The Literary Sketch

The literary sketch was very popular with Victorian readers. Today, however, the form has largely disappeared. I suppose our dislike, as readers, for long narrative passages is primarily the reason. We seem to crave action and dialogue. Perhaps our shortening attention spans are also part of the problem. In this era of Tweets and sound bites, a page of descriptive prose is too much for us to digest. Perhaps.

Yet we also live in an age where we’re encouraged to be in touch with our feelings, where the more reserved amongst us are pejoratively characterized as being robots or ice maidens. In such an era as this, one would think the sketch, with its appeal to emotion, would be back in vogue. Sadly, though, it is not.

The sketch isn’t just an emotive piece, for it appeals to all of the senses. In that sense it is a sensual piece of writing and by appealing to the senses, it moves one subtly. And the nice thing about the sketch is that it is not a propaganda piece. It’s point is not to persuade, but to enlighten. Although an author can certainly shade one’s feelings and sensibilities into certain directions. By means of the sketch, we see a scene through the narrator, as it were. The narrator’s senses become our own.

I’ve been fond of the sketch as a form of entertainment for many years now. To hopefully whet your appetite for the form, you may find “A fluttering on the floor” a perfect introduction to the form. I know I loved it the moment I read it.

There are many collections of sketches and since they’re generally no longer under copyright, you can obtain them for free. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Sketches from Memory is well worth reading and may be obtained for free from Project Gutenberg. Anthony Trollope’s Traveling Sketches and Hunting Sketches are also available for free from Project Gutenberg and are fine examples of the form.

As one reader to another, I encourage you to give the sketch a try. It’s something old, yet it fits very well with our graphics oriented culture. For a good sketch is a picture in words.

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Interview with J. Evan Stuart!

One of the best books I read last year was Entangled, the debut novel of J. Evan Stuart. I enjoy character-driven mysteries and Entangled fits the bill to a T. And today, I’m excited to bring to you this interview with a very talented up and coming writer. Without further ado, meet J. Evan Stuart!

cover copy web

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’ve always been a reader. From the time I was young I always had a love for books and would look forward to escaping into make believe worlds. I can’t say I’ve always wanted to write and just kind of started on a whim. For awhile I was tutoring students and a boy I was working with had an assignment to write a story beginning and the focus was on conflict. We came up with an initial scene taking place in a restroom where two boys confront each other and an iPod ends up being dropped in a toilet. For whatever reason the scene stayed with me and a year later I took pen to paper and wrote it out. Once I got started that was it. I have been writing for about six years now.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?

My debut novel is Entangled. About three years ago I found a small news article in the newspaper. It was no more than a couple hundred words about a thirteen year old boy in a small Kansas ranching and farming town who was accused of murdering his parents and shooting his siblings. The article struck a chord with me, so I cut it out and saved it. Months later I wrote what would be the first chapter. It was a year after that I began to write the story.

How would you categorize your book?

It is a police procedural mystery with strong thriller and suspense elements. Because one of the dual protagonists is an eighteen year old accused of killing his parents and is on the run, it could easily crossover into YA. I think it would also appeal to those who like to read romantic suspense, as long as they want a story that is heavy on suspense and want a romance that is subtle. Minus bulging muscles and various other body parts.

Introduce us to your lead protagonists.  What is it about these character(s) that appeal to you as a writer?

The story starts with the reader being introduced to Connor Evans. He’s a high school kid who hates ranching and small town life in Ashlin, Nebraska. While his father expects him to follow in his footsteps of carrying on the family ranch, Connor has no interest in ranching which often puts him at odds with his father. The only escape he has from the boredom and his strained relationship with his dad is sneaking out to drink with his friends which often leads to them getting in trouble with the local authorities. When his parents are murdered all the evidence points to him and he finds himself on the run trying to deal with his grief and avoid being caught.

Sonya Reisler is a newly promoted detective with the Nebraska State Patrol. She wants to credit her ambition and dedication as the reasons for her promotion but, when she finds her new partner is her former mentor and lover, she has her doubts whether she truly earned her promotion. Sonya is sent to Ashlin to look over a murder investigation case before it is sent to the DA. She begins to notice small things that make her question whether Connor Evans committed the crime and gets the okay to conduct her own investigation. The nature of the crime hits close to home for Sonya and has her facing memories and demons she’s spent a lifetime burying. When her path crosses with Connor’s, professional lines become blurred. What starts out as an opportunity for her to prove to herself she earned her promotion, quickly escalates into something that could end her career altogether.

I think readers will find Connor the easier of the two to understand. Through flashbacks and his actions in the present, we see a teenager trying deal with his world being turned upside down and the aloneness he feels. Sonya is more of a mystery. She has a past that readers only see glimpses of, but we really only see her in the present. Something is fueling her desire to solve the case but we don’t know what it is until the very end. I think Sonya and Connor play off of each other well throughout the entire novel.

How did the book come to be titled?  Or, how does the title relate to the story?

Entangled is a good description of what happens to Sonya when she lets this case become personal and gets so deeply involved it becomes impossible to free herself from it.

Tell us more about the cover design.  How involved were you with creating the cover?

I was very involved in the cover design and sketched out how I wanted the characters positioned and what elements needed to be present. I sent my sketches to Ronnell Porter who expanded on my ideas and created the final product. I think his addition of the yellow police tape across Connor was a great idea. Connor, in many ways, is a danger to Sonya, causing her to cross many lines when it comes to this case. I think the cover really conveys what readers will find in the story.

Describe your writing process.

In a word? Chaotic. I work in scenes, usually starting with the dialogue that occurs between characters then slowly fleshing it out. I often don’t know the exact setting or even where in the story that particular scene will take place. I just picture it and know it will happen somewhere in the story. As more scenes form and are fleshed out, I continue to build on them, rearranging them until the story starts to come together. Then it’s a matter of stitching everything together. This method tends to give me more flexibility than if I were to work in a linear fashion.

How much research did you put into your book/series?

I ended up doing quite a bit of research for this story starting with the setting. I looked at many states where cattle ranching is done and Nebraska seemed to fit the bill for the other story elements I needed. While Ashlin is a fictional town along with some other features, many other places mentioned are real. I also had to do some research on the Nebraska State Patrol and some legal elements. My main goal was to make the story plausible and believable as possible.

What is the best advice received as an author?

I’ve been very fortunate in that I have had good support in my writing journey and have gotten a lot of good advice along the way. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to trust your readers. As a novice I was guilty of overwriting and over explaining because I was unsure of myself as a writer and wanted to make sure my readers understood what I was saying. Once I trusted that the readers would get what I was saying without my spoon feeding them, my writing greatly improved.

What specific authors or books influence how you write today?

This is a tough question. I think everything I read, good or bad, becomes part of the collective. I can tell if I really like a book because I will want to reread it again immediately. With the subsequent read I will really try and figure out what it is the author is doing that makes me love the story. One author that does come to mind that I found particularly interesting when it comes to writing style is Lisa McMann. In her book Wake, I was really taken with the brevity of her writing and how she used very short sentences that packed a lot of punch. I think that tends to stick with me when I write.

What types of genres do you read now for pleasure and do they influence what you write today?

I’m still a huge fan of YA and MG (middle grade) literature and I also love fantasy. For the most part I will read anything that sounds interesting.  I’m partial to character driven stories, so as long as I like the characters it really doesn’t matter the genre. As for what I write, I started with writing fantasy and paranormal because that was what I read most. Writing a police procedural mystery came as kind of a surprise for me since that is the genre I read the least.

What is next for you?

Currently I am working on the second book in the series entitled Enmeshed. I am hoping to complete it sometime in 2016.

Where you can buy Entangled and get in touch with J. Evan Stuart!

Entangled on Amazon!



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The Wonderful Machine Age – The Autogyro

Technology has been one of the hallmarks setting humans apart from other life forms on this planet. From the primitive flint hand axe to the satellites we don’t even think about that make modern worldwide communication possible, humans have used technology to make up for our physical limitations and to improve where we live and how we live.

Ever since we saw a bird fly, we’ve wanted to do likewise. We dreamed of flight and put it in our myths. We flew in stories long before any human achieved liftoff. Kites and balloons were our baby steps. Then the airship ruled our imaginations. On the eve of World War II fixed-wing, heavier-than-air passenger aircraft crossed the Atlantic. Even if the Hindenburg had not burned, the airship had been rendered obsolete by the Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat in 1939.

The Second World War saw the perfection of the helicopter, the building of the long-range heavy bomber, and the invention of the jet, as well as the invention of the long-range ballistic missile. Suddenly, in 1945, such things as balloons, blimps, and rigid airships seemed nothing more than relics of the past.

The balloon has been relegated to hot-air sightseeing excursions, for the most part. The blimp has been reduced to a novel sightseeing experience or eye-catching advertising. There continues to be talk of lighter-than-air heavy lifters for long-distance cargo hauling, but they continue to remain the stuff of dreams.

However, one of the dinosaurs is making a true comeback. Namely, the autogyro. An autogyro? What’s that? At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s an airplane that uses an unpowered rotor instead of wings to achieve lift.

Juan de la Cierva wanted an airplane that could fly safely at low speed. To accomplish his desire, he invented the autogyro. The first successful flight was on 9 January 1923 in Madrid. Below is a picture of the first Cierva autogyro.


Cierva got his wish. Sustained, lazy low speed flight is what the autogyro excels at. It can’t hover like a helicopter because the rotor is not powered. The rotor relies on the forward movement of the plane to make it spin and provide lift. Despite its inability to hover, the autogyro has a distinct advantage over the helicopter: cost. They are cheaper to buy and cheaper to operate. They also have a big advantage over airplanes in that they need very little runway to take off and virtually none to land. An autogyro can be in the air using no more than 30 to 200 feet of runway. An autogyro can’t stall, like a plane, and doesn’t end up in a tailspin. Cierva was certainly on to something.

Below is a later Cierva autogyro:


So why didn’t the autogyro take off? A couple reasons. Cierva was the main proponent of the autogyro. After all it was his baby. His death in a plane crash in 1936 was a major blow to those promoting the autogyro. The second reason was the helicopter. The principle of the helicopter (which the autogyro also uses) goes back to 400 BC and the Chinese toys that probably most of us played with as kids.


The first successful helicopter, the Bréguet-Dorand Gyroplane Laboratoire, built in 1933, took its first successful flight in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, the Focke-Wulf Fw61 was setting world record after world record and the world forgot Cierva and his autogyro.

Below are pictures of early British autogyros, which were soon eclipsed by the helicopter.

Pitcairn_Autogyro Kay British Autogyro

A good idea tends to stick around and the autogyro is a very good idea. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s saw the birth of the ultralight aviation movement. People wanted more than just hang-gliding. They wanted to fly and they wanted their desire to be affordable. Enter the autogyro, or the gyrocopter as it is often called today. Aside from personal use, many cash-strapped law enforcement departments are turning to the autogyro because it is a cheaper alternative than the helicopter. The autogyro’s ability to stay in the air at very low speed makes it a viable alternative to the helicopter for crowd control, traffic control, and city surveillance. And because today’s autogyro is small, it can easily go where planes and helicopters can’t. Versatility is always a plus.

Here are some modern autogyros. Aren’t they beautiful?

Calidus Gyrocopter AutoGyro_Cavalon Kalithea Gyrocopter Modern Autogyro

Once again an old idea, which some thought obsolete and dead, has made a comeback — thanks to modern technology, brought about by the wonderful machine age.

These autogyros are so cool, I think I’m going to get me one. They have to be better than bucking traffic on a clogged freeway. And weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now anyway?

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Still More on the Cozy Catastrophe

I’m shifting gears. Moving from private eye fiction to, once again, the cozy catastrophe as I’m getting ready to send the fifth book of The Rocheport Saga out into the world.

I’ve written about the cozy catastrophe before back in May 2015. You can find those posts here and here. Just click on the links. Today, I’d like to take another look at this venerable sub-genre that focuses on people and the natural course of events and not monsters or the supernatural.

The cozy catastrophe, by force, focuses on people. The genre is character-driven and perhaps that is what draws me as a reader. The story deals with the inner mind of the protagonist, how he or she copes with the aftermath of the apocalyptic cataclysm.

Some cozy catastrophes are set in the future. A future significantly altered from the logical course of events due to the cataclysm having thrown humankind into a re-creation of some ancient era. We see this, for example, in the quasi-medieval setting of England in Richard Jefferies’ After London Or, Wild England.

In this form of the cozy catastrophe, we often see the protagonist as being out of step with the world in which he or she finds himself or herself. A person marginalized, on the rim of society. Which, by the way, is a characteristic of cyberpunk.

Whether set immediately after the cataclysm or at some distance in the future, the protagonist is usually nobody special. Just an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. There, in those circumstances, the person’s hidden wisdom and strength shine. And often as not, the protagonist was not aware he or she possessed such wisdom or strength. But freed from the restraints of society, the protagonist blossoms and becomes the savior of the world. Or at least makes a valiant effort.

Of course the above is a generalization and not all cozy catastrophes end happily. On the Beach being a notable example and also Terry Nation’s Survivors. Earth Abides by George R Stewart, is another example where at least for the protagonist all he worked for he watches come to a bittersweet end. Nevertheless, life goes on. Save for those unfortunates in On the Beach.

My own cozy catastrophe series, The Rocheport Saga, follows the same pattern as its predecessors. Very ordinary and very unassuming Bill Arthur suddenly finds himself the leader of a band of contentious survivors. His personal mission is to stop civilization from regressing to a hunter-gatherer society and to return “home” to the 21st century technologically. However, on the social front, Bill hopes to create a society that is free and open, tolerant and accepting. A society that values liberty and personal responsibility and eschews control of others. A society very unlike the one destroyed on “That Day”, which Bill saw as sliding down the slippery slope of totalitarianism through the wielding of excessive presidential authority and the repression of freedom due to the “war” on drugs and terror. A society where group think was valued more highly than individual thought and the tyranny of social and political correctness was smothering freedom of expression. And the valuing security over liberty was eroding the Bill of Rights.

What Bill Arthur quickly discovers is that you can take people out of 21st century America, but you can’t take the 21st century out of the people. Bill becomes embroiled in a never-ending battle with those who wish to force their opinions and strictures on others in the name of some greater good, people who value control over freedom, people who have little tolerance for independent thought.

One of the things I find so appealing in the cozy catastrophe is that it gets me to think about what I value, what truly makes life worth living, and what are unproductive constructs which hinder me from living life to the fullest. For me, the cozy catastrophe is an opportunity to explore the maxim of Marcus Aurelius: Life is what you make it.

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