What’s New a/o March 16, 2020


The majority of the previous post (What’s New as of February 16th has been remanded to the custody of its proper place, namely the sub-page, Lailah and the Zepeda Boys, near to where can also be found the sub-sub-page: Synopsis of Lailah and the Zepeda Boys. JM admits that that sub-sub-page (a better name would be: son of a sub-page) was only published because he hadn’t gotten around to writing a query-letter-worthy synopsis which according to some experts should be no more than 500 words. He created this initial and lengthy synopsis only as a way of keeping track of characters and events while he wrote the story. There now exists a 500 word synopsis – he hates it. The advice given by an unnamed advisor, was to leave out all subplots and mention no more than a thumbless handful of characters.

The 500 word skinny isn’t JM’s first attempt at amputation (in case you’re wondering, Tonton Jim never suffered such an assignment – a professional editor did the job for him). His previous attempts at blurbs and synopses (that’s Greek for more than one synopsis) not only adorn the book cover of Tobias and the Angels but also litter an Amazon website page. In fact, the Amazon ad for the aforementioned book (two five-star ratings by the way, check it out) had to be limited to even less than the proverbial forty-words-or-less. JM isn’t particularly fond of that ad’s blurb either.

But JM is practicing by writing succinct ads for classic novels. Moby Dick: Some men chase a whale. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Runaways rafting on a river. War and Peace: Russians beat back a French invasion. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: An oddly detailed daydream with puns.

So, what’s new? The pages of Lailah and the Zepeda Boys now contain the completed novel in its latest version. The pages are password protected. To obtain the password just send JM an email, or call him, or even come knocking on his door.

Amazon’s thumbnail ad for the above book reads:

This novel moves the Bible’s Book of Tobit to 1871 California. A priest, a young man and his childhood girlfriend rescue a child from sex slavery.

JM regrets the sex slavery mention and wants prospective readers to know that the girl was rescued, virginity intact, from the threat of a lifetime of prostitution.

Writing Historical Fiction, Part Two

Or: It was the Pomp That Killed Off the Western

Another varmint

Before I return to the actual topic of this two-part post, let me say that as sad as it was to hear the lack of Authentic Frontier Gibberish in the westerns of the fifties and sixties it was the pomp hairdo that foreshadowed the death of the genre. Now as anachronistic as was Elvis Presley’s pomp in the seldom mentioned Love Me Tender (a western taking place just after the civil war), there is another actor whose pomp was taller and even more greased (they didn’t have gel in those days) and that was Dale Robertson in a less than a B movie called, Sitting Bull. It’s kind of a toss-up because while Dale had the taller pomp, Elvis had fenders. Continue reading

Writing Historical Novels, Part One, Left Overs and Left Outs

A varmint

After putting the Part One post online, some not entirely unrelated thoughts popped into my conscious mind, presumably from the swamp of my unconscious mind. So, before I continue with Part Two’s earnest but amateurish effort at linguistics here are those vaporous thoughts, rather like quagmire gas which often gets the blame for paranormal sightings in swamps. Continue reading

A Very Large Telescope, Verily Said

The frequent usage of the adjective “very” is something some English teachers abhor, even going so far as to state that the very user might as well substitute the word damn. We disagree. There is a large cutting-edge telescope somewhere atop a south American mountain and it’s called a VLT. One guess allowed as to what the V stands for. Now, does that very abhorring English teacher want the telescope renamed the DLT?

Continue reading

Writing Historical Novels Part One

Writing Dialogue for American Historical Novels.

Cassandra once told me that I wrote dialogue well. At the time, content to hear praise, I didn’t bother to ask myself if what she was saying translated into: Your fictional dialogue is a notch above average and your prose isn’t.

My wife was a highly educated teacher of English and an accomplished linguist, and she loved me. So, I’m going to judge these two prime factors influencing her judgement as counter-balancing and declare myself as a mostly good writer of dialogue. Anyway, for me, prose, purple or plain, is just a means to an end. I view it mostly as the stuff that screenplay writers use to set the scene and maybe give stage directions to the actors’ movements.

A posit: Two examples of successful recreations of western American dialogue: True Grit by Charles Portis; and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. A second posit; The most anachronistic dialogue for the genre is heard in the television series, Deadwood. Continue reading

3 Paths With Vaguely Related Thoughts

JM is lending this painting to Ed’s memorial art exhibition. It’s a landscape which he bought a few years back, shortly after reconnecting to Ed and their friend Wali. JM thinks he bought the painting because it reminded him of a photo of his wife, Cassandra, on a path curving to the right and disappearing. She is walking on the path and looking back to smile at the camera and maybe the cameraman.

One of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings – maybe his very last – entitled, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), depicts a path disappearing into a field of wheat and then a flock of crows rising from the field. On first glance the painting appears simple enough with its elements countable on one hand: wheat field, sky, path, ascending crows. However, Van Gogh attempted to kill himself in a wheat field shortly after creating the painting, so there have been many words written on the painting’s symbolism. For a good article on various interpretations of perceived symbolism, read this: Vincent van Gogh, Wheat field with Crows. Continue reading

Tobias and the Angels – Synopsis

Tobias and the Angel by the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, National Gallery, London

Based on a book from the Bible, the Book of Tobit, my young adult novel, Tobias and the Angels, is retold in a setting of 1871 southern California. Tobit’s eighteen-year-old son Tobias Zepeda, accompanied by his Spanish mastiff, Cherub, and a mysterious Friar Raphael, undertakes a trip from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to retrieve the money that will save the Zepeda ranch from foreclosure. Tobias also plans to continue on to San Gabriel to aid his childhood friend, Sarah.

Sarah has always been in love with Tobias, but he refused to move to San Gabriel and become a farmer so she married a local farm boy, Henry.

Continue reading

To Three Friars JM Adds Another

In 1937 Walt considered doing an animated version of Reynard the Fox based on English and French folk tales. This seed of an idea remained in the story department until seven years after his death in 1966 it germinated and became the 1973 cartoon Robin Hood. Along with its many shortcomings and faults it shares the essential Friar Tuck mistake of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

And the mistake, historical in nature, is this: Each of the two storylines accepts Robin Hood as the Saxon outlaw fighting for Richard the Lionheart’s return to the throne of England. That occurred in 1189. There were no friars in England at that time. Most of the mendicant orders originated in the next century. Continue reading

Working with an Illustrator, Ed Roxburgh

Tonton Jim is not sure when or how the idea popped into his mind for what was to become the Hound’s Glenn series. He’d mentioned the concept to Ed, his longtime friend, who liked it well enough to enlist the help of a professional editor, Linnea Dayton. She, as good fortune would have it, was about to start a print-on-demand publishing business.

So, Tonton began to write the first book and Ed began thinking about doing the illustrations. As soon as Tonton completed the first draft, Linnea would work with Ed on how many water-colors to do. Because it was to be a chapter book, there had to be a set amount of full page illustrations and so many partial page illustrations. Ed and Linnea both being experienced in the publishing business, the completion of the book, Max and the Low-rider Car, occurred smoothly.

Now, Tonton can’t recall exactly how much effort went into the composition of the text. But whimsical storytelling seems to just bubble out of the non-entity, so we suspect that regardless of how many hours it took, no sweat ever beaded his forehead. Besides, with a professional editor guiding him, re-writing parts of the text must’ve been a breeze.

It was in the creation of the first book Tonton learned that in many respects the illustrator has the more daunting task. Evidently, this is news to the many writers who think all that needs to be done is to hatch a great idea for a children’s chapter book, write the simple and usually short story, and have an artist friend do a few dozen oils, water-colors, or what-have-you. To begin with, publishing houses don’t want writers to submit a work with illustrations, unless your name is Maurice Sendak. They prefer to hire their own illustrators.

Secondly, and most importantly, illustrating a chapter book is a lot of work for the artist. Ed never complained to Tonton about the work, but the writer did witness first hand the amount of labor that went into bringing to life the characters and the situations of the text. And he very much appreciated it. It is an almost magical experience to see one’s characters visually displayed. It’s like sharing a vision. Thank you, Ed.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate and the Demon, Asmodeus

In my last post, Henry Miller Once Said, I mentioned – admittedly bragged about – my working on two writing projects at once. I have some of SBL 8 written and am pausing to consider character development of Princess Rouge and Princess Avec du Lait which will probably be a great influence on the finished storyline. The same kind of character consideration is holding up the start of my Book of Tobit Set in 1871 Southern California story (probably need a snappier title than that). Continue reading