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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we talked about the third-person singular pronoun.

    So this week let’s stick with our grammar expose and tackle another question that I continue to be asked, even though the answer is simple and has been established for a very, very long time:

    Serial vs. Oxford comma

    Luckily, I only get this one from English majors. Nobody else has ever heard of the debate, which I consider a good thing. Because it’s a complete red herring. There is no actual debate. The answer is not in question. And it makes complete sense.

    • Fiction

      In fiction, we put a comma after every item in a list.

      Except, of course, for the last item, which gets whatever punctuation belongs at the end of that particular list.

      Angela ate a chocolate bunny, a chocolate heart, a chocolate rose, and a chocolate elephant! In that order.

    • Non-fiction

      In non-fiction, we put a comma after every item in a list except the penultimate item.

      And except, of course, for the last item, which, again, gets whatever punctuation belongs at the end of that particular list.

      In other news today, Angela Lansbury ate a chocolate bunny, a chocolate heart, a chocolate rose and a chocolate elephant. According Lansbury, she ate them in that order.

    See? Simple.

    The issue isn’t a matter of editorial style or even idiomatic distinction between American and British English. The issue is fiction versus non-fiction. And the only reason the question exists at all is the journalistic necessity—which has created so very many of the questions of grammar that seem to plague English students today—to compress space.

    Journalists are always in need of space on the page. So they make up little rules for themselves like dropping commas and other stuff in order to squeeze more words into smaller space. I wish I could say this is because journalists simply have that much news to report. But I’m afraid it’s more likely because they simply have that great a need to compress the news to make room for more advertising.

    C’est le vie.

    And now you know!

    NOTE: The other issue is the complication of all this by using different terms for this type of comma usage: serial and Oxford. The are not terms for the opposite types of comma usage. They are the same thing.

    NEXT WEEK: That vs. Which


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”—Margaret Mead

    #NeverAgain: Hundreds in Victoria Add Their Voices to Students’ Call for Gun Safety

    Yesterday, my son and I attended the March for Our Lives here in Victoria, British Columbia. This photo of us turned up in the Vancouver Times-Colonist a few hours later:


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I don’t usually futz around with grammar issues here, but this one came up and it’s kind of an exception, so I’m going to give you a little grammar lesson today.

    You all know me well enough to know I don’t make too many grammatical howlers, and you probably also know that I use ‘they’ and ‘them’ for third-person singular construct. But so far (ever since 2009) you’ve all been quite accepting of that and not questioned my reasoning. Then someone linked to a post of mine, but when they quoted me they felt obliged to insert a ‘[sic]’ after ‘they’ to let their readers know they know they think it’s ungrammatical. Which was very conscientious of them.

    So I thought I’d better explain: this is not an ungrammatical error; this is a deliberate editorial decision.

    One I made thirty years ago.

    Back in the early 1980s, shortly after the women’s rights movement had finally put Equal Rights for women into a Constitutional Amendment (a no-brainer, right? it still hasn’t been ratified), there was a lot of hoopla over the correct third-person singular pronoun in the English language. Because, of course, we don’t have a neutral third-person singular pronoun, and historically English grammarians (mostly men) had made the decision that all third-person singulars must be considered male until proven female.

    An extremely odd decision, all things considered, since more than half the people on this planet are female. You’d think it would go with the majority, wouldn’t you? But no. A female was male to all strangers in print unless she could give a really good reason to refer to her as female. It seems simply being female wasn’t a good enough reason.

    And the feminists—rightly—took issue with this.

    There was a little book that came out around then called The Tao of Pooh, which I liked a lot. So when the author wrote a sequel, The Te of Piglet, I ran right out and bought it. And what do you know—the author had decided that the great success of The Tao of Pooh had transformed him magically overnight into an authority on all things literary, and he devoted a whole chapter in The Te of Piglet to this grammatical contretemps and his personal opinion that any female who objected to being considered male sight-unseen was a hysterical freak and should simply be shouted down. His argument was that it didn’t hurt anybody, it was easy to get used to, and feminists were making a big old flapadoodle about nothing.

    And he had a point.

    So I sat myself down and wrote him a letter—in those days we didn’t have email, so when you wrote an author a letter, you wrote a real letter, put it in a real envelope, stamped it with a real stamp, and mailed it off to their publisher—in which I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Such a trivial issue didn’t hurt anyone in the slightest and could easily be considered a whole lot of flapadoodle about nothing, as I could prove by having taken to using the female third-person singular pronoun for everyone, which I’d gotten used to almost immediately. And I thought this author, when she’d had a chance to think about it, would throw her weight behind me as well.

    Sadly, in spite of my enthusiasm, The Te of Piglet failed as a philosophical treatise, and nobody ever heard from that guy again.

    I was kidding, of course, about using the female pronoun for third-person singular. You could. Just as easily as the male, and with a little more logic, seeing as how you had better odds of being right in a world dominated by the female gender. But it would miss the point that respect is a pretty fundamental attitude to hold toward our fellow humans, and respect for each of us as a member of our own gender is pretty close to most of our hearts.

    Fortunately, I saw a simple solution that didn’t involve either the awkward constructs he/she or she/he (I was always surprised nobody seemed to choose the latter) or some variation on randomly messing with everyone’s gender in general.

    And that was in the natural evolution of language and—slightly lagging but still evolution—of grammar.

    Grammar was not handed down from on high the day the English language was invented, never to be deviated from again. Grammar is a product of usage, and all language usage evolves first in oral tradition, only to be accepted in written grammatical forms eventually, even if at a slightly later date. So that, for example, when the use of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ dropped out of common daily usage, it was some time before grammarians realized it no longer made sense to insist upon it for the English version of the Romance Language variations on the Latin intimate second-person singular, ‘tu.’ Nobody insists a writer use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ anymore, even in dialog between parents and children. I’m pretty sure.

    In the same way, common usage had already, even thirty years ago, solved the third-person singular pronoun dilemma. In oral communication, we all simply used ‘they.’

    “Who was that jogger? They just threw garbage in front of my house!”

    “I got the weirdest call the other day. This person said they had a hot deal for me, but it turned out they didn’t know what it was.”

    “I know you always think a pundit’s clever so long as they’re fast with a pun, but I’d like to see them disagree with themself once in awhile.”

    It seemed a simple step to adjust my grammatical compass to accept this common-sense solution to such a sticky problem. So I did. In fact, I even use the third-person singular reflexive pronoun ‘themself.’ I’ve been using it for thirty years—in speech as well as in writing.

    Now that we’re well into the twenty-first century, with all its flapadoodle flapping in the breeze in all directions, I’ve simply stopped worrying about it. Am I on the cutting edge? Or am I just going with the flow?

    Either way, common usage has proven for decades now that it’s grammatically correct.

    UPDATE from Christine Kidney:

    Oxford’s New Hart’s Rules says: ‘Note, however that it is now generally regarded as old-fashioned or sexist to use he in reference to a person of unspecified sex, as in every child needs to know that he is loved. The alternative he or she is often preferred, and in formal contexts is probably the best solution, but can become tiresomely long-winded when used frequently. Use of they in this sense (everyone needs to feel that they matter) is becoming generally accepted both in speech and in writing, especially where it occurs after an indefinite pronoun such as everyone or someone.’


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the demise of blogging, which was brought home to me by a friend who said, “Just when I decided to start a blog I was told blogging is over!” At the same time we hear more and more in the self-publishing arena about How to Turn Your Blog into a Book. So it would appear, on the surface, that the whole blogging movement is segueing into a whole book-authoring movement.

    But is it?

    Well. . .

    Here’s the thing: it’s true that blogging is writing. It’s fabulous practice at developing confidence in your voice and ease with words, as well as focus, dedication, and a solid understanding of the importance of getting to the point (not to mention the inevitable epiphany that writing enough words to fill an entire book is a whole darn lot of writing).

    But blogging is a very specific form of writing. It has very specific purposes. And it has very specific readers.

    These are not necessarily the same readers a writer needs in order to succeed with a book.

    1. Blogging is conversation

      Blogs are about the writers, not the readers.

      They have to be.

      Free, largely invisible, and sometimes—when visible—lifted without permission by less-visible bloggers who don’t know about the DMCA of 1998, (most) blog posts give their owners none of the usual rewards of massive publication:

      • reputation
      • income

      Yes, some bloggers are famous. As Andy Warhol said in the 1960s (and without knowing about coming the blogosphere), “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

      However, most of us are not.

      And yes, some bloggers make money by monetizing their blogs. But unless you’re using your blog as the portal to a service or product others find both intensely helpful and worth a considerable amount of their hard-earned money. . .

      most of us don’t do that, either.

      And because of this—the basic lack of tangible rewards—blogging can really only be worth the blogger’s time if it provides intangible rewards. For most bloggers, these are the same rewards as those of unpublished writing: the thrill of self-expression.

      Oh, blogging is great fun. Whee, doggies! I had plenty of fun at it even when no one but my husband and one friend were reading.

      But then you folks started reading, and it turned into an extraordinary, unexpected party. All of you friendly and amazing people who love this craft I love, coming here to talk with me about it and saying kind things, all you people I never would have known otherwise!

      Suddenly I understand why people get up on soapboxes under Marble Arch in Hyde Park and wave their arms and pontificate to the crowds.

      Talking about what’s important to us is utterly invigorating.

    2. A book is a monologue that costs money

      Because books cost money, they are about the readers, not the writers.

      A guy named Paul Ford once wrote a fascinating post about blogging: The Web is a Customer Service Medium. Boy, do I love Ford’s theory that blogging is all about addressing the question: “Why wasn’t I consulted?” But even more than that, I love the old James Thurber bio that describes him as someone always thinking about what he’s going to say when the other person stops talking.

      This is a typical blogger.

      This is, coincidentally, also a great blog reader.

      “Nice blog post,” the blogger hears (if they’re lucky). “You know what I think. . .”

      And thus begins the conversation between a blogger, a commenter, and all the other readers of that particular blog post.

      But this has nothing to do with reading books, where the reader is alone with the words and their own imagination, absorbing in utter privacy something for which they have paid hard cash. They don’t really care about the writer, beyond imagining that writer would, if they only knew, like to be their best friend.

      The writer doesn’t fit into the book equation. It’s entirely between the reader and the book.

    All of which is what we’re missing when we talk about the popularity or demise of blogging and How to Turn Your Blog into a Book:

    1. the difference in purpose between:

      • tangible rewards
      • intangible rewards
    2. the great, yawning abyss between the needs of:

      • the person who writes
      • the person who reads

    So when you’re wondering:

    • Is blogging over? or,
    • Should I turn my blog into a book?

    Try shifting that to:

    • How am I thinking about blogging and books in terms of my own needs?
    • How am I thinking about blogging and books in terms of the needs of others?
    • If blogging is quote unquote ‘over,’ does that mean it’s automatically not worth it to me?


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hey, guys, I just spent the entire day trying to develop video for this blog. Guess what? That’s right. So let’s talk about how my experiment with video mimics the experience of writing fiction:

    1. It always seems like such a good idea at the time

      Who has not begun a story with the gripping, overwhelming conviction that this is the best idea ever?

    2. It gets intensely complicated, overblown, and unwieldly really, really fast

      Writing fiction is enormously complex and involves far more facets than can ever be entirely remembered or even explained. We try and try and try to simplify the basics so we can build a sense of competence and an inner sensory map—a body memory of how to navigate these complexities—but the sheer number of layers always makes the overall picture invisible from any particular vantage point.

    3. It involves a whole lot of little, nickpicky details you simply can’t see coming

      Fiction is all details: the details of character, the details of plot and subplot and plot thread, the details of setting, the details of tens and tens of thousands of words and sentences. Detail overload. . .and yet every one of them is essential.

    4. The exact aspect of any and all illumination is crucial

      If we don’t have complete control over where we shine the light when we create, we can’t hope to show our audience what we want them to see.

    5. Repeated attempts to accomplish the same piece of the project over and over again becomes something akin to hammering jello on porcelain

      Revision is massage taken to the point of pummeling. The breakage can be, eventually, deafening.

    6. Stagefright is a constant

      Although the camera acts as an audience in the external world, our critical faculties act as an on-going internal audience, so that the accumulation of silent tut-tut’s can be paralyzing if we listen.

    7. Halfway through, you’re guaranteed to forget what you’re doing

      We are a simple species, and one of the most predictable of our reflexes is the urge to mentally step away when things stop being fun. This is especially true right about when we’ve acquired 36,000 of the 72,000 words we need.

    8. Freezing in the headlights is sometimes the only thing that makes sense

      Fortunately, the fact that none of this is live means we can freeze for as long as we like. It’s never detrimental to the final product, and it’s often the key to quality.

    9. It turns out you don’t actually have a single, consistent voice

      Did you know this about yourself? Even when you’re talking? Me neither.

    10. The longer you struggle, the more obvious it becomes that this can’t possibly end well

      I really don’t have an answer for this.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I’m going to introduce you all today to my grandmother, to whom I was very close and who gave me most of the instructions that now guide my life.

    1. If you can’t say something interesting, don’t say anything at all

      This, of course, is not what she really said. But it is the cardinal rule of fiction.

    2. Sit down nicely and share with your sister

      This one she said all the time.

      Because it’s not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about sharing this amazing, complicated, poignant world with the reader, and if we can’t share nicely the reader’s not going to follow us around begging.

    3. If you don’t learn to make your bed, no one will marry you

      This one she also said, to which I replied with adolescent wit, “I will marry a man who makes the bed himself.” Suffice it to say that we were both wrong.

      However, she was correct that if we don’t learn how to shape and tidy our manuscripts no one will ever read them. They’re incredibly lumpy, uneven, and full of missing socks in their early drafts. Readers find them extremely uncomfortable and cannot relax.

    4. Don’t be a smart-aleck

      We’re all very clever and amusing people, I know, in the privacy of our own heads and usually a number of hours after it doesn’t matter anymore. I infused my own early novels with a whole plethora of snarky asides and snappy comebacks.

      Turns out Grandma was right on the money with this one too, though.

      Readers don’t want untutored attempts at snark. They want either real, one-of-a-kind, death-defying humor that makes them spontaneously laugh out loud—or no smartypants nonsense at all.

    5. Stop kicking the table leg

      No kidding, people. I know we all get intensely frustrated at the state of the publishing industry these days. It is indeed an intensely frustrating time, in which unknown writers become less and less likely to see publication every single time someone buys a best seller at Walmart.

      But the truth is that we were already complaining about the state of the industry decades ago, when it seems in retrospect that we actually had it fairly good.

      We need to just stop annoying people and buckle down to the hard work.

    6. Wipe your feet before you walk on my clean floors

      Leo Buscaglia tells the story of meeting a famous Buddhist lama and walking in the garden with this gentle little man, yammering on and on and on about himself and his big, brilliant ideas and how important they all were, until the gentle little man turned suddenly and slapped him right in the face.

      “Stop walking in my head with your dirty feet!” the lama exclaimed.

      This is excellent advice for all of us—especially for writers.

    7. Keep your sticky fingers off my wallpaper

      Again: the reader has their own big, brilliant ideas, which they love far more than they are ever going to love ours. It is our job to show them their own lovely wallpaper, not muck it up getting our fingerprints all over it.

    8. Don’t make me tell Grandpa

      You know who Grandpa is? That’s right. The reader. And Grandpa always gets the last word.

    9. Machst gut

      Actually, it was my great-grandmother who said this, the German granddaughter of pioneers, a woman who lived to be 93 and, at the end of her life, began seeing the ghost of her husband in her room at night.

      Make it good.

      If you’re going to be haunted, you know, it had better be worth your while.

    10. You can cry on me

      And Grandma also said this, for which I will always love her.

      There’s a lot of grief in first struggling for years to get our beautiful dreams down in words and then finding someone who wants to read them. I don’t care how brilliant or talented or experienced we are, our kindness to each other is truly the most important thing we have to give.

    11. Come back and see us again soon, honey

      Because when you get right down to it, it’s all about dedication and long-term commitment—commitment and good-heartedness and being in this world with others. We’re able to share our wonderful fictional adventures with the reader only if they add significantly to the reader’s life.

      And if we can’t develop the habit of producing great stories—not just one, but one after another, for as long as we expect others to pay attention—we must content ourselves with being readers.

      Everyone loves them.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    We’re on a huge vintage authors hunt here this month. We’ve discovered Melville Davisson Post (thank you, Elisabeth Grace Ford) and Rafael Sabitini (thank you, Donna Montgomery)!

    We’ve talked about great names (Doomdorf and Rafael), brilliant historical setting, gripping character dilemmas, authentic details, the perfect story structure for which we all strive, and why, when we ask, “Must life be so devastating?” we must ask Freddie Mercury.

    We’ve even learned the definition of the term Scaramouche and why we can blame him whenever someone on the Internet has the bad sense to be wrong.

    So while I’m showing you the covers of some of my latest favorites, I’m going to talk today about what is possibly the oldest book of detective stories in the English canon: Richmond: Scenes in the Life a Bow Street Runner, published under the pseudonym “Richmond” in 1827.

    1. Edgar Allan Poe

      Now, we all know Edgar Allan Poe is credited with creating the Western mystery genre with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which story has the extraordinary distinction of featuring orangutangs in mid-nineenth-century Paris with an overwhelming penchant for chimneys.

      Be that as it may, that story is widely considered the first story of purely fictional detection.

      Oddly enough, Poe died under highly mysterious circumstances, found incoherent on the streets of Baltimore after a disappearance of three days which have never been accounted for, wearing another man’s clothes and calling the name of a stranger.

      No one knows what happened to him during those three days.

    2. Emile Gaboriau

      Some ten years or so later, the French author Emile Gaboriau earned the title of the first author of a full-length Western mystery novel, L’Affaire Lerouge (which I am reading right this minute).

      I’m going to tell you a quick secret here: I was in my local second-hand bookshop the other day, doing my darnedest not to scan the mystery shelves for fear I’d find something I couldn’t afford that I simply could not live without, when what do you think happened—I discovered a matching set of hardback Gaboriau published in the 1910s.

      There were six of them. Ooh, la-la!

      Now all I need are the other six.

      Anyway. . .again, oddly, Gaboriau died young, at the age of 40, apparently of a heart that literally burst.

      A strange accident indeed.

    3. “Richmond” aka Anonymous

      The point of all this is that, about thirty years before Poe invented the first detective story, London had finally gotten around to creating something vaguely resembling a police force—not a real police force; the British politicians of the time didn’t want their liberties limited by a real police force, like those poor people in the great cities of other nations—but a small, hardy crew of assistants to the British judicial system, which happened to be located in Bow Street in London.

      This team of criminal investigators was known as the Bow Street Runners.

      I suppose because they ran around a lot.

      It was their job to hunt down the clues to crimes and bring them back to the judges of Bow Street, along with—hopefully—some deductions as to the methods, means, and motives of the crimes, so criminals (who really were out of hand at that time. . .Horace Walpole was apparently held up by a highwayman on a London street) could be brought to justice.

      And somebody—nobody knows who—eventually set down the first known series of stories about these investigators’ adventures.

      But nobody knows who.

      As was common in that day, the book was published anonymously, ascribed only to the mythical protagonist “Richmond.” It was dismissed by the reading public and quickly sank entirely from view.

      And yet it was a landmark book.

      At first an ordinary ‘picaresque’ (a romantic adventure story, involving forbidden love, high-jinks with a traveling theatrical troupe, tragic death of a beloved, and what appear to be the most authentic gypsies in English literature), it evolves in the second half into a series of Bow Street Runner investigations of five crimes, almost all of which can be traced to actual crimes solved by the Bow Street Runners and reported in the newspapers in the years before Richmond appeared.

      Here lie the seeds of all mysteries of the genre to come: crime scenes, clues, interrogations, red herrings, dead ends, even a pincer operation between the Bow Street Runners and the erstwhile Coast Guard—which actually occurred.

      There are a lot more thefts of dead bodies than normally turn up in modern mysteries. (Apparently, this was a serious problem in early nineteenth-century England.)

      And of course everyone drinks a whole lot of brandy.

      But this is it, people: the original author of our mystery genre, one of the best selling genres of our day—


    Who was it?

    Now there’s a mystery dying to be solved!


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we talked about reasons to love Melville Davisson Post, the great nineteenth-century mystery author of the backwoods of Virginia. In case you’re new here, that conversation was caused by a post I did that was all lurid, over-the-top covers of vintage mysteries. And that post was caused by Sabine in the comments on an even earlier post when I was interviewed by the extraordinarily strange and wonderful Rachel X Russell (see how I get cause-&-effect worked into everything I tell you?).

    So this post is dedicated to Donna Montgomery, who spoke up in the comments to recommend Rafael Sabatini.

    I ran right out and got a copy of Sabitini’s marvelous 400-page novel, Scaramouche.

    Whoa, Sabatini.

    1. Rafael

      First off, I happen to think this is one of the most beautiful names ever. If I hadn’t already had a name ready for my son twenty years before he was born, I’d have named him Rafael. I did put a Rafael into a story once—a charismatic and lovable rascal—but it’s not finished yet. He’s still busy being charismatic and lovably rascally.

    2. Historical setting

      Just like Davisson Post, Sabitini was master of his era. However, unlike Davisson Post, Sabitini didn’t live through the historical times or anywhere near the times he portrayed in this novel. He apparently grew up in Italy and England at the end of the nineteenth century—raised by opera singers—and spoke six languages.

      The setting of Scaramouche is late eighteenth-century France. . .that’s right: the French Revolution.

      This is the world of Victor Hugo and Les Miserables. However, Sabitini makes it entirely his own through the fabulous attention to authentic detail and the excruciating moral rack upon which he puts his protagonist, the lawyer and aristocrat Andre-Louis. I learned more about the French Revolution from following Andre-Louis’ adventures through the tangled underground of proletariat revolt (aided, according to Sabitini, by the king himself against the aristocracy) than I ever got out of a history book.

      Granted, Marie Antoinette gets a decidedly bum rap from Sabitini, as she has gotten through the history books as well, although there is now some question about exactly how dastardly she was and, contrariwise, how easy it was to scapegoat her for being a foreigner during a time in which the French were already doing quite well destroying their own proletariat without any help from outsiders at all.

      But it doesn’t matter.

      Because Scaramouche is a rollicking, rolling, high-quality literary tale of hair-raising adventure through one of the most significant and world-changing events of recent centuries.

      And nobody’s ever going to agree about Marie Antoinette anyway.

    3. Theatrical players

      And this I love so much, because Andre-Louis acquires his nickname Scaramouche when he joins a troupe of traveling theatrical players and takes on the role of the archetypical ‘little skirmisher,’ as explained by the theatrical director: with “the gift of sly intrigue, an art of setting folk by the ears, combined with an impudent aggressiveness upon occasion when he considers himself safe from reprisals.”

      Do you recognize this archetype?

      I do.

      The Native Americans called him Coyote, the Trickster. The Scandanavians called him Loki. The ancient Greeks called him Eros. Even during the Middle Ages, medieval courts always came equipped with their jester, the quintessential Fool of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

      Now whenever I find myself frustrated by those who seem interested only in disrupting the joyous-but-serious work that we do here in the writing community, those who would throw cold water on our efforts to help craftspeople develop literary craft, who seemingly-deliberately take our sense of humor for insulting challenge and hard-won advice for penny-ante poker. . .I remind myself:

      Life is a very mysterious place.

      The gods may simply be messing with us.

      Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the fandango?

    4. Freddie Mercury

      And of course I couldn’t get through this without mentioning him.

      If there was ever a Scaramouche for our poor and benighted, dark and dour, painfully-cynical and utterly-confused age, it was the exuberant queen of Queen.

      The other night, my husband and I sang the entire “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of our lungs (okay, at the top of my lungs) while cooking dinner for our son, who said sweetly when we were finished, “I would have suggested we just play the record, but you seemed to be having so much fun.”

      Must we forever be tilting at windmills, Freddie—our lives un-spared of monstrosities, trapped between Beelzebub and getting our lips to our babies, just got to get out, just got to get right out of here. . .

      . . .any way the wind blows?

    Yes. We must. They must.

    And then we must create art about it.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week I tossed at you a bunch of gorgeous exposition by Melville Davisson Post, to make you all sit in front of your computers with the goofy smiles of enlightenment plastered across your faces. But! I’m not done yet. Today I’m going to continue with the avalanche of brilliance. Because I love you (and Davisson Post) just that much.

    • Some love truth less than they love laurels.

    • If a ghost rides my way, it stops right here or it goes under to hell.

    • I’d be glad if scientists would explain why the evening in autumn always recalls the lost Kingdom of the Little.

    • Hatred is a force pressing out the empty places of the heart & making simple people crafty.

    • Sharp & jarring & without premonition are the surprises of youth.

    • If a horse tramps peacefully, the land is certainly clear of any evil thing.

    • I had ridden out of youth’s golden country & lost one of the most splendid illusions of that enchanted land.

    • After sunset, we are under the world yet, with only yellow haze shining through the door of the sky.

    • The crooked elves toil with their backs against the golden moon.

    • Aid is to be had from the great earth when one’s heart is very deeply troubled.

    • Twilight is the acre of ghosts.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



    No Comments
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Today I’m going to throw at you some exposition: how do you do it right? how do you do it wrong? do you want to do it at all? I’m going to toss regular posts right out the window and just blow your mind with a bunch of gorgeous, classical, profound exposition by one of the great masters of the English language, the magnificent Melville Davisson Post.

    • The bracing influence of a holy cause has been tremendously overrated.

    • Hatred is big when one is young.

    • The terrible justice of good faith & fair dealing is but dimly understood.

    • Dismount & sit on the earth whenever you have grave matters to consider.

    • Slowly arrange the proper sequence of a distant memory.

    • A taunt sinks in as oil sinks into cloth.

    • How cruelly it hurts, the first jamming against the granite door-posts of the world.

    • The loneliness of the vast, empty earth—forgotten in the rush of sunshine—is the constant loom of the mystery.

    • Who can say what might climb up over the rim of the world?

    • Against the strange shapes of darkness, an axe is but a little weapon.

    • I wish you a happy voyage to the cloud island.


    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories



    No Comments