31 March 2020

For Your Quarantine-House Arrest Viewing Pleasure


I work at home. And we live off the beaten path, so I'm home a lot and used to it. Disciplined. Etc. But knowing that I shouldn't be going anywhere and that everything is closed still gives me a feeling of unease. Before, if I wanted to get out somewhere I could. Now I pretty much can't cause everything's closed, social distancing and all the rest. So, even though not much has really changed for me, it's still different. But Buster still gets his walks.

So, in this time of “sheltering in place” and concerns about being out in public, I thought I’d suggest some fun movies for your quarantine. And I hope I remember them correctly. But even if my descriptions aren’t 100% correct they’re close. I think. I hope. Maybe. Also, I’m not including movies where zombies come after people or people turn into zombies or zombies have romances with other zombies or zombies have romances with humans. (Note: This is a zombie-free blog post.)


Outbreak – A virus moves from monkey to humans. Starts conquering the universe until Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo save the day.

Contagion – A virus moves from bat to humans—sound familiar? Starts to infect the world, until Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet save the day. Get Matt on the horn. Stat.


Panic in the Streets – A doctor and a cop have 48 hours to stop pneumonic plague from conquering the world. Richard Widmark saves the day.

The Killer That Stalked New York – Evelyn Keyes is a smuggler who arrives in New York infected with smallpox. She eventually feels guilty, turns herself in and saves the world.


The Andromeda Strain (1971) – A virus comes to earth from outer space and begins to conquer the world until Owen Marshall, I mean Arthur Hill and pals save the world.


12 Monkeys – A deadly virus almost wipes out humanity—until Bruce Willis saves the world. He has to go back in time to do it though. Of course, this is after he saved the Nakatomi Building in Die Hard I (The real building of which was a couple blocks from where I used to live. I remember watching it go up in the distance.) and rescuing the Fed’s gold bullion stash in Die Hard III. He’s a busy dude. But he couldn’t save his hair.



The Stand – A deadly plague kills off most of the world. Who (actor-wise) saves the day depends on which version you watch.

Runaway Virus – I haven’t actually seen this one, but a “runaway virus” is out to get the world. I’m sure somebody saves the day. Wanna bet on it?

The Devils – Lotsa hanky panky in the town of Loudun in 17th century France, while the plague rages in the background. Burn ’em all at the stake…and hope the plague burns with ’em.

The Hot Zone – Follows the spread of the Ebola virus. I sure as hell hope someone saves the day.

Pandemic – There’s a handful of things by this title in which a virus spreads. I think someone will save the day.

Now, if we can only get Matt and Evelyn and Renee and Richard and Dustin to save us.

Okay, don’t get on my case for trying to be a little funny here.

I’m sure there’s many more. So feel free to add to the list in the comments. And please no political comments.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

Got another early review for The Blues Don't Care. Thank you to Sam Sattler at Book Chase.

"The Blues Don’t Care is a fun, atmospheric look at 1940s Los Angeles that almost perfectly captures the tone of all those old black and white gangster movies of the day. Bobby Saxon is such a fan of those films himself that he uses them as training films in his quest to make himself into a detective capable of solving a murder the police have little interest in solving for themselves. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it makes him crazily reckless. And that’s exactly why The Blues Don’t Care is so much fun. (Well, that and one other thing about Bobby you’re going to have to learn for yourself – trust me.)" Sam Sattler, Book Chase



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

30 March 2020

Talking About Dialogue III: Dialogue and Plot


by Steve Liskow

Last time, we discussed how dialogue can deepen character, so today we'll look at how it can advance your plot.

Obviously, we need to understand the situation and what is at stake, and we learn that through exposition. An information dump or obvious explanation too early in your story kills pace and energy, and may drive your readers away. Playwright Jeffrey Sweet shows us there's a right way and a wrong way to convey information.

Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" presents a man and a woman arguing over her having an operation. Since they know what the operation will be, they never explain it to us, but it's clear and drives the story. The opening scene of David Mamet's play Glengarry Glen Ross shows two men using jargon they never explain, but eventually the audience has enough context to understand that they're real estate agents. Both examples show Private Exposition, so-called because the characters don't share it. It gives information, but provides tension and doesn't slow the action. As long as your characters speak to each other and not to the reader, you're fine.

Public Exposition has the people explaining things so the reader knows them, too. This means at least one character in the scene has to be brought up to speed. It's typical in mysteries when someone has to explain the situation to the sleuth. Be sure someone in the conversation doesn't know what's going on or this can become heavy-handed and smothering.

"I was talking to John, who, as you know, is your brother."

Ibsen and Chekhov used to load their first scenes with servants discussing what their masters were up to, and it was like watching ice melt. Ira Levin even pokes fun at it in his play "Critic's Choice."

The test is simple: if both characters know what they're talking about, don't explain it to the audience. If at least one character is in the dark, add details, but sparingly.

Jodi Picoult talks directly to the reader in House Rules when Emma explains what it's like to live with a child who has Asperger's Syndrome. She puts it in the context of incidents that have happened, which gives it conflict and more life than a lecture.

If you're not sure about what you've written, read it aloud. If you hear yourself lapsing into a monotone, it needs more conflict or energy. And maybe less telling.

Plot points involve your characters doing things or discovering information that changes the situation. Dialogue can make that happen. The easiest way is to have one character tell someone else what's going on. This is good if you're trying to move your plot in a new direction. Jeff tells his wife: We're not going to Atlantic City this weekend after all. I just got laid off.

Dialogue can introduce new obstacles, which is a variation on the new information. showing how a character reacts or perceives that new problem deepens your characterization as it moves your plot along, so you get double action for the same low price. You can increase the tension if one character realizes that things aren't what they seem to be, too. Maybe Beth tells Martha that the company has decided to interview someone else for that supervisor slot that she expected to get.

Dialogue can create conflict either directly or indirectly and sometimes the indirect approach is better. One person resists, but is subtle about it.

James Scott Bell offers several ways to avoid dialogue that is so agreeable that it becomes dull.
The second person changes the subject, answers a question with a new question, counter-attacks, or interrupts. All those tactics can lead to a more open confrontation or even an explosion, but they don't have to. It's like watching Congress. Nothing gets resolved, so it increases the tension. If you use all these methods through the first two-thirds of your story, your tension will keep growing until it's time for your big release.

Dialogue can use emotions to manipulate people, too.

There are only two basic ways to make people do something: Force and Manipulation.

Force is the threat of physical, mental or emotional violence, and verbal violence can be very effective. If your parents or an older sib constantly belittled you, you know how much it hurts.

Manipulation plays on the emotions of the other character and may involve an attempt to instill an emotion, generally a negative one like Guilt, Fear, Jealousy, Anger, Lust, Envy, Greed...

You can show angers through pouting, accusing, name-calling, sarcasm or evasion to create tension, too. Action tags can help, too. They show instead of tell, and they can move a scene along without calling attention to themselves.

"What makes you think I'm jealous?" Melissa's fists tightened until her knuckles turned white.
"You are so beautiful..." Tom buried his face in Clytemnestra's raven curls.

Use "said" and not some showy synonym from a thesaurus. And remember that people cannot shrug, nod, snort, smile, wink or laugh a line of dialogue. I know, amazing, isn't it?

If you have only two people in a scene--which makes life easier--you may be able to write the dialogue by itself and leave out most of the tags, especially if the two speakers have different speech patterns, which we discussed last time. If you use a tag occasionally to help people keep track, it's enough. The Hemingway story I mentioned above does this.

It's easy to speed up the pace of the scene by limiting the length of sentences and speeches, too. Cut description, narration, and tags. Interruptions are good, too. Increasing the tension makes the pace feel faster, too. To slow down a scene, do the opposite. Add introspection and analyzing from the POV character and use longer sentences with more qualifiers.

Dialogue can give information through response or suggestion, too, instead of telling.
"Why do you want to talk to that jerk?" means "I don't like him."
"You actually live here?" suggests "It's a dump."

And finally, a line of dialogue can be a transition into a new scene.
"What are we doing here?" Jack stared at the seedy motel and reached for his gun.

I love dialogue because it offers you so many good choices.

29 March 2020

A Pound of Flesh: Journaling



The all-powerful "They," whoever these experts are, suggest that writers should journal their daily experiences to help out their writing. Thus, I begin the process. But, first a short prologue to aid the reader on a little background.

A month ago, we returned from a Caribbean cruise and as several of you may know, the cuisine on a large cruise ship is very plentiful and very tasty. Both of which are a problem. Plus, one has to add in all those vacation rum and cokes, not to mention a few rounds of of tropical concoctions served up from various fruits and alcohol. The conclusion of this type of situation usually results in the start of a well-intentioned diet shortly after the traveler returns home.

However, in my case and in the interests of full transparency, I must confess that the weight problem started shortly before we left for the cruise. Somehow, I had gained three pounds before embarkation. My only excuse is that I must have been anticipating the feast to come. But then, as so often happens, succumbing to temptation is sooner or later  followed by remorse and a certain amount of pain while trying to get back on track.

Okay, so here's the deal, starting with the first full day back home:

Sunday:  220.6 lbs.
     ate wisely, no desserts, no alcohol
     Goal: to get back to my 1967 going-to-Vietnam weight of 199 lbs.

Monday:  219.6 lbs.
     ate a big breakfast, no lunch, had soup for supper, no sweets
    okay, you got me, I had a couple of rum and cokes, it's called tapering off, besides, I needed some
    compensation for having to shovel 4" of snow this morning. Snow leeched out my new Caribbean
    tan.

Tuesday:  218.6 lbs.
     don't know why that .6 pound thing keeps hanging on, but hey I'm losing a pound a day so far and
     I have a weight loss haircut to look forward to this afternoon.
     ate a good breakfast, MAY skip lunch.
     Okay, so I put a little white rum in my cranberry juice for breakfast, but I've still got that weight
     loss haircut coming up to help me stay on pace.
     Made half a sandwich with deli-sliced ham, but it was the thick sliced bread, not the thin sliced
     type of sandwich bread, so had to add more ham. Need to speak to wife about buying some thin
     type sandwich bread.
     This afternoon, even though I told her not to do it, the wife baked blueberry muffins for the two
      grandsons to have a snack after school. Those warm muffins are great when they are fresh out of
     the oven. In my defense, I did NOT put butter on them.
     Slipped a little on the rum and cokes after supper, but figured them as a reward for doing so well
     with the weight.

Well, here we are with DAY 4. Today's weight came out at 218.0 pounds. That's still good, I lost .6 pounds from yesterday. Finally, got rid of that .6 thing following me around on the scales every morning. The haircut weight loss must've worked. Not sure what to do about tomorrow. I've only got so much hair.
had a good breakfast, most important meal of the day.
Okay, I did pour some Kalua in my coffee cup, but there was also some coffee in that same cup. It's something I learned from a friend on the ship one morning at breakfast.
Too much good food in the house to skip lunch. Waste not, want not. May have to do a few situps to counteract lunch intake. Supper will be another problem. Don't think I can do that many situps. Wonder if a couple of pushups would suffice to counteract supper?
Rum all gone. Need to make a resupply run.

DAY 5: 219.2 lbs.  Ooops!
Those two growing teenage grandsons coming to the house for a hearty breakfast five mornings a week before school are putting a kink in my diet plans. Wife doesn't help the situation either with all her baking of cookies and other high calorie snacks in the afternoon for after school treats.
Hid the bottle of Vanilla Crown Royal immediately after breakfast, but evidently not well enough. Found it again behind the cans of Coke in the refrigerator right after supper. Gotta get better at hiding things. Still haven't made that resupply run.

DAY 6:  2xx.6  lbs.   Damn!
Well, I gave it a shot, but don't think this journaling thing is going to work out for me.

END of Journal


28 March 2020

Why Writing a Cozy Murder May Kill Me


For most of my author life, I have written mob capers. (Okay, there was that trilogy of ribald sexy fantasy that started my career, but surely that’s in my past. At least, that’s what I tell the priest.)

There have been seven of them. (Mob capers. Not priests.) An eighth will be coming, but in the meantime, my publisher wants me to write a cozy mystery. “You’re already writing comedy,” she said. “This is merely a different sub-genre. And cozies have a HUGE audience in the States.”

More than capers, she not so subtly pointed out.

I know about cozies. Some of my best friends write them. These are authors who can somehow do without sex, violence and profanity in their writing lives. My protagonists are not that sort of people, at least by choice, but I digress.

Thing is, if I was going to write cozies, I was going to have to clean up my language. It may come as a surprise, but mob caper characters don’t actually say, “Golly” and “Goodness me” when they get hit with a chunk of lead.

So as I embarked upon project clean-up, I pulled from my past, aka my dad’s side, which is firmly British. (As opposed to my mother’s side, which had bases in Sicily and The Hammer. ‘Nuf said.)
Most cursing in our house was Brit. I grew up on a steady diet of colourful West Country language.

However, this was a cozy, so I played it light. Even that didn’t work with my publisher.

The first word to go was Pits. “Pits!” Penelope yelled.

Publisher: “What is Pits? Nobody in the States will know what you mean. Use Rats.”

“Rats,” Penelope yelled, while closing the car bonnet.

That didn’t work. I tried again. It got worse.

Soon, ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ were off the table.

Me: “Really?”

Me (throwing arms in the air): “I’m Canadian.”

“But they don’t know that,” she said, as if that were some sort of naughty secret we had to keep.

I retreated to Rats and Holy Cannoli.

But problems resurfaced quickly. “You’re a cow!” said Peter.

Publisher: “You can’t use cow. It sounds…”

Me: “Too trashy?”

Publisher: “Bestial. And with respect to the current scandals in Hollywood and DC…“

Me: “Gotcha. Not suitable for a cozy.”

It didn’t end there. Other phrases came under the knife. My whole vocabulary was at stake. Thing is, every non-naughty British expression seems to be…well…so much more expressive than the American equivalent.

“You filthy swine!” is much cooler than “You dirty pig!”

“Damn and blast!” really rocks it over “Darn and boom!”

It’s taken a long time and a lot of soul searching, but I may have come up with a solution to this whole cozy language problem. Something my publisher should be happy with, that isn’t a four letter word, and that shouldn’t offend the clergy. Not only that, it pretty well tells the tale.

“Curses!” said Penelope.



Melodie Campbell does her cursing south of Toronto. She was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently. You can buy The Goddaughter and the rest of the series on Amazon.com and all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER

27 March 2020

Our New Normal



    ***    I don't remember exactly when I met Kristin Kisska. She's one of those people I happily see every year at Malice Domestic, someone who loves mysteries as much as I do. Getting together at Malice with friends like Kristin is like attending a big family reunion. So I was delighted to start doing things with her outside of Malice, including being in two anthologies together, FIFTY SHADES OF CABERNET in 2017 and DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM in 2019, and having the occasional lunch in this little town we found that's halfway between our homes in Virginia. Kristin writes suspense, has had several short stories published, and is also working on a novel. I'm thrilled to welcome her as a new member of our SleuthSayers family. She'll be blogging with us every three weeks. Take it away, Kristin!
                                                                                                            ~ Barb Goffman


Thank you for the kind introduction, Barb. I'm thrilled to join the SleuthSayers' ranks.

I didn't set out to make our upside-down world my debut post topic. But as I stared at the draft of my original post, all my writerly brain could process was the haunting image of Italians serenading each other in unison from their balconies.

Isolated. Empathetic. Vulnerable.

A fraction of a heartbeat later, the source of their angst was no longer confined to their charming corner of Earth. No one needs me to rehash how our new reality escalated to the point of flipping our world on its axis. New terms have invaded our day-to-day vernacular: exponential growth, social distancing, quarantine, self-isolation, flattening the curve, triage, and pandemic. Do you feel as if we're living a dystopian thriller yet?

As a crime fiction author, I've always craved extended stretches of uninterrupted hours to draft whatever my muse inspires. The darker the scene, the better. With restaurants, bars, schools,  gyms, sporting and cultural events, closing, the world as we know it ground to a halt. Now that I seemingly have endless batches of time, I can't concentrate for more than a few minutes. My muse has apparently self-isolated away from me as I obsess over following COVID-19's lightening fast, stealth invasion.

Apparently, I'm not alone.

Most of us can agree, Plan A is to finish that gosh darned novel (novella? short story?). But no writer needs to add personal guilt on top of the world's crazy. People have varying levels of distress from losing control. While so much of this global health crisis is out of our control, if you and your family are safe, healthy and stocked with food and necessities to hunker down for the time being, then join me, take a break from the news, and let's together take back control of what we can influence. We can tee-up our writerly careers for the post-virus world, or at least until your muse decides to inspire you again (if she is visiting you at the moment, congrats! Go forth with Plan A and write).

For the rest of us still in shock, here are a few suggestions for a productive Plan B:

Journal. We are collectively experiencing a global crisis. Record your thoughts--the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly--while you are hyper-aware of these events. How frequently are you oscillating between the highs and lows? What surprises are you noticing in the news and your social media feeds? Are you experiencing conflicting emotions? What methods are you using to cope? These notes will be both therapeutic now and could make for a compelling and relatable character sketch for later.

Spring Clean. By now, your home's walls have squeezed ever closer, and you may even have a household of "work colleagues" where once there was silence. Fling open those windows and let in some fresh spring air. While you're at it, deep clean your writer's cave. And by deep clean, I mean dust off (sanitize?) and organize both your paper and digital work space. Don't forget to spruce up your author website with updated books, bios, and check all your links. Oh, and be sure to back. up. your. files.

Connect. We've all experienced the constant stream of news updates, social media memes, and reactions ranging from denial to panic. Take a break from that madness to connect with other writers and readers. Also, if you are active on Twitter (a.k.a. the watercooler for authors), check out the shiny new hashtag, #WritersInQuarantine, which is where many are now meeting every Friday evening.

Learn. What is your window of concentration?  Half an hour? Before you binge the umpteenth comedy on Netflix, watch a Ted Ed video on http://ed.ted.com/. A link to a list of hundreds of topics on their playlist can be found here. An hour? Demo a free Massive Open Online Course (a.k.a. MOOC). Pro tip--search the word *forensic* on Coursera.com and you'll find dozens of lectures that might re-pique your passion for solving crimes.

Book promotions. For the love of all things noir, please pause any scheduled push-posts, especially on Twitter.  Hitting the right tone is critical, and right now, the audience is anxious on many levels. Best case scenario, any book promo post that feels robotic will be ignored as noise, but more likely you'll risk being muted or unfollowed.  Now is the time to engage organically– emotionally– with individuals across your platform.  I can't stress enough, connect at a human level, not with a sales agenda. If, and only if, it makes sense in the greater conversation, drop a link to your work.

That said, be ready to hop on unique marketing opportunities as they arise, such as this book blogger submission call (see Tweet to the left) for debut mystery authors. Interested? contact Stephanie directly on Twitter @bookfrolic or by email (stephanie <at> bookfrolic.com). Her offer is still available.

Separately, Author Stephanie Storey (@sgstorey) Tweeted that she is also offering to interview authors (all genres, including mystery and crime fiction) who've had to cancel new release events due to coronavirus. You can message her through the contact page on her website, StephanieStorey.com/contact.

Pay it forward. The world is stuck at home and craving entertainment as a distraction. During these strange times, take the cue from the A-list museums, opera houses, Broadway, and even some of our bigger-named bands, and drop one of your ebooks (or some other digital content) for free.  Be *that* artist. Your readers will be grateful and remember how you offered them an easy escape from these daily stresses. Have you already gifted the world with a free ebook? Thank you! Drop a link in the comments below for other SleuthSayer blog readers to find and enjoy your work.

Keep up with publishing news.  It may have been overshadowed by the global crisis this month, but not all publishing productivity has stopped. Don't get me wrong, many people are worrying-from-home like a lot of us. But just this past week, some literary agents have Tweeted asking authors for more queries and announcing that they've signed new clients. Acquisition editors publicized that they are offering book contracts. BookEnds Literary Agency's president and founder, Jessica Faust gave her behind-the-scenes insights into How Publishing is Operating in the Time of Corona in her blog post here. Also, be sure to follow Publisher's Marketplace for all the deal news.

Read. Whether you are executing Plan A or Plan B, keep reading.  Support our crime fiction sisters and brothers and venture out to experience other genres. Read local authors, indie authors, and traditional best sellers. Tackle your To Be Read pile--yes, the towering one on your nightstand--with gusto. Go ahead and add new titles to your list. But be sure to leave a review of the books you read on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and link to your social media pages.

Hopefully soon, we'll all stop singing the Coronavirus Blues, and our world will revert back to something more recognizable. Until that glorious day, what is your go-to Plan B?



PS – Let's be social:

26 March 2020

Little Plague on the Prairie:
The 1918-19 Diary of Anna Eneboe


Page One of Anna Eneboe's diary, which she kept from 1918 until late 1919:

Miss Anna Eneboe
Pierpont So. Dak.
My day book
Come read my thoughts

Anna Eneboe and her Diary

She was the great aunt of my dear friend Allyson Giles Nagel, who graciously gave me permission to use Anna's writing. The diary is very short, very simple, very spare, written in a small red notebook that's pretty worn after all these years. Anna was 19 years old in 1918, unmarried, and treasurer of the local Independence Red Cross (organized June 13, 1918). Some of the people mentioned in the diary are her older brothers, Henry (called Hank) and Rudolph (called Rud), her two adopted sisters, Lillian (called Lillie) and Agnes, her parents, and her future husband, Bernt Nerland. The family all lived on a farm outside Pierpont, SD, up in Day County, in northwestern South Dakota. Today its population is 135, back then somewhere between 314-400 (the census of 1910 and 1920 respectively). I've guestimated it to be around 380 in 1918.

Now, before we get started reading excerpts from the diary, you need to remember that the Spanish Flu roared through the United States three times. The first was in the spring of 1918. It was fairly mild and it disappeared for the summer. People believed that it was over. And then with the fall, came the flu, and October - when this diary begins - was the deadliest month of all. 195,000 Americans died that month from the Spanish Influenza.

Wikipedia – Link
Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. There was no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. Thanks to WW1 (BTW – the Spanish flu killed more soldiers than died in battle in WW1), there was also a shortage of doctors and nurses back home. And no one, no place was immune. Even President Woodrow Wilson got it in early 1919 while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in Europe. (Link)

It's hard not to believe that it was the Spanish Flu's return in October, 1918 that got Anna to writing things down. Not that she knew it, but that month was the peak – but not the end – of the pestilence. But she was well aware that men were coming home from the war, some of them sick, some of them dying. That people all around her were sick, dying, but also marrying and giving birth. And that's what she writes about.

1918

Camp Funston Hospital Ward for Soldiers sick with Influenza

Oct. 14th – Hans Oswood seriously ill at Camp Funston of the Fluenza.
Oct. 15th – Alfred Nelson gassed in France in August and has been at the hospital since.
Emil Sanders sick of the Fluenza in Camp Dodge.
School closed in Pierpont Oct. 14th on account of the Flu.
Dr. Murphy sick of the Flu.
Mrs. Eddie Kamestad died in the evening Oct. 14th.
Luther Hofstad wounded severely in France Oct. 14th.
Edwin Ronshaugen died in Camp Funston of the Flu., Oct. 14th.
Kristian Mjolsness was married to Lina Likus Oct. 18th.
Anna Rindahl was married to Mr. Jensen November 3rd.
Mr. and Mrs. Monk Osby are the proud parents of a baby boy, born Oct. 3rd.
Rudolph Baukol lost in action [in pencil].
Magnus Brindenuven died of wounds received in France.
Oscar Nymauen died of the Fluenza in Camp grand.
My Note: "On Oct. 16, 1918, the South Dakota State Board of Health ordered everything closed: Schools, houses of amusement, sporting events, speeches, everything. The order was enforced by police and the Home Guard, a quasi-military force that patrolled cities looking for violations." (Argus Leader)

SD Historical Archives

Mrs. Martin Jacobson died of the Influenza in November at Nigdahl Minn.
The oldest boy of Rev. Danielson died of the Flu at Langford.
Ole Jacobson’s little baby boy died of the Flu Sunday evening 28th of Dec.
Henry was married to Jennie Eggen the 4th of Dec. at New Effington.
Alma Gunderson was married to Dennie Holland in December.
Selma Liknis was married to Synerk Anderson in October.
Josie Oswood was married to Boyd Vikers in August at Camp Lewis, Washington.
Enok Liknis was home in a furlough in Oct.
The soldiers who came home for Xmas is as following –
Earl Hutenburg
Hans Oswood
Gust Johnson
Mat Johnson
Harry Nerheim
Rev. Husley from France [in pencil – Y.M.C.A.]
Adolph Eikaness
Martin Midland - -
Mathilda Hanson was married to Mr. Olson
Howard and Marie spent Xmas with us.
A cablegram from the battlefields of France last week Thursday, conveyed the heartbreaking news of the first sacrifice made by one who spent his childhood days in Farmington, and lived here in the adjoined vicinity on the north, the greater part of his life.

Henry O. Osness in company with his brother Chester departed from Langford April 26, 1918, with the Marshall County soldier boys of that date, who were sent to Camp Funston, Kansas.

WW1 Soldiers Returning Home

A sorrowful group of half-sisters and brothers mourn his loss, also a number of other relatives.
He is survived by his two sister, Misses Josephine and Anna, and by three brothers, Chester, his comrade, and Theodore and Selmer.
Three years ago, Henry enlisted in the navy, but was honorably discharged on account of physical disability. He appeared well and was of a happy, jolly disposition. The selective draft admitted him, and he went to death bravely fighting for his glorious country. “Over the top” was his motto, and t’was there he payed the supreme sacrifice.After only a brief time, they were called “over there” and on July 11th Henry gave his life nobly in this great crisis, which the United States was suddenly thrust into and from which nearly the entire world is so grandly, so nobly extricating itself. Henry was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Osness and was born in Newport township, Marshall Co., June 10, 1889. The family resided in Farmington a number of years, during which the children were left orphans by the death of both parents.

O’er the sea there came a cable message from the battlefields of France.The golden star in their service flag appeals with honor and sadness to Henry’s countless friends here.
Henry is gone, never hereafter to wake nor to weep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
Ne’er more the bugle shall call you, call you to fight fierce and long.
Yours is calm rest. We your memory sacred will keep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
We gaze at a star turned to golden. That shortly in deep blue did shine. O that in heaven, your soul is in keep.
Sleep, soldier, sleep.
“Chester’s Tale”
Henry was blown to pieces. Half of the body were all that they could find to bury. There’s a little white cross somewhere in France that now marks his grave.

Aerial photograph of Pierpont,
Aerial view of Pierpont, SD.
Pierpont Quasquicentennial - Pierpont SD Facebook page

1919

January

Walter Sletten and Bernt Norland arrived from Camp Dodge Jan. 3.
School opened again January 6th – met Bernt at the Ladies Aid at Synert Sampson January 9thTheodore Roswell died in January
Old Mr. Brookings was buried January 9th.
Born to Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Vikers a baby in January.

Boyd Vikers and Christ Oswood return home from camp.
Charly Paulson has been home on furlough.
Meeting in Falness [Lutheran Church, Langford, SD] Jan. 19 – also to Y P.M. in the evening.
Mr. Knut Syvertson and Mrs. Dahl was married this month.
Was at John Enstad Sunday the 12th in the evening.

21st - has been very lovely weather now for the last days. Today it is foggy.
23rd – Henry Fossum returned home from Camp Lewis. Oscar Brandly also is home from Washington.Olaf Syre returned home from camp.

Lillie’s partner was Clarence, my partner was Emil Erickson – we had a very nice time talking and laughing. Played games and so on. Shook hands with Olaf Syre. Hobart Syre and Joseph Nygaard came home today.23rd – very nice weather, social in Hainess school house tonite. Quite a few there. The sum paid for Baskets $72.74.
28th – had our first trip in the Overland to Pierpoint. Sawsa Brandle’s a baby in January

My Note The Overland was a "runabout", and the Overland Automobile was produced from 1903-1926. Pa's new vehicle was probably Model 83:

Overland automobile
Overland automobile (Wikipedia)
February

My Summation: February was cold, snowy, with more running about in the Overland. Alma Asdland died on the 10th and was buried on the 13th, which means the ground wasn't frozen solid. (Not always true in a South Dakota February.) There were meetings, cleaning, crocheting, and an oyster supper, along with one day when it was warm enough to play croquet, and more days when it was bitter cold with snow.

March, 1919 - the flu returns - the Third Wave

1st – Sat. – Enstad’s – washed the floors and baked was what Hattie did, and I tried to help her along. Snap’d our pictures.
2nd – Sun. – kind of nice today. Rudolph came over after dinner. We made up a poem. In the evening we were discussing different things. Told our fortunes, and had a little lunch. Rudolph stayed over night. (In pencil on the side, Mrs. Ole Enstad died this morning.)
3rd – Mon. – very mild and nice this morning. Rudolph went to Lee’s and then he came back for me. We had a Dakota blizzard going home.
4th – Tue. – Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sampson a boy. Cold, but clear. Have not been doing very much. 5th – Wed. – washing clothes today, nicer weather.
6th – Thurs. – Ironed. Jennie baked cookies, I washed upstairs.
8th – Sat. – Doing the Sat. work in the forenoon and in the afternoon we four girls went to Bakke’s but only Selmer at home. In the evening, Julian and Hattie came over.7th – Fri. – Washed the floors. In the afternoon we went to town. Talked to Chris L. Oswood. Myrtle & Lillie went with us home.

11th – Tue. – Rud sick of the flu. Very nice weather. Not doing very much.
13th – Thurs. – Ironing. Colder. Feeling punk tonight. Uncle and Selmer is here.
14th – Fri. – Sick in bed today of the fluenza.
15th – Sat. – Sunshine again today. Been up this afternoon. Last year today we sure had a nice time this evening but now it is only memorys.
16th – Sun. – Home all day. Have the “flu”.
17th – Mon. – Feel better today.
18th – Tue. – Pa has the flu today – nice weather.
19th – Wed. – Nice weather. We are all feeling fine after the flu. Mrs. Huxley died of the flu.

And then it's done - the Spanish Influenza is over.

Wikipedia - Chitrapa - Own work

On Thursday, May 22nd, Anna and the family went "to Pierpont, had a reception there for the soldiers. First time I seen Chester in uniform. The soldiers were seated on the stage. Had Annie Sparks duet and a quartet. Drawed number on a Red Cross quilt and Chester won it. had ice cream and cake. Only one vacant chair and that was Henry Osness." (Whose death, as you'll remember, Anna recorded in the first part of her diary.)
23rd – Fri. – Lillie and I have been home alone today. The folks been in town. In the evening we went to Pierpoint to take in “The Birth of a Nation”.

A few more months, barely three pages more, and Anna's diary came to an end.
My Note: Anna mentions 14 cases of the flu, 6 of them in October, 3 in November-December, and 5 in March. In the whole diary, 12 people die - 3 in October, 3 in Nov-Dec., and the rest in Jan, March, May, two at least of whom died of the flu. Not a lot, right? But in a community of 380 people, where everyone knows everyone else and has since they were born, that's a lot.
Six cases of flu in October, including the doctor, would have frightened everyone. The whole family coming down with the flu in March would have everyone scared.
And those 12 people dead - they would leave a hole in the community, from the newborn to the soldiers who never came back. Small towns are tight-knit, and memories are long. Weddings and funerals, births and deaths, all get talked about for years, if not generations. The proof is that we know the rest of Anna's story, because it's still being talked about, in Allyson's family, and now here. Anna continued to live on the farm until she was married. She was an older bride: she and Bernt were married in 1931, when she was 32.

Lace or floral wedding dresses
https://vintagedancer.com/vintage/1930s-wedding-history/

But marriage isn't the end of the story, no matter how happy it was. And while I wish her story had a happier ending, it doesn't: Anna died in 1933, in childbirth, at the age of 34. As you can see from the photo of her in the casket, she was buried in her wedding dress, a custom of the time. The baby died as well.




Written On The Back Fly-Leaves of her Diary:

Could we but draw back the curtains that surround each other’s lives, see the naked heart and spirit. Know what spur the action gives. Often we would find it better, purer then we judge we should, we should love each other better. If we only understood.
I’m getting tired of dreaming. Dreaming of you all day. I’m getting tired of sceming [sic]. Hope I shall get you some day.
I envy the dimples that hide and go seek, and play with the roses that bloom on your cheek.
Our eyes have met.
Our lips not yet
But O you kid
I’ll get you yet
Smile, and the world smiles with you.
Weep, and you weep alone.

Anna Eneboe

Stay well, stay safe, stay  HOME.

PS - for Anna's entire diary, go here.

PPS - Other sources for information of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic in South Dakota include these article:

25 March 2020

Sleeping Murder


"Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle."
          - The Duchess of Malfi

My pal Carole back in Baltimore recommends the latest BBC adaption of Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse. A cursory search turns up the following, that the book it's based on was influenced to some degree by a contemporary of Christie's named Dennis Wheatley. He was a successful popular novelist at the time, his best-known book being The Devil Rides Out.

Wheatley, whom I've never read, wrote thrillers with a supernatural twist - Satanism, black magic, the paranormal - none of which he apparently put much credit by. He was a sometime acquaintance of Aleister Crowley, and published him at one point, but he doesn't seem to have taken him too seriously. The interesting thing, to me, is the idea of using supernatural themes, whether it's demonic possession or a ghost story, as a counterweight to the rational or the orderly.



This surfaces in Christie, in John Buchan, and in Conan Doyle, to pick major names. Holmes remarks more than once, phrasing it slightly differently, that once you eliminate the impossible, what's left, no matter how improbable, is what happened. The Hound of the Baskervilles generates a lot of its electricity by suggesting the otherworldly - is the dog a physical presence, a phantom, a psychological monster, the manifestation of some past buried evil: a curse, in other words? Kipling fools with it, Robert Louis Stevenson works similar earth, sowing dragon's teeth.



Conan Doyle caught a great deal of ridicule, later in life, for his embrace of spiritualism. Harry Houdini famously disabused him on any number of occasions, but Doyle's enthusiasm wasn't dented. It's an odd irony, we think, that this onetime student of Joseph Bell's (the model for Holmes), the careful exponent of logical argument and defining your terms, trusts a false premise and falls into further delusion. A reversal of the Holmes method, to allow a conclusion to affect your view of the evidence.



Agatha Christie was a master of psychological horror, before it was even recognized as such. Daphne du Maurier comes close, but by the time Rebecca came along, the genre was established. The effect that Christie manages, and almost without fail, is to make you doubt the convention of the narrative. In other words, she gives you the building blocks, using much the same method as Dorothy Sayers or Ngaio Marsh, but you begin to mistrust the design, that in fact the pieces can be assembled in quite the opposite order, or the story turned back to front. Her last published novel, Sleeping Murder, puts all three elements into play, the frisson of the paranormal, the psychological night sweats, and a narrative at right angles to itself.



The story turns on buried memory, and the tension between whether it's actual or imagined. When the weight of memory breaks through the firewall of post-traumatic stress, the "sleeping" murder comes out of hiding. The uncertainty lies in whether you think the heroine is haunted, perhaps literally, traumatized by some childhood nightmare, or just plain nuts. Any one of the three will serve. Christie is entirely at home with these Gothic fugues, and even the confident and resourceful presence of Jane Marple isn't in itself enough to shake your sense of dread. Christie of course contrives a deeply spooky reveal, and you want to go around the house afterwards turning all the lights on.



There's something enormously satisfying about this class of mystery, and the Brits seem to manage it better than anybody else. Christie, like Sayers or du Maurier, and P.D. James, for that matter, is writing novels of manners, often brittle and generally bad - the manners, not the novels. In some sense, they're comfort food, but the best of them leave you uneasy. The era between the wars, seen at a comfortable distance, seems not so far off or foolish. The ghosts are real enough.

24 March 2020

The Possibly Last Case of Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac


Over the course of two-plus years, I’ve written stories for three anthologies edited by Josh Pachter and, publishing being what it is, all three anthologies are scheduled for release this year, two of them in April, within seven days of each other.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” will appear in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), scheduled for release April 7.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo” will appear in The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), scheduled for release April 14.

JONI

When Josh first approached me about contributing to the Joni Mitchell anthology, I was intrigued. Though I listened more often to hard rock (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople, and the like) when I was younger, I was quite familiar with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and many other singer/songwriters from that end of the musical spectrum.

Several hours after receiving the invitation from Josh, I tried to claim “Woodstock.” By then I knew the protagonist and had roughed out a plot. Unfortunately, one of the conceits for the anthology was that every one of Joni’s albums would be represented by at least one song, and someone had already claimed a song from her album Ladies of the Canyon.

I put that idea aside and binge listened to Joni Mitchell for the rest of the day, finding and reading lyrics whenever a song caught my ear. Thirteen hours after receiving the invitation, I had locked down my claim to “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac,” from the album Night Ride Home.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”—the story of a young woman, her boyfriend, and what happens in the back seat of his father’s Cadillac—caught my attention because I thought there was a story hidden between the lines of the lyrics and because I remembered my mother’s big-finned 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.

The writing came easily, and six days later I turned the story in. After a few minor editorial adjustments and correction of a few typos, Josh accepted the story.

My take on “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”: When Ray’s dad’s winning streak turns into a losing streak, his Cadillac is repo’d by his bookie, and Ray’s girlfriend takes it upon herself to get the car back.

NERO

Alas, writing “The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo,” my Nero Wolfe parody, did not go as smoothly. I seriously under-estimated my knowledge of the Nero Wolfe canon, and I found myself doing quite a bit of research, writing and abandoning several ideas, and not turning in the initial version of the story until nearly three months after accepting Josh’s invitation.

That’s when I learned I hadn’t done enough research, and during the following six months Josh guided me through two start-to-finish revisions of the manuscript. The story remains essentially the same as in the initial draft—at the insistence of his longtime assistant, an aging detective long past retirement and near the end of his life takes a new case—but I relied heavily on Josh’s suggestions and revision demands to shape the story into its final form.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”: Convinced someone is stalking her, Baldy Badloss’s dance partner Ruth Entemann hires his boss Tiberious Dingo to learn who and why, and the investigation uncovers more family secrets than any of them expect.

LESSONS

If there are any lessons to learn from these diametrically opposed writing experiences, they may be:

1. Inspiration (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and perspiration (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”) both produce publishable fiction.

2. A good editor knows when a light edit is appropriate (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and when to demand significant revisions (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”).

3. A professional writer appreciates a good editor.

JONI, AGAIN

And the story inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that Josh nixed when I proposed it? A year later I returned to the idea, wrote the story I had imagined at the time, and “Woodstock” (the story) will soon appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

23 March 2020

Introducing Mr. Block


Jan Grape
My guest author today is Lawrence Block. Better known to most of us as Larry. I've known him for a number of years and spent many hours reading his fiction and his non-fiction. He's an author with so many books published that I am not sure he even knows the number.

He's a teacher of writing as well, with articles and books and essays and workshops on writing. In fact, if you've ever wanted to take a workshop with Larry, you are in for a treat, right here and right now.

A couple of weeks ago, Larry mentioned that he was going to pull the plug on his April workshop. I contacted him and he gave me permission to reprint this message and well, just continue reading.

— Jan Grape

by Larry Block:
  1. In an uncharacteristically prudent move, I've pulled the plug on A Time & A Place For Writing, the workshop I was scheduled to lead Tuesday & Thursday nights in April at @Center4Fiction in Brooklyn. Want to take it at home? For free? No problem.

  2. Thu April 2 @ 7pm—Turn off phone! Sit down with pen/pencil & legal pad set a kitchen timer, & do 15 minutes of free writing as explained in Write For Your Life. This is a warm-up exercise, nobody's going to read it, and as long as the pen is moving you're doing it perfectly.

  3. When the timer goes off, stop. If you're my age, go to the bathroom. If you're young, stay where you are. Boot up your computer. If you've got a work in progress, open the file. If not, open a new blank document. Set the kitchen timer for an hour. Take a deep breath.

  4. Start writing.

  5. When timer goes off at hour's end, stop immediately—or finish the sentence you're writing. Take a few deep breaths. Go to the bathroom. Pick up phone, put it down again w/o turning it on, & congratulate yourself for your resolve. Set timer for a half hour and resume writing.

  6. If you want, email me at lawbloc@gmail.com & say you want to participate. That'll get you an opening sentence each Tues & Thu for your free writing exercise, and may help foster the illusion that you're doing more than sitting home & writing on your own. #pandemicpandemonium

This evening, I went to Larry's Face Book page to look for a photo and title of his latest book or story and found that Mystery Reader's International Journal had a wonderful guest essay by Larry about his latest book. I spoke with Janet Rudolph, the journal's editor and since it's just out right now she sent me a link and photos. Please read. It's a wonderful article by a master author in our field.

LAWRENCE BLOCK:
DEAD GIRL BLUES
How My New Novel Came About and Why I’m Publishing It Myself

Sometime in the late fall of 2018 I started writing a short story. It began with a man picking up a woman in a lowdown roadhouse. A lot of stories, true and fictional, begin that way. Few of them end well.

This one didn’t end well for the woman. I’d have to finish writing it to find out how it would end for the man.

Lawrence Block


22 March 2020

Flash Fiction


I owe John Floyd for the impetus of today’s column, further examples of flash fiction.

Here is a bit of silliness first published in SleuthSayers…

WhiteWash
by Leigh Lundin

Bubbles was a slippery one. She tried to soft-soap me, but I strangled her in the bathtub, no trace, no prints, no evidence.

Me, I hate wet work, but the cops, they said it was a clean kill.

Clearly I had much to learn. This early tale is one of my two favorites…

A Night Out
by Leigh Lundin

"Darling, doesn't this hankie smell like chlorof…"

One of my first, an educational mini-lesson, appeared long ago on Criminal Brief.

The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the gĂ©nie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady have to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

A story inspired by a friend's comment…

Justin Goes to Jail
by Leigh Lundin

Police arrest Justin Bieber and send him to lockup. Dismayed but not disheartened, Bieber writes “Free JB!” on the walls in protest.

That’s when he learns his cellmate is dyslexic.

Following is my other favorite, but the story behind the story is wistful and runs far longer than the super-short piece itself.

My Pal George
by Leigh Lundin

I'm excited! For the first time ever, I'm taking my friend George shark fishing. Some might not understand how I could be so forgiving finding out about him and Joan, but he's my best pal, my chum.

Which did you like?

21 March 2020

Super-Short Stories


Note the hyphen in the title: this post is not about short stories that are super. It's about stories that are super-short. And it's a result of the many responses I've received about a creation of mine that was published last week at a market called 50-Word Stories.

Besides being fun to write, these mini-stories--I've heard them called "sudden" fiction--are good practice. If you set out to write something short, especially something with a predetermined wordcount, you know you can't waste any words. It's a concept we writers need to keep in mind for longer stories as well, but with very short stories it's vital.

What do some of these tiny stories look like? Here are some examples.


50 words

My recent effort at 50-Word Stories is titled "Mum's the Word"--which they misspelled as "Mom's the Word," not that it matters; that title might be better than my own. It's a dialogue-only piece that was originally published years ago at a place called Flashshot.

Here's a link to my story, and since it's so short I've reprinted it here:


"A 50-word story? Impossible."
"You're wrong."
"Try it."
"Okay: Honey, I'm pregnant."
"What?"
"Just kidding."
"Not funny."
"How about: I'm pregnant, and it's not yours."
"What!?"
"Kidding again. How many words, so far?"
"34."
"Let's stop. I'm hungry."
"For what?"
"Pickles."
"Pickles?"
"How many words now?"
"47."
"And ice cream."


(Thanks again, by the way, to those kind folks who posted comments at the bottom of that story.)


45 words

Here's another short-short-short, this one not quite fifty words, written by my friend Kate Fellowes. She informed me that it recently won the San Diego Public Library's annual Matchbook Short Story Contest (!). Notice how much information she managed to pack into so few words:


Who stole my youth? The detective I hired uncovered the truth. "They were in it together," he said, passing me photos. Father Time showed no remorse, his face kind and gentle. Mother Nature was unrepentant. "Honestly, darling," she said when questioned, "what did you expect?"


I really, really like that story. Thank you, Kate, for giving me permission to reprint it here.


26 words

Still counting down, I want to mention a story I included in a SleuthSayers post several years ago. I wrote it for a contest--the instructions said to compose a 26-word story such that each word begins with a different letter of the alphabet, in order. (Contestants were allowed some wiggle-room in that we could use words like Xcept and Xtended and Xterminated for the letter X.) All this struck me as a challenge, which it was, and it turned out to be even more fun than I'd thought. I wrote eight or nine Xperimental stories before picking the one I wanted to send in--here are a few of those I considered submitting:


A baboon cage, discovered empty. Facility gurus hired investigator JoNell Kendrix. "Lost monkeys," Nell observed. "Probable quick reasons: smuggling, theft, utter villainy. Who, Xactly? You, zookeeper!"

All Balkan country doctors exhibit frequent generosity, high intelligence, jovial kindness, likable manner. Numerous other physicians quite regularly seem to undertake video work--Xample: Yuri Zhivago.

Alphabetically blessed children don't ever feel glum. However, insecure jaded kids like me (named Oliver Prattlebloom) quite rarely say things. Unless: "Very well, Xavier," "Yes, Zachary."

American Broadcasting Company department executives: Footage gathered here includes John Kennedy's last moments. No other producers quickly responded, so this unedited video will Xcite you. Zapruder.

Since you're probably rolling your eyes by now and searching for a Tylenol or a barf-bag, let me assure you that I agree: none of those seemed to hit the spot. (I have some more near-misses, but I'll spare you.) I finally wrote and submitted this one instead, which I titled "Mission Ambushable."


Assassin Bob Carter deftly eased forward, gun hidden in jacket, keeping low, making not one peep. Quietly Robert said, to unaware victim: "Welcome. Xpected you." ZAP.


That story, which I realize is still a groaner, wound up winning second place in the contest, which resulted in a $30 Amazon gift card that got used about ten seconds after it hit my inbox. (I don't recall what the first-place story was, but I remember consoling myself that it wasn't as good as mine. What were those judges thinking . . . ?)


12 words

And here's another of my masterpieces, called "The Pain in Spain":

She ran with the bulls at Pamplona;
One stuck her, another steptona.

(Okay, that's a poem, not a story. But you'll have to admit, it's profound literature.)


8 words

I read someplace--I think it was in a how-to-write book by English novelist E. M. Forster, though I can't remember its title--that a story can be defined as a series of related events. An example of this, he said, is the following eight-word sentence:

The king died and then the queen died.

Nor much of a story, you say? Maybe not. But since it involves two events that are related to each other, it meets the requirements. And in case you're interested, I recall that Forster went on to illustrate the difference between a story and a plot. He said that while those eight words make it a story, adding two more words can make it a PLOT:

The king died and then the queen died of grief.

Interesting, I thought.


6 words

One of the shortest stories I've seen, again and again over the years--you probably have, too--is the following six-worder:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Some say its author was Ernest Hemingway, but that's never been proven. I still love it. In fact, if I think about it too long it brings a tear to my eye--and I admire any story, poem, novel, or movie that can do that.


Not to be outdone, here is my own six-word story, called "Radio Silence."

"Entering Bermuda Triangle. No problems whatsoev--"

That one was submitted also, to a six-word flash-fiction contest. It not only didn't win, it never even got a response. (Not that I let rejection bother me; I choose to believe it fell behind the piano and the judges never saw it.)


A final word

I'm afraid I don't know of any story examples of fewer than six words. If you do--or if you know of other shorties under fifty words, especially those you've written yourself, please let me know in the comments. And for those of you who have done this kind of thing, did you find micro-writing interesting? Challenging? Fun? Hard? More trouble than it's worth?



By the way, that SleuthSayers post I mentioned, about the alphabet-soup contest? I remember closing it with the following thought. It seems to apply here too:

Alas, Boring Columns Do Eventually Finish.



See you in two weeks.