Reading is Still the Best

I’m a reader turned writer, who still reads. Why? Because fiction is still my favorite form of entertainment. Not movies. Not computer games. Not TV. Not sports. It is a good book or short story. And because I like reading good stories, I started writing stories I would like to read. Consequently, I’m under no delusion that everyone will like what I write. I do know I will. And hopefully others will too.

So what do I like to read? I took a look through the BISAC subject heading list and came up with the following 10 genres/categories and listed a few favorites to go with each. The list is not exhaustive and the moment I post this, I’ll probably remember a delightful tale I forgot to include.

Action & Adventure

This is a broad category. I prefer my action/adventure to be a bit dark and touched with the fantastic or the supernatural.

H Rider Haggard so often fits the bill. King Solomon’s Mines is difficult to beat.

Robert E Howard in his short life wrote in a wide array of genres/categories. Some of my favorite stories feature his character Solomon Kane. Dark tales, touched with the supernatural, and with plenty of action.

Alternative History

I’m actually new to the genre, having come to it via steampunk. I haven’t read many alternative history stories and those I have read haven’t been overly memorable. The one I’ve enjoyed the most is Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

However, the one story that does stick in my mind is not something I read. It’s the original Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses”. A very fine alternative history story indeed.

Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic

I admit I’m fussy when it comes to this genre. What I like is the cozy catastrophe, that sub-sub-genre which focuses on the aftermath of the disaster and what the survivors end up doing.

There are some notable classics here, such as The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and The Earth Abides by George R Stewart. Terry Nation’s book Survivors is disturbingly dark.

Fantasy

A very broad genre this, with many sub-genres. I confess I don’t read much fantasy anymore. I got burned out on all the magic and uninspired Tolkien rip-offs.

Generally I like my fantasy dark, sliding off into the horror genre, with a touch of the supernatural.

My all time favorite here is the gothic novel Dracula. However, I very much enjoyed Artemis Fowl. Very imaginative.

Ghost

Who doesn’t enjoy a good ghost story? One of the best I’ve read of late is Crispian Thurlborn’s A Bump in the Night. Very funny and philosophical.

Generally, though, I prefer my ghost stories over in the horror genre. One of the best is Robert E Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell” and he even includes a zuvembie, another name for a zombie.

Horror

I love a good psychological horror story with supernatural overtones. Slasher stories stay away. Can’t stand them.

Ben Willoughby’s recent contribution Raw Head is a well-done riff off of an old Southern legend.

One of my favorite stories is T.E.D. Klein’s “The Events at Poroth Farm” and the novel expanding on the story The Ceremonies.

Robert E Howard’s story “Black Canaan” is superb, as are so very many of his other tales. And many of H P Lovecraft’s stories are well worth re-reading, such as “The Transition of Juan Romero”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

My interest in horror goes all the way back to my elementary school years and a slim paperback of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales. Add to that Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” and Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar” and I was hooked.

Mystery & Detective

I’m very fussy when it comes to mysteries. In fact, I don’t like mysteries per se because I’m not all that fond of puzzles. What I like are detective stories, preferably private detective stories, with a little bit of mystery tossed in.

I suppose Dupin and Holmes are to blame for this bias on my part. After all, they are very often more interesting than the mysteries they solve! Quite honestly, some of Holmes’ adventures are not very good and how Poe could bore us with “Marie Roget” is a question worth asking. Nevertheless, Dupin and Holmes live on. They are eternal.

My favorite private detective is Nero Wolfe, created by Rex Stout. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are my dynamic duo.

Noir

Cornell Woolrich is perhaps the noir writer par excellence. Rear Window is a modern classic. I don’t read a lot of noir. But if I do, Woolrich is first in line.

Science Fiction

Like fantasy, like mystery, the science fiction genre is huge, with many, many sub-genres. I tend to prefer space operas and harder sci-fi as opposed to science fantasy.

The Player of Games by Iain Banks and Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell are favorites. So is Groff Conklin’s superb collection of short stories Omnibus of Science Fiction, which contains one of the finest stories H P Lovecraft ever wrote “The Colour Out Of Space”.

Sea Stories

“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”

Masefield had it right. The lure of the sea and a tall ship, sails filled with the wind. The list of classics is endless. Yet, as much as I love sailing ships, I haven’t read any sea yarns for quite awhile.

The ones that stick in my mind are The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Poe, and Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and The Nigger of the Narcissus.

Of course there are many more great stories I didn’t list. Share your favorites. I’m always on the lookout for a good story or book to read.

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Christmas in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to Justinia and Harry Wright, sister and brother private detective team. It also happens to be my home.

Minnesnowtans are well acquainted with winter. The cold, the ice, the snow. The traffic jams and snow-clogged streets. Ever try parking at the curb-side meter when the snow is three feet high and the curb is nowhere in sight?

While many of us prefer to worship at the feet of Helios, there are those intrepid sons and daughters of the original settlers in whose veins the blood of ancient Norsemen flows. And they love the winter. Positively love it. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow angels.

However, I don’t think I’d be far off if I said everyone loves the Yule season. Therefore, in the spirit of the Yuletide, below are pictures of downtown Minneapolis from the 1920s to the present. Happy Holidays!

mpls 1920s

1945 mpls copy

nicolet mall 1960s

The picture below is how I remember Nicollet Mall looked when I first moved to Minnesota. Nicollet Mall in the ’70s.

mpls1970spowers-christmas-tree copy

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metrotransitbus

Carl Nesjar Ice Sculpture 2014 xmas

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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Having just published the third book in my Justinia Wright, PI series and two short stories which take us back to a time before the series begins, I’ve had mysteries on my mind. And of late, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

I find the showed delightful. The characters are superbly drawn. They have history. They have issues. They are like real people. The mystery, on the other hand, is usually light and often flawed. On one episode, Miss Fisher gets an important clue by looking at a typewriter ribbon – a carbon typewriter ribbon. Oh, did I mention the era is the 1920s? Now that is what I call I gaping plot hole. But in spite of such faux pas, I thoroughly enjoy the show because the characters are so very lifelike. And the show is really about the characters.

For me the best stories are not plot-driven, but character-driven. I don’t give two hoots for the plot. In my mind, the plot is only there because the characters do something. Where’s the plot in Waiting For Godot? The story seems to get along quite nicely without one. Or how about The Remains Of The Day? The plot, such as it is, is merely the vehicle for us to listen to the ruminations of Stevens. Or what about The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress? Lots of plot there and yet the plot is merely the vehicle for Heinlein to present his picture of a libertarian utopia. In that sense, any plot could have worked. The plot in and of itself is non-essential. It’s the characters acting (giving us a plot) that is the real story.

Another example is Raw Head by Ben Willoughby. Willoughby creates two characters, has them do their thing, and the result is a strongly character driven story. Just as Ray Bradbury said it should be.

Christine by Stephen King, in my opinion, is a case of where the plot actually gets in the way of the story. And I think it was probably due to his having to write his book to a certain length for the publisher. But whatever the reason, two-thirds of the way through the book the story was told and yet King went on having the car create more and more senseless havoc, gore, and mayhem. For me, the extended and senseless plot ruined the book. Plot to my mind is highly overrated. Follow the Bradbury formula and your story will be told. After all, that is the real point of the plot. To tell a story. And your characters will do that for you.

So if the writers of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries leave gaping plot holes, why bother watching? I think there are lots of reasons. Namely, the characters. Miss Fisher, a complex rich socialite with the past. Her companion, doc, who is in some ways miss fishers polar opposite. Inspector Jack Robinson, I somewhat stated police detective who gradually appreciates Mrs. Fisher’s talents. Constable Collins, who provides us with comic relief. And the list goes on.

Of course, this setting also contributes to the charm of the series: Melbourne in the 1920s. It is the perfect stage for larger than life liberated woman to walk apart.

There’s lots to like in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Do give the show a try.

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Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing for Indies

The other day I was wandering around Dean Wesley Smith’s website and noticed he has an online workshop covering Robert Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing. It had been quite a while since I’d read them (we’re talking decades here), so I refreshed my memory. I found a discussion on Robert J Sawyer’s website.

Both Heinlein and Sawyer direct the rules to those who want to be traditionally published. For Heinlein, he had no option. For Sawyer, he is entrenched in the traditional world and has no need to change them. However, I have little desire to pursue the traditional publishing route and thought I’d adapt them for indie authors. So here they are:

Heinlein’s 5 Rules for Indie Writers

#1-You must write

This should go without saying and yet so many writers don’t ever actually write anything. They talk about writing, take courses, frequent writing forums, or dream of the writer’s life. But when it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys — they don’t do it. Or if they do, and actually finish something, they are forever rewriting it because it isn’t quite good enough.

To be a writer, YOU MUST WRITE.

#2-Finish what you start

You can’t be a writer or even learn the writing process unless you finish what you start. Weak beginning? Flabby middle? Dull ending? Unless the work is a completed whole, you can’t see what works and what doesn’t.

In my forth coming novel, But Jesus Never Wept, I knew I was having problems in the middle. I resisted the urge to stop and fix them and bulldogged to the end — and then went back and fixed the problem areas, which were fewer than I had thought.

#3-Don’t rewrite, unless your editor says so

Rewriting is not writing. Writing is writing.

When I was submitting and getting my poetry published on a regular basis, I’d watch many poets on various forums rewrite the originality right out of their work. They’d end up with a flabby, lifeless thing done to death by committee.

Resist tinkering. We can tinker endlessly. There is always something that can be improved. But at some point you must resist the urge and say, “It is good enough.” And then move on.

However, if your editor (and all indie writers need an editor, whether paid or volunteer) says something needs to be fixed — pay attention. Ultimately, you are the publisher and may decide to reject your editor’s advice. But if he or she is saying something needs to be fixed, there is a good chance it does. Only then, do you rewrite.

Remember, rewriting is not writing. It’s rewriting. And we are writers, not rewriters.

#4-Put your work up for sale

In the old days, this was submitting your work to editors and gathering rejection slips. Thank God we don’t need to go that route anymore.

Today, the indie version of Heinlein’s point is to offer your work for sale and see if the reading public likes it or not. This is the publishing part of being a writer/publisher. Get the work out there. Promote it. Let the reader decide. Not some biased editor.

And if the public is not enthralled, listen to what they’re saying. But don’t automatically kowtow to their whim. Not everything we write will appeal to everyone. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. If your gut is telling you the work is good, then go with it. Realizing your audience on that particular work may be a small one. Leave the work up for sale and move on. The worst thing you can do is to remove work from sale. Build your backlist.

Which brings us to

#5-Leave your work up for sale

Maybe your book or story isn’t selling today. Or maybe the sales have fallen off. Don’t give in to the temptation to take the work down. That’s the beauty of being a writer/publisher. You can leave your book or story available forever. There is no publisher who is going to remainder it on you. No publisher telling you it isn’t selling enough copies. No editor rejecting your current work because your past work didn’t sell enough.

We can leave our work up for sale for as long as we want. We can market on our own schedule. We are writers and publishers. Our writing career is in our own hands.

Just remember: what isn’t selling today, may very well sell tomorrow.

#6-Start your next work

This is Robert Sawyer’s addition to Heinlein’s rules. And it’s a good one.

You can’t be a writer if you aren’t writing. And rewriting doesn’t count. Because it isn’t writing. It’s rewriting. The prolific authors of the past and those of today, the one’s who are writing to make money from their writing, start a new project upon completion of the old.

Write, publish, and start writing your next work. It is what Anthony Trollope did. When he finished one book, if there was still time left in his morning writing session, he took out a new sheet of paper and started the next book.

Like a mother robin, kick those babies out of the nest to make room for the new ones.

Writer’s write. If you’re stuck on a book or story, start a new one. A writer can always write about something. Don’t let writer’s block be an excuse not to write. I always have several books in progress. If one is giving me trouble, I put it aside and work on a different project. I am always writing. No day goes by that I haven’t written something.

Your mission

Follow these six rules and you will have a steady stream of work coming off our pen and hitting the virtual bookshelves. And with a little bit of luck and marketing handiwork, you may end up earning more money writing than from your day job. That’s my goal.

Happy writing!

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Agatha Christie came to loathe Poirot and finally killed him off. Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, brought him back to life, and finally retired him.

Personally, I find it difficult to hate my children. Perhaps, though, they haven’t been with me long enough. I haven’t chronicled adventure after adventure to the point where I’m sick of the chronicling. To the point where I feel them to be too intrusive or where they’ve moved in and taken over. Hopefully, though, that day of loathing will never come.

However, even though parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children, I admit that I do. And the two who are my favorites have lived in my imagination the longest. They are Justinia and Harry Wright. That intrepid sister and brother team of private investigators doing their best to make sure the most exciting thing in Minneapolis and St. Paul is vanilla ice cream.

Why are Tina and Harry my favorites? I’m not sure I can say exactly. For I am certainly very fond of Lady Dru Drummond. My spunky, very modern journalist, who knows what she wants and does her best to get it. I very much like her 1950s alternative history world, with all those retro-futuristic gadgets and, of course, airships.

And what about Bill Arthur? My anti-hero turned superhero (well, almost) of The Rocheport Saga, who, after the apocalypse, does his best to stop at least a portion of humankind from descending into a new dark ages. Bill is very likable. He’s unassuming, makes mistakes and owns up to them, is devoted to his adopted and natural family. He is human, all too human. An ordinary guy in very unordinary circumstances. I like Bill and his world very much.

One of my newest children is Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch was an enjoyable tale for me to write and I enjoyed reading it as well. Who can’t love this slightly roguish professional gambler with the touch of ennui searching for the antidote to his loneliness? And there be airships here, too.

Or George? Poor George, in Do One Thing For Me, slowly realizing he’s descending into old age dementia, beset by the unending grief over the death of his wife and taunted by the promise Beth offers him. Or is Beth just a figure of his dementia?

I love all my children. I just love Tina and Harry more. Is it because I enjoy most writing up their adventures? Recording the sibling banter between them? Dreaming of what it would be like to live their somewhat dreamy lifestyle or to enjoy one of Harry’s fabulous meals? Perhaps.

Tina grew out Raleigh Bond’s Athalia Goode, with a dollop of my sister, and pinches of Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, Nero Wolfe, and a sprinkle of myself to round out her creation. Harry is the faithful Watson and wise-cracking Archie Goodwin all rolled into one, with perhaps too much of myself included for good or bad measure.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m personally invested in these characters. There’s something of me in them that isn’t in my other children. Maybe that’s the reason that drives me on to write about their lives and their campaign to fight crime.

Book 3 in the Justinia Wright series, But Jesus Never Wept, should be out in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. And if the Muse is kind I may also have a freebie story available for Christmas.

I’m 15,000 words into Book 4 and have 645 words written to start Book 5, which follows Book 4 immediately in the Justinia Wright timeline. Both should make their appearance in 2016.

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I’m hoping Bill, Dru, and Rand don’t get too sulky about it. After all, I do love them. They, too, are my children. Tina and Harry, though, are my firstborn. Hm. I’m a firstborn…

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