Category Archives: Whatever

Posts that don’t belong anywhere else.

Writing Advice, That Which I Rarely Give

Lucy's Writing Advice
Two Cents For Five

I rarely give writing advice. I rarely give any kind of advice and never if not asked. My aversion to advice-giving stems from certain experiences in my youth with which I will not bore you here. Suffice it to say that, when not giving advice in my professional capacity as an attorney, I try to keep my mouth shut.

But I was on Twitter not so long ago and came across a tweet from a young writer who wondered if an author should write about characters whose background he did not share. More generally, he wondered if an author should write about things of which he had little or no experience.

His immediate concern was how he could add “diversity” to his scenarios if he could not write about characters with ethnic and racial backgrounds different from his own. His tweet set me to thinking and I sent him a reply. But his concerns require a more elaborate response than fits in a tweet. Here it is.

First, let me say that “diversity” and I are not friends. I regard it as one of those notions that have become so ubiquitous and elastic as to lack any meaning whatsoever. It is not so much a word encapsulating a thought as it is a club with which to beat people who have the temerity to disagree with you.

Second, I am a great believer in writing about people, places and things you know. Depth of knowledge and an intimate understanding of subject matter are, to my mind, of much greater advantage to a story-teller than striving after any superficial “diversity.” The real diversity isn’t in people’s skin color or culture or even in their experiences. The real diversity is in the choices they make in the face of their circumstances. You can find tremendous diversity in the most homogeneous groups if you are willing to plumb the depths of the human soul.

Having made the case for writing about what you know, let me turn around and argue against it.

Snoopy Types While Woodstock Watches
The Novelist

The real skill of the novelist is in getting into people’s heads. Paradoxically, when you succeed in getting into other people’s heads, you end up revealing more about what’s in your own head than you would have thought possible or palatable, but that’s another story. The story here is that, if a novelist can’t explore what other people are thinking and feeling and deciding, then there is nothing for him to do. He may as well give up.

The greater the difference between character and novelist, the more the novelist will need to stretch himself to understand the character. But it’s always worth the effort, even if it’s not done well. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “[a]nything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Only by exertion and risking failure can you hope to understand other people.

Those who worry about “cultural appropriation” or who believe that you can’t comprehend another human’s response to circumstances you have not directly experienced don’t realize the implications of their attitudes. Ultimately, every human being is unique. If we can’t understand those different from us, we can’t understand anybody and communication is impossible. That’s about as absurd as things can get.

It’s an absurdity that denies human nature, by which I mean it denies the notion that, beneath all the differences, some shallow and some deep, there is at root some things all humans share, something you are simply because you are human. It is the greatest triumph of the novelist, of any author, to reveal these deep unities of the human spirit.

I was once sitting in a huge conference room in a huge investment bank in New York City. I was taking part in a meeting about a corporation’s initial public offering of stock. Dozens of people were attending the meeting and my participation was only intermittently required. At one point, I found myself sitting at a distance from the action next to a young Chinese woman who was an intern with the investment bank.

We chatted during our common downtime. She told me of a conversation she’d had with her grandparents before she left China. They were farmers in their small village. They were afraid of the gulf opening up between them and their grand-daughter, afraid that, coming to America, she would lose her “Chinese-ness.”

I answered that I had, many years before, had a similar conversation with my Italian grand-father. I remarked that, since then, I had met many Americans with Italian names who had little else connecting them to their Italian heritage. She remarked that, in China, they had a phrase to describe their analogous phenomenon: they called such people, “hollow bamboo,” Chinese on the outside, nothing on the inside.

In that moment, transcending our differences of age, sex, culture, civilization, religion, we found common human ground. Unearthing and illuminating this common ground is the calling of the novelist.



I’m Live with Snarkey & Putts

It’s a long time since I added a post. I’ve been busy writing. Although it’s no excuse, I have finished two new Snarkey & Putts full-length novels to accompany their introductory adventure, The Case of the Undead Arbitrator.

For those of you who who aren’t in the know, Jack Snarkey and R. Andrew Putts are a pair of attorneys who stumble into a new legal specialty, the paranormal! It turns out that Putts, who’s always been the much-abused, bumbling, junior member of the team, possesses latent psychic powers that have been waiting to be unleashed when the right case comes along. Come along it does in the first story, when Snarkey makes a crafty legal move in a dispute between three elderly sisters over their father’s estate, leading the unwitting Putts to open a portal to the spirit world. Talk about a change in venue!

Undead Arbitrator is available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. It’s right on the dividing line between novelette and novella, so I’m calling it a short novella. Publishing terminology has become so precise, i.e, nit-picky.

In a few weeks, I’ll release the second Snarkey & Putts story, a novel-length extravanganza entitled The Case of the Ghastly Ghostwriter which, as you may have surmised, features a real but somewhat unusual ghost, a spectrum concretus, to be precise.  Ghostwriter also delves into the dim netherworld of copyright law. Talk about horror!

To jig up enthusiasm for my paranormal attorneys, I’ve recorded a series of YouTube videos of yours truly reading excerpts from the Undead Arbitrator story. Here’s the first one.

I’ll be posting a new video every couple of days. If you can’t stand the suspense, you can head over to my YouTube channel and watch them all.

So be on the lookout for Snarkey & Putts. Ghastly Ghostwriter will be followed by the third in the series, The Case of the Canine’s Curse, a novel-length sort of werewolf story that deals with summary process and eminent domain proceedings. Real estate always brings out the worst in everybody. Canine’s Curse is currently out to beta readers.

I’m always looking to expand my beta reader corps. If you’re interested, contact me at


Election Day

Papa and Henry Cabot Lodge
I have absolutely no idea what brought this about.

I’ve spent all day, except while actually in the voting booth, trying not to think about politics. But my maternal grandfather, of whom I often speak, always had a finger in the political pie. Here he is, second-from-left, with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. That’s the Senator’s autograph, on the left, against the first man’s white suit.

To keep busy today, I’ve written another little story about said grandfather and his coming to America, to Chicago in the 1920s. You can read it here or use the menu above, under “Free Stories, Family Tales.” It’s entitled, Who Would’ve Thought Of It. I hope you get a charge out of it.

The Archer’s Three Bows

Joe Eliseon
Joe Eliseon

I haven’t been around for a while, but I’ve been productive during my blogging hiatus. If you check under “Books” and “Stories” on the menu to the right, just below the header, you’ll find a number of new pages.

Also, since my last post, I’ve completed two novelettes, The Mystery of Ambrose Pouter and Snarkey & Putts, Paranormal Attorneys-at-Law I: The Case of the Undead Arbitrator and a full-fledged novel, Snarkey & Putts, Paranormal Attorneys-at-Law II: The Case of the Ghastly Ghostwriter.

Ambrose is a – I hate to say it – “coming of age” tale about an unpopular boy who suddenly becomes popular, and for an unusual reason. It’s set in the same childhood world as my Reincarnation of Lou Gehrig.  I’ll most likely self-publish it on Amazon, as I have most everything else. I’m still working on the cover illustration. I’ll keep you posted on its release date.

I’m very happy with the Snarkey & Putts series. My pair of mis-matched paranormal attorneys is coming along fine. I’m going to post a few excerpts here and on Twitter within the week and see how people react to them before deciding what publishing route to take. But I’m optimistic, so much so I’m working on a third installment, tentatively titled, The Case of The Canine’s Curse.

Let me leave you with something my late confessor of many years, an old Spanish priest, once told me:

Bow & Arrow
Bow & Arrow

There are three types of souls, like bows in the hands of the divine Archer.

The first type says to the Archer, “Do not bend me. I am afraid I will break.” This type is useless.

The second type says, “Bend me, Archer. I know you will not break me.” This type is good.

The third type says, “Bend me, Archer, and if you break me, who cares?” This type is most excellent.