“Lust for Life,” by Irving Stone

Plunge Opening Paragraph:

“Monsieur Van Gogh! It’s time to wake up!”

Vincent had been waiting for Ursula’s voice even while he slept, “I was awake, Mademoiselle Ursula,” he called back.

“No, you weren’t,” the girl laughed, “but you are now.” He heard her go down the stairs to the kitchen.

The hallmarks of the opening are present in the naming of the main character, establishment of the setting, and a hook of playful interplay and expectation.

Whip Hand

Whip HandWhip Hand by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is pulp, it reads like pulp, the story is pulp, and the considerably difference here is that the characters are dirt-farm poor pulp.

Distinctions abound as each of these characters has their own point-of-view chapter (or several). Further, their dialect is utterly dirt farmer.

What makes pulp? The scope of their aspirations. Scope is not the same as scale. In terms of scale, pulp characters are going to go for the whole enchilada. Scope reveals that the enchilada is all they plan for. If they are looking for a $1000 bank-roll, in very little time it lands in their lap.

Then what? Scale of aspiration is met, and a world of hurt follows because there isn't enough zeros in $1000 to pay for the mistakes they made getting it.

"Whip Hand" accomplishes the display of this tragic fault across every character.

Charles Willeford has written an existential pulp comedy.

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“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.”

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.”

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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.

 

“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.

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 Necessity for Eliminating the Little Overlooked Clues and Loose Threads, the tenth rung on 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 necessity about?

Loose threads have tripped up the antagonist into creating or explaining a rat’s nest of  counter-theories that fail to match up with the known facts.

This is the denouement between antagonist and protagonist.  The antagonist manipulates situations, people, and facts to try to piece together a rationale that removes the antagonist from suspicion or pursuit.

The protagonist has a complete view of the crime, and command of all the facts in a complete time-line that refuses forced insertions or deletions by the antagonist, or the antagonist’s agents.

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

The who: The antagonist and characters in conclusion.

The what: Examining the antagonist.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for personal distancing.

There is no more that can be done by the antagonist.

The antagonist is under absolute stress of imminent failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either anger or fear.

Motivation, the first 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 motivation?

Emotional energy to apply toward fulfilling needs.

Motivation contains the elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

Who: The antagonist—or any character.

What: Unfulfilled need.

Where: Here.

When: Now.

Why: Pain is always near.

What is needed next is for the antagonist’s motivation to be engaged through the observation of social interaction that fulfills needs and supplies a model of movement.

For my purposes in writing espionage fiction, the CIA has already done my work for me in a clever report called The Psychology of Treason.

Defector’s Motivation

  • Motivation comes from outside and personal character traits are magnified by the crisis of despair.

  • Defection is seldom ideology based, and then only in the form of nationalism or religion.

  • Benefit comes from opportunity to counterattack, to get even, to get vengeance and justification.

  • Principal motivation can be found in problem areas: marital, mistress, wrong sexual preference, drinking, gambling, money, career.

  • Subordinate motivation described as “having been passed over,” disregarded, humiliated, about to be arrested for a common crime (embezzling), being jilted. Each crisis is measured in terms of appropriate age and experience.

The material above is equally applicable to other antagonist psychologies (returning to murder, or family drama).

The antagonist is under a modest to intense stress of anxiety.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either fear, anger, or disgust.  However, as a matter of the antagonist (or any character for that matter) coming to becoming filled with motivation, the experience is energizing.

The Ninth 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 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.

“Samson and Delilah,” by D. H. Lawrence

Descriptive Paragraph:

A man got down from the motor-omnibus that runs from Penzance to St. Just-in-Penwith, and turned northwards, up-hill towards the Polestar.  It was only half-past six, but already the stars were out, a cold little wind was blowing from the sea, and the crystalline, three-pulse flash of the lighthouse below the cliffs beat rhythmically in the first darkness.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) In this opening paragraph the author has added a new element, the protagonist, though the man is not named.  We see him walking in the early evening along the coast of Cornwall, and the description of the setting might have been seen through his eyes.  Since readers are more interested in people than in Setting, this paragraph is more apt to catch attention.

“The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson

Descriptive Paragraph:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.  The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here again we have the same three elements closely tied together: the setting, a village square; the time, ten o’clock in the morning; and the subject, a lottery.

Not until you reach the last two words—noon dinner—do you realize that the story is set back in time to the indefinite past.  What kind of lottery you as a reader are about to witness is gradually built up in a matter-of-fact way by implication—hints and suggestions rather than explicit statements—until at last understanding sweeps over you with a rising sense of horror.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“The Nephew,” by James Purdy

(Bad) Opening Paragraph:

All the flags were out in front of the houses and stores in Rainbow Center on Memorial Day, as Boyd Mason drove his Buick back from a real-estate trip to Kentucky, and parked on the east corner of Peninsula Drive and Crest Ridge Road, at the side of his sister Alma’s house, where he had lived since his wife’s death twenty years before.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This one-sentence paragraph contains more than a dozen facts, at least half of them not important enough to be included so soon. When you overload a first sentence or paragraph with so much information, your reader is apt to come up so wobbly and bewildered that you lose him. Therefore, prune your opening paragraph until only a few important facts are given.

The Actual Killing, the sixth 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 actual killing?

The antagonist is fully acting on the plan to completion.

This may be one of the entry points for the protagonist as witness, secondary victim, or investigator.

Here, the antagonist either moves on in obscurity through successful planning, or meets with unforeseen obstacles through which they must play it by ear, or become ensnared in their obvious fulfillment of their motivation.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to ill-adjust the plan will undoubtedly include obscured, but personal characteristics that conflict with the details revealed in the crime’s commission.

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

The who: The antagonist and the victim.

The what: Murder.

The where: Here.

The when: Now.

The why: The plan’s promise of relief.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to move away from the scene (fly, escape).

The antagonist is under the greatest stress of anticipation of discovery or capture.  Thus, at the elemental emotional level it engages either anger or fear.

“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.

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.

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“My Family and Other Animals,” by Gerald Durrell

Descriptive Paragraph:

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.  A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it.  Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, froth-chained sea that leaped eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore.  The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly.  It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Thus begins one of my favorite nonfiction books.  It is a first-person story of several years in the life of the Durrell family, a widowed mother and her four children.  Caught in a Channel town in weather continually bad, they voted in desperation to escape for one year to the inexpensive Greek island of Corfu.  Mrs. Durrell, slightly vague in her suggestions, always charming and never shocked, allowed that year to stretch by vote to five years.

Mystery At Thunderbolt House

Mystery at Thunderbolt HouseMystery at Thunderbolt House by Howard Pease
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical story, set in San Francisco the year going up to the great earthquake, is a broadly disguised fantasy of Pease's own experience of the shake.

Some elements are based upon his recollection of his aunt, who he recalls being pictured high atop a loaded waggon that is transporting her household items away from the destruction.

The story of rags-to-riches, a common Horatio Alger era theme, also mirror's Pease's family suddenly acquiring a windfall inheritance. However, his own family experience is considerably more subdued to the immense wealth his protagonist finds.

Pease said this book was his personal favorite.

Pease's full stories were printed in American Boy Magazine and illustrated by the renowned artist Anton Otto Fischer whose graphic work was found on many covers such as The Saturday Evening Post.

The Black Tanker

If you are interested in the artwork that illustrated Pease's stories, go to:
Pease Images

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Action Writer’s Block

THE LIONHEARTED AUTHOR

THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
Writer’s Block is a metaphor for the underlying problem we will be working on together.
The Block is what impedes you; or surprisingly, what has you over-activated.
Impedance is found expressed in avoidance.
Activation is found expressed in deflection.
Both are emotionally tied into fear, shame, or disgust.
Culturally, they are tied into rejection or guilt.

INCITING INCIDENT
Intellectual puzzles and writing exercises are unsustainable and uninspired.

CRISIS
Life demands the Lionhearted Author: “Put your foot to the path!”
I am your guide through the six realms of rebirth and existence.
We will test your passion within the Chakra centers of your Kundalini spirit.

CLIMAX
You reclaim your strength from former obstructions.
I am here to exercise the tone of your psychological wholeness.
We will examine the challenge won in the archetypal Champion’s fulfillment.

RESOLUTION
Bring joy to our writing experience and fulfilling acceptance for our work.

The Way We Die Now

The Way We Die NowThe Way We Die Now by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Upward Mobility

Of the Hoke Moseley series, this is the most determinedly Pulp of them all and returns to the roots of the genre.

The sense of research, investigation, criminal pursuit have been sidelined to serve Hoke's fall from grace and his middle class redemption (which is the ultimate condemnation, a very personal and punishing hell within the gritty realm of Pulp).

An example of this arises out of his daughter's own emergence into bitter adulthood:
"Suddenly Aileen began to cry. Tears, unchecked, streamed down her cheeks.
"'What's the matter? Why are you crying?
"'Be-because," she said finally, still sobbing, 'because you can't!'"

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The Eighth 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.

Action Writer’s Block

Discover the “Gold” Villain In Your Action Writer’s Block at my free meetup.

You are an action novelist with Writer’s Block, or you write in another genre where you are blocked on scenes of confrontation, crisis, or climax.

Discover how obstructions to your writing center around the unfilled and deeply rooted needs of your antagonist.

I am a consulting editor here to guide you through psychological, archetypal, and spiritual realms of crisis to face the source of obstruction.

Seize the golden opportunity of your discovery and confront your block much as your hero would challenge their antagonist and embrace this climactic learning moment.

Celebrate a rejuvenated freedom of expression and clarity achieved through accepting your antagonist’s genuine identity expressed in their authentic nature.

“He Turned Disaster into Triumph,” by Martin Abramson

Opening Paragraph:

When the phone rang, Jennie Hanners walked across the living room of her home in suburban Long Island, N.Y., lifted the receiver and listened in stunned silence as a gruff voice told her that her husband, a respected high-school teacher, had been arrested and charged with the crime of fraudulently procuring narcotic drugs.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This is the first sentence of the opening paragraph. Notice again how an author, even when writing non-fiction, focuses upon a moment in time, with a character in action and a hook.

“The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Frieden

Opening Paragraph:

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice how the author mentions an unspoken problem, then gets down to specifics. The protagonist is the young married woman who lives with her husband and children on an income evidently not too small. The setting is any suburb. The hook is the question she is afraid to ask even of herself. Surely thousands of feminine readers will not only be caught on the author’s hook, they will also identify themselves at once with the protagonist, whose fixed activities are their own.

“Catbird Seat,” by James Thurber

Opening paragraphs:

Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight men were buying cigarettes. The clerk didn’t even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket

and went out. If any of the staff at F. and S. had seen him buy cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had. No one saw
him.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) In analyzing this paragraph we note that the author is baldly stating what he wishes us to know.

First, by naming the protagonist Mr. Martin (and calling
him Mr. Martin throughout the story) we are nudged a short
distance away from him.

Second, the time and place are given at once, with the
noun Broadway a more subtle way of naming the city. Times
Square would have given us the same idea.

Third, there is certainly a hook that attracts our attention.

Why did Mr. Martin buy those cigarettes, mentioned by the
author four times in this short paragraph? And the last
sentence, No one saw him, further arouses our interest and
rightly leads us to expect to expect that these cigarettes will play an important part in the story.

Authors Marketing 2021

A&B Testing

I am running two ads on Facebook right now.  They have identical copy, but different graphic support.  They are also set to run 5 days, instead of over my previous 2-3 day dips.

Performance differences are appearing at roughly the half way point.  But, first, those differences in content.

My goal in the side-by-side advertisement designs was to differentiate reactions to obvious male-female gender roles portrayed in the graphics, and who, male/female, responded to them.  Facebook Ad Center gives me the ability to restrict my ad’s audience to these same genders (and age, and many other separables).  However, I did not restrict my audience in this run.

Male oriented graphic is in black and white (Dore).  Female oriented graphic is in full color (Titian).

Male oriented graphic draws an audience of 3:1 men:women.

Female oriented graphic draws an audience of 1:1 men:women

However, the final numbers will be more meaningful.

“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)

Authors Marketing 2021

A&B Testing continued

This is an update on earlier trends.

I am running two ads on Facebook right now.  They have identical copy, but different graphic support.  They are also set to run 5 days, instead of over my previous 2-3 day dips.

My goal in the side-by-side advertisement designs was to differentiate reactions to obvious male-female gender roles portrayed in the graphics, and who, male/female, responded to them.  Facebook Ad Center gives me the ability to restrict my ad’s audience to these same genders (and age, and many other separables).  However, I did not restrict my audience in this run.

Male oriented graphic is in black and white (Dore).  Female oriented graphic is in full color (Titian).

These are my final results:

ALL $10 budgeted ads have found an audience of 1200, with one outlier (of 5) at 1700.

Male oriented (B&W) graphic draws an audience of 4:1 men:women.

Female oriented (Color) graphic draws an audience of 2:3 men:women

The proof of the pudding is in the click counts:

Male oriented (B&W) graphic draws a click count of 23

Female oriented (Color) graphic draws a click count of 43

So, the next round should focus on both sexes shown and in color (as in the Female oriented)

The Murderer’s Equation: The Energy Equation 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 topic line is sure to provoke head scratching—it is drawn from engineering where energy is conserved or lost to entropy.  Allow that the word entropy is not one that either an engineer, writer, or reader aspires to, so all groups would be better served if they understood the dynamics of the energy flow going up the ladder.

Motivation is the well from which the murderer’s principle energy is drawn.  In all worlds, engineering and art, motivation is about energy’s source and energy’s intended use.  Energy is transferred, but its waste through neglect in the writer’s or the engineer’s craft is rarely acceptable.

What is the energy equation?

total energy = energy taken – energy used – energy lost = 0

where both the engineer and the author seek to achieve:

energy taken = energy used

energy lost = 0

How does this translate into the murderer’s ladder—rung-by-rung?

What is the murderer’s equation?

murderer’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

As can be seen, the well of energy is deepened by rungs 2, 3, and 4; but they account for little of the total energy available to the murderer which is found at the first rung of motivation.  Temptation (rung 2) and opportunity (rung 4) are driven by chance.  The energy from these rungs are sparks compared to rung 1’s flame of motivation.  Planning (rung 3) solidifies motive, and is a greater energy contributor than rungs 2 and 4, but it is still a small amount as plans do not have the same passionate energy as does motivation.

So, what happens when we look at this part of the equation:

– 5 … – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10

Each of these rungs on the ladder drain energy that could have been spent at rung 6, the murder, where the natural source of energy is intended to being consumed.  Rung 5 is the murderer’s energy expended because the murderer did not simply thrust the knife on the first opportunity (skipping over opportunity, rung 5, and plunging on).  Rung 5 drains the energy available to perform the murder.  In all regards this amount is negligible, but can be monumental in a hesitant (under-motivated) murderer.  This hesitation, of course, could make its own story.

For some motivations, the revenge story for instance, there should be no energy available for rungs 7, 8, 9, and 10—as passions would dominate all action, and passion would be completely drained at the ultimate act at rung 6.  The passion of revenge needs no escape, no containment of evidence, no false suspect.  Thus, the revenge story would have only 5 rungs, not 10.  This would be our equation, then:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 … – 6 = 0

However, if this is more than a story, such as a revenge epic, then an epic is larger than a single act of murder.    An epic spans time or place and consists of many actions with many sources of motivation.  This would be the story of a serial murderer.  A simple serial revenge (Hatfields vs. McCoys) might look like:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where three murders are performed after three visits to the well of motivation—and presuming surplus energy was drawn to contend with the authorities after this string of murders.  Consider that the murderer is going to the well absolutely exhausted the second and third time.

As a twist, consider the psycho’s serial murder equation:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where the psycho’s motivation comes from murders which build a surplus of energy used in subsequent murders.  The psycho’s energy does not flag because the act of murder is their second source for energy.  However, all serializations come to an end.

This structure also suggests how complex plots can be energized, and that through successive murders, the psycho might reach for stronger victims of higher energy need.  So, returning above to the psycho’s serial murder equation, the first murder had a reserve of energy afterward.  The second murder did too.  Those two reserves of energy were sufficient to accomplish the third, but the consequences were inevitable.

“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 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.

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.

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.

Authors Marketing 2021

Advertising Budget and Books Sold

Here, I am going to give an ensemble of responses to the questions
1) how much, percentage wise of income, do you spend on advertising?
2) How many books, ballpark, do you sell a month ?
3) How many kindle page reads?

2% … not making enough
5-10%
10% … 5-700
10% … sell 5-10
10-40% … 30 books
13-15%
15%
15-30% … 3000 sales … 29 mil pages read

25% … 200 copies
25-30% …1000
30% … 400 books … 800,000 page reads
30% … 3000ish sales … Million+ page reads.
35% …
25%-50% … 4,000 – 5,000 book
30% … 2000 sales … 3million page reads
40% … 2000-3000 sales … 5-10million page reads

45% … 250 copies … 200k page reads
50%
50% … 300 copies

60% … 1800 sales … 2.4 million KENP
80% … 50-60 book

There are a lot of loose ends to these numbers.  Some respondents had a deep catalog to advertise, and thus more material to sell.  Of note, however, is that budgeting your advertising expenses at roughly 30-50% appears to be a realistic figure.  What remains is how much you want to earn in the same period.

Authors Marketing 2021

Comps for the Author

Comps is a publishing stem-term with several possible meanings and applications, all of which go to how your work fits into the marketplace.  Doing this reveals your style, genre, and audience in a short-hand to industry pros.  It can also reveal how topical your story line is, offers an indication to how audience size might expand by timely proximity to headlines.

When you get serious about writing agents or publishers, both will want this done.  Your prospective agent will need comps to pitch your work to publishers, and publishing editors will need your comps to pitch to their circulation editor.

Comp can be described as the shortened version of the following.  You can choose to focus on one word, like comp-eting and build your list.  However, doing it for all variant meanings of comp will reward you more.

Comparison: titles of works that exhibit similar qualities found within your work.

Competing: titles of works that exhibit contrasting qualities found within your work.

Completing: titles of works that exhibit open-ended qualities finished within your work.

Complementary: titles of works that exhibit qualities that are different but fit those within your work.

The discussion of business competition is expected by every investor, and even though this isn’t strictly a Start-up Business Plan, you need to have knowledge of those who write in your genre.  By building your comp list, this exercise will function quite well for this business expectation which is a successful strategy.  It will also help clarify advertising campaigns that allow targeted ads (Amazon, certainly).

For my own work, I would draw comparisons to titles from Lee Child (Jack Reacher) and Gérard de Villiers (Malko Linge) as examples of action and espionage.

“The Gold of Troy,” by Robert Payne

Opening Paragraph:

During the seventies and eighties of the last century an old gray-haired scholar, wearing a high collar and a sun helmet, was to be seen wandering over the ruins of an obscure mound in Asia Minor.  He was short and wiry, with dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, a heavy nose, and a sensual mouth; there was something of the peasant about him, something too of the Lubeck merchants who were  his ancestors.  He spoke in a high-pitched voice, dressed shabbily, walked with a curious gliding motion, and always carried in his coat pocket a dog-eared paper-bound edition of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  To the friendly inquirer he would explain that he had uncovered the ancient city of Troy and found in its walls a secret treasure hoard of gold, which he kept securely locked in his house in Athens.  He believed that the ashes of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire, and the golden death masks of Agamemnon and many  other Greek heroes were in his possession, and it is just possible that his claims were justified.  Until he was long past middle age he never touched a spade, but during the last seventeen years of his life he excavated continually.  The most unscientific of archeologists, he founded the modern science of archeology.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Let me note here that this biography won critical acclaim as well as a place on best-seller lists.  Best sellers, good, bad, or indifferent, usually have one thing in common: they have a mass appeal; that is, the average reader finds them interesting enough to recommend them to friends.

It is at once evident that this is not a jazzed-up biographical novel based on more imagination than facts.  The opening paragraph, long and detailed, gives the impression that here is a book based on good, solid material.  The author presents his protagonist in an interesting way.  The mention of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire and the death masks of Agamemnon echo in our minds like the opening bars of a song remembered from our childhood.  The author captures our attention and succeeds in luring us on to read further.

The Cover Up, the eighth rung on 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 cover up?

This is work on diminishing all connections of the antagonist to 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 cover up contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in pursuit.

The what: Examining the evidence.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for evidential distancing.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to frame a character as suspect.

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

New Hope For The Dead

New Hope for the DeadNew Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Affirmative Action

"Sanchez picked up one of the long-legged dolls. Hoke sniffed the anima of the owner---Patou's Joy, perspiration, cold cream, bath powder, soap, and stale cigarette smoke.
"'You ever notice,' he said, 'how a woman's room always smells like the inside of her purse?'
"'Nope.' Sanchez dropped the doll on the bed. 'But I've noticed that a man's bedroom smells like a YMCA locker room.'"

Later, Hoke trying to make conversation with Ellita Sanchez during the investigation:

"'You Latin girls lead a sheltered life. But the point I'm trying to make is, these marks look like hickeys to me.'
"'Maybe so. From the smile on his face, he died happy.'
"'That's not a smile, that's rictus. A lot of people who aren't happy to die grin like that.'"

Willeford, a retired Army sergeant who began writing Pulp in the service in the early 50's often brings a knowing sensibility of the professional soldier (albeit the civilian version as a police officer). In this regard, Willeford's protagonists (and especially Sgt. Hoke Moseley) have a military background, or have subordinates who are retired sergeants. And with those attributes of a military life of service comes the mix of accommodation and survival skills. This entry in the series is especially illustrative of this with Hoke's solution to his needs balanced with the solution of a crime. I won't say more given it may reveal too much to those who have not read this book.

Willeford also introduces a new (for the time, but fairly common currently) mode to the police procedural, and that is more tightly integrated story line that draws in family. Some may object this has infrequently been a side-show to the genre (the police procedural), and, as such, nothing remarkable. I would argue that Willeford brings in genuine content consistent with the character of Hoke that adds to the continuity of his earliest work; and it meshes as smoothly as Michael Connelly’s Bosch.


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The Fourth 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 Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” by Brian Moore

Opening Paragraph:

The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt. The place for her aunt, ever since the sad day of the funeral, was on the mantelpiece of whatever bed-sitting-room Miss Hearne happened to be living in. As she put her up now, the photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about the condition of the bed springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Here we have Miss Hearne, probably nearing middle age. The setting is a shabby lodging house in Belfast. And the very small hook is Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about her new lodgings.

In reading novels you’ll find that writers apparently do not feel the need to capture the reader’s interest at once with a hook. The novel reader is a leisurely reader, and he will usually give you a chapter before he decides either to go on reading or to toss your book aside. In this opening paragraph about Miss Hearne the author emphasizes the aunt’s photograph, and for a reason. At the very end of the novel Miss Hearne moves into another lodging, and the first thing she does is to put this photograph on her new mantel. This is what writers call the circle pattern; the novel ends where it began, and the reader gets the impression of life going on as before for Miss Hearne.

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.

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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.

 

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).

The Machine In Ward Eleven

The Machine in Ward ElevenThe Machine in Ward Eleven by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp madness

I hesitate to call this a "redux" of another Pulp category, but it does continue Willeford's excellent work in "Pick Up."

I say this in the sense that in that earlier novel, the hero is also (self)committed to a (nearly)psycho ward. The difference here is a stylistic (and internal logical) consistency where the patient isn't entirely aware of all the details. He says as much, and yet as the teller of the tale, where does that put us to judge the facts on the face of the telling?

Droll.

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“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 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.

“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

Advertising

Well, that seems to get the cart before the horse, but I have arrived at this point with momentum already going, tests performed, lessons learned.  In fact, you can see the ad already posted on this Facebook page.  Its creation process makes a story of its own, but later.

The ad’s purpose is to drive audience to my Meetup group for “Action Writer’s Block.”  Further, it is part of my Marketing campaign for branding by identifying a very specific segment of writers.  The lesson here is to declare that community, and aim for them.

From all of the Business Plan headings I offer to cover, Marketing and who do I serve can be best seen in this Facebook ad’s (Boosted Post) audience profile:

Audience Details
Location – Living In United States
Age 45 – 65+
People Who Match Interests: Entrepreneurship or Writing, Education Level: College grad or Some college, Relationship Status: Married, Domestic Partnership or Widowed, Income: Household income: top 10% of ZIP codes (US), Life Event: Anniversary within 30 days, Upcoming birthday or Friends of Women with a Birthday in 7-30 days

Two day campaign:
Estimated Daily Results
People Reached
1.2K – 3.4K
Link Clicks
34 – 97

This is a short run that I have tested to the same purpose two weeks ago.  Net result of that campaign was no conversions.  This time I use new graphics oriented towards writers of action genre using the action term of siege as a metaphor for writer’s block.  There are other considerations of course, and even as I pressed the Publish button for the ad, I saw an improvement I can make next time.

My mistake in the text introducing the graphic was to repeat the button’s label which is an action “Lift Your Action Writer’s Block Siege.”  Next time, I will post an inciting phrase, “Are your action scenes bottled up?” that is solved through this action phrase as the button label.