A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Scrivening 1: It Came from Schenectady!

Whence find writers Ideas for their Stories or Novels?
You can’t tell just by reading the stories.  What the Story is "about" may not be the reason why the author initially applied butt to chair and began tickling the keyboard. 
Steven Crane got the idea for The Red Badge of Courage not from any wartime experience of his own – he had none – but one day, after reading dryly written stories of famous Civil War battles and military leaders in Century Magazine, he reported thinking, "I wonder that some of those fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps.”  And this gave him the idea of capturing the emotions of combat. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Scrivening 0: Writing, a Spatio-Temporal Consideration

 Apologia pro Blogpost Sua

This series, some of which date from 2012, and were excavated by paleogeologists from the shale formations of Kittatinny Ridge, have been modestly revised and arranged into the following order:

  1. It Came from Schenectady! [Where Do You Get Your Ideas?]
  2. Entitlement [How Do You Get Your Titles?]
  3. Another Fine Mess [Setting up the Story Problem]
  4. Getting Your Info Out of the Dumps [Providing the Supporting Material]
  5. Embodiment [Middles and Conclusions]
  6. Just One Dang Thing After Another [Plots]
  7. Who Was That Character I Saw You With Last Night? [Characters] 

Some of these are based on short presentations made to the Writers Cafe of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, known as GLVWG, which is pronounced just as it’s spelled [and is probably a town in Wales]. Some are newly written. Materials in the various essays are cited from

  • Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, (Writers Digest, 1979)
  • Card, Orson Scott. Characters & Viewpoint (Writer's Digest Books, 1988)
  • Gallishaw, John. Twenty Problems of the Fiction Writer, (Putnam, 1929)
  • Heinlein, Robert A. "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction" in Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing, A Symposium. ed. Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. Advent: Publishers Inc; 2nd edition (January 1, 1964) \
  • Jericho Writers. 7 Different Ways to Plot a Novel.
  • Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles and Ends. (F&W Media, 1993) 
  • Kress, Nancy. Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Writers Digest Books, 2005)
  • Meredith, Robert C. & John D. Fitzgerald, Structuring Your Novel: From basic idea to finished manuscript, (Barnes & Noble, 1972)

as well as others cited in passing. In addition, personal correspondence with several writers has been helpful, including with:

  • Bill Gleason, then a neo-pro with several short stories in Analog
  • Nancy Kress, multiple Hugo and Nebula winning author and one-time fiction columnist for Writer's Digest
  • Geoff Landis, author of Crossing Mars and winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards for short fiction.
  • Ed Lerner, author of multiple novels including the Fleet of Worlds series co-authored with Larry Niven
  • Jack McDevitt, Nebula-winning author of the popular Alex Benedict and Priscilla Hutchens novels
  • Larry Niven, award winning author of Ringworld, and other novels, numerous short fiction, and several collaborations [Lucifer's Hammer, et al.] with the late Dr Dr Jerry Pournelle and others.
  • Dr Stan Schmidt, retired editor of Analog magazine and the author of Argonaut, Lifeboat Earth, and other novels.
  • Michael Swanwick, author of the Nebula-winning Stations of the Tide and fine short fiction
  • Harry Turtledove, the master of alternate history, has won the Hugo and Nebula for his short fiction
  • Juliette Wade, then a neo-pro with several notable short stories hinging on linguistics and culture.
  • John C. Wright, author of the Golden Age series, Chronicles of Chaos, and Count to a Trillion

Anatomy of a Story

A story has four main structural dimensions: 

  1. Theme: what the Story is About.
  2. Setting: the milieu in which the Story takes place; i.e., time, place, atmosphere, etc. Also called Worldbuilding.
  3. Characters: the People who act out the Story. 
  4. Plot: the events through which the story is acted .
This can be represented as a hypercube, of which a 3-cube projection ia shown below. The Theme dimension has been omitted. A story can be located anywhere within the cube.

These dimensions are independent of one another. You can have an exciting plot featuring cardboard characters or vivid characters in a ho-hum plot. Nancy Kress once said of a national best-seller that the characters had all the depth of wallpaper -- but she could not stop turning the pages. The best fiction hits on all scales: rounded characters in an intriguing plot in a vivid setting. If in addition the fiction has a captivating Theme/Idea, you hit the quadrafecta.

When TOF showed the Story Cube to Nancy Kress many years ago, she suggested Wordsmithing as a fifth dimension. It is certainly an excellence or perfection of a story, and inseparable from it. You cannot tell a story but in words.* But it is of a different order than the four just mentioned. 

(*Yeah, graphic "novels", comic books, movies, et al. in our wonderful new world of visual rather than logical entertainment. But even these oft need scripts or story boards.)

The arrangement of the words is the Form, as in Aristotelian hylemorphism, while the content of the story is the Matter (let's call it the "subject matter"). Matter (hyle) is pure potential; Form (morphe) makes it real. Imagine Don Quixote written in the Form of a travelogue or as by Ernest Hemingway. It would not be the same book!

There is no answer to boredom.  -- Katherine Fullerton Gerould

Gallishaw's Laws of Interest.

No one will read your story if he/she is bored.  So one of the first problems of a fiction writer is to make the story interesting.  It must be interesting to the writer (else he will not complete it) and it must be interesting to the reader (else he will not complete it).  Since reader interests vary widely, and in particular may differ from your own, this may seem a shot in the dark, a pig in the poke, a bird in the bush, a vote for…  You get the picture.  But while there is no royal road to story-writing, there may some commoner footpaths.  
In his book Twenty Problems of the Fiction Writer, John Gallishaw set out his "Laws of Interest" and where in the story they are usually applied. 
Plot, characterization, worldbuilding... are structural skills and like perspective, stress, strength of materials, they may be taught. Though that doesn't make you an architect. Originality [#12] cannot be taught. Hemingway, when asked what the hardest part of writing was, answered, "Getting the words right." There are authors who are read for their originality of style. In SF, R.A.Lafferty is one. (cf. Arrive at Easterwine, Okla Hannali, The Fall of Rome, "Land of the Great Horses," "Nine Hundred Grandmothers," and so on.) These are a wonder to read. Consider the following excerpt:
When you have shot and killed a man you have in some measure clarified your attitude toward him. You have given a definite answer to a definite problem. For better or worse you have acted decisively. In a way, the next move is up to him.
-- "Golden Gate," Golden Gate and Other Stories (1982)
In the posts that follow, we will look at the "time dimension" of the story: Ideas, Titles, Beginnings, Middles and Ends. Then at two of the "spatial" dimensions: Plotting and Characterization.
TOF will try to post one of these every week on Sunday. Since that is the designated Day of Rest, it won't matter if they put you to sleep.

Coming Soon:
It Came from Schenectady!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


My daughter has suggested that some of the money spent filming DUNE in Jordan could have been spent learning from locals the correct pronuncialtion of Shai al-Hulud. Pronounced as SHAY Hulud it means "eternal Thing". Pronounced as SHY Hulud, it means "eternal tea." [Think as in Russian 'chai']

Thursday, November 11, 2021

At the Eleventh Hour

... of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of 58,220 servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war in Vietnam, more than twice as many as in three days at Gettysburg. The AEF doughboys engaged the Hun from Oct 21, 1917 to Nov 11, 1918 and suffered 116,516 killed or missing, i.e., about twice as many total as in Vietnam and 13x more on a yearly basis. No wall was ever built for the doughboys and no memorial became official until 2004 -- in Kansas City. A DC memorial was dedicated in 2021, but is not finished yet.

Pfc Harry F Singley,
304th Eng. AEF

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the Armistice, an event nearly forgotten now, blended as it has been with veterans of all wars. Harry Singley, 304th Engineers, describes the day in a letter published in the local paper:

"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 o'clock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ...

It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill [i.e., Fountain Hill, PA] will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..."

Cadet Flynn (seated) Older .
brother James was in the Navy


TOF's other grandfather, Francis T Flynn (Sr), at eighteen, was in the cadet corps at Catholic University in Washington DC. As he later recalled,

So while I was working on this piece-work job [making artillery shells for the French Army at Ingersoll-Rand], the principal of the high school, Sr. Felicita, called me on the telephone and told me, she said, "I sent your credits to Catholic University and you can be admitted without a College Board or any sort of examination, provided you are voluntarily inducted.
     So this was in the month of June and away I set sail.  I was down at Catholic University then from June until New Years.  ... [W]e were snowed into taking an ME course, because they were short on officers.  They said, "If you take this ME course, you will get to Camp Meade quicker.  The seniors will go first, then the juniors, then the sophomores, et cetera, y'know.  But if you take the mechanical engineering course, you'll see action quicker than you would if you took any other course.  What I really wanted to take was Philosophy and Letters and there was only one guy who held out for that...  He later became a monsignor. 
Note that "you'll see action sooner" was regarded as an enticement. And also that the Pop-pop of TOF was really into Philosophy and Letters. Then, when the Armistice broke out, his parents begged him to stay in college. "We'll find the money somehow." But he thought he was much smarter than they -- unlike 18/19-year olds today -- and took the train back home. It was, he thought later, the biggest mistake of his life -- except that he married the Girl Next Door (literally) and produced my father, which from TOF's point of view was of considerable importance.

Sgt. Tommy Flynn

Since Armastice Day has become Veterans Day, let's scope out the veterans in my family and the Marge's include the following. Not all have been named.

The Vietnam War
Sgt. Tommy Flynn,
CAC team Papa Three, USMC

My father's cousin lived with villagers in the mountains near Cam Lo just a few miles south of the DMZ, and was severely wounded.  He later wrote a book about his experience, A Voice of Hope. In a review of this book, Joni Bour wrote:
"The idea was to somewhat integrate with the Vietnamese people in order to gain their trust and friendship and ultimately military intelligence that would help us find the bad guys. It sounds good, and at times it was probably very good, because the Vietnamese were helped with schools and sanitation and protection from the Viet Cong. But it was also an extremely dangerous assignment. CAC soldiers lived near a village and survived mostly on their own. It was a small compound that was flooded when it rained and was overrun several times by the Viet Cong. On one such occasion, Mr. Flynn was severely wounded in the face, neck and thigh. He spent weeks in several hospitals and then a hospital ship with his jaw wired shut, before being mistakenly sent back to the war. He was given a choice; he could work in the rear or go back to his CAC squad. He was either a little nuts, or little bit more brave than most of us, because he chose to return to his squad.

Joe Flynn was discharged as corporal
World War II
Pfc. Joseph Flynn,
5th Eng. Btn., 5th Marine Division, USMC

My father served on Iwo Jima and in the Japanese Occupation.  The photo on the left is the only time he ever wore dress blues. It was actually a false-front "uniform" used only for the picture.

On Iwo Jima, he went in with the first wave along with his captain. He was to establish battalion liaison and take the word back to his unit.

During the fighting, he had a number of close shaves. In one case, a Japanese shell hit right in front of him while he was bringing anti-tank grenades from the dump to the front, and the explosion lifted him up and sent him hurtling through the air to land on his back. He was totally numb and deaf and thought he was paralyzed. But gradually feeling and hearing returned and when he checked himself, he had not gotten so much as a scratch. He ought to have gotten a Purple Heart, but this was Iwo Jima, and you had to bleed to get such a medal.

He remembers, too, the moment they unfurled that flag atop Suribachi, from the heights of which Japanese snipers had been shooting them in the back as they pushed north. There had been a smaller flag earlier, but the commanding general ordered a larger one that could be seen from every point on the island. The impact of that flag on morale was incalculable, he said.

During the Occupation, he had the dubious privilege of walking through the middle of Nagasaki not long after it was nuked.

Afterward, on two occasions, he was offered the opportunity to be brevetted to officer and sent to OCS. This was because of the initiative he had shown on several occasions during the battle. However, he was anxious to return home and get on with the urgent business of becoming my father before my mother (a/k/a the Sweetheart of the Seventh Fleet) could be tracked down by the aforesaid admirers of her morale-boosting snapshot.

The Great War
Pfc. Harry Singley,

304th Eng., 72nd "Rainbow" Div., AEF

My grandfather on my mother's side went "Over There" and served in the St. Mihel, Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  This was the offensive in which the famous Lost Battalion was cut off and surrounded. His narrative appears at the beginning of this post. He was a combat engineer, which means he had to build things in the middle of battle. The Great War was the first "industrial strength" war and nobody at the time thought it was the first of a series. They thought it was the "War to End All Wars," so there was still a touch of innocence and idealism about the whole endeavor. None of us grandkids ever heard him talk about his experiences. Like most of the Silent Generation, he was markedly silent on the whole thing.


Earlier military engagements in TOF's family don't count.  Great grandfather, Fernand E. O. Cantrel served as a 2nd Cannon Conductor in the 12th Regt. of Artillery, Tonkin Gulf Expedition, 1884, which participated in the Bac Ninh campaign in the First Brigade (de l'Isle) and the Lang Son and Tuyen Quang campaigns in the Second Brigade (de Négrier).  It's possible other Flynncestors participated in the odd Fenian rising or so in Ireland, or in the 1848 republican revolution in Germany or the earlier resistance to French invasions. Cromwell's Council issued an order to apprehend the person of Fiachra O'Flynn in 1648, describing him as armed and dangerous. But none of these qualify for US Veterans Day.

The Flynns arrived in the US after the Civil War and while the Singleys and Schwars arrived a decade earlier, none of them were in it, so far as I know. Nor do we know of anyone involved in the Indian or Spanish-American Wars, so, at this time we turn to the maternal ancestry of the Incomparable Marge!

US Civil War
Pvt. John H. Hammontree,
Co. H, 5th Tenn. Inf., US Vol.

Evacuation of Cumberland Gap
The great-great grandfather of the Incomparable Marge joined the Union Army when Confederates come into East Tennessee and told the fellas there 'you boys better be a-wearing gray come morning' or y'all be hanged.' Well, them hill people didn't cotton to that at-all, and so they lit out that night acrosst the mountains to sign up with Buell's army of the Ohio.  Nine Hammontree cousins signed up for the same company, as was common in those days.

John fought in the Campaigns of Cumberland Gap, Stones River, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Atlanta. He was shot in the left leg during the attack on Confederate positions at Resaca. He seems to have been returned to duty in time for the Nashville Campaign. After the war, he died of complications stemming from his wound.

Creek War (War of 1812)
Pvt. James Hammontree,
Capt. Duncan's Co. of Col. Bunch's Regiment (2nd Regt., East Tennessee Militia).

Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Margie's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Creek (Red Stick) War.  This was subsumed into the War of 1812.

Andrew Jackson's official report of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (27 March 1814) mentions that "a few companies" of Colonel Bunch were part of the right line of the American forces at this engagement. The muster rolls list  some casualties from this battle in the companies led by Captains Moses Davis, Joseph Duncan, and John Houk. Other men from this regiment remained at Fort Williams prior to Horseshoe Bend to guard the post -- provision returns indicate that there were 283 men from Bunch's regiment at the fort at the time of the battle. James' brother William was also at the battle, and his brother Jacob had been in a previous militia regiment. There were a variety of more distant Hammontrees in other theaters of the war.

Later, when James had died, his widow Nancy had a heck of a time trying to collect the pension that was owed her. Bureaucracy is not new.

The Revolution
Pvt. John Hammontree,
Capt. John Mountjoy's Co. of Foot, 10th Virginia, Continental Line.

James Hammontree's great uncle John enlisted in the 10th Virginia at an unknown date and may have seen action with the 10th at Brandywine and Germantown before entering winter quarters at Valley Forge.  In January 1778, he was reported "sick in camp" and he died there on 24 Feb 1778.

Pvt. Harris[on] Hammontree,
Capt. Wm. Cunningham's Co. of Foot, 1st Virginia, Continental Line.

The 1st Virginia has a long ancestry, and exists today as the 276th Eng. Battalion of the Virginia National Guard.  John Hammontree's younger brother Harris Hammontree enlisted in the 1st Virginia on Feb. 12, 1778, after the regiment had gone into encampment at Valley Forge.  In April and June he was reported as "sick," but unlike his older brother, he survived.  He likely participated in the battle of Monmouth in June 1778 after Baron von Steuben had trained them.  Most of the regiment was captured by the British at Charlestown, South Carolina, on May 12, 1780, but Harris may not have been with the regiment at that point.  He was killed by Indians on the Virginia frontier, 25 July 1781.

SSgt M Flynn with Sweet Sharon at
the Caisson Ball. Don't ask.

And that  takes us back to as early as any US Veterans Day is likely to cover. The closest TOF himself came was two years of
Army Artillery ROTC, so he knows how to call suppressing fire down on you. However, a wise military classified him 4F. Had they drafted him, two years of ROTC would have made him a corporal.

Monday, October 4, 2021

All Hail, Dr Stapp

 I had heard about some of this when I was a quality/reliability engineer, but the story is still fascinating. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

 A discussion meandered past TOF's optics the other day and put him in mind of a post of his from way back in 2011. This proved at the time to be a favorite among TOFian followers and racked up large numbers of eyeballs. So, TOF bethought himself to tweak the writing a bit and repost it. 

John Farrel has written a column at his Forbes site entitled "Can Theology Evolve," quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:
Adam and Eve discover
they are naked. 
Human race follows.
"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness." 

Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.  I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion of naive Biblical literakism.  Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that).  I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth(^1) though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view.  You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or in a language devised by petunias, so there just might be something a weensie-bit special about humans. 

It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall.  Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.(^2

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Not least is the common Late Modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself."  Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages.  Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages.  With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.  Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer.  No.  Wait.  I mean the Summary. 
(^1) storied youth.  Literally.  My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids. 
(^2) Makes you wonder what their actual reasoning was, if it was not some backwoods 19th century American reading an archaic English translation of some Greek texts.

Sunday, August 15, 2021


 I used to receive notification by e-mail whenever someone posted a comment here.

Quoth the raven, Nevermore.

I used to be able to delete spammish comments, but this button has disappeared.

Quoth the raven, Nevermore. 

Consequently, some recent posts have gotten swarmed by spam comments. This can't be good for Blogger;s marketability,

Does anyone know how to restore these abilities?

Whoa, What's This?

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