Evaluating Goals

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introEvery goal may look like it fulfills one objective but often they fulfill multiple objectives.

The goal of improving your fitness is like that. It works on multiple levels. You get healthier, your clothes fit better, you’re more able to tolerate a wide range of stresses, you can work better at all kinds of physical projects without injuring yourself, you save some money on health care (quit smoking!), you can evacuate a building on fire by running down 87 flights of stairs followed by a two-mile jog to an evacuation point, and you get to meet more of your neighbors when they see you jogging around the neighborhood with your dog! Multiple goals are achieved with a single goal: improving your physical fitness.

Periodically we look around and check to see if we are on track with our goals. We update and change our goals when needed. We ask ourselves the question, is what we’re doing helping us to meet our goals?

If the answer is no, and it is no over and over, then you have to ask the hard question of why not. Financial independence is a terrific example. If you’re serious about getting out of debt and not being a slave to your creditors, then why aren’t you working harder to do so? Maybe you aren’t doing the hard work of selling all your excess stuff on eBay because you really don’t care and you don’t want to be bothered. If that is so, then you need a different goal.

But if you really do want to be out of debt, then you need to figure out why you’re sabotaging yourself.

The same is true of food gardening, your exercise program, and any other improvement efforts. If you state that something is important to you, then why aren’t you doing it?

Because it’s hard? Well, yeah. Exercise every day takes time and effort and the payoff takes forever. Having an extensive garden means you have to take care of it, learn to cook it all, preserve the excess for the winter, and then train the family to eat what you can grow. Is that what you want?

I think it’s very important to revisit your goals on a regular basis. That way, you can see if you are achieving them, you can update your goals, and if you just won’t do something that you say you want to do, you can figure out why not. Maybe the answer is that you shouldn’t be doing something. That happens.

I used to do a lot more cooking from scratch and serious food and wilderness gardening. I don’t do nearly as much now as I don’t have the time when I’m trying to write several thousand words a day.

My updated goals include finishing “Fortress Peschel” and releasing it as a book via Peschel Press. Editing all these essays into a coherent whole will be a challenge, I’m sure. This will take time.

I’ve been thinking seriously about writing a how-to-sew book about nightgowns and pajamas. Most of us wear them, they’re easy to sew, and fit is unimportant.

I make something that I call a Not-Quilt. It’s hard to explain, but they’re not hard to make. It’s certainly easier than piecing and sewing a real quilt. You make them from the scrap fabric you have on hand, you recycle things you didn’t think you could, such as dead electric blankets and ugly bedspreads, and the finished product looks just like a quilt. It functions like one, too.

evaluating goals quilt
The cat was pieced together from scraps, too.

That’s in the future as I have to make another Not-Quilt, and this time photograph the process and write it up as I go.

I’m also writing a series of novels set on a terraformed Mars. This will allow me to work out my thoughts on resource depletion, sustainability, class and status issues, with plenty of sex and violence to flavor the ride. Does this take time away from all my other efforts? You bet it does. But I want to do this and not just because I have things to say about the management of limited resources. I want to make some money!

So in order to meet my new goal of writing thousands of words every day, other goals have gone by the wayside. Fortunately, the underlying goals of Fortress Peschel have long been financial independence and sustainability. Having no debt and money in the bank (those emergency funds!) lets us do this. Having spent years of our precious life energy to make our house low maintenance means we don’t have to do it as much anymore. This frees up time and money for the writing project.

Knowing how to cook from scratch and having a fridge means I can cook large meals every few days, and we eat leftovers the other days. Your family can be trained to do this. You are not a short-order cook.

The garden has been essentially put aside. We’ve let most of the raised beds go fallow. That means we pile them high with leaves every fall and ignore them. The soil critters break down the leaves and improve the soil and we don’t do a thing. When we get back to serious food production, I expect that the soil will be in much better shape than when we started. We keep up with the mowing and any needed pruning and weeding and it’s been working out so far.

I no longer make elaborate Halloween costumes for the offspring. They’ve aged out of the system so I don’t spend weeks of time (or money) on turning Darling Daughter into a vampire or Younger Son into a ninja.

halloween costumes
Only eight years ago. Tempus fugut.

I still do plenty of mending. It’s cost-effective, and it takes less time to repair something than it does to go shopping for a replacement. Sometimes the mending pile gets pretty big before I have the time to visit it, but you can’t have everything.

Many of the systems here at Fortress Peschel, such as the clothesline and the drying racks and the heavy window quilts, were put in use so long ago that we can’t imagine doing anything else. They’re part of the daily routine, just like exercising, jobbing my errands together, and writing. They save time and money and so we still do them. They’re maintenance now, and no longer goals to achieve.

I can’t suggest a specific time schedule to use to check on your goals and whether or not you’re accomplishing them. Only you can do that. At a minimum, however, you should ask yourself once a year, are you going in the direction you want to? Are you getting done what you want to? Are you managing your time so that you do what you say you want to rather than binge-watching TV?

Your goals say what matters to you. Managing your time so you accomplish your goals says that you really meant it.

Sherlock Holmes, Witness

Today we’re pulling another story from “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909.” This one was published in 1907 when one of the architects of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was 26. More parodies can be found on this page.

sherlock holmes legal system
Donald R. Richberg
Can Holmes the irresistible force overcome the immovable object of the law? We find out in this story by attorney Donald R. Richberg (1881-1960) from the July issue of The Green Bag, a Chicago publication “covering the higher and the lighter literature of the law.” Richberg played a critical role in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, drafting major pieces of New Deal legislation and running the National Recovery Administration.

Sherlock Holmes, Witness

Donald R. Richberg

From "Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909&quot. Click on the cover to learn more.
From “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909” coming in late December 2015.
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” called the lawyer. A long, lean gentleman, with remarkably keen, penetrating eyes, walked slowly to the witness stand, followed by an inoffensive-appearing man, whose air of quiet assertiveness stamped him as a practising physician.

“We will call you shortly, Dr. Watson,” said the lawyer, whereat that gentleman bowed with professional gravity and resumed his seat.

“Raise your right hand,” droned the clerk, following the command with a hopeless rush of words, ending explosively with “selp ye God!”

“I do,” replied Sherlock Holmes.

On being asked to state his name, residence and occupation, the witness replied.

“Sherlock Holmes, Baker street, London, England, criminal investigator, analyzer and deducer.”

The detective was then qualified through a long series of questions, most of them being sufficiently ungrammatical to serve as professional models. Then came the real examination.

“What do you know about this case?” asked Mr. Sharp, attorney for the defendant.

“Everything,” replied the witness.

“I move to strike out that answer, incompetent, irrelevant, absurd,” shouted Mr. Quick, for the plaintiff.

“Motion sustained,” said the court.

“Are you familiar with the house and grounds known as Gridsly Manor?” was the next question.

“I am.”

“Describe the conditions you found there on the evening of June 16th, of this year.”

“As I entered my compartment in the 4:12 express at Charing Cross, I noted that the guard was laboring under great stress of emotion. While he was gazing fixedly at the small coin which I had just given him, it was evident his emotion was not gratitude. In fact he hastily removed the ‘reserved’ sign from the window of my compartment and ran down the platform. I had observed, however, that he had reddish hair and a slight droop of the right shoulder.”

“I move to strike all this out,” interrupted Mr. Quick. “If your honor please, this court is seeking light as to whether John Gridsly of Gridsly Manor, England, was murdered or committed suicide. This witness has been imported into this country by the defense to cast some alleged illumination on that question. I do not believe your honor cares to waste your time or that of counsel listening to old lady’s tales of a train journey.”

“Strike it out,” said the court.

“If your honor please,” remonstrated Mr. Sharp, “if Mr. Holmes can be allowed to tell his story his own way, I’m sure—”

“We’ll be here all night,” said the court. “Get off the train, Mr. Holmes, take a cab, get to Gridsly Manor somehow, then tell us what you saw.”

Holmes was evidently much displeased at the court’s abruptness, but he only exhibited his feelings by slightly raising his eyebrows at Dr. Watson, who smiled back sympathetically. With an accent of toleration the great detective continued:

“To give only the barest details I may say that when I entered the room wherein John Gridsly had passed away I saw at once that he had not been alone when he died.”

“I object,” howled Quick. “Witness could not possibly see such a thing twenty-four hours after death.”

“Objection sustained. State facts,” admonished the court.

“What did you see Mr. Holmes?” asked Sharp.

“I saw plain evidences that John Gridsly had not been alone.”

“Object,” said Quick.

“Sustained,” said the judge.

“Was the room in the same condition when you saw it as when Mr. Gridsly died?” asked Sharp.

“Object,” said Quick.

“Of course he can’t tell but let him answer,” replied the court.

“It was not. I telegraphed for it to be left exactly as when the tragedy had been discovered, but my order was not followed. I saw at once that two men, a young girl and a cripple had been in the room before I arrived.”
“How did you discover that?” queried the court.

“Very easily, your honor, from the dust in front of the door.”

“Strike out that answer,” snapped the judge.

“If your honor please,” implored Sharp, “kindly let the witness explain. He is a man gifted with more than ordinary sight.”

“This court has never held mind-reading, prophesy, or table-rapping as competent testimony, Mr. Sharp, and doesn’t intend to begin now.”

“But your honor, dust will show footprints.”

“Perhaps it may, but I do not consider it competent evidence of either health or sex. The witness may try to explain, but I shall rule the testimony out just the same. Have you brought the dust with you, Mr. Holmes?”

“No, your honor, but I may state that I found in the dust the plain traces of the shoes of two different men, also the mark of a woman’s heel and a cripple’s crutch.”

“Huh!” said the court.

“Further,” continued the detective, “I told the housemaid I would not betray her if she would give me the names of the two men and the cripple. She broke down and admitted that they were—”

“Object, object,” shouted Quick.

“Sustained,” said the court. “Strike out the testimony of the dust, Mr. Reporter, that’s hearsay too.”

“Mr. Holmes,” began Sharp, patiently, “describe the condition of the body as you observed it.”

“The late John Gridsly was lying stretched at full length on a low couch on the west side of the room, his left arm lay across his chest, his right hanging down by his side. Six inches and a quarter away from this hand a Parkhurst hammerless revolver, one chamber empty, lay where the tall man had placed it.”

“Tall man?” shouted Quick.

“Tall man?” echoed the court.

“The one who was with him just before he died,” explained Holmes, imperturbably.

“Strike it out,” ordered the court wearily. “Remove all that tall man from the record. Go on with what you saw, Mr. Holmes, leave imagination to the lawyers.”

“I saw also,” continued Holmes, biting his lips, “a round bullet hole behind the right ear. I examined closely the chair at the foot of the couch on which the satchel was placed during the quarrel.”

“What quarrel?” asked the court.

“Between Gridsly and the tall man.”

“Did the satchel belong to the tall man also?” asked the court.

“No, your honor, I think it was his uncle’s.”

“Mr. Reporter,” said the court, solemnly, “keep that tall man and all his relations out of the record of this case.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said Sharp, “kindly describe just what you physically saw in the room at Gridsly Manor the evening of June 16th.”

The witness nodded gravely and drew from an inside pocket a small silver-mounted hypodermic. Dr. Watson half-rose in his chair, but Holmes waved him back to his seat.

“Nothing,” said the detective, “could be more valueless and unreliable as testimony in the present case than statements as to what I saw.”

Holmes placed the syringe against his left wrist and passed the plunger home, all in view shuddered and even the judge turned his face away.

“There,” continued the witness, “what you gentlemen physically saw was that I injected something into my arm. As a matter of fact, there was not a drop of liquid in this instrument. Yet every one of you would have sworn falsely on the stand as to what you saw.”

Seeing that both court and counsel were about to indignantly deny his assertions, the witness hurriedly added:
“As to the present case, let me forget intelligence and be a good witness. I saw three finger prints above the mantel shelf; about an ounce of red soil in front of the long window on the east, and a box of Rio cigars on a table, the ashes of cigars in an ash tray, a little spilt ashes and red soil on the chair at the foot of the couch, some dust on the floor, and a long scratch at one place on the polished surface. There was no towel on a towel rack in a curtained alcove. May I also state what I saw through a microscope, your honor?”

“Object,” said Sharp, “not qualified to testify as to microscopic examinations.”

After another series of ungrammatical questions the witness was declared qualified and proceeded.

“Through the microscope, I saw that the finger prints above the mantel shelf were oily and recent.”

“Object to conclusions,” snarled Quick.

“‘Oily’ is a fact,” said the court, “‘recent,’ the witness may testify to as an expert.”

“Does your honor overrule the objection?” inquired Sharp, breathlessly.

“I do,” said the court. Under stress of joyful surprise Sharp collapsed into the arms of his chief clerk, but soon recovered his poise.

“The red soil was not red soil,” continued the witness, “but rotted leather, the cigar ashes showed a large quantity of the domestic Rio cigar ashes with a small quantity of an imported clear Havana, the dust on the floor showed heel prints of one pair of shoes with whole heels and one pair with one heel torn off, so that the nails scratched the floor. May I state conclusions from these facts, your honor?”

“You may state any opinion as an expert detective based on the facts before the court.”

“As a very expert detective I would say that a tall, courageous, blond man, with blue eyes—”

“Shall I take that down?” asked the reporter.

“Take it all down,” said the court, “let counsel object after I hear this through.”

“That a tall, blond man,” repeated Holmes, “carrying a small, worn-out satchel entered Mr. Gridsly’s room at 9:25 P.M. June 16th, by the low window to the east. He talked amiably for about half an hour, smoking a cigar he brought with him. Then he and Gridsly quarreled, and Gridsly was shot as he lay on the couch, the sound of the discharge being muffled in a towel, which the tall man took away in a satchel. He left the house at 10:20 and—”

“That’s enough,” interrupted the court, “I enjoy this little romance immensely, but I can’t really listen to it in my official capacity. Strike it all out.”

“Can you give out any more facts, Mr. Holmes, which will shed light on this subject?” asked Sharp, despairingly.

“Yes,” said Holmes, smiling quizzically, “there is one more fact—the revolver at Gridsly’s side was a 32 caliber, the bullet which passed out through the mouth I found imbedded in the wall. It was a 36.”

“That is all,” said Sharp triumphantly.

Mr. Quick refused to cross-examine.

“I suppose,” said Holmes to Watson a few weeks later, “if I had attempted to state that that 36 bullet was from the tall man’s gun, but that Gridsly shot himself with it, our vociferous friend, Mr. Quick, would have objected and the court sustained the objection. It was plain, however, that that was just what had happened. Of course his tall friend couldn’t risk leaving his gun, so he laid poor Gridsly’s on the floor beside him. At all events I found the tall man dead in a cheap London hotel, so both their souls are at rest now, and I’ve done my duty as an expert witness. An expert, Watson, is a man who can’t be trusted to state his honest conclusions, because of course he hasn’t any, but whose opinion on facts (which like statistics cannot tell a lie!) is good as gold—or at any rate as good as gold can buy.”

Keeping Track of Your Production

career indie author motivation writers

career indie author introduction motivation writers

Recently, Sarah Dimento lamented that she found herself stuck writing the first draft of her novel. Worse, she was stuck on the first chapter. For a month.

She’s stuck in a familiar trap. She feels stuck about what she’s writing. She wants to do a good job at it. She doesn’t want to write crap to get through it because she’s already written that in “draft zero” and because she’s having to force her way through the chapter, she’s beating herself up because she’s not writing.

I’m not going to diagnose her case here. She didn’t ask me so it’s presumptuous; it’s public so it’s rude; and I don’t know enough about her situation to make a good diagnoses and that would be arrogant to do.

I would wonder, based on my experience in the same situation, if there’s something more behind it, like if her writer-sense is trying to tell her something about the story that she hasn’t realized. Maybe it’s not the right story for her to tell, or maybe there’s another character who’s demanding to take the lead, or maybe even a big problem with the plot.

What can be even more galling about this is that there are indie writers out there right now publishing stories that would not get a hearing in New York, and yet they’re finding readers and making a living at it. People like Michael Anderle, who discussed his writing career in two Author Biz podcasts: “Zero to $10K Per Month in 90 Days” and the follow-up “Hacking the Editing Process”.

Dimento and Anderle represent the two extremes of the process that turns words into books. Most of us fall somewhere in between. As the sole employee, we are in the same position as Dr. Edward Hyde. You are boss and employee; you hold the whip hand and suffer the blows when it is applied. As forgiving as you are about your weaknesses as a worker (“I’ve got such a hangover. I’ll call in sick.”), you must be equally unsympathetic as the owner (“You’ve got a headache? I got the cure: Get in here or get fired!”)

motivation writers

There are writers such Stephen King, who tells interviewers that he writes every day but Christmas, his birthday, and Easter, but confessed in “On Writing” that it was a lie: He writes every day. Many of us are either not as motivated as King, or we spend our creative energies on many projects.

For the rest of us, it helps to have something to goad us on. To admit it seems to be shaming. It shouldn’t. Or, you can accept the shame but redeem yourself by finding a way around it. If admitting you have a problem results in producing a book or two a year, I’d say that’s a fair trade?

The question is what kind of goad do you need. One of the most effective methods is also the easiest: keeping track of your progress, in particular the number of words that you produced in a day.

There are a number of ways to do that:

* Keep track on a page in your notebook, or attached to your whiteboard or bulletin board in sight from your desk.

* There are pieces of code that you can put on your website that announces to the world your latest project, its word goal, and how far along you’re on toward meeting it. This is a variation on publicly stating your goal (either to yourself, your significant other, your cat, or the world at large), keeping you accountable to keep it.

* Some people have found success with the Pomodoro method, in which a 25-minute timer is set. This gives you a deadline that puts pressure on you to focus on your work.

* An Excel spreadsheet can be set up to track each day’s work. This method is useful if you want to set up columns for words created versus words edited, or for different projects. You can add a column to create a running total, so that you can enter the number of words created, and see how much that added to your month’s total. You can even add a second table recording each month’s total, encouraging you to beat your previous month’s work.

Whatever method you choose, be sure to record at the end of each day your total word count. Take a moment to look at how much you added each day. Feel satisfaction that you’re moving forward toward your goal. This form of positive feedback can help you when you begin work the next day.

As for myself, I’ve found the greatest success, in terms of completing projects on time, by using a combination of long-term and short-term goals.

As the head of Peschel Press, I’m juggling a number of items on my to-do list every week. On the whiteboard in front of my desk is no less than 15 items, ranging from working on the current book to tasks that could be accomplished in 15-minutes.

This week's to-do list. #11 will be "Build time machine or cloning device."
This week’s to-do list. #11 will be “Build time machine or cloning device.”

So to keep myself in line, I have the major writing project. This month, it’s beginning the rewrite of “Ride of My Life,” my first novel for the Press. I’ve slotted two months for this rewrite. That is, by May 28, I intend to give the finished manuscript to my editor (e.g., Dear Wife) and to begin the production process.

With the deadline set, I need to set daily goals. This involves simple math: eight weeks, six days a week equals 48 days, divided by 75,000 equals The novel will be about 75,000 words, so this mean I need to finish about 1,500 words per day to stay on track. That’s 1,500 complete, finished, polished words per day, beginning today.

Feel the pressure? I can. So I guess I better get to work.

In-Depth Home Goal Setting (part 2)

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introThe second half of our home-improvement goals, while never directly stated, was to reduce our maintenance issues and make the house one in which we could age in place. Thus, the closets and the lever doorknobs and the grab bars and the added staircase railings. We chose long-lasting finishes and extended-life carpets and shingles so we wouldn’t have to go back and do it again later.

Think about it. You’re in the hardware store looking at tubes of caulk. You can get five-year caulk or 50-year caulk. It’s a buck more per tube to get the 50-year caulk. Spend the money! Do you like caulking that much? I don’t. Do it right the first time and save yourself oodles of aggravation.

Our outside landscaping had the same goals. We wanted easy-to-maintain sidewalks that sloped (no tripping hazards), raised beds (easier to weed), wilderness areas that could be ignored, and clearly defined small lawns that could be easily mowed by an old lady (that’s me) with a rotary push mower.

home goal setting
Our back yard, before and after. Not seen: Montage of pages flying off a 15-year calendar.
The chain-link fence (four feet high, wish it was higher) was installed within a few weeks of our moving in. That goal was done and done for good. Chain-link will last essentially forever. We planned ahead and installed three gates, two for pedestrians, and one double-wide to allow a vehicle into the yard. The cost of that gate was repaid many times over. The second side pedestrian gate was installed to allow easier access for DD to meet her friend. Well worth the cost for the convenience.

The next goal then became one of privacy. To that end, we planted a row of columnar shrubs around most of the property. We have yews, thuja, columnar apple trees, and columnar hollies (the most recent acquisition). I’ve detailed our travails with hedges and fences before and most of what we’ve planted is doing very nicely.

The neighbors in back of us recently removed their huge privet hedge, demonstrating why you need one of your own! The yews, in the ground now for over ten years, proved their worth. We can’t see the neighbors or the Reese Factory or the highway and they can’t see us. Good thing I didn’t depend on their hedge for my privacy of I’d be out of luck now.

Hedges take time to grow, so if you want them, you have to plant them right after you install the chain-link fence. They work together and have to be done in the correct order. It’s much harder to retrofit a fence into an overgrown mass of shrubbery than it is to put the fence up first and then plant the hedge.

Along the north side of the property, I tried to grow a hedgerow of mixed native shrubs. That hasn’t worked out very well. If I knew then what I know now, I would have lined that area with yews from day one. Now I’m trying to line the fence with columnar hollies.

Why hollies? Because I have yews, thuja, and columnar apples elsewhere and the wider an array of plants you have, the less likely you are to have every last damn one of them fall over dead from some disease.

The landscaping goal on the north side didn’t change: I wanted privacy and protection from the north wind. But things didn’t work out like I thought they would and so I had to keep going back. If the hollies fail (we’ll know in ten years), then it’s going to be yews. I know those will work. Will we like planting yews in our late 60s? Very doubtful, so I sure hope the hollies perform as well as the catalog claimed they will.

After a few years of flailing around with the yard, I came across the concept of Permaculture. This was not the original goal for our yard; we started with the concept of restoring the yard to an Eastern Deciduous Woodland. This was separate from privacy and security via the hedge and fence system, but they work together.

As I became more concerned with being resilient, my vision for the yard and what I wanted to do with it changed dramatically. Food production took a more important role and that meant raised vegetable beds.

Permaculture means gardening in concert with nature and making your natural systems do the work for you. One of the goals of permaculture is to successfully integrate privacy, food production, work zones, play zones, and wilderness areas to provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds.

You should zone your yard so the parts you use the most such as the herb bed are close to the house. You’re much more likely to use your parsley and carrots if you don’t have to traipse to the far edge of the yard. Same with your clothesline. It needs to be close enough that you don’t avoid using it.

The compost bins are at the far end of the yard tucked in behind the toolshed. Younger Son cleaned out the entire area and laid a brick floor (salvaged from profligate neighbors). This is better than what we had but it has to be weeded on occasion or at least weed-whacked. The space for the bins is small and tight and it had to be fenced to keep Muffy out. She would have been digging in the bins with enthusiasm looking for rodents or interesting-smelling stuff and making a huge mess.

Our compost area, while far away, was not originally fenced off from the rest of the yard. Getting Muffy meant that we had to do it and we had to do it fast. It’s worked out fairly well, considering that we built the enclosure out of mongo. If I had planned from the beginning to fence this area, I would have done a better, neater job. I would have also put the compost bins closer to the house but then where would we have put the vegetable and herb beds? They have to be close to the house, too, so as to make them easier to use. With the compost bins so far away, we tend to empty the compost when the bucket next to the sink is overflowing. It always seems to get to that point when it’s dark and raining, never on a sunny morning. I don’t know why that is, but that’s what happens.

Permaculture led us to putting the fruit trees, nut trees, and berry bushes around the edges of the yard, inside the hedge walls. That seems to be working out okay. The blueberries flatly refused to grow so they died lingering, agonizing deaths. I had interplanted them with rhubarb and as the yard’s amount of sunshine changed, the rhubarb died too. It now has a new bed where it gets far more sun and it is far more accessible.

One of the goals of permaculture is to interplant your food plants leading to the wonderful final structure of a layered food forest.

This hasn’t worked out very well for us. Is this because I haven’t put in enough work? Enough knowledge? Poor choice of plants for the soil and light conditions? I don’t know.

This has led, over time, to changing our planting goals. If something won’t grow, like the blueberries, then I stop beating myself up over it, and I don’t grow them. I now buy blueberries at the grocery store when they are in season.

I grow currents (three kinds) and gooseberries. The birds took a few years to discover the bushes and they just love them. The original, not well thought out goal, was growing fruit. Gooseberries turn out to be surrounded by vicious thorns and they are seedy. Currents need to be perfectly ripe to be edible, they’re seedy, and are probably best suited for making jam. The same is true of gooseberries.

So do I make jam? I do not, as I don’t have much free time and I have the wrong kind of stove! The glass-topped stove came with the house, and I discovered they don’t accept the weight of canners. I’ve heard horror stories of glass-top stoves shattering under the weight of a fully loaded canner.

Another goal gone by the wayside. I have a canner and multiple canning jars, and I don’t use them as I don’t want to risk my stove. It’s much more expensive to replace a stove then it is to buy readymade jam. Eventually, I may still learn how to can as this stove will eventually have to be replaced. Now that I know this about glass-topped stoves, I may not get the same style. On the other hand, my kitchen has extremely limited counter space, and we use the stove (when not in use) as a work space.

So what is my goal here? To learn to can the fruit I grow? To avoid replacing an expensive stove? To lose more of my precious counter space in a small kitchen? The entire project of canning is on hold and will be for years to come.

But I could extend my goal of canning. What if I traded my canning equipment, my currants, and my gooseberries to a neighbor in exchange for the use of her stove? We could can together, and my neighbor would be paid with half of the finished jams. That could work and it would go a long way to tightening up the relationship between the two of us. Or we could drive each other crazy fighting over currants in a small, hot kitchen where the knives are close at hand. Do I want this? Would this meet my goals of growing and preserving my own food and being part of a tight-knit community?

Goals change over time. This needs to be understood. They aren’t static. When a goal is achieved, it needs to be replaced with another one.

I’ll Be At The Hershey Public Library Today

I have news about the William Palmer biography project, but first a public appearance news.

Hershey Public Library will be holding their first Local Author Festival from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so I’ll be holding down a table there representing Peschel Press.

I’ll also be talking for about 15 minutes at 10:45 a.m. on getting published, particularly with the industry. Fifteen minutes won’t cover everything, so if you want to know more, feel free to ask me throughout the day.

illustrated life and career of william palmer
Inspecting the cover of William Palmer at CreateSpace.

This is what I’ve been working on this week, the culmination of three years of work putting back into print cleaned-up and annotated editions of material about the Victorian murderer William Palmer.

“The Illustrated Life and Career of William Palmer” is probably the best of the three, an “instant book” published soon after his hanging that told the story of his misspent life, his crimes, his execution, complete with dozens of woodcuts and added information about London nightlife, scams in horseracing, and the hijinks medical students get up to. It was meant to be entertaining, so they threw in every kind of story it could find, within the limits of Victorian morality.

William Palmer biography
Quoting Lord Peter Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes

It gave me the chance to present a cleaned-up, edited version of the book that’s better than the “scanned from PDF” editions out there. In fact, I particularly liked the idea of presenting an edition that better than what’s out there.

Take these two images below, sort of a “before and after” look at the book:



I’ll talk more about this later, but probably the best thing about this project is that it’s done. Little did I realize what a massive undertaking it would be to edit, cleanup, research footnotes and proof three books. But it’s nearly done.

Conan Doyle Spiritualism Parody

sherlock holmes spiritualism parodyWhile Conan Doyle never used Sherlock to promote his Spiritualist beliefs, there were those who used the detective as a way of taking the movement down a peg. The events at a typical séance described below were exaggerated for comic purposes, but not by much. This Conan Doyle spiritualism parody was published in the March 29 issue of London Opinion, a magazine that targeted a male readership with its mix of serious and satirical articles. It ran for 50 years, and was most famous for creating the “Lord Kitchener Needs You” recruitment poster that appeared on its cover. It was quickly adopted by James Montgomery Flagg, who substituted Uncle Sam for the renowned general.

When the Spirits Rapped

A Nasty Incident in the Career of Sherlog Combes


Sherlog Combes sat in his study, wrapped in thought and a Jaeger dressing-gown.

He was conscious that he was growing old. “In my younger days,” he mused, “I should never have bought that purse from that race-course swindler for half-a-crown and expected to find the three half-crowns in it. But with regard to the three-card trick in the train coming back, I really had bad luck in losing my tenner. I thought the manipulator was doing the trick so clumsily that he was exposing which was the lady. But I was wrong.

“However,” he ran on in his reverie, “when Dr. Potson calls on me again—and I suppose he will, although he has left me severely alone of late—I shall have something startling to tell him of my discoveries about the spirit world.”

Here the ancient sleuth picked up his weekly copy of The Styx, a journal devoted to spirits (the medium brand, not the strong), and his eye caught the following announcement:

“SPIRITS! SPIRITS! SPIRITS!—PROFESSOR TRIXTER (the World’s Most Famous Medium) will hold a séance at 3.0 sharp. How would you like to talk to Julius Caesar? Admission. One shilling.”

Two hours later he was being carried rapidly in a luxurious sixty horse-power automobile (the property of the General Omnibus Company), and soon afterwards reached the flat in Bloomsbury where the séance was to take place.

The flat had the appearance of having been selected in a great hurry. It was unfurnished and dirty. A large room on an upper floor had been prepared for the ceremony by the simple expedient of darkening the window, and improvising seats out of soap boxes and planks.

Sherlog Combes was admitted by a hefty individual whose appearance alone would have quenched the ardour of a less enthusiastic investigator. He found a number of famous people already assembled, including two lady novelists, a Labour M.P., and Professor Foljambe, F.R.S., the eminent zoologist who had discovered the fallacy of the theory that it is impossible to say “Boo” to a goose.

The medium opened the proceedings by a brief lecture on the objects of the séance, spoken with a pronounced American accent. Then he seated himself in the only chair the room contained, and his hefty assistant proceeded to tie him up with much grunting and straining over every knot.

The visitors were requested to sit on the improvised forms, and to take each other’s hands. There was a slight diversion owing to Sherlog Combes sitting on a nail that had been left in one of the soap boxes. When all was ready the assistant switched out the lights.

For a few moments absolute silence ensued. Then a banjo thrummed once. As if this were a signal, a regular spiritual jazz band struck up. The room was filled with a medley of strange sounds. Instruments more or less musical seemed to be floating about in space, and twice Sherlog’s bald head was smitten by a tambourine. Then the noise died away as suddenly as it had begun, and the watchers became aware of a shadowy phosphorescent figure standing before them.

“Who are you?” asked a voice.

“I guess Julius Caesar’s my label, stranger,” replied the apparition; and then added, rather inconsequently, “Take away that bauble!”

The illustrious Roman appeared to be a talkative spirit. He remained chatting for about ten minutes, during which time he gave a racy description of his landing in England in the year 1066 at the head of the Invincible Armada, and his defeat of the Britishers under the Duke of Marlborough at the battle of Bannockburn. Then he began to grow more shadowy and less phosphorescent, and ended by vanishing altogether.

“Keep you seats, ladies and gentlemen!” urged the hefty assistant. “There are more marvels to come!”

Again the banjo twanged, and several sharp raps rang out from the region of the door. Then once again there was silence. For fully a quarter of an hour the assembly sat and waited, but nothing else happened.

“Oh, dear, I am so frightened!” cried one of the lady novelists.

“Why don’t they switch on the lights if it’s all over?” demanded Professor Foljambe.

It was the Labour M.P. who first took action. Freeing his hands from the grip of his neighbour’s, he plunged for the electric switch. The next instant the room was flooded with light.

In the centre stood the solitary chair, empty now, with the cords hanging limply upon it; but of the medium and his hefty assistant there was no trace.

“Strange!” murmured Sherlog.

He felt somewhat shaken, and longed for the soothing influence of a cigarette. His hand sought for the handsome gold presentation case he invariably carried, but to his surprise neither that nor anything else appeared to be in his pockets. He glanced at his companions, and noted the same bewildered expression on every face.

“What does it mean?” he asked, helplessly.

It was Professor Foljambe who took upon himself to answer. “It means,” he said in solemn accents, “that all our valuables have been spirited away!”
“Good gracious!” said Sherlog, “I hope Dr. Potson never gets to hear of this.”


[Back]Jaeger dressing-gown: Clothing consisting of animal fibers such as wool. Dr. Gustav Jaeger (1832-1917) theorized that humans would be healthier if they wore natural animal fibers next to the skin. This created a demand for wool-jersey long johns, which in England was fulfilled by “Dr. Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co. Ltd.,” founded in 1884 by businessman Lewis Tomalin, who acquired the rights from the doctor. Jaeger is still in business and known for its classic “twinset and pearls” image and natural-fiber clothing.

[Back]Three half-crowns: A “short-con” popular at race courses along with the three-card Monte game described below. From the back of his wagon, a hustler would attract a crowd by offering to sell a small leather purse at an distinctly low price. He would then sweeten the deal by placing a coin in the purse and sell both. The hustler would palm the coin and replace it with a brass slug. Amazingly, these purses sold well.

[Back]Which was the lady: Combs was playing three-card Monte, a guessing game in which the dealer displays three cards, one of them a queen, turns them over, rearranges them and invites bettors to guess where the queen was. In this scam, the dealer arranges with a confederate to lose a couple of games and clumsily shuffles the cards, leading the mark to believe that he can win.

[Back]The Styx: Probably a play on Light, a Spiritualist magazine that published Conan Doyle’s articles. The Styx is a river in Greek mythology that marks the boundary between Earth and the Underworld.

[Back]F.R.S.: Fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. What began in 1660 as a way for physicians and natural philosophers to meet and share knowledge grew to become a significant authority on scientific matters.

[Back]Boo to a goose: An idiom that implies that the person is shy. Given the geese’s reputation for viciousness, one wonders if this isn’t just good sense.

Simple Book Cover Designs

career indie author

career indie author introductionBeing an indie author does not demand that you know everything about your profession before you publish your first book. Pastry chefs know how to make the desserts. The counter jockey at the fast-food joint knows everything about making hamburgers, running the french-fry machine, and running the cash register. Nobody expects a surgeon to operate without knowing what all the little tools on that tray are for.

But like indie musicians and indie filmmakers, indie authors pick up the rudiments of their craft in any order, from any source. There are no gatekeepers, and the only path that exists is the MFA, and that doesn’t guarantee success.

It’s possible to write a story in the morning, format it in the evening, slap a cover on it and shove it into cyberspace before bedtime. Author J.A. Konrath made that point a few years back, when he challenged his readers to write and publish a book in eight hours. They did.

I downloaded several of them. They were pretty terrible. Maybe one story had a hope of being good if the writer tried again. But quality wasn’t the point to Konrath’s exercise (I hope). The point was to make the potential good writers out there realize that the barriers are down, and that creating a story and getting it out there was easier than they thought.

I get that. When we’re alone with the page, it’s easy to be discouraged. There are those who have great faith in themselves who don’t have the problem, but I do. It’s easy to think that I’m turning out junk, that no one will read this, that it would be better for everyone concerned if you dumped the manuscript into the trash and walk away.

Instead, we should realize that writing, rewriting, editing, and publishing is an ongoing process. You’ll never get a certificate from Hamburger U. that says you know all there needs to know about this. That a book is never perfect; it’s simply taken from your hands and published. And the quality of that story, and the package that markets and sells it, will only be as good as the quality of your skills that you possess at that moment.

It never stops.

And since you’ll never reach proficiency — heaven help your readers if you think you’ve reached it, because you’ll never get better then — you might as well follow Heinlein’s advice about writing, updated for the new world of self-publishing:

1. You Must Write
2. Finish What You Start
3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
4. You Must Write the Jacket Copy, Design the Cover, and Publish Your Story, or Hire Someone to Do It For You.

So You Want to Design a Cover

The majority of indie authors have no experience in cover design, or any kind of design at all. One way to get up to speed on a subject is to reverse-engineer something similar to what you want to do.

Last night, my wife and I were reading in bed and I noticed the cover for Jayne Ann Krentz’s “Secret Sisters.” The Wife follows Krentz’s novels. When a new one comes out, she’ll get it.

secret-sisters-krentz-regular“Hmmmm,” sez I, “that seems like an awfully simple cover.” So when I next got the chance, I looked at it and broke down the elements that drew my attention.

1. Cover designer Rita Frangie reversed the colors in “New York Times Bestselling Author” so it wouldn’t get lost in the coat.


2. The type size favored Krentz’s name over the title.

3. Krentz’s name is the same color as the sky, while the title reflects the red in the model’s hair. Note also the subtle darkening behind the “J” and “E” in JAYNE so that it wouldn’t get lost in the sky.

simple book cover designs

4. The model’s coat has a sharp-edged look that suggests the background was cut away. Was it?

Fortunately, the book credited Mohamad Itani, a photographer who put up his photos at Trevillion Images, so after some poking around there, I found the source photo.

(Note: I deliberately trimmed and scaled down all of the Trevillion Images here to 79dpi. For “Fair Use” commentary only.)


Turns out I was wrong. The designer changed the color of the sky. She isolated that part of the photo, then altered it. This gave the coat a sharp edge that make it appeared cut out. The designer also added more clouds to the left of the model to obscure the tree line.

So what did I learn from this?

1. The existence of Trevillion Images, a stock photo service. Always useful to have another source of images.

In fact, the quality of Trevillion’s photos looks exceptionally high. Just scrolling through their latest images can be enough to inspire stories to go with them.

simple book cover designs
If you can’t come up with a story from any one of these titles, you ain’t trying hard enough.

2. How much manipulation can be performed on a photo to make it your own. And why it should be done for a photo that can be bought more than once. If someone else buys this photo for their book, chances are they’ll use it as-is, or recolor it the way they want.

3. That typography for your book cover could be simple. “Secret Sisters” uses two sans-serif fonts: one for the author, and two variations of the same one for the title and the promo line. (How can you tell they’re the same? Look at the way the right leg in the capital R in “Sisters” and “Author” curve to the right at the bottom.) “Secret Service” is a condensed form of the font, and it appears the promo line was extended horizontally to about 110 percent. See? Even fonts can be played with to give your book a unique look.

In-Depth Goal Setting and Time Management

Suburban Stockade Banner self-sufficiency

new-suburban-stockade-introSo here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, and undecided on which of the many, many things I should do next. I could certainly waste time playing Spider (I play the two-decks version, and I’m really good at it, too) but does that help me meet my goals? Probably not. Sigh.

Goals have to be reviewed regularly, and they can change over time. Ours have. When we first moved into Fortress Peschel, it was Chez Peschel, a different thing entirely. The concepts of financial independence, sustainability, and resilience to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were not considered as much as they are now.

Financial Independence and ease of operations had always been a priority for both of us and while I was holding down the fort in South Carolina, Bill was learning his new job at the Patriot News and house-hunting. He found our current home and it met our goals of being something that we could afford without financial stress, large enough for the family and the animals, had a yard, and was in the Hershey school district, within walking distance of at least some things, and within an easy commuting distance to work.

That’s a pretty tall order but six months of house-hunting let him do it. If you have the time to search, you will end up with a better house with more of what you need then if you buy in a hurry. Looking at lots of houses trains your eye so you have a fighting chance to see what is missing or will be a problem later on and you discover what matters more to you. Everything on a house can be fixed except the location. I wrote a six-part series on house-hunting that begins here if you want to read up on the subject.

Once we had the house, our goals changed again. We had to pay off the mortgage (did that), we had to fix everything that was wrong with it (still working on that), we had to paint the entire house (90% done now!), we had to design and redesign the yard, and we had to become part of our new community. We’re still working on all that, too.

goal setting thermometer
Keeping a goal-setting thermometer in sight can remind you of what’s important.
I kept the goal of paying off the house in plain sight in the dining room. I made a graph paper thermometer, like what you see in fund-raising campaigns and every payment was marked on the thermometer. It moved soooo slowly to zero cash owed to the bank, but it did move. It moved faster than it would have otherwise because all our extra cash, whatever it was, went to the mortgage, if we didn’t have other debt to pay off first. Even an extra $10 a month can count.

If this seems like nickels and dimes, it is. What we have found, over and over, and every thrift writer in the world agrees on this, is that it all adds up. An extra cookie a day equals a few extra pounds at the end of the year. Extra money every month at the beginning of a mortgage when the principal payment is tiny and the interest payment is huge will lop a year or more off the mortgage at the far end, not to mention thousands in interest payments.

The thermometer kept the goal of paying off the house in view of the whole family. It was important. It was hung on the wall across the table from where I sit, and I saw it every day.

If you have a financial goal of any kind: emergency fund, credit card debt, student loan, mortgage, money owed to anyone; I highly recommend a thermometer on graph paper. With each payment, fill it in and you can see your progress. When you reach the top, success! Then pick another goal and make another chart.

Save Your Way to Freedom

When you’re out of debt, your financial goal changes. Do you want to become a debt slave again? Most likely not. On the other hand, how about that goal of a year’s living expenses saved up in your emergency fund? This would be separate from your retirement fund, by the way. The year’s salary in your emergency fund will let you weather all kinds of storms like job loss, auto crashes, major health issues, and having your house blown to bits by the tornado.

The year’s income in a savings account will not make your problems go away, but it will make them much easier to cope with. Money is freedom from hassles. Less money in an emergency fund means that smaller emergencies can be crippling. If all your cars die at once and you have $30,000 in your emergency fund, you can buy two used cars and pay cash. If all your cars die and you have $300 in your fund, you’re stuck.

An emergency fund should always be one of your goals, and a bigger one is better.

Protect Your Home

Do you live in a fixer-upper? Then one of your goals should be to fix up the old dump. I’ve fixed up three houses: my house in Norfolk, our house in South Carolina, and our current house. In addition, I’ve made improvements to various rented apartments, and I watched my parents improve two houses. It can be done. You don’t have to be a contractor. I’m not.

It does take time and patience and the willingness to learn new skills. The goal of fixing up your house has an end date. Every room is painted, the electrical systems meet code, the plumbing is water tight, and the roof doesn’t leak. The basement stays dry. That one is super important for many of your other goals, such as where to store months of groceries.

The overall goal of fixing up a house is making it the way you like it so you don’t have to do anything but maintain it afterwards. That is, once I have a room painted, the rugs installed and the drapes hung, I don’t change it. I’m not one of those people who periodically redecorate because I’m tired of how the place looks. That’s a waste of my money, time, and energy.

I do it right, slowly, the first time and then I leave it alone. Dearest Daughter (DD) slowly, slowly painted the kitchen cabinets for us. It took a year, but now it’s finished, and we aren’t going back and repainting those cabinets to change the décor. It’s done.

Our home improvements have all been done with the long-term goal of solving a problem so it stays solved. ClosetMaiding all the closets and painting them from top to bottom in ultra high gloss white? Done. Those closets will never be touched again.

Heavily insulating the attic and lining the rafters with reflecting foil? Done. We’ll never go back up there.

Replacing all the doorknobs in the house with levers, easy to operate and useful when your hands are full or stiff with arthritis? Replacing all the cabinet hardware with D-handles so they can be more easily used by old hands? Done and done.

Repainting all the basement walls in Drylok white, topped with another coat of ultra high gloss white over it to make sure the space is as bright as possible no matter what the lighting source? We’re about 10 percent done.

Replacing all the ancient, crumbling sheet vinyl in the kitchen and the bathrooms? Still on the list. Floors usually get done last as then you don’t have to be careful when you paint everything above the floor. Who cares if you get paint dots on a floor you hate and are going to rip out?

On the other hand, if you have hardwood floors under that antique shag carpet, the removal of the old carpet followed by the sanding, staining, and polyurethaning of the wood has to be done prior to moving into the house. The job is so messy, so awful, that it’s easier to do the whole house at once by professionals and get it over with before you install so much as a chair. I’ve done three houses, two of them prior to moving in and the middle one in stages when we lived in the house. What a pain in the ass that was. Don’t do it to yourself if you have the choice.

As things get done, the house goal shifts over to keeping it maintained. But that’s not all, we shifted our goal to reducing maintenance as much as possible, and we’ll get into that next Saturday.

Sherlock Holmes and Certain Critics

conan doyle spiritualism
Click on the cover to learn more about the book!
Conan Doyle’s Spiritualism left him open to attacks by skeptics, humorists, and church officials. Light magazine, which published his articles on the subject, also supported him with this parody that appeared in the Nov. 2, 1918, issue.

Its author, Ellis G. Roberts (1859-1947), was an unusual defender. The Oxford-educated Welsh clergyman had served in several parishes, including a stint as a missionary in India, before retiring to Devon, where in the 1930s, he became an outspoken supporter of British fascist Oswald Mosley (1896-1980).

Finally, this story was found in My Evening with Sherlock Holmes, a collection published by a small press in 1981 by noted Sherlockians John Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green. Gibson and Green were the first to bring to light a number of Sherlockian parodies and pastiches, and I’m thrilled to follow in their oversized footsteps. Many of the references in this story to mediums were coded, and it took some doing just to dredge these up. I hope someone else can come along and fill in the rest.

Sherlock Holmes and Certain Critics

Ellis G. Roberts

Part 1 – The Happy Family

Sherlock Holmes looked up in abstracted fashion as I entered the room. Two slight gestures directed me in succession to his cigar-box, and to an armchair by the fire. I sat down and watched him curiously. His desk was crowded with slips of paper, and he was glancing from one to another with an air of profound attention. Before him lay an open volume to which he referred from time to time. I recognised it at a glance. It was my own magnum opus, my “Disclosures in re Desmond.”

He closed the book at length, and took the armchair on the opposite side of the hearth.

“Come up for judgment, I fancy, Watson,” he remarked. “Why this long absence? I have seen nothing of you since your debut as an authority on the occult.”

“I have been extremely busy. My correspondence alone has been overwhelming.”

“It is the penalty of greatness. You have been winning golden opinions from all kinds of people. The lion and the lamb, if I may say so, have blended their voices in singing anthems to your praise. I observe among these cuttings an enthusiastic encomium from the Archbishop of Wroxeter, and a glowing eulogy from Mr. Frederick Turfey, the champion of Rationalism. Sir Roland has certainly succeeded in dividing his friends and uniting his foes. His Grace is a prelate of the mediaeval school, Mr. Turfey is one of the noisiest opponents of Christianity, and you yourself were, I fancy, Churchwarden to the famous Protestant, Canon Arbuster.”

“Vicar’s Warden for fourteen years,” I replied with dignity.

“This new-made alliance, I perceive, is of the most cordial nature. Mr. Turfey, for instance, calls Sir Roland to account for lowering the ‘lofty conceptions of a future state’ which have been the solace of humanity. Now as conceptions of a future state form no part of Mr. Turfey’s own philosophy, he is evidently pleading for those of the Archbishop and others against whom he has been warring for fifty years. This is indeed a token of grace. And in return the Archbishop extols the ‘robust common-sense of the veteran thinker’ whom hitherto he has regarded as a rank blasphemer. By the way, Watson, what makes His Grace suspect Mr. Turfey of being a thinker?”

“Surely, Holmes, you must be aware of his literary reputation?”

“I have derived much harmless merriment of late, my dear doctor, from applying a little logical analysis to the productions of the gentlemen who, on the strength of a literary reputation, have kindly volunteered their services to the world as Dictators of Public Opinion. It is a slight variation of the role in which I have so often benefited by your assistance. Shall we imagine ourselves back in Baker-street with some simple problem before us?”

“By all means,” I replied.

“Then, what do you make of the sentence I have underlined?”

“It is certainly a rather flamboyant piece of rhetoric.”

“Excellent, Watson, that is the very first point to observe. It is rhetoric, not logic, though the author elsewhere assures us that the verdict must be given to those who apply the principles of Scientific Research. It is as much out of place in a serious argument as a comic song would be if interpolated into the Pons Asinorum. Now what do you deduce as to the writer?”

I had recently been glancing through my records of Holmes’ achievements, and fell in the humour for an experiment. “On the face of it,” I ventured to suggest, “the author appears to be an Irishman.”

“Not bad,” he replied. “You are impressed by the seeming bull which forms the climax. But dullness may often produce the same effect as flightiness of imagination. The author may equally well be a Teuton. Anything more?”

“He is plebeian in tastes and sympathies. ‘His manners have not that repose’…”

“You are coruscating, Watson, positively coruscating. I shall have to look to my laurels. And the next characteristic?”

But I was not inclined to mar the effect I had already produced. “I shall leave you to continue, Holmes,” I replied.

“You have left me but little to supply. Additional points are the intolerance, the amusing air of moral superiority and lofty indignation, the offence against humour, and a certain oratorical roll in the arrangement of the sentence. Dullness, pomposity, and a certain facility in turning out sonorous and empty phrases. These are our data. The problem is to classify the author—to find him a place in some category of intellectual, or non-intellectual beings. I will find you a twin-specimen at once. Come, doctor, I shall try an interesting psychological experiment. Sit back in your chair, look as wise as you can, and think of nothing at all.”

I assumed a comfortable attitude, and allowed my thoughts to drift. It was a drowsy evening, and I seemed gently wafted away to the somnolent atmosphere of St Simeon-the-less. I was back in the old Parish Hall—I was taking the chair on the familiar platform, and a well-known voice rolled on my ear:—

“All, all is nauseating, frivolous, mischievous, spurious drivel.” And a thump on the table made me spring almost out of my seat.

“Great heavens!” I exclaimed, “that is old Arbuster rolling up a Rationalist.”

My friend’s great powers as actor and mimic had never been more admirably displayed. It was Arbuster to the life.

Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. “Right, Mr. Church-warden,” he replied. “We have secured our twin-specimens, and we shall place the two in their proper category. Arbuster and Turfey are brothers in intellect, however far they may be sundered in belief. Neither of the two are thinkers at all. They are, on the contrary, past masters of frothy eloquence and cheap rhetoric, and such powers as they display cannot possibly be combined with the well-balanced mind of the thinker. Turfey and Arbuster are neither more nor less than glorified tub-thumpers.

“Canon Arbuster,” I replied, recovering myself, “may not be a genius, but he is actuated by a sense of duty. He is deeply impressed with the moral evils he detects in Spiritualism.”

“He had better look first to his own house, Watson,” replied my friend. “There are others. You remember the matter which we investigated for the Dean and Chapter of Southminster?”

I nodded gravely. The case is one on which neither of us cares to dwell.

“Now shall we examine your own contribution to the controversy?”

“I shall be delighted to consider any points you may bring forward.”

“This is a two-pipe problem,” he remarked, as he glanced over his notes, and he burrowed in the toe of the Persian slipper.

“Good gracious, Holmes, whatever are you smoking?” I gasped as the first whiff of the mephitic vapour assailed my nostrils.

“Plutonic mixture,” he responded complacently, “a basis of shag flavoured with an essence of my own compounding. Would you care to try it?”

“No, indeed,” I answered brusquely, “my constitution has not got over the gas I swallowed on the Somme.”

He smiled at my vehemence. “I may have slightly overdone the percentage of cacodyl,” he observed. “I prepared this packet when examining Dr. Le Mesurier’s ‘Anti-blast to Desmond’. I declare to you, Watson, that the insolence of these camp-followers of Science towards one of its greatest captains, together with the fusty odour of the rag-and-bone merchandise they foist on their customers, produces in me a moral and intellectual nausea. I find the Plutonic mixture an excellent counter-agent. The tantalus is beside you, Watson.”

He had been arranging some notes as he spoke, and now laid them down on the book-rest at his side.

“There is just one point,” he remarked, “on which I wish to concentrate my mind before pronouncing judgment. Meanwhile you may find food for thought in another direction. If you will turn to the fifth page of this admirable little publication you will find there my matured Opinion on a problem which has gravely exercised the most powerful intellects of an invaluable section of the community. There is no department of our national life in which the refinement of applied ethics are better appreciated than they are by the devotees of the Prize Ring. I beg that you will now remain silent for exactly seventeen minutes and a quarter.”

He threw me the current number of “Boxing,” coiled his long legs into his chair, and gazed steadily into space, while I, somewhat unsuccessfully, endeavoured to fix my attention on “The Moral Aspects of the Kidney Punch.”

Part 2 – “Disclosures in re Desmond”

Punctually to the moment Sherlock Holmes laid down his pipe, and his voice broke through the canopy of smoke.

“You have your merits, doctor,” he said, “most decidedly you have your merits. You are refreshingly free from rancour, and you submit an alternative hypothesis for criticism. You do not assume that telepathy is the master-key to all mysteries, and you do not babble of the unconscious mind as is the wont of many who show no sign that they possess a conscious one. For once admit the existence of telepathy and unconscious mind, and the noisiest of the opponents of Spiritualism will soon be out of the fray. He may still come up to the scratch for a round or two, but the other man has the fight in hand.

“Now for your own hypothesis, which certainly merits due consideration with regard to a considerable part of the field of enquiry. You suggest the existence of a Secret Society or Guild for the promotion of Spiritualism. By means of a widespread system of espionage it has amassed an enormous store of information which is at the disposal of its agents. This they employ, as occasion arises, with remarkable tactfulness and skill. At the head of such a Society there must obviously be some leader of pre-eminent ability. For the sake of distinctiveness we shall give him the name of our old acquaintance, Professor Moriarty. Am I right so far?”

“That is a very fair outline of my idea.”

“It is,” said Holmes, pensively, “the counterpart of another and a very popular interpretation of the facts much favoured by His Grace of Wroxeter. Do you follow me?”

“No,” I replied, “I imagined that my theory was quite original.”

“For Moriarty substitute Satan, and for human agents substitute diabolical ones, and the two hypotheses are identical. And as such they have a fault, and a very grave fault, in common. Cannot you see it?”

I had to confess my inability.

“The total absence of any adequate motive. What has Satan to gain by subverting Materialism? Or, to come to commonplace matters, what do you suppose to be the object of Professor Moriarty?”

“To make money, I presume.”

Holmes smiled indulgently. “Have you ever tried to calculate the working expenses of such a league? An eminent authority on finance has reckoned them at about £200 a day. Your guild would be operating for an indefinite period at a dead loss. It must already have expended several millions of capital, and the profits are nil. You must find some other motive for the existence of this extraordinary guild. Motive, Watson, motive is one of the first things to look for in an investigation. Human beings do not moil and toil without a motive. This is a commonplace even with Gregson and Lestrade.”

My countenance must have exhibited some of the disappointment I felt, for I had reckoned on his approbation, and the warm sunshine of approval in which I had basked for many weeks had ill fitted me to endure such a cold douche of criticism. With his wonted quickness Holmes sensed the feelings which I did not express. “But I bore you, doctor,” he remarked suavely, “let us discontinue the discussion. Let me play you—” and he spoke rather eagerly “—just a little trifle of my own composition. The motif came to me when I was sitting out the last air-raid. It is, I fear, caviar to the general, but I have found you an appreciative listener. Shall we abandon logic for the violin?”

But Holmes’ improvisations are sometimes as formidable as his tobacco. “My greatest pleasure has always been the study of your analytical methods,” I replied diplomatically.

“Oh, by all means, if you really prefer the criticism,” said Holmes, rather grimly. “Then how came you to imagine such monstrosities as your mediums? It is all very well for His Grace and Mr. Turfey, who are out of all touch with humanity, to wage war against creatures of their own imagination, but our common adventures should have taught you something of human nature. Where is the flesh and blood beneath the buckram of your adversaries, Watson?”

“Sorry, Holmes, but I am quite unable to comprehend your indictment.”

“Apparently you fail to see the glaring contradictions involved in your account of the delinquents. As individuals—to quote your description—they are ‘neurotic, hysterical, of a low type of intellect, and the victims of inordinate personal vanity.’ Yet in combination they make up an exceedingly formidable Society which has kept its very existence a secret for more than fifty years, and is extending its influence every day. A league composed of such persons as you describe would not hold together for six months.

“And not only so,” he went on, “but you combine the most contradictory qualities in the same individual. Far from being of a low type of intellect they must, according to your hypothesis, possess mental and moral capacity quite above the average. Their memories for trifling details must be encyclopedic, and they must be able to apply their ill-gotten knowledge at a moment’s notice in exactly the right quarter. Their loyalty to the Common cause must be of the highest order. Why has this league never been betrayed by one of the victims of inordinate personal vanity? Clearly, Watson, its members must be individuals of quite exceptional character as well as superlative ability.”

“But Holmes,” I broke in, “just think of the nonsense they chatter. Think of that whisky and soda incident, the silly names of what they call their ‘Controls’, and the broken English they talk.”

Holmes smiled his masterly smile. “The same old Watson,” he remarked indulgently. “You have been at considerable pains to select precisely the items which are most irreconcilable with the theory you advocate. Still, you have hit on some significant facts though as yet you have not perceived their import. Concentrate on the bizarre and outré if you wish to get at the solution of a problem. The details you mention are proof almost positive that the persons who supply them are not, at any rate, conscious and deliberate imposters.”

“Really, Holmes,” I replied in my most dignified tones, “you impose an excessive strain on my credulity.”

“The voice,” he replied, “is the voice of Watson, but the language is the language of Turfey. We’ll stick to English if you don’t mind, doctor. Can you imagine any conceivable reason why clever imposters should chatter of whiskies and sodas in heavenly places, or declare themselves inspired by Greyfeather or Red Jacket? Come now, doctor, what was the effect of this kind of chatter upon yourself?”

“I was absolutely disgusted.”

“Exactly so, and the fact that you would be disgusted could have been foreseen by the veriest dullard in creation. Such details were totally irreconcilable with your cherished conceptions of a future state. Now, conceptions of a future state, as Mr. Turfey touchingly pleads, should be respected by everyone except Mr. Turfey himself. Yet these clever imposters, who are anxious to conciliate you, and have taken your mental and moral measurements to a hair, deliberately wound your most sacred feelings, and drive you in disgust from their doors. Now, Watson, honestly, can you find any motive for such conduct?”

“No,” I replied, after a considerable pause, “I cannot imagine why Spiritualists should invent anything so repugnant to the feelings of decent people.”

“It is certainly not the way to conciliate public opinion and work up a paying practice. Now let us think what Moriarty would actually do if he were dictating to his agents the revelations they were to retail to their customers.”

“I presume,” I responded thoughtfully, “that he would provide the customers with something to suit their tastes.”

“Bravo, Watson,” cried Holmes encouragingly, “of course he would. Now you are applying your sturdy commonsense to the study of a commonsense problem and we shall soon gain a step in advance. It is perfectly easy to imagine what Moriarty would do. A few hours pleasantly spent over Hymns Ancient and Modern and the compilation of Messrs. Moody and Sankey would furnish him with his theological basis, to which would be added some mystical and scientific jargon which he could readily supply. With this material he would prime his emissaries, who would of course vary their communications slightly to suit individual tastes. But there would be a general uniformity, and most decidedly anything calculated to give offence would be carefully avoided. Do you follow me?”

“Yes,” I replied, “that certainly seems a commonsense way of getting to business.”

“Precisely so,” he answered, “and if we apply our own commonsense we shall find our difficulties vanish one by one. We must be true to commonsense and human nature. Orthodox and free-thinker have combined to confuse a perfectly simple issue by appeals to sentiment and prejudice, and the use of pseudoscientific and sonorous jargon. They have involved the whole subject in an artificial fog in which human nature vanishes altogether. Have you noticed the attitude of the critics towards the experiments now being conducted by a prominent member of an Irish university?”

“No,” I replied, “that is a matter outside the province I had selected.”

“I have often told you, Watson, that you are the beau-ideal of the British jury-man. Light up another cigar, and I will lay before you the strange case of Miss Golightly.”

Part 3 – The Strange Case of Miss Golightly

Holmes went to his bureau, and returned with a small volume, a photograph, and a little bundle of cuttings.

“This little volume,” he began, “is the work of Professor Cranford, D.Sc. As Mr. Turfey’s polemical zeal has led him to cast suspicion on the bona fides of what he calls the diploma of this gentleman I have taken the trouble to verify it. He is a graduate of one British university and a member of the teaching staff of another. The volume contains some 240 pages, and is the record of eighty-three experiments conducted during a period of about two years by its author. The results obtained are entirely of a non-sensational order, consisting chiefly of the ‘levitation’ of an ordinary table. At the same time it is perfectly obvious that either some hitherto unrecognised force is being manifested in the operations, or that some person concerned is guilty of gross and deliberate fraud. There is no room whatever for amiable compromises. The only alternatives are Reality or Fraud. The persons who might be suspected of fraud are the Professor himself, Miss Golightly, and some one or more of the remaining six individuals who form the circle. As it is admitted that the most important factor in the production of the phenomena is Miss Golightly, obviously it is at her in the first instance that any suspicion of fraud should be directed.”

“Has any definite accusation of the kind been brought forward?” I enquired.

“No,” replied Holmes, “the critics as a rule fight shy of the case. Their tactics are prudent, for they are ill equipped for combat with a cool-headed scientist like Professor Cranford. Mr. Turfey, however, has ventured on a characteristic reference to the matter. He considers that the fact of the experiments being preceded by devotional exercises renders the experimenters fit objects for suspicion.”

“In other words,” I remarked, “he alleges as answer to a scientific treatise of 240 pages the fact that a young lady says her prayers.”

“Smart, Watson, very smart. Your innate chivalry is a wonderful stimulus to your intellect. But you are always an admirer of the sex, and an excellent judge of their character. What do you make of this photograph of Miss Golightly?”

I took up the photo, and studied it attentively. “It is a prepossessing face,” I replied; “the features are good, and there is much intellect and spirituality.”

“Are the intellect and spirituality unduly developed?” he asked.

“No,” said I, “I think not; not unduly so. I should imagine her to be quite a natural, healthy-minded girl.”

“Very good, then let us examine the hypothesis of fraud in the light of our knowledge of human nature. Accepting Mr. Turfey’s theory we are compelled to suppose that this healthy-minded girl, who is barely twenty years of age, has for more than two years devoted her leisure to a stupid routine of monotonous deception. Hour after hour, week after week she has sat in a dull, dark attic deliberately fooling a staid professor of mathematics. She is so skilful a conjuror that her tricks cannot be detected by expert engineers, yet she confines herself to so stupid a repertoire that it is a wonder the whole circle does not go to sleep. What on earth is her motive, Watson? Why doesn’t she go on the stage and turn her ability to profit? She gets no remuneration for her services, and from the money point of view is simply wasting valuable accomplishments. Is there any purpose behind this foolery, doctor? Or would Mr. Turfey have us believe that it is merely Irish humour manifesting itself in a somewhat ponderous form?”

“Hardly that, I fancy, Holmes. The joke is decidedly elaborate, and the humour must be rather stale by this time. Still, if I must suggest something—people have done very strange things merely to gratify their self-importance. She may desire the reputation of a wonder-worker even if it brings her no material gain.”

“You think, then, that she may consider the position of a psychical prima donna without salary worth the very tedious drudgery it involves, to say nothing of the moral repulsiveness of systematic deceit?”

“I do not think so, but it is a suggestion that might be made.”

“Well, it is certainly a possibility to be considered. But we have to take into account not only the prima donna but the chorus. Six other persons are concerned in these experiments, and their presence is necessary to ensure success. If she is a fraud, then it is inconceivable that she had no accomplice in the circle. How does she persuade the others to aid her in performing miracles for which they gain no credit? The position of a prima donna may be enviable, but there is no great distinction in being member of a chorus.”

“I give it up: the suggestion is none of mine.”

“Then, I presume you find for the defendant?”

“Certainly; the prosecution is frivolous and vexatious, and I should like to give heavy damages against the prosecutor. If Mr. Turfey has any evidence against Miss Golightly, he should produce it, and stand to his guns like a man, instead of proceeding by innuendo.”

“Ah, you are asking too much, my dear Watson. Mr. Turfey’s manoevres are certainly not manly; they are on the contrary what the ladies call cattish; but what would you have? So enlightened a moralist is not to be bound by the scruples of the barbarian or the bruiser. Literary combatants do not fight under Queensbury rules.”

“What are you chuckling at, Holmes?” I enquired curiously, for he had picked up another cutting from the pile, and was perusing it with audible enjoyment.

“I have just come across the passage in which our excellent Rationalist bewails the supposed degradation by Sir Roland of ‘Man’s lofty conceptions of a future state’. There is something infinitely amusing about appeals ad misericordiam coming from such a quarter. The now-converted iconoclast has been, all his life, acting with infinite gusto as Lord High Executioner to the cherished beliefs of others, but now that his own turn has come to be ‘worked off,’ he squeals in the most undignified manner. I am reminded of the euthanasia of Mr. Dennis as depicted in the closing chapters of Barnaby Rudge. You recall the incident?”

“See the hangman when it comes home to himself?’” I quoted. “But I had no idea, Holmes, that you were so staunch a champion of spiritualism.”

“I am not a champion of Spiritualism,” he quietly answered.

“So why are you so hot against its critics?”

“Not quite right yet, Watson. I have nothing but welcome for such criticism as your own. It serves to define issues, and to bring out the truth. Such opposition as that of Le Mesurier and Turfey is a different thing altogether.”

A flush of unwonted emotion came over his face; he arose and took a few steps up and down the room. Then looking steadily at me he went on in quiet deliberate tones.

“When you and I were young men, Watson, we devoted much time and energy to hunting down offenders against the law of our country. We received no material reward for our trouble. But we were warring for the good of society. The world is a little cleaner and better to-day because of our efforts. We are, I believe, well satisfied? We might have been wealthier men had we worked together for some selfish object. But we have no regrets on that score, I fancy?”

I looked across the room into the stern, strong face of my veteran comrade. One other face alone is so deeply engraved on my mind. Then, “Count me in once more, old man,” I replied. There was a pause. Then he resumed—

“If I had another lifetime before me in this world I should devote it to warfare against transgressors of the laws of thought. There are offences of incalculable moment which no existing statutes can touch. Had I my way, doctor, I should punish with far greater severity the man who, through ignorance or carelessness, disseminates false opinion among his fellows than his brother-criminal who contents himself with uttering base half-crowns. The currency of thought is a far more sacred thing than the currency of commerce.”

“Rather an Utopian idea, surely, Holmes,” I remarked.

“Possibly so, but it has commended itself to some of the keenest thinkers that the world has ever seen. I owe the germ of the thought to W.K. Clifford. And it may not be as Utopian as you imagine. The world has had a very severe lesson. It has seen the slow gains of the ages all but swept away through the knavery and folly of the mandarins who have constituted themselves controllers of public opinion. It may learn not to suffer knaves and fools so gladly as it has done hitherto. It may yet teach editors and orators that there is such a thing as responsibility.”

“Perhaps so,” I said, “but I do not quite see how this bears on the subject of our discussion. I admit the soundness of the principle in social and political affairs, but surely we are now dealing with the abstract and emotional rather than the practical.”

“My dear man,” he replied impatiently, “this is the most practical matter that the world has ever had to consider. Nearly all the troubles of our generation arise from the fact that mankind is still in doubt on the most serious problem that has ever come before it.”

“And what is that?” I asked.

“Whether what is called the supernatural is to be taken into serious account in the conduct of life. If there is no future state, or even if the evidence for it is negligible, then the supernatural had better be ignored altogether. Man must accept the situation, and constitute himself a law to himself as best he may. ‘Invisible kings’ who have no other kingdom than the sphere of our present existence are outside the question altogether. But mankind has been for some time halting between two opinions, and it cannot afford to do so much longer. It is in a state of unstable equilibrium, and soon it must move in one direction or the other. The one thing essential is to find out the truth. It is intolerable that knaves and fools should, purely for their own selfish ends, confuse the issue on which so much depends.”

He picked up from the table a copy of the Sunday Chimes, and sat down wearily in his arm-chair. “Ah, well,” he groaned, “in the meanwhile the knaves and fools aforesaid are having the time of their lives. Never was there such a market for rags and bones.” Spreading out the sheet before him he growled a series of comments on the correspondence column. “A sarcastic denunciation of Sir Roland House and his brother-simpletons by Miss May Tinkler. She is author of ‘Afternoon Tea’ and of certain lucubrations on Fantasticism. The latter are funny without being vulgar. A. Common Kipper, Esquire, writes from the Asinorium Club that all this so-called Research is blasphemous, and in addition is entirely unnecessary. The whole arcana of the Universe were explained to his complete satisfaction in a little book which he perused in his childhood. The volume is unfortunately out of print. Dr Le Mesurier announces that he devoted the whole of last Thursday to an exhaustive study of Occultism. He brought to the subject an entirely fresh and unbiassed mind of exceptional caliber, and is now prepared to practise as a consulting Mahatma. Ah, here is Turfey again, what is it now? He has dragged to light a flagrant act of dishonesty committed by the eldest of the appropriately names Foxes at the early age of thirteen months. The Foxes are as dead as Queen Anne, but the very graves are not safe from a Turfey in search of a subject. Really that fellow is the Jerry Cruncher of journalism. You may talk of his literary reputation, doctor, as much as you like and I shall not contradict you. But mentally and morally he is just a successful dealer in old clo’, with a branch business as resurrection-man. Faugh, Watson, faugh! Help yourself to some more whisky. I must have a little restorative before I tackle my supper.”

And he re-filled his pipe with the Platonic mixture.


[Return] Pons Asinorum: Latin for “bridge of donkeys,” applied to the theorem in geometry that the angles opposite the equal sides of an isosceles triangle (that is, a triangle in which two of the three sides are of equal length) are themselves equal. It’s called this because the diagram that proves the statement looks vaguely like a bridge, and that those who can’t understand the theorem have the proportional intelligence of a donkey. The phrase is also applied to any problem that tests the intelligence of the solver.

[Return] Teuton: Germany, a nationality with a reputation for humorlessness.

[Return] Have no that repose: From “Lady Clara Vere de Vere” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), in which the unnamed narrator tells the flirtatious noblewoman that he refuses to love her. He recalls a previous lover of hers, now dead, and how his mother tried to warn him off:

She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear;
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

[Return] Coruscating: Brilliant or stylishly showy. Sparkling.

[Return] Spurious drivel: The quote is from a 1917 article, “The Undiscovered Country,” in The Strand by Edward Clodd that was written in response to Conan Doyle’s “The New Revelation.” Clodd (1840-1930) was an agnostic banker, writer, and anthropologist who objected to an incident in Conan Doyle’s article about his friend, the eminent scientist Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940). In the days after his son, Raymond, died in the trenches, Lodge and his wife received messages from him through a medium, Mrs. Osborne Leonard. Clodd writes:

“From the enormous mass of communications purporting to come from discamate spirits, not an ennobling nor high-toned message can be extracted; all, all is nauseating, frivolous, mischievous, spurious drivel. Through his control, (the spirit of) a little Indian girl Feda, (the spirit of) Raymond Lodge tells his father that the houses in the Beyond are made ‘from sort of emanations from the earth’; that his white robe is ‘made from decayed worsted on your side’; that he has his ‘little doggie’ with him; that cigars made ‘out of essences and ethers and gases’ are provided for smokers, and ‘whisky-sodas’ for drinkers! Faugh!”

[Return] Tub-thumpers: A street corner person or a ranting, ignorant preacher, especially when applied to a dissenting minister (that is, not a member of the Church of England). Assumed to originate from the way they would thump their lectern to emphasize their points.

[Return] Mephitic vapour: Foul-smelling, noxious.

[Return] Cacodyl: A poisonous liquid derived from arsenic that smells of garlic. Inhaling it caused tingling in the extremities, giddiness, and insensibility. It was considered for use as a poison gas during WWI but never used.

[Return] Dr. Le Mesurier’s: Probably a reference to Col. Lemesurier Taylor, who with Miss A. Goodrich-Freer, investigated in 1897 reported hauntings at Ballechin House in Perthshire, Scotland. A variety of guests were invited to stay there for three months, and some reported phantasms and mysterious sounds and voices. However, Frederic Myers of the Society for Psychical Research visited the home, listened to the testimony, and concluded there was no evidence of supernatural occurrences.

[Return] Desmond: Mrs. Desmond Humphreys (1860-1938) was a popular novelist, a devotee of occultist and medium Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) and sympathetic to Spiritualism. In 1919, she published The Truth of Spiritualism.

[Return] Tantalus: A carrying case for bottles, designed so that the handle locked down the tops of the bottles, making them secure for transporting and also impervious to tampering by servants tempted to drink a tot and fill it back up with water.

[Return] Boxing: A magazine founded in 1909 that is still published today.

[Return] Caviare: Another spelling of caviar, the roe of sturgeon or other fish served as a delicacy. Holmes is implying that his composition is too sophisticated for the common herd.

[Return] Language of Turfey: Holmes is paraphrasing Genesis 27:22, in which Jacob steals the birthright of Esau from their father, Isaac. Old, blind and wanting to pass leadership of his family to Esau, Isaac sends him out to hunt for meat with which he would use to bless Esau. While Esau was gone, his mother, Rebekah, who knew of Isaac’s intentions, dressed Jacob in his brother’s clothes, laid goatskins on his arms to simulate Esau’s hairiness, and sent him in with the meat. Isaac, feeling the goatskins, says, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.’”

[Return] Greyfeather or Red Jacket: Two Indian spirit guides used by mediums at the time. Indians were popular channels because of the belief that aboriginal tribes retained a connection to the departed.

[Return] Moody and Sankey: Ira Sankey (1840-1908) and Dwight Moody (1837-1899) were traveling American evangelists who preached throughout the U.S. and Britain. They published several compilations of Christian hymns, including Sacred Songs and Solos (1877). Hymns Ancient and Modern was the hymnal used by the Church of England. It has gone through several revised editions since it was introduced in 1861.

[Return] Professor Cranford: In The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (1918), Dr. William Crawford (1881-1920), an engineering professor at Queens University, described his experiences investigating mediums, including Kathleen Goligher (b. 1898), who he was convinced was authentic. After his suicide in 1920, other investigators found evidence that Goligher was a fraud. One saw her “levitating” the table with her foot during one séance, and traced the presence of “spiritual ectoplasm” to white muslin.

[Return] Six individuals: The seven members Crawford describes in his book were Goligher and her father, brother, three sisters, and brother-in-law, all of whom were mediums.

[Return] Says her prayers: Crawford wrote that “The séance is opened with the singing of a hymn and a prayer. In a few minutes light raps are usually heard near the medium, which quickly increase in intensity. Within a quarter of an hour most of the phenomena are often in full swing. A hymn is sung occasionally during the course of the séance. The sitting is closed by prayer.”

[Return] Proceeding by innuendo: Ellis’ animosity was traced to Clodd’s sole reference to Goligher in a footnote in The Question: If a man die, shall he live again? published the previous year. Responding to Crawford’s article in Light about experiments that “confirmed” that the medium could create ectoplasm, Clodd wrote:

“The lady through whom these wonders are manifest is a Miss Kathleen Goligher, the eldest daughter of a family whose members are Spiritualists. ‘They make,’ Sir W.F. Barrett tells us, in his On the Threshold of the Unseen, ‘a sort of religious ceremony of their sittings, always opening with prayers and hymns.’ Although these pietistic preliminaries have naught to do with the genuineness or spuriousness of phenomena at ‘spirit circles,’ they have often been coverings of fraud, and they lend an air of suspicion to the séances of the Goligher household. It would be well if Sir W.F. Barrett would arrange to bring the young lady and the apparatus to London for submission to a series of scientific tests at the hands of biologists and other experts, among whom [magician] Mr. Devant might be included with advantage on the principle of setting a conjurer to catch a conjurer. Science knows no finality, but it must have conclusive evidence before it accepts the existence of ‘a form of matter hitherto unknown’ among the properties of the human body.”

After Crawford’s death, Edmund d’Albe investigated the medium and found evidence of fraud, as described in The Goligher Circle (1922). After its publication, Kathleen Goligher retired and faded from history.

[Return] Queensbury rules: A code of conduct in boxing, written by sportsman John Graham Chambers (1843-1883) and published as “the Queensberry rules for the sport of boxing” by the Amateur Athletic Club, after one of its founders, John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (1844-1900). The rules, emphasizing fair play and gentlemanly behavior, included setting up the size of the ring, the length of rounds, prohibitions on wrestling or hugging, and requiring the use of gloves. (Queensberry was also the father of Alfred Douglas, and responsible for the downfall of his son’s lover, Oscar Wilde).

[Return] Ad misericordiam: A logical fallacy in which the speaker appeals to the audience’s pity for the subject to win support.

[Return] Barnaby Rudge: A novel by Charles Dickens set during the Gordon Riots of 1780 when mobs rampaged through London in protest against an act intended to reduce discrimination against Catholics. Newgate hangman Ned Dennis participated in the riots, but changed sides near the end, only to be caught. The night before his execution, Dennis is a cringing wretch praying for a last-minute pardon. When an inmate taunts him with “See the hangman when it comes home to him,” Dennis replies:

“You don’t know what it is,” cried Dennis, actually writhing as he spoke: “I do. That I should come to be worked off! I! I! That I should come!”

“And why not?” said Hugh, as he thrust back his matted hair to get a better view of his late associate. “How often, before I knew your trade, did I hear you talking of this as if it was a treat?”

“I an’t unconsistent,” screamed the miserable creature; “I’d talk so again, if I was hangman. Some other man has got my old opinions at this minute. That makes it worse. Somebody’s longing to work me off. I know by myself that somebody must be!”

“He’ll soon have his longing,” said Hugh, resuming his walk. “Think of that, and be quiet.”

[Return] No material reward: Holmes seems to have forgotten the numerous times he received payment for his services. According to the canon, he received £1,000 each for recovering the Beryl Coronet, the Blue Carbuncle, and the King of Bohemia’s photo, £6,000 in the Priory School case, and £500 from a German spy in “His Last Bow.”

[Return] Base half-crowns: Uttering is the crime of passing counterfeit currency.

[Return] W.K. Clifford: English mathematician and philosopher (1845-1879). His contention in “The Ethics of Belief” that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” is considered to be a rebuke against religious faith, and was attacked by philosopher William James (1842-1910) in his essay “Will to Believe.”

[Return] Sir Roland House: Likely a reference to the physicist and Spiritualist Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), who was a close friend of Conan Doyle. He had published Raymond or Life and Death (1916), documenting the séances he and his wife had attended in their attempt to reach their son, who was killed in battle. “Raymond” told him that the afterlife was similar to Earth. People looked as they did when they were alive, and there were even whiskey and cigars available (which caused of much merriment in the press).

[Return] Asinorium Club: Latin for “donkey” (or, more likely, asses).

[Return] Foxes: The three Fox sisters of New York launched the Spiritualist movement in 1848 when two of them—Margaret (1833-1893) and Kate (1837-1892)—claimed that they could communicate with spirits through knocking through code. The children’s report caused a sensation, and during the 1850s gave hundreds of séances in New York City despite allegations of fraud. Their sister Leah (1814-1890) became their manager and they became popular successes. Magaret and Kate admitted in 1888 that they were fakes and publicly demonstrated how they could make the raps; in Margaret’s case by cracking her toe joints. Despite their confessions (which Kate recanted the next year), they’re still treated seriously in parapsychological literature.

[Return] Jerry Cruncher: A porter in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. As a “resurrection man,” he steals bodies from their graves and sells them to medical schools for dissection.

[Return] Old clo’: Old clothes, inspired from the street cry of the clothes peddler.

[Return] Resurrection-man: Someone who digs up fresh corpses and sells them to medical schools. The most famous resurrection men were William Burke and William Hare of Edinburgh, who took the shortcut of murdering their victims.

Story Ideas (part 2)

career indie author

career indie author introductionLast week, we looked at how mundane events and encounters can spark story ideas. This week, we’ll look at other sources for stories.

I like to read and I like to watch movies, and so often I’ll read a book or watch a show and know that the story could have been, should have been, so much better. I would not have handled the characters the way the author did, I wouldn’t have betrayed them, I wouldn’t have chosen the same old path.

Now mind you, this doesn’t mean that what I find objectionable is the same as what you might object to. A case in point is the story “The Rebel Of Valkyr” by Alfred Coppel. You can find this novella in volume I of “Galactic Empires” edited by Brian Aldiss, or download the text version at Archive.org.

Barbarians Flying Spaceships

story ideas rebel of valkyr
It was published at a time when space maidens ran about in high heels. Actually, not much has changed (see “Jurassic World”).
Alfred, a former WWII fighter pilot, published this story back in 1950. It is a wonderful piece of space opera, with barbarian swordsmen fighting over the remains of a dying empire as they zip around the galaxy with their swords, helmets, and horses, in ancient, mighty, indestructible spaceships left over from the previous galactic empire.

Yep, you read that right. Barbarians, like Conan the Barbarian, sailing between the stars in atomic warships that they don’t know how to maintain but they can pilot.

So what is wrong with this piece of purple prose? I didn’t like the setup of the king’s daughter (a naïve virgin princess but you could have guessed that) struggling against the evil second wife and her evil young son.

I read this story and I thought how much better it would have been, how much more interesting, if the virgin daughter (Alys) was the corrupt, decadent power-hungry schemer and the Queen Regent (Yvane) was the true victim.

What if Yvane was trapped in the palace, trying desperately to escape? What if Yvane had been forced into the marriage because of her resemblance to the King’s long lost love? What if Yvane knew, every day, what kind of sociopathic bitch Alys was and Yvane’s concerns were a) saving her young son (the heir to the throne and Alys’s half-brother), b) saving the empire from Alys, and c) getting the hell out of Dodge in one piece with her son?

What if Yvane really preferred option c, leaving the empire to fall into rack and ruin, if it meant that she and her son could put the horrors of the palace behind her? What if Yvane ended up ruling because she felt it was her duty?

Our barbarian swordsman (Kieron, Lord of Valkyr) would have a very different experience in store for him than the one Coppel wrote. Kieron would discover that Alys’s lush blond hair, full rosy lips, and stacked body blinded him to her evil nature, her corrupt ways, her murder of her father, and her planned murder of her half-brother and stepmother. No young lady who looked that hot and was a princess could be such a duplicitous bitch, could she?

In my version, Alys sure could! She’d use Kieron’s loyalty to her father to take the throne, murder her half-brother (only six!), execute her stepmother, and plunder the empire as she saw fit. She’d chain Keiron to a wall in her throne room so he would be forced to see what he had made happen by helping her win the crown.

Would Kieron rescue himself? Of course he would, and he’d be a wiser, very angry barbarian afterwards, too. Then he would have to find out that Yvane had not died, nor had her son been murdered. It had all been a ruse on Yvane’s part to allow them to escape, and they’re in hiding and in danger many parsecs away.

Does Kieron rescue Yvane? Put her on the throne as regent? Well, maybe not. He is a barbarian, after all and maybe he should take the throne, after defeating Alys, and rule as regent for the boy.

Do I want this to be more of an adventure or a romance? If I want a romance, then should Kieron end up with a woman he had scorned for being a fortune hunter and opportunist? Why, of course. The scales fall from his eyes, and he sees Yvane’s true nobility. So I end with a classic romance trope after all.

Now that I’ve worked out the plot, the hard part arrives. I just have to write the damn thing and change the names. I can’t use Kieron, Valkyr, Alys, or Yvane or any other names that Alfred Coppel used. He’ll be under copyright (he died in 2004) for a long, long time.

Is this plagiarizing? I don’t think so. Ideas can’t be copyrighted. So long as I’m not using the exact words, but make up my barbarian culture, my royal family, my character designs, I’m all right.

Besides, consider how many books are out there involving runaway brides or marriages of convenience. I guarantee you there are plenty of similarities among genre books out there. That’s what makes them genre.

How close can you get? Read “The Lord of the Rings” and then “The Sword of Shannara” and see how similar they are. (My husband, Bill, is a Tolkien freak who reviewed “Shannara” when it came out in the ’70s, and he remembers the publicity materials mentioning that Terry Brooks had to rewrite the story to distance it from Tolkien.) Is that a problem? No, not at all. Terry Brooks wrote his own book and he used plenty of the fantasy tropes but so does everyone in the genre.

Vampire novels? Werewolf novels? Urban paranormal fantasy? Mystery solving pets? Count the similarities and yet you still get unique, interesting books and plenty of them.

Ripped From History

Here’s another idea that arrived, flags waving and bells ringing. I’ve been doing research on the Middle Ages for my Martian series. They had loads of dysfunctional royal families, then, doing things that would have made them candidates for Jerry Springer’s show.

Consider Edward III. He was born in November 1312 and died in June 1377. He became king in January 1327. Do the math and you’ll see he became king when he was fourteen and reigned for fifty years. How did Edward III become king at fourteen?

Edward II, both an incompetent king and an incompetent husband, died because his wife, Isabella of France, took up with her lover and they murdered him. Edward III was crowned king, but he didn’t rule, his mother and her lover did that, acting as his regents. At seventeen, Edward III took revenge on his mother and her lover. He staged a coup, executed the lover, seized control of England, and locked his mother up in a castle for the rest of her life.

Neat, huh? Look into the life of Edward III’s mother, Isabella. She was known as the She-wolf of France. You don’t get a nickname like that because of your embroidery skills.

Does this mean that Edward III’s life is fodder for a historical novel? You could do that. Or it could be the start of a fantasy series about the struggle for the throne of a country riven by internal dissent. Think about warring factions that hate each other, that hate their own families, that claw at each other for power as they fight their way to the top. Why look, there’s “Game of Thrones.” A good working knowledge of English history let George R. R. Martin make mountains of money while telling an amazing story.

You can do this too. World history is packed with stunning stories such as Irene of Byzantium, who married into power and became empress when she had her son’s eyes gouged out. That was Constantine VI, and he was twenty-one when his mother blinded him.

If you think history is boring, it’s because you got that watered down, non-controversial pap that the schools feed to children so as to not upset their parents. Don’t limit yourself to European history either. Like Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas are full of jaw-dropping incidents that are forgotten today. All of these incidents can be reworked into any kind of story you like. Add fantasy elements or change the settings to the future and you’re on your way to a best-selling series and an HBO TV show.

The hard part is writing the books. It isn’t finding the ideas.

Look around for ideas. Read advice columns faithfully. They’re full of amazing situations. Walk your dog and watch the five fire trucks, the ambulance, and multiple police cars zoom by and wonder what happened. See the woman walking through the supermarket parking lot holding twenty-five heart-shaped Mylar balloons, all jet black. Where is she going? Why are the hearts black?

Ideas are everywhere. They’re waiting for you to turn them into stories.

Author, Editor, Anthologist, and Owner of Peschel Press, the Publisher of Histories Behind the Mysteries