The fine line between an homage and copying an idea

Formula for an effective homage

Thanks to Keith Sawyer over at the Creativity and Inspiration blog who chased down this quote from T.S. Eliot:

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”

In other words, Good writers borrow, great writers steal.

This is one of those fine-line, grey area parts of writing I find, especially when you are writing a series that spins off  from another author’s work – in my case the great Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, when I decided it was time in Book 7 for Portia Adams to have a slightly more prominent client, I remembered of course The Adventure of the Illustrious Client from the original canon.

I reread it today because the only part of the story I was planning to emulate was Portia taking on a case with someone ‘illustrious,’ not the premise for the mystery or the solution of the crime — in fact I want to head in an opposite direction from that.

Holmes is hired in the Illustrious Client to convince young Violet not to marry a murderous Baron (who has not been successfully linked to his previous crimes) which he does with the help of the Baron’s former lover.

No problem, I’m planning for Book 7 to be about a client who is blackmailed for political information.

Hopefully, this formula (see image above) I just came up with holds true:

The original idea (an illustrious client)  +  my respect for Conan Doyle’s work + a new take (blackmail) = an effective homage.


Writing a secret note … or how to feel really stupid for a half hour

Edward Larsson's runic cipher
Edward Larsson's runic cipher

I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I were in charge of cracking codes in the second world war, everyone on the Canadian side of the war would be dead.

I have the ‘code’ such as it is, I have the hidden message… why is it so hard to put that together?

This is what the hidden message needs to say:
Please send help. Being black mailed. Don’t know by whom. Don’t tell parents.
And if the ‘code’ is every fifth word, here’s what the message hidden in the rest of the note looks like:
Word word word word PLEASE word word word word SEND word word word word HELP word word word word BEING Word word word word BLACK word word word word MAILED word word word word DON’T word word word word KNOW word word word word BY word word word word WHOM word word word word DON’T word word word word TELL word word word word PARENTS.
A half hour later (30 minutes filled with cuss words in at least two languages):
Dear Elaine:
If it please you, remember to send some wedding photos to help me imagine attending and being with you. Did Rosie Black attend? She had earlier mailed that she intended to; don’t think you told me? Know that I miss you by the way, for whom else would I write?! Don’t stay away long, Elaine, tell Mr.Ridley that my parents request your presence here!
Love, Frannie
Oh, and then I realized that the second ‘secret word’ only had three letters between please and send. Aaargh!

Need a bit’o Biblical aid my friends

King James Bible
Bible image from

Now that Book 6 is transcribed into the magical computer box, I can no longer ignore the square brackets around the part of the book that refer to Reverend Joseph’s sermons.

He has two sermons that Portia witnesses, and they don’t need to be detailed, but should be as accurate as they can be to the Christian Bible. Not being a Christian (I’m a Hindu who is as fond of Jesus as I am of Krishna) I am left with the internet as my source of scripture.. and surprisingly, its not great for finding the passages I am looking to quote.

I’ve been using the Bartleby site here and it’s pretty good, but requires that you are more familiar with the text than <ahem> am.

What I need is a sermon that quotes a biblical passage on prostitution, and so far all I’ve found is Leviticus 19: 29

“Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; Deut. 23.17 lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.”

And Isaiah 57: 3

“But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue?”

Does anyone have a better suggestion?

And the second sermon I seek to quote is about violence, and I found Psalms 58:

“Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.”

Again, anyone have a better suggestion?

Those tricksy ones and zeroes!

Yup, even the cat knows you screwed up
taken from

I KNEW there was a reason I wrote in long-hand and then transcribed – it’s for days exactly like yesterday!
It all started out well-planned, I was in the midst of transcribing Book 6 from the notebook to my laptop on Sunday, and, as sometimes happens, I expanded on a scene that I hadn’t really put enough detail into the first time I wrote it.


Dandy even!

That’s why they call it a first draft!

You’re sensing the calamity that is about to reveal itself — aren’t you friends?

So now we have a new scene that exists no where else in this dimension OTHER than my computer…

On Monday, my son requests a park venture (since its Easter Monday and the guy has the day off, so heck, why not) and I think “Sure, I can transcribe at the park, no problem, kid!” I pack him up, transfer my book onto a USB key and pack up the Macbook Air which is so much easier to haul around.

We get to the park where it is as windy as that scene in Twister with the cow flying through the air (I kid you not) and still I’m cool, I’m composed, I can do this.

Pull out the USB key, attach it to the MacBook Air, scroll to the end to start typing and … hey! Waitaminute! What happened to that scene I wrote!? It’s not there. Scroll up…Scroll down… search for a few keywords I knew to have written. Nothin’ ! Bubkas.

Ok, hyperventilating a bit here now, but I can’t drag the kid home… he just got here, and a little wind ain’t gonna stop this kid from swinging his little heart out or digging all the way to Australia in the sandbox.

Fine, I think to myself, typing a marker that says [insert extra scene when you get home] and then continuing my transcription from my always-reliable-never-let-me-down notebook.

You see where this ends right?

That’s right. I get home, and somehow (though it was in my head the WHOLE TIME I SWEAR) save the new copy from the USB onto the old copy on my computer and now… there is no old copy. The scene is gone. GONE I TELL YOU.

Sorry, I’m not usually this dramatic with a keyboard, but I know all of you understand.

Those of you who don’t are probably saying to yourself:  “What’s the big deal? You wrote the scene once, just write it again!”


Let me explain: no matter how close my writing is the second time, it will NOT be the same as the first time and EVEN WORSE: I will always suspect that the first lost scene was exceedingly better than the replacement scene.



I need a hug.

Defining a character

Man in the shadows
Who was that masked man?

This post was prompted by a blog post I read over on and if you get a chance, you should go read it in full. Essentially, the blogger over at myrthtown defines a process in their latest post on how to really develop a character. Now, their post was specifically around a NEW character, but I thought I’d apply it to a character who has already been introduced, but I feel quite frankly I don’t know well enough. So here goes:

Name: Gregory Charles
Profession: Coroner
What does Gregory Charles want? Money, Respect, Standing in the Community
Why does Gregory Charles want those things?
1. He was an orphan, a grew up with no money and no support.
2. He is very bright, more so than most around him, and wants that to be obvious.
3. He sees people around him who get treated better than him because of the class they are from.
4. He has a new girlfriend (Portia) who is monied, respected and as smart as he.
5. Because he is ambitious and competitive.

Expanding on the following:

1. a As an orphan he had a hard life, one he is seeking to leave behind as quickly as possible.
1. b He does not have any known siblings or relatives, so he is used to being alone
1. c His chosen profession is equally lonely, that of a coroner.

4. a The woman he has chosen to date is also an orphan but had the opposite experience, being loved, sheltered, and now monied.
4. b Despite the gender difference, one could say that Portia is more successful at her profession than Dr. Charles is at his.

A funny thing happened while writing Book 6

Letters spelling truth
Truth be Told (tentative title to Book 6)

… It ended and I started Book 7. That’s never happened before — that I finished one scene in one book, fully intending to write the next scene, and four paragraphs in realized that.. ‘Hey! That back there was a great ending to Book 6!’

AND it happened exactly as I was finishing one moleskin notebook and starting a new one (while cursing that I hadn’t managed to finish Book 6 in the other moleskin). This probably doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, but I believe in signs, and this, my friends, was a sign. That was the end of Book 6. Underline. <fin>

So…. Draft 1 of Book 6 is done! Off to transcribing land I go!

Phossy jaw and Phosphorus

question on quora
Share your answers to my question!

I’m doing some more research, this time on a condition known as Phossy Jaw (description of symptoms below are taken from the Wikipedia article here):

Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is an occupational disease of those who work with white phosphorus, also known as yellow phosphorus, without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century. Modern occupational hygiene practices have eliminated the working conditions which caused this disease.

So if we assume our antagonist has Phossy Jaw (noted by our brilliant detective Portia Adams) and it was caused by handling white phosphorous, then we now need something that expels a great amount of oxygen for it to interact with.

I’ve got a question out there on Quora right now, trying to see if this is feasible.

The best line you’ve got

Coco Chanel Quote
Ms. Chanel got it right.

You know what I’m talking about right? It’s the line in 80,000 words of a story that you are most proud of.

The way it rolls off your tongue, the way it lingers in your brain… Everyone’s got one.

I read somewhere that Stephen King’s favorite line was the beginning of his Dark Tower series:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

Best opening line ever… except maybe “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

What’s your favorite line that you have written?

My favorite up until yesterday was from Book 4: Thrice Burned:

I was once again fighting a losing battle with my umbrella as I came in the door and nearly swung the useless instrument into Miss. Coleson in my frustration.

“Oh dear!” I exclaimed, diverting the would-be weapon at the last second, avoiding injury by mere inches, “Miss Coleson! I didn’t even see you there! So sorry!”

“Portia!” she said back, a wide grin on her face, “Come in girl! That rain is enough to make any Londoner forgivably homicidal!”

Now, I am pleased to say it is this one, from Book 6 (tentatively titled ‘Truth be Told’)

He had walked a few steps before I called out to him, my eyes closed: “Do you ever wish I could turn it off, Mr. Dawes?” I swallowed past the lump in my throat, “do you ever wish you had not met the granddaughter of Watson and Holmes?”

“Yes.” his voice came out of the darkness with no hesitation, “and never once.”

Getting to the point

Holy abusive Batman! But we get your point...
Holy abusive Batman! But we get your point...

I wrote a lot today, and I have next week off work so I am hopeful that I will finish Book 6 by this time next week (cross your fingers kids!) but I am struggling with something I am sure that a lot of writers struggle with – getting to the point.

But maybe I’m struggling with the opposite of what everyone else is struggling with – I know the point – I want to get to to it, but I have to write all this exposition for that point to make sense. Get it? No? Let me explain:

I want Portia to discover the hidden compartments behind the fireplace in her apartment at 221 B Baker street, but now that I know I want that to happen, I had to write out the scene where she discovers it. So four pages later, she has been working in her attic for an hour, trying to find a good disguise for her the case she is on, and she notices the wall is an odd shape up here… different than the same wall down on the floor of her apartment. She of course gets down there as quick as she can, and after a bit of physical exploration discovers the hidden compartments (described below in my post on the diorama).

Those four pages were hard to write, and I had to keep reminding myself NOT to rush to her discovery, but to play it out, to lead the reader there while giving everyone (Portia, me, the reader) something to look forward to.

The number one complaint from people who have read books 1-3 so far is that there is not enough detail in the writing, that the ideas are great, the cases fun and interesting, but that there were a lot of opportunities to insert depth and exposition into the scenes I was writing about. I’m going to have to go back to those books and ADD more detail, but while writing Book 6, I am trying to anticipate (almost wrote pre-anticipate there but that’s not a word) the complaint that it lacks detail.

Do you have trouble writing detail, or do you have the opposite problem: taking too long to get to the point?