Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Heavenly Golf Joke

This is my favorite joke.  I don't often tell it to an unknown audience, however, because, well, it involves Jesus and Moses playing golf and behaving like golfers.  This offends some people.  If you are someone who is likely to be offended by it, you have been warned.

It was a beautiful day on earth, but up in Heaven, where it's always a beautiful day, it seemed a bit tedious.  Moses noticed that Jesus seemed particularly bored that day, so he suggested that they put on human form and go down for a game of golf.

Jesus agreed and as they strode out on to the links, he seemed to perk up considerably.

"This is exactly what I needed," he said.  "I feel like I'm going to play great today.  I feel like... Arnold Palmer!"

And as a result, he played a little recklessly, but he managed to keep even with Moses' more cautious play.

They came to a long hole with a dog-leg around a large water trap.  Moses drove down the fairway, intending to take an extra stroke around the dogleg and avoid the water, but Jesus looked across that water trap to the little flag in the hole beyond it.

"I'm going for the green," he said.  "I feel like Arnold Palmer today. I'm going for a hole in one!"

He wound up and swung... and the ball sailed high and then fell straight down into the water.  Jesus let out a sigh and turned to Moses.

"Uh, would you mind?"

Moses raised his arms and parted the water and Jesus went down and got his ball and brought it back.  He teed it up again, and to Moses' surprise, he angled like he was going to go for the green again.

"Are you sure?" said Moses.

"I told you, I feel like Arnold Palmer today. I'll make it this time."

Of course, he didn't.  The ball sailed high and went into the water again.  Jesus looked at Moses, and Moses sighed.

"All right, but if you drive into that water again, I won't help you."

He raised his arms and parted the water, and Jesus retrieved his ball.  He came back, and teed up again, and looked down the fairway, and then again at the green and then at Moses.

"I really feel like Arnold Palmer," he said.  "I'm going for it."

Moses crossed his arms and scowled and watched as Jesus, once again, drove the ball high and long and straight into the water.

Jesus didn't even ask this time, he just went down to the pond, and walked out across the top of the water to look for his ball.

A couple of other golfers who had come up behind them, watched in amazement as he walked around on the surface.

"Who the heck does he think he is?  Jesus Christ?" said one of them.

"No," said Moses with a sigh.  "He thinks he's Arnold Palmer!"


See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Story Notes for "Flat Crossing"

The Taco Bell restaurant where I often go to write is located next to a train track.

I was sitting there one day, when I had decided to write a spontaneous microfiction story.  Nothing planned.  No idea what I was going to write about.  Just write it.  I sat there, staring out the window at the safety wall that kept people from wandering onto the tracks, and a train went by.

And I thought about how in the 1970s, urban planners intentionally placed freeways between good and bad neighborhoods to keep people from the wrong side of the tracks from stepping outside their neighborhoods and doing horrible things like, you know, shopping at stores with better prices and higher quality goods.

It is ironic, I think, that since then, the paradigm has shifted to the gated community: so now, instead of hemming in the poor, the rich put themselves in a prison.

And now we've evolved further: even where we aren't trying to keep anybody anywhere, we're so wrapped up in this separation culture that we make it nearly impossible to be a relaxed and ordinary pedestrian.  We don't live close to where we work or play.  Often, if you want to take a walk you need to drive to a place to do it.  Or, if you live in a suburban community, you don't have any place to walk to.  If you want to go to he store, you have to jump in the car.

My family moved into the city so that we could walk places.  But we find many of our neighbors who are new to the city have a suburban mindset, and they want to restrict things and manipulate traffic flows, all so that the city is more like the suburbs -- more separate and formal.

A few years ago I read a calcualtion by a scientist, who surveyed studies which talked about how Americans were gaining weight at a rate that was about the equivalent of 100 calories a day.  And he then calculated the amount of calories that "convenience" accounts for -- things like how much less you walk when you pay at the pump rather than go into the store to pay for gas -- and found that added up to about 100 calories a day.

This isn't a matter of people being lazy, this scientist complained.  We have set up a system that pushes people to be lazy.  We cater so strongly to convenience that we end up punishing people for trying not being lazy.  We have walls and train tracks and freeways all over our culture.

All that might have been in the back of my mind, but I wasn't really thinking about it when I wrote the story "Flat Crossing."  I was just thinking about how that wall was there to keep people off the tracks, and how, so often, the tracks were there to keep people from jumping the wall.  And how ironic it is that we take so much trouble to draw these lines in our lives.

See you in the funny papers. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Scrabbling Through the Big Attic of Project Gutenberg

When I was a kid, we had a big 1880s farm house in northern Michigan, which we had bought with all contents included.  This included many shelves of old books of all sorts.  (Also many odd things like old aviator goggles, stereoscopic pictures, and a Victorian era wheelchair -- which we used to chase horses around the pasture.)

On long lazy summers it was great to just go and browse through the books.  There were a lot of great kids books there, but also books which were just old (and therefore strange to kid-eyes).  There was the beautiful handmade Arts and Crafts edition of some Longfellow stories (I think, might have been someone else).  And that weird book on calligraphy, in which it showed how a single spiraling stroke of a pen could draw a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ (via thicker and thinner line width).

There's nothing better than being a kid in a room full of old musty books to explore. Not necessarily to read, mind you.  Some might be great reading, but a lot of them will be stultifying as reading material.  But even those can be fun to explore as objects, as artifacts.  Things that were hits before your mother was born.  Or grandmother.

The thing about it that is different from a library or bookstore is that the books in an attic (or a trunk) are often not in any particular order.  You couldn't just go find your favorite genre.  You have to browse through them all to find the gems.

And since really old books didn't have dust jackets or back cover blurbs, finding the gems could really be a challenge.  Even if you identified a book as a novel, or a kids book, you might have no idea what it's about. (Unless it had a title like "The Bobbsey Twins Find a Ghost on The Old Farm.")

What you had was the weight and size and state of wear and age of the book.  The sense of its age and style compared to others. The covers might have something interesting on them, but mostly not.

The one thing they had that most modern novels don't have: Illustrations.

And there is the thing that has made Project Gutenberg as much fun as that old farm house.  I follow the Project Gutenberg account on Twitter, @gutenbooks.  They tweet a dozen or so titles a day -- mostly new releases, but with some older books thrown in.  They have everything from political tracts to personal travel journals to magazines and newspapers, to pulp novels and classics and poetry.  Books in foreign languages of unknown type.  Somebody is scanning the whole set of Encyclopedia Britannicas one small slice of a volume at a time.

Every couple of days I go through every one of these books, and unless the book is clearly of some interest, I look to see if it has versions "with images" and if so, I click straight past the main page into the "More files" link and through a few folders to the "images" folder.  And there I sit and browse, like I did as a kid.

I find a lot of fun stuff that way.  Sometimes good books to read, like Phroso, the book I reviewed on Friday. But other times, I just find great art to look at, or reference books.

I also learn a lot.  When you browse a lot of pictures quickly, you start seeing what kinds of images are immediately attractive and which ones make you click on by.  And sometimes I'll see a stylistic puzzle.

For instance, the three pictures I posted in that review of Phroso.  Here is a smaller version of all three side by side.

There are three more illustrations in the book, all in the same ink and wash style of the first and third image you see here.  ("Wash" is like water color. Often just diluted ink, painted in with a paint brush to make the grays.)  The center picture here is just pen and ink.  No wash. (Except maybe for a very light wash on the vest and sash of that central figure with the dagger.)  The shading is done mainly in cross-hatching.

Why is this image different?

Well, when you read the book you see why: that scene is a flashback.  The other scenes were all witnessed directly by the story's narrator, but that scene was something he hears about from a witness -- the old woman you see cowering in the doorway in the background.

It made me very happy to see this little added touch to the story.  It wasn't necessary.  An illustration like the others would have done fine.  But there is something almost subliminal about this sketchier image -- an image which almost looks like an over exposed photograph, or a faded one.

This was before the movies.  This was done in the 1890s.  It is interesting that today, we use similar techniques to signal flashbacks and dreams in visual media today.  We depict the haziness of memory with blown out exposures and crowded hazy details.

I'll be talking more about the interesting images (and books) I find in the virtual (and therefore not dusty) attic of Project Gutenberg.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Flash Story: Flat Crossing

A little girl wonders why the trains run continuously along the tracks at the edge of her neighborhood.

Flat Crossing
by Camille LaGuire

For every day of Janine's life, the train slid by, on and on, at a slow but still deadly pace. It always fascinated her, something so big and dangerous and yet so constant.  Like the wall that lined the tracks, which kept her from seeing the wheels.  She often considered climbing that wall just to get a better look, but it was too dangerous.

They said that people used to jump the wall all the time, before the trains were continuous.  They'd cross from one side to the other, play on the tracks, feel the rumble of the trains close up.  The city had tried electrifying the fence, putting in spikes, but nothing could keep people off those dangerous tracks.  Nothing except the trains themselves, running on and on, crushingly unavoidable, unstoppable.

Once, when she was young, Janine climbed to the top of the trash dumpster, then up the lamp post so she could see down to the wheels.  They were round and the steel shone where they buffed the tracks, but they were black with grime elsewhere.

But the boxcars were mostly empty.  You could tell by how they bounced sometimes, that some were lighter than others, and some of the cars had slatted sides and you could see through them.  When she asked her mother why, her mother only said it was good for commerce.  Janine didn't know what that meant.  How could empty cars be good for commerce? Maybe having them run all the time was convenient?

She climbed the lamp post again and watched the trains, counted the cars she knew were empty -- the slatted ones, the ones which had doors open.  Not counting the ones that bounced, it seemed to her that over half the cars were empty.  And when she thought about it, she had only once seen any cargo in one of the slatted cars.  A few cows once. 

She asked her mother again about the empty cars, and he mother finally sighed and shook her head. 

"I suppose you're old enough to know," she said.  "It's to keep those people on the other side of the tracks from coming over here.  They're bad people."

She wouldn't say much more, and now Janine lost interest in the wheels on the trains and she climbed the lamp post to look across the tracks at the other side.

It didn't look much different from this side, she thought at first.  She expected to see some sort of awful, dark place.  An evil king's domain, or a world of flat concrete.  Something from a story.  But the only thing she noticed after observing for a while is that the houses were spaced evenly apart, and they all had fences around them.  The oddest thing was that each house had a little yard, but no garden.  Just flat and green, like the park.

There was only one park on Janine's side of the fence.  Every other bit of land was filled with garden.  Perhaps the people over there were hungry, and that's why they were bad.  Maybe they weren't allowed to have gardens.  Janine couldn't tell.  The people were seldom seen, and when she did see them, they didn't look hungry.  They looked just ordinary.

Then one day came the time of the great breakdown.  Something went wrong, an accident which blocked the tracks and shut down the power all over.  The trains stopped.

Janine's parents became frightened.  They huddled over their radio and listened to the reports of the disaster.  They locked their doors and ordered Janine to stay inside.

Janine just couldn't stay in.  She had to know.  The trains were stopped, and now anyone could cross over. 

She was too scared to cross her self, but she slipped out the window of her room, and ran to the parking lot.  There were no people around on the streets.  There was hardly any sound - no endless grinding of wheels on tracks, no clatter and rumble of the bouncing cars.

She climbed up on the dumpster and shinnied up the lamppost, and looked first up and down the tracks.  No one was crossing that she could see. 

Then she looked across the tracks to the other side.  And there she saw, facing her, a line of soldiers.  A long line spaced evenly along the other side of the track.  They extended as far as she could see, all holding guns and facing the tracks.  Just as she saw them, one shouted and pointed and they started shooting at her.

Bullets rang against the lamp post, and Janine jumped down to the dumpster and then to the ground.

She crouched against the dumpster, sobbing and clutching her knees to her chest.  She heard the sound of guns for a moment longer, and one hit the light of the lamppost and shards rained down.  Then someone shouted and the shooting stopped.

And all was silent again.  Janine ran for home, sorry she'd come, sorry she'd been so curious.  But she noticed that no one came over the fence after her.  No one crossed.

She climbed into her room and huddled in her small bed, and soon the power came back on, and she began to hear the distant rumble of the trains start up again.  She listened to that rumble and clatter and thought about what she'd seen, and she decided that those soldiers had not been getting ready to cross the tracks.  They were watching, guarding.  And on this side, her own side, nobody was guarding the tracks.

She went back into the front room and found her mother looking relieved.

"Mommy," said Janine.  "Those trains don't run to keep those other people from crossing the tracks do they?  They are supposed to keep US from crossing to their side."

He mother looked at her a long time before she said, quietly and gently, "Yes."

"Why?" said Janine.  "Are we bad people?"

"No," said her mother.  "They're just scared of us."

"But why, Mommy?"

"Because we live on this side of the tracks, that's all.  We're from the wrong side."

The End

On Wednesday I'll post some story notes on how I came to write this story.

See you in the funny papers.

You can read more of my fantasy fiction in The Bellhound, Four Tales of Modern Magic at all Amazon Kindle Stores: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon DE. As well as at other ebook retailers: Smashwords, Barnes and Nobel, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, Diesel, and Sony.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekly Review/Preview - Oscar Night

Last week, we wrapped up Test of Freedom with a "credit cookie" last episode, talked about typography and using line spacing to make your book cover look better.  On Wednesday, we talked about the interesting ways Richard Lockridge used Omniscient Voice in his cozy mysteries.  On Thursday I shared some thoughts on writing the online novel and my future plans.  On Friday, a review of Phroso, another Ruritanian adventure by Anthony Hope (author of Prisoner of Zenda).

Next week is also a full week, but before I get to that, I'll be spending Sunday having a Peking Duck feast, and then....

Oscar Night

They say that the Oscars is the Superbowl for movie buffs.

I suppose it's ironic, me being such a big movie buff, tjat I haven't watched an Oscar telecast in years.  I can't. I don't have cable and since the switch to digital, I can't get any ABC stations on the TV.

However, Oscar Night is still a big night for me, and I DO follow it -- but I follow via Twitter, and live-blogging on various sites, including IMDb and various fan sites.

I seriously do not miss the Oscar telecast.

One of the reasons I don't miss it is because the show sucks.  And the more they try to jazz it up, the more it sucks.  I only want to see two things in an Oscar telecast: Clips of the movies in question, and the speeches of the winners.  I don't want to see a monologue or cute banter, and I sure don't want to see musical extravaganza tributes to Hollywood.  (I do like hearing the nominated songs, though.)

I don't mind the red carpet coverage of the fashions -- that's a separate event -- but I really hate that Oscars don't seem to be about the movies or the nominees at all. It seems like it's all about the egos of the Hollywood Press, and the egos of the Hollywood power elite.  It's like everyone is there to be seen, and not to see anything.

So watching the Oscars on Twitter and live blogs is perfect... or would be if the speeches weren't being cut short at the source.  If they winners were allowed to go on a little longer, and then you could find them on YouTube.

It's true, I could probably do with a little less snark  than you get on Twitter, but at least Twitter commenters are clever as opposed to TV commenters and critics, who are just mindless egos.  And the Twitter folks can be wonderfully snarky about the TV commenters and critics, who deserve it.

My favorites?

Best Picture: Lincoln, though I think Argo is going to get it, and in some ways it should get it because they snubbed Affleck, who deserves recognition.  Lincoln likely won't get it for the reason I loved it: it's a drama about political procedure, and it doesn't try to cover that up -- it lets the drama of real legislating shine through.

Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, duh.  I thought Denzel also did a fabulous job in Flight.

Best Actress: I didn't see enough of the pictures to know, and I wasn't excited about the ones I did see.  The kid from Beasts of the Southern Wild was pretty amazing, but the movie: I hated that movie.  And I usually love that kind of experimental artsy stuff.

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, though I didn't see Django Unchained, and what I saw of the clips made me really like Christopher Waltz.  I've heard great things about Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, but The Master not a movie I necessarily want to see.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway. But I've got to tell Sally Field, I do really really like you!

Best Animated Feature:

I don't really have opinions on the other categories this year, but I would like to see Moonrise Kingdom get some recognition.  I believe it's up for screenplay, and it's amazing, as all Wes Andersen flicks are.

Coming on the Blog this week:

Monday: "Flat Crossing" a flash fiction story in which a young girl wonders at why the trains run continuously along the tracks at the edge of her neighborhood.

Tuesday: There was an interesting illustration technique in Phroso, the book I reviewed on Friday.  (One of those pictures was not like the others.) I'll talk about that, and maybe talk a little about interesting covers I've seen lately.

Wednesday: Story Notes for "Flat Crossing."

Thursday: "The Golf Joke" My favorite joke -- it's a dull day in heaven and some heavenly figures decide to go down and have a game of golf.

Friday: The Prisoner of Zenda and meanings behind the fairytales.  Zenda is a story which has be adapted and made into movies and comic books and stolen into new plots.... perhaps because it has this really wonderful, almost mythic, underlying structure of mirrors and contrasts.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Phroso by Sir Anthony Hope

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins (aka Anthony Hope) is best known for writing The Prisoner of Zenda.  Which is my all time favorite story.  I got the comic book, I got all kinds of movie versions, and I have several different illustrated editions of the book, and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau.

Oddly enough, not much else of Hope's long body of work is remembered.  Thanks to Project Gutenberg, however, they are not lost.  Lately I've noticed a bunch of them cropping up on the daily tweets of new books that Gutenberg announces.

I hadn't read his other works, I admit. The one most known, The Dolly Dialogs, was not an adventure, so I paid little attention.  However I haunt the Gutenberg announcements Twitter feed, looking for illustrated work, and I came across an adventure book he wrote not long after Rupert of Hentzau.

The title is Phroso, and because Project Gutenberg doesn't have book descriptions I might have just bookmarked it and moved on... except that I'm there looking for illustrations and this book had some very alluring ones.  (As you see scattered about this post.)

So I downloaded it and I'm reading it, and I'm excited about it.

Like Zenda, Phroso is "a Romance" in both senses of the word. (At the time, "romance" usually referred to the adventure genre, and implied that it was, um, not true to life.  Early science fiction stories were often called "planetary romances," for instance.) Also like Zenda, it's about a hearty young Englishman of bold character, who takes a vacation in a fictional country and finds himself caught up in all sorts of skullduggery.  (Zenda actually defined this genre originally -- it's called a "Ruritanian Romance" named after the nation of Ruritania where Zenda takes place.)

This time the country is a Greek island -- a little kingdom under the administration of the Ottoman Empire -- which our heroic Englishman buys on a romantic whim.  The islanders are not real happy about being bought and sold, and are a pretty savage group.  At first, it seems like we're headed into a romantic version of "Deliverance" or maybe "Fort Apache."  But it's got secret passages and ancient mysteries, and all that Nancy Drew stuff too.

AND... that story turns out to be only the beginning.  By the end of the first act, the story takes some pretty significant turns....

This is one of the curses of ebooks, btw.  That first act feels like a whole book, so I thought I would be done reading this before I posted today.  But it's actually 96,000 words long, and I'm now a little over halfway done, and I'm completely hooked.

This one seems to be setting up for a happier ending than Prisoner of Zenda (but I am not counting on it; you know what those Victorians are like). 

You can download a well formatted copy of Phroso in multiple formats (with or without illustrations) on the main Phroso page, or you can read it online in your browser.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Writing The Online Novel - What's Next?

Test of Freedom, the winter serial, ended on Monday.  That was a commitment I made before I was laid off and my life got flipped around a couple of times.  I figure this is a good time to stop and think about what I'm doing next and why and all that.

These are more or less random thoughts on web serials in general and my serials in particular.

1.) What am I going to do next?

I'm taking a week off from serializing anything -- next week I'll post a flash fiction story on Monday, and my favorite joke on Thursday.  (The joke, btw, involves Moses and Jesus behaving like ordinary human golfers.  I think it's kinda sweet myself, but if you are offended by that sort of thing, you'll want to skip next Thursday's post.)

Then for the month of March, I will be posting a short serialization of a Mick and Casey novelette: A Fistful of Divas, in which Mick and Casey are looking forward to hearing a concert by some visiting opera singers.... only the concert gets canceled when a local rough-neck takes a pot-shot at the company.

There will be another short break for short fiction and then....

2.) When is the summer serial going to start?

The Case of the Misplaced Baroness will begin on April 8, whether I'm ready or not.  It is a flashback from Misplaced Hero, and I still have not decided if it will overlap with Misplaced Hero, or if it will actually have a full story that will finish up before that one began.

This story, btw, actually begins the main story of the series.  The story of Alex and Thorny is kind of a side story, though I hope to bring them back into it soon.  I call the main series "The Perils of Lady Pauline," and you will see why in the very first paragraph or so of the very first episode.

3.) Test of Freedom and the flavor of my blog. 

I chose to serialize Test of Freedom for two reasons: It was already finished, and because fall and winter were so busy at the day job, I needed a break.  AND the story has an episodic quality that makes me think serialization is the best way to go with it. 

So I did it because it was good for me and good for the story... but I didn't consider whether it was good for the blog.  Furthermore, even though I think serialization is good for the story, I don't think my blog is good for the story.

So one part of me wants to take Test of Freedom and its subsequent stories (of which I know there are two but there could be more, or it could simply be unending like a soap opera) and creating a separate blog for it.  JUST for it.  Longer episodes once a week.  Maybe even twice-a-month.

The problem with this is that it puts my sanity at risk.  That series, since it exists at least in draft form, offers me a break. And if I don't publish it here on this blog during the winter, I have to keep writing other things. Things that aren't my main novels.  Things I don't make any money at. Things that require freaking illustrations!

The good thing about it is... It forces me to keep writing other things twice a week.

But the most important thing, I think, is that the whole Freedom series has a different tone and style than a lot of my writing. Yes, it does actually hit a lot of the same old-fashioned notes that most of my work hits. However, I think that The Perils of Lady Pauline actually match the tone of my mysteries better.

This is especially true since it will always have a certain mystery adventure aspect -- note that even with The Case of the Misplaced Hero, which is largely a simple get-in-and-out-of-trouble adventure, featured a mystery and investigation for all the characters other than Alex and Thorny.

The Freedom stories feature twists and turns, but it's a melodrama. It needs space, and I actually think the short episode format robs it of some gravitas. (It also robs the thing of its humor, as most of the humor takes more time to set up.)

4.) Can a serial be too spread out?  Can twice-a-month work for me?

Hey, it worked for Street and Smith (the publishers of many early pulp magazines, who published everything "twice-a-month").

There are people who publish monthly serials.  I don't know how well they do, but I notice almost all of them I've seen publish LONG episodes. I would not be publishing something all that long.  Part of the point of doing a slower schedule would be to ease the work.  And even if I did the same number of words total as I did with twice-a-week publishing.... that would still mean episodes of about 2500-3000 words.

The other issue everyone mentions with spaced out serialization is that readers forget about it from week to week.  However....  I was reading some mainstream press articles a while ago about the appeal to many readers of serial fiction, and one reader's comment struck me:

She said that one surprise benefit of serialization is that, when she has to wait for the next episode, it forces her to think about the previous episode.  To, as it were, savor it.  Like mindful eating, she focuses on each bite more.

I find that writing a serial novel is a little like that.  With a regular novel, or even novella, you know that the reader has the next chapter right in front of her most of the time, so chapters interlock, and don't stand alone so well.

But I also find that with that particular story -- Test of Freedom -- breaking it up into too small a chunks made it less savorable.  I wonder if a 2500 word chunk might actually give the story more resonance, more stickiness.

So I'm halfway to talking myself into creating that twice-a-month blog with longer episodes. (And fewer illustrations.)

5.) I'm having trouble with follow-through just now.

I think I meantioned this earlier in one of my posts about designing covers; I seem to be stumbling as I get to a certain point in my work lately.  I burn up a certain amount of energy and then I get fuzz headed.  This is different than being tired or indecisive.  It's almost like a silent migraine.  I'm sailing along, but then I get stupid and I need to stop before I break something.

This, I am told, is actually a classic symptom of, um, being a woman of a certain age who is going through certain physical changes. It supposedly lasts for about a year.

So I worry a bit about making too many commitments.  I'm now back at full posting deadlines, and I am about to start writing the twice weekly episodes from scratch, and I'm doing cover art AND illustration and, well, a bunch of stuff.  And I'm thinking of doing a separate blog.

Small steady commitments like these, however are actually a good way to handle loss of focus.  Rather than just spinning off into nowhere, you can keep cranking widgets.  I have found it really seems to work for me in managing the fog of hormonally-induced migraines.

So, in the end, what am I going to do?

I'm going to stay the course for a bit. I'm going to see how the summer serial goes.  And by the end of summer, I'll decide whether I'll do League of Freedom on a separate blog, or whether it will be the winter serial here.

But my brain is getting foggy now. Must wrap up before I forget what I'm doing.....

Tomorrow, I'll be writing about a book I found at Project Gutenberg: a little known novel called Phroso, by Anthony Hope, the author of The Prisoner of Zenda. It's another ripping yarn with noble ladies and dastardly villains and somewhat imperialist theme in that the hero is a right-thinking Englishman.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Dry Voice of Omnicient - More From Richard Lockridge

Continuing with my thoughts on Frances and Richard Lockridge....

Richard Lockridge wrote in an artsy, almost arch, style.  He combined stream-of-consciousness, with omniscient, with a dry "reporting" style which was common in early police procedural (think Dragnet).  This combination actually makes sense if you think of it this way:

The story is narrated by an invisible reporter who can report people's thoughts and emotions nearly verbatim when he needs to.  This allows him to give us the voices and deep subjectivity of the point of view characters, while being able to see into the experience of several at once, and also having the detachment of an objective voice overall.

When I look at it that way, it reminds me a little of Dashiell Hammett's stories narrated by the Continental Op -- especially Red Harvest.  The Op is a pro, dispassionate sometimes to the point of being dissociative.  He isn't omniscient -- although he will give you a good guess as to what is going on in the heads of others -- but he reports on some of his own emotions and behavior as if he is reporting on someone else.

And I use the word "reporting" intentionally.  With the Op, a story often feels not like he's telling a tale, but making a report.  This is a common thing in both hard- and soft-boiled fiction, where the voice might be less detached, and it might feel more like the narrator is trying to entertain you.  For instance, Archie Goodwin is glib and sarcastic as he tells his story, but you will notice that when he makes an official report, it is in exactly the same glib and sarcastic (and precise) voice in which he tells the story.  Raymond Chandler and Damon Runyon and a few others may sometimes make you feel like you are being told a story in a bar, but that person you are listening too feels like a reporter or detective, someone who files official reports all the time and it colors their storytelling style.

Of course, those early hard-boiled reporting voices were not omniscient (except for maybe Runyon) but their style developed in modern writers to a new dry, objective omniscient, which allows the reader closer to the characters while it keeps the narrator's emotion under control. I've seen Robert Crais use an omniscient version of the reporter voice very effectively. Sometimes he even mixes first person and third person so he can do that.  I also love the way Stuart Kaminsky used it in his Chicago police procedurals featuring Abe Lieberman.

But Richard Lockridge was not writing hard-boiled fiction.  As I said last week, he did have elements of the old Dragnet-style police procedurals ("Just the facts, ma'm") but he was really writing in a more touchy-feely genre: a combination of cozy mystery and romantic suspense. And these genres require a lot more emotion.

Furthermore, Lockridge was something of an arty writer, who liked stream-of-consciousness as a literary trope.

The result is both aggravating and effective.  Aggravating because it often feels artificial, and because stream-of-consciousness is so freaking confusing sometimes; in particular with all those incomplete thoughts about things the audience doesn't yet know.  This is not a big problem throughout the bulk of a story, but when it happens on the first page, it can truly put a reader off.

One example is in The Dishonest Murderer.  It starts with a couple of pages inside the head of the protagonist, who is trying to rationalize an odd event she just witnessed -- but we don't know that. It's a page and a half before we know that there even was an event driving these half-thoughts.  I mean, it's not utterly confusing.  We get lots of great establishing information about the character and her situation and all that, but it's annoying enough that, if I didn't know I liked the Lockridges, I would never ever have gotten past the first page on this one.

There are times when it is useful to withhold information from the reader, though, and just giving us character thoughts without explanation is a tried-and-true way.

For instance, Lockridge sometimes used this stream-of-consciousness style was to give us a teaser of the victim of the story.  I would describe it as the equivalent of the scene in many TV shows where we see the victim doing something, like hiding some mysterious object and rushing away, only to be met by the killer, who we don't see.  Selective camera work keeps us from seeing key information, and Lockridge's oblique style would do the same thing in this situation.  It makes for a nice teaser that way.

But I think where it works best is in those moments when he gives us more information, not less.  Omniscient can let us know not only what the heroine is thinking, as she worries about her deep dreaded secret, but also gives us a glimpse of what the maid is thinking, or the cop.  So we not only get the woman's paranoia, we also know enough to see where she's right and wrong.

I also think that the dry reporting voice can also let us get closer to a character.  Becuase we've got a buffer between her feelings and our own, we can actually look closer.  Maybe even feel more, because it's safer to get so close.

It's also good for a "fair play" detective story, because we have a better sense of reliable and unreliable narrators. This differs a little from some of the hard-boiled narrators I mentioned above, because even though they give you dry facts, they themselves are not really omniscient, and can be fooled.

Tomorrow, back to the subject of serial fiction. I'm going to muse a bit on my options for what's next, as well as talk about some of the bigger issues in writing the online novel.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Type - Get The Lead Out (or In)

When I talk about art-related subjects (favorite covers, the history of pulp illustration, etc) I usually take a general "art appreciation" approach.  But with Typography, and I"m thinking I should take a more direct "How To" approach.

That's because:

1) Everybody has the power to set type these days.  Whether it's a flyer for the school picnic, or a banner for your website, or a book cover, you have the tools to create type, and many of you will use it. 

2.) The one element, more than any other, which makes a book cover or a poster or whatever look professional (or scream "Amateur!") is the typography.

So, as a public service, I'm going to start writing about Typography.

One thing I'm going to do differently from other tutorials on how to use type: I'm not going to talk about best practices that much. That is, I'll mention some of those rules of thumb in passing, but I don't want  you to blindly do it this way or that way: what I really want to do is help you SEE the type and what it's doing and how it works.  That way you can decide for yourself.

I'm also going to try to avoid generalities and talk instead about very specific topics.  (Serifs.  Kerning.  The many meanings of the words "roman" and "gothic." When not to bother with typography. ) Knowledge is power, after all, and if it isn't specific and practical, it isn't knowledge.

Disclaimer: there are a lot of things you can't do with typography without an expensive tool like Photoshop or Illustrator, and a lot of training.  The logo you see above, for instance, could not be done in Photoshop Elements.  (It's also far from perfect, and I'll be adjusting it and talking about it as I get to various topics in future posts.)

However, there's a lot you can do to make your typography better than that of the average bear, even with minimal tools.

And one of the first things you can do is pay attention to something we call leading.

Leading: Which Rhymes With Bedding

Back in the old days of actual physical type, they used thin strips of lead to separate each line of type.  That's why that vertical space is called "leading" (and why it's pronounced "ledding" not "leeding").

Example 1
This vertical spacing is something you usually don't need advanced software to do. There is some kind of vertical control for this in nearly every program that sets type.  (You do need more control than just "single-spaced" or "double-spaced" however.  Many word processors have more detailed controls buried in their "paragraph settings.")

Default (sometimes called "auto") leading is about 120% of the size of the text itself, and that distance is measured from baseline to baseline.  So 10 point type will be spaced about 12 points apart.  This distance is fine for body text.  It makes row after row of text easily readable.

But for display text -- such as a book title or text on a poster -- it is much too far apart.  It's one of the first signs of amateur type-setting.  It looks loose and scattered and doesn't make good use of space.

A good default for display leading is what we call "solid" leading, when the leading is defined as the same size as the text itself.  (So 10 point type would have 10 point leading.)  Because most fonts are designed with a little buffer room for the ascenders and descenders, this still leaves some room between lines of type.

(Ascenders and descenders are those parts of the letters which stick up or drop down.  Such as the top of a "b" or the bottom of a "g".)

Taking Things to Extremes

Tight Leading

Example 2
 It's popular right now, especially when using a blocky sanserif type on a thriller, to use very tight leading -- to leave no space at all between the lines of type. The letters press against each other in a crowded, almost claustrophobic design. This can look very good, but imho, it depends on the tracking, which is the horizontal space between the letters, and also the height of the letters.  Such tight leading on a font with letters spread wide apart can look like a mistake.

And if you are using upper and lower case letters -- which have ascenders and descenders, you will run into problems. Note how, with the Very Tight Leading in Example 1 (above), the "g" and "d" crash into each other.  And some fonts are simply not as legible that way.

Sample 2, on the other hand, has a block capitals font, and is completely legible. (Note for reference: the Very Tight Leading here in Example 2 uses 24 point type and 18 point leading.)

Loose Leading

Another fashion is to go the other way -- give lots of extra space between the single words of a title, which are spread across an entire cover.  Often the subtitle and blurbs are tucked in between the lines of the title -- in tiny type so it's clearly not a part of the title.  I usually see this when the words of the title are stacked vertically, one word on each line.

Notice in Example 1 that the Rather Loose Leading almost looks like three unrelated words. If you use this technique you need to clearly relate the words of the title with font choice, size and color. They may need to be significantly larger than any other type on the page. or they might need to be in a very different font.

Now, there's another use for loose leading: some fonts really like to be spread out -- in particular some of the swashy calligraphy, or chancery fonts.  In the lower example, the Rather Loose Leading font is Zapfino, and because if the super-high ascenders (the 'h' and the 'd') it actually looks better to spread the leading than to leave it at default.

(NOTE: the Rather Loose Leading in Example 2 is 24 point type on 48 point leading.)

So it's never a bad idea to play with the leading of a headline or title.  Watch out for legibility issues: having enough space to be readable, and overlapping letters.  In the right circumstances even those things can work, if there is something else that makes up for the illegibility.

One trick to help you see how the overall design is working, and to see if something is really legible, is to squint. Can you still see the most important details when your vision is blurred?  Does the design still look good, even when you can't see small details? (With computers, you can also zoom out, and make the image a tiny thumbnail.)

In the end, most of the time, you won't want to go to extremes. You'll just want to make the leading somewhat tighter than default, and even that is not always a good idea.  The longer your block of text, the less it is like a title or logo, and the more it is like body text.  The default spacing tends to make text most readable.  Tighter makes it prettier.

But do play with the different settings.  See what it does for (or against) your design.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Test of Freedom - Episode 35 - Teaser

Episode 35 - "The Royal Governor"
by Camille LaGuire

Government House was glowing softly from small lanterns of white muslin and gold.  There were banners flapping in the balmy breeze.  It was almost--almost, mind you--a pleasant evening.  If one ignored the people, one might imagine a summer event on a hot night back home.

Sir Henry Pembroke, the new royal governor of Sabatine island, thought the blur of too much brandy might improve that impression.  Couldn't hurt.

He turned from his balcony, where he'd been hoping to get some air, but had instead had his nostrils assaulted by the aroma of those large purple flowers that someone had chosen to festoon the place with.  Henry had already given them a name.  Stinking Violets.

As he stepped inside his study, and before he could reach the brandy, the former governor of Sabatine, Lord Halburton, stepped in front of him with that conspiratorial look on his face.

"Good day, sir," said Henry, drawing back a little as Halburton took his arm and led him back to the balcony.  Henry didn't resist, but only because the man was his father-in-law, and supposedly a man of good breeding.  It appeared the island had taken its toll upon his manners.

"Well?" said Halburton, waving a hand out over the town.  "What do you think?"

"The lanterns are quite attractive, and the banners are appropriately excessive for such a location, but the flowers have a stench like a charnel house."

Halburton let out a sigh and studied him.  "You are still not fond of my island."

"No, sir.  I admit, I've seen nothing yet to change my mind."

"It is a work in progress, Henry...."

"Sir Henry."  They exchanged a glance, and Halburton nodded in assent.  It was, after all, Henry's price for cooperation.  His wife, his father, the queen, and Halburton had all conspired to get him to this damned island, and the price Henry demanded was a knighthood, so he could stop being just one of the younger Pembrokes.

"As I was saying, Sir Henry," said Halburton.  "This island is a work in progress. I need you to continue that work."

"I promise to follow your advice in every detail, but please don't expect me to take an interest in it."

At this moment, Lucy Pembroke entered, in a cream colored gown that shimmered with gold in the evening light.  Henry smiled, and she blushed.  He loved the way she blushed, though it also made him cautious that she was so sensitive.  A lady, true and total.

She curtseyed as he quickly stepped forward.  He had forgotten to put down the brandy glass, but that was all right.  He needed only to take one hand and bow deeply, as he kissed her fingers, just below the knuckles.

"Sir Henry," she said.

"Lady Lucy," he replied.

As they greeted one another, one of the clerks scurried in with official business of some sort.  He went straight to Halburton, but the old man directed him toward Henry.

"Please father," said Lucy.  "Don't take him from me now.  You don't want to stop being governor, anyway.  Why don't you see to it?"

"All right," said Halburton, and it was clear Lucy was right.  Halburton did not wish to stop being governor.  He'd only left the job because the Queen insisted. Henry had the feeling that his own appointment had been part of that deal.

"Thank you, sir," said Henry, bowing graciously.  His father-in-law returned the bow with more grace than Henry thought him capable of.  Halburton was a man of quality, after all.  He'd taken on a certain rustic rudeness due to his tenure on this island....

Suddenly Henry was struck with the fear that he was looking in a mirror.  Is that what Henry would become in the future?  Or was it a mirror of the past?  Is that what he became like during the Acton war?

"Henry?" said his wife.

"Yes, my dear," he replied, pulling himself back to courtly grace.  She cocked her head.

"You looked for a moment like you'd been stricken," she said.

"Oh?  I'd realized that the brandy bottle was nearly empty.  I feared I'd have to leave your side in search of more."

She smiled slyly at him, and shook her head.

"You have a full glass, Sir Henry," she said.  "And even as much as you've been drinking since you arrived, that should get you as far as the ballroom."

"I've been drinking too much?"

"You've never become unseemly."

He set down the glass.  "Silly of me.  Your presence is sufficient to make my head spin."

"I don't disapprove," she said, looking concerned.  "A gentleman should have his drink.  Please, take it with you.  I don't want to seem one of those horrible Plain people...."

"You could never be plain!" crowed Henry, and he took her hand and kissed it again, feeling for just one moment like crushing her in his arms.  But she was delicate and innocent, so he refrained.  And instead he took her arm and led her off to the ball.

As they reached the ballroom, though, they paused and looked across their sea of guests.  These were not of the quality, just charter holders of the island, over-dressed, over-noisy. Under-mannered.  And the best the island had to offer.  Lucy's smile grew fixed, and the happy glow faded from her eyes.

"They're trying so very hard," she said under her breath.  "I suppose.... I suppose this is what Acton was like."

"A little."

"I can't imagine Acton could be worse."

"At least there are no Alwyns here," he declared, glibly.  Then he realized how inappropriate that was to say to her. "I'm sorry, my dear..."

"It is quite all right, Sir Henry," she said.  "You are permitted to be glad of that."

The Adventures of Mary Alwyn will continue with League of Freedom -- coming in the fall. (More info on Thursday.)

In the meantime, next week  we begin a short interim serial: A Fisful of Divas, a Mick and Casey Mystery/Western.  And in April, we'll start the summer serial up again, with The Case of the Misplaced Baroness.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Week in Review

I seem to be going on the theory that if I book myself up to the hilt, I'll get a lot done.

This seems to work. Of course a lot of stuff also doesn't get done. Sometimes these are the most important things.  Sometimes they are things I can't even remember what they were.

I've mostly been burning up braincells on coming up with cover concepts. My mind is getting tired enough that I've been unable to finish up many of them lately. This is something that happens in writing too.  If you press very hard, and your mind starts getting tired, there comes a point where your follow through suffers.

Which is okay for what I'm doing right now: because I'm doing a lot of images and figures and I can finish up designs for them later.  (See here, the first one "Action Man 1" is already up on the Self-Pub Book Covers site, but the one further down the page -- "Victorian Action Man 1" -- is waiting because I think the design needs a dame.  But I have to wait until my brain is fresh to know for sure.)

In the meantime, I've also been doing some art related blog posts, since that is what is on my mind.  In particular I'll be blogging about typography on many Tuesdays from now on.  Typography is THE thing that separates the amateurs from the pros in cover design, and it's a lot of fun to do.  So imho it's a great topic to talk about.

Should I REALLY Overload Myself?

One of the things on my mind is what to do with the sequel to Test of Freedom.  For my own sanity, I should probably stick to my original goal of starting the next story, League of Freedom, in the fall.


This story feels like it ought to have it's own blog and it's own schedule.  Longer episodes, once-a-week.  In and of itself it wouldn't be that much more work, because I have a draft of the story which should last me a year.

BUT, one of the reasons I want to create a separate blog for it is because I feel that The Perils of Lady Pauline (the series of which The Case of the Misplace Hero is a part) is more in fitting to the overall tone of the blog....

Oh, yeah, so if I move the Freedom stories out, I have to fill in that space with stuff I haven't yet written.  (I could do that.  Sure I could....)

And I really ought to make up my mind by Thursday, when I post the wrap up story notes for the series, and will promise readers when and where the story will continue.

Coming Up This Week

In the meantime, I'll be posting the teaser episode for the next section of Test of Freedom, in which we will meet the new governor of  Sabatine, someone who will be familiar to those who've read Wife of Freedom.

On Tuesday I'll talk about the one thing you can do to make your type a little more professional looking, even if you only have the most primitive of tools.

Wednesday, I'll talk about Omniscient Voice, and about how Richard Lockridge and others used it.

Thursday will be an update on what's next for the various serials, and on Friday... not sure.  I might talk about Phroso, a romantic adventure by Anthony Hope I found on Project Gutenberg.  I won't be finished reading it by Friday, but I think I already have things to say about it.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cozy Mysteries, Guest Protagonists and The Lockridges

One of my early influences were the books of Frances and Richard Lockridge.  They had a strange combination of styles and elements -- firmly cozy mystery and romantic suspense, and yet with elements of arch literary verbal styles and the dry factuality of early police procedural.

Unfortunately, I think that this very combination, which made the books stand out at the time, now makes the series feel even more dated and more inaccessible to modern audiences.  All the same, I was really delighted to see one of their Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries come back into print. (See my tumblr review of  The Dishonest Murderer here.)

Richard Lockridge was a short story writer.  I don't know a lot about him really, except that he was writing short fiction for the New Yorker, and his style reflects that.  He wrote a short story about Mr. and Mrs. North, a charming New York couple who swilled martinis and had cats. (Actually, I don't know if the cats make an appearance in the short story.)

Frances Lockridge was not a writer, but she was an avid reader of mystery thrillers.  She came up with plots, and he started writing them into mysteries, featuring Mr. and Mrs. North.  The Norths were not detectives. They were socialites who befriend a police lieutenant, Bill Weigand.  Bill is the detective.  The Norths tend to just be involved as witnesses or acquaintances of  people in the case.  Though Pam sometimes stumbles into a dangerous situation, most of the time the detecting is done over cocktails.  Bill, and later in the series his wife Dorian, join the Norths and they chat through the case.

Pam North appears to be a ditz, sort of like Gracie Allen.  Her mind seems to flit at random without connection, but Bill has figured out that she just thinks too fast for most people to keep up.  She is always good for bringing a new perspective to the case.

And I will admit without shame that my character Karla (from The Man Who Did Too Much) is partly influenced by her.  (Miss Marple, the other influence, also has a tendency to make leaps that others don't follow, and say things that sound nonsensical.  I like this trope a lot, though it can be over used.)

I think, though, that the most interesting element of the Lockridge mysteries in general is that the recurring characters tend not to be the protagonists of the story.

Enter the Guest Protagonist

This is one of my favorite tropes, and certainly you see it in a lot more series than just the Lockridges.  The main character of the story is a guest in the series: a client, a person who stumbles into trouble.  Sometimes even a detective... or a killer.  You saw this a lot with Miss Marple, the protagonist would be someone else in trouble or trying to solve the case or someone Miss Marple calls in to do the dirty work.  And Miss Marple kind of lurks, saying mysterious things.  You also see it in TV shows that have been running for a long time, and using a guest protagonist allows the writers to do something new.  You even see it as a series formula, as with Columbo, where the protagonist is the guest murderer of the week.

But the Lockridges made a special use of this trope: They used it to add one more subgenre to the mix they already had with the existing characters:

The Norths provided the cozy mystery puzzle element.  Bill Weigand's part was dry, old-style police procedural, and the guest character was almost always a woman-in-jeopardy (or man-in-jeopardy), which made it classic romantic suspense.  None of these three subplots were ever very deep (though sometimes the story would emphasize one genre or character over the others) but the three working in combo kept the story interesting.

This is especially true of the suspense aspect of the story -- which unfortunately was particularly formulaic at the time.  There was always a stock set of characters and you knew exactly every turn just by who the woman trusted or didn't trust. (If she trusts somebody, they're bad, if she doesn't they're good.)  But with the police and the Norths mixing in, you would end up with more variations. 

Another reason this mixture works is because it allowed thrillers and romantic suspense to have the stability of a series.

Normally thrillers and romance don't support a series.  After all, an innocent person only gets tangled in a life-changing event once or maybe twice.  A detective series has to be stable, especially if you have romantic pairings who are not dysfunctional and are really in love.  And even if they are dysfunctional and always fighting, you have to find a way to maintain that status quo -- or else one of two things will happen.  Either you will anger the audience because you raise anticipation without paying off, OR you do pay off, and they feel the story is over.

I love the stability of a Mr. and Mrs. North, or of Nick and Nora Charles, and other detecting couples. There's teasing and tension, but their relationships are solid. They're trustworthy. They're like a security blanket.  And they are just too darned stable to drive the anticipation of a romance plot.  But when you add a guest protagonist, you have a lot more leeway in the kind of plot you can run.  You can create a plot where things change completely for the main character.

I hope to use guest characters to keep the Starling and Marquette series fresh.  And in some ways I've already used it for the first story.  George is like a guest protagonist, and what is very wrong with his life gets settled.  And he's got a long way to go before he really achieves stability in his life. The series will continue to develop that way, but I think even by the end of the first act, somewhere around Chapter 6, the series finds it's status quo, it's direction.

At some point, though, I think that using guest characters could allow something else for this series: A guest character creates brings fresh eyes to the familiar characters and backstory.

When I think about it, some of the most delightful moments in series fiction can be when we get to see a familiar character through the eyes of someone who doesn't know who they are.  The opening of TV show The Saint always would set up a situation (often someone in trouble) and Roger Moore would make his entrance -- sometimes in a flashy or daring way, or sometimes in a subtle and understated way -- and someone would ask who he is, and someone else would say "Why, that's Simon Templar," and Roger Moore would cast his eyes upward, and a little halo would appear over his head, and the music would star, and the credits would roll.

We would often see Columbo first through the eyes of the killer, or of the someone who didn't realize they had a genius detective on their hands.  He'd bumble his way onto the scene to much sighing and eye-rolling on the part of the person who didn't know better, while we the auidence chuckle.

And my favorite entrance for Miss Marple is in a book in which she barely appears, The Moving Finger.  Halfway through the book, as the puzzling story gets more sinister, the Vicar's wife declares that they need to call in an expert.  "But Scotland Yard already sent an expert," says the protagonist.  "No, no, not that kind of expert.  What we need is an expert in Evil."  The characters didn't know what she meant, but fans of Miss Marple certainly knew.

This trope is also appealing in that the main character can then become a marvelous guardian angel to the protagonist -- a miracle worker.  Furthermore, since the guest protagonist doesn't know this person, it makes perfect sense that she doesn't tell this guardian angel about things she ought to.  She has no reason to trust this person, no reason to think this person can help.  So you can ramp up the tension higher without making your protagonist out to be an idiot.  Or at least not much of one.

I can't really use this for Mick and Casey McKee, because Mick is the narrator of those stories. But George and Karla are really suited for the Fairy God Parents role in a light thriller.  But as with Mr. and Mrs. North (or The Saint) I would not want them to receed too far into the background.  I would never want to do like The Moving Finger and have them only make a cameo in a story in their own series.

Because of that, I think this series should be, as with the Norths, a balance of subgenres, balancing a guest character's story with George's compulsive action heroing and Karla's puzzle solving.

Next week I hope to talk more about an odd element of the writing of Richard Lockridge -- his artsy, almost arch writing style and strange blend of objective, omniscient and tight, emotional third person -- all in the same sentence.

I suspect that some of the worst habits I had as a young writer came from Richard Lockridge.  Now, as a mature writer, I think I begin to see what he was doing.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Test of Freedom - Episode 34

Episode 34 - "It Is Done"
by Camille LaGuire

Penelope hovered in the background, feeling odd and dithery, both in the carriage and once they'd got back to the inn.  Brother William fetched them a doctor very quickly, a man sympathetic to the condition of prisoners and slaves.

Unfortunately, owners seldom allowed him near a man under punishment, and he had little direct experience with such abuse.  He was assisted by one of the missionaries, though, a dark woman dressed in an excess of white clothing, including a bonnet and veil which hid her face.  If the clothing had been black, you'd have thought her in deep mourning.  According to Brother William, she was a member of a foreign sect--he didn't say which--and she'd taken a vow of "white mourning."

The silent Sister Kow had been a slave herself, and had more experience than the doctor with abuse.  She also knew more of the local medicines.  She had something to help with infection; and infection, the doctor told them, was the greatest risk now.

The main job was to clean him up, and that in itself seemed a large and unpleasant undertaking.  Mary, the sister, and the doctor were busy taking care of him.  Loreen and Hingle were running back and forth, getting things, and providing more help than was needed.  And they certainly provided better help than Penelope could, and they were much less likely to faint.

And fainting was exactly what Penelope was about to do at the moment.

She recognized the smell of blood, and it brought back vivid flashes of memory; of Roland, of the blood, of Mary leaning over him to see what could be done -- just as she was leaning over Jack now.  Penelope covered her face with her hands and pushed back the wave of nausea, and the world seemed to recede from her.  Someone caught her arms, and pulled her to her feet again.

"Come into the parlor, mum," said Sherman.  She followed willingly, as he led her away and sat her down near the window.  She took several breaths of fresh air.

"I'm quite all right now," she said, placing a hand on her stomach.  "I'm really quite useless, aren't I?"

"Not at all, mum," said Sherman, and she looked up to see him looking quite seriously at her.  "You saved his life.  Do you realize that?"

"Mary saved his life."

"You made that possible."

She felt giddy, and almost laughed, but then she had a sobering thought.

"But he's not home yet.  We haven't really got him to safety until he's home, have we?"

"No, mum."

"And ... is it legal?"

"Legal enough that Clement will have to fight you in court, at least," said Sherman.  "That will give us time for other plans.  But this is a wild place, mum.  The signed contract and possession are what the law favors.  To be sure, I'm off to Philipston tonight, to register the purchase as soon as the office opens in the morning.  You may have more money to spend and trouble to go to, but I think we can say with some assurance that it is done."

"I should go with you," said Penelope, gathering herself.

"Oh, no, mum, Loreen is needed here I think, and--"

"I may not be able to help take care of Mr. Alwyn," said Penelope, "but I am capable of caring for myself.  You've been riding all day.  We'll take the coach so you can rest properly.  I'm of more use in Philipston than I am here in any case."

With that Mr. Sherman bowed and put forth no more objections.  Soon they were settled in the coach with fresh horses, trundling their way over the ridge to the capital.

As the carriage bumped along, she found her mind going back to that filthy, smelly, bloody mess of a man in compound at Clement Farm.

"We've got to get him away from this island," she said more to herself than to Sherman, who was dozing in the seat opposite her.  He didn't lift an eyelid, but he replied all the same.

"A wise course, mum," he said.  "The man is an ardent revolutionary, and likely to get himself into more trouble if we don't watch out."

"You know, he's not at all what I expected," she said.  At this he did look up.

"You can hardly expect a man to be like himself in such conditions."

"Oh, I expected him to be a wretched mess," she said.  "I meant... did you hear his voice?"

"Yes, mum."

"He's not...He's not...."  She paused. She was going to say that he wasn't a gentleman, but that sounded insulting.  "He really is a smith!"

"I thought that was well known, mum."

"It is," she said. "And Mary told me in any case.  But, well, it's silly of me, but I am surprised all the same. When I've read his books, I've always heard the voice of a cultured man.  I did not expect the thick Actonian workingman's lilt that came out of his mouth. I thought I knew him, but now I see I don't know him at all."

"That's excusable. I often find his writings themselves rather surprising."

"It makes me wonder what other surprises I'm in for."
"Quite a few, no doubt," said Sherman.

"No doubt," she agreed, and she looked out the window of the coach.

They were just cresting the ridge and she could see down into Philipston Bay. It was quite distant as yet, but she could see the town laid out in lights across it, and up above the city, Government House was lit up like a beacon.

"There must be something to do at Government House," she said.

"A ball in honor of the new governor, I believe," said Sherman.

"Do you know anything about him?" asked Penelope. "Is he amenable to bribes, do you think?"

"I'm sorry, I have been remiss," said Sherman with a laugh.  "I have been too distracted to learn his name, and do not know about his greed, but I expect he will be amenable to influence if necessary."

And thus the first act of this story is done.  But there is more trouble in the air....

Stay Tuned For Episode 35 - "The Royal Governor"
Available after 8am EST, on Monday

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More Covers

I told you I would do a two part series on Frances and Richard Lockridge this week.  I was only half right. I do expect to do one part of it on Friday, but tonight, I was too busy drawing pictures.

So I'm going to send those of you who are interested off to read a review I posted on Tumblr for the only Lockridge book back in print (at least in the Mr. and Mrs. North series): The Dishonest Murderer.

And then I'm going to show you some of the pictures I've been playing with.  I've done a lot more than this, but these are finished covers I did for Self-Pub Book Covers (which is currently off-line for new uploads, but I think they let people buy covers. Not sure).

Here are some I did with filters on photos of my own. It's got both a mystery and a non-fiction feel. 

And here's a photo of Max, my orange cat, which played with filters and colors.  I suppose I should have gone more blue for the demon werecat feel, but I do like that purple.  And Max has been in a wild mood lately....

I already did one cat design in the concept below.  I thought I might do a couple, in case someone does want a series. 

And this is a concept I stole from an old book at Gutenberg.  I want to play with it more. Maybe do some different designs with different trees.  Also, I need to decide if the background should have something in it.  (It is an alternative place for a title, too.)

I also have a bunch of unfinished things I can't really show you.

The pictures above really have mediocre typography, because I'm designing them specifically so that people can set type on them with Self-Pub Book Covers' online tool.  I'm choosing colors to go with their limited choice of type colors, too.

But when it comes to design, typography is really where my heart is, and so I think I'm going to do a regular feature on illustration and typography, mostly on Tuesdays.

Tomorrow, we'll have the last real episode of Test of Freedom (though there will be a teaser episode for where the story goes next on Monday).  And Friday, I'm going to talk about how Francess and Richard Lockridges were a strong influence on me -- particularly with my Starling and Marquette series.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Miss Leech and the Yard 6 - Hot Tea

The sixth installment of the cozy mystery comic strip about Miss Leech, a little old lady amateur sleuth, and Inspector Stride, the long-suffering policeman whose life she makes miserable.

This strip appears once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month.  Check out earlier episodes:  Miss Leech #1, Miss Leech #2, Miss Leech #3, Miss Leech #4, Miss Leech #5.

(And stay tuned for Miss Leech #7 in March.)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Test of Freedom - Episode 33

Episode 33 - "Clement and Rocken"
by Camille LaGuire

The servant girl who had silently brought tea to Lady Ashton and Mr. Clement that evening was named Sisi.  And now, after the ladies had gone, she hovered just by the service door, listening to Mr. Clement pound and shout from within the closet.

She was terrified of letting him out.  She didn't want to be the first thing he saw when he got out of there.  She could get Mr. Rocken to do it, but she was afraid of him too.

But inside her, in her very heart, she was also thrilled; There was Mr. Clement screaming and pounding in helplessness, bested not by Mr. Rocken or any of those big men who could if they tried, but by a woman!

Sisi would have liked to leave him in there forever, until his hands were bloody from pounding, and no one ever heard his screams.  But she couldn't.

She waited until the ladies had got their man away, and then stood by the door of the closet.  She waited until he was particularly loud before she slipped the cane from its place.  He didn't hear it, so she scurried from the room, trembling in relief.

And it was just in time, because Mr. Rocken came storming in a moment later.  Sisi huddled outside the service door, as she always did, watching through the crack.

"Clement!  What kind of a fool are you?" shouted Rocken, and then he paused to look around the office.  Mr. Clement shouted and rattled the closet door, which immediately popped open.  He came out, looking confused.

"I was locked in," he said.

"Were you?" said Rocken, a little louder than he should.  He weaved a little like he was drunk.

"Yes, dammit, I was!  Did you unlock it?"

"No, I was handing over the damned prisoner you sold."

"Why didn't you check with me?  You shouldn't have handed him over."

"I had to.  She had all the proper papers, that you signed."

"You should have checked with me."

"Why?  It isn't as though you could change your mind once you'd signed them."  Rocken paused.  "That was your handwriting, wasn't it?"

"They forced me to sign those papers."

"A pair of women?"  Rocken began to laugh.  "How? With their pretty eyes?"

"They threatened me!"

Rocken laughed louder.  "They were a terrifying pair...."

"With a pistol, dammit!"

"Just like they locked you in the closet," said Rocken, and he stopped laughing, although he still had that wrinkle in his sneer.  "That door doesn't even have a lock."

"Dammit, Rocken, I'll have your hide."

Mr. Rocken quickly lowered his head, but his shoulders were stiff.  Would Mr. Rocken get a beating?  The very thought was a wonder.

Sisi watched as Mr. Clement stood still too, and they were both tense as could be.  She thought that maybe Mr. Clement couldn't beat him, because then no one would respect him and Clement would have to do all the work.  And maybe Mr. Rocken would beat him back.

"I'm sorry, boss," said Mr. Rocken.  "I've been drinking."

Sisi was torn between triumph that even Mr. Rocken was not as strong as that woman, and sorrow that she wouldn't get to see him beat Mr. Clement after all.

"Drunk the night before you have to hang someone?" said Clement.  "You're going soft."

"Apparently we all have our weak points."

"She had a pistol."

Mr. Rocken nodded thoughtfully.  "But she paid you, didn't she?"


"Paid well?"

"Two hundred."

Rocken let out a whistle.  "Not bad."  He thought for a moment.  "We could use that."

"We could, but...."

"No, boss, we need it.  We just lost two to fever, and another shot, and a broken leg.  And we already have too many old or broken.  You have to admit, being robbed by ladies isn't something to brag about.  Keep the gold."

"And leave the men thinking they can get away with uprising?"

"We've got one body on display.  That's the ring leader.  We say the other just helped, so we just sold him someplace hellish.  Compton's Mine.  And they saw what I did to him."

"I don't like it," said Mr. Clement, like a spoiled boy.

"If you try to get him back, you're out the two hundred, and you won't have him either, because you'll hang him.  And you'll have fees from fighting a rich woman in court.  This way you can replace him with two at least."

"Dammit, get out of here," said Mr Clement.  "And put Sisi in the slave house.  I'm not in the mood for her."

Sisi scurried back toward the kitchen, relieved that she didn't have to stay in the house tonight, but terrified of being caught listening.  She set to cleaning up the tea things quickly, and was at the basin as Mr. Rocken came in.

"Come on, Sisi," he said.  She cringed away from him, but at least he wasn't one who tried to touch her.  He looked down at the dishes.  "Go ahead, finish up."

He took up one of the tea cakes, one that hadn't been touched at all by the woman who had the pistol, the one with the dark hair and the eyes like iron.  Sisi washed up the dishes and put away the tray.  He ate half the cake, and then held the other half out to her.

He'd never been friendly to her before, and she was afraid of what it meant.  Still, she liked cake.  So she reached for it anyway.  He pulled it just a little out of reach.

"First, Sisi, tell me, did the ladies have a pistol?"

She nodded cautiously.

"And did you let Mr. Clement out of the closet?"

Sisi froze.  She swallowed and started to shake, as she searched his face for a clue as to what he would do.

"I won't tell him," said Mr. Rocken.  His smile wasn't really a smile, but it never was.  Still, he held the cake out.  "Go ahead.  Take it.  That's all I wanted."

Sisi didn't want the cake any more, but she took it anyway.  If she didn't, he might take her hand to force it on her, and she didn't want him to touch her.

Stay Tuned For Episode 34 - "Lady Ashton and Sherman"
Available after 8am EST, on Thurs

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.