friend and he said he did not blame me for not wanting to read a book of that length, but he did urge me to read the first couple of chapters. Just to get the ‘feel’ of it, he said. “Someone could have put out a condensed version,” I complained. “Check Cliff’s Notes,” he suggested.

Because of my friend’s good literary taste, I decided I would read a few pages. I didn’t have to read all the way to the end of the first chapter before I became hooked. I have always been a fan of Ken Follett, and I think this book is definitely his best. It makes the history of England under Norman rule come to life in a way that no other book has. It is absorbing, exciting, and informative. You can’t ask much more than that.

When I told my friend that I had finished the book, he asked me if I still thought it should be condensed.

Well . . . I began, not sure how I should reply. “Which sentence would you leave out,” he wanted to know.

I couldn’t think of one.

[I received my copy of The Pillars of the Earth as a gift from a family member.]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who Owns the Zebra?

Several years ago we received twelve inches of snow and a freezing rain on top of that. A friend had given me a puzzle called, Who Owns the Zebra. I spent the entire afternoon trying to solve the puzzle and finally did after using up most of a notepad. While this blog is usually devoted to subjects that touch on the writing process, it is good to occasionally spend a little time doing nothing, or next to nothing. You aren't suppose to cheat by looking up the answer on the Internet. I'll give you a few days to work on this before I post the answer.

Who owns the Zebra?

The following puzzle is a fine example of what is called a
“detective puzzle:” Based on clues supplied in a narrative, one is to answer a question by applying simple, man-on-the-street logic to the information (not all of it relevant) supplied.
On an odd little street in the town of “Somewhere”, there are five house in a row. Each house is a different color, each is inhabited by a woman of different nationality, and the owner of the houses also have their differences: each owner has a different pet, prefers a different drink and works in a different profession. A detective, charged with the task of discovering who drinks water and who owns the Zebra, gathered the following information, itemized for your convenience:

1. The Englishwoman lives in the red house.
2. The Spaniard owns a dog.
3. Coffee is drunk in the green house
4. The Ukrainian drinks tea.
5. The green house is immediately to the right of the Ivory house.
6. The engineer owns the snail.
7. The diplomat lives in the yellow house.
8. Milk is drunk in the middle house.
9. The Norwegian lives in the first house on the left.
10. The doctor lives next to the owner of the fox.
11. The diplomat lives next to the owner of the horse.
12. The teacher drinks orange juice.
13. The carpenter is Japanese.
14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

Who owns the Zebra?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Conflict In Fiction

It cannot be said often enough that plot is a verb. If a novel is to convey a story worth telling, it must move forward in a conflicted manner until it reaches a logical and satisfying conclusion. It is sometimes astonishing how little ‘action’ there is in literary fiction, even though the author might keep a firm grip on our throat all the way to a gut-wrenching conclusion. The most effective conflict in a story is what happens emotionally to the protagonist or to those he cares about. It doesn’t have to involve slashing, shooting, or hanging.

Conflict takes many forms depending on what type of story you are writing. In romance or young adult fiction, the conflict is often more subtitle, involving the relationship between the two main characters. In a suspense or thriller novel, the conflict will be more violent in nature, but it is most effective when the life-changing impact of the violence carries the story along. The most important factor in plotting your story is considering what your readership expects in that particular genre.

In a novel I read recently, the murder did not take center stage, nor were the details presented in graphic detail. The most moving scene involved the victim’s family at the funeral home trying to comfort each other, while seeking ways to pick up their lives and move on. The detail that made the scent so gripping was the suspicion that the husband’s carefully controlled emotions might boil over at some later date.

Regardless of the type of story you are writing, make me feel your pain rather than just presenting violence and mayhem in the manner of a crime scene report. Do it in the right way and I will come back to read what you have written again and again.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Right Atmosphere

One of the most time-consuming tasks in the writing process is research. Writers are advised to ‘write what you know,’ which is excellent advice, but even writing about those things with which we are familiar doesn’t free us from having to check each fact multiple times. Suppose, for example, that you grew up on a farm in Arkansas during the 1970s, and you want to recapture that era in a bestselling novel. You might suppose that if you create a story that is somewhat autobiographical you are completely safe, and no research will be required. Your novel is going to involve a ‘coming of age’ story, told through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old high school student. You can’t wait to get started, and you sit down in front of your computer and glance at your notes. You will probably make it fine until you get to the third paragraph. What kind of car did your family own? It was the one you learned to drive, but you need a few details to make it seem real in the mind of the reader. Just saying it was a big green car won’t get it in the eyes of your editor or in the mind of your reader. There was something magical about that first car you drove. It was probably where you got your first kiss, spilled a soft drink in the seat and received a chewing out from your father. You probably did other things we won’t discuss here. Why are such details so important? These are the details that create the ‘atmosphere’ of your story. Skillfully applied, you don’t notice details as individual elements that impinge your senses. You only know that you are there in the story and you say to yourself, that’s how it must have been. Details, details, and more details, is how you get the job done.

I am now reading ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett. Follett begins the prologue by giving us the date, which is 1123, and then the opening sentence is, ‘The two small boys came early to the hanging.’ Then he very carefully launches into their behavior, the sights and sounds of the scene he has created. You can hear it, you can fell it, you can smell the world that Follett has created. After reading his first sentence you can’t lay the book down -- you won’t lay the book down! Which reminds me, I have to get back to my reading . . .

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Book Trailer on YouTube

I really enjoy fooling around with graphics. One of the first things readers ask is what your book is about. It is a challenge to try to discover new ways to explain this. I have a new book trailer on YouTube. I hope you will take a minute to view Abraham’s Bones.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gift Horses and other Assorted Annoyances

There is an old adage from a bygone era that admonishes us to ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth.’ For those who are too young to know the meaning of this expression, it was the horse and buggy equivalent of a Carfax. There are a lot of free ‘horses’ and assorted software out there on the Internet, but you’re likely to get more than you bargain for if you download them. Recently, I downloaded a program I needed and acquired a little ‘gift’ called Weather Bug. It does what the name implies, but you aren’t likely to like the ‘bug’ part that gallops uninvited into your system. Weather Bug contains adware and is anathema to anyone doing serious research. Right in the middle of your search for some elusive fact you need for your story, an advertisement is likely to pop up and try to sell you something you don’t want. I’ve spent far too much time in the past week trying to uninstall Weather Bug. Nothing works. It is still there and the adware seems to be working overtime. Few of the ads have a cancel button, and I have to exit Explorer in order to get access to my screen again. I don’t know how you feel about aggressive ads, but I wouldn’t accept a new BMW if it came to me via adware. There are a lot of merchandisers on the Internet who need to grow up. There is a subtle difference between a product offer and badgering. Few of these people seen to know the difference. Weather Bug, please go away.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm Furious!

I’m a laid-back guy. I usually don’t want people to know that, because in another life, I took part in all kinds of active and dangerous sports. Too much knowledge hurts the image I’m trying to carry over into my post-retirement years. Last night before going to bed, I put the finishing touches on a 270 page manuscript. My sigh of contentment when I finished would have melted the heart of the most hardened Wall Street banker. After breakfast this morning, I fired up my new computer and was not pleased to find that my perfectly formatted manuscript had been transmogrified into what is apparently Mandarin. While I’ve never thought of myself as being self-centered, this manuscript is my own creation and I do not want it in Mandarin. Fortunately, I make a new file of each days work and will only have to go back a day to two to find a pristine copy that is properly formatted and in English. Major decisions about any computer related action usually involves, ‘are you sure you want to . . .’ You would think that the genius who put language translation abilities into a word processor would have the forethought to do the same. Perhaps I involuntarily touched some icon and this happened . . . But now I’m having second thoughts. My favorite food is Chinese and I eat often in one of the four Chinese restaurants in my area. I’m a good tipper, but I’m going to slip out to my shop and saw the handle out of my shovel, then sharpen it into a spear with my hatchet. If I find one of those little dudes hiding under my bed or in the closet, I’m going to . . . Well, you’ll read about it in the paper. Murder, anyone?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Being Negative About Negativity

The world is full of negative people. Some of you wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t pointed it out to you. I can let most negativity pass by without allowing any of my feathers to lift, but sometimes it really bothers me, especially when I encounter it on writer’s forums. One forum, where I am the resident lurker, has many ‘experts’ who seem to know everything on every subject, and they are quick to point out the dangers in trying something new. One young woman was making her first attempt at poetry. They gave her the same advice you would give an adolescent if they were picking at a zit. They are especially bothered by anyone who attempts to do things where they don’t have the necessary expertise. Most of the ‘right stuff’ apparently consist of an MFA, a diploma from an art school, computer engineering, or whatever. If some amateur suggests that they might ─ just might ─ attempt something new, then the little hatchets come out and they chop at the neophytes ego until he/she is whittled down to size. During a recent discussion that skirted the boundaries of a first class flame war, I held my tongue. After the shouting was over, decided I would attempt to do what this particular writer was warned away from doing.

“No writer should attempt to design the interior of a book, and they should certainly never attempt to produce a book cover,” the sages said. I disagree rather strongly. I am in the process of revising a previously published book. Here is my first draft of the new cover I managed to produce with a software program I had never used before, in just over three hours. Not bad for a first attempt. Oh, and another thing. The next person who says you can’t do it, it’s too hard, you are too stupid - yada, yada, yada . . . You have my permission to stick your thumb in their eye. How did the ‘experts’ become experts at what they do? Some of them will imply that they were born that way, or that someone popped out of Nirvana and placed a hand on their shoulder. I’ll bet you that most of them just sat down and started to work. Don’t give up on your next story and don’t give up on designing your next book. Keep working on your dream until it has the feeling and texture of a well worn dishcloth. Whatever you want to do, just go out and do it. Why? Because I said you could.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A glance at the cover of James R. Knight’s history of the Battle of Franklin, was enough to make me aware of what I would find inside. Having grown up in the South where I was immersed in the culture and history of the region, I have always enjoyed books about the Civil War written by knowledgeable writers. Knight’s careful research of the events surrounding one of the most decisive battles of the war did not disappoint. He has a captivating writing style that makes you feel that you have been thrust to the events. You can, in fact, almost smell the dust, the periods of despair, and the push toward victory that drove these determined men onward. Most writers who explain historical events, strive to answer the question of why this particular set of circumstances occurred. Knight draws us a little closer to the truth in his careful attention to detail. This book, which is part of History Press’s Sesquicentennial Series, is available at Amazon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Trailer

The making of a book trailer. It’s not as easy as you think -- or is it?

I turned off a busy street into the narrow entrance of a shopping center, then came to an abrupt halt, staring at the grill of an SUV. The parking spaces running at the wrong angle should have given the driver a hint, as should the arrow pointing into the wrong direction. I couldn’t back into the busy street, and after a lot of finger and hand motions from the driver, he reluctantly backed away and I came up the ramp and did a hard right to avoid a collision with his bumper. As I squeezed past, he leaned out his window and shouted, “What’s in your head, dude?” Had he paused for a moment, I would have told him. My head at the moment was filled with a song from a 1987 album by an Australian singing group called Midnight Oil. The video is on YouTube and is called, Beds are Burning. The album has been a favorite of mine for many years. For anyone thinking of creating a book trailer, there are some almost indescribable elements in this four minute offering that make it worth studying. The performance is a miniature movie with all of the plot and visual elements required to get the message across. Should you record something similar to promote your book? Probably not, but you can definitely get some ideas from the music, the musicians, and the message. It is a protest song about the mistreatment of the Australian aborigines and the need to address the problem. It almost makes me want to return to
the ‘60s and wave a sign or two.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Disaster, Anyone?

When the Soviet Union fell, there were many suspense and thriller writers who were crestfallen because they believed they would have nothing to write about. The Soviets were the perfect villains for the writers of fiction. They were powerful and seemed recklessly determined to dominate the world. The way their government officials dressed, and their military uniforms, had the visual effects needed to set the stage for almost anything. The aura of mystery that we called the Iron Curtain helped tremendously. While the Soviet Union might be on the garbage heap of history, the political entities that evolved have a greater potential for the imaginative writer.

Need another type of danger or disaster? What about the oil crisis. The possibility of energy shortages and the catastrophes they are sure to bring about, are almost too frightening to contemplate. What about medical or industrial accidents? What about the clever terrorist who gains control of the Internet and is able to penetrate the safeguards that protect the military, nuclear power facilities and our infrastructure? All we have to do is pick our disaster and scoot our chair up closer to the keyboard. The Internet has all of the technical details needed to flesh out the type of stories you have been itching to write. You don’t have to be Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy or Dan Brown in order to write them. As one small boy said in one of my horror stories, “The goblins are out there, Frankie. I think I hear them at the door.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chopping Your Manuscript Down to Size

In a recent email, a young writer asked if anyone had ever created a literary mess, plot wise, that could not be straightened out. “I have written almost two hundred thousand words,” she wailed. “Where do I go from here?”

I think a lot of us have known that feeling. We became too involved in our story, and like a dog with a broken leash, we can’t find a place to stop. How do we bring order into this unwieldy universe we have created? It can be done and it doesn’t have to be painful.

There is a method that works for me, and you might find it useful enough that your family will rethink their intention of shipping you off to the loony bin. You probably love what you have written, but it is time to ask yourself this simple question:

What is this scene supposed to accomplish?

Think of your plot as a whole. Try to determine if each scene pushes the story forward to a suitable climax, or if you have simply created a lot of sub-plot that has no connection to your main theme. Easier said than done, you are probably thinking. It will take something more powerful than one of Harry Potter’s magic spells to get the job done. Here is a thought that is almost as powerful as one of Harry’s incantations:

You are not writing for yourself - you are writing for the reader’s benefit!

In a rather caustic review on one website, the reviewer said, “This author is obviously rehashing her failed relationship with her lover, rather than telling us something about the romance of her two characters. I suggest that she take a pill and call us in the morning.”

Instead of fretting, do this. Create a sentence - not a paragraph - that tells you what each scene does. It might be something as simple as: “Molly discovers that Brett is attracted to her best friend.” Ask yourself if the reader needs to know all of the agonizing details, or can this entire scene be summed up in a sentence or two and accomplish the same thing. A lot of good writing has been ruined by cutting description, emotion, and action at the expense of everything else. The next time you discover that you have created a literary mountain instead of a molehill, concentrate on finding those scenes that have nothing to do with the rest of the story. Squash them like roach bugs, one by one, until you have everything down to a manageable size.

There, now! That didn’t hurt a bit, now did it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ebook anyone?

A surprising number of readers have never tried an Ebook. Even if you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can enjoy the growing number of books available in this new medium. During the week of March 7th through the 13th you can obtain two of my Ebooks from Smashwords at half price. Innocent is a full length suspense novel, and Stories for a Quiet Evening is a collection of short stories. Innocent is available for 99 cents and Innocent for $2.50. You can purchase both of them by following these links.


Stories For a Quiet Evening

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Makes Fiction Seem Real

The human brain is somewhat like a garbage dump. Not a very flattering analogy, perhaps, but I like that description because it accurately reflects our experiences and our perception of the world. Whenever siblings gather during the holiday seasons and discuss their childhood experiences, the stories often diverge in ways that defy logic. “Oh, yes you did,” and “Oh, no I did not!” becomes part of the discussion, with each party convinced that their memories are correct.

If we have trouble remembering events that happened in our mutual lives, then it shouldn’t surprise us when we have problems with ‘facts’ that we did not directly experience. Most fiction is composed of things that happened— or should have happened, or perhaps might have happened— or at least we hope the reader will think so. There is a writer’s term that covers this situation. We call it suspending disbelief. You might think that stories that are similar to current events are easier to make believable, but this is not necessarily correct. I think there are three elements that make a story resonate with the reader and make them come back for more.

First: Do I believe in what I am writing? In one writer’s group where I am a member, someone asked a rather complicated question about obtaining DNA from a werewolf that had drowned and remained immersed in water for several days. Initially, I was startled by the question and wondered if the author did not know that werewolves were fictional creatures. But as I thought about the question, I realized that this author was doing something that all of us should strive harder to accomplish. In the world she had created, werewolves were real and she believed it with the necessary conviction to bring her plot to life on the written page.

Second: Do I understand the facts I have woven so carefully into my plot? I still cringe over a major mistake I once made in a story. I had carefully researched my plot and was convinced that all of my research was accurate. I checked three different sources for the details on this particular situation and they were all in agreement. The story was already in print before I realized I had missed this particular ‘fact’ by a country mile. Writers are notoriously bad at harvesting details from other books on a similar subject. How many times have you read about the smell of cordite lingering in the air after a shootout, even though cordite hasn’t been used in small arms ammunition for many years? There is nothing like talking to someone who has been there and done that.

Third: Do the ‘facts’ in my story run contrary to popular belief? There are a surprising number of things in this world that everyone believes to be true when they simply aren’t accurate. Some of the popular crime shows on television are notoriously inaccurate in pushing the envelope concerning technology. DNA evidence gets compared almost overnight, when in the real world, the backlog in crime labs make anything faster than two weeks very unlikely. On a recent crime show, a male agent turned to his companion and said, “I am an FBI agent. I get shot at every day!” In the literary world, writers attempt to whip every situation into a major event and people have come to accept these over-hyped situations as reality. I know a police officer who retired after thirty years on a large police force. He told me that he had never fired his gun while on duty, a fact of which he was rather proud. Try dropping that little gem into a story and see how much fan mail it will generate. Life is interesting and we must strike a balance between reality and what people believe about the world. It is an interesting situation, but that is what makes the world of fiction so interesting whether we are reading or writing the next bestseller.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Julia Dales Revisited

I was a little surprised when I wrote an article about a seventeen-year-old student from Canada named Julia Dales who wanted to win the beatboxing championship. I loved the video on YouTube because it was offbeat and was one of the amusing things teens have been doing since the first family left the garden of Eden. I have been amazed that the short article, published on May 30th of 2009, is still generating so many emails. There seems to be little middle ground. People are either amused by the video, or they tell me . . . “Our teens are irresponsible enough without you encouraging this kind of behavior” or “You usually write about serious things. I can’t believe that you are laughing over something so ridiculous.”

There are two reasons I liked the video. When my daughter was in high school, her best friend spent a lot of time at our house. Beatboxing had not been invented then, but if it had, Kim would have done it in some pricy restaurant (she has done worse) between the time the appetizers were served and the main course, and the other customers would have loved it.

The second reason has to do with who we are and how we look at life. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8. It is the one you have heard read aloud at countless funeral services. The forth verse says, ‘there is a time to cry and a time to laugh . . .’ I don’t believe the world has seen enough laughter, especially the kind that rises spontaneously from deep inside, with no purpose except to celebrate life. I think we should address the serious problems of the world, and God knows there are plenty of them. We are now fighting two wars with another looming on the horizon. We still haven’t solved all of the problems with Katrina. Now there is Haiti, the drug problem, crime, illness – just to name a few. All of them are worthy causes, but sadly, it is like playing whack-a-mole, you don’t get one solved until another crops up. There aren’t enough comedians like Bill Murray who appeared in the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ nor well we ever get enough of those two zany characters in ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ We can’t turn our attention away from them because we see a little of ourselves in each act of insanity. Sadly, too many comedians dredge the bottom of obscenity to get laughs today.

Why do people object to the ridiculous things in society? I have a theory on this: We all have things we think we have hidden from the world, and too much attention on laughter might bring them to everyone’s attention.

I don’t think there are enough people like Julia Dales appears to be on her videos. Anyone with a whole orchestra in her head is to be admired and praised. Maybe she will grow up to be a musician or a surgeon who can carry her sunny outlook into the operating theatre, or perhaps she will aspire to the highest calling in the western world. Maybe she will strive to be a Mom and raise four or five little kids, each of them prepared to roll on the bed and laugh with unrestrained joy at the funny things of the world.

Here is a link to Julia Dales latest video: Julia Dales on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sniper Locater

If you write spy fiction, your hero won’t be complete without the latest gadgets to battle his country’s enemies. There are a lot of things out there that most of us never heard of, and a surprising amount of it is on the market. One of the newest offerings is a small device developed for military applications. This electronic sniper locater is called Ears Gunshot Localization System and is now available to the U.S. Army. This lightweight device is no bigger than a deck of cards, weighs 6.4 ounces, and can pinpoint the source of a gunshot in a fraction of a second. The technology works by triangulating the direction of the gunshot by analyzing the shape of the sound wave. The price is rather steep at $8,000, but the agency your secret agent works for has unlimited amounts of money, so what the heck.

Available at

Location, location, location.

Fine tuning your fiction.

An friend of mine who runs a small and successful business has told me there are three secrets of success. You must have the right location before you can succeed. I did not stop to think of the ways location could play an important part in literature until I entered a short story contest. The contest promised a short critique on each story, which seemed to be more than worth the effort. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the editor’s evaluation of my short piece of flash fiction, but was puzzled over one comment at the end of the paragraph. He said, “Wouldn’t this story have been better if you had set it in Seattle?”

I read and reread the story and still couldn’t get the point. Like all flash fiction, the story was rather lean, the scene happening on a street corner that could have been anywhere, USA. I have never been to Seattle. The longer I thought about the editor’s suggestion, the more I realized that even in short fiction, location can be extremely important. Here is a place where we can bring vibrant reality to a scene—even a short one—with a sentence or less. Take the following situations:

[A man senses danger as he pulls to the side of the road to examine a flat tire.] He closed the car door with a soft click that was barely audible above the faint sighing of the wind from the bayou.

Or: The thin sliver of the moon slid behind the clouds, but in the brief instant, he could see the barren landscape stretching toward the horizon.

We experience the world through our five senses. It is astonishing how seldom we employ smells, texture, and taste to our stories. You can, in fact, read through an entire book and find little except what the characters see and hear. The rich odor of food in a Chinatown restaurant, the taste of fresh artic snow on our lips, or the texture of an expensive fabric can awaken emotions and set a scene more than an entire chapter of dry dialogue or dull narrative.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Short Story, Anyone?

Tags: John Grisham, Ford County, short stories.

There are many websites on the Internet where you can read short stories for free, and a lot of us take advantage of the opportunity. Some of these sites have a comment section where the readers can give their opinion. For any given story, the comments will run from snarky to the sublime—some of the comments are actually better than the stories. The comments that heap ridicule on the author’s head aren’t necessarily bad, because all of them reflect the opinion of the individual readers. One often stated opinion is the ending of the stories. One recent comment was, “. . . too long a buildup for a one-liner ending.” Another writer said, “Your last sentence would have been appropriate for a joke, but not for a serious story.”

I have started reading John Grisham’s collection of short stories called Ford County. From the very first story, it became obvious to me that Mr. Grisham did not make this mistake, and it should cause some of us to rethink the way we have been taught to end a short story. Most essays end with some sentence that is like double punctuation, intended to nail down and give meaning to everything that went before. When Grisham gets to the end he just stops. He has already said everything on the subject clearly and concisely and there is no need to put a backstop to the story. If you are tired of reading stories about Presidents, earth shattering events, and a world gone wild, you might like the change of pace Ford County offers. The stories are earthy, and they make us remember that over thirty million people in this country live a hardscrabble existence. Grisham shows us a better way to end a good story without too much burble or slush.