Navigation, Exploration, Maps, Writing Fiction & Shakespeare, Forever Shakespeare

Gaylord. They know an outlaw when they see one.
Gaylord. They know an outlaw when they see one.
Fans in Gaylord
Fans in Gaylord
Duh moment in Adrian.
Duh moment in Adrian.
Adrianites and on a sunny nice day to boot!
Adrianites and on a sunny nice day to boot!

Been awhile since I’ve blogged. We’re back in the U.P. now, but before gunning north I had a couple of books events, in Gaylord and in Adrian. Photos above this, and the text of the Adrian talk follows. Enjoy. Found bear sign and wolf scat this morning. 


Adrian District Library,

April 23, 2016

Navigation, Exploration, Maps, Writing Fiction & Shakespeare…  Forever Shakespeare

Thank you for inviting us and thank you for showing up because I come to you as an author who began 30 years ago as an international unknown and has soared over three decades to regionally obscure.

 I love libraries. Any town without a library is a town without a soul or a heart, and little hope. At gatherings like this, I  like to talk about aspects and angles of writing, which, writing, like fly fishing, being a life-time venture; both undertakings are long journeys during which one may accumulate a lot of knowledge and skills, but never fully master.

Most journeys, at least at the start, require a map to help one find the way. Thus, to ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”

If you are of the G.P.S. and exclusively digital generation, it’s likely that you have little clue of the joys, mysteries, stories, and potential joy inherent in  paper maps, which, like books, open mind-doors and enable us to economically and efficiently visit places we may not be able to get to on  our own, physically or financially.

What is a book? At its most elemental, it’s a story, and  it is also a map. Map = story; Story = map. See the connection?

Humans live on and by stories. We crave stories, make life decisions based on them, create dreams from them, and sometimes even plan our lives based on them. We use stories to help us compose the narrative of who we are. Much of the content of such self-stories is fiction, some of it intentional — and a lot of it the result of faulty memory.

As a once upon-a-time-navigator in the heat of the Cold War, I found our way around the world at 500  knots with minimal and marginal equipment, and today retain a particular affinity for paper charts and maps – as well as for stories.  Let me add that we trained on the most minimal equipment imaginable (looking out the window, called map-reading, a periscopic sextant and a  magnetic compass), Why such meager support? Because we did not want to be tied to the ground. The strategic assumption was that if the Cold War ever turned ugly hot we would not have anything left on the ground to support us.  Therefore, we had to be able to exist and press forward alone, disconnected from all earthly contact until our missions were complete.

We had heat and light shield inserts for our windows so that we wouldn’t get blinded by nuclear flashes, and to minimize the amount of radiation seeping in as we passed through hot zones. This may seem a bit surreal and even fictitious to you, but it was our reality and the purpose of intense, continuous training to do our jobs and execute our mission in the event nuclear war became real.

Every time we flew, either for training or in combat support, I prepared a navigation plan of a route or path that  led us to a destination — an outline of a story if you will, to go from A to X via Y and en route to accomplish all of our mission tasks, whatever those might be.

But, as someone once noted, Plans are obsolete as soon as the first shot is fired. Also true for writing fiction. You can have a good idea of where you want to go, but the characters and situations can sometimes assume a force of their own reality and push you in other directions.

This is no different than flying across the Atlantic and running into a towering wall of thunderstorms far over our heads (think  60,000 feet and upwards) – too high for us to fly over, and therefore requiring me to use the APN-59 radar to pick our way through all sorts of airborne violence, turn right, now turn left, HARD LEFT! More left! Roll out, Okay, back to the right, and so forth, until we finally popped out into the clear. Then and only then did I have time look back, and reconstruct what the hell I had done and where we had  ended up. When you are a thousand miles from land, your determination of current position can be literally critical. True for writing a story as well.

As an aside, we did our utmost to avoid such meteorological monsters in peacetime missions, but if we were out over the Gulf of Tonkin and got jumped by a MiG which happened from time to time, I was expected to guide us quickly into the worst vaporous scheisse I could find, and fortunately I only had to do this  a couple of times. If you have a MiG on your nose and  the two of you are closing at 1,500 mph, there’s not a lot of time to figure out what  the hell to do other than run for cover. We had no guns and no missiles,  no defense whatsoever, just an aircraft filled with  up to 80 thousand pounds of JP-4 fuel, which could make for a pretty spectacular airborne fireball.  

Boompf! Not a good mission outcome.

During the ongoing political primaries there’s been a lot of blabber about killing “families of terrorists” and other innocents, and almost all the candidates insist the US.  does not and did not and would not do  such a heinous thing, which is to say we would never  intentionally attack presumably innocent civilians. Such statements are abject baloney – ignorance on display. Do these people have no knowledge of history?

Neal Stephenson wrote in a 2011 essay called “Locked in,” that” The rockets of the 1950s and 1960s were so expensive and yet so inaccurate, that their only effective military use was lobbing bombs of inconceivably vast destructive power in the general direction of large urban areas.” Stephenson had it right: I was there and part of that machine and there was never a distinction made between family or foe, civilian or uniformed enemy. 

Now, let’s me us remember a few names from World War II  and add the  two nouns, fire bomb and A-bomb: Now think Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.   Then tell yourself America doesn’t kill wantonly. Circumstances dictate what we have to do. Always have, always will. But I digress. (Almost all novelists have this tendency, though some work hard to hide it.)

The late Wallace Stegner has likened every book to a voyage of discovery and it is implied then that would-be explorers may find nothing, or something. It’s a truism that nobody can teach the geography of the undiscovered. One must have the will to explore and understand some of the basic dos and don’ts of such voyaging.

In the end, the delight of discovery is a major pleasure of reading Stegner tells us that reading is, one of the best ways to light a fire in a creative mind.

Writers can experience some emotional jinking when characters take control of the story, and willfully start bullying the author, pushing this way, then that way, until finally the author can wrest back control and take a moment to wonder, “Where the hell am I? And what the hell is going on here?” Same as popping out of the clouds after avoiding storms, or enemy aircraft.

Writing and navigation both require tremendous focus, attention to detail, and continuous revision. The failure of one’s writing effort, however, is not as lethal as a failed flight over unknown territory. But some writers take failure too seriously, or take promotion to extremes. I have heard of one author, after having finished his first book, committed suicide to focus attention on his work. His plan worked: the book was widely adjudged by the critics to be not good. So it goes, This story is no doubt apocryphal

 Just as I create artificial worlds in my fiction, when we operated over polar regions, I un-slaved our compasses (meaning I deliberately disconnected them from magnetic mode) and pointed them, not at the magnetic north pole, but at an arbitrary point in a vast sky and named that point grid north, thus creating a false yet real reference point.  Based on this I then created a mission map with the new artificial grid and the result was an all-white expanse of white paper, some maps stretching out six or seven feet and badly folded.  I never did master map-folding.

Planning done, we could head out over the polar ice caps in this false and artificial mode, hoping our compasses wouldn’t malfunction and by doing so, put us into Soviet Territory to be captured or euphemistically “splashed.”  Flights of this nature almost always involved some involuntary and predictable sphincter-tightening.

We sometimes referred to these missions as excursions into Glubina, an obsolete Russian word meaning depth, a term that came eventually came to mean the deep geographic guts of a country, or a far-fly zone. Our job in peacetime was to skirt borders readying ourselves for the dark day when we might be going full bore and hair on fire into the Glubina.

As the crew’s only navigator I had to be able to create paths across real places, which we could all recognize,  as well as create paths over largely unknown expanses, and back to safety, all done on the great featureless expanses of white paper that served as the mission chart. It was, I realize now, unexpectedly good preparation for becoming a story-teller.

Authors can be involved in similar situations. And stories can be a little bit like this– depending on what the writer is doing and how he or she is telling the story.

James Joyce, once said in a letter to poet Ezra Pound, “In Ulysses, I have recorded simultaneously what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does, to what Freudians all call the subconscious.”

The subconscious is of course, unknown and unmapped and not much different than that blank polar grid map I had to construct. We humans,  each and all of us, sometimes find ourselves in the unknown and uncharted. As a navigator I was trained to intentionally take us into such terra incognita and to bring us safely out, no matter what.

Writers do the same thing, though writers don’t and can’t get the same kind of intensely technical training that navigation required back then. In reality, GPS and other things have pretty much eliminated the need for human navigators because most of what we did back then, under considerable stress, can now be done efficiently and accurately by computers, software programs and space-based electronic reference gear – which is to say, we have been replaced by electronics and machines, a familiar theme in the 21st Century.

I would quickly add that a good navigator must not only have the requisite technical skills, but also an undefinable “feel” for locating himself and his crew in whatever space they were in at the moment. Those who lacked this “instinct” are relegated to mechanical behavior, which increased operational and group risk.

 Unlike the flying game, where black boxes and avionics rule, the writing game won’t allow you to install in a human being a black box called imagination.  

We are born with this capacity, or not. Most of us have some semblance of creativity, though out on the fringes of the Bell Curve, there are probably some with none, while some others  have so much they can’t  control it, focus it, or even function in a real world. What most of us can do is exercise our ability to imagine and create, and critique it, and practice it. But if we lack the essential element needed, no amount of classes or study will install it. Can’t be done.

Folks often ask me if they can learn creative writing in school and the answer is both yes and no.  Bear in mind that this is solely MY opinion. I’m not aware of any consensus with regard to this question, which is mostly asked by non-writers.  Lots of writers teach as a day job in order to finance their word habit.

In my view, what schools can and should teach are the tools of writing:  vocabulary, syntax, grammar, structure, all that good stuff. What schools cannot teach… is imagination. Teachers can recognize, encourage, and help students exercise their imaginations, but make no mistake, imagination is the fuel of fiction and as I  mentioned earlier, it can’t be installed like new software. Imagination is, like foot speed and mental quickness, something you are born with, or not, and whatever life gives us , we can almost always improve, but without imagination, writing will not happen.

With regard to maps and stories, let me share an experience with you. My father was dying in 1976 and in the hospital in Lansing, Michigan, and he sat up one evening on the side of his hospital bed, and grumbled, “The Virgin Mary and all that stuff. How do you know?”

Wah! Of all the people to ask! I was clueless, but thinking quickly, I said, “You know how you love to drive all over the country and see new places you’ve never seen before, just because you want to? Well that other junk is a sort of road map too. You trust the maps you use for your road-trips, right? I guess you’ll have to depend on the road map you have for this trip.”

His answer was a painful, ambiguous grunt, and he lay back and died that night. He was 55.

The reality for most of us is that we follow a map on the assumption and faith that it will take us to where we want to go.

When we read a story, we trust that the map it contains will to take us to a place or places the writer chooses to take us, same as we hope the map-maker does with that work.

Writing fiction is to some extent a matter of two separate, related functions. First is the writer’s role as explorer, which can take in planned or unplanned excursions or jaunts. Second is the writer’s role as presenter or reporter, and here the writer takes what’s in the exploration phase and shapes it into a story, to create a journey for the reader.

It’s like this: first you have to think the story, and then you have to get it down on paper. This is an easy process to describe in terms of output, but difficult to actually do, especially repeatedly.

Each book looms as a challenge to most authors. You’d think after a goodly number of titles, more than 20 for me– the process would be like riding a bike.  But it’s not that at all: It’s more like riding a wild horse given its own head and the author -– me– grabbing like hell for reins I sometimes find difficult to get my hands on.

 I admire every writer who manages to get something down and a first full draft  complete, even if it never gets published. Completion alone puts the would-be author into a new special category, one few have the ability to reach. Writing fiction is a zero sum game. It’s also an antisocial activity with immense potential social benefit, meaning writers must work alone in their own space and cocoons, not in committees or groups in public.

Our contract with the reader is on the printed page, not standing up blabbering like this.

Each time one gets ready to write a new book, it feels a bit like stepping to the plate, only with writing the pitcher and batter are both you, and you have to let the pitcher -– your subconscious– throw at you what it will, and then direct your conscious  hitter to do what it can with whatever looms at your plate.

By the time you get down to the actual physical writing stage, the problems and challenges are different. Earlier I pointed out that teachers can teach mechanics, but not imagination. Teachers can deal with the following sort of sentence of errant pronouns: “She’s the mother of an infant daughter who works twelve hours a day.” This is the sort of problematic sentence you should  learn to avoid, or if not to avoid, to fix. (As writers we tend to entirely rewrite such sticky parts. And everything around them.)

Here’s another example of writing that gets at the heart of technique and craft; Listen to this: “Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears.” Use of the word “stupid” begs the question: Whose word is this? It’s unlikely the author wants to call his character stupid merely for listening to some music in an auditorium. Thus, what we have here is the author assigning this one special word to the character, and giving it to the character in such a way that he does not interfere with or interrupt the flow of thought inside that character’s mind. The author might have chosen to write a more traditional omniscient third-person voice, such as “’It’s so stupid to be crying over this silly piece of Brahms,’ he thought.”

 Hear the difference? This last sentence is in conventional third-person and it is 12 words long; the previous example is only 7 words, meaning the first version is 40 percent shorter, which makes the composition tighter and performs the alchemical trick of putting you directly inside the character’s head and helps you follow the character’s thinking and feeling as it happens, without obvious outside ham-handedness from the writer. All of this, we note, is achieved by using that one word, “stupid.” This is a poignant yet simple example of why the craft and skills of writing are sometimes referred to as art, and this is also why good teachers will repeatedly remind students that every word is important.

I  have tried to employ in most of my later works a form of first-person voice called free indirect style, a term probably only writers and students bother about (or should). It is one of the craft and technique secrets or devices for parachuting the reader into a character’s mind and emotions. The beauty (and utility) of this choice is as with the example of stupid tears, that you sense what you are reading are the character’s words and thoughts, when in fact they are the words the writer has deliberately chosen for the reasons we’ve talked about.

The 10th Woods Cop story, featuring Grady Service, came out March 1. It is called BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY, and it deals with the crazy and extreme side of deer hunting and killing.  As said a few moments ago, there is in writing  an exploration phase and then a reporter phase. It was my intention to step over to my other series, set in the 1910-1920 period – and I had even. done some noodling and composition (approximately 10,000 words) on the third entry to  that series.  But damned if my mind would not let go of Grady Service, who is in a predicament when BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY ends.

One morning, a month or so  before Buckular hit bookstores, I woke up with four words burned into my mind. A SPORTING OF SKELETONS. I knew immediately that this would be the title of the 11th Grady Service tale, and as much as I enjoy all the characters in the Bapcat series, I  realized deep down that I would be compelled to explore what happens to Grady in the wake of BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY, which ends on New Year’s Day, 2009. That morning when I woke up with those four words, I awoke also with a whole suitcase more and plodded down to my writing table, picked up my pen, and literally scribbled the following scene. [For the record, Lonnie spends an inordinate amount of time helping me decipher my own handwriting, which began bad, and worsens every year]:

“With his out-of-the-blue suspension from duty now in effect, the unexpected  hiatus had, after decades of action left Grady Service with nothing to do, his ship dead in the water, becalmed, perhaps permanently, and then came the headaches, sudden, blinding, painful, a hurt beyond the reach of any known drugs or therapies.  Endure, he told himself. Just get through this, but something deep down was also telling him not to sit back, to fight. And for one of the few times in his life he had no idea how or who, much less what.

Adding to the pain, he suddenly felt no identity, no purpose, was reduced to a lump of human protoplasm taking up valuable space on an overpopulated planet.

Limpy Allerdyce held the thing in two hands, like a supplicant to his master. “Dis take care dose headaches, Sonny, youse betcha.”

“A human skull for Chrissakes?” What is wrong with this old man?

“Yah sure.”

“Whose skull?”

“How my ‘posed know, Ind’in? Dunno. Real old.”

“You know it’s against the law to possess human body parts.”

The old man winced. “Ain’t no meat on ‘er, jes old head bone.”

“From where?”

“Down Mosquito.”

Where in the Mosquito?

“Have to show youse. Don’t got no words for place.”

“When did you find it?”

“Twinnyfuckin’ Questions? Found wit’ youse’s daddy in da way back.”

“My  old man knew about this?”

“Yah sure, he know all sorts places got ole bones, but he don’t pay no attention.”

“He damn well knew where all the bars and taverns were.”

“Wah. Dose important to ‘im. Old bones, nobody give two shits. Youse need take dis fella, use ‘im for pillow.”

Service drew back in disgust. “I’m not sleeping on a skull.”

“Youse’s choice. Youse da one wit’ da head-pounders.”

“How do you know it’s from a man?”

“Who else gets seff kilt outten bush? Take look, dat slicy t’ing  dere, like knife, mebbe, tomahawk bonk on noggin, hey.”

Service looked, examined the thing, and after a while asked, “Is it clean?”

What was it Treebone always preached, “If nothing works, try something else.” He doubted his old friend would stoop to putting a human skull under his head. No chance of that. But he would. What other choices were left?


An important reason for employing the free indirect narrative technique is the desire to create a sense of veracity, or truth. My protagonist Grady Service is the  eye-witness to his life, as you are to yours,  and he is testifying to you the reader that the things he is going through are actually happening and you are a participant within his mind, from his perspective. Ironically, you know full well that none of this stuff actually happened or is happening, and that the story is fabricated, but if I do my job I can draw you into the story and help you to stay there as it unfolds to its conclusion help you follow the map to the end.

I have written books from different narrative viewpoints but both current series employ the indirect first because I want the stories to unfold from a single point of view in a realistic, (some say, naturalistic) way. If I am doing my job effectively and my editor is helping me, the reader should never experience the inside of another character’s head. You will hear them express feelings and think out loud to Service and to and with others, but you will not partake inside the way you do with Grady Service. I want Grady to be human, which means he can see only his own viewpoint and he cannot read the future, so he must face that unknown alone, and we get to share that experience with him

The exploration by artists and writers is always into the unknown, off our map if you will. The stories we create then become maps for others.

I think that if you’re going to write, you have tell a story. This is the contract with your reader. They read and you tell them a story. But one of the things we see with young writers, especially in graduate creative writing programs is a fascination with doing the novel just for the purpose of being different, a phenomenon  the late David Foster Wallace called,  ‘dreaded grad-school syndrome.’ which he described as, ‘Watch me use 17 different points of view on this scene of a guy eating a Saltine.’” Wallace added, and I quote, “The point of such shit is ‘Like me because I’m clever, ‘which derives from the commercial axiom about audience affection determining art’s value.”

Let me share a secret. I write for myself, not for an audience. I have no face in mind when I write, other than the faces of my characters. I write with my heart and edit with my brain and an audience never enters into the formula except in some technical editing questions.

Wallace loved crisp, clear good writing and was a severe critic of what he once called lit-speak, as in this example:  “formal innovation is no longer transformative, having been co-opted by the forces of stabilization and post-industrial inertia, blah blah.” Most of us who write for a living, exist in a world far away from such jargon-floods, where political correctness in literary attitude is sometimes as important as political correctness in  certain social circles. There’s no political correctness in the worlds I inhabit.

Post World War II Censors and Holier Than Thou-ness  authorities made it impossible for Norman Mailer in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD to employ the very functional and common four-letter word, “fuck.”

Now anyone who has served in any branch of the military knows that language in such a place lives rough and if you are trying to write or tell a story that is true to the subject, the language has to match it. Mailer’s publisher was forced by its lawyers to substitute the word “Fug” for the real McCoy, which to my thinking effectively heightens attention for the  word. For people in combat or “in the shit” as was said in my day the word “Fuck” was used for just about every conceivable part of language, so much so that it became invisible to those using it. But now you substitute “Fug” and instead of the real world disappearing in the flow of the story in the reader’s mind, it now jumps up like a loud and brassy clown from a box every time it gets used. How stupid is this — and what a beautiful real-world example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. 

If you want to make a book disappear, don’t read it if you have read it, and don’t talk about it. But I promise you this: If you ban it, you will give the work a good shot at lucrative bestsellerdom, multiple printings massive sales. From an author’s selfish perspective, ban my books…please!”

Let me give you an example of how words disappear when they are used regularly. Writers learn quickly (or should learn) that dialog needs only a he said or she said after a line of dialog. Anything more slows the flow and as the reader reads he said or she said, it simply disappears. The same is true of other words used in bulk in certain segments of human life. Cops and game wardens, like soldiers, have not only their own jargon and lingo, but they tend to talk with a language others might find offensive. But if the aim is to paint the life the way it is, I have to portray it that way.

Like all of you in this room, I’m a reader first and foremost. All writers are readers. As readers sit down to read a novel knowing full well that the story is made up, and that, while it may be constructed of much substance that looks and feels and sounds real, it’s actually  neither reality nor history. And it’s not autobiographical in the sense that the author is not the main character or protagonist.  We all know these things, yet we still want to read, in the hope we’ll be taken away by the “contrivance” and given an experience we probably could never get on our own.

What we are talking about today is to me a kind of magic, and like all magic, success often hinges on slick misdirection, which is to say, we want the magic trick to work, and we don’t want to think too hard about how it works. What happens then is that we as readers prepare ourselves to be magically graced. This was once called the suppression of simple truth. The late Samuel Coleridge, he of “Ancient Mariner” fame, which we all learned in sophomore high school English class as “suspension of disbelief.”

What we’re looking for in this magic is compelling originality. Some literary wags contend not only that all plots have already been done, but that there are only two plots — a stranger comes to town, or someone goes on a trip. Can plots be successfully used again and again?

Absolutely! Think about the story of Cain and Abel – which is only 60 lines and fewer than 700 words in the Bible:  How many times has that story served as a structure for writers?

Authors find multiple paths to originality. Inventing a plot from scratch is one way, but not the only one. Our deservedly great Shakespeare used great slabs and chunks of work of others before him, and even from  some sources roughly contemporary to him.

Playwrights in those days expecially until their reputations were established, Shakespeare included, often worked in teams the way Hollywood scriptwriters now cooperate in twos and threes. In our current legal and cultural value systems, using something someone else wrote is called plagiarism, but this was neither ethical concern, nor law in Elizabethan England.  Copyright law didn’t come along until 1709, at which point plagiarism was legally called forgery and the penalty for forgery was death. Now, if you’re caught plagiarizing you will have your reputation killed, not your corpus.

Shakespeare had a remarkable eye for potential in stories and tales made by others; his method at times was to use those things as his raw materials and churn them through his personal creative filter, which was not so much focused on plot as it was on characterization. What the Bard did was make characters come alive with many words he created himself. In Hamlet, for example, he used 600 words that he never used in any other play. Over the course of his career he invented more than 1,700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.

I am not talking about strange ancient long-dead words, but words that you and I use on a regular basis in this room even, today even: gloomy /  laughable /  majestic/ lonely / radiance / hurry / generous / frugal / critical /courtship /zany /undress / rant.  He made new words and expected audiences to understand them in context. Many of the 1,700 words fell into common use and are still used today by people right here in this library. How’s that  for durability and lasting impact? He died 400 years ago today.

In addition to his creation of words, let’s look at just how efficient  and economic he was as  a writer. Here are the first five lines of HAMLET:

Bernardo:  “Who’s there?”

Francisco:  “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.”

Bernardo: “Long live the king.”

Francisco: “Bernardo?”

Bernardo:  “He.”

What has Shakespeare the writer done here? In five terse lines he has established first, it is night time and cold (unfold yourself means draw back your cloak); second, the two speakers are soldiers on guard; and third, there is tension in the air. The terseness of speech conveys this tension. Master Shakespeare has with only 15 words, 11 of them monosyllables, set the play’s action in motion and captured the audience’s full, rapt attention. This is the epitome of skill and craft, and why we continue to admire and study the great bard.

Let me provide a bit more from the writer’s view. Shakespeare thought in scenes, not acts. Scholars are learning that he cut speeches and whole scenes entirely, or replaced them with new speeches and scenes based presumably  on how they were working on the stage. This is called professionalism. He did use stories of others, but then did things with this material only he could do, including the following things, all of which he invented: he plotted scenes in dramatic form, took new perspectives on various subjects, moved scenes in different ways and juxtaposed the plot with subplots. And he varied he on-stage activity, varying action with the inclusion of songs and other set pieces, presented narratives with choristers sometimes doing the presenting, and he built in prologues, epilogues and plays within plays, not to mention creating new words still in use today.

The best comparison I can make at the moment is Shakespeare was the Elizabethan Theaters’ equivalent of the late Prince, or vice versa, unique artists both, original and risk-taking to the core. This is why we still study the old guy. This is why his material still works.

I can hear you wondering, Why in the world is this jamoke – Questo scrittore di gialli magro, this meager mystery writer– bringing up Shakespeare?  Well, , I lived in Italy for three years when I was a kid, and Shakespeare often set plays in Italy, so I thought I should  reply in his borrowed tongue.

Make no mistake about who is doing the work: the late Shakespeare, the late Harrison or the still-above-ground-for-the-moment Heywood, all stories have to be made, word by word.

The fact is that every writer alive builds on every writer who came before us.  You don’t buy the assertion? Here’s Shakespeare in A Midsummer’s Night Dream describing the magic writers create for their readers, and the power of imagination: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.”  This is about as good a description of the creative act of writing that has ever been scribbled and is as valid now as it was four centuries ago. We ride on the shoulders of all who have gone before us.

Given that yesterday was Earth Day, a final note on Shakespeare seems appropriate. There are a lot of words and  lines ascribed to  bard, many of which, in fact, are not his. When one sees an alleged W.S. quote, one needs to be sure it is attached to one of his plays or poems or sonnets, because there is no other writing from him, none.

A classic misquote is fitting for this day: “The earth has music for those who will listen.”  I love this line, and it sure sounds like the Bard, but it’s not. This is actually a line from the marvelous Spaniard, Jorge Augustin Nicolas Ruiz de Santayana y Borras, better known as George Santayana: Philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, who died in Italy in 1952.  So no, definitely not Shakespeare. Qui legit, adtendite. Let the Reader Beware. And be twice as vigilant with the Internet, which has more junk than your local dump.

Remember the advice of Oscar Wilde: “It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you’ll be when you can’t help it.”


Looking at Openers

Had book events on Friday (Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo) and Saturday, Saturn Books in Gaylord.  As I was signing and jabbering I got a hankering to go back and look at the first sentence in each novel. At some point I’ll probably look at all my published short stories as well, to see what trends I might see.  Here’s the novels…. Conclusion: star with and in the action.

Opening Lines of Heywood Novels, Chronological Order


The two MiG19s came out of the morning sun from north of Haiphong.


Colonel Gunter Brumm strained to slide himself down into the tight cockpit of the toy glider.


The two soldiers squatted in icy ankle-deep water, scanning the horizon.


“I was eight when the floater drifted past our cabin on Whirling Creek and hung up on the rocks.”


It was a week after his sixteenth birthday, four days after deer season opened.


Grady Service got out of bed, tugged on his ratty sweat pants, and went down to the kitchen where he made coffee, set the table for one, pour orange juice, boiled water for instant oatmeal and heated a cinnamon roll in the micro wave.


Grady Service stood at the aged brick entrance of Monroe’s Custer Memorial Municipal Ice Arena and recalled that the flamboyant George Armstrong Custer had been raised in Monroe and that his life, after some exhilarating moments, had ended badly at the Little Big Horn.


Eldon “Shuck” Gorley was in the Newberry DNR office for the last official time – to turn in his badge and state-owned equipment.


Grady Service stared down at the large white metal drawers, his mind cluttered by unconnected thoughts, mostly fragments: spring, the season of change, breakup and runoff, a time of sloppy excess; his old man, whom he’d never gotten along with; more than two erratic decades as a conservation officer, mostly alone; the divorce from his late first wife; and finding  Nantz and learning he was a father – all of this rolling around in his aching head as he stared at the drawers.

DATH ROE (2009)

Grady Service had found a vantage point under the canopy of a cluster of white cedars and sat on a low bluff watching the dark riffle through his thermal imager.


The last Saturday in April was Michigan’s traditional trout opener and Grady Service began his day mesmerized by the reflection of a battered face, looking down into a mirror of black frog water.


Grady Service glared at Milo Miars, forcing his lieutenant to look away.


“Sharpshooter to me!” Colonel Theodore Roosevelt shouted in his oddly pitched voice, sweat streaming down the sides of his face, forming a thin red paste and leaving him looking more flushed than he actually was, his skin color matching the blood trickling down his left arm.


Chief Eddie Waco stared at the stiff cloth stripes Grady Service had dropped on his home office desk.


“What say you to the charges, Deputy Warden Bapcat?”


Like Pavlov’s pup to food, Grady Service was programmed to serve, not just during official duty hours, but whenever and wherever he was needed.

First Quarter 2016 Reading List

N.Wilson. The Elizabethans. (2011) [NF

Penelope Lively. Dancing Fish and Ammonites. (2013) [NF]

Charlie Lovett. The Bookman’s Tale. (2013) [F]

John Colville. The Fringes of Power. 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955. (1985) [NF]

William H. Gass. Finding A Form. (1997) [NF]

Charles Clement Walker. John Heminge and Henry Condell Friends and Fello-Actors of Shakespeare and What the World Owes. (1896/2015) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. (1998) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. (2001) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. Citizen Soldiers; The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany; June 7,1944- May 7, 1945. (1997) [NF]

Raymond Coppinger and Mark Feinstein. How Dogs Work. (2015) [NF]

Ralph Steadman. A Triography: The Balletic Art of Gavin Twinge. (2002) [F]

Randolph S.Churchill. Winston S. Churchill, Youth,1874-190 (1966) [NF

Kenneth Tynan. He That Plays The King: A View of the Theatre.(1950) [NF]

Kenneth Tynan. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping. (1975) [NF]

Kenneth Tynan. Profiles. (1989) [NF]

Kathleen Tynan, Ed. Kenneth Tynan: Letters. (1994) [NF]

Walter Raleigh. Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes, Selected, And Set Forth. (1765/1908) [NF]

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. (1980/2003) [NF]

Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman. WAR DIARIES: 1939-1945 Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke.(2002) [NF]

Eric Rasmussen. The Shakespeare Theft: In Search of the First Folios (2011) [NF]

John Lahr, Ed. The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan. (2001) [NF]

Robert Harris. Dictator. (2016) [F]

William Manchester and Paul Reid. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (2013) [NF]

Clark Davis. It Starts With Trouble: William Goyen and the Life of Writing.(2015) [NF

Phillip DePoy. The Tao and the Bard: A Conversation. (2013) [NF] [F]

Maria Konnikova. Master-Mind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes. (2013) [NF]

Mary Beard. P.O.R: A History of Anxient Rome (2015) [NF]

Jan Jarboe Russell. The Train To Crystal City (2015) [NF]

Gary Wills. Make Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s World (2014) [NF]

Thomas Babington Macauley. Lays of Ancient War. (2016/1842) [NF]

Vaclav Havel. The Memorandum. (1965) [PLAY]

Tom Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (1967) [PLAY]

Bio Notes/ A, Spiers, Preface/ M. Montagu. (Francis) Bacon’s Essays. (1884) [NF]

Tobias Wolf. In Pharoah’s Army; Memories of the Lost War. (1994) [NF]

Logan Pearsall Smith. Unforgotten Years (1938) [NF]

David Searcy. Share and Wonder Essays. (2016) [NF]

Fiona Peters, Rebecca Stewart, Eds. Antiheroes (2010/2016) [NF]

Maria Konnikova. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall For It…Every Time. (2016) [NF]

Garry Wills. Making Make-Believe Real; Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s Time. (2014) [NF]

Reza Aslan. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (2014) [NF]

Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. (2014) [NF]

Machu Kaku. The Future of the Mind; The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. (2014) [NF]

William Shakespeare. Henry I V, Part 2 [Play]

Phillips Oppenheim. The Pool of Memories. (1941) [NF]

Page Stegner, Ed. The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner. (2007) [NF]

David Hajdu. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. (2008) [NF]

Bob Hicok. Elegy Owed. (2013) [P]

Jane Hirshfield. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield. (1998) [NF-Essays]

Payne Collier & Thomas Heywood. The Dramatic Works Of Thomas Heywood With A Life of the Poet, And Remarks On His Writings, Vol 1: The First And Second Parts Of The Fair Maid Of The West: Or, A Girl Worth Gold. Two Comedies. (1850) [NF & Drama]

Wallace Stevens. The Necessary Angel; Essays on Reality and Imagination. (1942) [NF]

Lawrence Durrell. Bitter Lemons (Of Cyprus). (1957) [NF]

John McIntyre, Ed. Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps. (2010) [NF]

George Steiner. Language & Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman. (1970) [NF Essays]

Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Castle To Castle. (1968)

Joseph O’Brien, Ed. Eyes That Pour Forth and Other Stories. (2014) [SS]

Willie Morris. James Jones;A Friendship. (1978) [NF]

Tom Stanton. Terror in the City of Champions;Murder, Baseball, And The Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit.  [NF]

Wallace Stegner. On Teaching and Writing Fiction. (2002) [NF

Michael Delp. Lying in the River’s Dark Bed: The Confluence of The Deadman and the Mad Angler. (2016) [Poetry]

M. Forster. Aspects of the Novel. (1927) [NF]

David Fraser. Wars and Shadows: Memoirs of General Sir David Fraser. (2002) [NF]

James Wood. The Nearest Thing To Life. (2015) [NF]

David Foster Wallace. Consider The Lobster And Other Essays. (2007) [NF]

George Orwell. A Collection of Essays. (1981) [NF]

L. Austin. Philosophical Papers. (3rd Ed) (1979) [NF]

Nathalie Babe, Ed. Cynthia Ozick, Intro. The Complete Works of Isaac Babel.(2005) [NF +SS]

 L.Austin. How To Do Things With Words. (1955) [NF] 

Ann Powers. Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America. (2000) [NF]Andy Saunders. Battle of Britain: July to October 1940: RAF Operations Manual. (2015 [NF]

Natalie Angier. The Canon. (2007) [NF]

Neal Stephenson. Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. (2012) [NF]

Kevin Wolf. The Homeplace (2016) [Uncorrected Proof for blurb) [F]

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. (1955) [NF]

O. Scott. Better Living Through Criticism: How To Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. (2016) [NF]

John LeCarre. A Murder of Quality. (1962) [F]

Tim Clayton and Phil Craig. Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain. (1999) [NF]

Christopher Bergstrom. The Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revisited. (2014) [NF]

Richard Hough and Denis Richards. The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II. (1989) [NF]

The National Trust. Chartwell. (1992) [NF]

Tom Hickham. Churchill’s Bodyguard. The Authorised Biography of Walter H. Thompson. (2005) [NF]

 William F. and Elizabeth S. Friedman. The Shakesperian Ciphers Examined. (1957) [NF]

 Andy Saunders. Aircraft Salvage in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. (2014) [NF]

 Jane Gallop. The Deaths of The Author. Reading and Writing in Time. (2011)

 J.L. Austin. How To Do Things With Words.(1955) [NF]

 Ray Bradbury. Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon From the Cave, Too Far From the Stars. (2006) [NF]

 Wayne C. Booth. The Rhetoric of Fiction. (1983) [NF]

 Lilly Fischer Hellmann. Jumpcut. (2016) [F]

 Peter Turchi. Maps of the Imagination:The Writer As Cartographer. (2004) [NF]

 Andy Saunders. Luftwaffe Bombers in the Blitz 1940-1941.(2015) [NF]

 David Richarde. The Yellow Dog River: Magical Dialog of a Woodland Stream. (1997)

 William Grange. Hitler Laughing: Comedy in The Third Reich. (2006) [NF]

 Stephen Marche. How Shakespeare Changed Everything. (2012) [NF}

 Roy Porter. London: A Social History. (1994) [NF}

 E. Foley and B. Coates. Shakespeare- Basics for Grown-Ups: Everything You Need to Know About the Bard. (2014) [NF]

 F.E. Halliday. A Shakespeare Companion. (1964) [NF]

 Jacopo Della Quercia. License to Quill. (2015) [F]

 Andy Saunders. Finding the Foe: Outstanding Luftwaffe Mysteries of the Battle of Britain and Beyond Investigated and Solved. (2010)

 Rebecca Rovit. The Jewish Kulturbund Theater Company in Nazi Berlin. (2012)

 John London, Ed. Theater Under the Nazis. (2000)

 John Harris and Richard Wilbourn. Rudolf Hess: A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941. (2014)

 John Stow. A Survey of London. (1598) [NF]

 Donovan Bixley. Much Ado About Shakespeare. (2015) [Lit Picture Book]

 An Stalcup. On The Home Front: Growing Up in Wartime England. (1998) [NF]

 Peter De Jong. Dornier Do 24 Units. (2015) [NF]