Writing to Escape

by James Scott Bell

Some weeks ago we talked about reading for escapism.

What about writing to escape?

In 2020 we had a slew of blog posts about how hard it was to write in 2020. With political, cultural, and pandemic bedlam hitting us all like an unending Oklahoma dust storm, that was no surprise. I added to that conversation here.

Welp, the dust storm is still blowing, and writers need escape just like everyone else. That’s where the magic of story comes to our aid.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury famously said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Yet for those of us who write for a living, and those who hope to make some decent dough from writing (which is 99.76% of all writers) there is the sober part of us that keeps one eye on the market. That’s a necessity. We have to try to figure out what readers out there might spend their discretionary income on. In the traditional world of publishing, that calculus is filtered through agents and editors and the sales department.

Indies fly solo, but still must figure all these things out, too. Writing for money is a business. And business can often be frustrating, heartbreaking, even downright depressing.

But through it all, the writer who is a real writer keeps tapping that keyboard. Sometimes just to escape.

That’s why I love writing short stories and flash fiction. Flash fiction is 1k words or less; short stories are usually tagged at 1k – 7.5k. After that you get into the realm of the novelette (up to 20k words) and the novella (up to 49k words).

The beauty of short stories and flash fiction is that you can write them in a beautiful state called “The Zone.” When they’re finished, maybe they work, maybe they don’t. But that is beside the point. First, you have escaped in those hours. And second, nothing is wasted, for you have flexed your writing muscles, always a good thing.

You are not bound by conventions when you flash (er, maybe I should rephrase that). And you can try out different genres with your shorts (maybe I should rephrase that, too).

I’ll even throw in a bonus escape: poetry. Yes, poetry, which Bradbury also read each day and sometimes wrote himself. My personal preference is the whimsical, as in the poetry of Ogden Nash. He didn’t restrict himself to strict meter or schemes, and even made up words to suit his purposes. Thus I give you my Nash-inspired poem “Love in the Age of the Virus.”

This virus, we are told, is unlike anything that came before it—

Not the flu or a cold or pneumonia or a bad headache, so different it is that you darn well better not ignore it.

The answer, they say, is a mask and social distancing,

And should you shirk those things be sure of this: you’ll get plenty of angry insistancing.

Adjust, they say, for this is the normal that is new,

No matter how badly you wish it to be the abnormal that is through.

The way you socialize and eat and even worship in church, or mosque, or synagogue,

Is overseen and shadowed by a huge, regulatory fog.

Thus, they tell us, the best answer to the gloom

Is Zoom.

Ah, methinks, however, that the greatest challenge of all is in the dance of the sexes,

Be it with dates, or schoolmates, or husbands, wives or exes.

And speaking as I must, as a man, I can only say it adds immeasurably to our romantic task

To have to lean over and whisper, deep-voiced and confident, “Hey baby, how about taking off your mask?”

Now, that took me about half an hour to write, and for that half hour I was fully into the joy of creation.

So I work on my full-length fiction—which butters my bread—writing to a quota each day. But when I need pure escape, which is often these days, I’ll give myself fully to a short story or a flash. And when I write something that works the way I want it to, I’ll publish it for my Patreon community, so they can enjoy some escapism, too.

I always come out of these sessions feeling like a better writer. I’ve gained strength. I do believe it shows up in my full-length fiction.

So try this, writing friend, the next time you’re feeling the burdens of the day crushing your creative spirit. Write something short. Take a prompt from Gabriela Pereira’s Writer Igniter and start a flash story. Maybe it will expand into a short story. It might even sow the seeds of a novel. But write it just for yourself. Tell your inner editor to go sit in the corner with your market analyst, and tell them both “No talking.”

I went to Writer Igniter a couple of days ago, and this came up:

I immediately started a story called “Lucky Penny” and wrote the first 800 words. It was pure joy. For half an hour I had escaped. I now have the ending in mind, and a complete story to finish.

I can’t wait.

Do you ever write just to escape?

Hobbies, Activities, and Creative Pursuits

How do you recharge your battery?

The TKZ textbook on creativity

For today’s post, I wanted to explore activities that writers use to ramp up creativity, refill the well of creativity, or “recharge our batteries.” I wanted to look specifically at the use of creative pursuits, hobbies, or interests, outside of writing, to accomplish that goal.

I had my rough draft done before I searched for previous posts on creativity done here at TKZ. I was amazed at how much had already been written.

If you click on the two links below, you will find a treasure trove of articles on creativity, a TKZ textbook on the subject.



And here are the chapters:

  1. The Creative Energy of Crowds, JSB
  2. Evolution of a Book Title and Cover, Debbie Burke
  3. Don’t be Afraid to Go There in Your Writing, JSB
  4. The Importance of Creativity Time (mental calisthenics), JSB
  5. Use NaNoWriMo to Repo Your Mojo, JSB
  6. Less Focus for Better Writing (positive constructive daydreaming), JSB
  7. Chasing a New Idea, JSB
  8. Permission to Make a Mess, Laura Benedict
  9. It Came From…, Joe Hartlaub
  10. When Your Brainstorming Hits a Drought, JSB
  11. Inspiring Quotes from Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers, Garry Rodgers
  12. The World Needs Creatives More Than Ever, Sue Coletta
  13. When a Writing Break Turns into a New Novel, J.T. Ellison
  14. Are Only Humans Creative? 6 Ways Creativity Improves Health, Sue Coletta
  15. Writers and Dreaming, Sue Coletta
  16. Can Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA, Sue Coletta
  17. Our Brain and Creativity, Sue Coletta
  18. Write that Caption! New Yorker Cartoon Contest, Kathryn Lilley
  19. The Power of the Shadow Story, JSB

I enjoyed reviewing the posts. I learned a lot. I considered changing my post to another topic, but I think we can sneak in a discussion on the topic under the guise of “activities, hobbies, and creative pursuits outside the realm of writing that increase our creativity for writing.”

Writing fiction is inherently an intense and consuming activity that requires a never-ending flow of creativity. It is the rare writer who can work for long periods of time without stopping to rekindle the fire, or refill the well from which that creativity flows.

In the posts listed above, there are many ways listed to improve creativity. A few of them include creative activities outside of writing. I know from reading responses to previous posts that many of you have such outside interests. We want to hear about them.

It is my opinion, that having and pursuing other creative interests is healthy, can give our brains a chance to shift gears, and can even inspire ideas for our writing.


So, Dear Writer, what do you think?


  • Do you believe that other creative activities can benefit your writing?
  • Do you need creative pursuits beyond writing to recharge your battery?
  • What hobbies, activities, or creative pursuits do you use and enjoy?
  • In what way does this hobby or activity improve your writing?
  • How passionate (crazy) are you about this hobby? Give us a little taste of your passion.

True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

Photo credit: Brent Storm – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke



Cowabunga! was a popular exclamation by surfers in the 1960s. An earlier iteration, kawabunga, was coined on “The Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Ninja Turtles revived cowabunga’s popularity.

In 2016, Roberto Clark, 50, of Palm Bay, Florida, had a concept for motorized surfboards he called “Jetboards” that apparently caused some investors to holler “Cowabunga!”

Between 2016 and 2019, Clark convinced people he met in bars, restaurants, and adult entertainment establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. to invest in his company, KRM Services. KRM was supposed to manufacture Jetboards to be sold at big profits to cruise lines and water sports companies. Clark had a patent, purchase orders, and signed, notarized contracts to prove substantial buyer interest. He collected more than $350,000 from 14 investors.

Only one problem: he never manufactured any Jetboards.

The patent, purchase orders, and buyer contracts were falsified.

Investors’ money went, not to build Jetboards, but to finance Clark’s luxurious lifestyle. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he spent: “at least $41,000 to restaurants and bars; at least $19,000 to hotels; at least $15,000 to family members; at least $8,000 to department and clothing stores; at least $5,000 to convenience and gas stores; at least $3,000 to grocery and liquor stores; at least $1,000 to gyms; at least $1,500 to spas and beauty salons; at least $1,000 to pet stores and groomers; and at least $200 to a bail bondsman.

That last expense might have been incurred in March, 2018, when the Fairfax County Police Department arrested Clark.

Yet he brazenly continued to solicit more investors as late as 2019. When suspicious victims demanded return of their money, Clark paid some of them…with checks that bounced.

Photo credit: Kurt Anderson – Unsplash

The Jetboard scam wiped out once and for all in January, 2021, when Clark was found guilty of multiple charges including securities fraud. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $400,000.

Here’s hoping his victims were compensated and hollered, “Cowabunga!”


No TKZer would ever invest in a company whose owner they met in a bar or adult establishment, right? Do you know anyone who has?





If you invest in Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, she absolutely guarantees she will yell: “Cowabunga!” Please check it out at this link.

Branding Redux

By John Gilstrap

Last Wednesday, Terry O’Dell wrote a wonderful piece on the importance of branding to an author’s work. This week’s post from me started out as a response to her post, but as it grew longer, I decided to make it my topic for this week.

A lot of writers, I believe, misunderstand one key element to this branding business. They spend tons of time and money on trying to make their books and their characters well known–which is fine, if you’ve got the scratch to spend–but they forget that books have a short shelf life in the brick and mortar world. Even popular series get canceled by publishers. After the dust settles on all of that, there will stand the author, still talented and still anxious to write.

But will anyone know? That will depend in large measure on whether or not the author himself has left an impression on people.

I attended a conference a few years ago where a major publishing bigwig addressed the fairly recent trend among franchise-name authors sub out their storytelling to others, often giving cover credit to the visible ghost writer. He revealed in that talk that he couldn’t think of a single case where the success of a book written by one of those cowriters inured to the benefit of the cowriter himself when he reverted back to writing under his own name. The cowriters I know make pretty good money from those deals, but “writing as” does little to make them more visible to the readerverse.

So, what’s a body to do to make an impact in among all the published books as well as all the other entertainment options that dilute the pool of available readers?

Truthful answer: No one knows.

But I have some thoughts:

Consistency. I’m a thriller writer. Hard stop. I’ve spent a quarter of a century developing a reputation (such as it is) of telling fast-moving, action-filled stories that I hope also show a lot of heart. Too many authors, I think, dabble in too many genres. If I were inclined to write a romance, I would have to write it under a pseudonym, if only to not confuse the repeat customers who would feel that they’d bought a book under false pretenses.

Pick your lane and stay in it. This is a follow-on to consistency, but to me, it’s different. My chosen lane within the thriller highway is military(ish) action with lots of cool toys for my characters to play with. The brilliant Brad Thor writes books similar to mine, but he dips more into the realm of technothrillers and hardcore military action. Because he was an active duty SpecOps guy, he can pull off stuff that I can’t simply because I don’t have access to the source material that fuels his fiction. I recognize that and I stay away from it.

If you write crime fiction and you’ve got a quirky sleuth whose voice is unique to your imagination, resist the urge to wander into realm of Thomas Harris or Michael Connelly.

Be visible. The world will soon be back to normal with regard to public mingling. When that happens, get your butt to conferences. Even more than that, choose the same conferences year after year. Whether you’re looking for comradery, professional guidance or an increased fan base, you’ll be forgotten if you’re a one-off presence. But if you’re always at Conference X, and if you’re outgoing, you’ll meet people and people will come to recognize you.

In her post, Terry mentioned her trademark cowgirl hat. That resonates with something a publicist told me years ago when I asked her what I should wear when I’m in public and in author mode. She told me that it didn’t matter what I wore, but everybody should be able to tell which person in the room is the writer.

Don’t be an a-hole. This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how elusive this is to some. Clearly, you’re going to be kind to fans, but it’s equally necessary to be kind and giving to fellow writers and industry professionals. The writing community is a very small town, where people talk and rumors spread with blistering speed and accuracy. You want to be easy to work with and easy to talk to. NEVER speak unkindly about other authors or their agents or editors. As the great philosopher Thumper the Rabbit preached, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Okay, TKZers, what am I missing?

Oh, and it’s Launch Week:

Making Up Words

By PJ Parrish

It’s raining here today. And I just finished my French Babbel lesson, which happened to focus on weather. Both things made me realize how much I love words.

I love learning new ones. This morning, reading a newspaper opinion piece on the grid crisis going on in Texas, I found out what a kakistocracy is.

I love finding out where words come from. Geezer is cool example. It comes from the obsolete word guiser, meaning someone who walks around in disguise, a performer in a masquerade. So a word that was used in the Middle Ages to refer to an actor now means a crabby old dude. Unless you’re British, then it’s just slang for bloke.

I love idioms. They give special spice to the places where we live. Like I said, it’s raining here in Tallahassee today. It’s raining cats and dogs. If I were in Tupelo, where my friend Philip was born, it would be raining harder than a cow pissing on a flat rock. If I were in Toulouse, Il fait un temps de chien. (The weather would have gone to the dogs).

I love the sounds some words make. Splat! Kaboom! Murmur…hiss…sizzle. There is a ten-dollar word for this I learned in high school — onomatopoeia. The French, I have learned via Babbel, have their own versions of sound-effect words. Badaboum! means crash! Patati patata is their version of yada yada yada. Miam Miam is French for yum-yum although to my ear it sounds like a cat who’s digging his Fancy Feast.

I love how we take a word that means one thing and make it stand for something else. Metaphors and similes tickle me to death. A boxer has cauliflower ears. Same in French, by the way: oreilles en feuille de chou. A CEO might be a big wheel, but in France he’s une grosse legume (a fat vegetable, which seems very fitting in many cases).  And there are all the great variations on a theme for not-so-bright folks: He’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, sharpest knife in the drawer, a few fries short of a Happy Meal, dumber than a bag of hammers. And from my Tupelo-born friend Philip: If she were any dumber we’d have to water her. Or as the French say, elle a une araignée au plafond. Which means she has a spider on the ceiling. Which makes me think of our own idiom bats in the belfry. I had to go look up where that came from, of course. You fellow crime dogs are gonna like this. It dates back to 1897, from an article in the Paducah Daily Sun:

                 CHARGED WITH LUNACY.
Jane Jones Seems to Have Bats in Her Belfry.
Constables Patton and Futrell Have a Time Taking Her.


Jane Jones, who stood guard over the putrid remains of her daughter, Ella Jones, at her home on South Fourth street yesterday, and would not suffer them interred until Coroner Nance went to the house with a police officer, to enforce a burial, was arrested this morning by Constables Patton and Futrell on a writ of lunatico inquirendo and taken to the county jail. The aged woman evidently “has bats in her belfry,” and will be tried before Judge Bishop at 3 o’clock this afternoon.

Might be a book in there somewhere.

Which brings us full circle. Mostly, I love the process of trying to put a bunch of words together in just the right way so as to make someone else try to understand the world as I do. That is true of any of you who are reading this post now. You love to play with words. You love to stitch them together to make stories.

The rain is still coming down hard here in Tally, a steady tattoo backed up with a low rumble of base drum thunder. I’ve taken the laptop out to sit on the screened in porch so I can listen to it. I am filled with a deep, delicious feeling of chrysalism.

Don’t know that word? It means the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm. It was coined by a John Koenig, a student at Macalester College in Minnesota. He was trying to write poetry and instead created The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The idea was that it would contain all the words he needed for his poetry, including emotions that had never been linguistically described. He’s since created a website that one writer called “delightful for etymologists and wordsmiths…a beautiful experiment on the fine line between babble and Babel.”

You won’t know these words from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, but I bet you’ll recognize the feelings:

  • Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
  • Opia: The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
  • Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
  • Énouement: The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
  • Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
  • Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
  • Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.
  • Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
  • Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
  • Ellipsism: A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
  • Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
  • Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
  • Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after a trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
  • Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
  • Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.
  • Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective

And there’s this one: Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.

I’ll finish with my favorite: Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.

The rain has stopped finally. And so have I. Go make up some words.


Public Domain Day 2021 and Writing Advice from 1925

By Debbie Burke



Public Domain Day was January 1, 2020. Although today is February 22, a tad late, it’s still a newsworthy event for writers and readers because books like The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), Manhattan Transfer (John DosPassos), In Our Time (Ernest Hemingway), and An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), among many others, came into the public domain.

Same with films like Buster Keaton’s Go West and songs like “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.”

Here is the link to Duke University Law School’s announcement and listing of many other artistic works whose copyrights expired as of January 1: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/

One book in the bunch caught my attention: The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her 1920 novel The Age of Innocence.

Has fiction writing changed much since 1925? Are 95-year-old insights from the first female Pulitzer winner relevant to writers in 2021?

The Writing of Fiction is short, fewer than 150 pages, originally published by Scribner in 1925. Much of the beginning section is literary criticism, comparing Proust, Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and other greats of the era, contrasting them with the new “stream-of-consciousness” trend that shook up readers at that time. I confess I skimmed those parts.

But elsewhere Wharton reveals her views on the art and craft of storytelling.

I found several passages I thought might provoke interesting discussion among TKZers.

Wharton calls the “modern” novel “that strange chameleon-creature which changes its shape and colour with every subject on which it rests.”

In the following paragraph, she describes what writers often call being in the zone:

“To the artist his world is as solidly real as the world of experience, or even more so, but in a way entirely different; it is a world to and from he passes without any sense of effort, but always with an uninterrupted awareness of the passing.”

Here at TKZ, we often work on point-of-view problems.

Wharton is critical of “the slovenly habit of some novelists of tumbling in and out their characters’ minds, and then suddenly drawing back to scrutinize them from the outside as the avowed Showman holding his puppets’ strings.”

About character development, she writes: “[they are] the creatures of [the author’s] imagination, more living to him than his own flesh-and-blood…”

Further, she studies the tightrope that writers must walk while creating characters. On one hand, she cautions against the “author [who] is slave to characters” while, on the other hand, who risks becoming a “puppeteer manipulating marionette strings…”

Conflict is another topic that she addresses:

“The conflict, the shock of forces, is latent in every attempt to detach a fragment of human experience and transpose it in terms of art, that is, of completion.”

This is what she has to say about an artist’s sensitivity:

“One good heart-break will furnish the poet with many songs, the novelist with a considerable number of novels. But they must have hearts that can break.”

On the focus of a story, she writes:

“…the only remedy is resolutely to abandon the larger for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.”

The topic of inspiration:

“Many people assume that the artist receives, at the onset of his career, the mysterious sealed orders known as ‘Inspiration,’ and has only to let that sovereign influence carry him where it will. Inspiration indeed comes at the outset to every creator but it comes most often as an infant, helpless, stumbling, inarticulate, to be taught and guided, and the beginner, during this time of training his gift, is as likely to misuse it as a young parent to make mistakes in teaching his first child.”

Writers often ponder if their concept, plot, or characters are original enough to capture readers’ tastes. Wharton’s answer:

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. That new, that personal vision is attained only by looking long enough at the object represented to make it the writer’s own; and the mind which would bring this secret germ to fruition must be able to nourish it with an accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience.”


TKZers: Did any of Edith Wharton’s thoughts particularly strike you?

Are they out of date, no longer relevant?

Or does she express timeless truths about the art of writing fiction?



Debbie Burke is one of Montana’s Women of Mystery, along with Leslie Budewitz and Christine Carbo. Three crime novelists will reveal writing secrets and talk about their books during a Zoom appearance on Wednesday, February 24, at 3 p.m. mountain time. Email debbieburkewriter@gmail.com for the Zoom invitation.

Who is on Your Writing Rushmore?

by James Scott Bell

A few reflections on the recent Super Bowl.

First of all, what more can be said of Tom Brady? I mean, it’s astounding. It’s not just that he has won seven Super Bowls—more than any other franchise in league history—it’s that he won the latest at the age of 43! And with a full head of hair! And a new team! And he’s going to come back and play at least another year! Exclamation points are required for all this!

More on Mr. Brady in a moment.

I want to say a word about young Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs quarterback. He is an incredible talent, fun to watch, and no doubt will be back in the big game more than once. I’m just as impressed with him off the field. After the game he said, “Obviously, I didn’t play like I wanted to play. What else can you say? All you can do is leave everything you have on the field, and I felt like the guys did that. They were the better team today. They beat us pretty good, the worst I think I’ve been beaten in a long time, but I’m proud of the guys and how they fought to the very end of the game.”

That’s called leadership. Mahomes (whose father was a major league baseball pitcher) also said something that applies to all of us as we face the challenges of the writing life:

“My dad lost in the World Series in his career. He continued to battle and continued to be who he was. Obviously it hurts right now. It hurts a lot. But we’re going to continue to get better. We have a young group of guys that have had a lot of success and have learned from that. We’ve had a few failures, and we have to learn from that. We can’t let this define us. We have to continue to get better, going into next year and being even better and preparing ourselves to hopefully be in this game again.”

That’s how you handle a setback.

Now, back to Brady. He has long been considered to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) at the quarterback position. You really can’t argue with that. The question after this Super Bowl has changed to: Is Tom Brady the greatest team athlete of all time? The only other contenders, in my opinion, are Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. (I’m not counting individual athletics, where you have numerous contenders to argue about, e.g., Serena Williams, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, etc.)

Brady, in my view, is now at the top of the list. There was always a contention by Brady doubters that he benefitted from being coached in New England all those years by Bill Belichick, a supposed football genius. Well, guess what? Brady leaves the Patriots to go to a team that had finished 7-9 the year before. He takes them to the Super Bowl and wins. Maybe it was Brady who made his former coach a “genius.” (The Patriots went 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs.)

Now, to turn this to writing, I got to thinking about the GOAT of literature. It’s probably an impossible discussion because there are so many variables, including personal taste. So to make it easier, let’s go to another metaphor that’s often used in sports. Who would you put on your Rushmore of writers? That means you get four names. To narrow it down, let’s make it from the nineteenth century on, so we’re not arguing Shakespeare, Homer, Cervantes, Chaucer, etc. My criteria would be an author who wrote at least two novels we still talk about and study today; and who exerted a palpable influence on other writers. With that in mind, here is my Rushmore:

Fyodor Dostoevsky
My choice for the GOAT if I had to pick one. Best novel ever written? The Brothers Karamazov.

Mark Twain
Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

Ernest Hemingway
His style was envied and copied, but never duplicated.

Raymond Chandler
I select him over Dickens because of the influence he had on an entire genre.

Now it’s your turn. Who is on your Rushmore of writers? Do you have a GOAT?

Lupin, Then and Now…

I am going to attempt to fill a yawning void in your life by recommending Netflix series and the books that inspired it.

The Netflix series is titled Lupin.   It is a French production but dubbed in English for those of us who studied Latin in high school. It is also well-written and well-acted. Five episodes have been released so far on U.S. Netflix with five more coming this summer, so you can binge it relatively quickly. Lupin is interesting from the jump because no one in the series is named “Lupin.” The lead character is a charming and likable thief named Assane Diop. We meet Assane as an adult but there are frequent flashbacks to his childhood as well.  Assane as a boy emigrated with his father to France from Senegal. As an adult, Assane pulls off a major heist in Paris for the best of reasons, that being to clear his father’s name which has been sullied by a crime that he (possibly) did not commit. We quickly learn that Assane the adult is also profoundly influenced by a crime fiction series that he read as a child and continues to read. The books concern a master thief and occasional detective named Arsene Lupin. They were written by Maurice LeBlanc in the early 1900s. Assane as the episodes progress will often recall a Lupin story in a kind of “What Would Lupin Do?” manner. Lupin is actually an homage to, as opposed to an adaptation of, those books published so long ago. One of my favorite elements in Lupin is that one of the police detectives tasked with solving Assane’s crime is also a huge fan of the books. He sees similarities between what Assane is doing and what Lupin did. His fellow flics make fun of him but otherwise ignore the detective’s theory, though as he actually holds the key to solving Assane’s crime. Assane has a son of his own who shares his birthdate of December 11 with LeBlanc and who, to Assan’s delight, is a fan of the stories as well. 

The Netflix Lupin is more than worth your while, in great part because you can’t watch it without being drawn to the stories which it references. I knew absolutely nothing about Arsene Lupin or Maurice LeBlanc before binging the series.  It was easy enough to get up to speed. Most of the story collections are either online or available for free (if you dig a bit) in the Kindle Store. I thought I would try a few pages of one just to get the flavor of the character and wound up in a time suck. I couldn’t and can’t stop reading them. I quickly acquired all of the collections available and am working my way through them while enjoying every word. The Lupin of LeBlanc’s stories is a gentleman thief who changes identities more often than people change clothes. He is, in addition to being a master of disguise, an escape artist and pickpocket. Lupin has a frenemy in the form of Inspector Ganimard, a police detective who could well be the cousin of Inspector Javert, though the former has much more charm than the latter. Lupin also on occasion encounters Sherlock Holmes. LeBlanc did not take the time or effort to acquire the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to incorporating his famous creation into the Lupin universe, an act that provoked righteous indignation and protests from Doyle. LeBlanc, no doubt with the same twinkle in his eye possessed by his character, continued to use the English sleuth in his own stories but changed the name of Doyle’s character’s to “Herlock Sholmes.” “Sholmes” is no more successful in capturing Lupin than  Gaimard, something which no doubt also upset Doyle. 

The stories are delightful. There is always at least one little twist and turn that even the most seasoned reader won’t necessarily catch or expect. LeBlanc changes the narrator from story to story so that one initially never knows if Lupin is telling the tale or if someone else is doing the gabbing. The result is that it takes the reader a bit of time to figure out who is doing what to who, in the words of the famously salty limerick. Speaking of salty…LeBlanc’s stories are free of explicit sex, earthy language, and graphic violence. There might be the occasional fistfight here and there, but only to advance the narrative. One can accordingly recommend each and all of the Lupin stories to anyone of any age without concern.  Every story is also in equal measure clever and smart in the telling. The young Assane at one point in Lupin is asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of reading the same book?” Assane smiles and says, “No. I learn something new all the time.” Indeed. 

I consider myself to be fairly well-read and accordingly was stunned that in six decades of reading detective fiction I had never happened across this character. Aside from the reading benefits, there is much for a writer to learn here. One can study the stories for the manner in which LeBlanc makes Lupin, a thief who would ordinarily be an unsympathetic character, sympathetic, or even a hero of sorts. LeBlanc also demonstrates how point of view can be utilized as a sleight-of-hand device to make things a bit more interesting. Then we have the overall presentation of language and scenarios. I like sex and violence in stories as much as the next writer or reader but sometimes it becomes a crutch. We want it occasionally or even frequently in our reading and writing but we don’t always need it, even in so-called adult material. I know that things were a bit restrained in popular literature from over one hundred years ago but it is refreshing to encounter that restraint now. I’ve been redlining my own work here and there as a result. 

I hope that you enjoy Lupin the series or the books if you have the chance and inclination to try them. I would like for now to know if you have “discovered” a new-to-you author and/or character recently who has in fact been around for decades. If so, what influence if any have they had on you? 

Reader Friday: Rewrites

Rewriting, love it or hate it?

I love it. Maybe too much. During edits, I often rewrite paragraphs, sometimes entire pages. Drives my editors insane. Drives me insane, too, but I can’t stop. It’s part of my process now. 🙂

Rewriting is where magic happens. The story reaches new heights.

What’s your favorite part of the editing process?

Do you mercilessly kill your darlings?

Do you keep a file for clipped passages?

What’d you name said file?

Ever use those dead darlings?