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.