So you can read my books

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The jaundiced take on that question is that if you don't know where you are going, you will never know when you arrive. And for those 2012 doom sayers that pronounce that year's solar flares will do us in, the following link is enough to give even the most objective pause :

But for a writer, the question has different implications. It is good to know where your tale is going so that you can interweave plot threads and foreshadowings. Still there is a danger to that knowing. If you know, then a long-time reader might possibly second-guess the destination correctly. And that is the kiss of death to a novel.

For me as a reader, the fun of a novel is that the tale takes me by surprise. I think the tale is headed one place, and it spins around to another destination entirely. The antagonist is even worse than I imagined or one that I empathize with more than is comfortable. The protagonist has more facets than it appeared at the start.

How does an author take the reader by surprise? If only I had a sure-fire answer to that question, I would make a mint from the likes of Stephen King or Dean Koontz who have to surprise readers who are well-versed in all their tricks. But I have a hunch. And sometimes a hunch is all we have in life. That and hope.

The hunch is that you can entertain readers with ironic twists and a protagonist who is a fish out of water in a well-known genre. The poet/scholar thrust into a profession that demands violent action. The individualist who is drafted into a militia that demands thoughtless obediance. The monster who finds himself having to fight monsters, in essence a wolf finding himself having to defend sheep.

That hunch led to my creating the legendary undead Texas Ranger, Captain Samuel McCord. He is all of the above and more. He is also the answer to the question of some of my blogger friends who have asked how to write of a foreign locale in the past.

Part of the answer is that you find a modern parallel in today's headlines to the times of which you write. In the short story, THE DEVIL'S WIND, I used the parallel of our current struggle with Moslem extremists to link to the time of British Colonial India where Moslem extremists in the British Army killed thousands. At the beginning of my story, the uprising is just starting and McCord finds himself alone in a jail cell of a British outpost where every British citizen, civilian and soldier, is being murdered.


“You will die, American. Slowly. Die as you starve to death in this cage.”

Your average man would have been scared. But I wasn’t your average man. Hell, I wasn’t even a man. I was a monster. More the pity for the murderers in front of my jail cell.

I noticed the fluid movement within the reflections in the polished tiles beneath the Sepoy’s boots. Then, I got scared. Elu was hungry.

Elu? He was my Apache blood-brother. And his spirit was tied to mine. It had followed me all the way from Sonora to British-held India. His soul was held captive somehow by the ritual of our bonding by blood. I could see him sometimes in mirrors. And when he got hungry enough, he could reach out of them to feed on the spirits of others. One day I knew he would feed on mine.

Was this the day?

I tried not to hear the screams of the dying outside the window of my jail cell and glared at the threatening Sepoy. “Debjit, you took an oath to honor that British uniform you’re wearing.”

Sneering at me from the other side of the iron bars, he turned to the other three Sepoys in the same Bengal Army uniform and spat on the gleaming tile floor. “An oath to infidels means nothing. Nothing!”

My fingers aching to wrap around his damn scrawny neck, I took off my Stetson and laid it gentle on the cot I was sitting on. “Your word either means something, no matter who you give it to, or you are nothing.”

“You dare lecture me, American?”


“Fool is the better word. You are the one behind bars not me. I told you how the Colonel would reward you for rescuing his granddaughter from the Thuggees. And he did exactly what I said. He threw you into this prison for both England and China to fight over.”

“A man does what he thinks best -- or he’s not a man.”

His eyes became like a snake’s but without as much warmth. “Last month you saved my life. For Allah’s sake, I will not kill you. But neither will I free you.”

I nodded to his uniform. “Honor The Great Mystery by either not making promises or by performing them once you have.”

His face screwed up. “It is the British Army that lies. They would have us defile ourselves by tasting the grease of pigs when we use their bullets.”

I jerked my head to the shooting and dying screams outside my cell’s window. “I notice you boys don’t mind all that much now when you can kill helpless white women and children with those bullets.”

The youngest Sepoy jerked his rifle up. “You will die for that!”

“Hakesh, no! He wants to die quick.”

Debjit turned back to me and smiled wide. “Rather we will bring the great Colonel’s granddaughter here and kill her slow in front of this pig.”

I saw the dried-apricot face of my blood-brother within the reflections glimmering within the polished floor tiles under his boots, and I said softly, “Those are mighty sad last words.”

Debjit spat on those shiny tiles. “I laugh to hear a dead man make --”

A blackness, thick and cold, swept up from the polished stone. Debjit stiffened. Then, like a thing alive, the blackness swirled around him and his three companions. The living cloak of black mists tightened around the space where they stood. Screams, husky and muffled, fought to escape the darkness that boiled and rolled across the chamber.

I sighed. Although I couldn’t see inside the shadows, I knew what was going on. Knew all too well. I had seen clear too many times what was happening right then.

The screaming became wetter, shriller. I heard whimpered pleas for mercy. There was thrashing, groaning, mewing as if from animals being skinned alive. Then, silence. Long, haunting moments of accusing silence. I looked at the darkness slowly flicker away like the light from dying embers.

The once polished floor was empty. Not one trace of the men who had been so full of comtempt and life just seconds before -- except for the steaming blood smeared across the tiles. There was the stench of burnt flesh. I forced the bile back down my throat. I smiled bitter. I would bet that the British obsession with spit and polish had never killed before.

From somewhere left of Hell, and seemingly from everywhere and nowhere in particular, came a hollow chuckle. I shivered. There had been a time when I thought I knew my blood-brother. That time had long since passed. Along with a lot of other things -- like peace of mind and untroubled sleep.

I sighed, “You boys really shouldn’t have threatened Lucy, but that’s the sorry nature of human nature. It always goes one step too far. Elu will happily let me rot here in this cell. But he’s taken a fancy to the little princess.”

A touseled head of unruly black hair popped out from under my cot. “Elu? Captain Sam, who’s Elu?”

I jumped to my feet. “Lucy? How the .... How did you get under my cot?”

A dirt-smeared pixie scrambled to her booted feet in front of me. She was six, though she looked seven, and dressed in a tiny copy of a Bengal Lancer uniform. She slapped a canvas helmet on her head.

“No times for questions, Captain Sam. I got to get you to Grandpapa.”

I kneeled and looked underneath my cot. Son of a bitch. An opening into musty shadows. A hidden passage. Was this the reason the Colonel had been so insistent that I be put into this particular cell and no other? I caught faint echoes of shooting from down the tunnel. Fighting for time to think things through, I smiled up at Lucy.

Poor thing. She had been raised among rough men, been kidnapped by even rougher ones. She had heard things that no small child should. But I could use that to distract her and give me time to get a handle on my thoughts.

“What’s that thing on your head?”

She frowned. “I have you know this is the finest pith helmet ever made, came straight from London. A birthday present from Grandpapa.”

I smiled crooked. “A what?”

“A pith helmet. You know, pith.”

I pretended a frown.

She rolled her eyes. “Pith!”

“Why in tarnation would you want to slap it on your head after you did that into it?”

She stamped her right foot. “Not that! Pith!”

She spelled it slowly, “P-I-T-H!”

I fought a smile. “Oh, that.”

She snatched it off her long, wild hair and glared at it. “I do not think I shall ever wear this in quite the same way ever again.”

This time I did smile. “Do tell?”

She looked up and stiffened, sucking in a sharp breath of outrage. “Oh, Captain Sam, you and your bad jokes!”

Alarm widened her china blue eyes. “Oh, my! Grandpapa wanted me to give you this this the moment I came here.”

She hurriedly reached inside her tunic. She pulled out a folded piece of paper. She handed it to me. I sucked in a slow breath and took it. Standing a bit to the right so Elu could read it from inside the mirror over my shoulder, I looked down on the hastily written note.

Lucy peered outside my cell. “Ah, wherever are those Sepoy soldiers I heard from the tunnel?”

My face felt like it flinched. “They were -- invited to dinner.”

Lucy glared at me. “That’s another of your terrible jokes, is it not?”

There weren’t enough words in the dictionary to answer that right, so I just said nothing and read the Colonel’s note.

Captain McCord :
It would seem that the ill-conceived orders I was forced to obey have resulted in even worse consequences than I feared. It is a full
Mutiny. For hundreds of miles there are nothing but fanatical
Hindu and Moslem former soldiers of Her Majesty, armed with the
best weapons that the British Army has to offer.

My Lucy is doomed unless ....

There are strange and terrible tales told of you, sir. I can scarse
believe many of them. I know that in China you sank the British
flagship, Nemesis, and laid waste to the city of Ningbo to save a
British woman, Ann Noble, from being crucified by the Chinese.
Your own savages, Apaches I believe they are called, fear to step on
your shadow. Even your fellow Texas Rangers both fear and hate

I do not know what to make of such tales. I only know that you
placed yourself in jeopardy to save my beloved granddaughter from
those Thuggee fanatics. My reason tells me that alone and unarmed,
you haven’t a prayer of saving yourself, much less Lucy. Yet, my
soul tells me that you are her one hope.

Please, Captain McCord, save my Lucy.

And ask her forgiveness for my telling her that I would follow her. I
go now to join the ranks of my fathers, in whose presence I will not
feel shamed if you but get my Lucy to safety.

Colonel Lionel Wentworth.

I looked up, stared into my past, and whispered, “You got my word, Colonel.”
And no movie did the "Westerner Fish-Out-Of-Water" better than QUIGLY DOWN UNDER. And if I could pick anyone to play Sam McCord, it would be Tom Selleck.

And if you are curious what Elu might look like, here is John Two-Hawks along with Tarja of NIGHTWISH in the haunting, evocative "Creek Mary's Blood."


  1. Wow; this is a switch. I'm first, not last.

    No fair Roland! I was writing a comment to the City’s Lament post while you were busily creating another master piece. How am I supposed to keep up? I thought about doing a simple “nice story” comment; but I was afraid Elu would hunt me for a snack. (lol)

    Well, that’s not my style anyway. I’m just too opinionated for concise commenting.

    “. .there is a danger to that knowing. If you know, then a long-time reader might possibly second-guess the destination correctly. And that is the kiss of death to a novel.” Sometimes its death; but sometimes, letting the reader guess, and proving them right builds trust in the reader/writer relationship.

    This was gruesome, chilling. Scary stuff is some of my favorite reading. I liked the way Lucy just suddenly popped out from under the cot; that really was a surprise. A good one.

    Excellent dialogue too. Its hard to impart info through dialogue without it sounding like a dump. This was well done.

    I also liked how it went from deathly serious, to funny, letting the reader let some tension out of their body before being thrown right back into the action. The humor did not stop the forward motion of the plot, but played right into it. The pacing was just right too.

    The letter was an excellent look into McCords qualifications for having such a risk being undertaken to rescue him, and the expected returns. Nicely done on the back story.

    Loved that Quiggly scene. Was a great twist to the ending. That is a good example of my point about validating the reader’s (or in this case, viewer’s) assumptions of what is to happen next. I would have felt cheated of any other outcome had he not been as proficient with the hand gun as he was with the rifle.

    Awesome Night Wish video. Thanks for the glimpse of Elu. I can see why you chose him for your model; Two Hawks has a craggy kind of face. Not one you’d expect to see cuddling kids (maybe snatching them though), and I expect meeting him in a lighted path even would make you shake in your boots. I’d love to have a translation of what he’s saying at the end though. He sure had the crowds rapt attention.

    Can I take the keyboardist home? He looks like what I imagine Cal from my own trilogy would look like. And I’ve kinda fallen in love with Cal.

    Eek; another late night. For you also it seems. Ok, I’ll listen to that Creek Mary song once more, then I gotta crash. You should too, Dude.

  2. I'm a big fan of novels that give me unexpected twists. It isn't easy to do!

  3. I left a comment and then it didn't take so I'm trying again. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. You write so well especially dialogue:) Have you queried or pitched to an agent yet?

  4. What a cool video of Native American flute! Thanks for sharing :)

  5. Love how the energy of the story twists and writhes in so many unexpected directions! Fascinating!

  6. He was totally speaking Sioux! I've watched Dances With Wolves way too many times, I guess.

  7. Roland - You bring up a very important point. There's a balance, I think, between having a plan for what one's writing, and being so "hemmed in" by that plan that one can't be flexible. I know that when I write, I, too, start with a general plan. I write murder mysteries, so I start with the victim and her or his life. Then I build the plot around that. That gives me the flexibility to add otehr suspects, take suspects away if they're not interesting, etc.. I think a general outline of a story is important, so that it has some sort of logic. But twists and turns? I like them as a reader, and I like putting them in as a writer.

  8. This is fantastic advice. While it is good to be spontaneous with writing, it's very effective to have a plan. Sometimes I struggle between these two. Thanks for putting this out there!

  9. I was ponderizing this point just last night, watching a movie with my girl and calling out the plot twists upcoming.

    And I called it. No problem.

    Because they set it up wrong!

    It's the SETUP that matters, not the twist. The twist is a natural progression, believable, and does NOT throw the reader from the story (such as the twist in Crying Game, which was completely absurd).

    That setup is what King is/was good at, not the twist itself. His writing is predictable, but he presents it in such a way that keeps you wondering if that's what really happens...

    It's that setup that matters. It's the doubt that keeps you reading and watching and wondering.

    Just like telling a joke. Punchline is good and all, but it's the telling of the joke that matters.

    - Eric

  10. Ugh, thank god for people like you who love it when a book takes them in different directions and doesn't just sprint from A-Z in a straight line!

  11. superb wee tale, brother roland!

    if not selleck, i'd nominate sam elliot to take the role of cap'n sam, a great actor, even at his advanced age :)

    excellent song and singers*performers, john and tarja, with a super band!

    btw - where does your name 'elu' come from? in estonian, it means 'life', kinda ironic for your blood-brother... i love it!

  12. Sometimes there really isn't anything left for me to say that hasn't already been said.

    Nevertheless, there are many juicy morsels to chew over in this post. As always.

    As for, Tom Selleck. More pics of him please. Lovely :)

  13. I was completely captivated with this story. Tom Selleck is a perfect fit for Captain McCord and now I have the face of Elu. Gripping and wonderful writing. I look forward to reading more.

    The music was just terrific. I must further investigate that.

  14. Hi Roland,

    Thanks for visiting me at Heavenly Humor. It's always great to hook up with a fellow writer! I'll have to browse around here, and check out your writing style...

  15. Dear Roland,Great story! I love it and I love the twist (black stone with a swirl of mist).

  16. When I come in from driving two to three hundred miles doing blood runs weary and mind-numb, and I find such nice comments from my friends, it means the world to me.

    Donna : Didn't you know? And the last shall be first. You're right, of course. Sometimes it is fun to ride along with a favorite author, knowing the destination will be familiar but enjoyable.

    Yeah, sometimes Sam's life gets gruesome and dark. I'm glad you enjoyed the humor. And Quigley is my hero. I thought you'd like the NIGHTWISH video. I'm afraid you'll have to arm wrestle Tarja for the keyboard player. I believe that is her husband. One of NIGHTWISH band members is.

    Christina : Yes, doing entertaining, believable twists at the end is decidedly hard.

    Terri : You are a trooper for trying twice to leave a comment. And yes, I've been rejected so many times I feel like an ugly boy asking girls to dance at the Prom.

    Aubrie : I thought you'd like the Native American flute playing. Donna is right. John Two-Hawks is impressive both in presence and playing.

    Gemma : That you appreciated the twists and turns of my story means a great deal coming from a poet like yourself.

    Christi : Yes, he was totally speaking Sioux. Can you believe it? I have never seen DANCING WITH WOLVES. I hate seeing the Sioux being treated shabbily. That is why in my world, McCord made Washington D.C. keep their treaty with the Sioux. In his America, there is still a great Sioux Nation in the middle of the country. Being McCord, he is hated for doing that by both red man and white. No good deed goes unpunished.

    Margot : You're so right. You need a framework in which to place your novel, but you need to be flexible enough to grow with new ideas and plot twists that occur to you as you write. Please come back again.

    Saumya : I'm really happy that you got something positive and helpful out of my post. Please return and chat some more.

    Eric : You are so right. A good twist is like a good joke. It is all in the set-up. Fumble that, and you fumble and frustrate the agent. And that means no book deal, thus no reader to disappoint. Thanks and come back again, hear?

    Creepy Query Girl : And thank The Father for friends like you who come back and comment, making my weary night so much better.

    Laughing Wolf : Yes, I can see {and hear, for doesn't Sam Elliot have an amazing voice?} Sam Elliot as Sam McCord. And the short answer for the meaning of Elu is "full of grace." The long answer is Friday's post. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Wendy : I am always pleased by your comments. And I'm happy you enjoyed seeing Tom Selleck. I really wished they had made a sequel to QUIGLEY. Please come back and chat, will you?

    Ann : I am so happy you were captivated by my story and the music. Don't be a stranger to my place.

    Deborah Ann : I hope you enjoyed the seeing eye dog/sky diving joke. If not, you were a great sport for visiting my blog anyway. Thanks. Please visit again.

    Ruby : It's always good seeing you when you pop in for a visit. I'm so glad you liked the twist. I saw in your comment to another blog that you like science fiction. Me, too. I helped start the local science fiction club in this city years ago.

    Thanks to everyone who visited and commented. It made my weary night ever so much better. Have a great tomorrow, Roland

  17. thank you for sharing your amazing talent; as an old fart i'm no longer easily impressed, but you have a lifelong fan in me!

    another name: 'suri' [cruise's daughter] in estonian means 'has died'... i'm sure he and katie are unaware of that....

    yeah, i'm an esto-scot, in other words a finno-ugric/celt, so another half-breed ;) lol