Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Making a Decision

A friend on Facebook is struggling with identity. Is this writer “a gay author” or “an author who happens to be gay?” There’s a world of difference in terms of context, audience, marketing, and on and on.

For this writer, there’s no right or wrong answer. But a decision needs to be made.

Similarly, when someone in my critique group has a scene that just doesn’t work, often it’s because the author is reluctant to make a decision or doesn’t see the need to do so.

You’re reading about the feds interrogating a suspect at the downtown FBI office. They’re in a private room and there’s mention of a desk and chairs. There’s a telephone somewhere. That’s it. It could be the same cubbyhole of an interrogation room we’ve seen in a thousand Law and Order episodes, or the ultra-modern, high tech rooms shown in CSI. Or it could be something else entirely. Maybe all the other interview rooms are occupied, and the Captain ‘s office is the only available space. Maybe the agent wants to put the suspect at ease, and uses the employee lounge (I think Richard Price did this). We’ll never know, because the author doesn’t think it’s important to establish a sense of place. A decision was not made.

In the room with the agent in charge is a young guy, an unnamed junior agent. He asks a couple questions but doesn’t contribute much. So much could be done with this minor character. One of his buddies might have been wounded or killed in the crime being investigated, and he’s seething with anger. Maybe he thinks the senior agent is an old fashioned fuddy-duddy who’s about to screw up the investigation with his obsolete methods. Maybe he was awakened after a late night at a bar, and he’s hungover. Maybe he was arguing furiously with his girlfriend (or boyfriend) when the phone rang. Maybe he’d been smoking dope, and can’t quite focus on who did what to whom. His character could change the dynamics in the interrogation room in myriad ways, but it didn’t happen. Because a decision was not made.

Sometimes you have colorful, edgy characters in a scene but it never really takes off. Chances are, the author didn’t scratch his head before writing the scene to decide what each character’s goals would be, and to make sure they conflict with one another. Mary wants a loan so she can help her secret lover, John, who she’s determined to be faithful to. She swallows her disgust to ask Peter, her repellent landlord. Peter can afford to make the loan but wants to get Mary into bed with him as a willing partner. If one wins, the other loses.

It can be an exciting scene – if a decision is made.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wolf and Eagle

This ties together two earlier posts - "Eagle" and "Wolf," and may or may not be included in my novel "Montana is Burning."

The golden eagle sliced through the air, miles from where scattered rain drenched a small clearing and the stream that ran through it. She spiraled upward with little effort, riding a thermal current as she waited for the storm to break up.

The eagle was the perfect aerial predator, with cruel talons and a beak that could disembowel an adult sheep. She was death from the sky. Lacking an owl’s night vision, she couldn’t hunt after dark, even though high winds had kept her pinned to her aerie for more than a week and starvation threatened.

She circled and watched. In a valley far below, dry lightning struck a large snag and it burst into flames. Since no animals fled from the fire, the eagle quickly lost interest. She flew on.

The isolated storm finished venting its fury on the clearing and sped east. Dim memories drew the eagle above a stream where salmon returned each summer’s end and trout grew fat and pink on the helpless spawn – ancestral memories of hunts and feasts by eagles long dead but memories no less real. The raptor smelled blood and tasted flesh as if the kills had been her own.

The great bird spotted the glitter of whitewater skittering across rocks made smooth by eons of glacial runoff, and saw dark shapes carving their way beneath the surface.

She dipped a chocolate-brown wing and dropped below the air current. The eagle descended slowly at first, then folded her wings next to her body to plunge like lightning drawn to earth.

Her freefall lasted hundreds of feet before she spread wide her wings, pulling out of the meteoric dive. With hardly an eddy on the water’s surface, she ripped a trout from the icy stream and started back to her craggy perch, blood on her talons and savagery in her cry.

As she climbed through the warm air, the golden eagle spotted the valley where lightning struck a snag earlier. Flames burned greedily and jumped to neighboring scrub pine. Only the eagle saw.

In the great bird’s wake, a wolf erupted into the opening and sprang across the stream, but the whitetail he had been stalking already bounded far down the slope, startled by the exultant screech from above. Stopping at the edge of the clearing, the wolf listened to the doe’s flight.

The wolf turned from the fading sound of escape. He jogged toward remembered cattle.

The world, after all, was full of prey.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This section is tied to "Wolf" two posts ago. Not sure whether or not it'll end up being part of my first novel, "Montana is Burning." It takes place in NW Montana in modern times.

The golden eagle circled high over a remote valley twenty miles west of Kintla.

A burning snag sent a faint column of smoke aloft. The eagle knew fire usually flushes small animals from their hiding places but not this time. A pine beetle infestation had devastated the valley, leaving behind mostly rotten stumps and scarcely any healthy trees. Despite a huge insect population, there were almost no green branches and so hardly any rodents, birds or small game lived there. Above the size of centipedes, the valley was practically lifeless.

The great bird found a sturdy branch high in an ancient pine. She waited.

Like waves rippling out from a pebble dropped in a fiery lake, a circle of flame spread around the snag, painting the pale underbelly of the clouds an angry red. The lower branches of several nearby spruce caught fire. The expanding poo1 lapped across the matted carpet of pine needles, burning into the forest floor until it ran out of air.

A dark cloud passed overhead, so heavy with water vapor that it began to condense. A shower doused the valley and the eagle sought shelter on a lower branch.

Flames hissed and wavered and then finally failed. As if to signal the fire's defeat, the blackened snag teetered and fell. A cloud of ash rose into the damp air then pelted back to earth with the rain.

The snag lay on its side like some grotesque wounded beast. Sheltered from the rain, its underside reflected a dim glow against the ruined forest floor. The fire lived.

The golden eagle took wing and continued her hunt.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to Blogging

I've been writing like crazy for the past year. Finished novel #1 - a thriller titled "Montana is Burning" - and queried it for a few months, and got a few "positive rejections" from literary agents, saying the writing was good but my Voice wasn't quite compelling enough. So I put it on a shelf while the publishing industry is in the toilet, and decided to work on a more powerful Voice in novel #2.

Surprise, surprise, novel #2 started being about a serial killer in 1970, but another one horned in as well. So now "Assassin's Club - Doing Good by Being Bad" has two serial killers. One is a twenty-something guy in NW Montana who became a murderer "by accident" and is struggling to reconcile himself with his deadly new hobby.

The other is a 30ish man who walks out of the ocean near Ensenada, Mexico, with no memory of who he is, or how he got there. He is christened Jesus by the first person he meets (and murders), and walks up the West Coast toward Seattle, picking up a Manson Family assortment of losers along the way, and leaving behind a trail of corpses.

Obviously, these two will eventually meet, and only one will like to kill again. At about 200 pages, I'm roughly two-thirds of the way through.

Unfortunately, I've let the passion for my novels divert me from blogging. I'm sure my imaginary fan has been quite distressed and so I am determined to climb back on the horse and re-start my blog.