Monday, December 31, 2018

Plotting "The Flame of the Sea"

Epic-length historic adventures, especially about an age steeped in its own culture and mythology, such as that of the medieval Vikings, is a challenging, but rewarding, undertaking for a writer.

Part of the challenge is that which is common to all writers, regardless of genre: crafting an intriguing, suspenseful story with interesting and believable characters who live in a setting that seems both natural and authentic.

Beyond these challenges, however, writers of period pieces also face the daunting demand of getting the details right about beliefs, customs, folkways, traditions, and, of course, historical facts. A ton of research is required, and much skill is needed to weave this information into one's tale unobtrusively and naturally. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed writing The Flame of the Sea.

I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale, in which the Soviet scholar analyzes and illustrates the structure common to Russian folktales, a structure that is also appropriate to the sort of epic quest that my hero, Eric Bloodaxe, undertakes in The Flame of the Sea, to avenge his late father's honor (and to recover the treasure his father had found).

According to Propp, 31 dramatic situations, or "functions," occur following a story's setup, or "initial situation." Although a particular tale may omit one or more of these functions, those that are presented will occur in the sequence Propp identifies.

For example, following the initial situation, an absentation usually occurs, in which the hero or a  member of his or her family leaves home. In The Flame of the Sea, this situation occurs when Eric's father dies.

Following the absentation, an interdiction occurs, as the hero is forbidden or warned against taking some action. In my novel, both of Eric's parents extract the promise from him to forego the quest he plans to regain his father's honor.

This situation leads to the next function, the violation of the interdiction, as the hero disregards the interdiction and acts as planned. Eric undertakes his quest.

During the reconnaissance, the villain seeks the intelligence he or she needs to accomplish his or her own plan. In The Flame of the Sea, a merchant supplies Eric with the provisions he needs, free of charge, as he and his son seek to discern Eric's destination and the purpose of his quest.

The Flame of the Sea includes most of the functions identified and explained by Propp, which gives the saga unity, coherence, and a tight, well-defined structure--something sorely needed in a lengthy adventure employing a somewhat episodic plot.

Thank you, Mr. Propp, for your insightful study, Morphology of the Folktale.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Death in the Old Dominion

A mystery set in the early years of American history, Death in the Old Dominion: A Williamsburg Mystery is available on Amazon, as either a paperback or an e-book

Paperback Edition


Colonial Williamsburg, one of America's earliest planned communities, is a model of organization and efficiency, in which right conduct is not only prized and encouraged, but also enforced, when necessary, at the end of a noose. Theft, robbery, and fraud are punishable by the same means as homicide or rape: public hanging.

When murder does occur in Williamsburg, the townspeople are as outraged as they are terrified.

One of them, attorney Matthew Brewster, feels compelled to investigate his best friend Patrick Turner's death; when he does, he discovers it was no accident.

Matthew's quest for the truth uncovers political intrigue in colonial Williamsburg. The more he learns, the stranger things become. Voodoo, adultery, slavery--could any of these have led to Patrick's murder?

 E-book Edition


My parents, Paul Arthur ("Buss") Pullman, Jr., and Wilma Mardell ("Winki") Messenger Pullman, and us five kids, my older sisters Paulette and Kathy, my younger brothers Craig and Keith, and I, lived in Idylwood, a small community outside Falls Church, a small town near Washington, D. C.

My mom was from Pittsburg, Kansas, but my dad was born in the nation's capital and grew up there and in nearby Great Falls, Virginia, so he was quite familiar with the attractions, natural, cultural and historical, that both the District of Columbia and the Old Dominion offer.

Graciously, they took the time to show us these amazing sites. We toured Mount Vernon, Monticello, and other famous estates.

We visited the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, marveled at the work of the great masters in the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and studied the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, up close and personal, at the National Archives.

The airplane that first flew at Kitty Hawk also "flew," on wires, at the National Air and Space Museum. The Botanical Gardens was a paradise of perfumed scents and brilliant colors.

The National History Museum held wonders ancient, medieval, and modern, including the bones of dinosaurs, the Hope Diamond, and countless other treasures. The Army-Navy Medical Museum also held unforgettable sights: fetuses in formaldehyde, human skulls and skeletons, and an elephantiasis leg.

We also took longer trips, motoring along Skyline Drive during the fall, when the Blue Ridge Mountains' foliage is afire with reds, oranges, yellows, and gold, and explored the subterranean world of the Luray Caverns.

We stood on Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields and watched the waves roll in, again and again, relentlessly, upon the sands of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Beach.

We also visited Jamestown and, of course, Williamsburg. I cannot do justice to Williamsburg in this brief post, but suffice it to say that it, too, is unforgettable. Among its houses, shops, and streets, history comes, almost literally, alive. In strolling its brick and stone walkways through beautiful gardens as precisely laid out and planted as geometric figures, in watching men and women dressed in period costumes perform the daily tasks that their laboring counterparts did over 200 years ago, one steps back in time.

In Death in the Old Dominion, the past also comes to life, readers assure me; in reading of the period, Williamsburg is vital again, despite the death of one of its favorite and most respected, upstanding citizens.

Aided by his lovely wife Francis, Matthew Brewster, attorney at law, is determined to solve the crime--and the outrage--against his friend and client, come what may.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Reunion Rendezvous

The romance is definitely there, but so is the action and the adventure. Reunion Rendezvous is available as both a paperback and as an e-book at Amazon.


When Ashley and Jessica find a trapdoor in a storage unit while gathering decorations for their 10th annual high school reunion, their curiosity costs Jessica her life, and Ashley has seen too much to be allowed to live. Only her high school sweetheart Matt, now a government agent, stands between her and certain death, but can he save her from an army of ruthless killers?


Ever since reading Ian Fleming's 1962 thriller, The Spy Who Loved Me, I've wanted to try my hand at the same genre. My story differs from Fleming's, of course, but it also shares a few of the same elements:
  • A courageous and determined damsel in distress
  • Ruthless adversaries
  •  A government agent who's not above bending the rules
  • Exotic locales
  • Desperate, life-and-death struggles on virtually every page
  • Passionate romance
 I can only hope you'll enjoy Reunion Rendezvous as much as I loved the novel that inspired it. If so, I'll consider it a tremendous success.

Saturday, November 24, 2018


Like most other writers, I write what I like, which includes science fiction. My novel, Townies, is available as an e-book on Amazon.


Summoned by an unspoken, but irresistible, command, strangers come, from all over the United States, to Dry Gulch, a small northern Nevada town where life's become unaccountably strange of late.

Servers deliver raw food to diners' tables. The town's cemetery is enormous, the dates on the headstones remarkable. A boardinghouse landlady, like the local police, takes an odd interest in her tenants' comings and goings. A homeless man roaming the streets warns of weird lights and the approach of something dangerous and uncanny.

Then, the army comes to town, as do outlaw bikers and a circus troupe of extraordinary performers.

What force or power could underlie such an astonishing mix of humanity? The townies—and the rest of the world—are about to find out!
Townies is a scary, suspenseful thrill ride that will leave readers gasping as they wonder how they managed to survive.

Several sources of inspiration account for this novel: my interest in surrealism, especially the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Rene Magritte; superhero comic books; 1950s sci fi; The Twilight Zone television series; Stephen King's treatment of small towns as hotbeds of mystery and evil; and Dean Koontz's novels, Phantoms and The Taking

There are probably one or two (or a dozen) other sources of inspiration, but, if so, they're under the radar of my own awareness.

An Allusive Subtitle

My two collections (Volumes I and II) of Sinister Stories share the same subtitle: Tales of the Fantastic, Marvelous, and Uncanny. The subtitle was chosen with deliberation, as an allusion to the theory set forth by philosopher and literary critic Tzvetan Todorov in “The Uncanny and the Marvelous,” which appeared in the 1981 book, Literature of the Occult: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Peter B. Messent.

According to Todorov, fantasy, which includes horror fiction, is divisible into three types: the fantastic, the marvelous, and the uncanny. Fantasy literature remains fantastic if the situations and events it presents cannot be explained by reason or science. If the events are explicable by such means, the story is uncanny; if not, it is marvelous. Only stories which cannot be resolved as one of the other remain fantastic.

“The Red Room” by H. G. Wells is uncanny: a supposedly haunted room in a castle is explained as be “haunted” by nothing more than the fear-inspired imaginations of the men who dared to stay overnight in the chamber.

Stephen King's short story, “1408,” which is set in a supposedly haunted hotel room, is marvelous: the ghosts who haunt the place are truly supernatural in origin; neither reason nor science can explain them. 

A remarkable example of a story that remains fantastic throughout is Henry James’s tale “The Turn of the Screw,” which does not permit us to determine finally whether ghosts haunt the old estate, or whether we are confronted by hallucinations or a hysterical governess victimized by the disturbing atmosphere which surrounds her.

With these definitions in mind, I leave it to my readers to determine which of the stories in my collections, Sinister Stories, Volumes I and II, remain fantastic, which should be considered uncanny, and which should be regarded as marvelous, but there specimens of each.

For further information on Todorov's engrossing theory, check out my Chillers and Thrillers blog post, “Guest Speaker” Tzvetan Todorov.”

Friday, November 23, 2018

Sinister Stories: Tales of the Fantastic, Marvelous, and Uncanny, Volumes I and II

Volume I and Volume II of Sinister Stories: Tales of the Fantastic, Marvelous, and Uncanny, are available on Amazon.


A complete makeover may involve more than just cosmetics. What happens when an adulterous homeowner awakens to his worst nightmare? A lonely child is a dangerous child. A pound or two of flesh isn't enough to satisfy everyone's appetite. 

After committing murder, killers face a problem: what do do with the body? People should have respect for the dead; in fact, the dearly departed may well insist upon it.

The 21 stories in this anthology explore the strange, sometimes terrifying, worlds of the fantastic, the marvelous, and the uncanny. Not recommended for readers under age 18.


The writers who've inspired the stories in this anthology, each in his or her own way, share my own love of the surreal, the bizarre, the grotesque, and the aberrant that's reflected in the great short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft, and Shirley Jackson.

My own tales of terror owe something of their mood, style, theme, or plot twists to such stories as Charlotte Perkin Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Sir Winston Churchill's "Man Overboard"; Charles Dickens's "The Signal-man"; H. G. Wells's "The Cone" and "The Red Room"; Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Guest," "The Judge's House," and "Burial of the Rats"; Ray Bradbury's "Heavy-Set," "The Veldt," and "The Foghorn"; and Flannery O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" and "Good Country People."

I could cite other authors—a lot of them—as having been (and of continuing to be) inspirational to me. All of them have added a pinch of this or a dash of that to the genres of horror and fantasy, but I leave that to my other blog, Chillers and Thrillers: A Blog on the Theory and Practice of Writing Horror Fiction. Check it out, if you care to do so, but, by all means, buy a copy of Sinister Stories, Volumes I and II, lock your windows and doors, turn up the lights, and enjoy!

Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

bit Lit: Fiction Anesthetized, Euthanized, and Sterilized

Don't miss out! bit Lit: Fiction Anesthetized, Euthanized, and Sterilized awaits you on Amazon!


Short stories and novels are eminently enjoyable. Those by great writers often have a depth that defies casual reading. Regardless of your experience as a reader, these analyses of the famous stories in this collection will deepen your appreciation of the fine art they exhibit, while enhancing your understanding of them and increasing the pleasure they provide you.


Literary criticism isn't for everyone. In fact, some people—all right, a lot of people—think of it as being right up—or right down—there with math, English composition, and grammar courses. I'm not one of them.

I find that, after reading a short story, a novel, a poem, a play, or any other form of literature, it helps to read a few critical analyses and discussions of it.

Most literary critics are not only highly intelligent and well-educated, but they also tend to be men and women of wide experience. They've read a lot, thought a lot, and discussed a lot of the same types of fiction I like, and, just as a medical doctor is likely to know much more about medicine than his or her patient or a hypochondriac who surfs the Internet on a regular basis, literary critics are apt to understand more about fiction than the average reader.

A good literary critic doesn't just identify what's wrong with a piece of literature; he or she also shows what's right about it and helps others to recognize and comprehend both the faults and the treasures of the written word as it takes the form of a story. From literary critics, as well as novelists and short story writers, one can learn the art and craft of writing fiction.

We overlook much. When reading alone, we often miss the depth of meaning and the breadth of insights a narrative offers. We may be amused, perplexed, struck with wonder, frightened half out of our minds, or even aroused by what we read, but, without the aid of the literary critic, we may also fail to see the implications, the import, and the sheer brilliance of the fiction we read, as if literature were merely entertainment and nothing more. 

In bit Lit: Fiction Anesthetized, Euthanized, and Sterilized, I want to do my part to help readers gain a better understanding of such masterpieces as H. G. Wells' "The Cone," Ambrose Bierce's "The Boarded Window" and "The Damned Thing," Ray Bradbury's "Heavy-Set," Shirley Jackson's "An Ordinary Day, with Peanuts," and many other stories. That's my inspiration.

Click below to read samples of my novels, short stories, and essays.