So you can read my books

Sunday, March 20, 2011


{Thank you to Leonora (Maddelirium) of Renderosity fame

for the lovely picture which graces this post.}

You might be asking, "The Second Key to what?"

The key to writing a classic that readers will go back to over and over again.

And just what is that allusive Second Key?


There are books I go back to just to re-read favorite passages. As in this one where Mark Twain speaks of Hawaii :

"For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf is in my ear;

I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud-rack;

I can feel the spirit of its woody solitudes, I hear the splashing of the brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago."

Weren't you there for a moment? Didn't you catch, not just the physical touch of the islands, but the spiritual one as well?

The love, the longing, the reluctant parting with those lush, green isles.

Twain didn't write of Hawaii. He SPOKE of it. I used that word earlier on purpose. You could almost hear his Missouri twang.

His description wasn't a mere flat reproduction of details. No. His recollections spoke as much of his character as it did of the land.

Descriptions of your setting, if done well, will make of your locale an actual character. They will paint a picture, not only of the surroundings, but also of the soul of your perceiving protagonist ...

As in this description of Amsterdam seen through the eyes of Samuel McCord in the novel I am now writing, NEW ORLEANS ARABESQUE ...

Amsterdam. I’d never much cared for it.

There was rot underneath its old world orderliness. Maybe I might have liked it at its beginning when it was just a huddle of fishing huts on the Amsel River with folks just content to hide away from the madness of kings and Popes.

It was a strange city, where coffeshops meant places where you could buy pot. But that they were found in the Red Light District was a real clue that coffee wasn’t the only thing sold there.

And what wasn’t sold in Amsterdam? Honor, dignity, pride, sex -- all was sold on the open market.

For the thing that I had become, Amsterdam was a wild mix of scents and sounds :

the tolling church bells that played snatches of hymns or Beethoven to mark the dying of the hour;

the smell of vanilla drifting off the stack of waffles as I walked by the cafes; barrel organs pumping happily off in the distance;

hearing a gaggle of laughing girls singing around a piano as I strolled by a bordello;

watching a lone professor on a park bench, closing his eyes, as he listened to the music of Sweelinck on a 17th century organ in the Oude Kerk.

But the lawman in me found other more disturbing sensations : the wave of cloyingly sweet cannabis that hit me as soon as I stepped off the train into the station;

the mewing of the drug addicts who stumbled my way, begging for the price of just one more fix;

the fine smell of aged vomit rising from off the cobblestones as I had made my way along desperate prostitutes, past their prime,

but with no other way to make a living on the street of Stormsteeg;

the silent hollow-eyed girls staring at me from the windows on Molensteeg,

awkwardly bumping and grinding in an attempt to lure me in and keep their pimps from beating the hell out of them for poor sales.

After all, waterfront property costs to keep.

The dead man’s reservation was for the InterContinental Amstel Hotel, the best hotel in the city. Hell, why not? Only the very best for the very worst.

It was where you could find movie stars, popstars, and other famous and infamous celebrities -- and me. His suite was paid up for the month.

His wallet’s money made fine dining affordable, not that I could still taste with the withered thing that passed for a tongue. But as long as I didn’t stick it out at folks, I still looked human.

The night following my arrival found me sitting in the hotel’s best restaurant, La Rive. It had a beautiful panorama of the Amstel River. The dead boy’s money bought me a prime table with the best view.

I would have felt guilty if I had been enjoying it. But all I could see were the addicts and prostitutes that clawed for a living somewhere beyond the dark beauty.

“They are cattle, nothing more,” said a velvet voice above me.

{And as Holmes would say, "The game was afoot."}

If I managed to put my muse where my mouth is, then I conveyed as much about Samuel as I did about the streets and psyche of Amsterdam.

That is what you must do :

You must be as Hemingway -- very precise in what words you use and make them do double-duty : telling as much "why" as "what."

The tight purse-strings of his newspapers forced this discipline upon him.

Telegraphing his articles from exotic locales and warfronts cost his paper $1.25 a word. At those prices each word had better be damn important to his post.

And so it should be with your prose.

Time and patience are short with agents and the average reader. If they are not wisked away by your words to become lost in your setting, they will simply walk away.

Do not let them.

Think back on a moment when the magic of a place caught you up in a moment of awe and wonder.

What did the wind taste like? The air -- was it filled with the scent of pine and lightning strikes?

What sounds did your feet make as you walked --

the crackle of brittle leaves dying at your passing ... the cat-padding of feet sinking deep into soft grass ... the lonely cry of a solitary owl casting his voice into the hollowness of the night?

Hold the reader by the sheer magic of your words. Don't write. Speak.

Speak as if to a friend by the campfire as the darkness presses in on you both -- the darkness within as much as the darkness without.

Speak of the soul of the land as seen through the heart of your main character.

If you can do that, you will have grasped the Second Key.

"The wind will tell you its truths if you but listen." -- Samuel McCord
Here is my entry for SHOW ME THE VOICE! blogfest (Happy Birthday, Brenda!)
Name : Roland D. Yeomans
Title : French Quarter Nocturne
Genre : Urban Fantasy

It rained lies and death today.

But some things even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t change.

As it had for the past century and a half, the setting sun took its last look on St. Peter’s street as it transformed to Rue La Mort. The flooded street sparkled with flakes of burning silver. Beneath the muddy water, spirits swam restlessly, looking nothing so much as seeping blood under the sea.

Though I had seen the transformation a thousand times, tonight’s still hollowed out my chest. My vision blurred. My head became light. Reality stretched like taffy pulled by some demented demon-child.

The world looked as if I were viewing it from the wrong end of a telescope. My head felt full of helium. I half-expected it to float off my shoulders.

The evening fog became blood mists billowing over the flooded street. The mists became figures out of nightmare. I stood my ground. There were dazed innocents behind me, and I would protect them as I had protected them for a hundred and fifty years.

Frightening me never worked. The ghost demons fell back to the tried and true, murmuring hollow promises in my ear. I felt off-balanced as if I would fall into madness. I still stood my ground.

Hissing in anger, they drifted off down the flooded Rue La Mort in search of more gullible souls.

A shadow loomed over me. I held onto my Stetson and craned my neck, looking up. There it was in all its hellish glory.

Meilori’s, the Crossroads of Worlds.
At a time when the Nazi's were winning WWII, and it seemed America might find herself alone against Hell, there came a movie that merged dialogue with locale :

And to end, as I started, with beauty :


  1. Great advice, and I've learned new stuff about Hemingway! Thanks for following my Stories for Sendai site! Your support is super-appreciated!

  2. Thanks for dropping by, J.C. I sent you a small story for STORIES FOR SENDAI. It is short, but I believe it makes a powerful statement. I hope it can somehow slide into your anthology. I am telling others of your site. Roland

  3. Hi Roland .. I can see exactly what you mean .. and understand why you go back to the Hawaii description .. the breeze through the whistling palm fronds .. and your bordello street descriptions ..

    Speak .. that's the way to get attention and draw us in ..

    Thanks - loved this .. Hilary

  4. Good advice well illustrated. This is something I don't pay enough attention to in my own writing. Thanks for the helpful post!

  5. This is one of your post that I will have to return to again and reread because I enjoyed it that much.
    I am also enjoying your book and Hibbs. Hibbs has caputured my heart..
    Years ago I started a book and quit writing on it when my husband ran off and yesterday I pulled it out and posted it on my site. I pray this was not a mistake but I wanted honest opions about my first attempt at writing. Since time has healed the pain I am trying to write again and your site gives me inspiration

  6. Love this excerpt, Roland. Although I know it is unmistakably you - It has a sharper feel, if that makes sense. It's different from your other work but it is a good different. Very nice.

  7. I love rich thick details that pull me into a story. If I'm left with little to no description I feel like I'm trapped in a white room listening to people talk, and no matter how fabulous or quick witted the dialogue is you've completely lost me as a reader.

    You, on the other hand, have not lost me. I love the excerpt you posted and would totally read on. But you know that already.

    Hope your weekend is going well.


  8. Thanks, Hilary. I read that selection from Twain and would so love to go back in time and walk those beaches with him, listening to his wry humor and evocative descriptions of what we were seeing.

    In fact, I did that with a short story of Samuel McCord and Mark Twain -- fighting kidnapping gray aliens of all things!

  9. Oops! Blogger snatched my other words and threw them to the cyber-winds.

    Aine : That you got something useful out of my post makes my afternoon.

    Grandma Yellow Hair : It is never too late to shake off the dust of our writing dreams. I wish you much success and happiness in your renewed writing.

    Wendy : Thanks for noticing the difference. Unlike Hibbs and Victor Standish, Samuel McCord has lost his innocence, though he mourns its loss. Which explains why he fights so hard for the innocents around him to keep theirs for as long as possible. A losing battle. But those are the most ones to fight.

    Jodi : Thanks for the praise. I think writers who leave it all to the readers' imagination are short-changing them. Mark Twain felt so as well, so I don't feel so lonely in that opinion! May your Sunday be lovely too, Roland

  10. Denise : Blogger hates me. I see your comments in my Yahoo email inbox, but not on the actual sites.

    Isn't that odd?

    Yes, I did see your great review of my book on Amazon. I even wrote a thank you for it on your blog. There are dark forces at work obviously, snatching my comments and those of my friends from blogs.

    I'll have to set Victor Standish on the case. The culprits could soon end up as finger sandwiches for his ghoul friend, Alice!

    Thank you, again, Denise, for the great review and your great friendship and kindness. Roland

  11. Your entry is lovely, doing everything it should without too much or too little. Nice work.

  12. Thanks, Christa. As writers we get so close to our work, it is hard sometimes to step back and see it objectively. Thanks for liking what you read. It's been polished and refined over and over again. Roland

  13. You are so right. The picture is beautiful.

    As always a stunning excerpt. You prose is legendary.


  14. Isn't Leonora's picture beautiful?

    Thanks for the kind words about my entry. Now, if only I could find an agent who felt the same! LOL. Roland

  15. LOVE what you do with words and unique descriptions. Fun to read for the language alone.

  16. Thanks, Jolene. At the end of a long, wearying evening, your words were a healing balm. Have a great week, Roland

  17. *shakes head* What am I supposed to critique & offer suggestions about? It's gorgeous as always, carefully crafted, rich with detail, and an absolute joy to read.

    And great advice about the second key of writing. I have bookmarked it to be sure I never forget. ;-)

  18. Really beautiful, evocative writing, but I have to wonder if there is too much setting detail for an opening scene. You don't even get to the character until about 3 paragraphs in, and even by the end of the excerpt he hasn't done anything.

    Gorgeous writing is only one part of the equation. It has to be used asa tool for telling a story and creating interesting, compelling characters.

    I'd read on because I love the way you use language, but something would need to happen pretty soon....

  19. Sharon : I'm happy that you got something out of my suggestions for description. Your kind words about my opening paragraphs mean a lot to me this morning. Thanks.

    Kate : I see your concern. In the very next paragraph, McCord has a confrontation with a being from a realm many refer to as Hell. I needed a solid grounding of the setting to make that confrontation seem "natural", flowing out of the locale I had just painted in prose.

    As with a good joke, the punchline needs a certain amount of build-up to achieve the maximum amount of impact.

    I believed that the first line was enough of a hook, followed by McCord standing firm against spirits seeking to prey on those behind him to keep the reader interested enough to turn the page to the confrontation.

    Thank you for your thoughtful, perceptive, and insightful words. I do appreciate them. Roland

  20. I love both literary examples you use, and your own story. They show that 'showing' versus 'telling' isn't as simple as it sounds. It's not enough to show, you have to take your reader there through a unique point of view. Very inspiring - thank you.

  21. Thanks, Tony. Those words, coming from you, mean a lot. Writing isn't as simple as just putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Only success for your publication dreams. Roland

  22. Ooh, I just adore 'plumy palms drowsing'...sigh...

    Another beautiful post, Roland, full of great advice and your own prose is gloriously rich with just that hint of the unexpected - wonderful!

  23. Great setting in New Orleans, very decadent!

  24. Margo : That phrase by Twain was one of my favorites in his passage on Hawaii. We're kindred spirits!

    And thanks for the kind words about my prose. Gypsy, my cat, of course, is underwhelmed -- she's a princess, after all.

    Eeleenlee : Wait til you see the Jill the Ripper of New Orleans, Delphine LaLaurie!

  25. Great setting descriptions - I could see it as I was reading.

    Setting details are something I struggle with, but getting them right, can really add to the richness of a story. I'm working on that.

  26. Thanks, Stacy. Each new description we craft carefully makes us a better writer. Before long, you will be writing descriptions that sing. No doubt about it. You have heart and you strive to be better -- so that is what you will be : better. Roland

  27. This is probably some kind of a sin, but I actually prefer your New Orleans Arabesque excerpt to Mark Twain's musings on Hawaii. Though his words are lovely (the plumy palms drowing by the shore), there's a certain narrative distance due to the 'filtering' words (I see, I hear) whereas yours is immediate, we are being shown what the protag. sees not being told that he sees it. I also get a better sense of character from your excerpt, instead of an objective portrayal of what's there we're getting the protag's experience and judgement of the setting (he sure disapproves of those druggies and prostitutes, huh?).
    - Sophia.

  28. Samuel McCord has spent more time as an undead Texas Ranger than the span of four men's lives. His is the eye of the lawman. He disapproves of the drug addicts throwing away their lives.

    But he was born in 1799 Texas, and his views are Old West in that his heart goes out to the prostitutes, trapped in a lifestyle they have no idea or chance to escape. The pimps, on the other hand, better hope their trails do not cross his.

    Their end would be short and not very pretty. McCord was one of the first Rangers whose territory was too big to carry criminals back to court. McCord is used to dispensing justice on the spot.

    Still he was raised by a former Harvard professor and his mother was a poet. His perspective has been shaped by his parents as well.

    Thanks for a delightful comment. And the ghost of Samuel Clemens forgives you. Sort of. LOL. Roland