Monday, December 27, 2010

Brimstone by Robert B. Parker

Today I finished reading Brimstone by Robert B. Parker.

I read this book for fun.

Gate House by Nelson DeMille

Today I finished reading Gate House by Nelson DeMille.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading project.

This was a hospital read.  I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been in the hospital.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Flip worry switch off

Before breakfast his admitting doctor popped in.  He was a different kind of doctor.  So laid back.  Didn't get ruffled.  "I hear you want an oncologist"
"We'll get one.  Did GI doctor come by yesterday?"
"Well we'll get his ideas too."

I can live with mystery bleeding if I know there are no carcinoids.

It was Thursday, December 23rd.  When offered the chance to go home for Christmas and do future tests as an out-patient, it was a no-brainer.  He was gone!  (Of course, when this happens in real life it actually takes 2 hours to be discharged.)

Plan was for a CEA, 5Hiaa, CT scan, PET scan and the swallow the pill camera scan to begin the week after Christmas.  God, it felt good to have a plan.  Flip plan switch on.  Flip worry switch off.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No More Blood

Today his bleeding was stopped.  He required no new blood in 24 hours.  His blood count was rising.

An Upper Bowel Follow-up test revealed nothing.  Still don't know where or why he bled.  Just know it has stopped. 

Thank you, God.

Today his admitting doctor was off.  The covering doctor didn't do anything but stick her head in the door and earn a consulting fee.  No results of tests.  No new ideas .  The GI doctor didn't show his face either.

He had a long talk with his nurse.  Asked about the doctor's competency.  Four days in the hospital and no one knew anything.  Who was a good oncologist in case the carcinoids cut out of his bowel ten years before were back?

Tomorrow we need a new plan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Add Blood

His Esopogeal Scan and Colonoscopy revealed nothing. 

But, being topped off with four pints of blood made everything better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

ER Express

He was at his doctor's office half an hour before it opened.  He was able to be seen first.  He told the doctor he needed a test.  He showed her his ostomy bag.  "I think it's blood."

"You don't need a test.  I can tell it's blood."  She sent him to the emergency room.

At the emergency room, they asked if they could help him.

"My doctor . . ." 
And they completed his sentence with his doctor's name. 
"We have your records.  Come here"

Wow!  The last time he went to an emergency room he sat for more than an hour before triage.  Guess having a worried doctor sending you counts for something.

He was admitted into the hospital.  A GI Bleed Scan cast no light on the problem.   Great fun was had with prep for a colonoscopy that night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Isn't Okay

She decorated the Christmas tree - lights and garland.  When he stood up to help with the lights at the top of the tree, where she couldn't reach, he felt light headed.  Walking twenty feet made him tired.

This isn't okay.  And then the day got really bad - the Ravens beat his Saints.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader

Today I finished reading Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader.

I read this book as a part of my learn to write by reading project.

Not Good

Today he was still.  His belly hurt.  He had a fever and he felt dizzy when he stood for more than a few minutes.

Had he lost that much blood?  She said he was white as a ghost sitting in his chair.  But, the color returned when he lay flat. 

How much blood had he lost?  Would he stop bleeding?  When?

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Second Chance by Harlan Coben

Today I read No Second Chance by Harlan Coben.

I read this book as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Uh Oh!

He looked down at the ostomy bag, a gift from 2000 cancer surgery.  Its contents were the color of black raspberries  A dark bluish-purple with a tinge of red at the very edge where it was thin.  Was it dread, fear he felt?  The last time he saw this much blood wasn't a good time.  It was the beginning of a struggle.  A life or death struggle.  Is that what was happening?

He wasn't surprised.  He always felt it would be back for him.  It was just a matter of time.  After ten years he had hoped.  But, it looked like it wasn't to be.

There was no "Why Me?" question.  Simply, is it back Will I prevail againHas the struggle begun anew?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Echo Burning by Lee Child

Today I finished Echo Burning by Lee Child as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

A most enjoyable read.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bon Secour First Draft Finished!

Today I finished the first draft of my thriller, Bon Secour

Although first draft might be a bit of a stretch for some.  Some scenes are really more just an outline.  But I finally figured out what was going to happen in every scene of my story, and I really wanted to be able to say I have finished my first draft and post this really neat merit badge.  So, I'm saying it.  I've finished my first draft (er outline/draft).

 It has some action and the rest is dialogue.  It is devoid of almost any description or narration.  And it's only 32,857 words.

So to get to 100,000 words I'm going to have to add a lot.  Hopefully I will be adding the rich descriptions in the style of John Hart.

But first, I'm going to dust off my Dramatica Pro software and test my story against the Dramatica story theory.  And since I couldn't make heads or tales of Dramatica before this ought to be 'very interesting' as they used to say on Laugh In a million years ago.

Thanks to for the merit badge.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blue Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker

Today I read Blue Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker.  I can't lay this one at the door step of my Learn to Read by Writing Project. 

Blue Eyed Devil is what I call popcorn fiction.  It's a snack.  Light and salty.  Fun!!

The dialogue between Hitch and Virgil is awesome.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

Today I finished 9 Dragons by Michael Connelly as a part of my Learn to Write by Reading Project.

The book jacket described the book as a mystery thriller.  A term I wasn't aware existed.  But it was a good description. 

I have read praise of Connelly's protagonist, Harry Bostch, which put him in the same league as Lee Child's Jack Reacher.  When I learned that Bostch was a police detective, I thought to myself.  I'm not sure I'm going to like this.  (I don't usually like the police procedural genre.)  But, I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was a great story and Harry is a great character.

I also re-started writing Bon Secour.  My NaNoWriMo break lasted a week not counting the last ten days of November when I wasn't on break but didn't write either.  Managed a paltry 602 words.  But, I was sitting and writing.  Yeah!

I started a style exercise based on John Hart's Edgar Award winning novel, The Last Child.  What I am doing is copying a scene from the book.  Then breaking it down to identify the goal, conflict and climax of the scene.  To pick up on which emotions and which senses are called on in each scene.

I studied painting for about ten years.  The artist I most wanted to paint like was Richard Schmidt.  I studied techniques by copying the paintings of artist's I admired.  I got good at copying, but I never even got close to being able to copy one of Schmidt's paintings. 

If I could wave a wand and be able to imitate any one's writing style it would be Hart's.  When I compare some of the scenes I wrote during NaNoWriMo to The Last Child, I cringe.  His style is so different from mine.  I'll never be able to write like him.  But maybe I can grow in that direction.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter

Today I read Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter. 

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors I have enjoyed reading all of his novels.  This one is set in Bristol, TN at the time of a NASCAR event.

I love his protagonist, Bob Lee Swagger.  In fact, I've felt a little guilty using Bob Lee as the name of my antagonist in Bon Secour.  Hate to besmirch both the name of his protagonist and Gen. Robert E. Lee.  But, there you go.  The point of my antagonist is that he is a likable soul gone wrong.

Anyway, after studying how to write this year and reading novels analyzing why they work and why they sometimes don't, I found that I didn't like this story as much as I had enjoyed his previous stories.

Hunter's gimmick is that Bob Lee Swagger was a USMC sniper.  He knows everything about guns, ammunition, and shooting.  These topics are heavily embedded in every Bob Lee Swagger story.  I don't know that much about these topics.  And I don't care to know that much about these topics.  I'm not a hunter and I haven't fired a rifle since I wore Uncle Sam's green fatigues.  My readers may feel the same way about some of my protagonist's knowledge.  When I tell my story, Bon Secour, I need to keep my knowledge gimmick at a safe level.  My reader probably doesn't want to know the details of how to adjust a carburetor, just because my protagonist does.  It may add authenticity to the story but it isn't the story.

Night of Thunder ends with a surprise on the last two pages.  Sounds good.  But, my mind rebelled.  My story needs to have an ending that has been sufficiently set up.  One that seems right.  Not pulled out of a hat.  Tell me a character would finger his brother as the villain.  OK, I can believe that.  Tell me the character will say he thinks the villain might be his brother and then two pages later kills him.  I don't believe that would happen.  This means that my story must show a logical link from a character's knowledge to his emotions to his actions.  I can't leave any of it out.

Bob Lee Swagger is a cool dude.  He is a weapons superstar.  I get it.  Near the end of this novel, he stands over the body of the bad guy's boss whom he just beaten in a fast draw showdown.  He brags about being a fast draw champ, "Nobody ever called me slow."  Come on.  That is just tacky.  Bob Lee never bragged like that in a dozen previous novels.  Why make him a narcissist now?   I must make my protagonist likeable if I want my reader to identify with him, to take a fictive journey as my protagonist.  I must do this all the way to the end of the story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Running Blind by Lee Child

Learn to write by reading your preferred genre.  Solid advice I've read in How-To books and magazine articles.  And, most importantly, much more fun than actually writing.

Today I finished Running Blind by Lee Child.

It is a well written book.  However, I didn't like the final twist that revealed who the murderer was.  The choice left me scratching my head.  Except for a foreshadowed hypnosis clue it just didn't work.  It just seemed to be dumped as the solution.  Was that because it the story didn't support that choice. 

Or, was I disappointed because I didn't figure out who the killer was?

Story vs. me.  Probably me.

Or maybe story.  "Some of the concluding elements to Child's fourth Reacher outing how the killer gains access to the victims' homes, as well as the revelation of the elaborate MO fall into place with disappointing convenience."  - Publishers Weekly

Anyway, even if it isn't Child's best work, it's still a fun read.  And I'm supposed to be learning more when an author disappoints than when they write a perfect novel.  In this case, I learned I'd better get the ending right if I don't want to disappoint the reader.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Associate by John Grisham

Today I read The Associate by John Grisham instead of pressing NaNoWriMo.  Shame on me.  Maybe tomorrow I'll put some glue on my butt and sit down and write.

NaNoWriMo Day 30

NaNoWriMo got left in the dust. 

Ultimately it couldn't compete with food, football, and family. 

I've gotten about 30,000 words on paper.  Vowing to self to complete a first draft of Bon Secour by New Year's Day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Saigon by T. Jefferson Parker

Today I finished Little Saigon by T. Jefferson Parker.  A thriller set in the Southern California Vietnamese community.  It was a welcome respite from a four day family Thanksgiving.   A today I'm going to do something for myself moment.  I love how you can enter a new world with a book and be carried away. 

Thanksgiving Holiday was a lot of food, football and grandchildren.  I love them all.  I'm glad to be back on my diet and the familiar path of everyday living.

Bama came close but in the end we beat ourselves and Auburn will be representing the state in the National Championship if they get past "the old ball coach."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson

Today I finished reading Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy.

I have been following Ingermanson's blog, , for months.  An offer came from his publisher to receive a Kindle version of Writing Fiction for Dummies for free while I was in the middle of writng for NaNoWriMo.  I was having some questions about scene structure. So, I signed up, downloaded the book and read about scene structure.  I learned a three things.  1. I'm not crazy about using Kindle for a reference book because it's more difficult than simply turning pages to find something you want to look at again.  2. His book is as good as his blog, which I heartily recommend, and I needed this book for future reference on paper.  3. Don't turn your nose up just because the book is for Dummies. 

Now I admit there is some snob in me.  And, I would be a little bit embarassed if someone looking at my reference bookshelf commented on my for Dummies book.  What with me being a serious author and all.  The book deserves to be on my bookself.  In fact, it deserves to be open at my side as I write.  It has a lot of stuff that I need to know.

One of the first things that attracted me to Ingermanson was the concept of MRUs, motivation - reaction units.  He describes MRUs in depth in both his blog and in this book.  It's a concept he gives Dwight Swain credit for.  In Writing Fiction for Dummies he names MRUs - Private clips and Public clips.  It is a facinating way of describing the way things occur and a powerful writing tool.

I really liked this book.  I give it three stars.  Check his blog out.  It's great too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Die Trying by Lee Child

Today I finished reading Die Trying by Lee Child.  A most enjoyable read. 

Last week I finished the outline of the third act with it's thrilling climax of the novel I am writing in connection with NaNoWriMo.  I had previously written the dialogue for Act 1 and 2.  So this week I wanted begin writing the narrative and descriptive portions of each scene. 

When I started writing the description and narrative portions of the scenes.  I hit a STONE WALL.  In business I learned to cut through the fluff and get to the bottom line as quickly as possible.  What is the essence of the problem.  What is the solution.  Summarize on one page.  Skills developed over many years.  Honed to an edge.  Cut to the marrow.  

That was the problem.  My chapters had no fluff or very much meat.  Everything was cut to the bone.  And I realized.  While I like to read literature, I don't think that way.  I do understand that I need to describe a scene fully from a point of view so that a reader can be in the scene with the point of view character.  But I don't look at things in detail.  I paint things with a broad brush.  The details are a struggle.  Tonight I'll finish with only 30,000 words.  I'm worried that I will possibly finish my novel, Bon Secour, with less than 50,000 words in total.  If my novel needs to be 100,000 words long, what will I do?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Night and Day by Robert B. Parker

Today I finished reading Night and Day by Robert B. Parker. 

I am feeling so much frustration this week writing NaNoWriMo.  The words are just not flowing.  Seeking inspiration I went to the library to pick up another Lee Child novel but came home with this Jesse Stone novel by Parker. 

There is something about the dialogue in a Jesse Stone novel that is just so wonderful.  I wish my own dialogue for my NaNoWriMo attempt, Bon Secour, would be half a much fun to read.  I realized that narrative and description in a Jesse Stone novel by Parker is very lean.  The story rides on the dialogue.  Makes me feel better about my miserable descriptive abilities.  Makes me realize my characters don't talk enough either.

I really like Tom Sellick as an actor.  I was a big fan of Magnum PI and I think Quigley Down Under is one of the very best western, ever.  I truly love the Jesse Stone character.  I can't imagine anyone but Sellick playing the part.  I started reading Robert B. Parker after I had seen the made for TV movies starring Sellick.  Now I am a huge Parker fan.

I will miss Robert B. Parker and future Jesse Stone novels.  God Bless.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tripwire by Lee Child

Today I finished reading Tripwire by Lee Child. 

Enjoying Child's style of writing while thinking about fleshing out scenes for NaNoWriMo.

He has an easy to read style. Great dialogue and a real hero in his character, Jack Reacher.

Half way through NaNoWriMo.  Have 23,000 words.  A little behind schedule.  But I finally worked through the outline for the third act this weekend.  Now the third act is ready for dialogue.

Next up is to begin writing the descriptive portion of the scenes.

Today I attempted to divide the story into forty chapters.  We'll see how they hold up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oh Kindle, I Want to Turn the Page

I was reading the wonderful blog, Advanced Fiction Writing, authored by Randy Ingermanson this weekend.  His blog has been a fantastic source of information on how to write.  I have been cutting and pasting blogs into MS Word documents so that I could highlight, underline and otherwise mark-up as I studied what Randy had to say on topics.

I was aware that he had put his blogs together as a part of a book, Writing Fiction For Dummies, co-authored with Peter Economy.  Anyway, the blog I was reading said the book was being offered as a Kindle download at a special price for a limited time - FREE!

Can't do better than that price.  So I downloaded the book and began reading it on my PC via Kindle for PC.

Because I am writing a novel as a NaNoWriMo participant this month and it was time for me to begin fleshing out my dialogue with description and narration, I wanted to read Writing Fiction For Dummies's chapters on scenes. 

And when I did, I found out why I want paper pages.  When you finish chapter 11 and want to jump to chapter 14, its really hard to do in Kindle.  Turning to the next page is easy.  Jumping around in a book.  Not very easy.

I think reading a novel will be fine.  But, I logged onto Amazon and bought the book to hold in my hand and read.  Now, I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver.  Maybe that's why it was free.  Hook me with a free Kindle version then sell me the hard copy I really want.  Good marketing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Killing Floor by Lee Child

Finished reading The Killing Floor by Lee Child.

This was the first novel written by Lee Child.   It was very interesting to compare the style of The Hard Way which was written approximately 10 books later.  The Hard Way was written almost completely in dialogue.  The Killing Floor was written in a more conventional manner of description and dialogue.

I am enjoying taking breaks from NaNoWriMo to read Child's novels.  This is the end of week one of NaNoWriMo.  I have 15,926 words written using an fairly detailed outline of my first two acts and the briefest, sketchiest outline of the third act.  I don't have a very good idea how we will get to the final scene.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 1

Today National Novel Writing Month began.  With an outline and defined characters, I began in earnest.

The result 3,353 words.  Ninety-eight percent dialogue.

I had read several sources suggesting that by writing only dialogue with no "he saids" you would capture the essence of your story.   And if your story took an unexpected twist causing scenes to be dropped, you wouldn't lose the time spent on description, exposition, and narrative.

That sounded like a good idea so that's what I tried to do.

Most of my dialogue was too 'on the nose' to survive editing, but there were times when I was really enjoying the banter between my characters. 

All in all it was a fun day.  I'm glad that I am doing NaNoWriMo. 

I've told enough people about doing it that I can't quit without being embarassed.

Well Pilgrim, Write.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Hard Way by Lee Child

Today I read The Hard Way by Lee Child.  NaNoWriMo starts on Monday, November 1st and this is probably the only novel I will get to read for a month.  What a delight it was. 

It was my first time to read a Lee Child novel.  And, of course, my first time to meet Jack Reacher.  My curiosity had been tweaked by a segment on last Sunday's CBS Sunday Morning program.  I thought if the Reacher character stirs up this much interest I'd better look into it.

Well, I can see why.  He is a fantastic character.  I want to read more of his adventures.  And, I found Child's use of dialog to carry the story to be unlike anything I have read.  I thought to myself, 'he just doesn't use any narrative.'  Maybe I can copy some of that style for Bon Secour and emphasize dialogue.

My secret desire is to read all of the Reacher novels immediately.  But I will be strong and resist the temptation.  And instead write like crazy during NaNoWriMo.  But look for me to be reading a Reacher novel beginning December 1st.

A good read.  Heartily recommended!

Monday, October 25, 2010


I signed up as a participant in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) today. 

Beginning November 1st, I will begin writing my novel Bon Secour with the goal of completing 50,000 words before November 30th.  (1,667 words per day / about 7 pages per day)

NaNoWriMo will break my procrastination deadlock.

A recent post to the blog Fiction After 50 really spoke to me.

Sadly, wanting to write fiction and actually producing a novel are two completely different things. One of the most important HUSFS is to manage your writing time. You don’t need a Day Planner — or a PDA — but you do have to set aside quality time for writing fiction. And actually use it to write a novel.

This is not a plea to avoid procrastination. As one of the world’s most dedicated players of Spider Solitaire, I can say with authority that straightforward procrastination is not the most serious time waster for late-blooming novelists. “Worthwhile activities” will squander even more potential writing time.

One of the worst of these is “learning” when you should be writing.

All writers face the tricky challenge of balancing writing against activities intended to develop one’s craft. It’s vital that new novelists master the essentials of writing publishable fiction — but it’s all too easy to push away from the computer and read one more book about writing novels, take one more on-line seminar, attend one more fiction workshop at Community College, travel to one more writers’ conference, join one more fiction-related discussion group, Internet “loop,” or social networking site.

Although first-time novelists of any age can fall victim to the trap of studying the art of fiction to the exclusion of actually writing a novel, late-bloomers are especially vulnerable because we appreciate the value of learning from others — and seek out appropriate books, courses, workshops, and writing communities.

The key word here is “balance.” Make certain your schedule has adequate time set aside for actual writing and sufficient rewriting....  Bottom line: if you want to be a novelist, you must finish a book-length manuscript. So use your writing time … to write.

I have been paralyzed by the fear that my actual writing would not be good enough. 
I had my story outlined, and character studies completed since early June.  
I pitched my story to thriller readers and got a good response. 
But I couldn't make the leap to writing.  I wanted to spend more time learning how to write - studying the art of how to write.
Well, now I'm committed.  50,000 words in November or bust.  Going NaNoWriMo!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gunman's Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker

Finished reading Gunman's Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook

Finished reading The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook.  An Edgar Award winning novel.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Author Photo For Book Jacket

If your going to write a book, you need a book jacket photo. 

So I went and got one and earned a merit badge.

Thought about one of those poses in a leather jacket looking all tough-like.  But I didn't have a leather jacket.

Looked in the closet.  Forty tropical shirts looked back at me.  Picked out one and here I am.  Live at the coast.  Write about the coast.  Dress like the coast.  I guess.

Ten years ago I started wearing tropical shirts while fighting stage 4 cancer.  They made me feel good.  They still do.

Thanks to for the merit badge.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

Finished reading Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swan Peak by James Lee Burke

Today I finished reading Swan Peak by James Lee Burke.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

Today I finished Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. (1965)

I bought and read the book because I was intrigued by Motivation-Response-Units mentioned by blogger Randy Ingermanson in his blog Advanced Fiction Writing.  A concept which Ingermanson credited to Swain.

If a how-to-write book written in 1965 is still in print, it has something useful to say. 

This book does in spades.  Ninety percent of my copy's pages are highlighted, underlined, or both.  I give it four stars. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker

Read Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker.  An Edgar award winning novel.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The King of Lies by John Hart

Today I finished reading John Hart's debut novel, The King of Lies, (2006).  Hart received a nomination for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel for this book.

His second book, Down River, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel and his third book, Last Child, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. 

The book is superbly written.  The character arc is outstanding.  This is a fantastic debut novel.

His growth as a writer and story teller in his second and third books is nothing short of awesome.  I can't imagine the next book.  My expectations are sky high.

The King of Lies is a great read.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Last Child by John Hart

When I read about how hard it is to get an agent once you have finished your book, I get discouraged.

When I read about how hard it is for the agent to then find a publisher, I get discouraged.

When I read about how the established best selling authors own what is left of the print market, I get discouraged.

It makes me fear that there isn't room for another new author.

Then, I read The Last Child (2009) by John Hart.  My eyes grew wider.  My jaw dropped and then closed into a smile.  And, I said to myself, "By golly, this guy can really write.  He's the real deal."

His first book, The King of Lies, was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.  His second book, Down River, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2008.  His third book, The Last Child, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2010.  Talk about hitting home runs.  No one has ever come off the line so fast!

How come?  He's got great twisting plots, super characters you care about, really big bad guys, descriptions you can smell, taste and feel, and dialog you can hear as clear as a bell.  He's got it all.  And it is literary.

The message I get is. . .   If you're really good, agents, publishers, and readers don't care if you a new writer they want to read what you've written.

John Hart is my hero.  Read him!!!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gypsy In Amber by Martin Cruz Smith

Today I read Gypsy in Amber by Martin Cruz Smith.  It was was Martin Cruz Smith's first novel.   I read it as a part of my read everything Smith has written program.  He's a great writer and I have enjoyed his books.  This book is particularly  interesting because it demonstrates how much the author has improved in his later novels.  While it won an award as a best first novel, it is clearly an early work.  The plot has gaps which are unexplained and perhaps unbelievable.  Something that never occurs in his Arkady Renko stories. 

I knew almost nothing about Gypsies.  And I found the story to be a veritable fount of information about the gypsy culture.  So much so, that I wondered if telling the Gypsy culture story sometimes interfered with the primary storyline.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

Today I finished reading Red Square (1992) by Martin Cruz Smith.  The book continues the tale of  Arkady Renko, Moscow’s top criminal investigator, who was the protagonist in Gorky Park (1982) and Polar Star (1990).

Learn to Write by Reading Project. 

It was a good read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reader Notes Template

When I read Thriller/Suspense novels, I am not just reading for personal pleasure.  I am also attempting to learn how "the best" writers do it.  I've developed this template to record information as I read.  I then make copies of the pages for analysis and voice exercises.

Reader Notes Template


by ____________________________

Published By: _______________________________
Date Published: _________________
Agent Acknowledged: _______________________
Genre: ____________________

Story Milestones / Beats:

First Scene 0% _________________________________________

Premise 2.5% __________________________________________

Catalyst 8.3% __________________________________________
Plot Point I 25% ________________________________________

Act II Metaphor
Pinch Point I 37.5% _____________________________________

Mid-Point 50% _________________________________________

Pinch Point II
“All Is Lost” 62.5% _______________________________________

Plot Point II 75% ________________________________________

Learning to Imitate Voice:
Enter page numbers to copy for exercise:
Exercise 1: 1st three pages, & last page of 1st Chapter
Exercise 2:_______
Exercise 3:_______
Exercise 4:_______
Exercise 5:_______

Introducing the Protagonist:
a. Does the author use description? Dialogue? Action?

b. How (and when) does the author convey the character’s name, gender, job, age, and physical appearance? Page number: _____

c. What character traits does the author initially reveal, and how?

d. How much of the character’s background does the reader learn at the beginning?

Character Introductions: Enter name and page number where character is introduced:
Character 1 ____________________
Character 2 ____________________
Character 3 ____________________
Character 4 ____________________
Character 5 ____________________

Point of View:
What choices of point of view did the author make?
a. First Person?
b. Third Person?
c. Single point of view?
d.. Multiple point of view?

Action:  Enter page numbers to copy for action, fight, chase, etc. scenes


Sex: Enter page numbers to copy __________________

Read the first three chapters. Make a list of the backstory elements and notice how the author chooses to convey each.

Story Milestones / Beats

I have been reading a lot about story structure this spring and summer.  My primary sources have been Syd Field - Screenplay; Viki King - How To Write A Movie In 21 Days, Blake Snyder - Save The Cat!, and Larry Brooks - Story Structure.

I've tried to apply this structure to my work-in-progress, Bon Secour.  And, I've been studying each of the Thrillers I've been reading to see if and how these books conformed to this structure. 

And, while I've talked about structure in this blog, I haven't tried to describe it.  Structure consists of story milestones or beats which occur at specific points in the story.  They are:
• The opening scene(s) of your story.

• A hooking moment in the first 20 pages (10 pages for a screenplay). The hook is something that grabs the reader very early in the read and makes them want to stick around.

• The first Plot Point, at approximately the 25th percentile mark. The First Plot Point is defined as the moment when the story’s primary conflict makes its initial and meaningful center-stage appearance. This may be the first full frontal view of it, or it may be the escalation and shifting of something already present. In either case, nothing about the story is the same from that moment forward.
     The First Plot Point isn’t necessarily the occurrence of something big. Rather, it’s the moment when the ramifications and implications of it become clear to the reader, and usually to the protagonist (but not necessarily the latter), to the extent that it defines the forthcoming story-journey that lies ahead.

• The first Pinch Point at about the 3/8ths mark, or precisely in the middle of Part 2. A pinch point is defined as an example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience. We see it for ourselves in a direct form.

• A context-shifting Mid-Point, at precisely the middle of the story. The Mid-Point is defined as a moment when new information that enters the story squarely in the middle of it, that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.

• A second Pinch Point, at about the 5/8ths mark, or in the middle of Part 3. A pinch point is defined as an example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience. We see it for ourselves in a direct form.  This pinch point is sometimes described as the 'All Is Lost' moment.

• The second plot point, at about the 75th percentile. The Second Plot Point: the final injection of new information into the story, after which no new expository information may enter the story, and which puts a final piece of narrative information in play that gives the hero everything she or he needs to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conclusion; at this point the story shifts into resolution mode, based on this new information or some decision or action on the part of the hero or the antagonist.

• The final resolution scene(s).

It is not suprising that Thriller/Suspense movies follow this structure. 
What has been suprising is how closely the best Thriller/Suspense novels follow this structure. 
I think there is some truth to the theory that this structure is organic, a part of our sub-conscious.  It's the way the best story tellers have always told stories.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What In A Name?

Development of Bon Secour Characters Names:

Role                              First Try               Interim Try             As of now

Protagonist                    Joe Ed                  Jed                        Jed Frazier
Antagonist                     Bob Lee               Bob Lee Rankin
Damsel in distress          Jennifer                 Ashley                    Lou Ann Frazier
Jed’s love interest          Jo Ann                 Michelle                  Emily Catlett
Jed’s mother                  Barb Mary           Mary Frazier
Deputy Sheriff               Michael Fike        Michael Parker
Damsel’s roommate       Becky McGahan  Chrystal McGahan
Mechanic                       Lester Roberson
Damsel’s co-worker      Jane Sanfeld         Dani Sanfeld
Damsel’s ex-boyfriend    Bill Marler           Wesley Marler
Deck Hand #1               J. T. O’Bryan
Deck Hand #2              Skip White
Damsel’s friend             Ashley                  Jennifer                Jacki Anderson
Bob Lee’s Father          John Rankin

One of the really interesting things about asking friends and family what they think of your story and its characters is how many more suggestions they have about character's names than ideas to improve your story.

I had a couple of specific ideas based on Southern naming styles that I wanted in my character names when I began:
1.  I wanted a double named male character = Bob Lee.  Bob Lee coming from Robert E. Lee.  Using the name of a Southern hero for the villain is just perverse humor on my part.  Rankin is a name from my family history.
2.  I wanted a double named female character = Lou Ann. 
3.  I wanted a male character who used initials = J.T.

I wanted to use but didn't:
1.  An adult female who goes by "Sissy" or an adult male who goes by "Bubbie" (not Bubba).  I have friends who are both and I just love it.
2.  A double named female where one name is masculine. e.g. Tommie Lou, Sally John, Bobbie Sue, etc.

My protagonist started out as Joe Ed.  I have a friend named Joe Ed and I have always liked his name.  Suzy said "You can't use your friend's name."  I had been abbreviating Joe Ed as 'JEd' in my outline so I decided to just change it to Jed, short for Jedadiah.  A little quaint, but hey I've got some Jedadiahs in my family tree.  Frazier is my favorite grandmother's maiden name.

The Damsel In Distress' name changed the most.  I started out with Jennifer based on the most popular baby names in the year she would have been born.  Then I didn't really like having Jed and Jennifer both starting with 'j' so I changed her name to Ashley.  Then, the critics said she needed to be Lou Ann.  I like double names so I said OK.

Jed's Love Interest started out as Jo Ann (my original double named female).  The name of a very Southern friend now deceased.  But, I ran aground of too many names starting with 'j'.  Then I picked Michelle.  I think this is a really pretty name and I knew a Michelle back in high school who I thought was pretty hot.  But, alas, Michelle turns out to be the name of a friend's soon to be ex.  It was pointed out that making my Michelle really sweet and nice was bad manners and might offend the friend.  Who knew you had to think of these things and be so politically correct when you named a character.  I obviously didn't.

Becky & Jane got their names changed when it was pointed out to me that those were "old" names and would not have made the top 100 baby names in the years they were born.  Oh, well!

Every Sunday morning they show the names of servicemen who were killed in Iraq and Afganistan on This Week.  This has been the source of my non-family last names.  But, no one liked Fike so it got changed to Parker.  Probably because I just finished reading a book by T. Jefferson Parker this weekend.

So everyone has a made up name except, Lester Roberson.  This is name of a real person, now deceased, whom I loved and respected.  I hope my character can come close to representing the goodness that his life exhibited.

So now Bon Secour character names are locked and loaded.  Or at least until another of my helpers shows me the error of my ways.  :)

The Renegades by T. Jefferson Parker

Only four men have won the Edgar Award twice: Dick Francis [Forfeit (1970), Whip Hand (1981) & Come To Grief (1996)]; James Lee Burke [Black Cherry Blues (1990) & Cimmaron Rose (1998)], John Hart [Down River 2008 & The Last Child (2010)] and T. Jefferson Parker [Silent Joe (2002 & California Girl (2005)].  That is an exclusive club.  I've read every book Francis and Burke have written.  I've read Hart's 2008 winner Down River.  I hadn't read anything by Parker.

That changed today when I read The Renegades by T. Jefferson Parker (2009).  This book came to my attention when I read the Strand Critics Award nominees for the 2009 Best Novel.  I was aware of the previous Edgar Awards but I had not gotten to Silent Joe or California Girl in my read through the Edgar's quest.

I was thrilled.  I've added T. Jefferson Parker to my "to read everything by" list.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canto For A Gypsy by Martin Cruz Smith

Martin Cruz Smith's second book, Canto For A Gypsy, was published in 1972.  Back in those days he was simply Martin Smith.  His first book, Gypsy in Amber was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America as one of the best first mystery novels of 1971.

My good friend, Perry Pringle, first put me on to Martin Cruz Smith when he told me that I must read Gorky Park.  'In contemporary Moscow, Chief Homicide Investigator Arkady Renko unravels the mystery of a triple murder--involving three corpses buried in the snow with their faces and fingers missing--complicated by the shadowy and uncooperative presence ...'

Since that time I've tried to read all of his novels.  My favorite to date is Rose 'Down-on-his-luck mining engineer Jonathan Blair undertakes a mission at the request of Bishop Hannay to find the missing curate engaged to Hannay's daughter, an investigation that takes him into the heart of coal country and into a romance ...'

These days I am all into story structure.  And it was very interesting how close Smith followed the beats espoused by Blake Snyder in his screenplay book, Save The Cat!.  Smith hits each of the beats within two pages of the structure Snyder teaches.  Amazing considering Canto For A Gypsy was written 30+ years before Save The Cat! or Syd Field's Screenplay which teaches a similar structure.  No one was teaching this kind of story structure in 1971 when Canto For A Gypsy was being written.

I think it just goes to show that the Greek 3 Act structure and subsequent refinements simply go along with the organic storytelling structure that is hardwired into our sub-conscious - probably since the first story was ever told. 

Ignore structure at your own peril.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bland Heroes

Today I read an interview with Tess Gerritsen creator of the Rizzoli & Isles characters in The Strand Magazine, Jun-Sep 2010 issue.

Q.  "So what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A.  "Be persistent, and get a good agent (laughs).  That's about it....I think, if you aren't published yet, you've just got to find the right voice.  You've got to find the right character.  Sometimes it is searching for the character who needs to have a story told.  I think too many beginning authors, their heroes are bland;  their heroes are uninspiring.  They haven't really been able to crawl into those heads yet and inhabit those characters well enough.  And a large part of the successful book is really in the point of view of the characters."

Uh oh!  I'm going down this path.  My everyman hero, Jed, is bland to me.  He's definintely uninspiring.  He's only a means to tell the villain's, Bob Lee, story.  Whoops, I'd better figure this out.  Like now!

While I conducted a one person focus group session with Katy this week.  She said, "You don't really know Lou Ann (my damsel in distress) do you?"  No.  Guilty.  Again, she's just someone I need for Bob Lee to threaten.

I did some backstory and character planning on Jed and Lou Ann.  But evidently not nearly enough.  If Tess Gerritsen is correct, and what she says rings true.  I won't have a successful book until I want/am compelled to tell Jed and Lou Ann's story, not just Bob Lee's.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Suzy and I had a conversation recently about how I am beginning Bon Secour.  She was telling me that I didn't need to begin with a big bang.  That I could do it like Ken Follett did in The Eye of the Needle

I think she had just read [listened to an Audible book on her iPhone] The Eye of the Needle.  But then, her memory is much better than mine and could have remembered it from back then. 

I read The Eye of the Needle in 1979.  I couldn't remember squat about the story.  Just that it was good enough that it launched my reading everything Ken Follett wrote over the years except The Pillars of the Earth.  (I bought that one and it sat on my to-read shelf for 15+ years.  It was just too long to start until this Summer when the TV mini-series peaked my interest again.)

Anyway, I read The Eye of the Needle again today.  A thoroughly great read.  I'm going to add this one to my style development exercises. 

But, I think I'm going to still start Bon Secour with a big bang.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Derailed by James Siegel

Today I finished reading Derailed by James Siegel.  The "New York Times" bestselling thriller about a businessman whose life becomes a nightmare when he gets involved with the wrong woman on a train.

It was recommended by Syd Field in his book Screenplay as a thriller which had been made into the movie Derailed.  In the movie, Charles (Clive Owen), a successful ad exec and devoted family man, meets a sexy woman (Jennifer Aniston) on his morning commute. But their casual flirtation turns serious -- just not in the way either expected -- when a criminal pulls them into a dangerous plot. Now, with their lives thrown off-kilter, Charles and his paramour must turn the tables on the bad guys to save their families. Mikael Hafstrom directs.

I can heartily recommend the book and the movie.  The plot of the book is unique and I loved the twists and turns.  The voice is great.  The dialogue wonderful.  You get the idea.  I hope Bon Secour can be 1/4 as good.

I wish I hadn't already seen the movie when I read the book.  I think I would have loved the suprises more if I hadn't been able to rememeber the movie.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Today I finshed reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. 

I bought the book 15+ years ago and its been sitting on my to-read shelf, unread, because I'd look at how thick it was and say to myself, "I don't want to spend that much time on this one."  Then after I had watched the first two hours of the TV miniseries.  I decided I wanted to read the book first.

At this same time, I was hiding in the corner from the actual writing of my work in progress, Bon Secour.  Then I read Pillars of the Earth and I said to myself, "There is no way in God's green earth that you can write like this."

Of course, if I could, maybe they'd pay me $40,000,000 like Forbes reported that Follett made last year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dramatica For Screenwriters: How To Get The Most Out of Dramatica Pro & Write Great Scripts by Armando Saldana-Mora

Today I finished reading Dramatica For Screenwriters: How To Get The Most Out of Dramatica Pro & Write Great Scripts (2005) by Armando Saldana-Mora

"Dramatica for Screenwriters by Armando Saldaƃ±a Mora is a must for any writer who wishes to get the most out of the DramaticaƂ® Pro story development software. Written by a working screenwriter, this book gives real world, practical applications for using Dramatica to develop and write screenplays. Book topics include: What Dramatica offers the screenwriter, Dramatica in thirty seconds Characters: Beyond the archetypes, Character Relationships as subplots, Note and sketch story development, How to get a complete plot, Four Dramatica Acts, Three Classical Acts, Narrative flow & writing the screenplay and many more." -

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hostage by Robert Crais

Today I finished reading Hostage by Robert Crais.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

It's a fun read and the movie starring Bruce Willis is good too.


On Saturday, I did something really stupid and I'm paying for it this week.

My daughter needed to borrow my riding lawn mower.  I went to Lowe's and bought a set of aluminum ramps to facilitate loading the mower into the back of my pickup truck.

I set up the ramps.  Put the mower in neutral and pushed.  The mower went up the ramp about two feet and then began to come back down the ramp.  Not to be out foxed.  I decided to put the mower in gear and drive it up the ramp.

Bad decision.  The mower got up about three feet.  Then, unbalanced, I fell off the back of the mower.  Landing flat on my back.  Then the mower fell over backwards and landed on my chest.

Lying on my back with the mower on my chest, I realized that the gasoline was pouring out of the gas tank onto myself. 

Thanks to lifting weights for the past seven years, I was able to bench press the mower.  It's amazing what adrenaline will do for you.  I probably couldn't press that 350 pounds ever again.  But at the moment, it just had to be done.

Went to the doctor today.  Nothing broken.  But I hurt everywhere.

Hope I can remember how this felt. I'm sure the pain will wind up in a story.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How I Write a Script by Scott Myers, Part III

Ok, I’ve got forty-five 3x5 cards, one for each scene in my work-in-progress, Bon Secur. I think I have all the major story points covered. Now what? That’s the subject of Scott Myers sixth part of his How I Write a Script blog. You can read his full blog at:

He writes, “I start by transcribing the content of the cards into a new Word file called Story Outline. I generally will have written down notes and ideas on the cards related to each scene or beat, so that information goes into the outline as well.”

“The goal here is to create a blueprint with Scene 1, followed by Scene 2, Scene 3, all the way to the last scene and FADE OUT. The hard work here is to make sure as best as I can that the story tracks and handles all the subplots. A final consideration is to think about the transitions, how to make each shift from one scene and sequence to the next is as smooth and seamless as possible.”

“Apart from locking down the story’s structure, I also think about every scene, asking a series of questions:
* What is the point of the scene?
* What is the scene's Beginning, Middle, and Ending?
* What characters should be in the scene and why?
* How do I enter / exit the scene?”

“That can change in the actual writing of the script – as well as scene order – but I like thinking through my scenes in advance.”

“My outlines can be quite long. I just pulled out one from my files that is 22 single-spaced pages. But then, I like to throw in everything I dredge up for each scene: images, bits of dialogue, Internal World dynamics, transitions, and so on.”

“Okay, now I want you to take a deep breath and realize something: All that -- story concept, brainstorming, research, character development, plotting, and outline -- and I haven’t written one word of the actual script. I have found doing the hard work up front, what I call prep-writing, gives me more room for creative thinking in my page-writing process.”

“Let's me be clear: I am not saying that every writer has to work this way. Each writer has to find the approach that works for them.”

Tomorrow, I’d like to introduce you to Scott’s Script Diary.

Like most of you, I have Word loaded on my computer and could create my outline in Word as Scott suggests.  But, as you might guess, I'm a sucker for gadgets and software.  I purchased Write Brothers' Outline 4D.  I've been using it to outline novels written by favorite authors and films as a part of my study of story structure.  I've been very pleased with it during the limited time that I have been using it.  When I've answered Scott's questions regarding each scene I'll be dusting off Outliner 4D and applying it to Bon Secur.  That will be the real test.