Merry Christmas, y'all!

It's that time of the year.

Time to start putting in the garden, get the window screens fixed, clean out the air-conditioner vents and filters, figure where to store the heavy clothes with either mothballs or cedar chips (cheapest at the pet shop), and begin working on that Christmas story.

Yes, I did say, "Christmas story." And, yes, I know Christmas is more than a couple on months away. That's why the work on it gets started now.

First off, an idea has to be come up with. While I rarely know when my idea is going to show up, I can sort of track it back to where it hit me. For "Neither Fish Nor Foul" (published by Residential Aliens Magazine in their February 2010 issue), the spark was a question on Twitter from a friend from outside the U.S. about archaic laws still on the books. Two that immediately sprang to mind was one in New England that still makes it illegal to shave on Sunday, and another from the South making it a crime to "get a fish drunk" (DO NOT TRY THIS! Alcohol kills fish fast--as anyone knows who has had some moron pour their drink in his fish tank at a party). Being in close proximity, they mated and produced the story idea. Where you troll for ideas is up to you, everybody's mind works differently.

Next, you have to enter BGTS mode (Butt Glued To Seat) and write the thing. As far as plotting, you have to figure out how to get from position "A" to position "B" without teleportation. Editors get sort of cranky if they can't follow the story. Characters are up to you. Me, I use the usual suspects, the people I've met and known over the last half-century. They form a repertory company in my head. Each is different, but most fall into various "types" (you may recollect we talked about archetypes a while back?). Remember, archetypes--not stereotypes!

Okay, it's finished and it's the most adorable, beautiful piece of writing since clay tablets. Yeah...okay, whatever. Now it needs to be eyeballed by people who don't necessarily depend on you to eat regularly. Send it out to a bunch of friends (both fellow writers and just plain readers) and sit back and wait for the blood to flow. When all the critiques return (which for most of us is sometime in the next interglacial), read through all of them and look for things, other than typos, the majority remarked on. If most were nauseated by your favorite character's name, it might be wise to rethink it. Remember this, although you must be sensitive to their comments (otherwise, why waste everyone's time?), you are allowed, even encouraged, to let your "voice" sound in the writing.

Finally, everything is pre-flighted and you're ready to launch. Go for it! Send it to the first publisher on your list. When they bounce it, the next, and the next. If it's any good, eventually one of two things will happen, either someone will run it or you'll starve. Who sez writing ain't fun? Seriously, when someone does accept the story, they'll most likely want it at least four to six months before the target date (this is print media--some of the online guys play by their own rules, so check).

One thing to keep in mind, Mel Torme' and Bob Wells, when they wrote "The Christmas Song"--one of the biggest selling pieces of Christmas music in history, were working in an unair-conditioned room on a 97 degree F (36 degree C) day with the humidity about 200 percent (welcome to southern California!--or was it Florida?). So, start thinking cool thoughts.

23 March 2010: Feast of St. Ethelwald of Fame Island. Patrick Henry delivers "Give me liberty, or give me death" speech in Richmond's St. John's Church 1775, Russian Tsar Paul I trampled to death in bedroom 1801, Battle of Kernstown 1862, Reichstag passes "Enabling Act of 1933" making Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany 1933, Gemini 6 carrying Gus Grissom and John Young launched 1965.

Son of a Gun: Mix and Match Ammo

"Er, I'm not sure you want to do that."

A question came up over on the Historical Mystery Writer's Yahoo list the other day asking if anyone could think of a story in which mismatched ammunition in a firearm was used as a clue. I can't think of one, but it is a good idea for a clue. One of the other writers pointed out that using the wrong ammunition could result in an explosion. I suggested Jimmy Breslin's book, The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight as an hilarious illustration of this.

The subject brought to mind some of the things dad and his brothers did back up on the Blue Ridge.

The youngest brother (there were six and I use no names for my own safety--I'm not sure of the statute of limitation with some of the things that went on) was stuck with an ancient 12 gauge single barrel shotgun for his first deer hunt with his brothers. As ammunition, he found a half box of 14 gauge shells around the house, a rare and unlamented gauge (in that part of the world, a gladius wouldn't surprise me). [Note to the firearms-challenged: As the gauge number in shotguns goes up, the bore of the shotgun and its chamber gets smaller--and I'm too lazy at the moment to go see why this came about. Maybe in a later "Son of a Gun" post] The next day, as the brothers move through the upper sinkhole field on their farm, the older ones spook a doe toward the youngest. Figuring the deer was in little danger from their brother and to watch the fun, they shout to him, "Here's one!" The youngest throws the shotgun to his shoulder, takes aim at the oncoming doe with both eyes wide (direction of target: plus or minus 90 degrees), jerks the trigger, and is rewarded with a satisfying "click." He breaks the breech of the shotgun to remove and replace the dud round and finds that the 14 gauge shell has slid down the chamber where the firing pin can't strike its primer cap and is now jammed until the good Lord calls us all home. The panicked doe now on him, he reverses the shotgun and hits her with the buttstock (as one of his admiring brothers described it, "A buttstroke my old sergeant would have envied."). The doe steps back then bolts around him and off into the mountains. Somehow, he survived his brothers regaling two counties with the story and went on to be a pretty fair hunter.

One of my uncles brought back a Japanese Arisaka Type 99 bolt-action rifle from the Pacific (on a bolt-action weapon, a lever rotates a cylindrical "bolt" unlocking the action, the bolt is pulled rearward which opens the action or chamber allowing a fired cartridge casing to fly out, the bolt is then pushed forward stripping an unfired cartridge from the magazine [remember last "Son of a Gun?"] and pushing it into the chamber, the lever rotates the bolt locking the action, and the weapon is ready to fire). The Type 99 was chambered for 7.7x58mm and, as this was a early war model, was an accurate shooter. The problem was that that type of ammunition tended to be a bit rare in the general stores in that part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 30.06 on the other hand was quite common. The problem is the 7.7mm cartridge casing is just a little wider than that of the 30.06, causing the 30.06 round not to feed correctly. To remedy this, one of the brothers took a Prince Albert pipe tobacco can, sans top and bottom, flattened it then folded it and inserted it into the rifle's internal magazine on the left side. After that, the 30.06 rounds fed just fine and the brothers took eight deer that I know of with it (while a teen, I managed to miss two deer myself with it). Interestingly, that Arisaka still had the Imperial Chrysanthemum stamp on the receiver showing that the rifle had been captured rather than surrendered (an order came down from Imperial Army and Navy headquarters toward the end of the war to grind off the chrysanthemum from rifles so that the Emperor would not be dishonored). Also the anti-aircraft calipers were missing from the rear sights (you've got to love the military mind, anti-aircraft sights on a bolt-action rifle--of course if a plane had to fly through the rifle fire from a battalion at low altitude, somebody might get lucky--but I'll bet it wasn't aimed fire).

Well, I smell the bouquet of the wife's chili wafting from the kitchen. Dismissed.

8 March 2010: Feast of St. Beoadh of Ardcarne. Ansbach and Bayreuth regiments--later captured with Cornwallis at Yorktown--initially mutiny at Ochsenfurt rather than serve British in American colonies 1777, CSS Virginia (ex USS Merrimack) launched at Hampton Roads 1862, Dutch forces on Java surrender to Japanese 1942, Nelson's Pillar in Dublin blown up by Irish 1966.