Rules of Writing

I sent an early crime novel to a publisher who had already published one of my novels, but she rejected it, saying that, in a mystery, the victim is only there to provide a puzzle for the reader. Therefore, I should bump somebody — anybody — off in the first few pages and devote the rest of the novel to the investigation whether it be by police detectives, a private detective, or an amateur sleuth. Carefully following her own advice, she rejected my mystery on the grounds that I didn’t murder anyone until just over a hundred pages into the story.

I felt bad, naturally, but at the same time, something in me rebelled. Over the years I had read a great many detective novels and mysteries, and, although at the moment, I couldn’t offer book and page number, I was pretty certain my publisher’s theory was in error. I was almost certain I had read many crime novels, be it private eye tales or police procedurals,  in which a murder didn’t occur until later in the book.

Okay, I got over it and moved on.  A bit later I  found a new publisher.

But the other day I chanced to pick up a tattered old novel by Ngaio Marsh, arguably one of the true queens of mystery fiction, and decided to read it. In this particular novel, “Tied up in Tinsel”, we don’t stumble across a body until page 242 in a book that has only 286 pages. Wow! Obviously, the editor who rejected my little novel also would have thrown Ms Marsh’s effort into the circular file and in her disgust, she might well have sent Ms Marsh a stern message about the way to write mysteries. Too bad for an editor who had made up her mind about what constitutes a mystery novel. But reading the book and remembering the editor’s remarks, the entire incident poured back into my mind and I got all wound up again.

All this the above is a prelude to my remarks that in novel writing, there are no rules. The very word novel conjures up images of something new and different. Now a mystery novel with no murder might not go over well with readers, starting with editors, but still it is legal. There’s no law that says you have to have a murder. A short story, maybe. Remember “The Purloined Letter” by Mr. Poe.

In “Vanity Fair”, Thackeray talks frankly, to his reader. He knows it’s just a story and he knows the reader knows it’s just a story, so tongue in cheek, he goes ahead and tells it, stepping in from time to time to remind us that, after all, it’s just a story.

Fowles puts himself right into the background of a novel while observing the proceedings and of course, in my favorite mystery novels, the narrator, the detective, tells his story as he remembers it. He’s just a reporter giving us, as Sgt. Friday would say, the facts. He’s not the real author of course, but we can suspend belief and assume that private eye Raymond Chandler is just calling himself Philip Marlowe to avoid being stalked by beautiful women with pearl-handled .25 automatics in their handbags.

In fact, being a very young reader when I began reading Marlowe novels, I was severely traumatized to learn one day that Mr. Chandler was in his sixties, meaning Marlowe was in his sixties. Philip Marlowe kicking butt in his sixties? To me, a kid of sixteen, I couldn’t believe anybody in his sixties was still able to walk, much less kick butt or write about the butts he kicked. And I felt very betrayed, almost the victim of a bad joke. But I was a vapid youth of sixteen. Maybe only fifteen.

Most people today lack the patience to wade through “Moby Dick”, but when it was written, I believe people liked a more leisurely novel, something they could spend hours, even days on. They wanted their money’s worth. Remember, at that time there wasn’t much else in the way of entertainment, at least not in that price range. But today what editor would accept a long tedious novel that stops cold, and before continuing, offers lengthy dissertations on whaling, or any other industry?

If there is anything to be gleaned from this little outburst, it is that as author, you are God. Rules, schmules, it’s your creation and you have the right to say anything you want to. Now if you step too far out of recognized lines, you may never find a publisher, but these days with the Internet and self-publishing opportunities being offered every time you log on, you can still get your stuff published.

Now, I don’t suggest you go too far off the grid if you hope to find a traditional publisher who is willing to take a chance on your work, but I do feel that, as the writer, you still have the right so say what you want to.

I should mention that what makes books  like Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, Don Quixote, etc. isn’t always their construction, but their unforgettable characters. Remember that.

So the takeaway here is to write what you want to. Once you’ve written it, you might want to see how it compares with similar works. If you feel it’s a little outré in some respect or another, you might want to make a few changes. If you like it the way it is, submit it and see what comes out of that. BIG PUBLISHERS probably won’t look at your masterpiece no matter what it is, but there are a great many independent publishers now. Most of them are open to unpublished writers and if all of these reject your stuff, you may want to revisit the entire work and see what’s holding you back. If you do get feedback, by all means, listen to it. Listen to it, but you don’t have to do more than that. It’s up to you. You’re the writer.

In my case, hearing about the rule that the murder should happen on page three or thereabouts, I nevertheless stubbornly felt I was okay with what I had written and time has proven me to be correct, insofar that another publisher accepted Deadly Reception, and I haven’t had any complaints. So you just have to consider what you’ve written and if you firmly believe you’re right, then stick to it. Sooner or later you’ll connect with the right publisher and hopefully you’ll establish a good relationship.

One last thing that may give you solace: If and when you do get some BIG PUBLISHER to publish your book, you’ll have a very short window of opportunity. If sales after a couple of months or so aren’t what the publisher wants, off with your books head (or cover). It’s gone. Buried without any ceremony, and all you’ll have are the few copies sitting your shelf to remind you that you once had a book published. As an added humiliation, if you’re really unlucky, you may stumble across a few copies of your book in Big Lots or a 99c store but let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you.

If you allow them, most of the indies will keep your book on the Internet forever. You may not sell a lot of POD copies because of the cost, but your masterpiece can float around as an E-book on Kindle, Nook and so on forever and who knows? Maybe one day, like Van Gogh, you’ll be DISCOVERED! Hey, if Picasso and Warhol can be “discovered”, anything can happen.

Editor

Advertisements

A Sure-Fire Movie Formula

You need some Characters:
 There is a bad guy and a good guy. The good guy isn’t perfect, but he’s not as bad as the bad guy, who actually has some good qualities and may articulate his point of view very clearly just before killing his victim.
Everything that can go wrong for the good guy does go wrong. His situation is hopeless…and he’s angry. If the good guy is a cop he never ever calls for backup. The good guy has a wife, girl friend and/or kid that the bad guy will take hostage later on.
If the good guy’s a cop he can be a recovering alcoholic, but maybe he’s not recovering. In any case, his wife and/or girl friend can’t deal with him, and his bosses, while they may secretly admire his results, do not like the way he gets them. He’s very probably a loose cannon. At least one associate cop can’t stand him and they’re in constant conflict. We see that the associate cop would love to get something on the good guy. As mentioned above, The good guy has a kid just waiting to be taken hostage by a bad guy.
Somewhere an expendable (read ‘asset’ if the good guy is connected to the CIA), has to be facing the camera in close up while waiting to be struck down from behind by an assailant he/she didn’t see coming, preferably when he just learns something that may help the good guy.
The good guy has an acquaintance. He’s a whacko computer nerd who can hack any computer in the world, or alternatively he’s a whacko weapons freak who has in his closet enough weaponry to start WWIII. The key word here is that he’s a Whacko.
The real surprise bad guy turns out to be the good guy’s closest friend/mentor/boss/associate, someone who is completely above suspicion until the end.
In the end, the real bad guy gets the good guy cold and his finger is tightening on the trigger (cut to trigger) and we hear the shot, but then the camera pulls back and see that the cop who never liked the good guy has come up behind the real bad guy and nails him just in the nick of time.
You need Locations:
There has to be an abandoned factory for a hair-raising cat-and-mouse game between bad guy(s) and good guy. If you have a Terminator budget you can use an operating factory, but for everyone else, abandoned factory is the way to go. This is also where the gang always meets, where they take people to beat and/or kill them, brutalize women, and where the good guy inevitably ends up, alone of course.
There absolutely has to be at least one scene on, around and/or under one of the downtown LA bridges and/or in the usually dry riverbed below. Maybe there’s something in the Los Angeles City Charter making this mandatory. This holds good even for big budget movies like the Terminator franchise, so it cannot be overlooked.
And The Conclusion:
In a bittersweet ending the good guy and his hostage are reunited. All is forgiven and he has been vindicated and justice has been served. We however, have not been served; we have been taken. (Again.)
Hollywood

The Deputy

Critics are already raving about this dark mysterious novel. The Deputy by C. M. Albrecht, coming soon from Write Words, Inc. (Cambridge Books) http://writewordsinc.com
Reserve your copy today.
“I loved The Deputy. This book kept me on edge all the way.” — Martha Cheves “Stir, Laugh, Repeat”.

The Sand Bluff Murders

ImageThe Sand Bluff Murders

Sand Bluff is a town long ago bypassed by the freeway. Sleepy, yes. But Sand Bluff was a sleepy little town long before that. When Jonas McCleary gets a job on the police force, he’s perfectly happy. An easy job in a small town where, as one local denizen puts it: “Most excitement this here town ever had was that time back in sixty-two whenever that Elvis bus had to stop and fix a flat.”

Besides, Jonas is getting onto thirty and he’s hoping to meet Miss Right so he can settle down and get married.

The first day he has his eye on a possible Miss Right, but on the third day he has his eye on a murder. A murder in little Sand Bluff? Wow, and before Jonas has even had a chance to get to know the town, he’s hit with another one. Twyla Peters, Sand Bluff’s resident hussy, is found lying in a pool of blood.

For its size, Sand Bluff has a lot of strange characters and Jonas has a lot to learn before he even gets started, and in the end, he has to grope his way down some dark passageways if he hopes not only to nail a murderer, but stay alive long enough to do it!

“The plot was amazing. – Marina Stevkovska

http://writewordsinc.com, amazon.com, nook.com, etc.

How not to have control

penI‘m sure most of us like to believe we’re in control of our lives, even though experience tells us we’re mistaken. It’s certainly a comforting thought to know that you’re totally in control of everyday events around you, but of course we know that’s not strictly true.

Best laid plans…etc. We’ve all had the experience of planning say, a picnic only to find it decided to rain that day. I remember one time when I confidently went out and bought an expensive stereo on the time payment plan only to be laid off my job a week later. And so it goes. It’s pretty disappointing to finally realize and admit that we don’t really have much, if any, real control over our lives.

But when it comes to writing, ahhhh. When you’re writing, you’re God are you not? You’re completely in charge. You dream up a plot or situation and start creating characters to act out their given parts and you have the option of changing any and everything you want to. Right?

Well…maybe. Maybe usually, but here too there can be exceptions.

I know some writers make detailed notes and outlines when they write, others less so and some just sit down and start writing. In my own case, I normally don’t do much if any outlining on the computer. Being primarily a mystery writer, I usually begin dreaming up a plot and creating at least some of the characters in my head and before I actually begin writing, I usually know the ending. I know who the baddie is and how to expose a murderer. But nearly all of this is bumbling around in my mind.  Once I begin in earnest I usually make a list of the characters as they come along so I can remember their names and anything else of importance about them, but that’s about all. I’m not saying it’s the best way and it’s certainly not the only way, but alas, it’s my way and I’m too old to learn new tricks. After all, I can barely use a cell phone and consistently hold the TV remote backwards. If it was a gun I’d be dead right now.

All this preamble brings me to the point of this.

After a number of stillborn attempts and misbegotten ideas I finally began to put together a plot for (hopefully) my next epic opus. It came to me complete with a title: “The Morgenstern Murders”.

I had this Morgenstern. He was one of those investment banker birds who made a killing in the big bust and quietly retired to a luxurious compound overlooking the lovely Pacific Ocean in sunny California. Naturally, because of the many people whose fortunes and sometimes, lives, were ruined due to his shenanigans, he had accrued a pile of enemies as big as his fortune.

Before long I was actually writing. Started off well. I was fully in charge. But then, about a week or so into this work, something unexpected happened.

That jerk Morgenstern didn’t want to be an unscrupulous investment banker. He wanted to play doctor. Doctor?!

Slipping completely out of my control this guy had decided to be a doctor instead of an investment banker. That meant I had to go back and add “Dr.” every time I mentioned his name. Luckily, on the computer that isn’t so difficult. And he didn’t like to be such a lowlife either. Enemies? Sure. As a doctor, he had opened several abortion clinics in the bay area and found his clinics plagued by protesters who marched daily around displaying placards. They even located his compound and began marching outside in front of his home.

Okay. I didn’t ask for that and didn’t expect it. I honestly don’t know where that came from, but there it is. Even my fictional characters come out and mess up my plans.

Now let me say right here that this isn’t a moral story. I couldn’t dream of writing a scathing philippic against abortionists, and I certainly can’t blame those who are against it. I write mysteries and don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to make a statement. Blame Dr. Morgenstern if you want to blame somebody. I don’t know how or why he decided to become a doctor and set up abortion clinics.  I certainly don‎’t have the expertise to speak for or against abortions. I’m not writing to make any judgments, and I’m not here to defend those who don’t believe in abortion and I can’t judge the doctors who perform this service. Being a male, I’ve never had occasion to consider having an abortion. Fortunately too, the possibility has never come up in my extended family. Everybody related to me already has plenty of kids and more on the way. I suppose one thing in favor of abortions would be the savings in birthday presents, but I kind of enjoy all those little birthday parties even when the cake is on the heavy side.  On the one hand, I wouldn’t advise anyone to have an abortion, but on the other hand, it’s certainly not up to the likes of me to tell women I don’t even know how they should live their lives.

I hope to get this book finished before the end of the year, and God willing, it will be available early next year and I’ll be done with the late Dr. Morgenstern. Yes, despite his change of career, he still gets whacked. (Call it fate, Kismet, destiny.) And although he isn’t really a bad guy, I’m just not that emotionally involved with him to be upset at reading of his demise.

So the takeaway here is that we’re not only not in control of our lives, but evidently we aren’t always in control of our fiction either, but I guess that isn’t all bad. Makes the whole journey more interesting and sometimes even fun.

Books at the Library

Image

 

Wow, Barrie Olmstead, in charge of new books, has accepted my books in print for the shelves at the Sacramento Public Library. If anyone who reads this can get down there to check out a copy, the next move will to be ask for more, more, more. My publisher will love you and I’ll love you. Maybe even the library will love you and name a wing after you. 

A Section of River Road

Here’s a short excerpt from River Road:

Homicide Detective Hugh Rafferty stood in the center
of the kitchen holding Fido, his hefty black cat in his arms.
In dismay his sharp eyes roved over the disaster that
surrounded him.
A huge dark brown stain matted the filthy linoleum floor,
Cabinet doors sagged open, some broken, as was the
kitchen window. The oven door hung sideways and the
kitchen fanlight was hanging by one electric wire. Rafferty
wrinkled his nose at the familiar smell that permeated the
room.
Fido struggled to get down, but Rafferty held him fast.
“No no, Fido. You know you can’t be wandering around
crime scenes. Jesus…”
Jeff Malone, a husky man in his early forties stood in tshirt
and jeans holding a clipboard in one hand and a digital
camera in the other.
“Yeah Raf. Crime scene is right. This is about as bad as
it gets. The bastards that did this—” He broke off and
sucked in his breath. “I mean…this is sick, man.”
“I hear you,” Raf agreed. “Just when you think you’ve
seen it all.”
His eyes continued to rove about the kitchen. Cracked
tiles sullied the counters. Litter cluttered the counters and
the floor.
“But hey,” Raf went on, “look at the bright side, Jeff.
Somebody did us a favor. When we bring this puppy back
to life, she’ll be worth three hundred grand. Maybe a little
bit more.”
“Well, we’ve got our work cut out for us, Raf. But—you
know, only giving me a forty thousand dollar budget to
work with—this isn’t going to as easy as the last flip.
Besides, if you ask me, this was a poor time to be trying to
flip a house. This’s not like a couple of years ago.”
“You said that the last time, Jeff. In fact you always say
that. But somehow you always come through for me. And
we won’t be greedy. If we offer a good value, the right price,
somebody will buy. I —” He broke off to answer his ringing
cell phone. Still holding Fido firmly in his grasp, he fished
the phone from his side pocket. “Yeah. Yeah. Where? Jesus.
Yeah. Okay, I’m on my way.” He shoved the phone back
into his pocket.
Jeff stood patiently looking at his employer.
“Looks like my city needs me, Jeff. Crime never takes a
holiday. Well, you’ve got enough to start on. I’ll touch down
with you later.”
As Raf headed for the door, Jeff nodded and looked at
his clipboard. Raf turned suddenly back.
“Well, come on man. We’ve only got four weeks to flip
this puppy.” He looked down into Fido’s yellow eyes.
“Come on, Partner. We’ve got us a homicide to investigate.”
“Yeh,” Jeff came back, “and you need a new hat.”
Raf pulled off his ragged and stained straw hat to reveal
a thick mass of uncombed red hair. He looked fondly at the hat.
“Hey, I’m sensitive about this hat. This is my lucky hat. I
wouldn’t trade it for two new ones.” He slapped the hat
back onto his head. “Now get busy.”
***
Raf pulled his Ford off onto the right embankment of
River Road, opposite the small army of other vehicles,
including two television vans.
Raf sighed and grabbed Fido up in his arms. “Come on
big boy. We’ve got work to do.”
The day was warm but hazy and the tree line that edged
down toward the river looked slightly fuzzy. Carrying Fido
in his arms, Raf crossed the roadway.
A uniformed officer snapped his notebook shut as Raf
approached.
“Looks like you and your partner there have
another nasty one on your hands, Raf.”
“Gee, thanks, Jason. Just what I needed. “You know Fido
can’t stand the sight of blood.”
Jason laughed. “Sorry about that. Tell him to look the
other way. Here’s the deal: The girl was apparently riding
her bicycle in the rain along the road here.” He waved out
toward the roadway, dry now on this warm day. “Evidently
her bike was struck from behind by a vehicle, throwing
her off. But her body turned up down below there, under
a tree.” He waved his arm downward in the direction of
the river. “We don’t think the force of the blow threw her that
far, not by a long shot. Somebody got her down there one way or
another and smashed her head in with a rock.”
Raf’s face sobered. He set Fido on the ground and pushed
back his straw porkpie hat, allowing his tumbled red hair
to fly out. “Sexual assault?”
“Medical Examiner thinks so. Her shorts and panties are lying
by the body.”
“Oh boy…well, come on, Fido.”
Closely followed by Fido, Raf struggled to maintain his
balance as he slip-slid down through the wet grass and
gravel to the huddled corpse.

And we haven’t yet met Lucretia St. James, the medium.

River Road from http://www.writewordsinc.com and most sites.

Up ↑