Saturday, October 10, 2015

This week's blog post: Willikins Rex, and What Makes a Story

John M. Daniel’s Blog
October 10, 2015

Greetings! My big news this week is that my newest novel, The King’s Eye, has just been published as an ebook! It’s a fantasy novel—my first in that genre, and it was a joy to write, or to watch it write itself before my eyes and fingertips. I don’t know if it’s widely available as an ebook yet, but it’s available to buy on Kindle. (Yes, I now have a Kindle. I love it!) For more information about this sparkling tale of gruesome giants, proud princesses, handsome heroes, cruel cads, and wise witches, see:'s_eye.html.


Today is the second Saturday in October. Beginning on November 14, the second Saturday of each month will feature 99-word stories contributed by writers who read and enjoy this blog and want to be “published.” More details about this feature (rules, this month’s prompt, and deadline) appear at the end of this blog post.


Now, on with the blog. The following essay is from the archives of Black Lamb, a literary magazine I contribute to monthly:

Willikins Rex

During the summer of 1961 I worked for an antiquarian bookstore in Dallas. While I was there the store acquired a Book of Common Prayer inscribed by Caroline of Brunswick to her ward, William Austin, dated Christmas 1805, Montague House, Blackheath. The store manager sent me downtown to the public library to research these people in order to put a price on this book.

What I uncovered allowed us to charge $100, which was cheap, I thought. A hundred bucks bought a lot of book back then, but this one had a royal signature and included a special prayer for the King’s health, which was touch and go at the time, to the grief of his adoring subjects and the annoyance of his heir, who was impatient for the old man to get on with the business of dying.

Who were these people? The King was George III, who had lost his American colonies in 1776 and who was now mad as a hatter. The heir was George, Prince of Wales, the promiscuous, over-eating scoundrel who would eventually become Prince Regent and finally King George IV. Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick was the Prince’s first cousin as well as his wife, and the person he hated most in all the world. William Austin was Caroline’s darling child, whom she adopted in 1802, when he was three months old. Little “Willikins” lived and traveled with Princess Caroline until she died in 1821.

To read the rest of this article, visit:
To learn about Black Lamb, visit their website:


The following exercise in the Key of C is from my collection of short essays on the craft of writing fiction and the Joy of Story, to be published when I get around to it:

An Etude in the Key of C

I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I'll go to hell”—and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.


Rust Hills, the former fiction editor of Esquire, summed it up thus: “Something happens to someone.” That’s it. Plot (something happens) and character (to someone). For extra credit, add “somewhere,” as in “something happens to someone somewhere”; but although highly recommended, scene is optional.

Okay, but what happens? Here’s what: change. Our someone is, at the end of the story, a different person from the one who she or he was at the beginning.

How does that come about? It could be because of chance, or an outside agent (a trolley runs over his foot, as a result of which he will never tap dance again); but more often, and more interesting, than not, it’s because the character has made a choice. As the old hymn tells us, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.” That “once” is what the best stories are about: choice.

The choice arises from a conflict. Remember this: no conflict, no story. Conflict resolution, which can sometimes take a long time and comes in many forms, is what results in choice, the consequence of which is change. And by the way, the conflict is often the outcome of a crisis of conscience, and results in a shift in the balance of power.

Yes, the choice itself has a consequence. The change, yes, we talked about that. But maybe a greater change. The moral center of gravity may have shifted. To make our story important, make that choice important, consequential. Write about what matters. Write about the human condition. In other words, write about love and death. Those are the two ingredients of any great story.

This critical moment of change, this catharsis, for reasons as old as the creative process, the recreative process, and even the procreative process, usually happens at the climax of the story.

If you don’t believe me, ask Huck Finn.

As we write our stories, let us remember these ingredients, listed here in alphabetical order: Catharasis, Center of Gravity, Chance, Change, Character, Choice, Climax, Condition (human), Conflict, Conscience, Consequence, Creative Process, Crisis, Critical Moment…and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few…


New from Daniel & Daniel, Publishers

Sam Western is one of the finest writers in the American West, and his new novel Canyons damn well confirms it.”
Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries

Ward Fall is a Wyoming rancher, a man with three young sons and a supportive wife, Lorraine. Eric Lindsay is a reclusive musician and songwriter in Los Angeles. In college, their friendship turned ugly in an instant when a hunting accident traumatized both men. Now, 25 years later, Ward invites Eric to join him at a hunting camp in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. Although fearful of the reunion’s dark potential, Lorraine encourages the trip, knowing Ward must confront his demons. Into the mountains the men go, one wanting atonement, the other revenge.

“Brief, like life, this is a book long enough to hazard comparisons to Turgenev, with a rawboned sentiment natural to the Far West.”
—Thomas McIntyre, author of The Snow Leopard’s Tale

"It’s no surprise Sam Western is a poet. There are lines you’ll reread here simply for their beauty. But you don’t want to miss the intelligence behind the beauty, or miss the surprising depth of the story itself. These are lives you’ll want to live."
—Pete Fromm, author of As Cool as I Am, Indian Creek Chronicles

To read more about Canyons, visit
To read more about Samuel Western, visit

Note: if the links given above don't work, paste the URLs into the search line of your browser.


To learn more about John M. Daniel and his books, visit


And now, as promised:

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

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 (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

Use the following sentence as either the first or the last sentence of the story:
“The old woman walked out of the bar with a smile on her face.”
Deadline: November 1, 2015.
If you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog November 14.


Mark your calendar: Next week’s blog (October 17) will feature a guest post by historical novelist John Lindermuth. John will be probing the recurring conflict between perception of guilt and presumption of innocence. This dilemma is at stake in John’s new historical crime novel, Something So Divine.


  1. Interesting story, John. The escapades of those early royals make those of the current nobility seem bland in comparison.

    1. THanks, John. Yes, those pre-Victorian royals knew how to party, but from what I found out, the Prince Regent (George IV, eventually) and Princess Caroline were motivated by revenge rather than a good time.

  2. Very interesting post, John! Thanks.

  3. I love learning new things and you taught me today. Thanks!
    Marja McGraw

  4. I'm so glad to know I'll be reading your interesting, informative posts each week, John. And my students will be glad, too -- to read you, and to write 99-word stories for you.

    1. Thanks, Eileen. I look forward to hearing from your students!

  5. I LOVE your blog. It makes a writer feel you’re right there with us, around a table in a coffee shop or a campfire, passing along stories and the art of storytelling in the most kindly way.

  6. Efharisto, Yannis! That makes me feel poli kala!

  7. Its dark, and its late, but I couldn't sleep. Now, I've read your Halloween snippets and I'm scared. Thanks for this blog, the cat photos, the wisdom and lessons all starting with a C. And more books to read. Now could you please provide more hours in the day and a sandman at night.

    1. Madelyn, maybe a lullaby would lull you happily to sleep. Here's a lullaby for Halloween night: …When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.