Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reading, Writing and Packing

It’s been too long since I’ve talked about books here.

Ed Lee’s new novel, Brides of the Impaler, is both a departure from what most fans expect from Lee, and a bloodsucking success. Lee’s setting is uber-urban: a midtown New York populated by excess-addicted yuppies, calloused cops and crackhead whores. Add to the mix an artifact that may contain the spirit of Dracula, and this book’s off to the races. Lee proves he can deliver the scares in the back woods and the big city. And there’s plenty of sex and gore to satisfy longtime fans of Lee.

The Given Day is another departure, this time from Dennis LeHane, author of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Set in Boston, at the end of the first World War, this epic encompasses racism, baseball, the influenza epidemic, police corruption, labor unions, immigration and the devastating Boston police strike. It’s a potboiler and a page turner, with writing that is, in turns, literary and pulpish. My only question is: will Scorcese be directing the movie?

A racially-charged incident from 1972 propels The Turnaround by George Pelecanos. Three white teens drive into a black neighborhood. Epithets are shouted, violence ensues, and one of the teens is killed. In the present, Pelecanos catches up with the survivors of the incident. Some have prospered. Others haven’t done so well. When Pelecanos finally brings the survivors together, each is looking for something different: forgiveness, redemption, even payback. The story concludes in a way that is surprising and moving. Possibly Pelecanos’ best novel to date.


I had a story accepted for an anthology this week. One more commitment out of the way. I’m trying to finish another promised piece this week, before we head out of town.


We’re going to a resort in Mexico next week. I’ll be out of the country on election day, and will miss voting for the first time since I was 18.

Norma and I went to our courthouse Friday to cast our absentee ballots. The election officials told us that absentee turnout was huge, and they hoped the number of ballots cast on election day would be record-setting. So do I. In the past, a 30% voter turn out in Kentucky has been considered good. Oh, really? 70% percent of the citizenry stays home and that’s good thing? If this election causes more people to participate in the process, regardless of who they vote for, that’s a victory.

Now I have to face my greatest challenge of the year: what books to pack.

Hardcovers are out. Since I have to pay if my bag is over fifty pounds, I’m not taking any chances. I can stuff more paperbacks into my carry-on.

At the moment, I’m leaning toward a few Hard Case Crime novels, a couple of Leisure paperbacks and the last few issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That’s subject to change, of course. In fact, I’ll probably be adjusting the book lineup on the way to the airport. I’m sure my fellow book lovers will understand.

The beach, books, no election commercials and unlimited alcohol? Just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Come on Come On/Stones in the Road

Hey, kids! It's one of Mark's favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.

And here's the other one.

Whassup, McCain?

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Friends, Let Me Be Honest With You...

I have a confession: I'll vote for whoever Andy Griffith tells me to vote for. Come on, he's Andy Griffith.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading in the Mountain State

Friday Night I joined Brian J. Hatcher and Michael Knost at a release party for Legends of the Mountain State 2: More Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia. Here's an action shot:

A good time was had by all, even if Border's had us set up a few feet from the gizmo they use to grind the coffee beans. Thanks to everyone who stopped by. We left a bunch of signed books behind for you.


So I'm not a blog hog, I ripped this off from Knost's site:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This Is Funny, I Don't Care Who You Are

Happy Birthday, Lester Dent

Thanks to L. L. Soares who reminded me that today was the birthday of Lester Dent, the man who wrote most of the Doc Savage novels under the Kenneth Robeson house name.

Dent was born in 1904 and passed away from a heart attack March 11, 1959 --a few months before I was born.

In between he wrote a lot of fiction, some of it very good. Had he lived, I have no doubt he'd be fondly remembered as a mystery/suspense author ala John D. MacDonald (who had a number of stories published in Doc Savage Magazine).

Early in his career Dent published an article in Writer's Digest in which he revealed his master plot formula for pulp fiction. Check it out, then compare how closely a lot of today's fiction sticks to it.

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here's how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary. Scribes who have their villain's victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won't do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure--thing that villain wants--makes it simpler, and it's also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you've lived or worked. So many pulpateers don't. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here's a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled "Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned," or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, "What's the matter?" He looks in the book and finds, "El khabar, eyh?" To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it's perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it's a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Here's the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:


  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero's endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE? Is there a MENACE to the hero? Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise's tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They're not real. The rings are painted there. Why?


  1. Shovel more grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
  3. Another physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE? Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud? Is the hero getting it in the neck? Is the second part logical?

DON'T TELL ABOUT IT! Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader--show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until--surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM.



  1. Shovel the grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
  3. A physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE? The MENACE getting blacker? The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix? It all happen logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

ACTION: Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.

ATMOSPHERE: Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.

DESCRIPTION: Trees, wind, scenery and water.



  1. Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
  2. Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
  3. The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
  4. The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
  5. Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
  6. The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line? The MENACE held out to the last? Everything been explained? It all happen logically? Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING? Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Signing/ Reading

If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Huntington, West Virginia, consider coming to Border's in the Huntington Mall tonight. I'll be there with Michael Knost, the editor of Legends of the Mountain State 2, signing books and reading my contribution.

The party is 7-9. I'll be there for the final hour.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Make Believe Maverick

Rolling Stone explodes many of the myths about John McCain in a new profile. If it's true, this makes Johnny Mac look even more like the second coming of W. If it's not true, I'm sure one of the fact checking sites will let us know.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart

(stolen from the Shocklines forum)

Pod of Horror #48

Let Pod of Horror #48 be your pumpkin carving soundtrack. Robert Dunbar talks about Leisure publishing THE PINES twice. Scott Bradley is back with the scoop on THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR. Actor and Writer Michael Boatman takes THE REVENANT ROAD. Glenn Kay, author of ZOMBIE MOVIES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE, discusses the cinema of the dead. And everybody’s favorite sassy demon, Grim Rictus, returns to PoH. We’ve also got Norm Rubenstein’s book reviews, The Call of Kalanta and The Tomb of Trivia. Pod of Horror is produced and hosted by Mark Justice. Download it at I-Tunes or direct to your desktop

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