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

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

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

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

Henry Miller Once Said,

“Work on one thing at a time until finished.” And I sorta-kinda follow that advice. It depends on the definition of “thing” which most people would take to mean a writing project like a novel, short story, screen play, or any written work of fiction or non-fiction.

Yeah, sure, but when does a writer’s idea for a writing project actually achieve a state of thingness? It is a well-known fact that muses inspire writers with a blockbuster idea every week of the year. These ideas excite the mind to various degrees and some begin to grow into an embryotic story and some eventually become written to some degree – meaning that a lot of story ideas never get realized, never even get their own desktop file. But let’s say that a writing project achieves thingness when the main characters, the setting, and a situation are chosen, and at least an introductory scene is composed. If that’s the measure of thingness then I have to admit I’m Mr. Miller’s prime rule breaker. Continue reading

Pay Attention! will be your desperate cry

“Through the eyes of a child God sees us as we really are.” Tonton Jim said this in a moment of longing to be deeply wise. I referred him to a previous article on pithy sayings, but did pause to consider what he’d said. I also suggested that TJ leave out the adverb ‘really’ which only betrays  his desperate longing to sound really, really profundo. But TJ is right: a child’s vision can be brutally sharp.

I did have an occasion to be seen through the eyes of a child when I was a fourth-grade teacher. In an Open Court reading anthology, there was a free verse poem enjoyable enough in its original form. With some of its nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs removed it served as a fill-in-the-blanks poem which the students could use to create their own poems about whatever subject interested them. One bright and bold girl (a favorite student) choose to write about her teacher, me. Continue reading

Writing for Kids

Ed Roxburgh illustration for Max and the Lowrider car

Assigned to teach first graders it became my responsibility to launch the little ones on the path to literacy. The task daunted me. Fortunately, just about all first graders eagerly desire reading ability and most of my class, by the end of the school year, were on the road to wherever reading would take them.

One of the cheap devices for that literacy launching was small booklets made from eight-by-eleven paper folded twice to make a four page book if the cover is counted as a page. Each book had a theme and about a five single syllable vocabulary. For a short while, for one little girl, making the top of her list of best loved books was, “Bird”. Continue reading