September 2, 2018
I’ve been thinking: what does a story mean?
It’s because I just published a new novel, Caliban Rising—it’s a thriller, and I hope it means: “Keep turning those pages!”
You sneak onto a mysterious Caribbean island. Nice beaches, but nasty murders. Maybe you get hurled out of a Black Hawk helicopter, or fed to the island’s feral Bengal tiger. Also, there are creepy robots….
Will you survive?
Every thriller, I think, underneath, means just that: danger besets us.
We lead thriller lives.
A young physician we knew walked out of a movie theater, with a bag of popcorn, and collapsed on the sidewalk, dead—peanut allergy. Somehow, that popcorn came in contact with peanut dust.
An SUV (inattentive driver) struck a woman we knew, and killed her, as she crossed a small town’s Main Street. We’ve known decent people, living enthusiastically, brought down by cancer, or Parkinson’s, or ventricular fibrillation.
Sometimes it’s your well-being that’s endangered. We know a hard-working man whose corporation (think Enron) abruptly collapsed. No job. No pension. At age fifty-something, start over, from zero.
Here’s another executive thriller tale: a friend of ours discovered a colleague got hold of his resume, then secretly mailed it to other corporations. This corporate Iago wanted our friend hired away.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
What’s lurking along your own path, or in your blood stream? Every thriller whispers that question. Every thriller asks: how will you cope?
In a novel, at least, courage saves the day, and doing right. Usually. Sort of.
So that feels good.
August 4, 2017
This Caribbean island looks serene, but don't kid yourself
Lately I worry a lot about who to kill off.
Don’t call the police—I’m talking about characters in the thriller I’m currently writing.
I don’t mind offing bad guys, because they fully deserve it. Every one of them, believe me. It’s the good characters who trouble me, imaginary people I’ve come to like and respect.
I’m writing this novel, so I suppose I’m Zeus, and I get to decide who dies and who lives. However, the truth is that the story itself is king of the gods, with its own wishes and demands and requirements. Authors are soothsayers. All we can do, really, is divine what the story wants and do its bidding.
For instance, this novel started as a pure thriller, set on a Caribbean island, but I’m about midway through now and—all on its own—it’s taken on a faint sci-fi tinge, although nothing that couldn’t actually happen in the world today. Let’s just hope it doesn’t.
is the novel’s title. So far, at least. Even in titles, the story will have its way, so we’ll see.
Anyway, back to the question of good characters dying. For some reason, in our real world, we’ve lately had a rash of people we know dying. People not yet in their fullness of years. Brain cancers, heart attacks, prostate cancer, rare disorders with unpronounceable names….
I suppose that what determines who dies too young is not goodness, not badness. It’s just how our story wants to be told.
January 5, 2017
Richard Tries Out A Bike
In "Spider's Web in the Green Mountains," just published, why do mysterious motorcycles roar past the heroine's house in the night?
Why is a biker threatening her corgi, Henry?
Generally, what's with all these Harleys and Hondas?
In this photo, we see the author doing serious, in-depth research for his mystery, sitting on a parked motorcycle to get the feel of the thing.
It felt pretty good.
November 17, 2016
Vermont's mountains--just right for a murder mystery
I took this photograph in the Vermont mountains and it led to the novel I’ve just published, a mystery.
It’s about the people living in a small town, tucked away in these Green Mountains.
Everyone is connected. It’s as if an invisible spider web crisscrosses the town, every resident touched by its strands: loves, grievances, envies, kindnesses, marriages, divorces, business deals….
Spider’s Web in the Green Mountains
is the book’s title.
A murder perturbs the web.
It even affects a Pembroke Welsh corgi, Henry.
Another major character is Dill, Vermont, the town itself.
I know something about small towns, because I grew up in one, along the Hudson River. We live near a small town now. It’s just a five-minute drive down the mountainside.
It’s interesting to read the police report in the daily paper, lost wallets and domestics and hypodermic needles found in alleyways and wandering dogs.
No murders lately, but you never know.
October 31, 2016
Edmund Wilson, Literary Critic
Edmund Wilson, the eminent literary critic, said detective stories are junk.
Ouch—I've just published a mystery novel, "Spider's Web in the Green Mountains." More to the point, I’m a long-time mystery reader.
It was 1945 when Wilson huffed about detective stories. I just looked it up. That was when books still mattered, and literary critics, like Edmund Wilson, actually could be eminent. So attention must be paid.
Wilson cited an Agatha Christie novel, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," and posed a zingy question: “Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?” He also said that “…the reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, resides somewhere between smoking and crossword puzzles.”
Actually, I also don’t care who killed Roger Ackroyd. Mostly, I’m in it for the adventure. In real life, I get edgy crossing a city street—I like virtual adventure, in which somebody else dodges .45 slugs.
I’m also drawn by the mystery ambience, the sense that, beneath the mundane, run strong currents, deep and dark.
Stories hinging on unlikely tangles are popular, but I’m more simple-minded. I like my stories straight up—Hey, that could really happen!
I wonder, too, if the mystery genre hasn’t evolved since Wilson’s day, when he complained the characters were “all simply names on a page.” Some modern mysteries seem less Roger Ackroyd and more Raskolnikov.
Besides, one of our greatest poets liked mysteries. So, I’m with you, William Butler Yeats.
October 3, 2016
First of Terry Pratchett's 41 "Discworld" novels, where Gaspode eventually appears
I often think about Gaspode, the terrier-like street dog in Terry Pratchett’s brilliantly funny “Discworld” novels.
It’s because Gaspode is so disreputably clever at making his way in his world, which is similar to our world, except that it is flat and rests on four elephants standing on the shell of a vast turtle, swimming in nothingness. Discworld’s dwarfs and trolls despise each other, and its humans disdain all minorities, especially vampires and werewolves. Slums are super-slummy. And a filthy little dog gets no lunch unless he wangles it.
Gaspode has a wangling edge: one night he slept beside Unseen University’s High Energy Magic building, and magical seepage upped his IQ and enabled him to speak. Nobody suspects a dog can talk, so people believe they’re hearing their own thoughts—“Oh, look at that poor little orphan doggie! I should give him half my sandwich!”
Gaspode appears in seven of Sir Terry’s 41 Discworld novels. He’s a lot like Homer’s hero, Odysseus, the only Greek among Troy’s besiegers who demonstrably has a brain.
Besides, Gaspode looks just like our friend Murdock, the west highland terrier who occasionally stays with us, when his buddy Eric is traveling. Also, whether your world’s round or flat, amusement is good.
Check out our published books
Stories published in literary journals
A "Pleistocene western," published in Reflections Edge
A nonfiction book of stories about disappearing animals, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
An award-winning chronicle of life and caring in a small hospital, published in Smithsonian Magazine
Just when a terrifying illness strikes, a self-confident corgi appears on our deck, seeking a new home, and he becomes our guide.