The Alibi – Chapter 2

The Alibi is presenting me with several learning opportunities. I wrote about Toing and Froing in Parts 1, 2 and 3. Today big learning is plotting (I’ll no doubt write about it later when I’ve learned enough worth sharing).

The individual chapters are short. Or at least shortish. To me, anyway, yet they seem to work fine.

Of course, I’m still in the rough draft mode. Who knows what I’ll do in the rewrites.
Read The Alibi‘s:

As always, let me know what you think.


The Alibi – Chapter 2

 
Rexall Shaul stood quietly at the top of the thirty flights of stairs from his AirCon corporate office to the garage. He waited, quietly, meditatively, listening to the pneumatic cylinder ease the door shut. The click of the latch would be the runner’s starting pistol.

He slowed his breathing and relaxed his gymnast lean body as he waited.

He hesitated. Lift his arm to check his Omega Dark Side of the Moon or not?

Lifting his arm would raise his pulse a beat, maybe two.

The hesitation alone raised his pulse a beat or two.

He feared he was losing his edge.

The sound of the pneumatic piston increased imperceptibly as it reached the last moments of its transit.

Quick glance at the Omega. The gun sounded.

Off.

He walked quickly but not hurriedly.

Steady pace. People wouldn’t think twice, let him pass. A burst of speed once in the garage if necessary and never necessary before.

Break a sweat and he revealed too much.

Keep it all inside. Maintained.

He opened the door to the garage, glanced at his watch.

Two-hundred-forty seconds. Eight seconds per flight. Not breathing hard. Didn’t break a sweat.

Good.

His best time made use of gravity and dropping down the stairwell, his hands working the railings like descending uneven bars.

He smiled and walked to his black Lotus Exige. Two parking spaces were assigned to him as part of his package. He parked over the center line of the two so the Exige had three feet on either side clear.

He walked around the Exige like a pilot inspecting his craft before takeoff and smiled, his personal mantra topmost on his mind; a risk anticipated is a risk avoided.

He retraced his steps back around the Exige.

Satisfied, he pulled out his phone and tapped a number.

The Exige rumbled to life, the driver’s door opened, the bomb went off, and Rexall Shaul was no more.


Read The Alibi – Chapter 3

The Bluebirds of Keith Jarrett

Early Jan 2022 we saw bluebirds at our feeders.

Genuine bluebirds.

What’s fascinating about this is they should have migrated by now.

Whatever signals The Wild gives its children it is time to move, it wasn’t given this year.

At least not for these bluebirds.

Which, of course, causes us multiple levels of concern. Most such concerns come down to “What’s happening to The Wild?”

It is both foolish and human to suggest The Wild is under attack. Or massively naive.

Take your pick.

The Wild is not just what’s out behind our backyard, it’s what’s is. If I had to, I’d offer The Wild is the face the Universe shows us.

So offering “The Wild is under attack” is tantamount to suggesting the universe is under threat.

I may write science fiction, but come on. Let’s be serious for a minute.

Okay, you could say the Universe is under attack in The Inheritors, but it’s not so much under attack as it is adjusting to a change in its parameters, much like any living thing will adjust its functioning to deal with some unpleasantness.

99.9999997% of the Universe is alive in ways we can’t fathom. It’s time for us to stop demonstrating our ignorance and appreciate that intelligence, compassion, and authority come in shapes we can’t fathom.

 
Never doubt the Universe is a living organism.

Just be glad it’s neither spiteful nor plotting.

We wouldn’t stand a chance.

Though many may try.

Shows just how foolish, human, and naive we can be, doesn’t it?

 

Toing and Froing Again, Part 3

This is the final post in this Toing and Froing arc. The genesis of this arc came from my fouling up The Alibi chapter 3 (my current work in progress.

Toing and Froing occurs when the writer/author has their characters move around or do things for no real story purpose; there’s no character development, no character revelation, the atmosphere doesn’t change, no plot elements are furthered or revealed, the movement is irrelevant to any established or impending plot points, the movement is unnecessary to the dialogue, et cetera.

I ended Toing and Froing Again, Part 2 talking about writing and reading rhythms (and I’ll return to those at some point). This post talks about recognizing the problem and coming up with a solution.

The Problem and a Solution
Here’s what I wrote:

The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously.
Marete came out of his office. “Who’s in the field?”
Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.”
Cranston plopped into his seat. “Yeah, I guess this is me.”
Marete pointed to the door. “Take Rhinehold with you.”
Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. “What did I do?”
Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. “You wanted fun. You got fun.”
Rhinehold frowned “You don’t use a tablet?”
Cranston paid no attention.
Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. “No worries. I have mine.”

What follows would be my comments if the above material came to me in a critique group:

  • The Boston Incident Center’s operations operator routed the call to every city service in a twenty block radius of AirCon’s building. – acceptable but wordy. “operations operator” doesn’t need to be in that sentence. Unless there’s a need for this character to appear in the story again, it doesn’t even count as stage direction and you can get rid of it.
  • Every mobile in the station went off simultaneously. – again acceptable and weak. The chapter opening deals with a police station’s response to a bomb blast. You want the reader caught in the action and moving forward. The characters are pumping adrenaline so the reader should be, too. This sentence has no real action hence no forward momentum as written.
  • Marete came out of his office. – obvious Toing and Froing and necessary as it tells the reader who’s doing what, as in attribution via action. And yet with all that going for it, it’s static. It doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • “Who’s in the field?” – Nice, short dialogue and fitting with the action of the scene, and ditto.
  • Senior Ops put a feed on the office’s main. – Way over the top Toing and Froing. What’s the purpose of this sentence? What does it provide the reader? All it does it take the reader off the main and primary characters by introducing an irrelevant stage direction character. Get rid of it.
  • “Looks like some kid’s streaming from his drone.” – Expected and doesn’t move the reader forward.
  • Cranston plopped into his seat. – You can almost feel the oars moving in their locks as the boat to’s and fro’s, can’t you?
  • “Yeah, I guess this is me.” – ditto.
  • Marete pointed to the door. – ditto and, at this point, who friggen cares?
  • “Take Rhinehold with you.” – static and di-di-di-ditto.
  • Rhinehold, seated next to Cranston’s desk to finish setting up the atricial, spun his chair to face Marete. – does nothing except (literally) place him in the scene.
  • “What did I do?” – I think I was so bored writing at this point I attempted humor.
    I failed.
    PS) Another personal clue to me I’m Toing and Froing is when I attempt to put humor into an otherwise humorless scene or have it come out of the mouths of previously humorless characters.
  • Cranston gathered his notebook and pen. – Pure toing and froing because he gathers them. So what?
  • “You wanted fun. You got fun.” – more botched humor.
  • Rhinehold frowned. – Exactly what I talked about in the Attribution via Action post.
  • “You don’t use a tablet?” – Basically okay as exposition and character development via dialogue, and there’s no real need to bash the reader over the head with it.
  • Cranston paid no attention. – the reader’s not paying attention, why should Cranston?
  • Rhinehold lifted his backpack over his shoulder. – As with Cranston gathering his notebook and pen, so what?
  • “No worries. I have mine.” – Wasted unless it points to something coming later in the story (as in foreshadowing).

At this point remember that criticism without solution is worthless. Anybody can spot problems, not everybody can come up with workable solutions.

Here’s what I came up with as an alternative followed by the reasons this rewrite removes Toing and Froing, strengthens the story, and keeps the reader moving forward (and note, I offer this is better, not brilliant):

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Final thoughts
This kind of critique is what a good critique group will give you. If your critique group isn’t constantly working to improve your writing, find another. Does it need to be this thorough?

I’ll say yes, it does, and also appreciate not a lot of critique groups will go to this level. I also appreciate not everyone wants this level of analysis, and recognize this level of analysis can be devastating if not offered well. I wouldn’t offer this to a newbie unless it’s obvious they can separate themselves from their work and recognize I’m commenting on their work, not them (watch my interview for more on this).

Should you need it or want it, I do offer this level of critique and also writer/author mentoring.

The Alibi – Backstory and Chapter 1

I finished editing The Book of the Wounded Healers in early July (2022). After taking a few days off, I went through my files to find my next project. One short story, The Brick and originally written in Jan 2020, was close enough to finished I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t already sent it out. More than that, I completely forgot I wrote it. Ever have the joy of discovery when you find a new author? Compound that with discovering you’re the author you found.

A few first readers and an editor later and off it went.

The next item I hit was The Alibi (originally written on 25 Sept 1994). I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs. It was okay. I’ve seen lots worse get published these days.

I’m being gracious.

It sucked.

I must have written it as part of a class assignment or by following instructions in some book. Reading through the first few paragraphs I could imagine myself ticking off a checklist:
main character described ✔
main setting described ✔
secondary character described ✔
situation described ✔
conflict identified ✔

Oy, it was painful to read.

But the core idea?

That I liked. So I decided to rewrite the core idea.

That’s when things went…different.

The Alibi wanted to be a novel. I wanted to write a short story. No, The Alibi wanted to be a novel. Or at least something recognizably longer than a short story (a short story being something one can read in less than an hour).

So again, a completely new work-in-progress, unedited (exciting, isn’t it?). Let me know what you think.


The Alibi – Chapter 1

 
Cranston entered the precinct offices and saw a small crowd hovering around his desk. Captain Marete called out, “There he is, Man of the Hour.” Everybody laughed and went back to work. He smiled and nodded until he saw what was so interesting. His workstation had been replaced by a throbbing, humming, blue, oversized shitake mushroomy thing. A too thin, early thirties man with poorly trimmed dark black beard and thick brown hair tied in a ponytail half way down his back sat at Cranston’s desk wearing dVids.

Or something like dVids. They looked like the things his daughter, Leddy, kept asking him for.

A green folder rested square on his desk with a slightly larger than normal, light blue business card stapled to it. The card showed a wizard sitting on a tree trunk, crescent moon over one shoulder, dragon at his feet, and a computer on a tree trunk in front of them. Opposite the wizard, in script, was RBFH, Inc., with some titles underneath.

Cranston reached for it and The Kid’s – Cranston didn’t know who he was and “The Kid” seemed to fit – hand snaked out and caught Cranston wrist. “Please don’t. Not yet. A few more minutes tuning.”

Cranston pulled his hand back and The Kid let go.

A moment later the dVids came off and The Kid blinked the bluest eyes Cranston had ever seen. He kept looking around, blinking and squinting, blinking and squinting. “Can I help you?”

“You’re sitting at my desk.”

The Kid kept looking around, blinking, squinting, and not focusing on anything.

“You alright?”

The Kid nodded. “Takes a minute for the eyes to adjust.” A few more blinks and he stood.

Definitely too thin.

His improperly knotted tie had a picture of a cat on it, his clothes off-the-rack office regular. He focused on Cranston and offered his hand. “Howdy. I’m John Rhinehold. Are you Detective William Cranston?”

“Bill. Yes. What’s all this about?”

“Umm…”

Marete’s voice came up behind them. “This is about you getting the latest crime solving tech.”

“When was this decided?”

“You volunteered.”

“I don’t remember volunteering.”

“And you still volunteered. Get this to work for you, everybody’ll get one.”

“Why did I volunteer again?”

“Because you don’t even open your emails or check the schedule unless they’re printed out and handed to you.”

“I’m being punished for being a luddite?”

Rhinehold perked up and spit out words like a bright-eyed machine gun. “You’re a luddite? Wow. You’re the first one I’ve met. And you admit it, too. Amazing. This’ll be fun.”

Cranston and Marete kept their eyes on each other. Both said, “Shut up.”


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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (July 2022’s Great Opening Lines)

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

My last entry in this category was May 2022’s Great Opening Lines – and Why! (May 2022’s Great Opening Lines) which covered James Tiptree, Jr.’s The Milk of Paradise in the Harlan Ellison edited “Again, Dangerous Visions”. This entry in the Great Opening Lines – And Why! posts is Bina Shah‘s Before She Sleeps.

Before getting to the great opening line itself, some notes on the book as a whole.

I started this book before the US Supreme Court demonstrated that great legal minds can also be idiots. That demonstration occurred half way through my read.

Before, I thought the book brilliant and profound. After, even more so.

Before She Sleeps is rich with some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever encountered. Often reading beautiful phrasing can throw one out of a book because the phrase stops the reader so they can savor the author’s eloquence.

Not so here. The language is universally rich, so much so that the over-the-top brilliant passages merely hurried me along to read more.

I will offer the book ended too abruptly for me. I can accept the ending as written, everything is tied up, no loose ends, and I would have preferred it to linger a bit longer so I could bid the characters a better farewell for the joy they gave me.

Now to that great opening line.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (July 2022’s Great Opening Lines)”