Uncategorized, Writers Co-op


And now for something completely different, from Guest Author Michael DiMatteo.

I was having dinner with Humphrey Bogart last night. We’re not friends. In fact, we never met as I’m still alive and he’s been dead for some time now. Yes, I’m talking about that Humphrey Bogart, the one that was the original-original member of the Hollywood Rat Pack. The same guy that starred in what some consider the greatest movie ever made, Casablanca. I don’t know if that’s true, I’ve never seen it (you can start to boo right now if you wish – get it over with).

Anyway, for some reason, I was having dinner with him. He was in a tux and seated to my left. The entire dream was first person, meaning I was seeing things through my own eyes. Ironically enough, my mother was sitting across from Bogart and I, and for some reason, I was standing the entire time. The room we were in was a banquet hall, and while you could hear glasses clanging, the only light in the room was shining on our table, kind of like we were the spotlight of the dream. That’s how it works, right? If you can’t be a star in the movies, at least you can get the spotlight in your own dream.

I was witty. I had all these clever one-liners, and I was stealing the show. Bogart, to his credit, allowed me that spotlight, as someone of his stature would. Why does he need to be the star of the show when he is the brightest star in that cosmos? So, I went on countering the conversation with my witty one-liners and Bogart continued to laugh, a diamond pinky ring on his right hand, and a drink in his left. My guess was some sort of scotch, the ice peeking over the top of the maple colored liquid. The entire scene was surreal, as it should be seeing as I was dreaming.

Then, I looked across the table at my mother. She was not amused. She was dress to the nines, and her hair was piled high. She had a dark sequined dress and really looked great, but she also had that look that only a mother can give when she is unhappy with her son’s behavior. My father was next to her, but he was hidden in the shadow of the spotlight, so I couldn’t see how he was reacting.

She said, “Do you think that all of this is funny?” Again, a look that could cut ice.

“As a matter of fact I do,” I responded. Bogart thought that comeback was funny too. In fact, I had Bogart in stitches the entire dream. I’ve never been that funny, but on this night, in this dream, Bogart was having the time of his life.

My mother shot me another look. “I think you’re getting out of hand,” she said, “and I don’t think any of this is funny. Mr. Bogart isn’t here to laugh at your jokes.”

I paused for a moment, then looked at Bogart. He looked up at me, took a swig from his glass, and started laughing again. “Well, he’s laughing now, Mom,” I said. Then, we all started to laugh.

It was then that a noise outside of my window took me away from my moment with Bogie sans Bacall. My brain switched back to reality and focused on the noise outside my window. I listened carefully to see if someone was trying to break into a car on the driveway. I thought about getting up and peeking through the blinds, but I was too tired. We have insurance, so if they want the car that badly, they can have it, I thought. Then, I drifted back to sleep for a couple more hours. I wonder if Bogart would think that’s funny too.


editing, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Purple Prose

Screen enough stories for publication, and the feeling that you know something becomes hard to shake. You read too many stories. The stories are bad, or good, or very good. Why? Bad stories, forget those. But good or very good? What detracts from the author’s best efforts to tell a very good story? I have the feeling that one culprit is purple prose.

Purple prose is prose that is too elaborate or ornate. Another way to explain this is: The extravagant phrasing of tedious prose really hardly ever enhances the mostly mundane meaning.
For those of you who winced at that, all I meant to say was that purple prose kills the clarity.

I see it too often. Here’s an example that glitters with purple prose.

Saphira’s muscled sides expanded and contracted as the great bellows of her lungs forced air through her scaled nostrils. Eragon thought of the raging inferno that she could now summon at will and send roaring out of her maw. It was an awesome sight when flames hot enough to melt metal rushed past her tongue and ivory teeth without harming them.
Note that I’m not talking about style. That’s Christopher Paolini’s style. But it’s still purple prose.

Let’s read that as the editors at Reedsy.com would have it, without the color purple.
Saphira breathed heavily, her nostrils expelling warm air. Eragon sat and marveled at her power. It was amazing that Saphira’s fiery breath could melt metal, yet she was immune to its harm.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story without embellishment. If you edit unnecessary superlatives out of your work and what’s left is the story you want to tell, that’s very good. All that glitters may be mere distraction.

About Writers, blogging, Research

Pushing the Sci Envelope

Science fiction authors used to push the envelope of knowledge. Rocket ships dropped out of space to land on their tails. GORT, the robot, walked among us in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arthur C. Clarke submitted a manuscript to Wireless World magazine proposing global communication through geostationary satellites in 1945. These concepts are major industries, today, of course. In fact, today’s science seems to have sprinted ahead of fiction.

I stumbled upon an article about “working memory.” That’s cognitive scientists’ speak for how many potentially conflicting bits of information we can hold in out head. If a point requires more working memory than I have, I just won’t “get it.” Take the example of face masks during a pandemic. There is conflicting information in the media about the usefulness of face masks. The article correlated working memory with face mask use and found that people with less working memory tended to not wear masks. When it comes to complex situations, not everyone “gets it.”

The working memory article gave me a simple idea for a story, that the world is becoming more complex and as it does so, more and more people just won’t “get it.” What happens, I wondered, when the world reaches a point where not enough people understand the complexity of it to keep it running? Does it all break down? Chaos? Lost in my own thoughts, I Googled “complexity and chaos.” And, whoops! I stepped in it.

Turns out, there is a body of scientific study called “complexity science.” Most of it is baffling mathematics. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. But I write hard science fiction, so I have to get the science right and present it in a way to make the fiction entertaining. Luckily, I found A simple guide to chaos and complexity. It’s a scholarly paper written in (mostly) plain English for the health services and I have (some) background in medical care. I now have an inkling of how little I know.

Maybe we should stick to writing stories about things we know? A simple idea is turning into a year or more of research and writing. I used to approach science through fiction and now, I have to approach fiction through science? But enough complaining. Curiosity is addictive. What if people really are limited in how complex a life they can handle? What if our civilization does continue becoming more complex? Will chaos result? What-if is how sci-fi pushes the envelope of knowledge.

About Writers, writing technique

Sterne plans


There has been a couple of mentions of Tristram Shandy on this blog, which led me to have another look at this ‘most modern of 18th century novels’. That’s from the blurb on the back of the Norton Critical edition, which also comes with a number of essays commenting on the work. One of these essays, by Wayne Booth, is called Did Sterne Complete Tristram Shandy?

It’s a good question. Sterne wrote his book in nine volumes released over eight years, the last one a few months before his death. The full title was The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, but the narrator, Tristram himself, doesn’t make a physical appearance till almost half way through. For the good reason that he isn’t yet born: the first volumes deal with the circumstances and consequences of his conception.

Sterne is a master of the digression and so bewitchingly precise is his portrayal of his father and his uncle that the reader willingly follows; but at times it does seem that the book is, as E.M. Forster called it, a muddle. Stern was surely the original pantser – someone who writes by the seat of their pants.


Nonetheless, Wayne Booth argues that Sterne in fact was a planner. And he points out several examples of foreshadowing that come together in the final volume. I don’t know. It’s not a question I’ve ever asked myself. To me the muddle is entertaining. But in Booth’s prose, it sounds plausible.

These days, foreshadowing is easy, if only retroactively. We can zip back and forth within a text to add the details which give it more cohesion. If I discover late in the book that my character needs a scarf, I can go back and add it to an earlier scene. That wasn’t available in Sterne’s day, at least not to a writer of his spontaneity. The manuscript shows few traces of revision.

As time goes on, I’m drawn increasingly to planning. That might be because I once wrote a long, complex novel, largely unplanned, which took me 20 years. Alas, it didn’t enjoy the popularity of Tristram Shandy, so I turned to crime (well, not literally). Obviously, foreshadowing is vital there: that scarf could well be the murder weapon, so you can’t have it appear from nowhere.

But planning is more than joining the dots. It’s placing the dots in the first place. The number of chapters, the character arcs, the plot beats, the pace. How detailed the plan is depends on each author, but at some point the chapter by chapter outline mutates into the first draft.

My planning has recently become more ambitious. From a single novel to start with, it now stretches over a series of four. It’s the same principle, but dealing with six main characters who feature throughout, so each character’s arc needs to be thought through to the end. I love the challenge of that. But the plan evolves from the idea, not the other way round. I sometimes read about a book’s ‘ideal structure’, but in my opinion, to push an idea into a plan like the one below leaves little room for the organic growth of the story.

book recipe

If you’re thinking of planning a series, here are some useful tips. J.K. Rowling planned the whole of her seven-book series at the start; Emile Zola wrote 20 novels about the Rougon-Macquart family. Me? Four is the limit. I’ve got too many other things to write.



I Just Struck Comedy Gold.

With the advent of the internet, the world of collectibles has been turned on its head. Vintage movie magazines I paid fifty dollars for forty years ago are on Ebay, listed at twenty-thirty bucks. But I don’t have to spend a cent. I can access on-line archives of vintage material, for free. Incredible!


Above: Elda Furry. Tell me she doesn’t look like a mouse. Below: One of my stabs at creating Marcelline Mulot. I see a definite resemblance. Do you?


I’ve started another Animals-in-Pants thing, this project featuring a silent-screen-star mouse.

Well, I’ve not started it, exactly. I’m going to recreate it. I wrote the novella forty years ago. I considered it done. My life got crazy. I set it aside. I went through ups and downs. I started Sly. I started Celestine.

My celebrity bio intimidated me. It needed to be illustrated, heavily illustrated. I did not consider my sketching to be an illustration style. That was the reason I quit an illustration major in art school and went with costume design.

Twenty years later I looked for my manuscript and did not find it (but for a cover blurb which I have expanded into an introduction). All right, I had my hands full with Sly, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I’ve developed a style in Photoshop I am comfortable with. Recently I thought–I’ve got an intro, I’ll add to it, make a fun paper doll book out of it. My original story was a straight-forward bio. What do I do with Mulot 2.0?

My premise: Marcelline Mulot is a long-forgotten silent-film star. As a film student, I had met and befriended the Garbo-like recluse. I want to remind the world of an important figure in the history of cinema.

I wondered if Hedda Hopper were active in the industry at a useful time. I conjectured that she wrote extensively about Mulot, tracking her rise and fall, penning articles such as: ‘An Open Letter to My Dear Friend Marcelline Mulot.’ (Such theatrical scolding was not uncommon.)

I looked up Hedda Hopper. Her real name was Elda Furry! She escaped small town life in Pennsylvania, was a chorus girl on Broadway in second-rate shows. (Ziegfeld called her ‘a clumsy cow.’) She joined a theater company run by DeWolf Hopper, a matinee idol of the stage, and toured with it, in the chorus.

In 1913, she became his fifth wife. His previous wives were named Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella. The similarity in names caused upsets. He sometimes called Elda by the name of one of his former wives. Consequently, Elda Hopper paid a numerologist to tell her what name she should use. Her answer was “Hedda”. Thus did Elda Furry become Hedda Hopper.

She longed to be an actress. She landed small roles in various productions. Acting credentials under her belt, she made her way to Hollywood and was cast in silents, establishing a pattern of playing beautifully-dressed society women. In one picture, rejecting her studio-provided gowns, Hopper upstaged the film’s headline starlet by spending all of her $5,000 salary on a wardrobe from the top-tier boutique Lucile.

Her movie career waned in the mid-1930s. She looked for other sources of income. In 1935, she signed to write a weekly gossip column for The Washington Herald. After a dispute over a pay cut, she moved to the Los Angeles Times. The rest is Hollywood history. Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood ran in the Los Angeles Times until her death in 1966.

She’d been no stand-out as a chorus girl and she was no stand-out as an actress, but she could write. She used the extensive contacts she’d forged during her acting days to gather material for her column.

She was a power to reckon with. Bob Hope said: “Their columns (Louella Parsons was her equally powerful rival) were the first thing we looked at every morning to see what was going on.”

I figure she was a friend of Mulot. I figure she wrote articles under a pseudonym before she launched her on-the-record journalism career, penning many a piece on her close friend, testing the waters.

Forty years ago, I had a small collection of movie magazines from that era, from which I extracted quotes and commentary on film colony doings to enrich my subsequently misplaced bio. I sold that cache in the late eighties, sure I would never pick up with my mouse again.

Today I searched for similar sources. The movie-mag jargon had a flavor to it. I want to mimic the gushing style perfectly. I thought I had a monumental task ahead of me. I thought I’d find a handful of items, eventually. Well, I’ve unearthed a massive trove of online archives, magazines scanned page by page, cover to cover, for anyone to access.

In the course of an hour, I gathered thirty-three pages of links to zany reportage in Photoplay, Modern Screen, Motion Picture, Classic, and Picture Play, and to serious pieces on the infant industry and twenties culture in mainstream newspapers and magazines. (For instance: Ode to Feminine Knees, Flapper Magazine, 1922)

I have a decision to make. Hopper was a small woman, dainty. Her face, to me, is mouse-like. (The actress ZaSu Pitts compared her to a ferret.) Do I leave her human, or do I turn her into a rodent?

Elda Furry, c’mon. The name begs to be awarded to a mouse. But there are also reasons to keep her as she was: a small, chic woman whose signature look was enormous, flamboyant hats.

Hopper was a staunch supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. I’ve written Mulot to be a free-thinker. This divergence will be the end of their long friendship.

My other problem: is this sweet fantasy, or am I a disappointed film student (the movies being so hard to break into) having a mental breakdown? Is Mulot my imaginary friend?

Read my introduction at https://medium.com/the-haven/maisie-in-hollywood-fb46edded5b9 to see what I’ve done with the story so far. It could go either way, easily.