Monday, June 5, 2017

The Idea Grinder

I've been struggling with the same cold for the past ten days. I went to the doctor today, finally. My lungs are clear, my sinuses stuffed. The nice lady doctor told me it's probably viral, but she gave me an antibiotic just in case it turns bacterial. Rest, liquids, the usual.

I've got an idea for another book and I'm trying to lay out the timeline. Its hero and heroine are a couple background characters from Dolly of Palo Pinto, Ben Cooper and Lenie Garcia, along with her father, Mando, the Gonzales brothers, and my usual cast of characters. I'm having a problem laying out the timeline, but I've gotten myself interested with the first three chapters, so I'm hoping it comes together.

I still haven't forgotten Del of Kerao. He's gotten back from his trip, Netti's with child, Baito's married, Del's fingered the bad guy but he hasn't laid eyes on him yet physically. Now I've got to figure how to write the blowoff, bringing a handful of strings together in the big clash between Empire and Loyalists. I think I keep putting it off because I've got to kill off a character I've come to really like. If I don't, then the sequel won't work.

I'm also poking over the idea of The Bigamist's Wives. It'll be based on a true story (not out of True Crime Tales, just a story I know.) Having poked the idea, I discover I don't know quite enough about the story. So far we've come up with seven wives, but there my be more. There are six children I know of for sure, plus three or four more probables. I'm pretty sure there are kids with each of them. There are a few mistresses in there as well. There's lots of story, but not a lot of point of view, since the common element is the guy. He's dead now, so I can't ask him, and I can't write it from his point of view because I don't like him. I'm tempted to name him Raskolnikov.

The Bigamist, I think, isn't really going to be Rodion Raskolnikov, even though he does have an enormous ego. His crimes don't involve murder, at least not that I know of, but the serial abandonment of his numerous progeny. His interest isn't the kids, but the women. He's a serial seducer, and I think he's too soft-hearted to say no and too prominent to run away when the subject of matrimony comes up. His resemblance to Raskolnikov comes in his assumption that he's smart enough to get away with it, which in fact he mostly does.

Perhaps the way to tie it together would be for one or two of the kids to do a little research, and then all I'd have to do would be to build the scenarios.

I think I'll write the Ben and Lenie story first though.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Captain Ravenshaw, or the Maid of Cheapside

Some books are interesting. Some are amusing. In the best of them you can fall into a time and place you've never been, and in the very best of them you can have laugh-out-loud fun.

Here's roaring Captain Ravenshaw, an officer whose unit has been disbanded, set afoot to live by his wits in Elizabeth Regina's England. He falls in with a poor scholar, Holyday, after a dispute culminating in a flung capon in a tavern. Falling in with three other gents of quality they free a country fellow, in town without his wife's permission, from the watch after curfew. Then they come upon a Faire Maiden, being accosted on the street, have a little fun roaring at the accosters, and let her go scampering back to her father's house from which she's run away.

Now that's the setup. Ravenshaw's a bully boy with a foul reputation. Holyday's a poor, mostly meek scholar who's scared of women. The guys in the alley are a couple of hard gents getting ready for a sea voyage that'll maybe make them rich -- think Drake, Hawkins, Grenville -- unless they're lost at sea or eaten by natives or something. They're not above kidnapping cute girlies roaming the streets after dark. In fact, one of them, Jerningham, is fascinated by the girl and must have her, by hook or preferably crook, since he has no intention of offering matrimony to the daughter of a merchant.

Ravenshaw, being an actual gent rather than having merely been born to that station, is determined not to let that happen. Maid Millicent, who seems to be about seventeen or eighteen and is pretty as a portrait, ran away from home rather than go through with her engagement to Sir Peregrine Medway, who's, I'd guess, around seventy but trying to appear forty, or maybe even thirty. Ravenshaw's determined not to let that happen either.

The convolutions that follow are laugh-out-loud funny. You think you know who's going to get the girl in the end. Then you don't. Then you do. The only certainty is that Sir Peregrine's not going to spend any time lying between those comely young thighs.  I may not have ever read an adventure novel quite so adventurous, and given my love of Sabbatini that's saying a lot.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Lone Star Ranger

This is kind of a goofy book. It's certainly not Grey's best. It's not one of those books you want to read a second, or even a third time, like The Light of Western Stars. For one thing, it's two romances in one. For another thing, the ending is crappy.

Buck Duane is the son of a famous outlaw, and he's inherited his father's speed with a gun. In the first chapter the innocent young Duane is called out by a dumbass cowboy named Bain. The two have a shootout in the street. Duane shoots Bain in what is clearly a case of self defense. Bain made his brag that he was going to kill Duane. Rather than hang around and make his case, he grabs a horse his Uncle Jim's prepared and lights out of town. I know it's just setup so that Duane can become a famous outlaw, but Jeez! A false accusation, or mistaken identity or something would have worked better, without much more typing!

So that's the setup. Duane falls in with the Bland gang, down on the Rio Grande, in a cattle rustling operation. Duane, being pure of heart, doesn't want to be a part of it. Bland is holding pretty young Jennie prisoner. He's using her as a scullery maid and Mrs. Bland mistreats her. He has to make love to Mrs. Bland -- which in 1915 still meant sweet-talking her, just like it did in the 1870s, when this is set. Well, by golly, Duane manages to rescue Jennie in the midst of dozens of vicious outlaws, gets himself shot through the body, and Jennie nurses him back to coherence if not health in an old hut out in the middle of nowhere. Then they ride for safety, find a friend on an isolated ranch, she again nurses him, this time all the way back to vibrant health. They ride again, amidst descriptive Zane Grey verbiage, to take Jennie someplace where she can get back to her family.

I think Grey probably wrote all this in 1912 or 1913. He got bored with it -- this is my guess, not history -- and set it aside to write something else. He needed some money or he had a contract in 1914 or 1915 and he figured "I've got a half-written manuscript.I might as well finish it." Maybe it was "I've got to come up with 100,000 words, and I've got two novelettes, so maybe I'll glue them together somehow." Regardless, he's got Duane riding hell bent for Naugahyde for the Neuces with Jennie, but then
Suddenly there came an unmistakable thump of horses' hoofs off somewhere to the fore. Then a scream rent the air. It ended abruptly. Duane leaped forward, tore his way through the thorny brake. He heard Jennie cry again—an appealing call quickly hushed. It seemed more to his right, and he plunged that way. He burst into a glade where a smoldering fire and ground covered with footprints and tracks showed that campers had lately been. Rushing across this, he broke his passage out to the open. But he was too late. His horse had disappeared. Jennie was gone. There were no riders in sight. There was no sound. There was a heavy trail of horses going north. Jennie had been carried off—probably by outlaws. Duane realized that pursuit was out of the question—that Jennie was lost.
And with that bit of deathless prose he pretty much writes Jennie right out of the book. That really cheesed me off when I got to the end. Jennie was sweet, she was pretty (naturally), she was spunky once she was rescued, and she was loyal. All we get is unsubstantiated rumor that Jennie died shortly after being kidnapped. He tracks down and shoots a guy named Sellers, who kidnapped her. but no circumstances are elaborated. The poor girl could still be alive, at about the age of 120, hiding in some mesquite hut, waiting for Duane to come and rescue her, though probably not.

Duane goes into a funk, as you'd naturally expect, but since this is a novel you'd expect poor Buck to be reunited with Jennie after trials and tribulations, with his name cleared, at the end of the book. It didn't happen, even though it should have. Instead, Buck kind of goes wandering through a few adventures, never killing an innocent man, until Captain McNelly offers him a free pardon if he'll join the rangers.  Thus endeth the first part of the book.

After that comes the second half, where Buck's a ranger. A bad guy named Cheseldine's running a rustling operation that's go the Big Bend country treed. The guy's a criminal mastermind, by gum. Chances are a thousand to one against Buck getting out alive, or even breaking the case. Buck ID's the bad guy through a process of pure, dumb luck. It's Colonel Whatsisname... Oh, Longstreth. Buck runs into him as he's bringing his Beautiful Daughter®, Ray, which was probably short for Raylene or something, and his niece, Ruth, to his home from his other home in Louisianna. Raylene has no idea her father's a criminal mastermind. Ruth hasn't caught on yet, either. All the answers keep plopping into Duane's lap, except for the time he's eavesdropping on a conversation between the Colonel and his ruthless henchman, Floyd, and the adobe crumbles out from under his hiding place and he has to go hide in Raylene's room, where they kinda sorta declare their love for each other and he hides in the closet.

Ray's an okay lady love, I guess. She makes a pretty good Beautiful Daughter®, though she's a bit lightly drawn. But the second part of the book is such a hurried jumble you don't really grab onto her like you did to Jennie. You don't grab onto Longstreth like you did to Bland, nor to pardner Fletcher like you did to pardner Euchre. Buck's inner torments over being a gunny start to wear. He could take the train to New Hampshire and spend the rest of his life never getting close to a gunfight.  His penchant for eavesdropping also gets under the reader's skin. Finally, rather than shoot the Colonel, or arrest him and have him brought to trial and hanged as a criminal mastermind, all he has to do is give up the land and cattle he stole and go back to New Orleans or Baton Rouge or wherever he came from and has more of them. I don't know how that resurrected the guys he ordered murdered, like Laramie, who gave Buck so much of his information and who left behind a wife and five children, one of them in diapers.

And I have no idea what the hell happened to Ruth. Maybe she's with Jennie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mason of the Bar X

Some books a person remembers for a long time. They bear reading and rereading. Others are kind of middle of the road. Some, a body has to wonder how they got published. Mason's the latter.

This was published in 1920. The Virginian had been around for years. Zane Grey, Max Brand, and B.M. Bower were writing. Mason reads like a six-reeler from the picture show.

Jack Mason, the scion of a banking millionaire, gets the choice of going to Dad's old friend's ranch and making good or getting disinherited for his scapegrace ways. This is kind of standard opening number 28 for westerns. In the better ones, Jack would go west, learn how to be a cowboy and a man, maybe fight a grass fire, deal with a stampede or two, track down some rustlers, and win the love of the beautiful daughter of the rancher.

In this one, Jack hangs around the house, and fiddles with his motor car. Josephine, the beautiful daughter falls for him right off the bat, but at least she tries to keep him jealous until the end. Every time she goes riding without an escort she gets kidnapped by the bad guy, who intends to force her to marry him. She says things like "You beast!" The beautiful Mexican girl is named Waneda and addresses Jack as Signor. She seemingly manages to fall in love with him at a glance. There's a Marshal who's a Master of Disguise. He shows up at the ranch, says he had to come west for his health, and would the old man mind if he stayed at the ranch. Sure. No "who sent you," no questioning of bona fides. One character, Percy, shows up when Mom and sister Ethel come to visit and has no significance except maybe comic relief. Jack's aviator friend flies in, finds the kidnapped girls by coincidence, then flies out.

This is the sort of book you read with your mouth open, stunned by the awkward, complicated plot, the lack of motivation, the lack of work it takes to run the ranch, and generally how bad the book is. It's actually so bad it's to be treasured.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nellie Moriarty

Nellie is published on Smashwords. I changed the title from Sweet Nell to Nellie Moriarty because of the identification of Sweet Nell with Nell Gwynne. I changed the cover to a Poconos scene instead of Afghanistan. It's just short of 77,000 words, by Smashwords' count.

I feel like this might be my best book yet. I think I've painted Nell as a human character, not as a damsel in distress. Her feelings and her thoughts are rational for the person she is. Quincy might be a little bit too Country Prince Charming, but I think he's pretty human too. He's looking at content, not container. Both characters might be a little old-fashioned in outlook, but I'm pretty old-fashioned myself.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sweet Nell

Sweet Nell isn't quite finished yet -- almost there, but not quite. It's around 72,000 words, and I doubt greatly it will reach 80,000. I had a slight case of writer's block as I was reaching the end. I had two alternative endings, one of them too abrupt and the other one a potential second half that would have been another 60,000 words to resolve. I went back, added a chapter in the middle and that fixed the too abrupt ending. I took part of the second ending, and rather than following it all the way down the road to a tedious resolution I just used it to finish the other thread, rather neatly, I think.

I'll go through the whole thing another time or two, to take out a few of the repeats, or to try and smooth them over. Nellie spends lots of time dwelling on her problems, and the problems are the same ones: her missing arm, her missing leg, her scars, and her self-image. Considering that it's a story about an attractive woman whose husband rejects her after her physical trauma as a pilot in a combat zone, she kind of has to spend a lot of time agonizing over the same things; her entire persona is wrapped up in them.

I like her though. She's a tough babe and she's been through a lot. She's got guts. She's just trying to be tougher than it's possible for a normal person to be. She's like lots of vets: she's reluctant to rely on other people. Having her home knocked out from under her -- her husband is a slimy lawyer who dumps her cat while she's deployed in a combat zone, then has multiple affairs while she's in rehab -- reinforces that tendency.

Nellie ends up Going Home to Mother. She moves back into the room she occupied as a girl. Her brother takes her out with his girlfriend and their friends for a night at a beer joint, where she meets Quincy Holmes. Naturally, if I was going to write a love story involving Holmes, Nellie's maiden name had to be Moriarty. So I could write a story about a Dustoff pilot and one of her former transports, set it in the Poconos where most of my other novels are set, use existing characters from the other books, and come up with something new.

I've consciously made it a very lower-middle class story. Quincy and Nellie grew up in the same town, a year apart in school. She went to Penn State, he went into the Marines. He's working framing houses, her brother Todd's stuck laboring for a bricklayer, and his girlfriend's a horny hairdresser. Quincy and Todd get into a fistfight with a couple dirtbags the first time they take Nellie out. He takes her to a hog slaughter on a "date." Quincy and Todd do under the table work for Pete the Plumber, and strike a fountain of shit when a slumlord want to unblock a sewer line on the cheap. (Pete says "Smells like money to me, boys!" -- true story.) Quincy buys the house both he and Nell separately grew up wanting to live in, a 1600 square foot rancher built in the 1930s. They have advice from other people, some of them wealthy, but they're the ones who solve their problems, and they're the ones who'll make a success of themselves.

Now I've got a bit of cleanup to do. I'm not a helicopter pilot, and I've never been one. I've never worked in Medevac. I've never been to Afghanistan. I crewed (didn't pilot) on fixed-wing aircraft in Vietnam. I worked with the Marines, but I was in the Army. I was an EMT in my younger days, but not an Army medic. Probably my terminology and my references are slightly (if not wildly) off.

I've never, thankfully, been an amputee. I got to thinking about the problems amputees face listening to Mary Dague's talk to a VA group. I've done research with the help of Google on artificial limbs, but as far as I know, Nellie is a member of a small to non-existent group of right arm-right leg ATE-ATK amputees. I've had to do a lot of theorizing on how she would cope with life, and probably I've gotten lots of details wrong. It would be nice if I could find a Dustoff pilot, a double amputee, a current Marine NCO, a small farmer, and probably a few other people with specialized knowledge that I lack as proof readers.

The photo for the (first hack) cover is a modification of a DoD photo of Dustoff operations at Camp Blessing in Afghanistan. I don't know at this point if I'm going to go with that idea or if I'll emphasize the amputee aspect.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Some books are pretty neat the first time read, less so on a second reading. Some books, if you allow enough time to go by, stand a third and a fourth, maybe even a fifth reading. It's best to stop at the first with the Scarlet Pimpernel. You get it all on the first reading, and on the second all you see are the flaws. I know it's a classic, but there won't be a third, fourth or fifth. It's been years since the first time I read it, so a second reading should have been almost a first.

I think my irritation comes from the perfection of the protagonists. Marguerite Blakeney, Sir Percy's French wife is described as "the sharpest wits in Europe," yet she's remarkably dumb. She goes for a year not realizing her husband isn't the silly fop he pretends to be, despite the fact that he's the richest fellow in England and somehow manages to administer his extensive holdings and he's friends with a coterie of rich and gallant fellows who'll do anything for him, to include the Crown Prince. Somehow he was intelligent and fascinating enough for her to marry him in the first place. Duh.

After accidentally betraying him to the evil Frenchie Chauvelin, she grabs one of those gallant friends and sets out for Calais to rescue her genius husband with absolutely no idea where to go or what to do. It never occurs to her to merely give the friend the message and send him, since he'd be less conspicuous  and he'd know where to go and he could defend himself. Duh.

The sneering Chauvelin is dumb enough to leave Sir Andrew and Lord Tony alive after having them conked on the head and stealing the compromising letter. He's dumb enough not to recognize Sir Percy disguised as a Jew, and to "come back later to deal with" him and Marguerite. Duh.

Robespierre is dumb enough not to have Chauvelin's head chopped off, like they were chopping the heads off anyone else who screwed up big time, which is why he got to appear in so many sequels. Duh.

Meanwhile, I'm typing. Most of it is writing. Del's got most of a new chapter and he's around 70,000 words. I've roughed out the story of Nellie Moriarty and Quincy Holmes. It's at 30,000 words right now, so the bones need a lot of flesh, otherwise I end up with a tale of lightning courtship, which isn't what I want. Its purpose is to let the characters' personalities take shape, which they are.

Nellie is pretty and she's competent, but she's damaged both physically and emotionally. Obviously it's a tale of courtship -- most novels are. Quincy has to serve as her catalyst, to bring her out of the funk she's fallen into after the breakup of her marriage and the realization that her husband found her ugly. Amputation stumps really aren't pretty, and an explosion powerful enough to deprive a person of an arm and a leg will leave lots of other incidental damage. In the first draft I've probably spent too much time on the things she has difficulty doing, anything from taking a bath to fishing. Quincy, on the other hand, comes across as slightly too perfect. The conflict comes from Nell's reluctance to accept the fact that someone can still find her attractive. She has to go through friendship and to accept the support of the people around her.

I've seen "Nellie" on several occasions, though I'll admit I've only ever seen her missing a leg or an arm, not both. I've seen pictures of Mary Dague, minus two arms but with both legs, and I've seen guys minus an arm and a leg. Nell's still pretty real to me, despite her approximation, every time I go to Walter Reed.

Quincy's not a millionaire. He's got a moderate amount of money saved up and he wants to go into business. He's got another fund to buy a house, not outright but with a mortgage like everybody else. He's the poor but honest lad, and Nellie is his princess. His "wealth" lies in his network of friendships.

We'll see how they work out.