Behind the Story: “Problems Aren’t Stop Signs”

I like writing about problems. As in, you know, their problematic nature. It’s the stuff of a great story. And I had this idea for a writing challenge: take one self-inflicted problem and make every next sentence add a specific complication. Why, transgression zero’s blowback would mount and mount and surely hit a sublime ridiculousness. In the end that’s what crime and punishment often are, aren’t they? Sublimely human things we did to ourselves.

To be clear, I’m not meaning that each next sentence would deepen a plot element or characterization (or both). Such writing craft proven over the millennia would’ve made too much sense. No, I would daisy-chain every next sentence with a direct new complication to or consequence of what came before. 

The set-up: A small town mayor (eventually our Tori) embezzled taxpayer money as a down payment on snatched-up Panhandle scrubland she believed would skyrocket in value. There’s a water management project set for state funding that will keep her land high-and-dry from the rising Gulf levels. Well, state revenue shortfalls nixed discretionary waterway plans. Open then to Tori in her swamp and hatching a skunk ape craze bound to draw in beaucoup sun seekers and cryptozoologists. She’ll flip that land to resort developers yet. Tori, though, can barely keep her half-brother in the shaggy costume (she’s in charge of whipping up media interest), and mud and snakes and owls abound, and her local paper contact wants to investigate the town finances.

Problems stopped the works. Not Tori’s. Mine. Oh, I Continue reading “Behind the Story: “Problems Aren’t Stop Signs””

Beach Boy

I don’t much like the beach. Sure, a beach all sounds so wonderful: the surf, the sand, the sun. And yet, that surf is bracing cold ten months a year, the other months being hurricane season, and the salt water leaves this weird skin film and also you can’t rule out jellyfish. That sand is a plague forever dug out of my ears and other delicate places. Then there’s the sun. The sun is what gets me, a pure broil on my Irish skin. It’s SPF bazillion or extra crispy for me. Then figure in the crowds. No, I don’t much like the beach.

But I absolutely need it.

Water for us in Nashville is another creek that we’re lousy with, or it’s a dammed-up river, thank you Mr. TVA. Big water, say like ocean big, means 
Continue reading “Beach Boy”

Behind the Story: “Book of Hours”

So I had this idea for a novel.

There was this gentleman thief, see, and he needed to steal something. Wait. There was more. This something, see, was hidden in the pit network underneath the Colosseum. The hypogeum, if you’re into archeology. A caper in front of ten thousand tourists. Say crooks or spies did drop exchanges there, payoff money or hacked secrets. Glam Rome, high stakes, chases through crumbling passages. Toss in the yucks. It sells itself, right?

Some ideas know better than to come together. I worked on the first draft, got 15,000 words in. And froze. Several times. Even with the leeway of a comic premise, story problems kept clogging the works. No thief, see, could get past modern security, polizia squads, and ten thousand smart phone cameras. And why the hell would any mobster anywhere choose the Colosseum to stash diamonds or jump drives? The pits where tour groups flock through all the Italian day? Out of a million less complicated alternatives? No, my idea wouldn’t be selling itself.

But the first chapter worked. It stood alone more or less, no Colosseum-sized plot problems. Our hero, see, just had to steal something stealable from a place such things get stolen from. A super-valuable book. The scene zipped like a Bond movie opening, a slam bang action setpiece launching into the main plot.

We’d last left our hero in a bad way. Ed, our once-brash gent, had been outfoxed by a mademoiselle high on Holmesian deduction and low on morals (“Aix to Grind,” AHMM September 2014). Now a few months later, Ed is in crushing debt to the Corsican mob for his Aix sins, and worse, he’s in the cold, cold clutches of the Marchesa Isabella Ruggieri. In “Aix,” Ed bragged over stealing a haul from her. The haul, it turns out, Continue reading “Behind the Story: “Book of Hours””

Mangeot of the Somewhat Nordlands: Among Les Français, 2018

Lately my traveling alter ego Mangeot of the Nordlands has chronicled expeditions through Norway, Quebec, and now France.

Try not to judge him too hard. He means well.

13 April — Tours

We arrive among Les Français (meaning “They who put sauces on anything”) at their chief aerodrome of Paris. It is a grand city of Statuary and much stone and plentiful macaroons. It is neither clean nor particularly well-lit.

There is Much Strife among the trainsmen. We journey forth regardless as far as they will convey us, into the Touraine. We stop at the drizzle-swept outpost of Tours, pronounced “TWO-er” and meaning in Old French “Why are you not smoking?”. The country folk greet us in a State of Ennui until we demonstrate means of payment. Then fine chefs serve us their Kir and Martini Rouge and treat us to feasts of savory pies made with chicken egg and salted pork. They show us all manner of chateau. Over local wine in which the townsfolk take Great Pride, they ask if I have read the writings of their noted author Balzac. “Some,” I say. “Oui,” they say, “you must be forgiven. You who are possibly from the Nordlands.” I nod. “Perhaps less so,” I say. “But still there is this,” they say. “Why are you not smoking?”

16 April — Bordeaux

We cross the Loire and sally forth into the hinterlands. Onward we venture, beyond the cloudy gloom and Lordly Manors, beyond the Signals of Wireless Service under what our quartermaster tells me is an International Roaming Plan. Our party presses into the Aquitaine, which I translate as “We wait until after the nap.”

In these Darkest Wilds we arrive among the Bordelaise. These are a river people who Continue reading “Mangeot of the Somewhat Nordlands: Among Les Français, 2018”