September 22, 2021

by Lisa Hall Wilson

Depending on the genre you’re writing, you might’ve been told or heard that you need to know or write in Deep POV. I get it. It’s definitely more popular in some genres than others. However, so many people who join my Facebook group for help learning deep POV and writing emotions, misunderstand the idea of narrative or psychic distance.

Reader’s Digest On POV

Most are familiar with Omniscient POV, where the writer tells a story about a group of characters and shares how all the characters feel or think.

Objective Third Person is a writer/narrator telling a story about one or more characters, but there’s little focus on what the character thinks or feels.

Limited or Close Third Person POV is a writer/narrator telling a story about ONE character, and that character shares thoughts intermittently with readers through free indirect speech. Free indirect speech is when the reader gets thoughts directly from the character (the parts we like to italicize).

Deep POV is one character at a time living out a story with the reader at their side, in their head. The writer will use free indirect speech when writing in deep POV, but the focus of the story is the character’s emotional journey. There is no writer/narrator voice to explain, summarize, or interrupt.

Every Word Comes From Within The POV Character

When writing entirely in deep POV, every word on the page comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character. The reader receives all info through the point-of-view character, not the writer (as they would in limited third person).

The POV character will have an opinion about what’s said and the person saying it. Everything that’s said and happen should have an effect on how the character thinks and feels.

The same goes for setting and description, to the beats written to attribute dialogue to another character, how characters move, their expressions, ambient sensory details… EVERYTHING is filtered through the POV character’s perspective. This is a hard mindset shift to make.

This Feels Like Storytelling

The temptation to “storytell” is very strong particularly if your primary instinct is to write in objective or limited third person. In those more distant POV styles, the story comes to the reader through the writer, but because every word on the page comes from within your point of view character, slipping in your author voice adds distance and undermines the goal of immersing the reader in the story.

The Black Forest was known for its gnarled trees, bogs, and unpredictable pits. “It’s not a nice place.” Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine.

The italicized part is the storytelling. Would a character describe a place in his own world that he’s familiar with like this? Would he need to explain it to himself (remember, he’s alone inside his own head – he isn’t supposed to speak to the reader). This is acceptable in objective or limited third person, but in deep POV this storytelling becomes author intrusion.

Let’s look at a couple of ways to fix this.

“The Black Forest is not a nice place. It’s full of gnarled trees, bogs and unpredictable pits.” Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine.

If the character is speaking to someone unfamiliar with the area, putting the info into dialogue can get the info to the reader. You’ll often see this construction with expert and newbie combinations, with Watson characters that can stand in for the reader and ask questions the POV character might not otherwise have a reason to think about or explain.

His favorite boots were still mired in one of the bogs in the Black Forest. Edric couldn’t suppress the body shiver that rattled his spine. He squinched his toes against the sting of the old scars on the bottom of his feet.

Give the POV character a reason to think about something he otherwise might not ruminate on. Be careful to make sure the thought is organic. We rarely have things come to mind that aren’t triggered by something else in some way.

Movements And Time Passing

Where many writers struggle with this shift into deep POV is where we try to clarify a character moving between scenes or settings or gaps in time.

Two weeks later, Shannon walked into the classroom clutching her books.

The power of deep POV is in immediacy, so most of the time stories written entirely in deep POV span a shorter amount of time. That’s not to say you can’t use deep POV if your story spans generations, or jumps around in time periods, but you should write as though everything is happening right now.

Dialogue is almost always a solid workaround if you need to get info to the reader without breaking deep POV.

You can also note a change in the seasons, things that have piled up or been neglected (dishes, mail, inbox, etc.) They can set a date for something in the future, and when you open the next scene at that event, readers will make that leap with you.

Smaller gaps in time, like morning to afternoon can be noted by the change in the sun, the temperature, the meal they’re eating, their routine. You don’t have to tell readers it’s the next morning, just have your character begin their morning routine.

Where Storytelling Goes Unnoticed

Where the biggest struggle is with removing the author/narrator voice is in the in-between moments. YOU aren’t telling the story, the character is living out the story.

He’d trained his whole life for this moment, as many before him had, but never thought to see it with his own eyes.

So, “thought” adds distance in deep POV. The character is alone in their own head, so just share the thought, you don’t need to signal to the reader that it’s a thought. “As many had before him” is author intrusion. This is the author inserting themselves into the story to give the reader information the character wouldn’t otherwise think of or have.

Let’s look at a rewrite:

Edric scrubbed his face with his hands and stared out the window. War. Wasn’t supposed to have come to this, not in his lifetime.

Do you see the difference? The way the character would think in a situation, the things they see, the consequences and stakes they face – this raw information and emotion. This is what deep POV is all about.

Do you struggle to eliminate the author/narrator voice in deep POV? Do transitions give you problems? Please share your questions and experiences with us down in the comments!

Announcement: Lisa is running her 5 week Deep POV intensive starting Oct 4, 2021. Join the free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction to learn more about the course and take advantage of free tips and critiques.

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-Wilson is a writing teacher and award-winning writer and author. She’s the author of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Her blog Beyond Basics For Writers explores all facets of the popular writing style deep point of view and offers practical tips for writers. 

She runs the free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions where she shares tips and videos on writing in deep point of view. 

Top Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

September 20, 2021

By Lisa Norman

Have you seen the new products on the market to replace live editors with an automated intelligence? I see authors spending a lot of money on these services, while being excited that they can now save the money they used to spend on editors.

I see editors moving to other careers or accepting impoverishing fees just trying to stay marketable.

Pick up a newspaper and you'll see that more and more publications are using automation instead of live, intuitive, experienced editors.

A friend recently asked me to help decipher a recipe that was in a published, highly rated cookbook. It included such ingredients as "tortured cream" (whipped cream) and "evening meal exercises" (dinner rolls).

Aside from the above silliness, here are my top 5 reasons why I was horrified to learn some publishers are switching to automation for editing their clients' books:

Right can be Wrong

Something can be technically right, and horribly wrong. Let's say you have two characters in a book. You teach your automated editor how to spell both names. What happens if you include a correctly spelled name of the wrong character in a scene?

One book I read had a scene where a character walked into the room and sat down on the sofa. Two pages later, the same character walked into the same room and sat on the same sofa.

Technically both scenarios are right and do not violate any grammatical rules. But they're both wrong.

My editor actually keeps a list of characters that she refers to and makes sure that each one is where they are supposed to be in a scene.

Several times I’ve seen her catch an idiom that was misplaced in time. The idiom is correct, but completely wrong in context.

What if a certain character's actions are not true to their inner motivations? Details like this make a story come alive. Or kill it.

Wrong can be Right

On the flip side of this, automated editors may flag rhetorical devices like anaphora and epizeuxis and polysyndeton as wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

A good human editor will see the power in these techniques and leave them alone!

An experienced editor will understand that some POV characters use language that ain't always grammatically correct. I double-dare a computer to handle a colloquially challenged narrator.

Oh, sure, you can click ignore. But who wants to do that through an entire manuscript and tell it to accept a lower standard of grammatical correctness for this work of fiction? Then how is it going to handle Aunt Mabel's perfect dialogue?

Content can be Missing

In my own writing, I often miss opportunities to describe setting. I can envision a powerful AI that might notice missing description, but what if I didn't describe it clearly? What if the correct words that I used did not convey my intent?

My editor will not let me get away with that!

As authors, we see things in our head that don't always make it to the page. Good editors will absolutely call an author on that.

Right may not be Good Enough

Just because something is technically right doesn't mean it is empowered.

Can your AI recognize that this is the turning point and we've minimized the main character's reaction, missing the impetus for a dramatic change?

My editor loves to tell me when my endings aren't strong enough!

And this brings me to my last point.

Writing gets Messy

When my last book's ending wasn't strong enough, I would have run straight into a huge writer's-block wall, but my editor returned the manuscript with a series of suggestions on how to fix it. She didn't just tell me it was weak, she told me why and what it needed.

Having another person to talk to who cares as much about your story and your success as you do is not something any computer can ever replace.

I work with writers every day. As writers, we deal in emotions, and those creative emotions can sneak up on us, destroying our ability to think dispassionately about our darlings. We wrangle ourselves into plot twists and scenes with no sequels.

For me, my editor is my mentor, my cheerleader, the person I trust to tell me if I need to get back to my desk or get away from it for a while.

She is completely irreplaceable by any artificial intelligence.

Lori – you are my superhero!

When editing your work do you use critique groups, Beta readers, and/or professional editors to make your work shine? What do you think about automated editing?

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About Lisa

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Upcoming Classes

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

September 17, 2021

by Jenny Hansen

Many authors are afraid to let their friends and loved ones read their writing. They use pseudonyms, join Reddit discussions and fret endlessly about "What if my boss / mother / [insert name] reads this?"

Many of us started reading and writing as an escape from our everyday lives. I always joke that "writers are not born, they are made."

Life and love and trauma made us.

Shyness made us.

Abuse made us.

Loneliness made us.

For many of us, writing is the valve we open to take the pressure off when those feelings bubble up too strongly. Part of why writers are special is that they take those feelings -- good, bad, scary, ugly -- and translate them into a gift to bring others enjoyment. In other words, even if your writing is born out of a scaredy-pants place (especially if that's so), writing your story is an act of love and valor.

Would it be so terrible if friends, co-workers and loved ones DID read your writing?

Maybe. Maybe not. You know how personal your story is or isn't. However, I hear anecdote after anecdote of people who aren't in a book thinking that they are in the story. More often, even if they're in your books they don't see themselves at all.

It is actually quite rare for someone to recognize themselves because YOU see them in a way that's unfamiliar to them. This phenomenon is well-explained by the Johari Window, created in 1955 by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.

That Blind Self quadrant, and even those in the bottom row, contain things about you that aren't readily apparent. And since writers are both observant and creative, we might watch someone's behavior and make guesses about their Hidden and Unknown selves. For many of us, that observing and extrapolating are our favorite parts of spending time in public. (Can I get an amen for "people watching??")

An interesting fact about the Johari window: The more self-aware you are, the bigger your windows on the left side of the pane will be. Conversely, the less self-aware you are, the larger the two windows on the right will grow.

When can it get dicey for others to read your book?

Pseudomyns are easy to crack and personal information is rarely private in today's world. The following situations could result in discomfort if when someone you know reads your book.

If you:

1. Are writing a memoir or tell-all book you didn't prepare them for.

Writing about real people can be a sensitive thing. Many non-fiction writers and memoirists get release forms from anyone they include in their book, worried that they will get sued for libel, slander, or defamation of character. Sometimes changing the name is not enough, and sometimes you have to wait until people die to tell your truth.

If you cannot get a signed release for some reason, change the person’s name. Change any of their uniquely identifying characteristics. This is okay, even in true stories like memoirs.

Example: I had an obstetrician treat my husband and I abonimably during the week I gave birth to my daughter, to the point that I was ready to change hospitals and medical groups at 41 weeks along. This person is absolutely in my memoir - they are an integral part of my story. But in the interest of self-protection, I've changed name, height, location and all the doctor's names, just to make sure I'm safe from a defamation suit. (It really was that bad.)

Great Resource: How To Use Real People in Your Writing Without Ending Up in Court

2. Invade someone's privacy

Sharing private information that is embarrassing or unpleasant is not necessarily an invasion of privacy. It was interesting to me when I read the resource above that "any conduct in public is not protected." With the plethora of cell phones with cameras, privacy is pretty hard to come by.

In the way-back, we could do all kinds of stupid things with no permanent record of it. Sadly, the world no longer works that way. I tell my daughter all the time: "Don't do anything in public that you don't want to share with your college admissions counselor."

You can still tell your truth, even about painful experiences like rape, abuse, illness or addiction, through a fictional character. That's the protection fiction provides. But you cannot do it in a way that identifies a living person, especially if it harms their personal or professional reputation.

What if my parents (or grandparents) read this?

My mother passed away in 2004, so I actually don't have to worry about this one. She would have loved any of my stories...because she's my mom, and she was awesome. But there are aunties. And cousins. And my bosses and clients.

Depending on your genre and what you write, there are reasons to be nervous about having people you know read your innermost thoughts your book. Perhaps they will read:

  • Swearing
  • Sex scenes
  • Deep twisty thoughts
  • Characters who could be family members
  • Something else entirely

Or, as S. Hunter Nesbit says:

"What’s the only thing worse than having a stranger read your diary? Having your mom read it!"

But the real reason most writers worry about these loved ones reading their work? What if they don't like it??

Y'all know I talk to a ton of writers and it is stunning how many of them show their work to no one. Seriously. No. One.

Matthew Turner did a post on Dan Blank's blog with some thoughts about why most writers would rather show their work to a stranger at a bus stop than with their mom. He listed The 5 Fs: Fear, Feedback, Future, Forgiveness, and Friendship.

It's a seriously great article - I recommend you go read it!

The Real Truth

Your family is probably dying to read your book(s). So many people want to write a book, but you are doing it. It's true that a few of them might be jealous, or irritated at how many family events you miss due to writing deadlines, but most families are beyond excited to have a bona fide author in their ranks.

Plus, we all need beta readers.

So, if your family asks to read your book, you're certainly allowed to say no, but how great would it be to say "yes?"

Do you worry about your family/boss/friends reading your book? How do you handle this? Do you have any suggestions for other authors who feel this way? Please share them with us down in the comments!

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About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.


Source Links

  • Everything linked in the above post. Plus...
  • https://www.janefriedman.com/write-about-family-memoir/
  • https://wegrowmedia.com/fear-and-writing-do-you-hide-your-writing/
  • https://annerallen.com/2013/11/are-your-family-and-friends-sabotaging/
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/e22nl1/lets_talk_about_wellmeaning_parents_asking_to/
  • https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-nonfiction/how-to-write-about-family-in-a-memoir
  • https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/18-writing-tips-tell-stories/

Top Photo from Deposit photos. Caption: "How most of us feel when our moms read our book..."

September 15, 2021

by Piper Bayard
of Bayard & Holmes

Surveillance camera or device, writing spies

The basic function of intelligence personnel (a.k.a. "spooks") is to collect information on people and organizations. One way of doing that is to plant "bugs." People often ask why anyone would bother physically bugging a room when there are so many ways to hack into everything from computers and phones to cars and refrigerators and take over the cameras and microphones in them to spy on people.

Physical bugging is still useful because one should not count on the target to have their devices with them, turned on, and pointed in the right direction for proper surveillance. Also, some people are savvy enough to keep electronics out of the room for important meetings or discussions.

Pro Tip #1 - Secure Conversations at Home

If you need to have a private conversation in your house, turn off your computers and keep them well out of the room. Also, turn off phones and put them in the microwave. A microwave should block the signals.

To test this, put your phone in the microwave when the phone is on and then call it. If your phone rings, your conversation is not secure, and neither is your microwave. You need to replace it.

What is a "bug?"

In spook parlance and crime stories, the term “bug” refers to electronic devices for clandestinely monitoring targeted spaces. We’ve all seen and read about fictional spooks locating bugs in homes, offices, and hotel rooms. The characters usually find them in a few seconds on lampshades, behind pictures, and inside desk phones. It’s cute and convenient for writers to pretend that bugs are so easy, but in modern times, this is far from the truth.

In the early years of the Cold War, the Soviets successfully bugged the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union’s residential office in the US Embassy in Moscow from 1945 – 1952. They did this by presenting the ambassador with a gift of a carving of the US Great Seal. Once the bug inside the Great Seal was discovered in 1952, the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") invested heavily in developing better bugging and bug-detection technology.

The agency also developed “audio teams,” whose specialty it was to bug targeted spaces. The term audio team predates video surveillance, but it is still used by older (pre-video) spooks, while the term "tech teams" is used by younger ones. Intelligence services around the world all now field such specialty teams.

Bugging technology has improved tremendously since audio teams were first formed, but the tech teams of today still use some of the basic practices and principals developed prior to 1960. While other types of intelligence personnel partake in bugging activities as opportunities allow, when time and opportunity permit, a specialized team can do a better and less-detectable installation of bugs.

How an operative or a team bugs a location depends on several factors.

Time—How soon do they need the information?

If they need critical information quickly, a field spook may not have time for a tech team to show up and do a thorough job. In that case, the spook would do the job, and they all have varying degrees of training and expertise in basic bugging techniques. In other words, your character's time constraints will dictate whether they plant the bug or they call in a team.

Time—How long will they have to plant the bugs?

If a field spook or a team has only a few minutes, then they will use the simplest installations of disguised bugs. If a tech team has as much as twenty minutes to work, they consider it a luxury. With less time, they will be less thorough.

Time—How sophisticated is the target?

In twenty minutes, a six-person tech team can install a top-quality eavesdropping system that will be difficult for even a sophisticated opponent such as a Russian or Communist Chinese embassy to detect. With a less-sophisticated target, such as a drug gang or a Third World military or diplomatic installation, a good team can do a great job in as little as five minutes.

Time—How long must the power source for the bug last?

Answering machine cord bug
Image by Piper Bayard

Bugs are transmitters, and they need a power source. Some bugs are now smaller than a dime, and in the smallest devices, battery power is limited. However, technology allows for bugs to use external power sources, such as the target’s own electrical system.

The bug’s transmission need not be powerful. In fact, if a bug transmits too strong a signal, the target can detect it too easily.

The bug pictured here doubles as an answering machine cord. It is an example of the fact that anything can be rigged as a bug. Anything.

The answering machine this was used on also provided the bug's power source. Not only did this bug pick up phone conversations, but the large black end has tiny holes in it, allowing it to transmit conversations that took place in the room where it was located. It worked well until the Soviets figured it out around 2005.

Location—Where can the operative or audio team monitor the bugs?

Bugs must be monitored, but that is made complex by the fact that a bug transmitting a strong signal is more likely to be detected. That means that to monitor a bug, either the spook or the tech team must be nearby, or there must be relays.

If the spook or team can’t safely monitor the installed bug from a nearby location, such as an apartment or business in an adjoining building, then larger (but still compact) relays can be installed near the bug to receive and re-transmit the bug’s weak signal. One reason this answering machine bug avoided detection for so long was because it only had to transmit as far as the closet on the other side of the wall, where a larger relay transmitted the signal farther.

Field operatives and tech teams can also install monitoring equipment in a vehicle. A car’s trunk can contain equipment that can trigger a relay to quickly transmit information and recordings picked up by the bug in a matter of seconds. All the spook or team has to do is drive the vehicle past the relay.

Alternative Installation Methods

Sometimes, the spook doesn’t need to access the space. Many a bug has been placed by sending a nice gift to a target, such as a heavy desk clock, a lovely antique lamp, or the US Great Seal carving referenced above.

1945 Great Seal Exibit Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

1945 Great Seal Exhibit
Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman
Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum, public domain

The trick in these cases is to have a viable source for the gift. A contractor trying to do business with a foreign embassy might serve as such a source if the contractor is in the employ of the folks doing the bugging. Unfortunately, most of the premier targets, such as a Russian embassy, will not be easily duped into accepting gifts and placing them in secured areas.

In the ideal case, a targeted building can be bugged during construction. These windfalls are infrequent, but they provide the best opportunity for placing the most sophisticated, long-acting bugs.

A more frequent event would be gaining access when repair work is being done. If your character can intercept a delivery of new furniture or appliances, then they have a great opportunity to place high-quality bugs and thoroughly disguise the installations without setting foot on the premises.


The Field Spook’s Bugging Kit

Once your character gains access to a space by way of bribery, trickery, or breaking and entering, their bugging kit need not be any larger than a paperback novel.

A basic bugging kit would include bugs that can be programmed to record and/or transmit on preset schedules. The bugs could also be turned on and off remotely to foil bug sweepers. The kit would contain a small hand drill, a minimal paint set, and epoxies for patching minute holes in walls. The paint is odor-free and fast-drying. For the finishing touch, the kit would contain a “puffer” for adding a layer of ambient dust to a painted area.

The entire kit might be disguised in something such as a travel-size chess set or built into real cosmetic containers.

One Way a Field Spook Plants a Bug in a Wall

The field spook first selects an advantageous location, often just above a baseboard. She begins by drilling a small hole, catching the dust on a little piece of plastic. She then selects a bug from her assortment, pops it in the hole, and seals the hole with epoxy. She empties the wall dust from the hole into a baggie and then uses the plastic as a palette to mix dabs of paint to match the color of the wall. With a small brush, she paints over the epoxy and then collects all of her materials to take with her.

As a finishing touch, she sucks up ambient dust from against the baseboard with the puffer and puffs it onto the freshly-painted wall until it looks like the surrounding area.

Final Thought

In short, your character's bugging efforts will be believable if you consider the full nature of the opportunities they have for surveillance and plan their bug installations accordingly. Where are they? How much time do they have? Who is the target? What equipment do they have? Work logically with the space, time, and tools available, and your characters will bug like the pros.

Do you have any questions about bugging? What kinds of surveillance equipment do your characters use in your books?

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About Bayard & Holmes

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS

What do the main intelligence agencies do and where do they operate? How do they recruit personnel? What are real life honey pots and sleeper agents? What about truth serums and enhanced interrogations? And what are the most common foibles of popular spy fiction?

With the voice of over forty years of experience in the Intelligence Community, Bayard & Holmes answer these questions and share information on espionage history, firearms of spycraft, tradecraft techniques, and the personalities and personal challenges of the men and women behind the myths.

Though crafted with advice and specific tips for writers, SPYCRAFT: Essentials is for anyone who wants to learn more about the inner workings of the Shadow World. CLICK HERE

“For any author, this is the new bible for crafting stories of espionage.”

~ James Rollins, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Demon Crown

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or at their email, BayardandHolmes@protonmail.com.

September 13, 2021

by Eldred “Bob” Bird

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my writing life, it’s that everything has a story. Every object within my sphere came from somewhere. It had a beginning and will eventually have an end. Along the way it may pass through many hands and touch countless lives before being swallowed up by the sands of time.

Part of being a writer is being able to extract that story. Proper research is one way to accomplish the task, but sometimes the object itself will speak to you if you’re willing to listen. I’d like to tell you how one of those objects spoke to me.

A Cycle of Life

Besides writing, one of my other passions is cycling. For the most part I keep the two separate, but sometimes my worlds collide. A few years back the writing and riding came together in an unexpected way.

I have a birthday tradition. On my special day I mount my bicycle and ride one mile for every year of my life. This was a nice challenge at first and served me well for many years. However, as my fitness level increased, the difficulty of the task diminished, making the annual outing feel like any other day in the saddle. One thing became evident—I needed to find a way to put the magic back into the ride.

I decided that magic should come in the form of a new bike . . . well, a new-to-me bike. I began looking for a bicycle made the same year I was born—a kindred spirit of sorts.

After months of searching, my quest ended with an online auction for a 1959 Schwinn Traveler three-speed in less-than-stellar condition.  The bike was scratched, rusty, and needed completely worked over. It was perfect for my purpose.

The next step involved the frame. My original goal was to make it shine like new, but while contemplating touching up the paint something stopped me.

I sat studying all the scratches and chips on its surface, inspecting each one carefully. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to paint over the flaws. Then it dawned on me—they were telling me a story.

I ran my fingers over the cool steel tubes, feeling every imperfection like a blind person reading a page of Braille. The history of this bike was written in the scratches and wear marks peeking through the fading black paint. These were scars left by half a century of use, much like the scars adorning my own body.

I inspected the circular marks rubbed into the top tube. Is this where the cable and lock that protected it from thieves hung? And wear bands on the seat stays, likely from a book rack—perhaps this bike transported someone to a higher education, or maybe propelled a young entrepreneur along his paper route.

This two-wheeled treasure read like an old mystery novel. 

How many miles had it seen? What roads had it traveled? How many lives had it touched?  My imagination ran wild with the narrative spelled out by this road-weary traveler. I had to ask myself a question—how could I just erase that life with a little pigment and a brush?

I couldn’t do it.

After a great deal of contemplation, I opted to go for preservation, rather than restoration.  I carefully finished cleaning the frame without editing the story laid out before me and sealed it up with a coat of wax before reassembling the bike.

Me and My Birth Year Bike

Now, when I climb aboard this rolling piece of history every summer for my birthday trek, I do my best to respect its past and guarantee its future.  The bike gets cleaned, adjusted, and lubricated with great care, but I don’t panic when I put a scratch or two in the paint. I simply look at it as adding my own chapter to the book of this amazing machine’s life.

I plan on spinning a series of tales inspired by the scars on this incredible machine.

Beginning with the first owner, each section will tell the story of how this particular bike came into their possession and how it changed their life before moving on to the next person, finally ending up under my care.

Your Turn

Now that I’ve shared the story of my special object, here’s an exercise to help you do the same. Look around you and pick out an item. It can be something you just acquired, or a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. The more unusual the object, the better.

Got your item? Good.

Now pick it up, feel the weight, run your fingers over the surface, and study every detail. Think about all the other hands that have touched it. Who made it? How did it come into your possession? What will happen to it when you’re gone? Could it be at the center of a mystery? Maybe it’s the “Maltese Falcon” in your next tale of intrigue and adventure.

Let your imagination run wild and jot down everything you can think of. Got it? Now write the story!

What object did you choose? What ideas did it inspire? Tell us about it in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Eldred

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

All photos courtesy of Eldred Bird.


2014-2020

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