Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Yes, Sure, Progress

Yesterday, went through and edited the first ten pages, decided to hate it for its inaction and lack of dialogue. Despaired.

This morning, went back through and edited again, decided to love it because it sets up everything tersely, complexly, and subtly. From now on, everything that happens for several hundred pages flows from this.

Wonder, very briefly, what normal people do on perfectly ordinary days like these. I have no idea.

 Now stop whining and get to work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Say What? Who?

The writing group might want to draw and quarter me over this, but I like it: changing all the proper names to near-proper Greek, and subjecting them to Greek syntax. So Ajax is Aias, but when addressed by name is Aia. Troy is Troia, a person who lives there is a Traoianos but is addressed as Troiano, the people who live there are Troianoi. Agamemnon is Agamenonos, but is address as Agamemno. Hah!

I hesitated to mess with possessives, as that required restructuring the sentences in which they appeared, making my casual, contemporary language suddenly stilted: Instead of "Agamenonos' wife says..." it had to be "The wife of Agamemnonos says..." or some other structure. Anyway, I gave it a try.

What this did is something I did not predict. Until now, I've been bugged by how ordinary the narrative voice of this story is. This extremely simple Greeking has, just by itself, contributed a touch more flavor (ala Peryton) of strangeness without having to do it so deliberately that it sounds like TV quality pseudo-archaic.

And then, of course, there is this.... 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Less, More, and The Bodyguard

Finally acquired grown-up home wifi, and an up-to-date DVD player that is preprogrammed for many of the on-line video services. Hunting happily through menus, I found a kinda-ashamed-to-admit-it but WTF old favorite, all the previous seasons of Project Runway.

And I found two movies: one old favorite, one a delightful new surprise.

Why have I always liked "The Bodyguard?" I discovered one of several answers to that question at last.

At the most recent meeting of my small writing group, one member lamented that his character, a hard-boiled detective, needs something in the way of a life beyond solving the current mysterious crime spree.

We mulled over the usual kinds of trite complications of the "he raises and shows tropical fish" variety. But those just feel like mandatory stick-ons, and he and I left the meeting still feeling unsatisfied.

Now, with two attentive run-throughs of 'Bodyguard,' I feel closer to an answer. Frank Farmer simply is who and what he is. His own father describes him, very briefly, as always have been driven toward what scares him most, but we are spared any horrid wake-screaming-in-the-night scenes. He was in the Secret Service, was off duty when Reagan was shot. This troubles him, and we don't have to drag ourselves through a thick layer of self-dislike to feel it, understand it, know that it is wrong, but also accept it. The film touches Farmer's spirit very lightly and quickly several times, then lets him go. No childhood trauma, no pitying psychological morass. By the end, we know and like him, we would trust him with our lives, we understand that he will always do what he does and be how he is, and, like Rachael Marron, we are content to let him go.

Any writer of fiction could do infinitely worse than to create and manage such a character. I will recommend this film to my detective-writing colleague at our next meeting, and will keep it in mind in my own writing as well. Less can be infinitely more.

Lawrence Kasdan, the writer who created this character, and Mick Jackson, the director, deserve major kudos for this tour de force, as does Kevin Kostner who played the role.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Truth and Lightness

I was sitting in the shiny new local public library yesterday, reading a bit of Joy Williams' nihilist very-short fiction while thinking of my Iliad reboot, when a voice in the back of my head started into its usual, "You have to explain this. All of this." And another voice said, totally unexpectedly, "No, I don't."

Ah, the sudden decompression! I often say that the shortest answer can be the most true, and there it was. That bit of dialogue repeated itself as I returned the book to the stacks, visited the rest room, strolled back to the car, drove home. Every time it repeated, it was even more true. And I felt even lighter.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Every Picture Tells a Story

Some do, some don't, some tell stupid stories that no one should bother with, some contain in their apparent simplicity an entire world full of brilliant stories.

Take, for example ....

Things Fall Together

From 'The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience" by Michael Ignatieff:

"Warrior's honor implied an idea of war as a moral theater in which one displayed one's manly virtues in public. To fight with honor was to fight without fear, without hesitation, and, by implication, without duplicity. The codes acknowledged the moral paradox of combat: that those who fight each other bravely will be bound together in mutual respect; and that if they perish at each other's hand they will be brothers in death.

"Warrior's honor was both a code of belonging and an ethic of responsibility. Wherever the art of war was practiced, warriors distinguished between combatants and noncombatants, legitimate and illegitimate targets, moral and immoral weaponry, civilized and barbarous usage in the treatment of prisoners and of the wounded..."

However: "Warrior codes were sharply particularist: that is, they applied only to certain people, not to others. The protections afforded by the chivalric code applied only to Christians. Toward infidels, a warrior could behave without restraint."

And then: "In the 1990's, most of the fighting is done by irregulars - the casualties of collapsing societies - or by paramilitary gangs that combine banditry with soldiery. As war passes out of the hands of the state into those of warlords, the rituals of restraint associated with the profession of arms also disintegrate."

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Brand new 2016 Fiat Spider - Oh yes, it's cute. Yes, it comes in white. Hey, it's totally affordable. But WTF? The only ones in stock - or in the dealer's pipeline - have automatic transmissions. What's the point in that?

And there is no spare tire, just a wussy little spray-in goop kit. As if that will do a lot of good with a no-fooling flat on, say, FM 624 a couple of hours out of Cotulla - which is to say, almost as severely nowhere as somewhere on the Ross Ice Shelf, just without the ice. When I gave the salesman the askance glance, he muttered something about 'roadside assistance' and couldn't make eye contact. I didn't bother to ask him, "Roadside assistance for what? A 500 mile tow?"

This little guy is a charmer, but not ready for prime time. And no, I didn't bother to test drive.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Real Life Day

Here in Texas one must have every vehicle inspected before renewing registration. With the truck due in September, the trailer in August, and inspections valid for 30 days, I figured that - since I hardly ever take the trailer anywhere and it's a pain to hook up (not really, just actual physical work) - today I would haul the trailer to its inspection, bring it home, and then on Monday or Tuesday take the truck for its inspection, then go to the registration office before the end of August for both of them.

If this sounds like a lot more work than necessary, believe me, it's not really.

Dragging the trailer out of its nest of grass and weeds worked okay. But at the trailer inspection place, I learned that requirements had been stiffened. It wasn't just lights they cared about this year. It was also the electric brakes and emergency brake lock - neither of which were even hooked up and didn't work when they were.

Lucky for me, the nearest truck place had the parts and got it done - not the battery for the emergency lock, but the inspector knew I would get one asap, so he passed the trailer as it was. Gathered the documents, found a replacement battery on only the third try (Tractor Supply, no; Auto Zone, no; D & D Farm and Ranch Supply, yes).

Took the trailer home, parked it (a chore, since the parking area was never designed for whales), then figured, oh, WTF. Took the truck for inspection, it passed, took all the papers to the registry where - a prize for my persistence - the clerk said, "Why isn't your trailer licensed as a farm vehicle? It would save you a lot of money. Do you use it for anything except farm work? No? Well then." So I filled out a simple form, checked the right box, and saved $70.

In Virginia, this would have taken days to accomplish. Here in Texas? less than four hours. Didn't even miss Judge Judy.

Oh, and for an hour before this, John Deere and I communed with the rain-happy weeds (lawn) all around the house. Gotta keep the snakes down. More about this wonderful machine some other time.

The Logic - Religion Paradox

Can't find the text right now, but its opening thought sticks in my mind. Judeo-Christian belief hinges on faith; that is, belief and obedience in the face of no evidence, a powerful paternalistic attitude. At the same time, we Europeans are taught logic from infancy. These two issues do not fit comfortably together, and it's no wonder that, as education spreads, so does atheism.

In another set of thoughts, many world religions don't follow that paternalistic pattern, but expect their deities to listen to them, and to react and respond individually. The story is told, often, in India of a man or woman who built a small shrine in the home and showed utmost respect and honor to a particular deity every day. But then, when that deity ignored the person's request for something - money, a job, the health of a family member - he or she tossed the shrine and all its contents - flowers, fruit, small statuary - into the street.

 So these Bronze Age Greeks, whose beliefs can only be guessed at and who evolved into the people who painted deities on their ceramics with only symbols (wings, hats, tools, and their names) to differentiate them from ordinary people - what was their on-the-ground relationship with those powers that they believed could control their individual fates? Or did they even believe that at all??

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Write What You Write, And Write It

According to a possibly apocryphal story, someone once asked Stephen King, "Stephen, you write so well, why do you only write that horror stuff?"
And Stephen answered, "What makes you think that I have any choice?"

Side note: Stephen King does indeed write very well.

What does this mean? It means that, if you are meant to write, your genre will choose you.

One of the saddest conversations I've ever eavesdropped on involved two wannabe writers. One said, "I want to write, but don't know what." The other answered, "Go to Barnes and Noble, see what's on the shelves, and write one of those." The response? "Hey! Good idea!" and they parted with an air of contentment that they did not deserve.

There was no consideration of the fact that it takes a book several years to move from "What a good idea!" to print. In that time, the world continues to turn. What is hot today (Teenaged vampire! Dragons! Noir hard-drinking detectives!) will be soggy cold by then.

The very idea of writing what might sell - as if that's the only criteria that matters - means you are just about guaranteed to fail. Can you copy someone else's years-old idea with heat and verve and passion? Probably not.

What does this really mean, then? It means write what you want to, need to, can't help but write. It's not popular? Your writing support group will poo-poo it? Your mother will disapprove?

Fuck popular. Every new idea isn't popular...until it suddenly is.
Find a better writing group.
Smile and nod to your mother, then do exactly as you please. After all, you did that as a teenager; you still can.

Need a further kick in the pants?  Read this.
Then read this

Then get to work. The damned thing isn't going to write itself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gods And The Devil

Some have expressed surprise that I'm not including all the busyness of the Greek gods in my retelling of the Iliad. Any desire to fit them in is awkward and feels irrelevant; too much of what they're up to has little bearing on with what men and women are doing on the ground. "A god made me do it" has little resonance with a more modern reader.

This idea, however, prompts some deeper thought. In Ruin the Sacred Truths Harold Bloom explains how difficult it is to reconcile the monotheistic Yaweh-based religions that require absolute submission to authority, such as parents and God, with the Greek logic that expects nobility to arise from within and be expressed through original, logical, voluntary behavior. That Greek attitude also allows the individual to interact and negotiate with gods, the way that Hinduism allows, rather than simply do as he is told.

The Devil, Satan, whatever he/it is called, represents the individualism that the Yawehists warn against. Perhaps free will. No wonder God is under siege from atheists. Why, many ask, give us a brain if we're not supposed to use it?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

World War -I

Currently on the third serious rewrite of Warrior's opening. Finally closing in on the issues that will shape the rest of the story. The Tyndareus Oath: what it intended, and what it did instead. It was meant to temporarily quell squabbling between Greeks. Instead it created World War -I. So Odysseus didn't just outsmart himself; his hubris plus Fate outsmarted him and everyone else.

Most people who think of the abduction of Helen and its aftermath, think of this:

But what, instead, about this?

Which is the story most worth telling?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hobbes Was Right

"The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Thomas Hobbes

And so here we go, Ajax and I, down the rabbit hole.

It is to be utterly expected that he lived the life of the thief, vandal and pirate: everybody did. So he learned to respect Agamemnon only because the High King was more powerful; every man has a master.

 Other men like himself? They honored each others' exploits, their courage and success in raiding and battle, their reliability under fire. Brothers in arms.

Women? He competed for Helen because her property was better and easier to hold than his island. Hesione's fate is simple and convenient, and no reason to trouble himself about it. She is just another of the many creatures he has slaughtered for good reason: sacrifice, dinner. And his wife? Why and how could he ever have learned to be gentle about sex, when rape has always been and still is one of the most common tools of conquest? He's not conquering her; he already owns her. But what else does he know? After their experiences with the whores in Vietnam, it took US vets a long time to relearn gentle sex.

So what is his downfall? Did he seek some higher nobility? If so, where would he even have gotten that idea? What disinterestedly honorable dealing has he ever been involved in?

Perhaps only Hector, who he fought to a standstill and then they exchanged gifts, which must have startled him. Did he see Hector as an unappreciated and doomed workbeast? An ox or horse, driven, then beaten, to perform, but never honored? Did the one-time-only sight of Hector walking forth alone to meet Achilles with no one but his wife even watching, make Ajax's heart, like the Grinch's, grow three sizes that day?


Friday, March 11, 2016

Homer Lied

And Ajax will finally hold him to account.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

He Did It!

Ajax did what he has been struggling to do for many months, and I didn't recognize it. This suddenly gives him genuine, urgent, three-dimensional life. I suspect that he and I will have no more problems.
Thank you Chinua Achebe!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Happens When...

...when you sit at the keyboard, fiddling with one-syllable words and with punctuation until the lightning strikes.

I finally know what gift Telamon sends to Priam. Thank you, Chinua Achebe!

"Cracked Evil Face" by Adinabulina (a.k.a. Adina Nani), dreamstime_l_17758841.jpg

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Back to Ajax

There is a short forced hiatus going on while The Editor deals with another project and so, knowing how obnoxious and urgent I can get when stymied, I turn back to The Big Guy.

Happily, the draft is not as dispirited and random as I remember it to be. I can work with it.

And with Helen, whose theft - even though she's only a woman - precipitated all this.

Wondering now, was it theft or was it flight? She was a wife, and so woven into a complex fabric of obligations  that she could hardly have run or walked away from it. So what really happened? No longer why did she end up in Troy, but how?

Love? Fear? Passion? Stupidity? Impulse? Fury? Lust? Accident? Force? Mistake? Ignorance? Intrigue?

We'll see.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wake Up, Sit Up, Pay F***ing Attention!

Further efforts to get on with Ajax dribbled away into spiritlessness. See, he KNOWS that I'm not paying attention; don't love him enough yet.

But a chance article* brought me to the realization that it is still Peryton that hold me in thrall - yeah, that sounds dramatic, but is nonetheless true. The article said, basically, 'Think you're done? Nope. You've got it all recorded, now get serious." So I did. I found and hired a professional editor who, despite a star-studded cast of customers, lobbied hard to get Peryton and did a sample edit of the first few pages, to show what he could do.

What could he do? Those pages - that so many people swore they loved and could find nothing wrong with - came back to me so Track Changed that it was hard to find the black type among the red. And I thought, "THIS is my guy."

Two months and a whole lot of money later, we have an excellent working relationship, and he finished The Hostage and is halfway through The Hunter. Peryton is infinitely better. The adage is proven true again, that you get what you pay for. And, I always add, if you pay enough, you get even better.

* http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/dont-scrimp-on-an-editor