stop sign
The blogless Steve Raker regularly sends us his creative and sometimes apoplectic writing by e-mail. Whenever I’m tempted to republish his work on my blog, I find that Mark Hoback has already beat me to it, posting the best of Steve’s work on his excellent blog Fried Green Al-Qaedas, or in his wonderful e-zine Virtual Occoquan.

Here’s an example of Steve at his finest, with his wry sense of humour aimed this time at contrivances in writing, in a two-part post. The photo above is also his:


Cupla years ago I overslept.  It musta been that morning when the great comet hit the earth and killed all the editors for disposable mystery/detective/lawyer fiction.  Since a stopgap measure is needed, I offer the following helpful hints for writers:

  1. Hire somebody, anybody, to proofread your work.  Most of your errors in word choice, minor plot points, etc. can be caught and corrected by a bright high school student.
  2. Absolutes are rare.  Please stop your characters from incessantly tripping over them or being them. e.g.  in a recent read, a minor character, an attractive woman, was used as bait in a sexual harassment scam.  Her beauty grew with every mention.  In short order, ‘quite attractive’ became ‘irresistible to any man, dead or alive’.  The freakin’ Pope was in line for a shot at this gal.   I was afraid to read further, least her beauty become so intense that the sun should fall from the sky.
  3. When you need to speak of things mechanical, don’t just throw out a few mechanical sounding words.  Get help.  Please don’t have a character get stuck on a lonely road because of a ‘bad engine block’.
  4. You will be allowed one extraordinary coincidence per book; use it wisely. e.g. a woman phones her husband who is a jazz musician; he answers his jazz musician cell phone while fishing.  Their baby (named after a jazz musician) is with him in the boat (built from the ribs of dead jazz musicians).  During the wife’s ensuing rant about baby safety and jazz musician husband irresponsibility, he notices his fishing rod wobble.  He catches a **5 POUND BASS**.  note: this was not a story about a man catching a 5 POUND BASS, the 5 POUND BASS did not reappear in the story, nor did this extraordinary coincidence lack for company, lots of company. P.S. the woman’s husband is a jazz musician.
  5. If a character has a distinctive characteristic or job, show some respect for your readers’ ability to catch that plot point during the first twelve or fifteen times it’s mentioned.  If say, your protagonist’s husband is a jazz musician, perhaps you could limit your references to his jazz musicianship to three or four per page.  Maybe then it might be a surprise and a neat literary trick to have the husband (what is his job again?) kill the 100% evil bad guy with a musical instrument (remember now what he does for a living, are you following this?).

Sorry, I must go now.  My incredibly beautiful ex-wife, a ten time Miss Universe, that we all thought had died in the volcano, just stopped by to tell me I won the biggest lottery in the world. We fall in love again in five minutes. We almost have sex but, “Oh no, here comes another volcano. Quick, lets find a helicopter. Sure, I know how to fly a helicopter.  ..Wow, that was close. Wait a minute, you’re not my ex-wife, you’re her identical twin sister. My real ex-wife would have known all about my helicopter flying from our last adventure. And where did you catch that 5 POUND BASS?”  Dang, now my car won’t start; must be the engine block again.  Ha ha, that’s life.


Recently I wrote a piece of drivel where I bitched in a light-hearted and heart-warming way about lazy-ass fiction authors who insert extraordinary coincidences into their stories.  I’m speaking of the superfluous extraordinary coincidences, over and above the string of wacky coincidences upon which the plot balances, like a fat ballerina on tiny feet.  As you may recall, the novel that set me off involved a jazz musician catching a 5 POUND BASS during a phone call with his wife.  An S.E.C. plopped into the story for no reason other than, “I bet this’ll fill up a few pages and be easy as Paris Hilton* to write.”

 …Let’s start calling an extraordinary coincidence that does nothing to advance the plot, a ‘5 POUND BASS’.  This’ll be great.  You too can be in on the ground floor of this newest pop culture phrase. …Imagine warming yourself by a glowing fireplace, tucked in your favorite chair, adoring children clutching at your cuffs (black lace apron); “Grampa (ma), tell us about your literary experiences”, followed by a chorus of, “Pleeeeez”.  “Well children, many years ago, before we had flying cars and computer edited fiction, I was instrumental (you are interrupted here by several of the adults gathering round, “Go on Pop (Mom), we love this story.”). I was instrumental in the popularization of the literary put-down ‘5 POUND BASS’. I would say things like, ‘You’ve got a 5 POUND BASS on every other page here Dude’.” 

There are visible admiration rays flashing from the children’s eyes, heads are nodding, hopeful wives nuzzle their husbands; the world becomes a warm and forgiving place. “Yes, this is the beauty of age,” you think, as several of the smaller children faint in the crush. “This is fulfilment writ large on my soul”.  …Destiny knocks but once**; start popularizing now.   


* I don’t know for sure that PH is easy, but that is the consensus among humorists so I’m going to pretend I’m with them.  And I’m not saying that ‘easy’ is bad; don’t try and hang that ‘double standard’ anchor around my neck, ya bastards.  As my Aunt Hazel used to say, “It takes two to be easy.”
** Again, I don’t know for sure

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  1. O RLY YA RLY says:

    Hey, how can I get on that mailing list?

  2. Peter says:

    Perhaps totaly of track, but…Personally, I believe that the use of coincidence in crime fiction plummeted to new depths in the scripting of an old Columbo episode starring that star of the battered trench coat, Peter Falk. In solving the 2 hour telemovie crime, Columbo, almost wholly relies on a dream told to him by a key character, in which she describes talking to a long dead uncle, in French!Columbo puts two and two together (as only Columbo can): Uncle? French? My Uncle… Mon Oncle… Monocle! The killer wears a monocle. God only knows long it must have taken the producers to convince Mr Falk to play along with that one.”Mon Oncle” remains forever in our household as a euphemism for poor fiction, and coincidental desperation.

  3. Stu Savory says:

    five POUND bass? I thought it was a five STRING bass :-)But maybe he was using a fishing CHORD ;-)Stu

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