Saturday, August 31, 2013


In Elmore Leonard’s second rule of good writing, he tells us to avoid prologues, because they’re annoying. “A prologue in a novel is backstory,” he says, “and you can drop it in anywhere you want.” I suppose he’s right, and although I don’t have any great prejudice against prologues, I do think they can appear gimmicky. However, I think Mr. Leonard was a bit cavalier when he said we could drop back story in anywhere we want.
Back story often supports the plot and even oftener develops character. Plots typically involve relationships between and among people, and quite often those relationships have existed for some time before the first page of the book. To know characters and situations that fuel the plot, we need to know what’s gone on in the past. People have already loved each other or hated each other since high school, oil was discovered on Tex’s ranch last year, or the Martians have for two centuries been intermarrying with Earthlings and our mutating genes are turning us purple.
These conditions need to be presented, but they can’t just be dropped in anywhere. “Oh, by the way, Blanche was in the wheelchair because thirty years ago, her sister Jane had crashed the Rolls Royce.” Too clumsy. Especially clumsy when it’s forced into dialogue: “As you well know, Lucinda Mae, Uncle Fortknox left the mansion to Peaches Davenport, and we’ve lived like paupers ever since.”
Yet these facts need to be presented. How do we do that gracefully?
In my first mystery, Play Melancholy Baby, the “present” plot is explained when we know what happened to Casey in Europe a few summers ago. The truth is (I’ve never confessed this before) the European episodes were cannibalized from an earlier novella that never got published but wouldn’t leave me alone. When I needed a motive for Casey to search for Dixie’s long-lost daughter Molly, I had the summer love affair ready to mine for plot. I presented those flashbacks in separate italicized chapters.
My second mystery, The Poet’s Funeral, is in a sense all flashback. The poet, Heidi Yamada, is already dead when the novel begins, and all the usual suspects have gathered to present their eulogies at her funeral. After each speech, the narrator, Guy Mallon, tells the truth about the speaker’s real relationship with Heidi. These memories are told in chronological order, each climaxing at a wild weekend in Vegas. By the end, Guy has figured out which of these colleagues poisoned Heidi in Elvis’s mansion, and why.
The plot of my most recent novel, Behind the Redwood Door, is supported by the history of a feud between the Websters and the Connollys, the two families who discovered, developed, and exploited the lumber-rich redwood forests of Jefferson County, California. To give this back story I interrupt the novel three times in three historical interludes. Sounds intrusive, but the history knits the present together and helps reveal who stabbed Pete Thayer in the throat out back of the Redwood Door Saloon.
In my new novel, Hooperman, to be published in November by Oak Tree Press, I’m presenting back story in a new way. The protagonist, Francis “Hooperman” Johnson works at a bookstore, where he falls in love and solves a crime. Hoop has issues. He is addicted to the love of books, and especially poetry. His new romance is in jeopardy because he’s still damaged by a bitter divorce from the love of his (former) life, the famous poet Jane Gillis. And Hooperman Johnson has a crippling stammer that gets in his way every time he talks. I present this novel in alternating chapters, braiding two separate plots. One plot covers just a few weeks in the summer of 1972, when Hoop is thirty years old. The other plot shows turning points throughout Hoop’s life, from age four to thirty. In the end of the book, the stories plots converge.
Here below is a brief excerpt from Hooperman, the first of the flashback chapters, in which we learn how Hooperman got his name.


When Frankie Johnson was four years old, he took a safety pin from his mother’s sewing basket and pinned the end of a red towel around his neck, so that the towel hung down his back like a cape. Grinning, he paraded into the kitchen and said, “Mum mum Mommy.”
Clara turned from the sink and returned his grin.
“Hi, Frankie,” she said.
“I’m Hooperman!” he announced.
“Why so you are! That’s wonderful, sweetheart!”
Frankie shook his head, still grinning. “Nnn,duh,don’t cuh,cuh,call me Wheetheart, cuc,call me Hooperman!”
“Okay, Superman!” his mother said. She sat on the kitchen stool and held out her arms. “Will you still be my sweetheart, Superman?”
Frankie burst out the kitchen screen door and ran to the playground in the center of the apartment complex. “Hey!” he shouted to a dozen kids on swings and on the slide and in the sandbox and running around the lawn. “Hey! Look at mi,mi,mi,mmee! I’m Hooooperman!”

Five minutes later, when he shambled back through the kitchen door, he climbed onto his mother’s lap. She was still sitting on the stool. He snuffled, and she dried his tears, hiding her own.
“Jimmy O’Brien?”
“All of them! They muh,muh,meh,meh,make fuff… fuff…ff—!”
“I know, sweetheart. I know.”
He howled and squirmed.
“I know, Superman. I know it’s hard.”

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Farewell Elmore Leonard…Welcome Hooperman!

First off, let me say that like many writers and readers of mystery fiction, I bid an affectionate and respectful farewell to Elmore Leonard, the genius who died this week. Leonard’s crime novels never fail to entertain, because he was such a master of his craft. On the bright side, we can be glad that he left behind such a rich reading list of books to enjoy, books that will never become dated or old. 

On a personal note, I want to shout the news that yesterday I received my advance reading copies (ARCs) of my forthcoming novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery. My publisher, Oak Tree Press, has done a beautiful job of book design, and the cover image is a knockout. My assignment now is to read the book carefully one more time to ferret out any remaining sneaky typos. I will also be sending my review copies off to print and online media that have reviewed my earlier mysteries kindly.

Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.
Who’s stealing the books? Martin West, the foul-mouthed nutcase in charge of shipping and receiving? Millie Larkin, who hates the boss because he’s a man? Could it be Lucinda Baylor, the dark and sassy clerk that Hoop’s in love with? Jack Davis, the socialist, or Frank Blanchard, the anarchist? Or maybe even Elmer Maxwell himself, the world-famous pacifist bookseller?
Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, full of danger, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

So that’s what Hooperman: A Bookstore Novel is about, briefly. In future posts I’ll go into greater detail about the plot and the pleasures of this book I’m so fond of, this mystery I hope you’ll like when it’s published this fall. I’ll also include quotes from the novel, hoping to tease you into wanting to read more.
 Meanwhile, I wonder how Elmore Leonard would respond if ever he were to read Hooperman. I realize that’s a pretentious thing to wonder, but it so happens that Dutch Leonard left us ten fine rules for writing, which you can find at I can’t help giving my novel a physical exam, using Dr. Leonard’s criteria.
 Hooperman does not start with a weather report, and there’s no prologue. I don’t use substitutes for “said” to carry dialogue, although I occasionally use “asked” and now and then “answered,” and I never use adverbs to modify “said.” My exclamation marks are under control, but this story has its share of miscommunication and anger, so there are a occasional bangs. No “suddenly.” No “All hell broke loose.” (I confess that when the bookstore is firebombed, “The world blew apart.”) I don’t use regional dialect, but I do have characters speak in quirky ways, germane to the plot. I don’t spend a lot of words describing people, places, or things, other than to point out details that drive the story. I hope nobody will want to skip any parts of the book, but that’s ultimately up to the reader.
So how did I do? I’d like to believe Mr. Leonard might give me a B+. I’ll never know. But the reader I most need to entertain is you. So stay tuned.…

Saturday, August 17, 2013


In this week’s post, I am happy and honored to have as my guest a writer I greatly admire. Larry Karp is a writer of medical mysteries and mysteries about ragtime music. A strange combination, maybe, but Larry Karp is equally entertaining in both departments.

 Larry Karp grew up in Paterson, NJ and New York City. He practiced perinatal medicine (high-risk pregnancy care) and wrote general nonfiction books and articles for 25 years. Then, in 1995, he left medical work to begin a second career, writing mystery novels. The backgrounds and settings of Larry’s mysteries reflect many of his interests, including musical antiques, medical-ethical issues, and ragtime music. His most recent book, A Perilous Conception, is set in 1976, when doctors around the world were racing to become first to the wire to produce a baby via in vitro fertilization.
Other mystery novels by Larry Karp include The Ragtime Kid, The King of Ragtime, and The Ragtime Fool (a historical trilogy), First Do No Harm, The Midnight Special, Scamming the Birdman, and The Music Box Murders. Larry’s mysteries have been finalists for the Daphne Du Maurier and Spotted Owl Awards, and have appeared on the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times Best-Seller Lists. The Ragtime Kid was San Marino CA’s selection for its 2011 One Book/One City Event.
Larry’s nonfiction books include Genetic Engineering: Threat or Promise?, The View From The Vue, and The Enchanted Ear.

Larry always has something interesting and surprising to say, not only about medical history and ragtime (and music boxes, by the way), so I felt quite comfortable asking him for his take on “the joy of story.” Jackpot. 
Read what he has to say:

In The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever’s protagonist, Captain Leander Wapshot, admonishes his sons to admire the world.
In Stanley Elkin’s masterpiece, The Living End, God reveals He is an artist who works “by the beats and measures.” He tells the randomly-chosen souls in hell that the reason for all the pain and misery in the world is “It makes a better story is why,” then complains that He never found His audience. “You were a carpenter,” he grouses to Joseph. “You worked with your hands. Why didn’t you admire me more?”
On the other hand, Christopher Morley wrote, “My theology, briefly, is that the Universe was dictated, but not signed.” Which of these writers was on target? I’d say all of them. Let me explain.
 One day, when I was nine or ten years old, I noticed a mansion going up in our very middle-class neighborhood. I mentioned it to my father, who explained that the owner was a junkman who worked out of a yard downtown, near the railroad tracks. When I asked Pop how a junkman could afford to build a mansion, he said, “By selling scrap metal on the black market during the war.”
I was furious. Ten years old, and I was raging mad. My friends and I had scrounged foil from cigarette packages, had donated our metal toys to the war drive - and this guy had made a fortune selling scrap metal? “Why isn’t he in jail?” I bellowed. Pop laughed, but he didn’t sound amused, not in the least.
Anger blossomed, or maybe festered, in my mind for nearly fifty years. Then I wrote First, Do No Harm, the story of a legendary doctor in a place very much like my home town, and his pal, the local junkman. I was going to sock it hard to that junkman. I was going to get it right.
So, is that where the joy of story resides? Is storytelling some kind of celestial competition, a cosmic creational put-down contest? A Take-That-Big-Guy game?
I don’t think so.
A strange thing happened on the way to The End of First, Do No Harm. The junkman turned out to be not such a bad guy after all, certainly not evil. Just a well-intentioned schlub who made a very bad judgment call, then found himself caught in a web that wrapped him more and more tightly, the harder he tried to break through it. For the first time in a half-century, I wondered how much pleasure the junkman of my childhood actually had gotten from his mansion.
In Saul Bellow’s Heart, Bellow’s oldest son, Gregory, a psychoanalyst, doubts whether his father could have written his prize-winning novels if he had stayed married to his first wife, and makes a strong argument that Saul Bellow’s fiction originated in attempts to understand and come to terms with an emotional trainwreck of a life. Bellow wasn’t trying to get it right. He was just trying to get it.
Imperfection’s not that hard to deal with. Much tougher is the incomprehensibility that bathes our every moment of life. There’s a staggering supply of why in any world, an endless challenge to understand the human and the Divine condition (and maybe they’re even the same thing).
In the final sentence of The Living End, God annihilates His world. After some eighteen hours of the most wrenching sturm und drang, Richard Wagner sends his audience home from his Ring Cycle with the vision of a beautiful newly-created world, a fresh start. Just so. Any well-created story inevitably reaches a point where the author is compelled to close the file on that particular imperfect world, pull up a fresh screen, and give it another shot. The search for meaning comes to be the meaning. It seems right to admire the work of anyone who finds satisfaction and joy in just trying to get it.

Thank you, Larry Karp, for such a thought-provoking essay. In closing, allow me to introduce you to Larry’s most recent novel, published by Poisoned Pen Press. Here’s a picture of the book, followed by the review I posted on Amazon.

 Larry Karp’s A Perilous Conception is a nonstop thriller, a cat-and-mouse detective yarn, and the yarn is twisted and tangled and hard to put down. The story is told in two voices, and those voices are as different as can be, yet both of them are convincing. The interplay between these two voices, and the characters behind them, is what propels the novel deeper and deeper into the tangled web of deception. Larry Karp has created a pair of tenacious adversaries, and the back-and-forth POV makes for great drama.
         In one corner is Dr. Colin Sanford, an OB/GYN in Emerald, Washington (a city that looks a lot like Seattle). He is also a wizard at laparoscopy, and he and his geneticist partner are secretly on the fast track to fame, with plans to be the first to successfully engineer in vitro fertilization. Sanford is a polished, conscientious doctor who charms his patients and appears to have no more important agenda than their medical welfare. Inside that slick presentation is a greedy egomaniac, who will stop at nothing, and will be stopped by nobody in his pursuit of fame and fortune. And then, within this slimeball, there’s yet another Colin Sanford, and I won’t describe that one. It’s enough to say Colin Sanford is a complicated doc.
Sanford’s nemesis, Bernie Baumgartner, is all cop. He’s also all business, and part bulldog. At the expense of his marriage and of his job, he won’t rest until he ties up all the loose ends of what went wrong. Baumgartner is a charmer in his own gruff way. He has a droll, hardboiled way with words and a disregard for baloney as well as any polite protocol that might come between him and solving the case. He also has a wonderful sidekick, a picklock named Iggy, who helps Baumgartner circumvent the formalities of proper police procedure.

—John M. Daniel

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My Favorite Publisher

I happily take this opportunity, on August 10, to voice my admiration for the finest publisher I know. This happens to be her birthday. She happens to be my partner.

Susan Daniel is the person who makes Daniel & Daniel work. She is the business manager, which means she writes the checks, makes the deposits, keeps accounts, pays royalties, pays taxes, and does every bit of work in the company that involves dollar signs.

Susan also is the manager of sales and marketing, working with our distributor to make sure books move. This involves sending out the news on every new title to reviewers, keeping the world informed of what we’re publishing and how to buy our books.

Susan Daniel is also the company’s production manager, shepherding each book along the route from manuscript to finished book. She keeps projects moving from editor to typesetter to proofreader to author, back to typesetter for corrections and on to another proofreader, and eventually to the printer. Susan does all this with skill and grace. Her eye for elegance and her high standards pay off: our products are top notch.

Her people skills are this company’s most valuable asset. Everyone who works with Susan—typesetter, proofreaders, distributors, printers, and especially authors—think the world of her. Needless to say, her partner is the world’s luckiest publisher in the world, because Susan Daniel is the best.

I’d like to close this tribute with a brief passage from my 1997 memoir, One for the Books:

The most important thing to happen to me in the fall of 1983 came in December, when I fell in love with my supervisor. This may sound like personal rather than professional news, but this development, this new partnership, was and continues to be the most significant thing to happen to my  entire publishing career. Not to mention my personal life.…

At that point, Susan and I were still working for Noel Young, still two employees of Capra Press. It is a risk to begin a relationship with a close fellow worker, to start spending nights with a person with whom you spend your days.

But we took that risk and won.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


For this month’s invitational blog, I challenged writers to send me 99-word stories on the subject of heat. Seven writers answered the call. Here are their stories. Also see the end of this post for next month’s challenge.


by Alice Truscott

A polar bear event. My first one.
You know the kind of thing, where a huge hole is cut in the ice, which is at least eight inches thick, and you jump in and swim to the other side, tethered for safety of course.
Over coming the fear.
A group venture, otherwise you’d lose your nerve. And as a group you are thinking the same thing—you should have had your heads examined.
Laughing with relief as many hands reach to retrieve you from the icy depths. Escorted to your reward. To be thawed out in the hot tub!


by Joseph Antretter

“And don’t tell me to calm down,” I screamed into my cell phone, ending my tirade. I was hoping to burn off my sister’s dammed-up deaf ears. Only further wishing she was in front of me, so I could gouge out her blind shark-like dead eyes and rip out her sharp guilt edged tongue oozing around in the infected pustule that was her mouth.
Finally, a bullied and battered four-year-old little brother finds a voice, vindication, and victory over the villain of his deformative years.
Not a drop of blood was shed.
Nor a single tear, wasted.


By Jerry Giammatteo

The Mayan Peninsula was hot in a way that we had not experienced before as we toured the ruins at Tulum.
We climbed the endless steps of the great temple. An overwhelming sense of awe swept over us, along with the heat. How did they manage to build something so magnificent?
The ocean and the azure blue Mexican sky added to our experience.
And did I mention the heat?
We staggered light-headed down the steps of the temple to our bus. On board was a cooler filled with cold Dos Equis.
It didn’t seem quite as hot as before.


By Jill Evans

Zoe dismissed my latest breakup in two words: “He’s crazy.”
“He generates this wild passion in me,” I insisted.
“He’s short, fat, bald, and afraid of the rain,” she said blowing the swirls of steam from her coffee.
Sadly, I resigned myself to her viewpoint. Even though Sam and I had only gone out twice, I’d just received the “let’s be friends” email on my iPhone.
“Maybe I’ll give him another chance,” I mused.
“He’s already made up your mind for you.”
I glanced down at the email as the heat of desire in my belly sank to ashes.


by June Kosier

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” And, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Doing one thing that scares you can also get you into hot water.
For example, speaking up for someone who is being bullied can have dangerous consequences but it can also lead to the end of the bullying and the knowledge that you helped a fellow human being.
Or, how about the civilian who from a position of safety rushes into a burning building and rescues someone?


Heaven To Hell
by Christine Viscuso

“Chaud Firestone, we’re going in.”
“I’m not, Afrika. You can’t make me.”
“It’s a hundred and we don’t have central air. I’m hot. At my age, I need air.”
“Heat’s a good thing. I’m retiring to Florida.”
“If we don’t go in now, I’ll wilt.”

“Welcome to Starbucks; may I take your orders?”
“I’ll have a Venti Green Tea Frappuccino.”
“And you, sir?”
“A Latte.”
“Hot or iced?”
“Geez, it’s ten below in here. Hotter than hell!”
“Congratulations sir. You have just won free coffee for the year. You’re the first to order a hot drink today!”


by Rita Kushner

One bitterly cold Sunday afternoon, me and Army Air Force soldier, Mickey, furloughed from his hot Florida station, were married.
Happily, we returned there for our wartime honeymoon. My first day alone was at the beach, tanning my winter-white body on the hot sand. I luxuriated in that heat until late afternoon.
 When Mickey returned after duty, the blister on my back, filled with oozing fluid, warranted a trip to the Infirmary, where the medic mumbled, “Don’t these snow-birds know anything about southern heat?”
 No matter. I continue to enjoy Peggy Lee singing, “You give me fever.”


Coming next month!

In honor of Labor Day, I invite you to send me a story about work. Specifically, write about a career change, for the better or the worse. Focus in on the moment of choice. And please, don’t send me an essay. It must be a story.

Here are the rules:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot, characters, and conflict.
4. The deadline: the first of the month.
5. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: