“The Snake,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

It was almost dark when young Dr. Phillips swung his sack to his shoulder and left the tide pool.  He climbed over the rocks and squashed along the street in his rubber boots.  The street lights were on by the time he arrived at his little commercial laboratory on the cannery street of Monterey.  It was a tight little building, standing partly on piers over the bay water and partly on land.  On both sides the big corrugated-iron sardine canneries crowded in on it.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the setting shows the protagonist as part of his environment.  A further step gives us his name, and we learn that he is young.  By implication we gather that Dr.  Phillips is not a medical man but a scientist who runs a commercial laboratory on cannery row; therefore, he is no doubt a marine biologist.

Notice that he is in action.  We glimpse the tide pool and the rocks on the beach.  We do not see the town itself until the protagonist arrives at his laboratory.  The time element is mentioned twice, but not by clock.  This gives the impression that Dr. Phillips is a man who works until it is too dark to see.  Notice, too, the active verbs climb and squash, both used without adverbs.

Case of the Missing Flight

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.  
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What kind of murderer does not resort to flight?  This doesn’t include the subterfuge of going to jail on a lesser crime.  No, this has remoteness built in so that flying away is unnecessary.  Does that mean the murderer sticks with the corpse?

No, this could fit the role of the master criminal murderer accomplishing murder to their plan through others.

Removing the element of remoteness, necessarily brings the murderer back into the same room with the corpse, but with the murderer now straightening up—scene building—and roping in the False Suspect (now very necessary).

Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Murderer’s Ladder”

This discussion comes from the work Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, by Francis L. Fugate and Roberta B. Fugate, which describes the writing strategy of Erle Stanley Gardner through his novel writing phase of his long writing career.

The premise is that in writing the story from the protagonist’s point of view, the antagonist’s driving force is largely underdeveloped or developed just enough to only serve the author’s needs to propel the plot.  The unstated problem is that this can lead to complexity and elaboration that does not serve the plot or the reading.

Where does complexity and elaboration come into this, and why is it a problem?  These characteristics, which in any novel may be a qualities to hope for, often arrive unplanned in revisions and re-writes where clues and time-lines are backfilled in clumsily.  The appearance of a forced ending is also evidence of this clumsiness.

How did Gardner solve this for himself?  He codified antagonist character development programmatically in The Murderer’s Ladder.  Writers should recognize this as a back-story for the villain.  There are ten rungs on his ladder, the bottom-most is motivation.  At some point in the development of the antagonist’s side of the story, they will climb this ladder rung by rung until they reach the commission of an act that cannot be undone, and would reveal the crime in progress.  It is the point of no return.  The villain is committed even if the crime has not been fully performed.  Rather than describing the rungs fully (which I will do in succeeding posts), the following is the architecture where the entry point is at the bottom, with rung 1:

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

For the writer who is seeing this for the first time: although you are preparing a rough story out of these ten rungs, your own novel may enter anywhere—probably at step six, or soon before or after.

Although what I have offered is generally the substance of the topic, The Murderer’s Ladder, that is posted across the web, for me it is insufficient.  That said, I will embark upon posting an article for each rung to examine the intent of these ten key words and key phrases.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block

Opening Paragraphs:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street. Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day. Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax. First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook. Though this reads like fiction, it is fact. Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given. There are two reasons for this. His name is given in the title. He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces. He is a man hiding from retribution.

“Anna Teller,” by Jo Sinclair

Opening Paragraph:

Anna Teller was the only refugee on the plane from Munich to New York.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph is one sentence only, and a short sentence at that. The protagonist is named, the setting is given, and the small hook is a statement that contrasts Anna with all the other passengers.

The second paragraph describes the passengers who keep glancing at Anna because she is so obviously different. The third paragraph presents an objective description of Anna as seen by these passengers. Next, the action begins, with dialogue. This is a craftsmanlike way of starting a novel.

Glance back at this short first paragraph and notice how uncluttered it is. Only a few selected facts are given.

The Plan, the third rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The plan is the structuring of motivation to use the components of temptation to anticipate probable opportunity.

The plan needs to cover the who, what, where, why, and when of action.

The who: the antagonist and temptable characters.

The why and what: found where the motivations of the antagonist and tempted characters converge.

The where and when: as observed in the temptation

What is needed next is an opportunity that looks much like the temptation that was offered in rung 2.

The antagonist is under a modest stress of optimism where temptation proves there are opportunities.  Thus, at the elemental level, planning engages the emotion of joy.

“A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner

Opening Hook Paragraph:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the author names his protagonist, or main character, who has just died.  Then he throws out a hook to arouse our curiosity about her.  We, too, now want a glimpse inside Miss Emily’s house.  And we get that glimpse—and never forget what we see.

“The Late Love of Dorrie Hayes,” by Mary Jane Rolfs

Opening Paragraph:

Dorrie Hayes had never had so much happiness that she could take any for granted.  She was the kind of girl who had endured many of the small aggravations of life and some of the big ones.  As an adolescent, she had been fat with an unreliable complexion and crooked teeth.  When time and diligence had corrected these misfortunes, she started growing tall at an alarming rate and her hair was completely unmanageable.  There were a few years of relative calm and then it started all over again.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph is author’s statement.  Miss Rolfs tells us a few selected facts about her protagonist.  We are beginning to know a bit about the outer girl and the inner girl, her looks and her worries.  Our sympathy is roused.  Dorrie’s predicament makes us recall the years when we, too, were dissatisfied with our appearance, those years before we finally decided upon acceptance.  Most readers will want to know more about Dorrie and how she solved her problem.

“A String of Beads,” by Somerset Maugham

Plunge Opening:

“What a bit of luck I’m placed next to you,” said Laura as we sat down to dinner.
“For me,” I replied politely.

“That remains to be seen.  I particularly wanted to have the chance of talking to you.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”

At this my heart sank a little.  “I’d sooner you talked about yourself,” I answered.  “Or even about me.”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) We learn from this that we are probably beginning a first-person, observer’s story about someone we have not yet met.  And we also get the impression that if Laura is to tell the story, her interpretation will be different from the observer’s, the “I” person, Mr. Maugham himself.  Except for setting—a dinner party—we get nothing else.
Maugham’s first goal in writing was clarity, and indeed this plunge opening is instantly understood by a reader.

Pick-Up

Pick-UpPick-Up by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my conceit of qualifying terms for this genre, I offer:

Pulp Artist

I am always surprised at the humanity that surfaces with Willeford's handling of this cheap and dirty line of reading. He doesn't squirm or coyly turn his face from the squalid overtures offered by the characteristic covers (which I so love---they pack so much promise in an image).

Without beating around the bush, we have a story of two alcoholics, and their descent into the abyss of hopelessness that leads them to suicide. As much as that says, it doesn't reveal what I discovered about how much un-sentimental sympathy Willeford has for them with the existential twist at the end.

The story is simple, but Willeford's technique is solid enough to build nuance into each character's being. There is sex, beatings, murder, the cosmic joke of unasked-for redemption...and a lot of smoking and drinking.

View all my reviews

The Sixth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

The First Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does the motivation step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

If you have arrived here from the Murderer’s Ladder, then motivation could easily be anticipated as being revenge driven.  However, this does not remove that same possible drive from other characters—especially the murderer’s henchmen.

Alternatively, motivation could be inspired out of compassion … from the murderer, the murderer’s henchmen, the murdered, the investigator, others, or all.  That is to say that motivation is individual and could be as similar or as different as those individuals.  None have been put to the test of their motivation, that remains at the next step of Temptation.

As a general observation, however, most motivations can be examined and unwound to simpler motivations that arrived early in the character’s life.

The Fifth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

The Burnt Orange Heresy

The Burnt Orange HeresyThe Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pulp Art redux

As in again?

Yes, this picks up on a theme developed by Willeford in "Pick Up." This isn't accidental because it is underlined (maybe highlighted would be preferable) by both artists' choice of...wait for it...Orange. Especially dark orange.

"Pick Up" is the better novel. This one moves us across the country from Frisco to Florida with the migration of the author. This one moves upscale, but doesn't make the fall anymore deeper (and possibly shallower) than that in "Pick Up."

In a nutshell: derivative.

View all my reviews

“The Jet-Propelled Couch,” one of five psychoanalytic case-histories recorded by Robert Lindner, M.D., in his book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.

Opening Paragraph:
 
This case-history, the last in the book, has become a small classic in its field. The chair behind the couch is not the stationary object it seems. I have traveled all over the world on it, and back and forth in time. Without moving from my seat, I have met important personages and witnessed great events. But it remained for Kirk Allen to take me out of this world when he transformed the couch in my consulting room into a space ship that roved the galaxies.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Our protagonist is Kirk Allen, and his case-history is being told from his doctor’s viewpoint. The “I” person is the observer who looks at and interprets the main character’s words and actions. This gives room for plenty of dialogue, always popular with readers. It is the method used in the interview type of article. Few writers, however—even professionals—give us so engaging a first paragraph as this one by Dr. Lindner.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block

Opening Paragraph:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street.  Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day.  Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax.  First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook.  Though this reads like fiction, it is fact.

Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given.  There are two reasons for this.  His name is given in the title.  He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces.  He is a man hiding from retribution.

The Seventh Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

Case of the Missing False Suspect

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.  
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The False Suspect is more a convention of taste and times when it appeared.  A False Suspect is useful, but could also be an unnecessary plot elaboration.

The type of murderer that climbs past this rung in the ladder probably wouldn’t miss it.  However, an insecure murderer might be at a loss.

 

Case of the Missing Temptation

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.  
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without temptation?  Every detective moves forward on the motive of the criminal, just as they count off their suspicions in that the suspect had the motive, means, and opportunity (fled the scene, resisted arrest, etc.).

This a professional murderer.  The temptation is anticipated by the motive (the need for money), and the remaining ladder steps (at least to actual murder) are expected to be performed professionally (and even the problems that may crop up during and after).

How is the professional murderer distinct from the psychotic murderer?  The professional may be psychotic; but the psychotic is not professional.

If the absence of temptation so closely hews to psychology, it could also be the hallmark of the romantic murderer.  However, this would an obsessive, romantic murderer.

“Girl in White” by Adela Rogers St. Johns

Opening Paragraph:

Heading down the corridor to the elevator, Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts away from what the doctor had said, what Ingles, the head nurse, had said. She forced herself to concentrate on the numbers on the doors she had to pass. Number 517 had been little Mrs. Halles, who had actually walked the sixth day after a fusion operation; 509 was old Robertson with all his money, whom Doctor Luke had dragged miraculously back to life; 501 was where they’d finally told Mitch Delberg the truth.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph warrants examination. The protagonist’s name, Scotty Dakers, might be either masculine or feminine; but the author does not keep us guessing. “Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts … She forced herself … “ We are with our heroine walking down a corridor. The mention of a doctor and a head nurse and numbered rooms all indicate a hospital. Scotty’s knowledge of the patients behind each door further indicates that Scotty must be a nurse. What was said to Mitch Delberg, the patient in Room 501, is the hook. Notice that there is a minimum of what we call author’s statement, direct statement. Mrs. St. Johns does not tell us that Scotty is a nurse on Ward C of St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. Instead, she enters the mind of her protagonist, and does so at a definite moment in time. Scotty’s thoughts ring true. Reader identification is immediate. If Scotty already knows something of importance to the story, the reader is told what it is. If Scotty learns something, the reader learns it at the same time. Not once is the reader jerked out of the consciousness of Scotty. Identification is complete, and satisfying.

“Boy Crazy,” by John De Meyer

False Hooks in opening paragraphs:

Walter Fenton squinted sleepily as the morning sun flooded through his bedroom window. He stretched up to pull the shade down. Then his mouth fell open in astonishment, What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe. He shook his wife Emily.

My Mentor, Howard Pease goes on to explain what he means by False Hook:

Our protagonist is Walter Fenton. The setting is a house near a lake, and the time is an early morning of bright sunlight. Next comes the hook, questionable on two counts. First, the statement His mouth fell open is so trite, so old-hat, that it should never be used today. Second, the sentence “What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe” shows the author hiding information in a desperate effort to rouse interest. Instead, it is likely to rouse irritation. Such a hook is like a child’s excited announcement, “I’ve got a secret!” after which he teases you until you beg him to tell. The revelation is always a disappointment, because by then your expectations are too high.

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” with the assistance of Alex Haley

Opening Paragraph:
 
When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. My mother went to the front door and opened it. Standing where they could see her pregnant condition, she told them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching, in Milwaukee. The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of town because “the good Christian white people” were not going to stand for my father’s “spreading trouble” among the “good” Negroes of Omaha with the “back to Africa” preachings of Marcus Garvey.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) If you study this opening paragraph you’ll find that the protagonist is the “I” person, Malcolm Little, born in 1925; later he took the name Malcolm X. The setting is the home of a black family in Omaha. The hook has the quality of shock, toned down by the mention of the teachings of Marcus Garvey.

Case of the Missing Cover-Up

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.  
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

First, is a cover-up necessary?  Not for the assassin.  The false suspect provides enough distraction for a clean getaway.  No other details need addressing.

 

The Course of Europe Since Waterloo, by Walter Phelps Hall, PhD, and William Stearns Davis, PhD.

Opening Paragraph:

On August 7, 1815, a stately British ship of the line glided out of the harbor of Torbay, and turned her prow southwestward, seeking the broad Atlantic. Upon her quarterdeck paced a little man, stout and heavy-shouldered, with a thick neck and head set low. He was clad in a much-worn green uniform of a French army officer, and the young naval lieutenants watched him curiously, yet with awe, as he walked the deck hour after hour, or stood at the porthole of his cabin, his face pale and set, his deep bloodshot eyes looking across the sea—“eyes that seemed to look at everything, and yet at something beyond.” The ship of the line was the Northumberland. Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was bound for St. Helena, there to die a most unresigned prisoner on May 5, 1821.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here is proof, I think you’ll agree, that a textbook need not be dull and need not be poorly written. The late William Stearns Davis, one of the authors, was a novelist as well as a historian, and he used fiction techniques when collaborating upon this textbook. Notice that he starts on a definite day and gives a picture of a ship in motion. Next he focuses upon the ship’s deck and shows us a little man in action. Suspense, beginning with the reaction of other officers to this man, mounts steadily until the hook is finally tossed out—the man’s name.

Take away the last part of the final sentence, which jumps ahead in time, and you have a professional first paragraph for a novel. Thus, were it fiction instead of a history text, your paragraph might end with the sentence: Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte, bound for St. Helena.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway

Opening Hook Paragraph:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph, like Faulkner’s, consists of one sentence only.  While Faulkner’s is made up of fifty-seven words, Hemingway’s is twenty-four.  Yet note the carefully selected information in Hemingway’s sentence.  He does not overload it with facts.  Indeed, he suggests more than he states.  He deliberately chooses to limit himself by using the objective viewpoint. (More about this in the next chapter.) The curtain has gone up on his drama.  Like a theater audience we see the characters, watch their actions and hear what they say.  The author may suggest and give hints, but there is no delving into the mind of anyone, no effort made here to have us identify ourselves with anyone.

This one-sentence paragraph gives us the time of day, and the characters are mentioned, though they remain unnamed and unnumbered.  The word tent tells us that this is an outdoor story, and the double green fly and dining tent suggest wealth.  Knowing Hemingway and his fondness for big game hunts, we suspect that these people are on a safari.  Then comes the hook: they are pretending that nothing has happened.

Temptation, the second rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is temptation?

It is the imagining of motivation’s needs being fulfilled.

Temptation, as a social interaction observed by the antagonist, contains the necessary elements to lead to the antagonist’s preferred outcome.  Those elements are the who, what, where, why, and when.

The who: characters that can act on the antagonist’s needs.

The what: needs of the characters that mirror those of the antagonist.

The where: the setting of the characters’ social interaction is suited to the antagonist’s preferred setting.

The why: the characters display flaws (their own motivations) that can be manipulated.

The when: the characters’ social interaction exhibits a problem that is not isolated in time, it remains unsolved, and it can resurface later to the antagonist’s advantage.

The antagonist’s observed social interaction’s outcome may not be the preferred one, but the antagonist appreciates the temptation of being able to prompt the characters, stage the setting, and direct the action.  This only requires planning.

The antagonist is under a modest positive stress (eustress) of release.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages joy.

“The Burning,” by Eudora Welty

Opening Hook Paragraph:
 
Delilah was dancing up to the front with a message; that was how she happened to be the one to see. A horse was coming in the house, by the front door. The door had been shoved wide open. And all behind the horse, a crowd with a long tail of dust was coming after, all the way up the road from the front gate between the cedar trees.
 
(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist, or main character, is named, and you see what happens through her eyes. You soon realize that Delilah is a slave, and the incredible hook is her picture of Sherman’s men coming to burn the plantation house. There is no mention or the date. In the simplest language, Delilah’s own language, the action moves forward with no comment from the author. You, the reader, draw your own conclusions.
 
(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

Our Lady of Darkness

Our Lady of DarknessOur Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Fantasy
(only because calling it Horror in place of Fantasy would be a doubling of Pulp which is its own interpretation of middle-class Horror)

I chose to read this out of my stream of Charles Willeford (actually, I was reading "Pick-Up" at the same time) because of another book (how could it be otherwise?) by Don Herron, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour." Within those pages Don Herron offered a writer he and his group ran into on the streets of The City, Charles Willeford. The purchase of Don's book has lead me to wonders of writers who inhabited San Francisco. Don also introduced me to Fritz Leiber, who added many references of Hammett to his novel, "Our Lady...."

Already knowing how Leiber lived in a rent controlled ("Rhodes" historically Rhodema now Union) hotel in the Tenderloin (and which was merely several blocks from my girlfriend's apartment up Nob Hill), it gave me immediate identification.

However, to return to "Our Lady...."

This story is atmospheric and full of the lore of Megapolisomancy. The hero owns an original journal of a man who studied paramental life-forces that defied time and space; and destructive-forces of the city's megalithic monuments. This book, familiar to an expert who wouldn't touch it for his life, contains both the question and the answer to the journal writer's death.

"Our Lady" is invested with the (author's autobiographical) hero's mood of recovering from the alcoholism following the death of his wife years before. Even then, it is neither morose, nor depressive. Instead, the hero is surrounded with comforting and supportive friends who rescue him from the paramental's highly disturbing embrace.

Of interest, and possibly fascination, is the hero's rumination on the many authors and their titles in the field of fantasy and horror genres that were current in the early 1970s.:
Nostig’s "The Subliminal Occult,"
“The Haunter of the Dark,”
"The Outsider,"
Collected Ghost Stories of Montague Rhodes,
“The City of the Singing Flame,”
"Ames et Fantômes de Douleur,"
"Knochenmädchen in Pelze (mit Peitsche),"
"Suspiria de Profundis,"
"The Spider Glyph in Time,"
"Sex, Death and Supernatural Dread,"
“The Thing on the Doorstep,"
“The Disinterment of Venus,”
...and many others.

View all my reviews

Case of the Missing Irretrievable Step

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.  
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The leap from opportunity to killing shows immediacy, and the plunge past the point of no return.

There is no hesitation in the murder, it must be a passionate murderer who does this.

The Flight, the seventh rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the flight?

For the antagonist, flight (not necessarily escape) can vary from on-the-run if they become a suspect—to psychological distancing if the antagonist remains, but feigns innocence.

If all goes well, this is part of the antagonist’s plan that follows the commission of the crime.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to cover up the crime and its association to them will undoubtedly include personal characteristics that conflict with the details offered in the cover up.

The flight contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and other characters.

The what: Distancing.

The where: Here or away.

The when: Following the killing.

The why: The antagonist’s apparent remoteness as alibi.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to control the evidence.

The antagonist is under a high stress of near failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages fear.

“The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

The high, grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.  On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.  On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares bad cut.  On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December.  The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph takes you to the Salinas Valley—in California, if you know your Steinbeck, the time is winter, specifically December.  You may decide that this description is gray and dull.  Still, note the yellow stubble as well as the willow scrub with yellow leaves.  In spite of the gray environment, something flames up, perhaps within the protagonist, who enters the story in the fourth paragraph.

“Youth,” by Joseph Conrad

Descriptive Paragraph:

And this is how I see the East.  I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset.  I have the feel of the oar in my hand, the vision of a scorching blue sea in my eyes.  And I see a bay, a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark.  A red light burns far off upon the gloom of the land, and the night is soft and warm.  We drag at the oars with aching arms, and suddenly a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid and laden with strange odors of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night—the first sigh of the East on my face.…

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Pay attention to the fact that the author places the protagonist in a certain place—in a small boat offshore—and through that young man’s consciousness we get an impressionistic picture of the landfall, in the morning, at noon, at sunset, at night.  It is a picture in words that appeals to three of our senses, sight, smell, touch.

H. L. Mencken said of Conrad: “There have been, perhaps, greater novelists, but I believe that he was incomparably the greatest artist who ever wrote a novel.”

“The Ambassadors,” by Henry James

Opening paragraph:

Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers, in the Rue Scribe, to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had crossed from London two days before.

As this comes from chapter five’s opening paragraph and lacks a hook, I included it as an example of a long sentence.  It is exposition, but it puts a lot of water over the dam to then move into the story line.

“Lord Jim,” by Joseph Conrad

Opening Paragraph:

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.  His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it.  It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else.  He was spotlessly neat, appareled in immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he got his living as ship-chandler’s water-clerk he was very popular.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Observe that, instead of the protagonist’s name being given in the opening paragraph, the author uses the pronoun he, just as Kipling does in “Kim.”  This can be very effective, especially so when the title contains the name of the protagonist.  Lord Jim is a translation of Tuan Jim, as he was called by the Malays in Singapore and other Eastern ports.

The First Irretrievable Step, the fifth rung of the Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the first irretrievable step?

This is the point within the time-line where the antagonist’s action cannot be taken back.

This step may not involve the actual commission of the act necessary to supply the needs of the antagonist’s motivation.  However, this step, if observed, will reveal motivation or the goal behind motivation.

The first irretrievable step contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief might be achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to engage the plan fully.

The antagonist is under the greatest stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either joy or fear.

“Red Sky at Morning,” by Richard Bradford

Descriptive Paragraph:

It snowed for three days in early November, and the people of Sagrado put their cars in garages and walked everywhere.  Amadeo, who came in from Rio Conejo every morning in the pickup, put snow chains on the rear tires and loaded the truck with three hundred pounds of concrete blocks to get traction.  An entire family of Navajo Indians froze to death in a drafty hogan near Beclabito, where the temperature went to 46 below one night.  Forest rangers on snowshoes hiked up to Bernal Peak and announced that the 117 inches of snowpack promised a good spring runoff ….

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This opening of a chapter in a novel is presented here for a purpose.  Instead of a static passage describing the New Mexican town of Sagrado under snow (Santa Fe?), the author shows action, what the local people did as a result of a sudden change of weather.

Authors Marketing 2021

Facebook Ads Without Outside Links

What does this mean, Richard?

This comes from Rusty Shelton who is a frequent contributor, speaker, and lecturer at the San Francisco Writers Conferences for at least the last three years.  He offered that Facebook prioritizes advertising that keeps the reader’s eyes on Facebook.  By that, he meant Facebook will withhold your advertising from a certain population if you seek to move them off Facebook.  Or, you will get viewed last in the list of ads pushed toward a reader.

Facebook offers a number of labels for a call to action (Book Now), and they all presume off-site links to a business landing page.

There is a no-button option.

This is the basis of my next round of advertising …
using a promising graphic that is popular,
the no-button option with “share” as the goal;
and a new ad copy that is now fuller.

Why fuller, longer, built out?  With this no-button option comes full text display with the graphic, instead of the truncated text with graphic and a “see more” prompt.

Revenge Of The Kremlin

Revenge of the KremlinRevenge of the Kremlin by Gérard de Villiers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a dog.

“Hello, Malko!” he said. “We met briefly about two years ago. I’ll be here for another year before I head back to Langley."

“I won’t forget this, Sir George. Do I have your permission to inform Malko himself?”

"What the hell are you going to do in Moscow, anyway?”
“Pull the lion’s tail,” said Malko

"You realize you’re walking into the lion’s den, don’t you?”

She respected him, and he was secretly in love with her.

He hadn’t realized that Irina Lopukin had friends in such high places. I hope she hasn’t gone to complain about me, he thought.

“They took their revenge on her,” said Malko, feeling troubled. He had caused her death, he knew. “I’ll have flowers put on her grave. She was very helpful.”

View all my reviews

Sideswipe

Sideswipe: A Hoke Moseley NovelSideswipe: A Hoke Moseley Novel by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Burn-out

Willeford has always written from many points of view, and this is a superb example where the separate story lines entwine and intersect naturally. The plot is complex when viewed from a distance, but quite simple when seen from within the eyes of each character.

Willeford also reprises past motifs. One such example is with art. Willeford studied art in France and in Peru. This interests inhabits much of his early writing through his protagonist's own expressed interest in art (often idiosyncratic). This artistic pursuit is fully engaged in "Pick-up," brought to center stage in "The Burnt Orange Heresy," and then here in a surprising and satisfying lesson given by an automobile painter.

View all my reviews

“Advise and Consent,” by Allen Drury

Opening Paragraph:

When Bob Munson awoke in his apartment at the Sheraton-Park Hotel at seven thirty-one in the morning he had the feeling it would be a bad day. The impression was confirmed as soon as he got out of bed and brought in the Washington Post and Times Herald.

PRESIDENT NAMES LEFFINGWELL SECRETARY OF STATE, the headline said. What Bob Munson said, in a tired voice, was, “Oh. God damn!”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist and setting are given, plus a hook that slides over into the second paragraph. The reader’s interest is caught, and he is off to a flying start.

Let me pause long enough to point out two faults in the opening sentence. The first is in the prose. Our better writers would use the personal pronoun he in the dependent clause and save the proper noun Bob Munson for the main clause, thus: When he awoke in his apartment … Bob Munson had the feeling it would be a bad day. The second fault is one of craftsmanship. The protagonist’s feeling that it would be a bad day is psychologically unsound unless he has a reason for facing the new day with anxiety. His impression is confirmed when he picks up the morning paper and reads the headline. But soon after we learn that this news is a surprise to him. He is also angry, because, as majority leader of the Senate, he was not informed in advance by the President.

“A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell

Opening Paragraph:

When Martha Hale opened the storm door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head, her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

According to my Mentor, Howard Pease, this satisfies 3 requirements:

1. Name your protagonist, your main character.

2. Mention setting, so the reader will immediately know the story’s background: a farm, a city street, a boardinghouse, a hotel, a plane. The time element is often included as an important part of the setting—the time of year, the time of day.

3. Throw out a small hook to catch the reader’s interest.

“Passengers for Panama,” by Paul Stockton

Opening Paragraph:

The third mate of the Araby was puzzled. From the foredeck of his old tramp steamer he looked uneasily across a deserted wharf at the little Caribbean port of La Guaira, lying quiet and undisturbed at the foot of the Andes. Too quiet, thought Tod Moran as his gaze swept the empty street. At ten in the morning, with a ship just arrived in port, a whole town does not take a siesta, even in Venezuela.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist is named, the setting is given, and the hook is the silence and emptiness of the dockside street at ten in the morning. Note that the reason for the siesta-like atmosphere is not disclosed, but the reason is just as much a mystery to the protagonist, Tod Moran, as it is to the reader.

Action Writer’s Block Contains a Treasure

The Action Writer has a choice…

Continue the quest and capture your reward, or starve?

Why “Action” Writer’s Block?

This is to narrow my audience to those who share the same genre I write in.  In my case it is even more succinct as the espionage genre.  Does your mystery feel like a game of hop-scotch?  Are your dynamic battle scenes outclassed by the Texas Hold-em match back in the barracks?  Does your detective keep banging his nose on the same door?

For other genres, I will guide you through your troubling blocks with scenes containing confrontation, a crisis, or the climax.

“So, What’s In It For Me?”

You deserve a personal approach, and I will guide you through obstructions that have challenged your writing.  I am a genuine warrior.  I can train you in the art of conflict.

“What Qualifications Do I Have As An Action Author?”

By claim and challenge.

My claim is as third generation veteran: Born to the culture.
As an “Army Brat,” I have lived all over the world.  Two years in Asia, and three years in Europe before I was thirteen years old.

At age fourteen, I set my foot on a four year long path toward West Point.  A memento of that commitment is a small book called “Bugle Notes.” It has always been within reach.  Next to it on the shelf is “Infantry Attacks,” Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.  While in Germany, I lived within a mile of his home and grave.  I wandered across, around, and through a lot of bunkers in my youth, one located within several hundred yards of a Nike nuclear missile site.

At age sixteen, I had read the guerrilla campaign journals of:
General Võ Nguyên Giáp
Ernesto “Che” Guevara
T. E. Lawrence
George Washington
Francis Marion
Felix Graf von Luckner
Simón Bolívar

At age eighteen, I was reading Army Field Manuals for survival, hand-to-hand combat, and guerrilla warfare.  And by that age, I had been practicing some of these lessons in my back yard in Fort Carson: maneuvering grounds, some vast valleys filled with tanks that were napalmed on practice runs by the air force.  I’ve found many grenades in my youth.  And I rigged a smoke grenade in a roadside trap.

At age nineteen, after having been passed over for West Point, I planned my enlistment in the Navy with its six year obligation for advanced training.  Before I pledged my oath of service, I had built out a time line of those six years, and when I would make my promotions, six of them, in four years.  Four years and three months later, I had achieved every mark.  This was rarely achieved in less than twelve years for the average sailor.  I had a nineteen year head start.

My claim as Action Author is as a multi-generational artist:  Born to art.

Even though I was born to the Warrior class, my parents were art experts and designers of jewelry.  Even though my Great Uncle had been a simple cowboy, stage coach driver for Wells Fargo, and a Texas Ranger, he was proclaimed “The Cowboy Artist of Texas.”

My claim as Action Author by challenge is through effort:

At age thirty, having capped a successful career in high technology, I finished work on two BA degrees, English with an emphasis in writing, and Cinema with an emphasis in analysis.  I then took my thesis script to Hollywood to pitch it—door-to-door.  100 doors (I had a list).  100 rejections.

“How Do I Recognize Writer’s Block?”

Your writing is undoubtedly at the top of its form, but you never seem to get around to plunging into it with the same gusto that inspired you in the beginning.  The source of this energy drain is unique to you, and only solutions that are genuine to you will work.

As a leader of men, I can spot troops out of formation, falling behind,
…and I tighten their discipline.

I can see over-written stratagems
… and I expose their weak rigidity.

As a warrior, I recognize the roots of cowerdice
… and I inspire confidence.

 

Authors Marketing 2021

More Facebook Ads A-B Testing

Yes, two more side-by-side ad runs today.  And another story of Facebook oddity.  I am using the same graphic that Facebook first rejected (too much skin) to then relent and allow when I challenged their denial (yes, you can do this, but only with the press of a button).

Both A and B contain this image, but one was simply a re-run of the original ad, and it was approved (without objection) within 10 minutes.  The second was a new post using that identical image (the whole point of an A-B test where I test the ad copy), but new text.  That took 12 hours to approve (with no objection, curiously).

“A” Ad Copy

What if your Action Writer’s Block was because you’ve ignored your villain? Discover how this mysterious energy can can be valuable to you.

“B” Ad Copy

Writer’s Block is your gold…
…What if your troubling villain refuses to release it?
Do you want what is yours? Act now. Recover the hidden riches your block hides within your villain’s ignored needs.

“The Past,” by Ellen Glasgow

Opening Hook Paragraph:

I had no sooner entered the house than I knew something was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place before—it was one of those big houses just off Fifth Avenue—I had a suspicion from the first that the magnificence covered a secret disturbance. I was always quick to receive impressions, and when the black iron doors swung together behind me, I felt as if I were shut inside a prison.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This story is not to be an intellectual puzzle but a more emotional story, no doubt with chills and thrills. Though this paragraph gives other information, the emphasis from the first to the last sentence is on a hook opening.

San Francisco Writers Conference

While attending the San Francisco Writers Conference last week, I went out to Treasure Island with my partner to show her the view of The City. Unfortunately, the entire length of the Avenue of the Palms was closed, and a high fence put up along the shore to obscure the view. It looks like the tear-down to create plush condos is proceeding with the vengeance of a Real Estate Mogul.

The story of the ride to this shot is worth sharing.

While in conversation with my cabbie, he said he was Filipino, and had arrived in The City in 1972 (the same time I left to join the USS Holland). He mentioned his rent for an apartment at the time was $400/month. I can attest to having to move to Hayward to afford the same sized apartment for $180.
Given the cost, and his challenging situation (looking for work to pay that cost), I asked why he moved here?
“It’s my home.”
“I thought you said you were born in the PI?”
“I was, and so was my father, but grandfather was an Army Cavalry man who fought in the insurrection (still going on, by the way). “Grandfather was a Buffalo Soldier.”

This brought me deep satisfaction to have heard his personal story of connection.

Authors Marketing 2021

Meetup.com Designs to Attract Writers

As the title suggests, I focused  my efforts on writers, and I went several steps further in refining that field.  My specialty is as a Consulting Editor for Action writers suffering from Writer’s Block.  I will help transform their blocks into a genuine release of successful writing.

I crafted my language to always call this Action Writer’s Block as in one Meetup named: Lift The Siege On Your Action Writer’s Block; and another named: Discover the “Gold” Villain In Your Action Writer’s Block.  As the meetup Lift The Siege On Your Action Writer’s Block has 20 members after two weeks, it has sent me two visitors once, and one short visit from another (2.5 vists per 20 members) in two Meetups out of four scheduled weekly events.

Again, typical.

Of particular note, however in light of these sparse returns, is that as I was polishing up my new Meetup named: Discover the “Gold” Villain In Your Action Writer’s Block I was gaining new members faster than I could edit the page.

Learning: early joiners are there; and this is the magic of Meetup.  I just have to make it work magic for me.

Next: Time to get radical—another blood bath of members and Meetup pages.

Authors Marketing 2021

Meetup.com As Targeted Services Advertising Channel

No doubt eyebrows went up at the phrase targeted services.  Services?  Isn’t this about selling books?  Things?  Yes, but….

You will observe familiar problems that transcend services vs. things model of marketing.  I am pitching my services because authors need other revenue streams, and as we generally become subject matter experts in our researches, you can cash in on that too.  However, for those who are strictly concerned with selling books, I promise you valuable insights.

As I am the host to three Meetups, I bring you the experience of having hosted Meetups for 17 years.

My peak enrollment for any single Meetup was for a tech community focused on Artificial Intelligence.  There I had 165 members.  However, I never saw more than 12 at any one Meetup.  Of those, half were steady visitors.  I used all the methods at my disposal as advised by Meetup (they should know), and it never budged even with the most attractive of inducements: the $1,000,000 Netflix Challenge to design an algorithm to boost their film prediction accuracy (“Here’s another title you might enjoy”).

For that period of several months of Meetups (weekly), the number who participated varied little from that max of 12, more often 8 or 9.  Let’s call that a committed 5%, the rest were not even tourists who might wander in to see if we were within grasp of all that cash.

This is typical.  I have observed much the same spread of percentage numbers for all sizes of Meetups.  The lesson to observe by this simple observation is that you need 20+ members to see one face other than yours at a Meetup; and that is pushing the boundaries of chance.  I would say 50 members is roughly the ignition point of steady participation.  Again, this conservative upper limit comes with experience.

Just two months ago, I had 200 members in three groups, but with the pandemic, I had let them idle too long, and they obviously appeared mordant to the few that had visited within the last 6 months (about 60 of that 200).  I tried to revive those groups by funneling them into one Zoom session, but even the 60 were unmoved to respond.

I cast them all off and started over.  Three new slates—and your entry point into the process of starting your own author-branded Meetup.

Next: the story of those blank slates filled in.