Sunday, July 24, 2016


I'm not referring to dinner and a movie or whatever presently constitutes a 'date'.   I'm thinking of how best to avoid references to old technology or ideas if a writer is attempting to be current.   Or the converse:   how to capture the flavour and authenticity or a time that is still in recent memory of potential readers.

If a writer has set his tale in the Regency period of 17th Century England it is perfectly acceptable, correct even, to make statements like "A single man in possession or a large fortune must be in want of a wife."   (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice).   At the present time, no one would admit to being in want of a wife or husband or even a cold drink.

One of the challenges of writing a period piece, even as relatively recent as World War II, is getting the jargon correct, not to mention the behaviours and clothing.   No mentions of the heroine wearing a racy push-up bra, when those dubious items weren't invented until 1947.   That's where the internet is so handy for fact checking.     It's like writing about a place you haven't lived in or even visited.   Even with Google Street view and long conversations with those who have been inhabitants, inevitably a small detail will trip you up . . . and haunt you long after the book is published.

Attitudes change too, of course, but when was the tipping point?   Sexual diversity, smoking, or even bringing reusable bags for grocery shopping have varied from unacceptable to acceptable to downright desirable or undesirable in public opinion.

I was recently reading a novel in which the protagonist couldn't get through on the telephone to another character, obviously because she was on the internet.   I had to stop for a moment to consider how that made a difference.   Down memory's path to the point where I recalled the screeching sound emitted if some unfortunate person picked up the telephone when the internet was being used.   Ah, dial-up internet.   Those difficult days were almost forgotten.   By then my train of thought required me to check the date of publication.   

Period costumes, manners and mores are far enough removed to be fascinating but portable telephones that look like shoeboxes are only laughable and in a dramatic crime series not the effect the director was going for.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


From a Prompt from my writing group:


(fortunately not my basement!)

           Any conversation that commences with I (or we) have a simple request, is bound to be complicated beyond belief, not to mention definitely not to my benefit.  Some people have a gift for getting others to do the job.  Some might call it 'passing the buck'

     Yes, it would simplify matters for the requestor if I would lead the committee, clean out the entire basement and paint the walls.   My father had a saying that the easiest money was that which you could talk yourself to.   I could add that the easiest job is the one you get someone else to take on.

     I've come to realize that enunciating the request is the simple part.   The execution is complicated, if not impossible.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Different Kind of Destination

Are you in the fortunate position of running out of places in the world to visit?   Have you been to London and Paris too many times and besides, so has everyone else?  Then consider taking a jaunt to countries few have heard of and fewer still have visited.     Is it because of crime, climate or cost?


It is because they are so small that they have escaped notice.   It may be the reason that some of them are also tax havens and replete with duty free shops, banks and insurance companies.  But that is just a small part of the appeal.   Two of my daughters recently visited Andorra, which at 181 square miles or 468 square kilometres is only the sixth smallest country in Europe.   A landlocked nation in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, Andorra also has a lesser known official language, Catalan.  Nevertheless, over ten million tourists visit annually enjoying not only the duty free status but the summer and winter resorts.   My daughters certainly enjoyed the many activities from skiing to hiking to rapelling down hills and mountains, kayaking, tubing . . . you get the idea.

I wrote earlier about once considering how it might be interesting to  explore the  official Unesco Heritage sites -- until I discovered there are over one thousand.   But, if you focus on small countries, starting  (or ending) with Andorra:

  • Vatican City (0.44 km2) ... 
  • Monaco (1.95 km2) ... 
  • San Marino (61 km2) ... 
  • Liechtenstein (160 km2) ... 
  • Malta (316 km2) ... 
  • Andorra (468 km2) ...

you will have a different kind of travel experience, and likely unique among your friends and acquaintances.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Plagiarism or Inevitability?


     I was intrigued to hear of the lawsuit regarding Led Zeppelin's iconic Stairway to Heaven.   The introduction to this song does sound similar to the Plaintiff's as others have identified.  But I heard a musician discuss how common the particular musical phrase was;  reviewing  four other songs that had a similar opening passage, albeit in a different key or slightly different rhythm.  

     Composers have only eight notes to work with plus the notes' sharps or flats, depending on the key signature.   So, for example, the Key of C would have the notes C D E F G A B plus some accidental sharps or flats.   These notes can be arranged in infinite ways.  Then there's the rhythm.   

     In a sense, writers are much better off with twenty-six letters arranged in a dictionary full of words.   There's the old saw about a roomful of monkeys on typewriters.   Given enough time, one of them will produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Or so it is postulated.  Somerset Maugham admitted that "All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary--it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences."

     We are all the product of our past and the memories that go with that.   A fragment from childhood, words or tune, might suddenly surface in our minds and declare itself original.  We might search the recesses of our recollection in an ultimately futile endeavour and thereby reassure ourselves that there has been divine inspiration or the equivalent.   We have been original and unique.

     Of course, all artists are inspired by their predecessors or even their contemporaries.   Shakespeare gleaned much from Greek and Roman mythology.   It has been suggested that The Lion King is an anthropomorphized Hamlet.   But, no lines of speech were directly lifted from the original.   Neither Shakespeare nor the Greek and Roman  storytellers receive any royalties today.

      Romance novels have their tropes or  commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or cliches.     There are even acronyms:   HEA for Happily Ever After or the modern equivalent:   HFN - Happy for Now.   A plot that has two people  meet, encounter obstacles over which love ultimately prevails has surely been repeated, with variations, many times over.

    What about the plot devices of mistaken identify or time travel or even amnesia?   Familiar, even common, but is that plagiarism?

     I have heard of unscrupulous people who download a free romance novel, go through the book making name, occupation and location changes as well as some other details.   With a new cover and title the book is then uploaded as their original work.   Royalties roll in and the original author is unlikely to discover the subterfuge.   Even more so if the book was translated to a foreign language.
     Almost everyone would agree that the foregoing is unlawful plagiarism.

(Since I drafted this post, the Courts have decided that there was no plagiarism in Stairway to Heaven.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

So what is a cozy mystery, anyway?


 This is a relatively new term to describe a mystery story that has a focus on deduction and character development as opposed to blood and guts.   Perhaps I exaggerate.    But people who read cozy mysteries, much as they enjoy suspense, prefer that the murder take place off-camera.    The perpetrator is no hideous serial killer with unnatural appetites.   Instead he or he lives next door or works down the hall from you.   The murder is 'out of character' and came about only because of a specific set of random occurring circumstances.  The victim may be someone that few liked.

     The reader follows the storyline through the eyes of the amateur sleuth whose innate talent and natural curiousity and intuition compel them to try to solve the crime.   The clues are casually strewn yet at the conclusion it should be possible to trace back the hints and innuendos to the inevitable conclusion.

      It goes without saying that it is totally unfair for the writer to make a transitory character, one makes a brief and unmemorable appearance, as the murderer.   No, in a cozy mystery there must be several potential suspects each with the requisite motive and opportunity.   Television programs, with their budgetary constraints have been known to skimp on this, to their detriment.   After you discount the regular cast members, it quickly becomes apparent that the new arrival to town is the guilty party.

       I prefer to read . . . and write . . . cozy mysteries.   I could blame my weak stomach and that's certainly true for the movies and televisions shows I pass on due to their graphic visuals.   It also seems, at times, that graphic violence and cut action sequences are substituted for storyline and character development.   That rarely ends well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sometimes there's no alternative but to hang on


On first consideration, hanging on can seem only a slight improvement on giving up.   Or it is the final stage before you admit defeat.   A person is hanging on by their fingernails  or hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

It can be tempting to think of defeat as inevitable.

I prefer to think that instead of hanging on, the protagonist, character, or next door neighbour is taking a brief pause in their fight against a disease, a difficult financial situation, or a family crisis.   The pause is to gather your resources, gird your loins (as the old saying goes).   On a side note, this expression comes from the days when men and women wore long flowing robes on a daily basis.   In preparation for battle, or fleeing an invasion, the robes had to be tucked up to facilitate speedy movement either towards or away from the action.   Hanging on is the modern equivalent of girding your loins.  

Or perhaps be inspired by Winston Churchill's closing remarks in his
well-known commencement speech:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Third 'When Bees Die' Preview

Preview of third book in When Bees Die trilogy:

Chapter 1

Rafe could feel the driver's eyes boring into the back of his neck.  Maybe no one had ever before refused  the accommodation offered by the government prison, even if it didn't  look like one.  No bars, no guards apparent, and nowhere to run to.    Those placed there, without charge or trial, could presumably count on  food and a roof over their heads. 

Rafe walked on, neither dragging his feet nor sprinting away but he wouldn't give the driver--his guard-- the satisfaction of looking back.   No doubt it would be reported back to whoever had discovered his real identity that the fool kid had walked off into the desert to his certain death.   Let them think that.

What had happened to Tony?   Had Judy's interest or maybe  even infatuation with Tony protected his friend?  They'd both known what they were getting into and Tony would have to look out for himself now.   He'd always been a smooth talker;  maybe that would stand him in good stead now.   Rafe knew he was avoiding thinking about Lisa.   Even their short time together had been electric  in a way that he couldn't explain.   At least he would be able to tell his best friend, Kas--if he ever saw him again--that his sister, Lisa was doing okay and seemingly able to take care of herself.   The fact that she had been at the conference representing her supervisor from her section of the pollen farms showed that she was valuable to them.  Rafe would make himself believe that, anyway. 

He'd walked far enough now to feel comfortable taking a quick glance over his shoulder.   Not that there had been any danger before.   His driver/guard hadn't carried any weapon that Rafe had seen.   But somehow Rafe had wanted to convince the driver . . . and himself . . . that he wasn't afraid.   There was nothing to see other than the squat square building ground into the desert soil, the straight road leading away from it, back to the conference, back to Tony and Lisa.   Too bad there was no way to get a message to them.   He was on his own now, the clothes on his back and a bottle of water in his pocket.

Rafe was determined to survive;  he'd already made up his mind about that.   At nineteen, he figured he had a lot of life left.  No less important was the information he had obtained on this undercover operation, posing as technical support to two high placed executives  from Rossville.   He'd been able to download most of the files in Judy's computer as well as information that Lisa had brought.   As important were the overheard conversations and discussions.   Rafe was convinced that the crisis from the death of the bees in the state, if not engineered by the state or federal government, was quickly adopted for the purposes of a few of the elite.  There was no real attempt being made to re-introduce bee populations so that the small insects could re-commence their important work.   Why would that matter?   The rich were getting richer and the rest of the population was kept fearful and ignorant and in a state of carefully managed deprivation.   Not hungry enough for revolution, not weak enough that they were unable to work and keep the system functioning . . . sort of.   And a never-ending supply of almost free labour in the form of cowed ten year olds.   It all seemed to obvious now.

In the distance, maybe ten kilometers away, Rafe could see the slowly rotating white wings, the first in a series of stark and modern windmills marching as far as his vision.     Would it be his salvation?

                                                                           * * *

I'll be on blog hiatus for a couple of weeks while changing residence.   Catch you later!