Capricon 2020

I will be conducting a writing workshop on writing in first person (Feb 15, 2:30PM) at the Capricon science fiction convention (Feb 13-16, 2020).

I will also be a panelist at the convention on the following panels:
– Detectives in the Wild – Thu 5:00 PM
– Nonfiction for Fiction Writers – Fri 10:00 AM
– Lessons I Learned as a First-Time Novelist – Fri 8:30 PM
– How Not to Kill Yourself over a Deadline – Sat 5:30 PM
– A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Publisher – Sat 8:30 PM

So if you’re in the area, like science fiction and fantasy in any form (books, movies, anime, etc.) and feel like hanging out with some other people who also like this stuff, consider attending. You can check it out at


I will be attending Windycon (Nov 15-17) this year. My schedule (for those of you who might go) is as follows:

Panel: Commerce in Space Opera – Friday, 11-15-2019 – 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm – Mueller Grand Ballroom G

Panel: Ask a Scientist – Saturday, 11-16-2019 – 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm – Lilac C

Chicago-SF Book discussion: Ringworld, by Larry Niven – Saturday, 11-16-2019 – 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm – ISFiC Suite – Room 1612

Writers Workshop – Sunday – Sunday, 11-17-2019 – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm – ISFiC Suite – Room 1612

Panel: Memorable Space Opera Settings – Sunday, 11-17-2019 – 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm – Mueller Grand Ballroom H

The Technique of the Mystery Story by Carolyn Wells, 1913

I finished reading The Technique of the Mystery Story by Carolyn Wells, 1913.
Yes, that’s 1913.
Wells wrote this when the mystery story was still comparatively young, but surprisingly, not much has changed in the last hundred years, from the chapter on getting mysteries accepted as literature, to the missteps and clichés of the time, which are still missteps and clichés. Her advice on writing mysteries is still good, if in some places more amusing than intended because of the intervening years (Don’t have the butler be the murderer – it’s been done to death).
What I found most useful to me was the history lesson, that is, her interrogation of the mystery writers and their protagonists who were popular at the time (and still important to read if you are a fan or a scholar of the genre), and a historical analysis of the changes in the genre from Poe to 1913.
This is a quality read. It’s available on audio from Librivox for free since it’s out of copyright, although the reading is done by chapter and by several people.) or you can probably find a copy on ABE books or the like – maybe even in the library.

Going to Capricon Feb 14-17, 2019

I will be on the following panels:

Indistinguishable from Magic: SF or Fantasy?
Fri 1:00 PM

Hero’s Quest and Other Story Structures
Fri 2:30 PM

Writing Optimism in a Dark Age
Fri 7:00 PM

Authors Who Read
Sat 10:00 AM

Chicago-SF Book Club – We’re discussing European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, another of Theodora Goss’s delightful romps through Victorian gothic literature.
Sat 2:30 PM

Commentary on, “The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words” Edited by Barry Day.

Review of “The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words,” edited by Barry Day.

Review by Clifford Royal Johns

“The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words” is a loosely linked series of quotations from Chandler’s letters to agents and publishers, from interviews, and from many other sources including his fictional characters, especially Philip Marlowe. Day links these quotations together with interjections and helpful observations of his own, but he avoids summarizing or pushing his own conclusions. This is intended to be mostly from Chandler’s point of view. Specifically, this is by no means a biography although it includes many biographical elements, nor is it an analysis of his life or works. Rather it is a window into Chandler’s perspectives and ideas created by quoting him and his associates, fictional or not.

Day organizes the text into chapters, each focused on quotes for that topic. Sometimes quotes can be used in more than one section since they apply to several topics.

The first chapter, “A Man with No Home,” addresses Chandler’s childhood in England, getting a classical education, then moving to the U.S. where the culture and the people were so different. He took a dim view of Americans in general. As a result of this, and of having dreadful experiences in the trenches in WWI, he felt like he didn’t belong anywhere. Day’s point here is that since Chandler didn’t really have a home, he invented his own, Los Angles. His Los Angles. The Los Angles we see in his fiction.

The second chapter, entitled, “Writing (1) Turning Pulp into Gold,” uses Chandler’s letters and interviews to show how he slowly progressed from publishing short stories in Black Mask to writing the novels that made him famous. It shows how much he struggled with writing and how he didn’t think he was as competent a writer as other people thought he was. There are a lot of little tidbits of advice given in Chandler’s own laconic style, and comments about his writing from other authors. George V. Higgins in 1988 said of him, “He did not write about crime or detection … he wrote about the corruption of the human spirit.” Also included in this chapter are his opinions of other writers. I especially like his view of Hemingway, “He never really wrote but one story. All the rest of it is the same thing in different pants – or without different pants.” which he said in a letter to Blanche Knopf in 1942.

The third and most intriguing chapter is focused on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe character. Here, Day uses quotes from other fictional characters throughout Chandler’s books and short stories, as well as comments by other writers paying homage, to define who Marlowe was and why he became iconic, why his persona became so much larger than life. Day also makes much of similarities between Marlowe and Chandler himself, since much of Chandler’s feeling and attitudes, as shown in his private letters, are mimicked by Marlowe. These days Marlowe would be called a bit of Mary Sue, but we knew that, didn’t we?

Three chapters cover cops and crime, Los Angles, and Hollywood. The cops and crime section is fun, the Los Angles section shows how Chandler found material in the seedy, corrupt side of LA, how well he knew it, and how much he hated the changes it went through as it grew in the fifties and became the suburban monster that it was by the sixties. Chandler had a difficult time writing for Hollywood. He had only bad things to say about the people there, and they had mostly bad things to say about him, but somehow he wrote some terrific screenplays and got paid a lot of money. He said he worked on scripts only for the money. “Anyone who doesn’t love Hollywood is either crazy or sober.”

Dames and Little Sisters, the next chapter, deals with the women of Chandler’s books and life. A few good women, lots of despicable ones, some murderers, but always a blonde who treats Marlowe well and badly. Marlowe never “got the girl.” He wouldn’t have been Marlowe if he had. Still, Day spends quite a bit of time on Chandler’s misogyny, which might be viewed as a sign of the times, but Chandler frequently used clever dialog and Marlowe’s internal observations to the disadvantage or objectification of women. For instance, “She had a good figure, if you liked them four sizes larger below the waist than above it,” from Farewell My Lovely or, “One of the women had enough ice on her to cool the Mojave Desert and enough make-up to paint a steam yacht . . . The men with them looked gray and tired, probably from signing checks,” from Playback.

The second chapter on writing, Writing (2), is the more intriguing of the two writing chapters. It provides quotes about the writing process and about mysteries specifically. This chapter contains fewer biographical entries and more for the writer. “The mystery novel must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element.” Of course, this quote is just as applicable to any story genre inserted in place of mystery.

The final section is about Chandler’s last years after his wife died, last letters, and the book he left unfinished, Poodle Springs. After his wife died, he didn’t seem to have the interest to write. The key thing about this section is that it drives home the observation that Chandler and Marlowe are much alike. As Chandler aged and mellowed, so did Marlowe. About Poodle Springs, Chandler admitted he chose the wrong woman for the plot and should not have had Marlowe get married. He didn’t like the book and expected to start all over. He’d only written four chapters before he died. As he said, his is heart just wasn’t in it. It seems regrettable to me, based on Chandler’s letters, that Robert B. Parker finished the novel and added it to Chandler’s Marlowe oeuvre.

I am a fan of the style Day uses here. He takes the words of others and compiles them into a delightful sort of biographical document. He also edited a similar book on Dorothy Parker which I expect is a hoot. I need to find a copy of that one.

Chandler was an expert at similes and this book is full of them, especially in the writing sections. Because they are so inventive and witty and close together, this is a surprisingly enjoyable read. To keep the book honest, Day also includes Chandler’s clunkers which are painfully hilarious as they are presented all together in one list.

I got my copy at the library, but I will buy a copy and reread it with marker in hand to annotate it. I will likely go back to it once in a while. This book was informative, educational and wacky fun all at the same time. Who could ask for more than that.

Written by Clifford Royal Johns

Day, Barry, ed. The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.


I’m now a year into getting my MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine — A truly amazing experience.