Grantchester

I’m fussy when it comes to mysteries. I don’t like them told in the 3rd person. Although I’m okay with limited 3rd person, as in The Maltese Falcon where we basically have Spade’s point of view. I don’t like cozies. They’re unrealistic. Police procedurals aren’t my cup of tea either. Basically I like private eye novels told in the 1st person, preferably by the “Watson”, and where the PI is somewhat quirky or idiosyncratic. The oddest thing, perhaps, about my fussiness with mysteries is I’m not at all interested in the puzzle. I don’t really care if the writer played “fair” or not. I’m interested in the characters. How they interact with the suspects, law enforcement, their partners, and life.

Public television’s Masterpiece Mystery recently concluded a six-part series entitled Grantchester, based on novels by James Runcie. They involve an Anglican priest working with a local police detective to solve murders. That’s the old stuff. What makes Grantchester a success for me are the characters and the time period.

The 1950s (when I was a wee lad) was a complex decade. The Cold War and the fear of nuclear devastation. A time where television began pushing aside radio and movie theaters and sounded the death knell of pulp magazines. A time of the proliferation of labor saving devices in the home, which gave women more time and eventually led to them being able to work outside the home. The ‘50s saw a revival of Victorian prudery which set the stage for the sexual revolution of the ‘60s. Rock and roll began in the ‘50s. There was also a curious mix of optimism and pessimism, not unlike in the ‘30s. I am still waiting for my flying car. It was a complex time and is a great setting for a mystery series.

The characters are well-drawn and interesting people. Even the minor characters are delightful and full of quirks. Canon Sidney Chambers and Inspector Geordie Keating, the main characters, have both served in World War 2. The series addresses coping with the horror of war in a time when PTSD was unheard of and former soldiers were expected to just get on with their lives. Drinking to excess, overwork, nightmares, relationship problems plague our heroes. One gets the impression they are coping, but not necessarily in an overall positive manner.

The mix of setting and characters is so good I don’t really care “whodunit”. I’m satisfied to find out when Sidney and Geordie do. The puzzle doesn’t matter. For me, that is okay. And because the series is so good, I now want to buy the novels. Apparently, others have been taken with the show because it looks as though it will get a second season.

If you’ve seen Grantchester or read the books, chime in and let us know what you think. Also welcome are your thoughts on the mystery genre: is there room for mysteries where the puzzle isn’t important.

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March Madness Sale!

The US Upper Midwest has been clobbered with snow, but mostly Arctic cold these past weeks. Thank goodness Minnesnowta hasn’t been hit as badly as points further east. That is about all the good one can say about it. But spring is coming. March is just around the corner and spring isn’t far behind.

To celebrate the coming new season, I’m holding a March Madness sale on my novels the first week in March. It will be an Amazon Count Down Special. So get in early to get the best savings. We have to move out the old pixels to make way for the new ones coming in. 🙂

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #8

Today’s snippet comes from an early chapter in my forthcoming novel The Golden Fleece Affair. Here we see a little different side of Lady Dru. Having learned how to shoot a submachine gun when in the Soviet Union on her previous adventure, told in The Moscow Affair, she has occasion early on in her new adventure to use one again.

She, her partner, Karl, and Jake Branson, Mr Hall’s Man Friday, are being pursued by a mysterious black Hudson Hornet. Now, on a narrow and winding road, sandwiched between a semi and the Hornet, the big black mystery car tries to run them off the road. But Dru is ready. She cocks the submachine and sticks it out the window. Then the fun begins:

The Hudson hit us and kept accelerating. The jolt caused me to hit my head and see stars for a moment. Branson was struggling to keep us on the road. I saw a man lean out the passenger side of the Hornet. He had a gun. I pulled the trigger on the submachine gun.

The windscreen on the black sedan shattered and the wind blew the glass back into the car. The behemoth drifted over to the side of the road, up onto the angled cut through the earth, hit a boulder, flipped end over end, came back down onto the road, rolled over onto its roof, and burst into flames.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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Being Prolific

Some writers are naturally prolific and others aren’t. It is not an issue of good or bad, it just is. One of my favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, sometimes has years go by before a novel comes out. But are they ever good. Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee certainly wasn’t/isn’t prolific. Yet Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird are such tours de force why write a second? Could a second be anywhere near as good?

Beginning in 1847 with his first published work, Anthony Trollope, in a span of 35 years, produced 35 novels, 2 plays, 44 short stories, and 18 volumes of sketches and non-fiction. That is nearly 3 works a year.

From 1939 until his death in 1992, Isaac Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books. That is over 9 a year. Pretty incredible.

What’s their secret?

For Trollope, it was writing 10 pages a day (2500 words). A practice Stephen King also follows. Trollope also used standard plots so he could focus on his characters.

For Asimov, it was simply to write. Leave editing to the editors, he once wrote, that’s what they’re there for. Of course, in today’s world there is no slush pile and no editors to edit. Victims of bottom lines and shrinking profit margins. Agents, beta readers, and editors for hire have taken over what the Big Publishers discarded. Nevertheless, even though the publishing world is different today than in Asimov’s day, he had a point.

Writers write and editors edit. For today’s author, who wishes to be prolific, obtaining the services of a good editor could go a long way towards obtaining that goal of prolificity.

Also key to Asimov’s tremendous output was he wrote fast in a simple and straightforward style. He focused on the story, got it on paper, and let the editor edit so he could write the next story. His stories are also rather formulaic. Writing to formula helps to eliminate plot angst.

Think about this: a 1,000 words a day (that is 4 double-spaced typed pages) will, in 50 days, produce a 50,000 word novel. At that pace, you can turn out 6 novels a year. Want a fatter novel? 75,000 words? You can still turn out 4 or 5 novels a year writing only 1,000 words a day.

Being prolific is within your grasp.

    • Write every day
    • Write to a goal. At least 1,000 words a day.
    • Don’t be fancy. Write simply.
    • If you’re a plotter, use a formula genre plot. If you’re a pantser, keep those simple formula plots in mind to help corral your characters and keep some order.
    • And let the editor edit.

Let me know what you think. Do you have any special tricks up your sleeve? If so, please share!

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #7

Today’s snippet is from The Moscow Affair, my published Lady Dru novel, and gives a little picture of Karl, who is Dru’s soulmate. Because he’s married, he is usually very reserved when in public with Dru; something she complains about, but is resigned to.

They are at Cardington waiting to board the airship Deutschland for Moscow and decide to eat lunch before boarding. At the restaurant, Dru orders stout and a Ploughman’s Lunch, while Karl orders ale and Bangers and Mash.

“What,” I said, “no elaborate French dish with Bordeaux?”

“Ja,” he replied, “Ich bin eine Hessisches heute.”

I gave him a smile. “And all the other times you eat, you’re from Paris?”

“Oui.”

He reached across the table and ran a finger over the back of my hand.

“I wish we were staying longer,” I said. “I’d love to hear the swing band and dance.”

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Fabulous Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope stands as one of my favorite authors. A Victorian giant. In some ways larger than life. If one had his novels on that proverbial desert island, one would need no other entertainment.

What is it about Trollope that is so appealing? For me, it is his characters. They are real people, dealing with real life issues. Unlike Dickens, who dealt in fantasy and tear-jerker scenes, Trollope simply presented middle-class Victorian life. The few times he deviated from a middle-class setting, he did not stray from a straight forward presentation and let life itself speak.

His first novel, The MacDermotts of Ballycloran, gives us a picture of the horror that was Irish poverty with no fanfare or editorializing. How can one read The MacDermotts and not weep at the plight of the poor? The inhumanity to which they were reduced? Or read his short story “The Spotted Dog” and not be moved by the power of alcoholism to destroy lives? Or feel for Archdeacon Grantly as he wrestles with his guilt over wishing his dying father would die sooner so he’d be appointed bishop to replace him?

These are real people with real problems drawn from Trollope’s personal observations. Nathaniel Hawthorne noted Trollope’s novels were “as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting they were being made a show of.”

Trollope loved his characters and lived with them constantly. Probably why he could write 250 words every 15 minutes, non-stop, for 2 1/2 hours every day. He was a character author and had little use for plot, other than to show off his characters. Which is another reason I so like Trollope. For me, a story is about its characters. The plot, if there is one (and I do think plot is overrated), is only there to make the characters shine — to make them real for us.

In his personal life, Trollope was a driven man. For most of his writing career he also worked full-time at the post office. He is generally credited with inventing the British post box. He was disdained by his mother, who openly favored his brother. His mentally ill father could not support the family, which lived in near poverty. Writing was a means by which Trollope could get the attention and money he craved. And in his case, it provided him both.

Over the years, Anthony’s star has somewhat faded. Although there is a current revival of interest. I heartily encourage you to check out Mr Trollope. His Barchester novels are a good starting point.

Oh, one other thing, if you like reading or writing a series, you can thank Trollope. He invented the novel series.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #6

In today’s snippet, we find Lady Dru, Dunyasha, and Kit Somers (our intrepid Graham auto salesman turned secret agent) having been captured by the evil Count Neratoff and SS-Sturmbannführer Leiprecht. They are being held captive in a room deep underground beneath an old, abandoned church. Together, with Kit’s two knives hidden in his boot soles, they have cobbled together a desperate array of “weapons” to help them escape: a bucket, serving as a chamber pot, a couple handfuls of dirt scrapped from the dirt floor, and the length of electric cord for the light bulb. Now they need to figure out what to do. Kit has just said, “Our only chance will be when they open that door.” Here is the snippet:

“Yes,” Dunyasha agreed and added, “It would be be nice to know how many are out there.”

“When you roll the dice,” I said, “you have to play the numbers you get.”

“This isn’t backgammon, Dru,” Dunyasha replied.

“Close enough,” was my response.

We talked it over and concocted a plan. Probably half baked at best. But half baked was better than not baked at all. So we sat and waited; waited with our half baked plan of escape.

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Agent Carter

I love Agent Carter. Plain and simple. The show is Dieselpunk suspense and intrigue with a noir touch. And very well done, IMO.

We have the heroine, who is not unlike a hardboiled detective. She is gritty and not afraid to get dirty. And with her broken heart, she is not interested in love. We have the mysterious mastermind of evil and his or her minions. We have fantastic secret weapons and the perpetually dark atmosphere and surroundings. What is not to like?

Hayley Atwell does a superb job, IMO, playing Agent Carter. Her facial nuances convey so much of what Carter is thinking and doesn’t necessarily say. She brings Carter to life in a dynamic way, showing her intelligence and her ability to be long suffering when faced with the resurgent male chauvinism after the war. Peggy Carter now has to do even more what women have always done: think smarter and get the job done.

I love the scene where Carter is being patronized and when asked her name, says, “Agent.” That reply sums it up. She may be relegated to the position of office girl at the moment, but when she was needed she responded and did what the men did. She’s an Agent. As good as any of her peers, who are now getting the important jobs.

Agent Carter has fulfilled my expectations, at least thus far. I’m seriously thinking of buying the DVDs when available and of checking out the other Marvel shows. I do hope, though, we have not seen the last of Agent Peggy Carter. She is the woman.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #5

In today’s snippet, Dru, her friend Dunyasha, and Branson (a member of the expedition) are making their way out of the wooded hills at night to Kutaisi, Georgia. They are armed in the event of trouble and, of course, trouble comes. Our party of three encounter men walking up the road from the opposite direction. The men have lanterns to light their way. Dru and her team take to the shallow ditch along side the road for cover. It’s touch and go if Dru and her companions will be discovered. Here’s the snippet:

… I saw the lanterns were very close and then I sneezed.

In a heart beat, four gun barrels were pointed at me. In the language I know best, English, I said, “I guess you boys found me.”

They said something in Georgian. I started to get up, when Dunyasha yelled, “Down!” The rapid fire  “chu-chu-chu” of the suppressed Sten gun spoke. When the firing stopped, I waited for a moment before i looked up and saw Dunyasha looking at the bodies. Her figure was illumined by the light of the fallen lanterns.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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