So Who’s Left?

OK, let’s just suppose that my next novel is somehow connected to the King Arthur legend.  I know, it’s a stretch, but just suppose.  Ignoring for the moment Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail, in which The Grail tells her story (which includes most of the Arthurian figures, treating them in a humorous but in the end, mostly traditional fashion), so far I’ve told stories about:

  • Arthur himself, in Return from Avalon (and Points West).  Of course, this isn’t the “traditional” Arthur but a later incarnation.  Well, the legend does say that Arthur is resting and healing until the world once again has need of heroes.   The current Lady of the Lake is also a featured character.
  • Morgan le Fay (Strange Bedfellows), who is still alive in the 21st Century because of her ability to move from host to host as the last one is about to die.
  • Nimue (Avalon,  S.C., or whatever the title ends up being), who doesn’t actually come to the 21st Century, but rather allows the 21st Century to come to her.

So who’s left who needs their story told?

My first serious thought was: Merlin, of course.  After all, Merlin is still alive somewhere, trapped by magic.  Or at least that’s the traditional tale.  It wouldn’t stretch the imagination too much to have him interact in the 21st Century.  But a warning: if you settle for the first idea you have, you’re liable to have regrets later.  Better to pick it from a panoply of good ideas.  Sort of like a police line-up.

Nevertheless, I was well into deciding that this was the book I wanted to write.  It was a mere “one more trip to Dayton” away from making the leap from idea to novel.  But then, on a drive far too short to generate such creativity, an entirely different idea popped into my brain, like a coy fairy looking for chocolate: Sir Kay.

Kay, the loveable loser.  Butt of all the heroic stories, comic foil of mighty heroes.  Sir Toby Belch before Shakespeare.  To start with, who would name their son Kay?  Did Sir Ector come up with that whole twisted boy-named-Sue logic 1500 years before Johnny Cash was even born (actually, it was Shel Silverstein, giving “credit” where credit is due)?  Yes, I know in Welsh it was Cei and it just bastardized into a woman’s name as the language evolved.  But still.

Don’t we all adore our loveable losers?  Hey, the Cubs still sell out.

It would be way too much of a stretch to get Sir Kay to the 21st Century.  But how about a novel set in the actual Arthurian times?  New ground, but it’d be kind of fun.  And if it’s supposed to be funny, there wouldn’t have to be too much research involved — what’s an occasional anachronism among friend?

Here’s another character that needs her story told: Arthur’s other half-sister Elaine, or maybe Blasine (you know a character isn’t very well known if you’re not even sure what her name is).  Totally pushed out of the light by his two more notable half-sisters Morgan and Morgawse.  Or perhaps, the writers decided that there were too many Elaines already and left her out for the sake of clarity.  In Mallory, she is mentioned only in passing, noting that she is the wife of King Neutres of Garlot.  OK, that really raises my feminist ire: no woman should be known only my who she married, sister of Morgan or not.

You don’t suppose there’s a budding romance there, do you?  No way.

Sir KayDisney version of Sir Kay


Still Poised . . .

Haven’t consciously moved any closer to a decision about my next novel.  But my subconscious is busy churning away.  I’m sure, with just a couple of trips to Dayton, I’ll be ready to start when it’s time (a couple of weeks away still).

So today I have a couple of questions to ask all you literary types (by literary I mean that you read a lot, not that you prefer Moby Dick over Harry Potter and The Whatever Comes Next).

QUESTION ONE:  How long should a writer stay in a particular genre before switching?

When John Grisham (I confess to being a fan) switched from lawyer novels to something else, I didn’t hesitate at all before picking up the something else.  Perhaps subconsciously I knew it was time; he’d perhaps taken the lawyer gig as far as he could and was getting a touch stale.  Turns out, Painted House is my favorite Grisham novel.  But still, I had read his novels long enough that I liked him as a writer, not necessary just liking lawyer novels.

On the other hand, if I find a military adventure thriller interesting enough to read another by the writer, but the next book is a murder mystery, I probably won’t pick it up.

So, tentatively, the answer is somewhere greater than one and no more than eleven (number of Grisham novels before Painted House).

Perhaps the other factor that colors that decision is if an author is on my “A List.”  For me, once an author makes it to my A List, I’m reading everything they writer.  Well, at least every bit of fiction that they write (including short stories); don’t promise to pick up that  history of Marcus Aurelius that they’ve always dreamed about writing.

Can you make it to a reader’s A List with a single brilliant novel?  I’m going to tentatively say, No.  If your first novel is brilliant I absolutely promise to read the next one . . . but within certain limits.

Unfortunately, the Single Brilliant Novel path isn’t open to me, so I’m going to have to rely on the weight of the canon route.

QUESTION TWO:  I don’t write sequels, or at least I haven’t so far (I’m actually considering it, but not too seriously).  But all of my novels so far, although based in current times, have an Arthurian connection somehow.  I sense that I’m coming to the end of that run — hence Question One — but not quite yet.

So the question is: do the Arthurian characters have to stay consistent from novel to novel?  By using characters from another literary tradition, am I building a “world” (like in a science fiction or fantasy series) that requires consistency?

For example: in Strange Bedfellows (#3), Morgan La Fey is not the truly evil person you’ve come to love to hate from all the books, comic books, movies, and TV Shows where she’s appeared.  Strong willed, a bit vindictive, willing to do things that we might consider of questionable morality for her own self interest.  But seriously wronged by her brother, so perhaps her behavior is excusable (or at least understandable).  So if Morgan makes an appearance in #5, does she have to be consistent with that?  Or can she be truly evil once again?

Looking forward to getting your opinions.  Thanks in advance.

AND ON A TOTALLY — WELL, NOT TOTALLY — UNRELATED NOTE:  My writing partner, SusanH, gifted me with a fairy named “Dayton” (based on my previous post on this topic) to inspire me on this journey.

Dayton cropped


Really Bad Writing II

When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad?

Take, for example, the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  This contest, sponsored annually by the English Department of San Jose State University, invites writers to submit “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”  According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is “a pittance” of $250.

The contest is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line “It was a dark and stormy night,” from his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The contest attracts more than 10,000 entries.  And if you’re not bad enough to win but are noteworthy in your badness, you may be awarded a Dishonorable Mention.

Here is the winner of the 2012 Contest, by Cathy Bryant of Manchester England.

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

Or my personal favorite, winner of the Children’s Literature Category by David Nelsons of Falls Church, VA.

He staggered into the room (in which he was now the “smartest guy”) with a certain Wikipedic insouciance, and without skipping a beat made a beeline toward Dorothy, busting right through her knot of admirers, and she threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate though slightly tickly kiss, moaning softly, “Oooohh, Scarecrow!”

With a certain Wikipedic insouciance?  What a fine turn of phrase that is.  Indeed, based on that alone, I would have to answer my opening question with a resounding “No.”


My intrepid writing partner SusanH, who trolls the ‘Net for such things, sent me a blog post from GalleyCat: Did Amanda McKittrick Ros write the worst novel ever (I keep encouraging – aka “motivationally bullying” – Susan to spend less time on the Internet and more time writing but she spurns that advice)?  This is truly elevation of the bad.

There were Amanda McKittrick Ros societies at Oxford and Cambridge. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings were largely responsible for this enthusiasm: the informal Oxford literary group held sporadic Ros reading competitions, in which the winner was the member who could read from one of her novels for the longest without breaking into laughter … She was a sort of Bizarro World Oscar Wilde: an Irish author who became a London cause célèbre for the complete witlessness of her writing. Her fame even reached the shores of the New World, with no less a figure than Mark Twain crowning her “Queen & Empress of the Hogwash Guild.”

You can download a copy of the novel Irene Iddesleigh and see for yourself, if you are truly a glutton for punishment.  But I’ll share with you the opening of the book, so you can save yourself the pain.

Sympathise with me, indeed! Ah, no! Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

Such were a few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected. Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience,—it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow.

The gloomy mansion stands firmly within the ivy-covered, stoutly-built walls of Dunfern, vast in proportion and magnificent in display. It has been built over three hundred years, and its structure stands respectably distant from modern advancement, and in some degrees it could boast of architectural 10 designs rarely, if ever, attempted since its construction.

So, once again I ask: When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad?  As we can see, the answer is still, YES.  However, maybe Ms. Ros gets the last laugh: you can still buy her novel on Amazon.

Irene Iddesleigh cover

Link to the GallyCat post:

Poised on the Edge of a New Project

I love/hate starting a new novel. 

Writing is a discipline.  Oh, I know.  It’s a whole lot more than a discipline.  It involves imagination and creativity and a certain ability to string words together in a way that pleases people who read them.  And at its best it transports the writer out of his (or her: not being sexist here) everyday world into a place of mystery and delight.

But at its core, it’s a discipline.  You want to be a pianist, you practice.  You want to be a good pianist, you practice a lot.  If you have a limited grasp of what music is all about you will likely never be a great pianist.  But if you practice enough, you’ll be pretty damned good.

Likewise, if you want to be a writer, you write.  If you want to be a good writer, you write a lot.  If you have a limited imagination you will likely never be a great writer.  But if you write enough, you’ll . . . OK, you might never be pretty damned good.  You may only end up with piles of pedestrian manuscripts.  But the last one will be a whole lot better than the first one,  I guarantee.

But deciding what you’re going to write about?  Try as I might, I can’t turn that into a discipline.  Ideas are elusive.  Oh, they’re out there alright.  You just can’t command them to come in.   They have to be enticed.  Like fairies.  Sprinkle some bits of sugar cookies about — fairies like sugar cookies.  Unless they’re hungry for steak.

Back when I was working for money (as opposed to working to get words down on electronic paper), we had a little satellite plant in Dayton.  Dayton, Texas; not the Ohio version.  An hour’s drive down little Texas back roads.  Driving there in the early morning was the best.  The mists are still around — did I mention that fairies love mists?  Distractions are few and far between, unless you’re distracted by feed stores, trailers, cows watching you as they finish their breakfast. 

About 30 minutes into the ride, the fairies would come and ride with me.  They seemed to be fascinated by the idea of riding in a car in the midst of this rural landscape.

Walking just doesn’t do the same thing.  It’s not boring enough, I suppose.  Or maybe I just need to choose more boring places to walk.  A 40 acre soybean field, maybe. 

Think fairies hang out in soybean fields?

I have a couple of weeks for this idea to come together.  So I need to change my work habits.  Get up, shower, read the comments you’ve left for me on my blog over coffee.  And then head out for Dayton instead of the computer.

Here, fairies.

fairies 1


I Didn’t Write Yesterday

I didn’t write yesterday.  I can hear your collective gasp of horror making its way across the ether.  What are you doing, taking an unscheduled vacation from writing!  After all the lectures (aka motivational bullying) you’ve delivered.  You hypocrite!

Well, it’s sort of an imperfect storm of events.

First, I finished the first draft of the novel I’m writing on Saturday.  Don’t usually write on Saturdays, but I was so close.  The missing guy was found in a most unusual place, the bad guy dealt with in a most unusual manner, the leading characters successfully bedded and happy for now.

So I get to start a new novel!  Except:

First, I got the first round of edits on Return from Avalon (and Points West) (novel #2) back from Soul Mate Publishing last Thursday and I have to review/approve/comment on them.  Number One priority.  I ignored them until yesterday, as wrapped up as I was in the end of Avalon, S.C.  So I’m going to spend several hours a day on them until they’re done.  I’ve only done a chapter (out of 26) so far, and it’s not a lot of fun.  Nose to the grindstone, Rusty.

Second, I have to move Avalon, S.C. (novel #4) forward.  My plan is to let it sit for a week (perfect timing with item #1 above, wouldn’t you say?), then do a critical reread, decide if there are any major modifications that need to be made.  And then begin the 1st rewrite.  Once I start, I’ll be posting 3 chapters a week here as they come out of editing. I’m taking a vacation the first week of May, so I might not start posting until I get back.  Stay tuned!

For you latecomers, I did that very successfully with Strange Bedfellows (novel #3).  Ended up with quite an enthusiastic crowd of readers giving me grief because they had to wait for the next chapter.  As well as extremely valuable feedback.  Strange Bedfellows is in the proofreader’s hands, and should be ready to go out by the end of this month.

Third, I have to decide what I’m going to write about next.  I’ve been brainstorming like crazy, but haven’t decided yet.  Since I do my very best thinking while driving, I’m thinking of taking a little road trip to finalize the “plot” (using the term very loosely).  Probably have an Arthurian connection somehow, unless I decide it’s time to leave my happy little niche behind and venture out into the cold, cruel world.

Two of the leading ideas have female leads.  All 4 earlier novels have been written in first person, and it’s decidedly my voice of choice.  So my question for you is: can I write an entire novel first person with a female hero?  So far, my 1st round readers and critique groups are skeptical.

Don’t think research will help.  I’ve pretty much spent a lifetime researching the female mind and my understanding is still only at a kindergarten level.

So . . . got any great ideas for a novel?


Why Fiction?

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.  3 or 4 a year, out of 1.5 – 2 books a week.  And when I’m reading one like I am now, Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, I usually have to stop in the middle and read a novel before continuing.

Bryson is extraordinarily entertaining, for a writer of non-fiction.  This book tells of the development of home life as we now experience it, from architecture to technology to cooking styles and use of spices.  Just the sort of factual capsules that people are always forwarding you emails about or posting on Facebook — along with those omnipresent pictures of cats.

We love our little snippets, don’t we?  Like that line from The Big Chill (which I don’t remember exactly) where Michael, who writes for People magazine, talks about trying to make his articles the length of the average shit.

The perfect segue into one of the quaint and curious facts that Bryson presents.  What is the cleanest surface in the average household?  It is the toilet seat, because it is disinfected so often.  By comparison, your counter tops, kitchen sink, and dishcloth are the germiest.

‘Tis said that truth is often stranger than fiction.  I mean, what fiction writer can compete with facts like that?  And then there’s the little voice off in the distance complaining, “Yeah, and every time I do, like when I create an ingenious way of keeping the space shuttle cool during re-entry by using liquid hydrogen, you bitch at me for being an idiot who writes REALLY BAD writing” (4/9/13 blog post).  We just can’t win, can we?

How can we compete in the world of tweets, Facebook, and the Internet?  How long has it been since anybody forwarded you an email with a nice piece of fiction with the subject, YOU’VE GOT TO READ THIS! (OK, about three quarters of the political emails that a few of THOSE friends forward are fiction.  But you know that’s not what I meant)

Some wag said that fiction is the world like it should be rather than the way it is.  So I can retreat from the harsh reality of the real world into a fantasy world where the kitchen counter is cleaner than the toilet seat.

I attended a lecture by Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, during which he answered the question “Why Fiction?” the best.  He was talking about creation stories compared with the widely accepted scientific description of the origins of the universe and the Big Bang.  And how the scientific explanation does not REPLACE the creation stories, but that they work together to explain the event.  “Day Language” and “Night Language,” Dowd calls them.  Day language, the language of our logical left brain, tells us what and how.  Night Language, the language of our emotional (and usually illogical) right brain, tells us why.

Night Language is the language of fiction.  Which at its best, answers the question, “Why?”

OK, OK: in addition to being a great way to escape.  Still, I think we still have a place in the age of social media.

toilet seat

Really Bad Writing

My post on bad writing drew a lot of commentary.  Will was much kinder than I was:  “Point being, everyone has different tastes, and what I think is awful, someone somewhere loves it.”  And he’s absolutely right.  There are a lot of books – I agree with him about Zombie Porn, or pretty much anything shelved under “paranormal romance” – that are not to my taste.  But I totally understand that there’s a huge group of readers out there that have erotic dreams about Edward every night.

Not to my taste wasn’t what I meant by bad writing.  Stella summed up my feelings on the topic quite neatly:

Bad writing… that’s so subjective.  REALLY BAD WRITING… is NOT subjective.  I believe. Then again, who determines, REALLY BAD?

Me.  You.  Any of us can determine what is REALLY BAD.

So our question for today is: what is Really Bad Writing?

Ted offers:  anything by Vince Flynn, or that has even touched a Vince Flynn novel.  Susan uses the weight of opinion argument:  “I’m thinking 99 people out of 100 would agree (Why did I finish it?).”

I’m going to put my 2¢ worth out there, and then let you add yours.

1.  Facts so totally screwed up that it destroys the integrity of the story.  I’m sure this isn’t at the top of everybody’s list, but it will ruin the entire book for me.  In a novel that I recently finished, a European space consortium made a move to dominate the field by sabotaging both Russian and US satellites and rockets.  They needed time to perfect their own superior space shuttle design, which instead of using heat-resistant tiles to protect against re-entry heat employed a heat removal system using . . . drum roll, please . . . liquid hydrogen.  Writers, please.  I don’t insist that you understand thermodynamics.  But if you’re going to venture into the realm of science, please do enough research to know what you’re talking about.  Better yet, don’t.  NB: if you don’t know why liquid hydrogen won’t work as a cooling system and really want to know, ask.

2.  Stupid bad guys.  Six low-grade thugs are hired to beat up the detective.  Unfortunately, his mild-mannered demeanor is totally misleading.  So in one slick move he puts the leader down with an elbow to the throat, then cripples the second with a kick to the knee that folds it backward and destroys the joint.  The third guy charges and lasts about 2 seconds longer.  OK, boys and girls.  What do the other three thugs do?  They’re doing this for money, and probably not a lot.  Run away?  Not dramatic enough.  Take out their pistols to equalize the edge?  Naw, they didn’t bother to bring their pistols.  Hey, I know.  Let’s charge this guy so he can add to the body count.  This is bad enough in a grade B movie.

3.  Bombast.  Maybe this should be number one.  When your hero climbs on his soap box and lectures me about your pet political theory, I put the book down forever.  I don’t even care if I agree with it or not.  You want to write political diatribe, get a job as a scriptwriter for a talk show.  It’s OK for your hero to have opinions, but make it subtle, or find a different audience.

4.  Boring word choices and repetition.  “He saw a figure lurking outside.  He remembered the gun in his pocket.  He pulled the gun out of his pocket.  He pointed the gun at the figure.  He pulled the trigger.”  Sounds like a first grade reader.  “Dick runs.  See Dick run.  Run, Dick, run.”

That’s probably enough of my opinions.  What’s yours?

orcsEven orcs are smart enough to run away

Bad Writing

I have a confession to make, to anyone who doesn’t know me personally (you who do all know this already): I’m a technological dinosaur.  Seems strange for someone who was a top-gun engineer for 32 years (unless you saw me drawing draft Piping and Instrument Drawings with a pencil on quad-ruled paper).  But there it is.  I still have a flip phone.   And I’m going to have to get me one of those e-reader thingies pretty soon.  Hey, it’s my birthday tomorrow — maybe then.

So as a rabid reader, a lot of what I read comes from the Used Book Store and Library Sales.  As in books that I pick up and think, “This looks good” (or more likely, “this looks OK”) rather than something carefully researched.  And yes, researching books is probably time-effective in the long run, but in the short run, you could be reading a book instead of a review.  Or so my technological dinosaur brain says.

My method of disposing of books that I’ve read is to stick them on top of the bookcase in my bedroom until they are stacked so high that the intrude into the personal space of the picture that is hung there (maybe 7″ above the bookshelf?), and then sort them into piles: books I want to keep because I will actually read them again, books that I want to recommend to others or give to my son to read, and books to make the cycle of used book stores and library donations.  Right now there are 25 books in that stack.  Looks like Melissa’s bookshelf, only messier.  About the only thing I’m less fond of than electronic gadgets is filing.

Of the 25 books awaiting processing, what I would consider a surprising number of them are bad.  Not just weak or below average, bad.  Four of them I couldn’t finish; at least three others I wish I hadn’t (would like to have that reading time back).  One was so awful that it drove me to write my first Amazon book review.

There’s a lot of bad writing out there (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, visible right on top, is NOT one of those — one of the best books I’ve read in a long time).

As a writer, I’ve always considered this to be encouraging news.  Somebody is willing to publish a lots of books that are a whole lot worse than what I write.  I’ve thought an effective marketing strategy might be to just show up at the office of those publishing houses, make enough of a disturbance until they let you speak to someone up the ladder a bit, and then shake the handful of bad books at them and berate them before offering them your own manuscript.

The down side is, you’ve all been in a critique group or writers’ group where someone read a chapter that’s horrid.  What’s the term?  Dog shit, I think is the technical description.  And you absolutely have to say something positive and encouraging and it’s a damn good thing you’re creative.  “Emily, I commend you on your courage.  It must have taken a great deal of fortitude and personal integrity to read this piece of crap in front of a group of writers.”

Here’s the good news: you can get better.  Between the two critique groups I am a member of, we have at least 6 writers who started off pretty bad — maybe not dog shit bad, but at least slug-trail-on-the-patio bad — and are now much, much better.  Mostly because they’ve continued to write, shown up at every meeting for another session of listening to what they could do to improve, continued to write, taken good advice to heart and changed things (and ignored the bad advice), continued to write, read about what makes more effective writing, continued to write, gone to workshops or seminars, and continued to write.

So if your dream is to be a writer, my advice for the day is (all together now): continue to write.

bookshelfRusty’s Dirty Little Secret

Stella Needs Our Help!

“Stella needs our help!”  Sounds like a line from a Hardy Boys book.  And just about as real.  Stella need help?  Our Stella, founding genius behind AllThingsWords and EatReadRate?   Not very liikely.

Except in this case, it’s true.  Normally steely and decisive, Stella’s dithering.

Of course, I’ll help, you exclaim!  But what could possibly be the problem?

Stella is about to get a book published, and she needs . . . a pen name.

And of course, she’d never go with the simple expedient of using her own name.  Just the very idea of sitting in a quiet restaurant having tapas and a glass of wine except when the waiter sees the name on her MasterCard he hauls out his tattered manuscript and asks her if she’ll read it, and it’s so bad but she, kind spirit that she is, would never offend him by telling him that he’s wasted his time writing crap — that very idea gives her the heebie-jeebies.  So instead, she’s going with a pen name.

“What’s in a name?” Stella asked me as if she were interviewing me instead of the other way around.  “Would a rose by any other name smell like a piece of pecan pie?”  Stella’s got a way with metaphors.  “As life reveals at times, a surname for a woman can be temporary.  Maiden name until she’s married.  Married name until she’s not.  Then what? Does it really matter?  Do you revert to the name you had growing up?”

So she decided to use Stella Sinclair.  I asked how come and she gave me this diffident story about brainstorming with her daughter and hitting on the name Sinclair.  But I’m not buying that.  Has to be a deeper, darker reason.  Hmm.  Forced to read Upton Sinclair at the impressionable age of 13, she harbors secret fantasies about muckrakers?  Doesn’t sound like the Stella I know (which may not be the Stella that you know).  Loved that little dinosaur on the Sinclair Oil logo when she was even younger.  Or maybe Sinclair was a character in a thriller-action-romance series she read in high school and modeled herself after.  We’ll just have to speculate, because she stubbornly stuck with that “brainstorming with my daughter” story.

But . . . and he’s where our story turns tragic . . . Stella Sinclair was already taken.  By a writer of steamy erotic romance, emphasis on the word “erotic.”  “To hell with that.  I’m using the name anyway!”  Except that our wise editor Debby advised against it.  Did you know that an established writer could go to court and force you to change your pen name, even if it’s your real name?

My advice (I’m obviously not as wise as Debbie) was for Stella to send her badass assassin character after the writer who had the temerity to steal her pen name of choice.  Wouldn’t that make a great novel?  A character trying to assassinate a real person, except that she runs into the trashy muse in a cheap dive in Houston and . . .  But Stella said no, that wasn’t ethical.  And besides, her assassin was busy right now.

So I’m asking you to all write your congressperson and demand that the law be changed.

Actually, I’m not.  We’re gathered here to help Stella choose a different name.

“I’ve pretty much got it down to Stella Wilder, Stella Walker, or Stella di Grecia,” she told me.  “What do you think?”

“Not Walker.  Sounds like a cross between a Texas Ranger and something you’ll be using in a decade or two because of arthritis in your hip.”  That was my second bit of advice, markedly better than the first.

So, readers, writers, and everyone in between.  Help Stella out by offering your best suggestions.  Which she won’t use because she really didn’t need the help.  But maybe.