Absolutely, without question, the best John Grisham novel is…

Before I reveal my choice to this statement, let me clarify something.  On another post entitled Ennui with a Side of Envy, I said that I envied a playwright but the truth of the matter is that I am not a person given to envy.  To me envy is a waste of time and emotional effort.

Growing up nearly as poor as the families depicted in Grisham’s novel, A Painted House, I learned early on that if I wanted anything I would have to work for it, which is why I started working at the age of 14 and I am working still.  So, when I say I envy someone for something, I really mean that I would like to have something they have be it material or immaterial.  If I see someone with a car I would like to have, I work to get that car and I buy it if I can.  If I read someone’s work and I admire it, I try to write the way they do no matter what is needed to accomplish this goal.  I am not always successful in these ventures but at least I try.

I have tried several times to be a novelist but I just cannot seem to get the hang of it, so I write short stories, which is something that I am very good at, while I admire Grisham’s ability to write novels.  The reason I admire him for this, and why I own all of his books, is because a good novel has many layers to it. None of his novels, or many thousands of others that I have read have the layers that are incorporated in his very best book, The Last Juror.

This book has a trial that revolves around a spectacular murder, as you would expect in a Grisham novel. It has a decadent crime family in it, a cast of characters with colorful name like Baggy Suggs, Mackey Don Coley, Harry Rex Vonner etc., and it takes on people who go “slap ass crazy”, the war in Viet Nam and forced integration of schools.  So there is a lot to think about but the truth is that the book is not about any of these subjects.

These are just many of the layers that revolve around the real story depicted in the book and that is of the friendship that grows between Willie Traynor and a very special black family living in Lowtown (on the other side of the tracks), the Ruffins headed by a wonderful matriarch named Calia “Miss Callie” Harris Ruffin.  How this unlikely friendship came about is the gist of the book and it is wonderful.  All the layers around the main story just make it that much better.  If you have not read the book, go get a copy and read it now.

I love the work so much that I buy copies of the book to give away to others.  So far, I have given out 21 copies of the novel.  I can usually get these copies for a few dollars at a local library’s bookstore so it is not a financial burden to me but even if the books cost much more than I pay now, I would do it because it is a very special book.

A few select books that I have read in the past fall into this category.  Those books include, The Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Merlin Trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) by Mary Stewart–just to name a few.

I suggest you read them all.

Well, there could have been a monster in there…

As much as I hate to say it, for the majority of authors, their writing is their avocation rather than their vocation and I am no exception to that rule.  I write because I enjoy it and because someday I would like to do it for a living.  In the meantime, I have to work for a living like all the rest of you.

It is not that I don’t think writing is work, it is and sometimes it is very hard work, its just that I think of writing as a pleasurable experience, something I can do without anyone telling me what to do and this is not always the case in the “real world” business environment.  So, I get up each day and (hi ho, hi ho) it is off to work I go.

For the past two and half years, the place I trudge to is biotech whose main business is making breast implants.  I’d write a sitcom about the place but no one would believe it.  Anyway, for several months of this time, I worked in one large building that was virtually empty.  I know for sure that I was the only person working on the second floor.  Most of this time, I worked in a secured file room and though I am not one who frightens easily, if at all, there were times when I heard noises that I did not think I should be hearing. I can’t say for sure if these noises were just in my mind or if they were produced by workers outside of the building but one day, when I started to go into the men’s room, I could have sworn I heard a noise come from inside it.

That was bad enough but when I opened the door, the self lighting unit did not activate right away so I was left standing in dim light for a few seconds.  When the lighting did come up, staring back at me were three empty stalls and two urinals–which all seemed to be laughing at my unease.

It was during those few seconds between darkness and light that a story came to me.  I call it There is a Monster in the Bathroom and it is available in my collection of stories in Angel and the Bear.

When I wrote the story, I wrote it just as it happened, right down to the layout of the floor I was on, the only exception being that there was no monster in there making those noises.  As I usually do, I let some of my friends read the story before I published it and several of those friends are people I work with.  Everyone of them guessed correctly that I set the story in the other building outside of the bathrooms located there, so I guess I got the details right.

As a writer, I think using people and places you know well as models is important because since you know them so well, you can write in detail about them.  This is an instance where the location of the event was of primary importance because all of the characters in the story were pure fiction, including the muscular man who was working alone on the second floor…

Angel and the Bear: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KZ3QF8I

Good-bye to an Old Friend

Thirty five years ago I bought a research tool that has helped me write for decades.  At the time I was still a year or so away from owning my first PC (a Commodore VIC20 that William Shatner –aka Captain Kirk–hawked on TV) and the Internet was just a communication device for the military industrial complex.  You actually had to get up off your butt and go to the library to do any in depth research.  One other thing you could use was the tool that I bought so long ago.

It was the 1980 edition of The New Webster Encyclopedia Dictionary of the English Language: Including a Dictionary of Synonyms and Twelve Supplementary Reference Sections.  A copy of the title page is featured above.

The dictionary started out with a very interesting forward entitled On the Origin of Words which, essentially, explained how the English language came to be.  Nine hundred and seventy two pages of word definitions followed until you came to the 12 supplements mentioned in the title.

The supplements were as follows:

  1. Synonyms and Antonyms
  2. Popular Quotations
  3. Classical Mythology
  4. Foreign Words and Phrases
  5. Student’s and Authors Manual
  6. Secretaries Guide
  7. Business Law for Laymen
  8. Business and Finance
  9. Names and Their Meanings
  10. The Story of America in Pictures
  11. Flags of the World (in color)
  12. Presidents of the United States (in color)

The last president listed in section 12 is Ronald Reagan.  I found out in section 9 that my first name means “The Lord is gracious, merciful” and in section 5 I found out how to edit a document using Proofreading Marks.  There are too many great quotations to list here but my favorite from the Writing list in section 2 is “Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At this time, I have to paraphrase another well known quote, “Time waits for no man nor great tome of knowledge”.  Over the course of the decades, this book was referenced more times than I can remember especially after my son was born in 1984.  It was at his side countless times while doing homework and at mine as I did my writing.  Now, however, it is showing the effects of its great use and great age.  The pages are torn and falling out as they fade from yellow to brown and the binding is all but gone.  So I have decided to give it a new life; I have made the gut wrenching decision to recycle my old companion in hopes that its next life will be as useful as its first one was.

So good-bye my old friend, good-bye.

NOTE: I used this book one last time to look up the proper way to spell-and hyphenate-the term “good-bye” since there are many variations of it and discovered that the phrase is a shortened version “God be with you”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary on line is located here.  It even has a section for Scrabble: http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Captain Kirk selling computers (as William Shatner): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK9VU1aJvTI

50 Shades of Green

You hear a lot of nonsense on the Internet every second of every day but sometimes you hear something so outrageous, you know it could not possibly be true so you dismiss it.  Then when you find out it is true and you are left to sit in stunned silence–unless you are a writer like me.

This happened to me yesterday when I heard that E L James published a “writing guide”.  In case you don’t know who this person is, she is the author of the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

Before I go on let me make it clear that I have not read any of her books.  Nothing anyone could ever do could make me read her books either.  The reason for this is simple; the subject matter is very disturbing to me.  There has been enough written about the books that I know it concerns a rich man controlling a woman sexually, often using force to do so.  That subject makes me so crazy that I once beat a man senseless because he was bragging about how he abused his wife in this way. I told him to shut up and when he didn’t do so, I shut him up.  That being the case, I don’t condemn Ms. James for writing the works and for making a boatload of money from it.  Some people love to read sick garbage like this which I know is crazy but that is our world like it or not.

What really bothers me about this situation is that Ms. James did publish this “writing guide” and given her following, most likely people will buy it looking for pearls of wisdom from the “great” author. That is even more disturbing to me than the subject matter because while I, again, have not read any of her books there are a plethora of excerpts from them on the Internet and I have read a great many of these bits and pieces. Doing so brought me to the conclusion that while Ms. James writes sick garbage she also writes like garbage.  Some of the passages are so illiterate that they make no sense at all yet she is telling others how to write?

In case you do not believe me, here is an excerpt I found.  I will add the link to this page below my post:

“Trust me?” he breathes.

I nod, wide-eyed, my heart bouncing off my ribs, my blood thundering around my body.

He reaches down, and from his pants pocket, he takes out his silver grey silk tie… that silver grey woven tie that leaves small impressions of its weave on my skin. He moves so quickly, sitting astride me as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to one of the spokes of my white iron headboard. He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure. I’m not going anywhere. I’m tied, literally, to my bed, and I’m so aroused.

He slides off me and stands beside the bed, staring down at me, his eyes dark with want. His look is triumphant, mixed with relief.

“That’s better,” he murmurs and smiles a wicked, knowing smile. He bends and starts undoing one of my sneakers. Oh no… no… my feet. No. I’ve just been running.

“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off.

He stops.

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening right now.”    Gag me! Kate!  I shut up.

Okay, Ana, the female protagonist, has apparently let this cowardly puke tie her to her bed but only gets upset when he starts to take off her sneakers?  Why?  Because she has been running!  Does this mean that her feet will stink as bad as this passage?  I could go on (“my blood thundering around my body.”–messy, messy) but you get the point.

I just hope that this “writing guide” bombs.  Maybe then Ms. James will realize what most writers already know and when she does, she will take her money and disappear from the literary world forever.

By the way, if you like good erotica where BOTH parties consent to sex, then read my friend’s short book Make Me Sweat.  I have provided a link below.

50 S of G excerpt: http://darhkportal.com/2012/04/frisky-friday-fifty-shades-of-grey-excerpt-with-giveaway/

Make Me Sweat: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EX5PIWS

Sometimes You Have To Get Dirty…

…in a grooming sense of the word anyway…

I was in the process of getting very dirty when the inspiration for my story Go Ahead, Steal My Car came to me.  At the time I was under my car, which was sitting up on my Rhino Ramps, draining the old oil from it so I could replace it with my recently bought fresh oil.  As I watched the dwindling ebony ribbon of dark oil pour into the drain pan, I heard shuffling foot steps approaching in the alley behind my house.  When the sound of the footsteps got to my driveway, they stopped and I could see that they had been made by two brightly colored tennis shoes. Who was in the shoes, I don’t know, why they stopped behind my car, I don’t know, but from the direction they were pointing, I could tell that the owner of the shoes was looking at my car and into my open garage.  I don’t think this person could see me since I was mostly under my car.

What motivation the feet had for stopping and looking I don’t know, but I do know that if they had approached my garage, they would have jumped high enough to hit the roof of it when I popped out from underneath the car.  But they did not approach, after about 3 minutes, they continued on their way.  I replaced my car’s oil drain plug then got up and looked down the alley, but who ever owned the shoes was gone.

However, the mystery stayed behind.  Later I could not get the unanswered questions out of my mind so, being a writer, I sat down and started listing what possible reasons the person had for standing behind my car and one of those possibilities, however remote, was that they wanted to steal my car.  I wondered what I would have done if that had been the case; since my car was a 1998 Chevrolet Lumina that I had owned since it was nearly new, most likely I would not have fought the person over it, I would have just said, “Go ahead, steal my car.”  What came from these musings is a sometimes sad, sometimes poignant story of a man grieving the loss of two partners, one personal and one professional, while blaming himself for both.

This is the second story in my book Angel and the Bearhttp://www.amazon.com/Angel-Bear-Collection-American-Fiction-ebook/dp/B00KZ3QF8I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Character Development

I tell everyone that I am not a novelist and to this day that is  true.  It may change some day but for now I am novel-less, so to speak.

The closest I have come to writing a novel is when I wrote On Borrowed Time, my book of mysteries that revolve around Detective Anderson and his private investigator agency.  In the book, many of the character have recurring roles.  Two of these characters are B.B., Anderson’s stunningly beautiful “Office Manager, full-charge bookkeeper, and all around do everything person” and Nate Kubrick, an up and coming young private investigator.  Around mid-way in the series, I wanted to develop these characters more because they were pretty interesting and because I had plans for them later in the series.  So, I decided to write a story called Into the Dark Desolate Night where they were the main characters.  In fact, Anderson and his partner Coombs are not in the story, though they play heavily in the background.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the story involves B.B. more or less blackmailing Kubrick into stealing Coombs’ new car, a candy apple red Cadillac El Dorado convertible.  Along the way we discover that B.B. is short for Beth-Ann Banks, her boyfriend’s name is Ray Ramundo aka Ray Ray, and that Kubrick has a juvenile criminal past that is unknown to Anderson and Coombs.

Why B.B. wants Kubrick–and only Kubrick–to steal the car is the crux of the story.  In the end, though, Kubrick finds a major league Miami crime boss deeply in his debt.  This is a situation that he does not relish, but he cannot get away from it.

For the record, the title of this story was the original title of the book and it fit well with the cover of the book, but after talking to a “book coach”, I figured it was too long so I renamed the book to another story.  I am not sure this was the best move but I have researched the question of long book titles and it does appear the shorter titles sell better.

So far I am not sure how accurate this assessment is.

On Borrowed Time: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H7LNDO

Language Barrier (Barrera Del Idioma)

In my last post, I told how I had a title (Death and the Deep Blue Sea) stuck in my head and how a story grew from that small seed.  Well that was not the only time it happened.  Another time this title got stuck in there, The Treasure of Arroyo Seco and again a story grew from that seed.  Unlike the last story, though, I know exactly where this title came from, more or less anyway.

I am a member of a group that helps preserve land in my town and now and then we also help clean up parks in the area.  One day we were working in Arroyo Verde park which is a large property full of hiking trails.  You can see the Pacific Ocean from most points of view since it sits up on a foothill.  It was hot and dry that day due to the Santa Ana winds being out in full force.  It was while I was chasing down a wild plastic bag that the phrase Arroyo Seco came to mind.  I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded good.  My mind wandered as I picked up the human debris left behind by careless picnickers and as it did it batted the phrase around and somehow the entire title came to me.  Now what to do with it?  It had a nice lilt to it and I know it was very similar to the great Bogart film The Treasure of Sierra Madre so I thought maybe it would make a nice story–of some sort.

At the time, Detective Anderson did not exist but I was writing a lot of romance stories so I thought that maybe I could do something with this title in that realm.  The idea of having the story set in the old west interested me since that would be a first for me.  I have read many volumes of Zane Grey’s work and as great as it all is, he never handled relationships between men and women very well.  So I thought that maybe I could one up the master in that area.

With that in mind, I set a lonely cowboy, who thought he was running from the law, on a wild ride south of the border to escape the perceived posses that were out to get him.  Along the way he stumbles upon a dying hombre and shares with him the last dregs of his water.  While the old man lay dying, he hands our hero a map and says something to him in Spanish which he did not understand.  When the man finally died, our hero buried him with dignity then set out to find water in a barren desert wasteland.

On the edge of death, he see a village in the distance, he thinks, so by laying on his trusty horse, he makes for it. Finally, he can go no longer and sliding from his saddle, he falls into a pit of darkness.  Of course, he wakes up, that part of the plot was a given, but what would he wake up to?  Would he find himself chasing a gold mine like Bogie did?  No, that would be plagiarism no matter how much I spun it.  So what would be the real treasure? Since this story was destined to be a romance, there could only be one true treasure and that would be love.

He wakes up to the stunningly beautiful face of Raquel Deseo which made him think he died and went to Heaven when he really was in a village called Arroyo Seco, which I later discovered meant “dry creek”.  So who is Raquel Deseo?  In the story, she is a peasant living in a town that is dying of thirst and she is the daughter of the man our hero tried to save.  In real life, she is my friend Raquel who is just as beautiful as she is described in the story.  Deseo is Spanish for “desire”.

I wanted to add some realistic touches to the story, so I thought I would start his awakening moments with a conversation between Raquel and her mother with the entire narrative being in Spanish.  My real life friend Raquel consented to translating my words and thus became the love interest of my lonesome cowboy.

In the end Raquel falls in love him him, they figure out what her father was trying to say about the map, and so they eventually save the town.

This story will soon be added to my collection of work, Angel and the Bear.