Sunday, June 30, 2013

A New Writing Dare - Goals

Today begins the A Round of Words in 80 Days challenge, round 3 for 2013.  I always start early, which means I'm already late, since today is the day I start and I'm only now posting the goals. (But apparently they have no goals linky up yet, so I guess I'm not that late....)

My direction, for the time being is to see about making a living.  I won't really be thinking about much else until September at least.  (I wanted to start this at the end of May, but I had too many commitments, so I used the intervening time to shake off commitments, and play with some false starts to figure out what I needed to do.)

I have two things that hold some promise at making money right now: my writing and my art/design work.  Both are quirky and not likely to bring me a quick and easy income.  Furthermore I'm not interested in work-for-hire at the moment.  I prefer investment and passive income streams.  The good news is that I don't really need much to make a living.  (There are some advantages to living in a depressed state.)

So I have decided on two things, both of which need raw material first.


On the writing side I am doing a modified version of Dean Wesley Smith's plan for making a living at writing short fiction.  His exact plan doesn't suit me because I'm not actually into short fiction. I really like microfiction, and could have fun with flash fiction, but then my imagination makes a skip up to novelette length.

I think.  I actually haven't tried writing a lot of short fiction since I stopped writing for children.  But that's a part of this summer's experiment -- I want to write enough to see what length, and what kind of stories work best for me.

I think the novelette and novella work best because they are equivalent to common screenplay lengths, so that's what I'm going for. But I'm sure this will evolve.

My ROW80 goals are pinned mainly to this experiment.

*Eight (8) stories 5k to 20k in length
*Cover designs for the above stories

That's about 10 days per story, which should be easy.  However, since I want to start publishing some of these in late August, it also means that I'll have to take days off for formatting and paperwork and all that associated good stuff.  I also plan to take a day off a week.  And maybe take a day to do mostly artwork.

So that's tougher, especially if I find I'm writing the longer end of the spectrum. On the other hand, if I'm writing shorter, I could potentially do more.  I think a stretch goal of 10-12 stories is a good one.

My ideas right now seem to be hovering closer to the long end.

The actual, ultimate goal, though is to discover what length works for me to write most efficiently.


On the art front, I'm less organized.  I'm still feeling my way along.  I have fewer options for the "passive income" concept here.  With art, the only passive income source tends to be stock sites.  And with stock, the average schlub makes money by putting up a ton of work and then seeing a trickle of income from a few of the works over time.  Hard work, not lucrative.

Still I'll probably do some stock art eventually, but until then, I'm creating my own private folder of "stock" to draw on for my own designs.

Pre-made covers are technically not passive income, because they don't create an income _stream_. You sell the work once, and then have to do it again.  Still, because you do the work ahead, and not to order, it _feels_ like passive income if you use a distributor site to take care of the client end.

So right now I'm doing some covers for Self-Pub Book Covers.  There are limitations on what you can do with SPBC -- the client does the typography, and the choices for color and font are very limited, so you have to design for that. But I don't think I'll be doing enough covers this quarter to add another vendor.  We'll see.

Whether I can make money at these remains to be seen.  Therefore this is not really a part of the dare, except for the covers for my own stories.

Price Hikes and Pseudonyms

Two more side-notes:  One of the elements of Dean's plan is that you price your work to match professional, commercial work.  It's a critical element.  Only the outliers actually make much money at bargain-priced work.

Using a pen name USED to be one of his other cornerstones -- something I've never really been comfortable with. However, it makes sense with this experiment.  For one thing, if you're charging a premium for the speed-written novelettes from the experiment, that would conflict with a more bargain price on your regular books.

Well, now Dean has changed his mind on pen names.  Just when he convinced me that it's a good idea.  And he's doing it for all the reasons I objected to doing it in the first place.

So I'm re-examining the reasons I plan to use pen names, and eliminating those that don't matter: such as price differential.

I'm raising my prices.

I've found that low prices don't goose my sales any, and I'm not selling enough at the current price to really justify it.  So I've decided to raise my prices by a dollar across the board.  (Except for the 99 cent books, which are going up to 2.99.)

I have already hiked the price at Smashwords, but it will take a few weeks for the price to trickle through to other vendors. (I might have to remove all books from Sony, and then relist -- since they like to play games with price changes.)

In the meantime, Smashwords is having a sale this coming month (July 1-31), and my books are at half price.  (That should cushion the blow of my having to raise Smashword's prices first.)

So if you've been sitting on a sample, not sure whether to buy, you should make the purchase soon or pay a higher price.

Let The Games Begin

In the meantime, I started my ROW80 effort a day early -- now, to be specific.  I do this because the last update post is always scheduled for a Wednesday, which is also Day 80.  So you have to post your last progress report before you're done with the last day's work.  So to make that last post come out right, I run the dare between Days 0-79, rather than 1-80.

I'll tell you how these first few days are working on Wednesday.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Attention RSS Subscribers

The link in the sidebar I use for your RSS subscriptions is a Feedburner link.

There are a lot of rumors going around that when Google kills its RSS reader services on Monday, Feedburner will go too.

Like most bloggers, I really hate the idea of giving up Feedburner, because Feedburner keeps stats on how many people subscribe to my blog, and how many of the subscribers actually read the blog.  (If I didn't have it, I would think nobody has subscribed and I would be sad.)

Luckily, these rumors seem to be unfounded. Google has not announced this, and given how many Blogspot blogs use Feedburner, it is unlikely that this will happen without an announcement.

All the same....

If you would like to be sure you don't miss out if the Feedburner feed goes down, here is the direct link to the feed.  Copy and save it, and you can re-subscribe on Monday if the feed disappears.

I will post a test message on Monday morning (around 8am EST) so you can see if your feed is still running. (I'll be checking my own.)  FYI, my only real posts for the next couple of weeks will be on Sunday and Wednesday, so you have time to sort this out.  If it's even a problem.

If you are a Google feeds user and don't know where to go for other feed reading services, I really like to use MyYahoo, and a lot of folks have been going to use Feedly.  Many email applications also have feedreaders built in. (Mozilla's Thunderbird does. As does Apple Mail, and I'm pretty sure most of the top Windows ones do too.)

See you in the funny papers

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

End of the Serial, New Direction

The Serial is Over

For those who didn't pay attention to Sunday's post... nobody objected to the idea of dropping the serial from this blog.  So it's done.  I may pick it up again in the fall, or I might just write it as a book.  (And with either one, I might significantly revise aspects of it...)

So What's Next?

This blog is going back to its original concept, with on exception -- I won't be posting every day.  I'll be re-joining ROW80, and posting twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays.  Some of these posts will just be updates, some will be the usual thoughts and opinions about writing, art and life.  My goal, just now, is to stick to JUST those two posts a week until fall, and then maybe add "Friday Favorites" reviews back.

The 2.5 Year Learning Experience

I started this blog almost four years ago.  The original idea was just to report my daily writing progress as a public "writing dare."  Because reporting word counts is boring, the blog evolved into a writing blog.

But then Indie Publishing came along.  The world changed.  And suddenly the business of publishing wasn't a bad-fit business model that I had to tolerate because that's how it worked. Suddenly everything I really loved to do -- not just writing but design and publishing and business and marketing and online stuff -- was available to me.  In spades.

So for the past two years and some, this blog has kinda been my sandbox, where I play and learn and experiment.  I transformed it a number of times, upgrading the content, publishing more actual fiction, and fewer posts about writing fiction.

The thing is, most of those transformations were aimed at being a marketing tool -- turning this into a blog for readers rather than writers.  And I learned a lot and had a lot of fun... but it wasn't for real because I don't have the body of work to back it up.  It was play.  And I've learned all I'm going to learn from playing pretend.

I've bee slaloming around the sandbox in overdrive, spinning and doing wheelies.  And I haven't had the time and energy to do the work that I was practicing for.


It's time to quit screwing around and shift back down into a working gear.  Something that can bear a load.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Round 3 for 2013 starts Monday.  Sunday will be the start up post.  I'll post then about my goals and what I'm doing.  I'll likely post more about the Plotting Game on Wednesday.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Blogstory - Are You Reading?

In some ways I am sorry I ever started writing serials.

I have a great time doing it. And though it may not show in the episodes themselves (which have to be posted on deadline, ready or not), I have grown a lot as a writer while writing these.

And my blog has never had as many subscribers and visitors as it has since I started publishing serial stories. I've nearly doubled my traffic.

I didn't expect to make money, though I hoped that there would be some indirect benefit.  I didn't expect lots of comments and interaction because I know that readers don't comment nearly as much as writers do -- and writers don't tend to comment on fiction as much as on posts about writing.

So the Blogstory Experiment has been a success.

And yet....

Since I've been doing the serial, my sales have completely dropped off.  Since the beginning of June, I have sold.... TWO books at Amazon.  Two.

Seriously, two books.

I've sold three at Barnes and Noble, and an unknown quantity -- possibly none -- at Apple and the smaller stores that Smashwords distributes to.

I did expect a drop in sales this year for several reasons.  One is because it's the slow time of year.  Also, I have been expecting a little shakeout in indie publishing about now -- just the natural cycle of business.  I also expected a drop in sales because I have seriously cut back blogging and most internet interaction in order to write. 

But the third, and more important reason I expected a drop in sales is the very reason I cut back on blogging to write: If you don't write and publish more books regularly, your career stalls.  And no amount of blogging and marketing can overcome that kind of stall when it happens. You can delay it, but you can't stop it.

Due to a number of things -- everything from the death of my father to the Bright Shiny Things of indie publishing -- my writing production slowed considerably over the past couple of years, and then when the Vortex of Crap hit me this winter and spring, my writing for publication slowed to a complete and utter stop.

But that's okay, crap happens, and there is a buffer of time between when your writing is interrupted and when you have an actual stall in your career/sales.  The engine starts making funny noises but if you give it a little gas, things pick right up again.  That's why I cut back on blogging to write -- to prevent that stall.

But I couldn't get up to speed fast enough to prevent the stall. It has happened.  Any momentum I already had is gone now.

And I have to blame, in part, the serial.

It's incredibly rewarding, in terms of personal fulfillment, and all that.  But it's a very time consuming kind of writing, and it's hampering my ability to make a living.  And as far as I can tell, it has not actually earned anything itself to make up for that. (One donation, maybe two or three books sales.)

So I have to stop and ask: are all those visitors I see in the stats really reading this, or are they mostly servers and spam bots, and I'm actually only writing this for the three or four people who have commented?

And if there are other people, silently but diligently reading the way the stats indicate.... are any of those people actually fans?  Is it worth a $5 Paypal donation or the purchase of a $3 book? Is it even worth a comment?

If so, here are the links:

The Case of the Misplaced Hero: In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore.
Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or donate via Paypal

Regardless of the answer, I have to make some decisions.

What I really want to do is just cut back to posting the story once a week.  But if there isn't really an audience, I need to move this to my journal and concentrate on my mercenary writing.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Plotting Game - Movie-of-the-Week Plot Structure

A reminder -- this week the blog is on hiatus.  The Case of the Misplaced Baroness blogstory will continue June 24th.

In the meantime, Tanja asked for more info about my Potting Game project, in particular the Movie-of-the-Week plotting structure.

Since I decided to give you more info on the various parts of the game and theory behind in my Sunday updates anyway, I decided to start now in answer to her question;

Where I Got This Movie-of-the-Week Structure

Back in the day, a movie-of-the-week had a pretty rigid structure.  It's exactly two hours long, it's split up into seven parts by standard two-minute ad breaks.  The ad breaks and credits take up about 15 minutes of the two hours.  That leaves a 105 minute script.  The average length of a scene in that kind of writing is about a minute and a half.  That's about 70 scenes per story, split up into seven acts -- or 10 scenes per act.

Oy, that's a lot of math, but it's also convenient for developing a production.  A TV production HAS to fit its time slot, so you need to develop it with the criteria in mind from the start.  It's not really meant for anything else.  However....

One of my mentors, who worked for a MOW producer, found that the company's scene breakdown sheet was a really great tool to use to study other movies.

Note, I didn't say it was a great for writing from.  It is great for writing Movies of the Week, but it's too restrictive for writing much else.  But those tiny, micromanaging restrictions (in particular the tiny 1.5 minute increments) are great to use as a ruler to study any kind of movie.

So she made copies of the 70-line scene breakdown form and gave it to us, and told us to go watch movies and write down what happens every 1.5 minutes.  Circle the important things, like character entrances and major revelations and plot turns.

Now, in the form she gave us, there were seven defined plot points -- one for the end of each act.  I don't know if she got these from the producer, or added them herself. They are mostly variations on well-known plot theory in the industry. (Everything from Syd Field to The Hero's Journey.)

In studying films against the beat sheet herself, she found that no matter what kind of story it was, those seven plot points seemed to apply.  And I have found she is right.  You can find something like these points even in the weirdest art house film.  It applies to books if you are flexible about the timing.

But that's for studying a plot.

If you're going to use it to help write something, it works best for your more commercial type story.  (However, it is a good springboard to develop tools for other kinds of stories. I may get to that later on.)

The 7-Plot Points of a MOW Story

NOTE: I have seriously adapted this for myself. I found a couple of the spots to be vague or unhelpful, so I filled in with some great information from Blake Snyder's excellent Save the Cat book.  I still haven't finished my version to my complete satisfaction.

Act 1 - The Protagonist's life is thrown out of balance.
Set up the character and setting -- end the act with the Inciting Incident, where things go wrong.

Act 2 - The Protagonist commits to the Quest
The Protagonist reacts to the Inciting Incident, realizes it's an ongoing problem, and commits to dealing with it.  (NOTE: this "quest" is the central idea of the story -- it's what you describe in the logline or blurb.  It's The Premise.)

Act 3 - The Promise of the Premise
This is a Blake Snyder thing. He also calls it "Fun and Games" -- this is where the central idea of your story first blossoms. (The old MOW form called this "A Hint of Things To Come" -- and dictated that at the end of this section, the Protagonist would show a hint of the transormation he or she would make by the end.)

Act 4 - The Point of No Return
While the fun and games continue, the stakes start to rise until at the end of this section it's no longer fun and games.  Something greater is at stake.  Something more important. (Note, if the whole world is at stake up to now, here is where it becomes personal. Or if it's been personal, it becomes global.)  Blake Snyder points out that this moment that ends the sequence can be a major triumph or a major failure for the character. Both can be a point of no return.

Act 5 - The Secret is Revealed
The character is mopping up after the Act 4 finale.  Whatever happened there it's big enough to need follow up.  There's some chaos, a mess, reversals. But at the end of this sequence is a major revelation, which will throw the Protagonist for a loop.

Act 6 - Dark Night of the Soul
Another Snyder plot point.  This is where the protagonist questions what he is doing, what he can do about the problem.  But he pulls it together, and realizes that he has the tools or knowledge now to go after the source of the problem.

Act 7 - Confrontation
The Protagonist takes the conflict to the source, and stays on it until it is settled.

I should pause here to point out that, even though you can hold up this structure to just about any story and it fits, I don't use this structure for most of my writing.  With most things I might think in terms of four acts -- four different directions for the story to take --and scatter the plot points where they are most useful.

The serial deviates even further: it's not meant to be experienced as a whole, but rather one bit at a time.  So all of those plot points end up happening all the time, all the way through.  I don't really plan them so much as let one spring from the other, with some idea of bigger changes of direction later on.  In the end, the story will probably resemble this structure in some way or other, but I seldom see it or think of it.

This game is for doing things quickly and easily.  It's an exercise.  Therefore the more detailed and proscribed it is, the better. (Especially since I make the rules and I can decide to ditch any of them at any time.)

I'll cover the MOW plot in more detail in a series of posts later. (Also talk about variations on it, and how to write your own structure.)  But for next week, I'll start talking about what comes before this.  The plot structure is not the story.  It's useless without your Situation -- the characters, setting, premise/problem.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Misplaced Baroness - Ep 12

Episode 12 - "MacGreevey Digs Deeper"
by Camille LaGuire

Inspector Pfaffle was so relieved to hear the news: That pretty young Baroness of Beethingham had run off with her dancing instructor. It was a prank after all!  MacGreevey was right!

It had been hell for Pfaffle after that interview with her.  The chief superintendent, the superintendent and the chief inspector, in sequence, had all given MacGreevey a solid dressing down, and there was talk of dismissal.

Pfaffle was in a sweat about it, but MacG only seemed half interested.  He grunted his apologies and promises of more respectful behavior, and then hurried right down to the evidence room to sulk, leaving Pfaffle to fend for himself.

Ah, but then word came, just in time, that she had run off with that foreign fellow after all!  It was a prank, just like MacG had said!

Pfaffle went down to the evidence room to give the sergeant the good news, but the man was not there.

"He went up to Beethingham Hall a few hours ago," said the sergeant in charge of the evidence room.

"When will he be back?"

"He didn't say."

It was two hours before MacGreevey came back, all full of bulldog energy.  Perhaps someone had told him the good news already? Or perhaps he had just found someone to take it out on -- that always cheered him up.

"MacG!" said Pfaffle. "Did you hear?  You were right! It was all a prank after all.  She did it to cover the fact that she was running off with her dance instructor."

MacGreevey gave him a cold stare and said, "No it wasn't. Someone tried to kill her."

"But...." said Pfaffle in confusion.

"There's a mass of evidence of it," he added.  "There are peacock feathers and chestnut hair in the boot of her roadster.  Also, by the odometer and the amount of petrol used since the carman recorded it, that roadster went almost to Thronden and back before it went into the ditch near the railway station.  Someone stuck her in the boot of that car -- hardly something she'd do to herself -- and drove her to that spot on the tracks where she was meant to be run over, and then drove the car back to leave it in the ditch."

"But she was seen getting on that train. She bought a ticket."

"Someone wrapped from head to foot in a peacock cloak bought a ticket, head covered with her hat.  No one actually recognized her, did they?  It's easy enough to fake.  Leave the party wrapped in that cloak, wearing her hat.  Call out, make sure people notice.  Buy the ticket, get on the train early and make sure you're seen. Then take off the cloak and hat and stuff 'em in a bag, leave that shoe behind, and step off the train just before it leaves, dressed in your regular clothes."

"That means it was a woman!" said Pfaffle.  "Someone who could impersonate her--"

"Right, an impersonator, not a woman," said MacGreevey with satisfaction. "That's what put me onto it in the first place.  Her hair is chestnut, but I found a number of short black hairs in her hat.  It was a man who impersonated her."

"Are you sure?  Some women wear their hair quite short these days."

"But not slick with hair oil," said MacGreevey.  "No, it was a short slight man, with greasy black hair with a known talent for mimicking all sorts of folk, including women, and who had the grace to walk like a lady, even in borrowed heels....  It was her dance instructor."

"The foreigner!"

"Yes, Antonio Maurinos is the man who tried to kill Lady Pauline."

"But she's run off with him," gasped Pfaffle.

"No, I told you, that was just a joke they told at the party--"

"No, no, MacG!  She's run off with him since.  The housekeeper rang us up to tell us.  As soon as the girl was done talking to us, off she went to be with Maurinos."

MacGreevey took a sharp breath and then let out a string of oaths so harsh, that Pfaffle had never heard most of them before.

"He tried to kill her," hissed MacGreevey.  "And now he's got her alone, doesn't he?"

MacGreevey took two cars and a squad of constables to Maurinos' town house while Pfaffle went to give the bad news to the Chief Inspector.

Maurinos' house was empty, but they found a dark stain on the floor of the hall.

"Looks like blood, sir," said a constable.

MacGreevey agreed.  They were too late to save the young baroness.  He felt briefly guilty for not listening sooner, but she'd been safe enough when they left her.  She knew, better than anyone, that she was in danger, so running off like that was a fool thing to do.  MacGreevey's job was not to feel guilty, but to catch that foreign blighter who did the deed.

A city-wide dragnet quickly expanded to country-wide  They spoke to the man's clients and associates.  A search of police records found that the man was known to them.  And those records gave them the names of some of the man's aliases.  And that led them to discover that an Anton Nestlegraf had got on a boat to the continent that very afternoon.

It was simple enough to wire full information to the authorities in the landing city, with a listing of aliases, including a female one -- an Awarshi countess, Antonia Bishnovia.  Those authorities were highly competent and efficient, and eager to cooperate.

This fellow would have a nasty surprise waiting for him at the end of this little voyage.

NOTE: this story is in hiatus, due to lack of readership and lack of time. It may return to this blog in the fall, or I may simply publish it as an ebook. (You can influence the choice with a comment.)

Stay Tuned For Episode 13 - "Plink Disembarks"

Support the writing of this serial!  You can donate directly, or you can buy the first book in the series, The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or donate via Paypal

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Story Notes - Pulp Illustrations and The Misplaced Baroness

I was incredibly pleased with my illo for Episode 7.  Even though that episode was a bit of a cheat.

Things had gone off the rails a little bit that week, and I was once again writing and illustrating the whole thing starting at 11pm the night before it was due.  And so I went through little illos and dingbats I'd created earlier for fun, and found some pulp silhouettes I'd played with this winter.  I redid them -- giving the thug an ivy cap rather than a bowler (since MacGreevey wears a bowler) and the "smoking man" -- Mr. X -- a homburg.

The figures were originally inspired by pulp illustrations.  The smoking man was inspired by the logo for The Falcon  And the thug was
inspired by every grotesque thug illo from comic and pulps you'll ever see.

I think he was also subconsciously inspired by this book cover (which I think is an E. Phillips Oppenheim book but I can't remember just now).  The colors are greatly enhanced here -- this is actually the impressed image illo from the actual cloth-bound book, not the printed paper dust cover.  Images on the physical book are often simpler than the paper dust covers, with maybe one or two inks that easily wear off.  Or no ink and just an embossed impression.  The whole thing is often dull and low-contrast.  The design on these things, therefore, has to be particularly good.  Sort of like thumbnails -- it won't be seen clearly so it has to look fab anyway.

But that's only half of why I like my illustration from Episode 7.

The other half is depth of field, and that comes from more recent pulp illustration -- like this men's magazine illo by Earl Norem.  It was particularly a feature of the sexy he-man sort of adventures that came along in the forties and fifties and sixties.  Many of them were thinly disguised porn, but even the more upscale stuff had some amazing art, dynamic, filled with detail.

One of the things these pulp illustrators often did really well was use the full depth of the setting.  This particular example may not be the very best, because all the figures are pretty similar in size, and it's not a very deep setting.  But often you'd see more exaggerated depth -- someone in extreme close up in the foreground, and someone or something seen over his shoulder in the background.  The foreground figure would be almost a framing device for the background.

Now, in natural depth of field, you see either one or the other of figures so far apart in depth.  One will be in focus, the other not.  These artists put both in focus, emphasizing both figures.  Often very dynamic and visually exciting.

Great filmmakers -- especially noir filmmakers after the war, through the 60's -- tended to use this sort of artsy style.  (This is why the French came to worship the Noir film.) Of course, they had movement and time to add to it.  The ending of The Third Man is a great example of using the deep background -- Valli walking toward the camera from far down the long tree-lined road, while Joseph Cotton waits for her in the foreground.  In this case the power of the image comes from time and scale. (Imagine this seen on a big screen in a theater -- which is how I first saw it.)

Another video example that I can lay hands on quickly is the Peter Gunn TV show.  It was a very very hip show at the time -- full of jazz.  And though it was filmed at a time when all TV had low production values, it they used a lot of over the shoulder and depth of field to jazz up the impact.  Often the openings were particularly stylish in terms of visual interest.  Here's the  opening of a show which uses a technique king of like that Third Man ending.  A car comes down the road in the distance, as if it's going to pass right across, then turns to come right into extreme close up range, and continues past to head off into the background again as it enters a garage.  Then a figure moves into the foreground, and sends a dog into the background.  There's some close up work from another angle, but soon we return to that same camera, and see figures moving in and out -- using the background and foreground in the same shot.

I think the style I'm working on for this serial is well suited to the combined foreground/background image.  I haven't been able to do it as well as I did with Ep 7 -- partly because that episode didn't require a setting or object.  I really need to work on the kind of sketchy suggested settings that go well with this silhouette style. (I liked Episode 9's illo seen here, but Episode 10 really should have been much more striking.)

However, when I look at the green cover up above, maybe I need to think about not representing location depth the same way -- but rather to put a stylized backdrop?

In the meantime, the serial continues with a complication for Plink, when MacGreevey decides to look into the case after all.

On Sunday there will be another post on the Plotting Game, with an explanation of the MOW 7-act plot structure -- then a week off while I play.  These posts will be automatically posted and I will be away from my computer and may not see comments, or respond to them. (I'll try!)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Misplaced Baroness - Ep 11

First Episode | Previous Episode | Series Intro and TOC | Story So Far | Next Episode

Episode 11 - "The Gentleman With a Cold"
by Camille LaGuire

The difficulty with passing yourself off as a gentleman named Anton Nestlegraf, when you are a lady named something entirely different, is that your voice is wrong.  Plink resolved this problem by coughing and speaking in a hissy, hoarse voice as if she had a very bad cold.

She'd had no trouble getting past the ticket agents and such, but she had a nervous moment when Lady Blinkersley's entourage blocked her way at boat side. Plink held her collar high, coughed a lot, and croaked out an "Excuse me."

The only one who gave her much of a look was Lady Blinkersley's companion -- a nervous little woman named Miss Vilthrop, no first name ever given that Plink had ever heard.  However, what little could be seen of Plink's face was obscured by a pair of glasses, and a false moustache and beard she'd acquired during her stop in the theatre district.

It was a nervous moment though.  Miss Vilthrop gave a small start, like she recognized Plink, but as soon as she saw Plink's mustachioed face, she seemed embarrassed, as though she didn't recognize her after all. She hurried to get the porters to move the luggage aside so Plink could pass.

Plink bowed and growled some thanks, and hurried up the gang plank onto the boat.

As she went, though, she heard voices hailing the ladies behind her.  Distinct Freedonian accents.  She thought for a moment that Mr. X and friends might have found her, but as she paused to listen closer, she could not recognize the smooth tones of Mr. X.

Still, when she got up on the deck she turned to look.  The Freedonian, Alder Graves they called him, was short and round and effusive.  His suit was expensive and his accent was coarse and betrayed no culture at all.  He laughed and talked and waved a cigar.  She had smelled smoke in the hall where Antonio had been killed, but she thought it wasn't cigar smoke.  It smelled like perfumed cigarettes, actually.  She hadn't thought anything of it, because it was the sort of thing Antonio smoked.

But now that she thought of it, it didn't smell quite like Antonio's cigarettes either.  Nor like a cigar.

Still, if Mr. X were an actor, he could pretend to be an effusive man with a rough accent, couldn't he?  All she knew of him was the sound of his voice and possibly the smell of his cigarettes.  Things easily covered or faked.  Of course this man could also be a colleague, enemy or have nothing to do with X.

With the help of a junior purser she found the cabin reserved by Antonio.  She coughed and croaked at the man.

"I am sick in the lungs," she said, in a fake foreign accent.  "I wish to stay only in my cabin and not bother anyone with the coughing."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Nestlegraf," agreed the purser eagerly.  "Of course."

"Can I have tea and a light supper brought to me there?"

"Yes, yes, of course," said the purser, and he seemed eager enough to get Plink into her room and the door shut between them.  She decided not to reassure him that she didn't have plague.

The room was fair sized, and a trunk stood in the corner.  It had a label with the name Anton Nestlegraf on it, and the name of a hotel in the city where the boat would dock.

The trunk was not locked, and she took that as a sign that there was nothing important in it.  A quick search showed she was right.  Only clothing and personal items.  Some of the clothes were dresses, however.  Possibly to go with the passport for Countess Antonia Bish-something-a.

Plink collapsed on to the bed.  She was exhausted.  She'd hardly slept, and that was a short-lived drugged sleep, from which she'd been wakened by a train nearly rolling over her.  She'd been running ever since, hadn't she?

The heavy suitcase, though, beckoned.  She opened it and quickly removed the contents. It took only a moment to find her way to release the false side of the case.

She found papers, all in a foreign language -- Truvian, she thought, as that was Antonio's native language -- and behind that, well-packed wads of money.  Several currencies, but most of it Awarshi, which was worthless outside of Awarshawa, and not worth much inside.

But if he were carrying Awarshi money, didn't that indicate he was headed for Awarshawa?  And wasn't that where the peace conference that the Blinkersley's were headed to?  Or was it somewhere in Truvia?  Truvia was under Awarshi "administration" wasn't it?  Political this and that going on there.  Trouble.

There had been a number of diplomatic people at her party.  Lord Blinkersley had gone on ahead, but most of Lady Blinkersley's cultural whatsis had been there.  And Antonio, as hired host, kept an eye on all of them.  It was his job to make sure everyone was having a good time.

Plink sat on the bed and thought hard.  Memories of the night before -- now seeming so long ago -- floated to her.  Antonio greeting her when they went into the great hall to play games, and a funny look on his face as he looked beyond her at someone.  Plink had started to turn around, but someone else greeted her and she never looked, never saw what concerned him.

She pulled out his tickets and itinerary.  The ending point was the city of Tiva.  Yes, that's right. That was in Tuvia, and, it seemed to her, it was the sort of place you'd hold a peace conference.  An old and lovely city on the sea.

She looked again at the suitcase.  Heavy as paper could be, it did not account for the weight of the bag, she thought.  She looked deeper and realized that the remaining wall of the suitcase was quite thick. Too thick.

Plink peeled back the paper lining and found beneath it....


Coins, to be exact, all packed carefully in sheets of cardboard with holes punched in to hold the coins still.  The coins had eagles on them -- Republic of Freedonia gold pieces.

Was that was Mr. X was looking for? She was too tired to care.

When a porter arrived at her door with a tea tray, Plink covered herself with a robe and put a towel over her head and let the man in.  She asked him, between feigned fits of coughing, if the ship's library might have a Truvian dictionary.  He promised to check, and hurried out, almost forgetting his tip.

She had two nights in isolation in this room.  Plenty of time to rest, and see if she could parse out the papers Antonio had hidden in his suitcase, and search the trunk better.

If she found no new clues to follow, she'd check out the hotel named on the trunk's label, and then follow the diplomats to Tiva.

As she drifted off to sleep, she remembered that she had forgotten to send Lister a note saying that Antonio was dead, but she was all right.  Well, that could wait until she docked.  After all, if Mr. X was right, no one would know that murder had been done at all.  No one would be worried.

Stay Tuned For Episode 12 - "MacGreevey Digs Deeper"
(Available after 8am EST, Mon/Thur)

Support the writing of this serial!  You can donate directly, or you can buy the first book in the series, The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or donate via Paypal

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Update - Writing as a Game

Upcoming Vacation, Blogging Break

Not this week, but the next week (June 16-22), I'm taking a one week break in the serial, and blogging overall.  I was going to try to get episodes and things done ahead, but I realize that it's just better not to fight it. This serial likes to be written "just in time."   I think it's actually a good place for a break, kind of the end of Act 1.  We will move into a new section of the story when we come back.


I am having a phenomenal amount of fun this week.  I might not be as productive, word-wise, as I would like.  However....

I'm doing something that may really revolutionize some of my writing.  Maybe all of it, maybe only the blah days.

I'm creating a plotting game!

I love writing games.  I read about Rory's Story Cubes in Jennie Coughlin's blog, and went out and bought some immediately.  It doesn't matter how busy I am, when I stumble across one of those little contests "Write a 100 word story using the following six items..." I have to stop and do that.

And one thing I really really really really really get into are randomized idea generators.  For instance, one of my favorite old writing exercises is The Dictionary Game: open a dictionary to a random page, stab your finger at the page and choose the word you landed on.  Do it again so you have a pair of words, and then come up with ideas based on those two words in juxtaposition.

And one of the things that have always intrigued me is the concept of the Plot Wheel.  It's something that pulp writers sometimes used as a way to come up with their formula stories faster.  It was also a way to keep things a little fresh; take certain things that always or often happen and randomize them so you don't get into a rut.

Recently there was a story on Erle Stanley Gardner's plot wheels. The pictures are hard to make out, and he didn't really have many options on them, but I immediately wanted them, just like I wanted the story cubes.  However, I realized that's not what I really wanted.  Gardner didn't go far enough.

I wanted to play with the idea of going a lot deeper and a lot further with plotting for this Mercenary Writing exercise.  Probably my biggest problem ever with doing that kind of fast and dirty writing is that I tend to get too many ideas, and I can't decide among them.  So I don't just want a plot wheel of "red herrings" or "false leads."  I want a really extensive set of plot (and detail) wheels to use on every aspect of the story.

Welcome to Camille's Plotting Circus!

I spent the early part of this week creating this writing game.  And before I tell you about it, I've got to say this: because I wrote it for MY needs, it works.  At least for creating an exciting and interesting stand alone story that isn't something already in your head, it's lovely.

This is unlike all the fun little toys I've ever used before (such as those story cubes) which are fun to play with, but they don't really fire me up, because they use details that don't interest me.

This fires my imagination well enough, that I might just look for ways to adapt it for my regular writing.  (But not yet.)

The thing about it, though, is that it isn't something I could write and give to you and have it work.  You would have to write it for yourself with the details that fire you up.  And every genre or kind of story requires a different set of game materials.

However, that in itself is a part of the game.  The game changes to suit what you need.

It works kind of like what James Patterson did when he decided he was going to write best selling novels.  He studied the heck out of a bunch of best sellers and broke them down into elements and created a formula (or several formulas) for himself.

The difference here is that I looked more inward than outward: I don't particularly like best sellers.  So I sat down and started to analyze what I like in a romantic suspense story.  Not what I think ought to be there, but what I want.

And I began to create lists of these favorite archetypes and tropes (and yes, cliches).  Then I looked at plotting structure and picked a format that works for romantic suspense: the Movie-Of-the Week (MOW) script breakdown I learned in filmschool.

I found, when I put these two things together, I needed one more peice to get started.  Something for the stuff outside the plot:

The "Situation Form."

Basically the Situation Form is about the foundation of the story.  Not what happens (plot) but where the plot comes from.  So it has Title, Theme, Character Roles (Heroine, Hero, Villain, Helper, Victim, Red Herring, etc.), Heroine's Secret, Villain's Secret.

Each of those elements have a wheel with anywhere from a dozen to a thousand options that I can pick with a random number.

And I take those elements and brainstorm what the story is about specifically.  I look first at the most important things and then shape them with the smaller details.  (So "villain's secret" might be differently defined depending on things like the age of the victim, for instance.)  As the ideas develop, I can change the details to whatever works best for a great story.

What I found was that this form gives me ninety percent of the story right there.    Put the "theme" word together with the heroine's secret and the villain's secret, and it's like dictionary exercise -- you have an interesting triangle that tells you what the story is about ... what drives the story.

And it does drive the story because, remember, all of these options are options that I find exciting, or at least challenging.

I'll talk more about it later.

In the meantime, on the serial this week, we'll wrap up the first act as Plink finally gets some privacy to examine Antonio's luggage, and MacGreevey examines the evidence and makes a startling discovery.  (Then we skip a week.)

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Misplaced Baroness - Ep 10

Episode 10 - "A Diplomatic Expedition"
by Camille LaGuire

Lady Vera Featherdale stood patiently at dockside, waiting for her companions to sort themselves out.  Lady Blinkersley, who was apparently her best friend just now -- though Vera had never intended it to be so -- was gossiping and calling to her companion, to the boatmen, and to her servants, while Vera bit her tongue and tried to think ahead to the peace conference.

Lord Blinkersley, the newly appointed ambassador to the United Republics of Awarshawa -- or was it the Republic of United Awarshi States now? -- had asked her to come along to the conference as part of a cultural delegation headed by his wife.  Vera assumed he did this because, to conservative old Blinkersley, Vera was a raging revolutionary.  She did things like organize drives to feed the poor, after all.  He seemed to think that she could charm these hostile Washy officials into supporting his agenda.

Vera didn't know or care what his agenda was.  She was interested in creating an organization to aid civilians and refugees in the more conflict-ridden areas of the continent, and her hope was to get some cooperation from the above mentioned officials.

It was hard to think on these plans, however, because the voice of Lady Blinkersley was too shrill to ignore.

"...and she took my lovely peacock cloak!" exclaimed that worthy lady.

"Who, what?" said Vera.

"Pauline Beethingham.  Ran off in the middle of her party last night.  Took my cloak with her," said Lady Blinkersley.

Oh, yes, the footloose baroness.  Vera had declined the invitation to the party on the grounds that she must prepare for the conference.

"I don't see why she should run off," said Vera.  "She's the only woman in the country with the right to vote, now that she's a peeress and of age."

"Only in the House of Lords," said Lady Blinkersley, with a shocked sniff.  "And that's not a right, it's a duty.  Which means that she probably won't do it.  She ought to marry that cousin of hers quick.  Then he can sit for her."

It was just at this point that she was interrupted by the sound of a cough.  A slight, bearded man in a long black overcoat, with his wide-brimmed hat pulled low, was trying to make his way through the throng of Lady Blinkersley's baggage and retainers.

"Excuse," he said in a raspy, low, accented voice.  He coughed again.  "May I pass please?"

"Miss Vilthrop!" called Lady Blinkersley, irritably.  "Let this man through before he gives us the plague!"

Miss Vilthrop, the lady's rabbit-like companion, stared for a moment at the man, and then leapt to get the footmen to move a trunk and let the man through.  He bowed and headed for the gang plank to board the boat, while Lady Blinkersley prattled on about the scandal.

"...and now she's run off with her dancing instructor!" she said. "I can't see her cousin marrying her after that, but these are modern times and if he's dutiful enough he'll take her in hand."

"If you're talking about Freddy Smythe-Winterbourne, I can see why she's run off," said Vera shortly.

She was spared a long protest in defense of the insipid but stodgey Freddy, by the arrival of another knot of newcomers.

The Freedonian contingent had arrived.  Vera's interest perked up considerably.  Whether she could get Awarshi support or not, she had great hopes of gaining Freedonian money for her refugee effort.

A short, hefty gentleman came striding out of the center of the group like he owned the world, and he probably did, from what Vera had heard.  Mr. Alder Graves, industrialist, philantropist, and by all accounts, hearty offender of all manner of manners.  Vera expected to like him.

He came barreling up to Lady Blinkersly hand extended in greeting.  When she offered her own, he did not take it as one would a lady's hand, but rather grabbed on to it and pumped it up and down.

"How do ya do, lady?  How do you do?" he said.  When introduced to Vera, he gave her the same treatment.  Vera, who was used to traveling through all sorts of uncivilized places, didn't mind at all, and she grasped his hand in return as tightly as she could.

"How do you do, Mr. Graves," said Lady Blinkersley, cooly.  "I understood the Freedonians weren't taking part in these talks?"

"I'm not here in any official capacity. I'm with you ladies on the cultural side," said Mr. Graves.  "The Freedonian government prefers to stay out of your tangled continental politics. We believe that the ties of business will motivate people to work together and keep the peace.  If we all prosper, we have no reason to fight, right?"

He elbowed Lady Blinkersley, in a hearty, friendly, Freedonian way.

"Tell me, Mr. Graves," said Vera. "If you are interested in the prospering of the weak, are you interested in charity?"

"Oh, of course, Lady Featherdale. Of course.  It's hard for a man to look up, if he's hunched over in hunger and pain, right?  That's what my grandaddy used to say, the tight-fisted old coot.  He made his first fortune off prison labor, so you could hardly call him charitable, but the prisoners were well fed, you can believe that."  He paused and looked at her with a wise twinkle in his eye.  "So why don't you tell me which charity you have in mind?"

"I'll tell you, if you  join me for dinner."

"I'll be glad to. Glad to!" he said.

They had two nights on the boat, and a few more by train.  The man's friendliness gave her hope that she could make an ally of him before they reached the conference.

Stay Tuned For Episode 11 - "The Gentleman With The Cough"
(Available after 8am EST, Mon/Thur)

Support the writing of this serial!  You can donate directly, or you can buy the first book in the series, The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or donate via Paypal

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Story Notes - Writing Big Scenes Vs. Little

Jumping to the Big Scenes... or not

Great post on Dave McFarland's blog (by Kami McArthur, I think) about not futzing around with little scenes but jumping straight into that big scene you have vividly in mind.

This is, generally, how I write.  If something is vivid in my mind, I write it.  Even so, her description of writing around an important scene did strike home: because I do write little scenes to procrastinate about the big ones sometimes.  It can be a form of "cat vacuuming." (I.e. "I can't write that scene now! I've got to... vacuum the cat!" even though cats are self-cleaning.)

But this is not always a bad thing.  Often when the cat suddenly looks really dusty to you, and the pencils need sharpening, and oh, that email needs checking right now, it's because your unconscious mind is working on something.

And while going after Mittens with a Hover is not useful to the cat or your writing career, I have to disagree with McArthur on the potential usefulness of writing the little scenes first.

Those little scenes can be a form of exploratory writing. You may have parts of the big scene vividly in mind, but some small details - the details that make the story live - aren't there. Writing the little set up scenes can populate the setting, give you details to work with.  These are, for me, very often the details that make that big scene sing.

All the same, I do advise writing the important stuff first -- the stuff that is vivid and you know how you want it to come out.  Because those less important scenes can squirrel around on you. You can write yourself into a situation where you can't get to the big scene that was so important to you. (Nothing wrong with that if you are willing to give up the big scene, though.)

Like I said, that's how I normally work anyway.  It's how my mind works.  However....

The Big Scenes and The Serial

Writing out of sequence doesn't work with serial.  Sure if a scene is really vivid, I'll scribble it out ahead of time.  But as often as not, when I get to that scene, the story will have changed.  And because the earlier scenes are now live, I can't go back and change them.  They're set in stone, and that big important later scene isn't.

And oddly, that works.  Writing those big scenes ahead of time doesn't work, and concentrating on the current, very next scene does work.

There's a reason for that:

With a serial, EVERY scene is a big important scene.
Nothing in a serial is ever as important as the next episode.  If the next episode is dull, then that is the major overwhelming problem for the writer, and nothing else matters.  Once it's published, though, it no longer matters.  It's set in stone.  Nothing you can do about it.  All of that importance and energy is transfered to the next episode.

The great thing about short episodes like I'm doing is that they can't hold too much.  I often struggle to make the episode do more than it can handle, but in the end, the episode improves when I remember that I can push details or information into a later episode.

I'm having a hard time remembering that for this story, though, because it's a mystery thriller.  This genre is normally filled with background -- conversations, memories, thoughts, straight exposition from the author.  You have to fill it up with info and details to help set up twists while hiding them.

You can't, for instance, just have a character conveniently remember that he always keeps a spare gun strapped to his ankle (which you've never mentioned before) at the exact moment he needs it.  That feels like a cheat to the audience, like you just magically put it there to get him out of trouble.

You can get away with that more in pulp fiction, though.  It's expected to be more of a "made up as it went along" kind of thing.  And a serial resembles that more than a classic thriller.  The mystery writer in me still likes to lay groundwork, but the groundwork doesn't have to be laid the same way is it is with a book. As a matter of fact, in a serial, it works against you.

First, with a short-episode serial, people aren't going to remember a bunch of details. They'll remember one or two from an episode, maybe.  If the hero has a spare gun in his boot in episode 3, odds are your audience won't remember at all ten weeks later when you're at episode 23.  In a book, you have the space to set things up -- such as the character's habits -- right at the beginning, all at once, or trickled out in pretty nice detail over a few chapters.  It would feel weird NOT to know the character really well.  With a serial... the character set up takes time.  And with the time involved, it's actualy a waste of space to introduce details you'll use much later in the first few episodes.

What you have to do instead is draw broad strokes -- a cartoon -- which gives the audience an impression of the character which is compatible with later revelations.  (Twists are harder, but they still work.)  And you save details for later. Set it up only an episode or two ahead of where you will use it.

This is also true of the background world of the story.  Exposition has to be trickled out in small memorable chunks, or left until it's needed.

In Episodes 6, 7 and 8, I had originally planned to introduce a little of the politics, with Antonio's background and nationality, and the miss-mash of nationalities of the gang of toughs searching his house.  Then I realized that I would be throwing a terrible mess of names and nations at the audience all at once with no real context to hang on to it.

So I backed off, and just introduced the mysterious American... er, I mean Freedonian boss, and one sidekick with a name, Bains.  I threw in another set of names, the Awarshi brothers, in the next episode, but I suspect that won't be memorable at all.  (There had been a scene with them, but I cut it.)

Confession time: These characters - the murderous guys searching the house - were originally intended to be anonymous thugs.  I really hadn't nailed down the specific personalities here.  The Freedonian, who I think will become known as "Mr. X" in Plink's mind, just stepped in as I wrote it, and took over.  The Varishkins, Bains, the chauffeur guy -- all sort of coalesced out of thin air at that time.

That isn't to say that these guys aren't important. They're very important. They are no key players in the story.

This is one great thing in the nature of writing those little scenes before the big ones.  This is how those later scenes and turns of plot get populated by interesting facts.  It provides opportunities for later things.  What's amazing is how such things hook up.

For instance, this story crosses paths with the previous story, The Case of the Misplaceed Hero, and I've been fretting about how to do it.  Some of the events from that story will be unexplained and inexplicable in this story.  Now, suddenly, I have a mysterious Freedonian connection which gives me opportunities to blend these two stories together much more smoothly.

Little scenes are all about discovery.  Sometimes when writing a novel, you only discover false trails and have to cut them.  But as a "big scenes first" writer, I have to admit,  the little scenes matter. And sometimes matter more than the big ones.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Misplaced Baroness - Ep 9

Episode 9 - "Antonio's Itinerary"
by Camille LaGuire

Waiting was not one of Plink's strong points, but she managed.  The man guarding the street scanned back and forth, never looking away long enough for her to move out on to the walk without him knowing where she came from.

But then a group of about five or six young women came giggling and sauntering up from the direction of the park.  The man fixed his gaze on them as though they might all be runaway baronesses.  With a sharp glance in each direction, he headed in their direction.

Plink picked up the suitcases and stepped right out onto the walk and headed in the other direction, striding purposefully, head down, like a man with a long walk to the train station.

When she reached the nearest corner she turned, not looking back for fear of him seeing her face.  No one chased her.

After a block her fear let up, and the suitcases and questions began to weigh her down.  After two blocks, she lost her fear altogether and was lost in thought.

Fact: these men had not expected her to arrive with a suitcase at Antonio's door. Therefore they had not gone to his house to look for her.  And that meant they were not drawn by the rumor that she was running away with Antonio.  She had not sent Antonio to his doom with her frivolous story.

Another fact: These men were searching the house. And they said Antonio had lied to them, and they had lied to him.  Ergo, he had a relationship with these men, and they were in his house for something to do with Antonio.

And quite possibly none of this had anything to do with Plink.  Perhaps it had been Antonio who had inadvertently sent Plink to her sooty, iron-railed doom.  Or nearly did.

That seemed much more likely. 

Antonio was a professional friend and confidant.  He knew everyone's secrets, and if he was above blackmail himself -- which she couldn't honestly say he was -- he would certainly be of great interest to a criminal sort of person. 

And it depressed her a great deal to think that this was about Antonio, because the boss man -- Mr. X, as she thought of him -- had said he had the police fixed.

She didn't believe that for one minute.  The Imprish police were stolid fellows.  Hard working.  Not corrupt.  She couldn't imagine a stubborn bulldog like Sgt. MacGreevey looking the other way to help a gang of foreign crooks.  The man wasn't even forgiving of a little matter of a pony in a teashop!

But that chief superintendent, the one who looked like a politician, had been so determined to dismiss Plink's story of killers.  A politician, given the word from those above to keep something quiet, would easily, thoughtlessly, redirect those under him, or even let them do their work, and bury the results.

She, a baroness, would be all right.  She didn't think he would intentionally cover her murder. But would he have any compunction at all about a crime against a foreigner like Antonio?  No, she was sure he wouldn't.

And that made her angry.

She stopped and set down the suitcases. She was on a major street now.  She could call a cab.  She could head straight for the police and bash them in the face with whatever it was in Antonio's suitcase.  Lord that case was heavy.  She'd thought it must have books in it at first, but as she walked, it had seemed more like anchors.  Or perhaps, given his relationship with gangsters, hot lead.  But now, as her arms ached and her already sore feet throbbed, she was of the opinion that Antonio had a suitcase full of a special kind of condensed gold, twice as heavy as regular.

She shook out her arms and looked around for her purse to find money for a cab.  The purse was in her suitcase, though, so she pulled out Antonio's wallet instead.  He'd have money for a cab, wouldn't he?

It was a large wallet, more of a travel document case, really.  There was a couple of fivers right in the front pocket and when she pulled them out she saw his tickets and reservations....

A reservation in the name of Anton Nestlegraf. 

Odd. Was he planning to meet this fellow? And if so why was Antonio carrying the man's reservation? And how convenient that they both had similar first names.

Plink searched further in the wallet to find the passport.  She was in luck. She found three.

Three passports: One for this Nestlegraf fellow, one for Antonio, and one for a Countess Antonia Bishnoria.  But only one travel ticket.

The passports contained very similar physical descriptions -- weight, height, eye color.  And suddenly Plink recalled one of Antonio's impressions.  He was so funny and so real when he pretended to be an extravagant exiled countess.  All he needed was a dress.

She knealt right down there on the busy street and opened his suitcase. There was nothing heavy inside at all.  Just some clothing and personal items -- but there was also not as much space inside as it appeared outside.   She decided not to search for the secret compartment there on the street.  Instead she shut the suitcase and hailed a cab.

She did not go to the police.

Sergeant MacGreevey could say what he liked about her riding ponies through tearooms, but he really didn't know the half of it.  That had been just a warm up for when she rode a charger into the male-only equestrian sabre charge competition of the Annual Cavaliers of the Queen's Boot Tournament, wearing a long fluttering banner which read "Votes For Women."  She'd won, too, at least according to Minnie Haverstock.  The offical timekeeper had refused to clock her time, but Minnie had a fine timepiece of her own.

The Barons of Beethingham did not shrink from a challenge, even if they weren't as fond of duty as others of the same rank.

Plink told the cabbie she needed to catch the one o'clock boat train, but first to make a short stop in the theatrical district along the way.

Stay Tuned For Episode 10 - "A Diplomatic Expedition"
Available after 8am EST, Mon/Thur)

Support the writing of this serial!  You can donate directly, or you can buy the first book in the series, The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or donate via Paypal

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Update - Summer and Music


Summer is a horrible time for me. I can't take heat, and light disrupts my sleep. 

All the same, summer evokes story.  A long, slow, quiet, dream-like time, in an abandoned Dali-esque landscape of an empty college town, or the farm. Reading until 5am, when it would finally be cool enough to sleep. Ominous skies, sudden storms of any temperature or variety. The chalky smell when rain hits dry, baked earth or sidewalk.

My Anonymous Mercenary Writing Experiment is going okay -- not as well as I hoped, but that's partly because I've got a few more projects in mind, and my mind jumps from one to the other.  (And I've wasted time discovering some of those projects are non-starters.)

All the same, Summer is seeping into Project 1, and imbuing it with sensory detail.  I find that I can get back into that story instantly by Evoking Summer in my mind.  (Project 1 was actually on the non-starter list, until summer came along and showed me what I needed to do.)

The Serial is doing well.  I loved my illustration for Episode 7.  I was working at the last minute again, and stole from work I'd done earlier of mysterious pulp figures.  The background figure, with the cigarette, was inspired originally by a logo for The Falcon, I think.  I'll talk more about that in some upcoming Story Notes. (Possibly not this week - I have some other things I want to say Wednesday about David Falrand's recent post about wrting great scenes.  It is how I normally write, but the serial has forced me to go in the other direction, and there are benefits to that too.)


In the meantime... I've discovered that if I put Bob Seger's "Breakdown" on continuous loop, I draw better and faster.  Weird but true.  I think that it evokes images of conflict and power, the arrogant criminal, the dogged detective.  It may have been meant for Beverly Hills Cop, but it works thematically for Columbo or Miss Marple as well as The Saint.

(Or it might just be the beat -- "That Old Time Rock and Roll" also seems to work.)

I may try it with some of Paul Simon's songs from his Rhythm of the Saints album. He has evocative lyrics and performances.

While I don't like to write to music with words, I often write with a single jazz or instrumental song on continuous loop.  The Third Man Theme, Take Five, or maybe Sing Sing Sing. The sound stimulates my brain, and keeps outside distractions at bay, and the continuous loop makes the song blend into my head and it stops being distracting itself.

Something highly active, though (such as Bob Seger) can over-stimulate after a while, so I need to switch to a different song. Or sometimes I'll change when I need a different mood.

Another thing that is surprising: when I have the fuzz-headed effect of a silent migraine, "wall-of-sound" music tends to help.  (I don't often get the painful migraines, so I don't know if it would be so helpful to those folks.)

In the meantime, in the serial this week, Plink reviews her situation and decides to follow the money....

See you in the funny papers.