The Rocheport Saga


The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. It is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction.

The story structure is that of one of my favorite forms: the epistolary novel. The story is told by means of diary entries from a man named Bill Arthur, with occasional diary entries from other characters.

Bill’s diary begins eight months after the cataclysm that kills off most of humanity, the event he simply calls “That Day”. The first sentence he writes is “Today I killed a man and a woman.” He follows that sentence with a brief explanation of what life is like in the new world where everyone is faced with a daily struggle to survive and where some do not make it.

Today I killed a man and a woman. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was me or them. This is how it is now. How it has been for not quite eight months. Everyone on his or her own. The quick or the dead. It wasn’t how it used to be, though. We complained about the old days. Now anyone who remains would do anything to return to even the worst of the old days. But they are gone and will not return for a very long time. Maybe never.

The focus in the cozy catastrophe is on building a better world out of the ashes of the old one. And The Rocheport Saga is no different.

There is no focus on and very little discussion of the disaster. It happened. It was horrible. And now we must move on. The milk is spilt. No sense crying over it.

And Bill Arthur doesn’t. His quest is to preserve as much knowledge as possible and bring the Twenty-first Century back on line as soon as possible.

Of course no story, even one that is essentially “plotless”, can survive without conflict, and Bill has plenty of conflict in Rocheport. All the way from the silly and inane to the deadly serious and life threatening.

Next week we’ll take a look at the books published thus far in the series and provide a synopsis of each.

Until then, happy reading!

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Movie Review: The Before Trilogy

The plotless movie. The plotless novel. The plotless story. How can a movie or a work of literature have no plot? Well, the answer is simple. It can’t. All stories have a plot of some kind, because the plot is nothing more than what happens in the story.

Plots are fairly simple. They are, broadly speaking, some manner of:

  • Adventure or Quest
  • Love story
  • Puzzle
  • Seeking of Vengeance or Justice
  • Pursuit or Escape
  • Self-Discovery

What makes a story, however, is not the plot. It’s the characters. As Ray Bradbury advised writers: create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story.

Recently, my wife and I watched the movies Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. The movies were written by Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy, and directed by Richard Linklater. They tell the story of Jesse and Céline who meet by accident on a train and eventually become parents of twin girls.

The movies are described as “minimalist” because nothing much outwardly happens in them. Each movie focuses on Jesse and Céline talking about life. The only movement is that in each movie the action, such as it is, takes place in the span of one day. Which means the storyline is driven by the shortness or brevity of the time factor. A standard technique used to induce suspense or a sense of urgency.

Personally, I think the movies are brilliant examples of what the “plotless” tale is all about. Which is the characters. These movies are in depth character studies. Through dialogue alone — often what isn’t said being as or more important than what is said — the writer tells a tale that is profoundly moving.

In Before Sunrise, Jesse, an American tourist in Europe, accidentally meets Céline on a train bound from Budapest to Vienna, where he will catch his flight back to the states. On a whim, Jesse asks Céline to spend the day with him before he has to catch his flight. She agrees.

The rest of the movie is nothing more than the two walking around Vienna talking and sharing little experiences together. In the course of the day, they fall in love, and promise each other to meet at the train station in six months. They also agree not to exchange any contact information.

Before Sunset picks up the story nine years later. Jesse is in Paris on the last day of a book tour. He is now married, with a son, and is an acclaimed author, having turned his one day love affair with Céline into a successful novel. Céline learns he is in Paris and shows up at the book shop where he’s giving a talk and autographing books.

After his talk, he and Celine leave the shop with the intention to get a cup of coffee and catch up on what has happened with each other. The shopkeeper reminds Jesse as he leaves he needs to be back in one hour to catch his flight. The two walk to a coffee shop and then begin walking around Paris talking about their lives. In the course of their conversation, we learn Jesse flew to Vienna to meet Céline. She, however, didn’t show because her grandmother had died. Eventually they end up at Céline’s apartment and Jesse misses his flight back to the States.

The final film in the trilogy, Before Midnight, takes place eighteen years later. Jesse and Céline are in Greece. They are now a couple with twin girls. Jesse’s son from his ex-wife flies home at the beginning of the movie. The parting of the father and son sets up one side of the conflict. On the other, Céline wants to take a new job with the French government, feeling unfulfilled in her current job.

The couple have been given a night in a hotel for a romantic evening. However, the night turns into a battle of angst and wills and agendas, climaxing with Céline saying she doesn’t love Jesse anymore and leaves.

Jesse finds Céline after a time. She wants to be alone but he asks her to listen to him and she relents. He tells a story and Céline eventually thaws. The ending of the movie is somewhat ambiguous, but we’re left with the feeling they stay together.

What I love about these movies is that through dialogue alone we learn of the hopes and fears, the dreams, and the failures of two ordinary people. How chance events can change one’s life forever. And that no matter what, we always have choices.

I think the movies should be seen close together, much like the Mad Max movies, in order to keep the story flow fresh in ones mind. They are fabulous films. A testimony to the power of character over plot.

As always, I appreciate your comments. And until next time, happy reading!

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No Plot, No Problem



The plotless novel, story, or movie seems an oxymoron. After all, weren’t we told in high school, college, and grad school by every English and creative writing professor we had to plot out our stories? In every literature class we took, didn’t the instructor talk about plot?

So what the heck is a “plotless” story?

Perhaps, though, we should talk a little bit about plot before we talk about no plot. So what exactly is a “plot”?

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines plot as “the plan of action of a play, novel, poem, short story, etc.” However, Ronald B Tobias, in Twenty Master Plots and how to write them, would seem to disagree. He notes, “Plot isn’t a wire hanger that you hang the clothes of your story on.” He goes on to declare, “Plot is a process, not an object.” And “Plot is dynamic, not static.”

Basically what Tobias is attempting to say is that the writer has a story to tell. How the writer tells the story, what pattern he or she uses to tell the tale, is in essence the plot of the story. Story is a chronicle of events for Tobias and plot answers the question, “Why?” Why is this particular series of events played out this way? Plot gives story form, according to Tobias.

And yet for all Tobias’s arguing against planning, he is essentially planning. Plot imposes structure on story. Take a simple story. Say the story of Adam and Eve. According to Tobias, what we have is a chronicle of events. Adam has a garden, he is given a partner, they are told don’t eat the fruit of a certain tree, the partner convinces Adam to eat the fruit, and they get kicked out of the garden. According to Tobias, depending on which of his twenty plots you choose, you impose structure on the story and give it form. You could impose a puzzle plot and make it a mystery. Or an adventure plot or a quest plot or a forbidden love plot.

To my mind, we are back to Creative Writing 101. The story is an idea and plot gives it form.

Now one can certainly approach writing that way and that approach does work for many. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another way. One which I think is organic and was mentioned by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury supposedly said, “Create your characters, have them do their thing, and that is the story.” It seems to me, Bradbury is turning Tobias on his head. Story is not a series of events upon which the writer must impose structure. Story is the natural result of what the characters do. Story is the chronicle of the characters living out their lives.

So how does this all relate to the plotless novel, or movie, or short story? Good question.

Recently, my wife and I watched the movies Piku and Love Actually. Both films have exceedingly simple story lines. In fact, one could say the story in both films isn’t even very interesting. But what is interesting and captivating in both movies are the characters. Without the characters doing their thing, neither movie would even have a story. The storylines exist so the characters can do their thing. Both movies are hilarious and touching and make telling statements about life. Yet nothing much happens in either one. Yet momentous decisions are made by the characters which have a profound effect on themselves and those around them.

The movie Little Big Man, one of my favorites by the way, also has very little plot. It is the story, told in vignettes, of a man’s life. And yet it is one of the most moving and poignant movies I’ve ever seen. Little Big Man does his thing and the result is a fabulous story.

The plotless story has been around for a long time. In the 19th century it was called the “Sketch”. A sketch has no discernible plot. It’s purpose is to evoke emotion in the reader. Sketches aren’t so popular today and I can’t understand why. They can be highly effective tales. Wonderful for blog posts. Here is modern example, which I think is simply brilliant: “A Fluttering On The Floor”.

You won’t find the plotless story as much in genre fiction as you will in literary fiction. However, Bradbury’s story “The Highway”, from The Illustrated Man, is an excellent example of a plotless sci-fi story. Very little actually happens. But the protagonist’s thoughts and reactions to what does happen are thought-provoking.

The same can be said for Kazuo Ishiguro’s foray into sci-fi, the novel Never Let Me Go. There is some action, but it too seems to exist as nothing more than the stage upon which the characters stand. It’s what the characters do and don’t do that make the movie and book so poignant.

In some ways, I’d class The Maltese Falcon, if not plotless, at least placing little importance on the murder mystery. Even though the falcon is supposed to be the McGuffin, it is in actuality a symbol of how we live our lives. We chase something and chase it and sacrifice everything for it and when we get it, we find out it’s nothing. It’s an illusion, a fake. To my mind, the murder is in a sense the real McGuffin. It’s the event in the background that drives Spade. I don’t think he really cares who killed his partner or even if the killer is caught. What he does care about is clearing his name so he doesn’t take the rap for the murder — even if he has to throw people under the bus to do it. Which in my opinion he does.

The Maltese Falcon isn’t about murder, it’s about Sam Spade. The murder and the falcon are simply Spade doing his thing. And in the process we learn he isn’t very likable. In some ways, he’s a little bit too much like us.

The plotless story isn’t really plotless. It’s just that the plot isn’t all that important. The plot exists but doesn’t drive the story. The characters doing their thing is what drives the story — and them doing their thing is what is important. Because what they do and how they react gives us a glimpse as to who they really are and, if the writer is worth his or her salt, who we really are. After all, isn’t that at least partly why we read fiction? To see ourselves in the main characters? To vicariously experience through them what we can’t actually experience? To be who we want to be and to see condemned in them what we don’t often condemn in ourselves — at least publicly?

Characters, like the play, are the thing. All of this emphasis on plot and outlining and structure is to my mind missing the point. We don’t read books for the great plots. We read them for the characters. How many plots stick in your memory? Contrast that with how many characters are there.

As always, comments are welcome! I’d love to read your thoughts on the plotless novel. And until next time, happy reading!

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Book Review: Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller

Evelyn & Company


One of my favorite comedy reads is Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller. The humor is wacky, zany, intellectual, and virtual slapstick all rolled into one. I reviewed this book over a year ago and thought I would resurrect the review because I’ve rethought how I want to do book reviews: namely, I’m dumping the  star system of rating. I think a better approach is to simply tell you why I like the book and if I think you will like it as well. So without further ado, once again Evelyn & Company!

Comedy, I think, can be exceedingly difficult to pull off well in writing. After all, the key elements of timing and pacing are not present as they are in live performance. And then there is the very real fact not everyone thinks the same thing is humorous. Yet there are authors who’ve made comedy writing their bread and butter. Mark Twain, Robert E Howard, Oscar Wilde, Douglas Adams, and John Logsdon easily come to mind.

Some time ago (December 2014 to be exact), I stumbled upon the zany book Evelyn & Company by Chad Muller (aka CM Muller). I bought a copy and laughed my way through it.

The novel is bizarre, zany, and delightful. A crazy romp through the many facets humor has to offer us. Puns, slapstick, innuendo, juxtaposition, satire, black comedy, it’s all there in Evelyn Portobello’s mad, quixotic quest for revenge when she doesn’t get the product she bought that was advertised on the TV.

Who hasn’t purchased something and had it as often as not, not be what was advertised? The item sounded so good and in the end was so disappointing. A scenario that has happened to all of us. That is the basis for Mr Muller’s comic tale. And so the plump Ms Portobello is stiffed on her order of “Magic Morel Shake Mix” and her phone calls and letters go unanswered. Oh, the earthy deliciousness of it all!

Humor operates on many different levels and has a very individual appeal. What Evelyn & Company offers us is a smorgasbord of humor. There is something here for everyone. Some examples we may not get (there were a few I didn’t), but keep reading — for our morsel is waiting.

The story is simple. The perfect slice of life. It begins in the middle of living and in a sense goes no where — a perfect “plotless” novel — but along the way we encounter injustice, love, devotion, romance, protests, strikes, anger, happiness, crazies, fun, and laughter. Yes, lots of laughter. After all, it’s a slice of life.

Evelyn is wealthy but lives in a trailer, expends tens of thousands of dollars to get back the $19.95 she was cheated out of, and then decides to take matters into her own hands. Situational irony at its finest!

In the tradition of black comedy and social satire, Muller has given us a 21st century Candide — by the name of Evelyn & Company.

I heartily recommend this book! Preview it below!

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Justinia Wright and the Maltese Falcon

Who doesn’t enjoy working a puzzle to a satisfying ending? That written, I have to confess I’m not a big fan of puzzles. I enjoy mahjong and I play chess and that is about the extent of my puzzle solving endeavors. So why do I enjoy reading mysteries? A good question that.

I have to confess, when it comes to mysteries, I’m pretty fussy. They pretty much need to be private detective stories told in the first person by the “Watson”. Third person narrative puts me right off. I’ll accept a story told by the detective in the first person. It’s just that it bugs the life out of me when he or she says he or she knows who did it but it won’t tell us.

The other thing I’m fussy about when it comes to mysteries, is that I don’t care a fig about the mystery. We all know the detective is going to solve the crime. So big deal. No matter how puzzling, the detective will undo Gordian Knot.

What I find fascinating is the detective him or herself. If he or she isn’t an interesting person, then the author has lost me. That’s because any story I read must have interesting characters who deal with the nitty-gritty of life. Machinations of plot hold no interest for me. It’s the people. After all, isn’t it people who make life interesting? And if people make life interesting, it is also people who make fiction interesting as well.

So if I don’t particularly like puzzles, why do I write mysteries? After all mysteries are considered to be literary puzzles. I write mysteries because crime and murder are part of life. The dark side of people interacting with people. Macbeth murders the king and sets off a chain of events. We know he won’t get away with it. What interests us is how his life falls apart.

We know Sherlock Holmes will solve the problem. What’s interesting is his interaction with Watson, the suspects, and how he goes about collecting clues.

When I watch a movie directed by Yasujiro Ozu, there is barely any plot to speak of. What’s of interest is the interaction of the characters and how they go about attempting to solve whatever is the problem in the story. And the problem is usually rather mundane.

For me, writing a mystery is no different than writing any other novel. I either start out with the characters or I start out with a scene and then people it. Then, as Ray Bradbury advised, I let my characters do their thing and the result is the story.

In writing my forthcoming Justinia Wright mystery, But Jesus Never Wept, I started with a scene: Tina and Harry’s client has just been murdered by seppuku, Japanese ritual suicide. That is what I started with. Along the way my daughter told me about the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime, I liked the color it could provide, and it entered into the story. How the Yakuza fit in I wasn’t sure, but figured that’s Tina’s job. She’s the detective, after all. I was over halfway through the book and had pretty much exhausted my list of characters before I figured out who did the murder and why. I was on pins and needles wondering if I’d finish the tale without solving the murder. Not really. Because Tina gets the culprit. It’s what detectives do.

Near the end of my short story “Minneapolis’ Finest”, Tina tells Harry:

“First off, Harry, you read too many mystery novels. Every case in those books is a complex puzzle and things blow up and people are being murdered left and right. Real detective work is, for the most part, dull routine. Boring even. If mystery writers wrote what really happened, they wouldn’t sell a damn thing. Cozies are the worst. I pray to God you don’t read cozies.”

“I don’t.”

“Good. Detective work is dull routine mostly because criminals are dull and boring twits with big egos.”

And I think that is very much the case. Real crime is boring. Therefore mysteries, to be interesting, are for the most part fantasy. Fictional murders are complicated, done by a mastermind for nefarious ends. No mystery writer writes about a normal murder. If they did, who’d read it?

Because most mystery readers are looking for the puzzle aspect, I don’t specifically call my mysteries “mysteries”. Justinia Wright is a private detective. The books are subtitled “A Justinia Wright, PI Novel”. The focus is on her as a person, not the puzzle. I think of it as I’m writing character-driven private eye stories.

In some ways I see The Maltese Falcon as the model. The Maltese Falcon is full of interesting characters, none of them, including Spade, are particularly likable. I think the mystery itself is weak, overshadowed by the MacGuffin. Did Brigid really kill Spade’s partner? Or did Spade just throw her under the bus? The story is a classic not because of the plot, the puzzle, in my opinion, but due to the interesting characters. And that’s why I read mysteries. And write them, too.

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One Year

A year ago I self-published four novels. That act was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had ever since I can remember. Now, on my one year anniversary as a published writer, I have seven novels, five novellas (three collected into one book), and a short story in digital print. Two more short stories will be out this month and next month I will publish my third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

How Did I Get Here?

Even though I wanted to be a writer, I never actually did a lot of writing when young. Those early years saw a few poems, stories, and plays. A couple things were published and my high school drama class performed one of my plays. The early and middle decades of my life, however, are littered with far more abandoned then completed projects.

Lack of encouragement is a dreadful thing and harsh words are destructive. I had yet to read Rainer Maria Rilke’s first letter to the young poet. I looked without and not within. Encouragement and support are important, and I seek to be so to others, but looking within and knowing one must write in spite of what others say is vital. When I did so, I knew I had to write.

In 1989 I wrote a novel in the span of one year. The novel, however, was not good and after a couple rejected queries I put it away and turned to poetry. Poetry, I found, was something I could much better sandwich in and amongst my other responsibilities and day job on a regular basis. And I’m proud to say I achieved something of a name in certain poetry circles.

Ultimately, I found I wanted a bigger canvas. Painting miniatures was fun and fulfilling to a point. I wanted bigger worlds. I wanted to create worlds.

Consequently, I returned to my first love: fiction. I wrote and wrote and wrote one abortion after another. I always got hung up on plot. I’d never plotted a poem. I just wrote them. For some reason, I thought I had to plot fiction. Once I disabused myself of that idea, the stories and books have flowed out of my pen and pencil. I had found what worked for me — just write the story. I found I was in good company, as well. Ray Bradbury didn’t believe in intentional plotting. Create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s the plot. Works for me.

Why Self-Publish?

Why self publish indeed? Doesn’t that smack of the old vanity press? Didn’t I need an editor’s approval? Someone to put that imprimatur on my work that signified it was “good”?

I thought long and hard about going the traditional route or to self publish. I’m old enough to be permanently scarred with the fear of the vanity press.

Yet the publishing industry as we know it is no more then two hundred years old. Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was self-published after he couldn’t find a publisher in 1849. Anthony Trollope commented in his Autobiography that a publisher of one of his early books was willing to publish the book at his own expense. That Trollope notes this is significant. It means even in the middle 1800s publishers weren’t overly generous or willing to take risks on novice authors and that the author might have to defray the costs of publishing in part or in whole.

The world of publishing I grew up with was gone. Dozens and dozens of publishers no longer exist. One is left with the small press or the Big 5. The slush pile and its editor has been replaced by the agent taking on a new role — that of the editor.

Dean Wesley Smith challenges the myths that surround the publishing industry and agents. Every writer needs to read to his article on agents.

My personal experience with the writers I have known is that the publisher does not hold your hand, the publisher does not provide you advertising dollars, and if you do not sell and make them money — you are kicked to the curb. Publishing is a business. And too often a cruel business. Today a new author, even to be looked at by an agent, needs to have a platform (social media presence and blog or website, hopefully with lots of traffic) in place so that the agent can tell the publisher this person might be able to sell a book.

However, not only does an author have to have a platform in place — but the author’s novel must conform to arbitrary publisher and bookseller norms. A friend tried to interest an agent in her 100,000 word YA fantasy novel. The prospective agent she had queried flat out told her no one will buy a YA book of that length from an unknown author. The agent then suggested various ways to mutilate the novel to fit the norms.

Then there is the money. A lousy 10% at best from the publishing house versus a minimum of 35% and a maximum of 70% when self-publishing. I asked myself, Why if I have to do all the work myself do I want 10% instead of 35% or 70% and then give an agent 15% of that measly 10%? Why indeed?

And then there is Rilke’s advice to the young poet:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

And if out of this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

My decision seemed easy. Why ask some agent or editor if my work is good? If I have to build my own audience, do my own editing, buy my own advertising, and hold my own hand — then why not self-publish and at least have a shot at making a pile of money?

So I did. I kicked the rules to the curb and took advantage of modern technology. Gutenberg is dead. Brick and mortar stores are dying. The Kindle and iPad are everywhere. I haven’t made piles of money. At least not yet. Then again I haven’t paid a dime for advertising either. Nevertheless, I am making some money. My marketing plan is this: when I have at least four titles in a series, then I’ll start looking at marketing on a big scale.

To pay for advertising on one or two books is the big mistake, in my opinion. With 3000 new books a day being published, one is easily lost in a sea of virtual ink. To market one book, with no follow up for the reader to buy, it is to my mind paying to be forgotten. At least in the indie publishing world.

But what about the traditional world? It takes a publisher two years to get your book in print. Perhaps less for a small press, but then they have little clout. If you don’t have something to follow-up right away, you’ll be lost in the traditional world too. Because it will take years for your next book to see print. And if your book isn’t a good seller, it will get remainder. A sure fire way to be forgotten. In addition, publishers don’t want to publish a follow-up novel in less than a year. They are afraid of you competing with yourself. All these rules. And who do they benefit?

As a self published author, I can publish as many books as I want in a year. They are never remaindered. After all, I’m the publisher as well as the writer. Robert E Howard once wrote to H. P. Lovecraft the reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. I think Howard would have loved today’s self-publishing world — it is the ultimate freedom.

What’s Next?

I’m having a blast. I write every day. I write the best story I can. I put many hours into editing and proofing so I can put out a quality product. I am learning every day new aspects of writing and publishing. All I can say is I’m having the time of my life. And I’m my own boss.

During this next year I’m building inventory. More novels. More stories. Then I will get serious about marketing and develop a comprehensive strategy. I continue to read and learn what works for writers and what doesn’t.

I confess I have a golden parachute. I’m retired. Sure, I’d like to make piles of money from my writing. But if I don’t, I’m still a full-time writer. I write because I have to. I’ve gone deep into myself and found out I must write. I must create. My books have been born out of necessity. “A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.” It’s the only way Rilke could judge a work and it’s the only way I can judge. No editor or agent say otherwise.

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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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The Plotless Novel

Ever since I can remember, my one dream was to be a published author.  However, I quickly learned plotting and I don’t get along.  I don’t know if it was a bad experience with diagramming in Mrs. Bloom’s Fifth Grade grammar class or the gene I was apparently born with which shuts my brain down when I see the word “outline”.  Whatever it is, I just can’t plot out a story, poem, novel, series, or even structure the grocery list.

For many years I despaired of ever becoming a writer.  I had moderate success with poetry and I like poetry, but poems aren’t novels.  I wanted to write novels and everywhere I turned, folks talked and wrote about the need to plot.  I was in the Slough of Despond.

Then one of those serendipitous events occurred in the form of the movie “The Remains of the Day”, based on the book of the same title.  I liked the movie and it appeared to have not much, if any, plot.  And what I especially liked was that it seemed to largely be a character study.  For me, when I read, it’s all about the characters.  I don’t care how intricate the plot, if I don’t like the characters the book is set aside.  The lightbulb went off over my head.

I Googled “plotless novels” and to my delight found dozens upon dozens of novels with little plot and dozens upon dozens of authors who write them.  I also found plotless films, especially those of the late Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu.  He was a master at creating intense feelings with a minimum of story.  His characters carried the day.

Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds.  I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels “The Remains of the Day” (even better than the movie) and “An Artist of the Floating World” and loved them.  I watched Ozu’s films and was moved deeply.  I also discovered an entire form — the picaresque novel — which is nothing more than a series of vignettes.  The movie “Little Big Man” is a film version of the picaresque novel.

The dam broke and I started writing.  I learned (thanks to my sister) I was a pantser.  And I was okay with flying by the seat of my pants.  Being a pantser has its own unique set of issues.  The main one being not having a clue what is coming next.  But then you just trust your characters to tell their story.

Some will argue there is no such thing as a plotless novel or story.  To make sense, a story has to have a plot.  If there was no plot, the story wouldn’t make any sense.  Even if all the characters do is to go from point A to point B, one has a plot.

I won’t quibble over semantics.  If one looks at “Little Big Man” or “The Remains of the Day”, there is movement.  The progressive story of a man’s life or the taking of a vacation.  But those events aren’t what make the story.  It is the development of Jack Crabb and his life experiences which make the story.  What life has taught him is what is important.  Or that Stevens must come to grips with a changing world and to survive he must change along with it.  His vacation, at the end of the day, is simply a vehicle for him to come to grips with himself.

Perhaps the Plotless Novel should be called the Character Novel, because that is what is important.  It is the character him or herself that is important and constitutes the story.

Whatever we call it, the Plotless Novel has been a godsend for me.  I wouldn’t be writing today without its discovery.

What are your thoughts on reading or writing the plotless novel?



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