Dryer University

Remote Learning at the Dryer University of Literary Creativity

By Stan Dryer, President, Dryer University

As I sit here in my office looking across the campus of The Dryer University of Literary Creativity, it is difficult for me to realize that where my students today walk the crisscross paths between our lecture halls, farmers were spreading manure just four short years ago. But as fast as DULC has grown, it has not kept pace with the demands of our youth and their endless quest for literary excellence. We are forced, time and again, to reject, for lack of space, students with obvious vast potential.

The students we turn away rarely go quietly. My computer is filled with e-mails from these outcasts, messages replete with righteous anger. “You have told us of your System,” they cry. “You have convinced us of the power of your Method. Now, when we ask to drink from the fountain of your Truth, we are shown a NO VACANCY sign. Give us, we demand, something of your Teachings to guide us as we pursue our quests in solitude.”

I felt I could not ignore such heartfelt pleas. Three months ago, I called a meeting of the Deans of all of my Colleges and put the challenge to them. Come up with a way we can help these deserving students. One and all, my Deans stepped up to the challenge. College by college, we are putting together remote learning programs that will provide distant students instruction of the same quality as they receive here in the halls of DULC.

Of course our remote learning program will follow the basic methodology of all our in-person classes. Right from the start, each student will be required to write publishable material, following simple but rigid guidelines appropriate to the literary genre in question.

To illustrate the power of this methodology, I am including here the syllabuses for several of our Colleges, which describe their instructional methodologies and are well illustrated with selections from student’s actual works. Click on your College of interest.

College of Nautical Literary Creativity

College of Military Literary Creativity

College of Crime and Adventure Literary Creativity

The College of Nautical Literary Creativity

The curriculum laid out for students in the CNLC is a simple one, but one that follows the basic premise that we follow in all of our Colleges. Students are required to write meaningful, publishable work starting on day one.

To be specific, in order to fully matriculate, students must write two novels spanning the nautical world from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. These novels are as follows: First, a sailing ship war novel, set during the British wars in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Second, a sea rescue novel set in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

Let us discuss both of these approaches with illustrations from some of our students’ works.

The sailing ship war novel

The basic plot for this novel is straightforward. It is the story of a British naval officer in command of a man of war. It is assumed that this novel is one of a series of novels in which we have seen that officer move up through the ranks to his present position. As an example, consider the opening paragraph of Semi-Commandant Horseratio Hornbluffer, a novel recently completed by one of my students.

Semi-Commandant Horseratio Hornbluffer paced the three-quarters deck of the HMS Indefatigable turning over the problem at hand in his tone-deaf mind. Hornbluffer was young for a semi-commandant, having come up to through the ranks in just seven short volumes, but his mind was keen. Six and a half furlongs ahead, and well out of eight-and-a-half-pounder range, lay the Spanish frigate Diletta her top mizzen fore-sails fully set and her peaked topsails unset. Hornbluffer glanced proudly at his own rigging with all bottom gallants fully set, the fore spanner stretched taunt in the late afternoon breeze and that other sail with a name he never could remember flapping overhead.

What a masterful first paragraph! In a few short sentences the reader is introduced to Hornbluffer, and the scene is set for the action to follow. Of more import, this paragraph lets the reader know the author appears to understand far more about late eighteenth century British warship rigging than any poor schlep landlubber can even begin to comprehend.

Many of our students, confronted with writing about British sailing ships, complain that properly understanding of the nuances of rope and sail will require years of study. No understanding of such detail is necessary. If a description of nautical minutia is fabricated but sounds authentic, that is sufficient. Ninety-nine percent of your readers will go along with an author and not try to compare what is written with any true description of the rigging of a sailing ship.

The next obligatory paragraph is the rather complex description of the details of eighteenth century British naval command structure. Again, it is only important that the writer sounds like they understand the subject at hand.

High above on the aft-mast rippled the green half pendant that signified that a semi-commandant was aboard and in command of a Royal Navy vessel of at least three and a half masts and carrying a weight of at least twelve eight-pounders or sixteen six pounders. If the Indefatigable had three or less masts, then Hornbluffer could not be addressed as Semi-Commandant but only as a Quasi-Commandant and he would have had to fly a full purple pendant on the mid-mast. But Hornbluffer would still be listed as Semi-Commandant on the Naval List and would lose no seniority unless his previous promotion had happened on Guy Falk’s Day.

With Hornbluffer’s place in the command structure clarified, we now can move on to the obligatory chase scene including an introduction to some of her crew.

Hornbluffer wet his finger and held it up to gauge the wind. “The wind is blowing a half gale from the northwest quarter.” thought Hornbluffer, “and a half gale from the southwest quarter.” His mind raced over the calculations. “That makes a full gale! With a wind like that, the Spaniard will be half-hull down by seven bells. I have to get more speed out of the old Indefatigable.”

Hornbluffer had been aboard the Indefatigable for the last three volumes and knew her intimately from her foretop peak to her keel-bottom. He knew every detail about her from the number of bottles of port in the wine locker to the names of the rats in the cable locker. But most of all, he knew what he could ask of her in speed. The last tossing of the log had given her speed as four knots. He knew he could ask more speed out of her.

“Belay the top yardarm,” Hornbluffer said to First Lieutenant Brabdish who was standing close to leeward. With the top yardarm belayed, the breeze would catch the foretopsail full in the scuppers.

Brabdish had come up through the same seven volumes as Hornbluffer, losing his left arm and his right leg when he had been standing in front of Hornbluffer during previous actions. Hornbluffer kept him around because he could shout orders better than any other officer aboard. Brabdish was ever loyal to Hornbluffer, even knowing that one day of laryngitis would put him ashore at half pay for the rest of his life. But this was wartime and you accepted such risks as part of your duty to the Queen and that pawnbroker in Portsmouth where he had pawned his sword.

“Belay the top yardarms,” Brabdish shouted to the Crew-Master who turned to the on-deck watch and repeated the command. “Up you go, Lads. Last one up to the top-yard is a whore’s lapdog.”

The top-men swarmed up the ratlines and onto the mouse-lines. In a taunt ship like Hornbluffer’s, everyone knew what being the whore’s lapdog meant. You had to sleep for a week in the slacker’s hammock in the head.

With the top yardarms belayed, the Indefatigable seemed to gain more life. Her prow took on each new wave with a healthy slosh. “Toss the log again,” Hornbluffer said to Brabdish who relayed the order to the Toss-Master.

Out went the heavy log into the water and the Toss-Master gave count. “Four and a half,” he shouted.

Hornbluffer smiled to himself with satisfaction but kept a frown of dissatisfaction on his face. He knew the first rule of command: never let anyone know you’re satisfied or even slightly pleased.

He settled in for a long chase; the only thing bothering him was the smoke from the boson’s pipe that was blowing in his face. “Change the course two points to the northeasterly,” he called to the man at the wheel.

The Indefatigable swung slightly more into the wind and the smoke from the boson’s pipe now blew well away from Hornbluffer.

The Captain of the Diletta must have noted Hornbluffer’s shift of course, as he too turned the Diletta into a more northeasterly course. He was not going to let the Indefatigable gain so much as a half furlong of climate gauge.

Notice how my student has cleverly introduced the First Lieutenant and begun his character arc without slowing the tempo of the prose.

There is not room here to describe the entire chase as Hornbluffer and the Captain of the Diletta use subtle changes in rigging and course to try to outwit each other. Unfortunately, as dusk approaches it looks as if the Spaniard will be able to slip away in the night.

As dusk came down like a grey bedsheet over the ocean, Hornbluffer turned to his First Lieutenant. “Looks like we’re going to lose her,” he said. “She’ll slip away to any compass direction she chooses in the night.”

“Aye, Sir. She would have made a rich prize, what with carrying that gold Valuables Aboard flag at top mast.”

Then, suddenly, the Diletta seemed to stop in her tracks. Her main foretop tore loose from its stanchions and tumbled to the deck bringing with it the spring boomer, the topgallant slip-sail, the upper staysail and an albatross that had been sitting on the mainmast.

“What is going on?” Hornbluffer asked his Lieutenant.

“The Sands of Frambosia,” said Brabdish with frank admiration. “The change of course that you made and the Diletta followed took her directly onto the sands. I’d wondered at the time why you made that change of course but see now what was your thinking.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Hornbluffer, smiling to himself. “Didn’t want to get the crew’s hopes up, but it all turned out as I planned.” He would have to take a good look at the chart to make sure he had the story right for the telling.

Would that we had the space here to continue with this thrilling story of the sea, but we need to move on. You can, of course, purchase the novel when it is published.

The lost at sea novel

For this novel, we specify a simple theme, giving our students more creative freedom. The plot is straightforward. The protagonist is a rich and rotten-spoiled person, who falls overboard from a steamship. They float for despairing hours until near drowning, but are at the last moment rescued by a passing sailing vessel on a voyage half across the world. The captain of the vessel refuses to return the protagonist to his or her home port but signs them on as crew. Our protagonist learns the rough way of the sea and in the process also learns humility and respect for his fellow sailors.

My students are free to write whatever they wish within those constraints but must include three important scenes and get them dead right. We call them, First Day Aboard, Learning the Hard Way and Home at Last. By way of illustration, here are sections from those three scenes taken from a novel, Really Tough Lessons of the Sea, written by one of my students.

First Day Aboard:

“Up and at em, me Lad.” The voice was coarse but kindly. Lesley opened his eyes to view the rough face of a sailor bending over him. For a moment he could not recall where he was. Then he remembered slipping on the steamship rail, the long fall into the sea, his hopeless screams for help to the fast disappearing ship, the hours of struggle in the water and finally the rough hands dragging him half drowned into a boat with a distant voice shouting “Make it quick me lads, a minute hove-to is a minute lost.”

“Make it quick, me lad,” said the sailor. “Captain wants to see what kind of fish we caught this time.” When Lesley staggered out of the bunk, the sailor pushed him forward and out the hatchway onto the main foredeck. “Word o’ warning, me Lad; be nice to Captain and he go easy on you. Calm seas, easy sailin’.”

The Captain and the First Mate were waiting in the cabin. Years at sea had aged and hardened their faces but their honest hearts shone in their eyes. They did not smile when Lesley was led before them. They did not speak, but examined him from every angle.

“I’d like to know when I’ll be put ashore,” said Lesley. He tried to use the same voice his father did when speaking to men of an obvious lower class.

“Well, whack me with a marlin spike,” cried the Mate. “He wants to go ashore.” He broke into a raucous laugh.

The Captain did not laugh but smiled slightly. “How’s about Melbourne, a hundred eighty days hence?” he said. Then both he and the Mate laughed.

“You don’t understand,” said Lesley, “my father owns Amalgamated Shipping. He’ll pay you well for taking me back to Boston.”

“Well, well,” said the Captain, “just seems Boston naught be one of our ports of call as I recall. Now Lad, your old man may own all the ships in the ocean, but he don’t own the sea itself.” Then he turned to the Mate. “See what fits this lad from the slop chest and sign him aboard, Fifth Rate Cabin Boy.”

Learning the hard way:

“It’s hard walking with the floor moving around like this,” said Lesley.

Whack! The rope’s end came down hard on his head. “It’s called a deck,” snarled the Second Mate. “Remember that, Lad. It could mean life and death before you be safe ashore.”

“It’s hard,” said Lesley, fighting back the tears. “It’s hard remembering what all the ropes are for.”

Whack! Down came the rope again. “They be called lines. Don’t ye be forgetting that. Come stormy seas, that better be hard stuck in your head.” Little did he know how true that simple statement would be when they rounded the Cape.

Anxious to learn all he could, Lesley fired up his courage and said, “And what is that line for?”

“Whack came the rope. “That be a hawser. Don’t be forgetting that.”

Home at Last

James the Butler opened the door of the Amalgam mansion and frowned at what he took to be three rough seamen. “You men should be using the servant’s entrance,” he said.

“It’s me, James,” cried Lesley. “Me and the Captain and Mate of the Jolly Eunuch.”

The old butler took a longer look at Lesley and his face brightened. “It’s the Young Master!” he cried. “All grown up and home from the sea.” He turned and called back into the hallway. “Marion, go fetch the Master and Mistress. Tell them their grieving is over. The Young Master is back, live and well!”

When the tearful embraces were over, Lesley’s father turned to the two seamen. “What can I pay you for bringing my son back to me?”

Before the men could reply, Lesley broke in. “No father, they want no money, just a firm shake of the hand and a man-to-man thank you. With them, that is worth more than all the gold in your vault.”

“And so it shall be.” Lesley’s father extended his hand with warm thanks to them both.

“Many thanks for ye thanks,” said the Captain, “but it is we that should be thankin’ you for siring such a man of a son. It be ye son that saved the Jolly Eunuch when we be roundin’ the Cape.”

“Is that true, Lesley?”

“Well, yes, Father. But it was nothing. I just belayed the bottom gallant hawser when it fetched loose.”

“Quick as a cormorant’s dive he be,” cried the Mate. “Another moment and we be slop side abeam.”

As you can see, within the story framework we provide the student, a vast depth of true human emotion can be portrayed. Make a note to read Tough Lessons of the Sea when it is published.

The College of Military Literacy

As with the students in all of the Colleges of the Dryer University of Literary Creativity, we expect our students in the College of Military Literacy to produce publishable copy from the very inception of their training. They accomplish this by following a few simple cardinal rules.

At Military Literacy the order followed by my students is the most logical of all, that of the actual armed services. My students commence their efforts with an Army Novel, followed by two of the Navy and then an Air Force manuscript. With these four books completed, my student is ready to take his place among the rank of our contemporary American war novelists.

The Army Novel

In the Army Novel we introduce our students to the two basic facets of all War Novel writing, namely combat writing and furlough writing. For Army combat writing there is one main talent that we demand our students cultivate. This is the art of mud description. A student with a good grasp of mud has licked the major stumbling block to vivid war scenes.

As an example of such writing, consider the following passage from the Army novel of one of my students, The Muds of Home, a powerful story of war in the jungle.

With the autumn came the monsoons, and with the monsoons came the clouds, and with the clouds came the rain, and with the rain came the mud.

Frabish lay in his hammock on a hummock and listened to the mud hungrily soaking up the rain. It was a thick alien mud that lay on the ground in hostility to all that moved, sucking down everything into itself and thirsting for more.

Frabish shut his eyes and thought of the other muds he had known back in the States. There had been the Mississippi River mud. That was a mud you could trust, clinging softly to your boots with a pleasant squish as you walked. Then there had been the muds of the mountains, the glorious mud of land torn from the hilltops by the clean spring rains and piled in long straight furrows in the rocky riverbeds.

Then there had been the mud in the reservoir in the year of the great drought. And there had been the girl, the girl with whom he had walked hand in hand down through the drying mud, down with the jugs to fill them at that tiny patch of water at the bottom of the reservoir. He could still remember the crunch of the dried mud under their feet and the feel of her soft hand in his and perhaps the few words they had spoken, the few words he had forgotten but only remembered as being somehow important. It was thoughts like these that kept him going, kept him alive, kept him sane, kept him able to accept the mud for what it was.

For here the mud was different. It was bottomless and would engulf them all before the rains ended. He watched as a tree thick with jungle vines gave up the struggle, pitched over and was swallowed up. He was filled with a great aching homesickness for the muds of home.

But as vividly as a student may write about mud and combat, his novel will not achieve full artistic perfection unless he is able to write convincing furlough scenes.

Take as an illustration the following excerpt from the first Army novel of another of my students, From Here to Interminable. The scene is a social club in Honolulu. Notice the skill with which my student conveys great meaning with the utmost simplicity of style.

Then suddenly it happened. Prig took a long private look at Lurid lying, not touching, beside him under the blanket and knew that there was probably a definite possibility that he just might be in love with this girl.

“Is it with you?” said Prig.

“Is what with me?” said Lurid.

“Is it with you the way it is with me?”

“How is it with you?”

“Never mind,” said Prig. “If it was with you the way it is with me, you wouldn’t have to ask how it was with me.”

“I don’t understand,” said Lurid.

“Neither do I,” said Prig. “Sometimes I don’t think I understand a thing.”

“Me too,” said Lurid. “Sometimes I understand nothing at all.”

Prig was filled with a great wave of hope. Here was something in which they both believed. Neither of them understood. In fact sometimes neither of them understood a thing.

The Navy Novel

In the first of my navy novels, we have our students address the meaning of command. This novel is always set in the Pacific during World War II. The protagonist is second in command of a Navy transport that is caught in a typhoon. In the midst of the storm he must decide whether to countermand a dangerous order by his Captain in order to save the ship and then live with the stigma of insubordination. A short excerpt from Command, Counter Command, a student novel awaiting bids from publishers, will best illustrate how one of our students handled this situation. Here is the beginning of the novel where we meet Sub-Lieutenant Billings and Captain Frabner.

The cab dropped acting Sub-Lieutenant Randolph Billings at a long grey metal wall with Oakland Dock 13 stenciled on it. There was a single door in the wall which he pushed open. He found himself at the top of a ramp leading down to the dock. There before him was the Queen of Perth Amboy, his first assignment as a naval officer.

Queen she may have been in name, but she was no beauty. From her rust encrusted prow to her bent and battered stern she radiated an air of dereliction. From the papers he had been given, Billings knew she was old and hurriedly built, being one of the mass produced merchant ships constructed during the First World War. She had somehow missed being scrapped in the last twenty years and now was resuscitated for duty in World War II.

Billings had graduated high in his class in Sub-Lieutenant School. While he had barely passed Navigation Certification, he had been top of his class in both Naval Nomenclature and Traditions of the Sea. He had hoped his high rating would get him a coveted spot in the new Pentagon, but had been quickly disabused of that dream.

The Assignment Officer was a large florid man squeezed into a uniform obviously one size too small. He had looked at Billings with a pitying smile. “Sorry, Billings, no slot for you in Washington,” he said. “We’re assigning you to be a translator.”


“You’ll be second in command of the Queen of Perth Amboy, a freighter that’s been commissioned into the Navy to carry sporting goods to the troops in the Pacific. Her Skipper, is, how shall I say it, a bit inexperienced in naval matters.”

“How inexperienced?”

“Let’s say when the unemployable brother of a U. S. Senator wanted a Navy command, the powers that be decided making him Captain of the Queen was the place where he could do the least damage.”

“And I’m the baby sitter?”

“We’ve got a top rated First Mate and crew who can run the ship, the whole job from navigation to running the engines. Your job is to keep Captain Frabner out of their hair while translating his orders from English to words the crew can understand.”

Standing at the top of the ramp, Billings glanced over at the bow of the ship, expecting to see the U. S. flag. Instead, he found a flag that sported a ram rampant in a field of nanny goats.

That must be the flag of Kaputistan, he thought. In the papers he had been given, it was noted that the Queen of Perth Amboy was registered in Kaputistan, a country deep in the heart of Eastern Europe. Landlocked, it had no harbors and thus no harbor entry fees, a most helpful fact when the ship entered a harbor of a country with reciprocal harbor fee arrangements.

Billings walked down the ramp and onto the dock. As he approached the Queen’s prow, he noticed movement at the hawse pipe. A stream of small rats each carrying a young rat on its back appeared. They scurried down the cable holding the ship to the dock and disappeared into a hole it its surface. The stream stopped for a moment, and then was followed by a couple of dozen larger, obviously tougher rats.

Billings stopped in his tracks, transfixed. He was witnessing one of the oldest and most cherished traditions of the sea. Women and children first.

Billings climbed the long gangway up to the deck of the Queen. A sailor dressed in Levis and a T-shirt met him at the top of the gangway. He held out his hand as Billings approached. “Quint Harding, First Mate,” he said. “Now you’re aboard, we’re ready to sail.”

“Is everything shipshape and Bristol fashion?” said Billings. It was one of his favorite among the many expressions he had learned in Naval Nomenclature class.

Quint gave him a puzzled look and shook his head. “Let’s just leave it we’re as ready to sail as we’ll ever be. Your gear is in your cabin. Scottie got his final shipment of baling wire yesterday. He’d used up the last lot on that steam chest with the rusted out bolts.”


“His real name is actually Stansiloff. He’s a Lithuanian but a damned fine engineer. He better be, what with our relic of an engine. Frabner thinks all engineers must be Scots, so we all call him Scottie. We’ve been working on Stan’s accent and I think it’s now good enough to fool the Captain.”

“Speaking of which,” said Billings, “I better report to Captain Frabner.”

“Couple of things you should know about the Captain,” said Quint.


“First of all, be careful of that mongoose. He bites. There are leather gloves in the locker next to his box. Second, if Frabner wants you to find a piece to fill in a missing space in his jigsaw puzzle, don’t pick up the piece and put it in place, just point to it and hint it might be the right one. Let him find the piece and put it in himself.”

Billings looked at Quint, unbelieving. “Jigsaw puzzle?” he said. “Mongoose?”

“Welcome to our Queen of Perth Amboy. Captain Frabner is deadly afraid of snakes, thus the pet mongoose. The jigsaw puzzle was the Carpenter Mate Chips’s idea. Frabner was poking around the ship asking stupid questions, so we all pitched in and gave him the puzzle. One thousand pieces. That should keep him busy from here to Japan and back. He hasn’t left his cabin much since.”

Billiings found the Captain’s cabin up near the wheelhouse. He tapped on the door.

“Door’s open, idiot. Come on in,” said a voice from inside.

Billings entered the cabin. It was small with most of the space occupied with a large table half covered with an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. On the end of a large metal desk sat a small animal with a pointed nose, definitely the mongoose. It bared its teeth at Billings and made a hissing sound. Neither gesture appeared to be welcoming.

Behind the desk sat Captain Frabner. He was a short man but in full dress uniform. Billings noted that the front of the uniform was decorated with a half dozen service ribbons. As Frabner had been in the Navy for probably less than a month, that many ribbons was a bit puzzling to Billings. He tried to recall from his Naval Nomenclature class what any of the ribbons were for. The only one he was sure about was the green and yellow one which he knew was for service in the Spanish American War.

Billings stepped up in front of the desk and snapped off a crisp salute. “Sub-Lieutenant Randolph Billings reporting for duty, Sir.”

“Take it easy, sailor-boy,” said Frabner. “You got here just in time.”

“In time for what, Sir?”

“The puzzle. There’s a piece I can’t find.” He rose and moved over to the jigsaw puzzle table. “Right there.” He pointed at an empty slot awaiting a piece.

Billings looked. The piece next to the empty slot held half the picture of a white kitten’s head. The missing piece, Billings figured, must be white and contain the other eye of the kitten. It took him about four seconds to find the piece among the ones scattered on the table. He started to point to the piece and then stopped. Instead, he pointed to a piece lying on the table next to the desired one. “Could it be that one, Sir?” he said.

Frabner looked down, immediately saw the correct piece and grabbed it. “Not that one, you dolt,” he said. “Here is the right one. Some help you are. Do I have to do everything myself around here?”

At that moment the Queen’s horn shook the room with two short blasts.

“Is that a fire alarm?” shouted Frabner. “Is my boat on fire?”

“No,” said Billings. “That’s the signal we’re under way.”

“What’s this way stuff we’re underneath? Could it crush us?”

“We’re sailing. The ship is leaving the dock.”

“Oh,” said the Captain. “Shouldn’t I be in that place where I steer my boat?”

“The wheelhouse,” said Billings. “It’s right next door.”

Billings led the way out to the wheelhouse where a civilian in a pea jacket was directing the sailor at the wheel. “That man is the pilot,” Billings said to Frabner.

“Pilot? What’s a pilot doing here? Shouldn’t he be flying an airplane?”

Billings was beginning to understand the full nature of what his job would be in the months ahead. He wondered if he had the depth of patience it would require. “No,” he said, “this is a harbor pilot. He knows the way out of San Francisco Bay.”

“Shouldn’t I be doing that?”

“No,” said Billings. “You don’t know the places in the harbor where your boat could get stuck. You wouldn’t want the other Captains laughing at you if you stuck the Queen on a sand bar, would you?”

“Of course not. But when do I get to steer my boat?”

“You don’t want to do that,” said Billings, “because it’s really boring.”


“Yes. When we get out in the Pacific we’ll set a compass course and all the steersman has to do is keep the ship on that course day and night.”

“That does sound boring. So what do I get to do that isn’t boring?”

Billings thought fast. “You hold yourself ready,” he finally said.


“Yes. When there’s a crisis, you’re the man in charge. You’re the one to make the instant important life and death, win or lose, all or nothing, big important decisions.”

Frabner smiled to himself. “I get to decide?” he said.


“And how will I know when I have to make that decision?”

“I’ll let you know.” Hopefully never, Billings thought.

Let’s skip on to the next to the scene where Billings must make the crucial decision whether or not to countermand Captain Frabner’s orders. Notice the skill with which my student describes the beauty and power of a tropical storm.

On the morning of day twenty-three Billings took his usual look at the barometer then stared at it more closely. He had never seen it so low. It could only mean one thing. A typhoon was on its way. He quickly went to the Captain’s cabin. Frabner was sitting in his office chair reading a Danielle Steel novel. “Sir,” said Billings, “I thought you should know. The barometer is falling.”

“What?” said Frabner. “That’s not good. Show me.” He followed Billings out to the wheelhouse.

“See,” said Billings, pointing at the barometer.

The Captain went over to the barometer, grasped it in both hands and pulled on it. “Nonsense,” he said. “It’s bolted solidly to this metal wall. No chance of its falling.”

Billings had learned not to try to explain. “Typhoon,” he said. “I was using my Ouija board this morning and it predicted a typhoon today.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” said the Captain. “Get my boat ready for a lot of wind blowing.”

Readying the ship was going to be difficult. The Queen of Perth Amboy was old. She was tired and leaky and her engine was long overdue for an overall overhaul. There were places on the deck where you had to walk carefully to avoid stepping through a rusty spot. There was that railing on the half deck you didn’t want to lean against. Then there was the dart-board in the Recreation Room. Billings did not want to think about that dart-board. He twisted the thought from his mind and threw it overboard.

Billings did his best. He had the men double lash down the hatches and the lifeboats. He taped Frabner’s jigsaw puzzle to its table and had Gropes the Cook make lots of peanut butter sandwiches.

The typhoon hit suddenly. One moment the sea was a sullen grey under a moody grey sky filled with slightly piqued grey clouds; the next moment there was no sky or sea, just a huge blast of water and air full of dead fish engulfing the old ship. Billings had her turned into the wind and they held her there, great walls of waves crashing over her decks. He stood there in the wheelhouse beside Captain Frabner identifying the fish as they smashed into the windows. Albacore. Barracuda, Catfish, Dogfish…. They’re coming aboard alphabetically, Billings thought. Was the storm trying to tell him something, something important? Or was it just toying with them, laughing at their inability even to randomize fish names. Eagle-fish, Flounder, Grouper. On it went, relentlessly. Would it ever end? Would they ever make it to Zebrafish?

Six hours into the storm, Chips, the Carpenters Mate, clawed his way up into the wheelhouse, the wind slamming the door behind him.

“Captain, it don’t look good,” he said. “There’s six feet of water and three dead rats in the well.”

“I thought all the rats deserted the ship in Oakland,” said Frabner.

“It’s a good sign,” said Billings. “It means some of them stayed, thinking the ship was safe.”

“In any case,” said Chips, “the pumps can’t keep up. She’s leaking like an old man or an old woman with bladder trouble. We need to do something or we’re going down to Davy Jones’ locker.”

“I don’t remember anyone aboard named Jones,” said the Captain, “and how did his locker fall overboard?”

“I’ll check up on that, Sir,” said Billings. Sometimes there just wasn’t time to explain.

“I’ve been reading Seamanship for Dummies,” said Captain Frabner. “We should throw away the cargo.” He turned to Billings. “Take off those lids over the holes in the deck and start doing that thing.”

“You mean break open the hatches and jettison the cargo?”

“That’s just what I meant.”

“Aye, aye, Sir,” said Billings. He followed Chips out into the howling wind. They stopped in the lea of the wheelhouse where they could hear each other but only by shouting.

“Shall I get the crew to work?” shouted Chips.

“No,” shouted Billings. “We are not jettisoning the cargo.”

“Why not?”

“What’s most of the cargo?”

“Sporting goods. Mostly ping-pong balls.”

“What does that mean?”

Chips stared at him in stark realization. “You’re right. If we keep those balls in the hold, this old tub can never sink.”

Two hours later, Billings climbed back into the wheelhouse to report to the Captain. The old Queen was lower in the water, but she had stabilized and sank no lower.

“I think we’re going to make it,” said Billings to the Captain.

“Make what? You mean that model airplane kit I just bought? Should we be doing that with this storm going on?”

“I think the Queen is going to make it safely through the storm.” Billings spoke the words carefully and slowly.

“Did you do that throw-away thing with the cargo?”

“You mean jettisoning?”

“That’s the word.”


“You didn’t do it? You mean you countermanded my order?”

“Actually, technically, I didn’t countermand it. I just never repeated it.”

“Countermanding and not repeating it all just as bad. You are guilty of not obeying orders. What’s the word?”

“Insubordination,” said Billings.

“That’s the word.” Frabner turned to the seaman at the wheel. “Arrest this man and lock him up till we can court-martial him.”

“Do you want me to do that or keep the ship heading into the wind, Sir?” said the seaman.

Frabner looked around for someone else to arrest Billings. There was no one else in the wheelhouse. “Well,” he said to Billings. “Guess you can go on being second in command for now. But you’re in big trouble when we get back on land.”

Finally I wish to share the powerful ending of this novel with you where Billings reaches an epiphany and knows he is a true naval officer.

Five days later, the Queen of Perth Amboy plowed slowly into the harbor of Bekka-Bekka Atoll. There were no other ships in the lagoon. The dock was solid with men, shouting, waving. When the ship was secured to the dock and the gangway in place, the Harbormaster came quickly up to the deck. Even in his purple shorts and a T-shirt reading I’m the Harbormaster, You got a problem with that? he radiated an  aura of command or at least a feeling of kind-of being in charge. “Thank God you’ve made it. What is your cargo?” he said.

“Mostly ping-pong balls,” said Billings. “And the cargo is safe. Captain Frabner here insisted we not jettison anything.”

Frabner opened his mouth to say something then thought better of it.

“Ping-pong balls,” said the Harbormaster. “Did you say ping-pong balls?”


“Ping-pong balls,” the Harbormaster shouted to the men on the dock.

A huge cheer greeted these words. “We’ve been playing with bonga berries,” said the Harbormaster. “Not much bounce and they dribble juice on the table.”

He looked over at Billings. It was obvious he knew what really had happened there in the height of the typhoon. “It took a lot of balls to do what you did,” he said.

“The old Queen pulled us through,” said Billings. Just saying those words out loud made him finally feel he was a real naval officer.

“Now,” said the Harbormaster, where are the paddles? They were supposed to be in crates marked Explosives.”

“Those crates?” said Frabner. “I had them thrown overboard. Explosives are dangerous, particularly in a war zone. They could have blown up my boat.”

“No paddles!” the harbormaster shouted to the men on the dock. “They threw the paddles overboard!”

A great wave of invective, curses and just plain booing engulfed the old Queen.

“Just a minute,” said Billings. “The paddles are in the crates marked Canned Cobra Meat.”

The booing on the dock turned into cheers. “Huzzah, huzzah for the Old Queen!” came the cries.

“Wait a minute,” said Frabner. “You threw away my mongoose’s cobra meat and replaced it with ping-pong paddles? I’ll have you court-martialed for that.”

“Not to worry,” said Billings. “The cobra meat is in the cases marked Ping-Pong Nets.”

“Nets!” said the Harbormaster. “We also need nets. If there is cobra meat in those cases, where the hell are the nets?”

“They’re in the case marked Jock Straps.” Billings said.

Captain Frabner’s face suddenly reddened. “Got to go to my cabin for a minute,” he said and rushed off.

“Well,” said the Harbormaster, “let’s get the old girl unloaded.”

The crew started to loosen the extra ropes that had held the first hatch cover in place during the typhoon. As they pulled loose the last rope, the hatch cover suddenly blew upwards, tumbling through the air fifty feet above their heads. It was followed by a great fountain of water and ping-pong balls that hurtled into the air. The water cascaded back into the lagoon, the balls drifted slowly across the atoll to descend like a gentle hailstorm upon the land. The group of men on the dock dissolved as they rushed across the land scooping up the balls and stuffing them into their pockets.

Billings felt the Queen shift beneath his feet. She was settling down, slowly into the lagoon. Of course. The only things that had kept the old girl afloat were those ping-pong balls.

Captain Frabner burst onto the deck with his mongoose on his shoulder. “There’s a leak somewhere,” he shouted. “There’s water in my cabin.”

He stopped shouting when he realized he was no longer looking down at the dock but was now on the level with it. “My boat,” he said in a small voice. “My boat is sinking. Someone needs to be court martialed for this.”

Billings realized the Queen had stopped sinking. She must have hit the bottom of the lagoon. He looked down at the water sloshing around his ankles. “First of all,” he said to Frabner, “the Queen of Perth Amboy is a ship, not a boat. Second, when a ship sinks it’s her Captain who gets court martialed.”

He wanted to grab the mongoose and chuck it into the lagoon, but the leather gloves were down there under twenty feet of water.

It was over. He wouldn’t have to worry any more about jigsaw pieces, about canned cobra meat or, most of all, about that dart board in the Recreation Room.

Sub-Lieutenant Billings turned and squished his way up the gangplank and onto the dock. He knew Captain Frabner would get plaudits for a mission accomplished. He also knew it was only his nautical savvy that had brought the Queen through. Things had, after all, worked out in a way consistent with Naval Tradition. Someone higher up in the command structure always gets the credit for what you have done.

Well armored with the knowledge that he personally had saved the Queen of Perth Amboy, Billings walked into an unknown future. That was just part of being a real naval officer. You  didn’t look back; you just went forward; and you always remembered, never step on a ping-pong ball.

The Submarine Novel

For the submarine novel we require our students to work with a specific plot. It is a story about the battle between a British destroyer and a German submarine. The Commander of the destroyer is Sir Chester Ashley-Windsworth, a descendant of the landed gentry Windsworth family with a long tradition of naval command. His opponent U Boat Kommandant von Schlauerfuchs is descended from a long line of German military elite.

They also know each other. Before the war, von Schlauerfuchs attended the British Anti-Submarine Warfare School at Darby on the Thames. While there, he met Ashley-Windsworth and invited him to attend the German Boot Taktik Schule at Bremen. They became good friends and spent many a happy hour discussing submarine and anti-submarine tactics over a pint of good British bitters or a glass of German schnapps. So, each knows the tactical mind of the other like an open book.

We leave it up to the students to take it from there. The variety of stories that emerge from this simple beginning is amazing. I shall here quote from one of the more outstanding of these exercises in literacy, one of my student’s novel, A Duel of Friends.

#    #    #

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!  Then a pause. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!  The depth charges shook the U-boat and the lights dimmed for a moment then came back up strong again.

“That’s him,” said Kommandant von Schlauerfuchs to his oberlieutenant. “Ashley-Windsworth is up there commanding that destroyer.”

“How do you know that, Sir?”

“Waltz time. He told me he always dropped depth charges in groups of three like a waltz. This is going to be a most interesting game.”

PING! PING! PING! PING! Then a pause. PING! PING! PING! PING! Sir Chester Ashley-Windsworth turned from the asdic speaker and smiled. “That’s him down there, Kommandant von Schlauerfuchs,” he said to his Lieutenant.

“How do you know that, Sir?”

“He’s doing figure eights with his submarine, his favorite evasive maneuver. We’ll have a few surprises for the Kommandant before this night is over.”

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! The explosions were closer now. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! The whole boat shook. A radish exploded in the galley.

“Take her down to eighty-two fathoms,” said the Kommandant. He had never told Ashley-Windsworth about the eighty-two fathom maneuver. He had told him about the seventy-two fathom trick and the sixty-two fathom ploy, but had never mentioned eighty-two fathoms.

“But Sir,” cried the Oberlieutenant, “The depth gauge only goes down to eighty fathoms.”

“Just hold your finger where you think eighty-two should be and let us know when we get there. Take her down to eighty-two.”

The crew smiled. As long as the Kommandant kept his sense of humor, they knew they were safe.

PING! PING! PING! PING! Then silence.

“We’ve lost him, Sir,” said the Lieutenant.

“Not for long. What depth was the asdic set for?”

“Seventy-two fathoms maximum, Sir.”

“Set the maximum to eighty-two,” said Ashley-Windsworth. He had smelled a rat when von Schlauerfuchs had stopped his explanation of evasive maneuvers at seventy-two. When Ashley-Windsworth had asked him about eighty-two fathoms, von Schlauerfuchs had changed the subject to the physical attributes of the blonde at the next table. So voluble had been his evasive explanation that the blonde had come to their table and slapped them both hard in the face. But that was before the war when you could slap a German naval officer without instant arrest by a lurking Gestapo agent.

Ashley-Windsworth wondered what things would be like after the war. Would blondes once again be able to slap naval officers? Or would the world have changed so much…

Enough of pleasant memories. Ashley-Windsworth forced his thoughts back to the grim job at hand.

Well, you get the idea. Notice however, the last paragraphs where my student begins to build the character arcs for Ashley-Windsworth, von Schlauerfuchs and the blonde. All good fiction is not about depth charges and asdic pings, but about people, living people, dying people and blondes who slap you in the face.

The Air Force Novel

With their naval novels under their belts, my students next turn to the Air Force. In the writing of their Air Force novels, we insist that our students study the special comradeship that developed among an air crew, their intense loyalty to their aircraft and their devotion to each other. We also require our students to know how to write the most vital portion of any Air Force Novel, the staggering-through-the-air scene.

Perhaps both of these techniques are best described by quoting an excerpt from A Cruel and Hungry Sky, a novel by one of my students for which the publishers will soon be bidding.

The Ruptured Eunuch was hit and hit bad. Number three engine was feathered and number five engine trailed thick green smoke.

Barney sat in the cockpit and fought the controls. The Ruptured Eunuch staggered through the sky, the ugly grey surface of the Channel getting ever closer. The men began to rip out the insides of the plane and throw everything into the sullen sea. They tore out the doors and threw them out the bomb bay. They tore out the bomb bays and threw them out the doors, down into the thirsting sea.

Nothing helped. Barney watched the dropping altimeter needle and cursed. “Just one hundred and thirty-nine pounds,” he said over the intercom. “One hundred and thirty-nine less pounds and we could make it.”

The men sat in the back of the plane and watched the grim, waiting sea grow closer. “One hundred and thirty-nine pounds,” said Flatbush. “Just one hundred and thirty-nine pounds.”

They all turned and looked at Stinky. Stinky weighed exactly one hundred and thirty-nine pounds. They all knew it and Stinky knew they knew it. “Not on your f..ing life,” he said.

“You’ll be okay,” said Flatbush. “We’ll radio and have the Navy pick you up.”

They all knew this was a lie. Stinky himself had ripped the radio out and thrown it into the hungry sea. Flatbush had thrown out the parachutes long ago.

They stood up and moved towards Stinky. He backed towards the hole where the doors had been. “Wait,” he said. “I’m Stinky, your buddy.”

They edged forward. Then inspiration struck Stinky. Bombs!” he shouted. “The bombs!”

They had forgotten the bombs they had never dropped. Flatbush rushed to the bomb bay and pushed on the manual release. The bombs dropped through the bomb bay down, down into the angry sea. The Ruptured Eunuch staggered through the air and began to rise above the disappointed sea. The men sat back, wiped the sweat from their brows and began to talk of girlfriends, pet hamsters and how they had just been joking about Stinky.

I hope the examples above have given you an idea of the power of the DULC method of instruction and the depth of material we cover in Military Literacy.

College of Crime and Adventure Literary Creativity

As with all of the Colleges in DULC, students in CMALC are required to immediately create publishable material. Specifically they write two novels: (1) An Assassin Novel and (2) A Police Procedural.

The Assassin Novel

The basic plot my students are required to use in writing their Assassin Novel is straightforward. The protagonist is a vicious killing machine but deep within him is a small flaw, an Achilles heel that stops him from executing an assassination. His handlers feel he is now unreliable and put him on a leave of absence. He returns home thinking he can sort things out back in his small home town. Unfortunately, when he gets back home he discovers there is a murder he must solve to prove the innocence of a family member.

The most important parts of an Assassin Novel are the first chapter where the reader discovers the assassin’s tragic flaw and the last one, where the most unlikely suspect turns out to be the murderer. By way of illustration, below are the first chapter and the final scene from The Compassionate Killer, a novel by one of my students, about to be released to publishers for bidding.

The beginning of the first chapter introduces you to the Assassin and shows the reader he is a real human being with real feelings.

Most of the assassins in the City hung out in the Warmth of Home Tea Room. They met here because it was the last place the forces of law and order would look for them but more because Mildred, the owner, baked incredibly delicious scones.

X dipped his blueberry scone in his tea and took a warm bite. “I’m a bit worried about my next job,” he said to Slitthroat Sid.

“How’s that?” said Sid.

They want me to shoot a rubber ducky.”

“A rubber ducky?”

“Well, when I took on the job, I thought it was a Prime Minister I was killing, but it’s actually his rubber ducky while he’s taking a bath.”

“Why the ducky?

“The men that hired me don’t want him dead, just frightened enough so he’ll agree to pass some environmental bill.”

“So what’s the problem with this ducky? You scared of it or what?” said Timebomb Eddie, who was sitting next to the flowers and the teapot with the kittens on it. “Are you worried about what ammo to use? I think them platinum ones would go right through a ducky, but leave a big enough hole so it would sink and give this Prime Minister guy a good scare. But if you used those flat nosed ones with the flammable heads, you’d disintegrate the little guy and the fragments would burn up. That will produce a major fright. There’s no fire hazard, as your target’s in a bathtub. Win-win situation.”

“No,” said X, “I’m worried about what happens afterwards. “If you kill a Prime Minister, those government slime-balls are more worried about getting a replacement than they are in getting the killer. If I blew away that rubber ducky, the police will have a terrorized Prime Minister on their hands. He’ll be screaming for them to find who shot his ducky. That kind of person-hunt can go on for a long time.”

“You’ve got to remember you’re a professional,” said Sid. “Just do the job, don’t ask questions. I had this woman who hired me to kill her husband’s pet chicken. I didn’t like killing an innocent chicken, but I went through with it.”

“You’re right,” said X. “A job is a job.”

The next section my students write is the scene where the actual assassination attempt is made. The objective here is to show the epiphany where the assassin realizes that he cannot do his job and the internal motivation for that decision. In addition, it is important to show the assassin is devoted to his craft. Here is the next section from The Compassionate Killer.

X wanted the world to know he was a professional. Thus, on the day before the actual assignment, he spent five minutes rapid firing a rifle at a barrel of fish some fifty feet away. As the bullets tore into the barrel, dead and alive fish thrashed out of the top of the barrel and flopped onto the ground. When X had finished there was just one small hole, perhaps two inches in diameter right in the center of the side of the barrel. It was a remarkable display of marksmanship. Everyone watching was impressed, except for the man who owned the fish store.

X was happy with the results. Now when he said a job had been as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, everyone would know exactly what he meant.

X was pleased with the complexity of the route his handlers had planned for him to get to his kill point. He was hustled out of his house by three men dressed in tight jeans and black t-shirt so it would look like an ordinary gang kidnapping. He was placed in a police car so it would look like an ordinary arrest. He was flown first class so he would look like an ordinary businessman except for the three foot long briefcase that held his sniper rifle. The final leg was in a garbage truck so he would look like an ordinary garbage-man.

X had to crawl through three trapdoors to get to the kill site. This made him feel safer, except for the getaway part.

When in place, X went through his three step program he always used prior to a kill. First he dropped a pink facial tissue so the police would think the killer was an amateur and perhaps a woman.

Second, he recited his mantra to himself: “I do not feel guilty in killing a rubber ducky. I do not feel guilty for killing a rubber ducky…..”

Finally he took his temperature. It was sub normal. As it should be. You can’t be a cold-blooded killer if you’re running a fever.

X checked his watch. It was time to do the job. He opened his briefcase and took out his weapon. He cradled the AK-58 with the Xeon Model 721scope and the Flemflex Model 17 trigger guards in his arms. It was his rifle, almost a part of his body, he felt. He loved the soft flunk of the Acme 400 Level 3 Silencer. The Fremme Model 77 automated trigger pressure adjuster made killing that much more a pleasure. The Refrigmore Model 213 Modification 12 Freon Barrel Cooler made stashing the rifle for a getaway that much quicker.

He moved to the peephole in the wall opposite the Prime Minister’s home. Quietly he eased the barrel of the gun through the hole and sighted through the Acme Trusight Model Z telescopic sight. The bathroom window in the house was open, as the inside man had dumped a load in the toilet and not flushed it so the next occupant would have to open the window. It was knowing he had that kind of help on the inside that gave X extra confidence.

Through the sight, X saw the Prime Minister lazing back in the tub with yellow rubber ducky with red plastic trim floating gently in front of him. The shot would be safe; the Prime Minister was well back from the ducky. X sighted in on the little advertising tag still attached at the ducky’s neck.

He eased in on the trigger, then stopped, frozen in place.

He had just had a horrible realization. The problem with word getting out about his shooting a rubber ducky was not his peer group knowing, but with the general public. What would his PR reputation be if that word got out? Who would hire an assassin who went around shooting rubber duckies?

“Forget it,” he told himself. “I am a professional.” He sighted through the rifle again, but his window of opportunity was closed although the bathroom window was still open. The Prime Minister had picked up the rubber ducky and was drying it off with a towel. The ducky was too close to the Prime Minister to risk a shot. The reality of the situation struck him like a body blow. A ducky that was being dried off would not be put back in the water.

He had failed. He had panicked at the last moment. And he would have to live with the repercussions of that panic for a long, long time. Slowly he placed the AK-58 back in his briefcase. There was no need to hurry except for putting more money in the parking meters where the two getaway vehicles were parked. His handlers would be waiting there for his report. When he told them he had failed, he knew he was finished, permanently on the list of the unreliable. They would no longer handle him. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even touch him. In addition, they definitely would not let him use the garbage truck for his getaway.

I won’t bother you with the body of this novel where X is forced by circumstance to take over his hometown kindergarten class with all that implies. Let us move on to the final scene where the true killer is revealed.

X’s mother laughed. It was not the gay laugh he remembered from his childhood, but a hard, cynical, grating, ugly and very nasty sound. “You always thought you were my favorite,” she said. The barrel of the AK-49 did not waver from where it pointed at his genitals.

“You were not my favorite. As you grew up, your father started taking you rather than me to the firing range. The two of you, father and son, going off together, ignoring me, leaving me behind, coming back, laughing over what fun you had had blasting away at those silhouettes .”

X saw now this was true. His mother’s behavior on their return had not just been a simple sulk, but something deeper, a creeping wound that would fester year after year until today…

“I’m sorry,” X said. “I really didn’t know…”

“Enough,” said his Mother. “Just back over there next to that open grave I’ve dug for you.”

X noticed the grave for the first time. I think this means she is really planning to kill me, he thought. He had to get her talking. Anything to stall the inevitable. “So it was you that killed my father, Aunt Sandra and the mailman?”

“The mailman was unfortunate,” said his mother. “Wrong place at the wrong time and delivering just one too many bill I couldn’t pay.”

“I’m sorry,” X said. “If I had known.”

“Enough!” He saw her finger tighten on the trigger and braced himself for the shock of the bullets ripping into his body.

But he did not die. Instead the gun dropped from his mother’s hands and she stood there a moment with a puzzled expression on her face before falling back on the ground, her hands pressed against the four holes in her chest.

He turned and there was his sister, holding her father’s AK 51, smoke still drifting from its barrel.

“It’s over,” she said, “it’s finally over.”

His mother was not dead. Glassy-eyed, she spoke. “I don’t understand.”

His sister looked down at the dying woman. “You always thought I was the dutiful daughter. You always thought it was for my own good you scared off my boyfriends with your insinuations about our family DNA. But I noticed it was usually a boyfriend who hadn’t made a pass at you.”

“I’m so sorry,” gasped his mother. “I didn’t know.”

“Saying sorry doesn’t always make it right,” said his sister. “But there’s one thing I’ve got to thank you for.”

X could see it was close to the end for his mother. She summoned every ounce of her waning strength for two last words. “For what?”

“The grave,” said his sister. “I don’t have to dig a new grave.”

X suddenly saw that it was indeed over. His mother’s final convulsion had brought closure. He was complete again, an unambiguous professional assassin. He would do what he was paid to do. Prime Minister or rubber ducky, it didn’t matter; they were just simply targets. His character arc was complete.

The Police Procedural

We tell our students when writing a Police Procedural the most important part is the two backstories of the protagonist, the professional one and the personal one. The art of backstory writing is simple. Never explain the details of either backstory up front, but dribble them out through the story. However, every character in the story should know the horrid details of both of the protagonist’s  back stories. The reader should be kept in the dark as long as possible.

As an example of great procedural writing that shows how the  backstory should be integrated into the plot, dragging the reader along with always frustrated expectation, let me quote a few passages from Crime-wave in Dingbat, a novel about to be offered to a number of high-end literary agents.

Interim Detective Mark Furkup parked his scooter in front of the Dingbat Police Station. He hated pushing this piece of junk past the derision of the villagers almost as much as having to take a job in this village lost in the rustic boondocks. It would have been nice if the divorce settlement had given him at least the Mercedes or the Land Rover or even the bicycle. But after the Judge had heard Miriam’s reasons for wanting a divorce, he was probably lucky to get even a scooter. After hearing Mirian’s somewhat distorted testimony, the Judge had blanched and disappeared into his chambers for ten minutes, probably to vomit, Mark suspected. And of course, after the forgetful mistake he had made that got him fired as Chief Detective in the City, he supposed he should feel lucky to have any job at all. Although he admitted it was his carelessness had triggered a string of tragic events, he did not feel he was actually to blame for the three deaths.

Notice the skill with which my student, in one simple paragraph, has not only glued down the bottom end of his protagonist’s character arc, but given us a vivid idea of the magnitude of the problems in both Mark’s personal and professional backstories while revealing almost no details of those stories. Could you put this book down at this point?

Let us now move on to Mark’s reception in his new job. The important point in writing this scene is to have it understood that every policeman  in the station knows every detail of what Mark has done, but still not reveal anything to the reader.

Mark went over to the door marked Millmore Filbart, Chief of Police and carefully tapped on the door.

“Come in,” boomed a voice from inside.

Mark opened the door slowly and stepped inside. “Interim Detective Mark Furkup, reporting for duty, Sir,” he said.

The big, fat red-faced man in the too-tight chief’s uniform behind the desk glowered at him. “Shit,” he said, “I knew today was going to end up badly.”

Mark just stood there without speaking.  He had not been asked to sit down in the guest chair.

“Let’s get one thing straight, right off,” said the Chief. “I didn’t hire you. I don’t want you here. No one wants you here not even the rats in the wall.” He banged on the wall with a trunnion, producing an ugly scurrying sound.

“Pressure from above, that’s what it is. They wanted to lose a dirty PR problem by dumping it in Dingbat, as far away from the City as you can get.”

“I understand,” said Mark.

“And don’t expect any sympathy from your fellow officers. They don’t want you here.”

“They think I’m kind of a Jonah?”

“Shit no. They just don’t want to work with a bumbling incompetent.”

“So I’ll have to earn their respect?”

“You’ll have to earn their respect over and over again.” He paused and farted, apparently collecting his thoughts. Furkup hoped that the chief was thinking of a simpler way he might become one of the police team.

The Chief squirmed and farted again. “No, what I meant to say was you’ll have to earn their respect over and over and over and over and over again.”

The next important scene my students write is the interrogation scene where the watching policemen decide whether the protagonist is qualified to be a detective despite his mare’s nest of a backstory. Here is that scene.

Through the one-way glass, Mark looked at the girl. She didn’t look like a criminal, but at what at probably forty pounds overweight, she definitely looked like a candy thief. This was going to be tough. The girl was obviously clever and candy-machine smart. Criminal did not let just any girls in their gangs as most women slowed things down. They were always talking on their phones during a heist. In a tight corner, they’d stop to put on makeup so they looked just right when they were arrested.

He went into the interrogation room slowly, but slammed the door hard behind him. That would send a message to the jury of fellow policemen waiting behind the one-way glass that had cracked slightly when he slammed the door.

The girl was sitting at the interrogation table clicking on her smart phone. Standing beside her was Nobrian, the new recruit who everyone thought was dumber than Mark. Nobrian was proud of his new uniform and his new police badge. It was too bad he had it on upside down.

“Who is the idiot who let her use her phone?” Mark  shouted. He had decided that was going to be bad cop all the way. None of this good cop, bad cop garbage, partially because bad cop was more fun but mostly because it was hard to do it with only one cop.

Nobrian grabbed the phone out of the girl’s hand and tried to hide it behind his back. “I guess it’s me. I wanted to know how interrogations worked so I had her look for it in her on-line encyclopedia. We couldn’t get it to come up. Do you know how to spell it?”

Furkup sat down in the chair opposite the girl and stared at her without speaking. He knew from Dourbursh, the Norwegian detective series he watched, this was a good way to cover his thinking, particularly his slow thinking. There had been one episode where Dourbursh simply sat staring at a suspect for the whole hour, until the poor girl broke down in tears and confessed.

Furkup continued to stare at the girl. She stared blankly back at him. After twenty minutes, she showed no sign of breaking. He realized that there were some people with the ability to make their minds a total blank in situations such as this. This girl might be one of those people, or more likely her mind was normally a total blank.

This case was more complex than he had thought. Those words ouet of ordor written in chocolate syrup on the front panel of the candy machine had been misspelled. Although he wasn’t sure exactly how they were misspelled, it was obvious they were. Who had done the misspelling? The girl? Or was there a gang involved? This case smelled of a gang operation as well as of chocolate syrup.

How should he handle this? Perhaps good-cop rather than bad-cop was the way to go. But how much about the case should he reveal to the suspect? Perhaps just a shred of what he knew might pry loose the rest of the truth. He smiled, putting as much leer into it as possible. “We know you know how to use Google,” he said.

She jumped in her chair her face a mask of shock, or was it pain from the coffee cup that had overturned in her lap?

“How did you discover that?” she demanded.

“Your laptop.”

“It actually isn’t my laptop,” the girl said. “I borrowed my sister’s.”

“That explains all that lesbian dominatrix stuff we found. Actually rather boring stuff, but understand I have almost no opinions about lesbians, and the ones I have are all positive.”

No one was going to mess up this case claiming prejudiced law enforcement officers.

This interrogation was going nowhere. It was time to play his trump card or at least a card higher than a ten. He had done his homework, carefully reading the report of what a search of this girl’s room had discovered. The forensics team had found fifteen peanut-nougat bars, double the number of any other type of candy.

He had come prepared. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the peanut-nougat bar he had lifted from the evidence room. He placed it on the table, just out of the girl’s reach.

“Getting hungry?” he said. He knew it was cruel, but sometimes you had to forget politeness in an interrogation.

He saw the look that replaced blankness in the girl’s eyes, the look of hunger, greed, despair and a bunch of other emotions he couldn’t quite place.

“What do you want?” the girl demanded. He heard the little gasp in her voice. Was she breaking?

“What do I want?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I want. The facts, the unvarnished truth although varnished truth might do in some cases.”

“And what’s in it for me?” said the girl.

Furkup picked up the candy bar, carefully unwrapped one end, broke of a small piece and tossed it across the table. “How’s that for starters?” he said.

The girl grabbed up the candy morsel and stuffed it in her mouth.

“Just remember,” said Furkup, “there’s more where that came from.” He tapped the candy bar on the table. “But I need names, first names, last name and middle initials where appropriate.”

She broke. By the time the candy bar was gone, he had the names of all the gang members as well as their e-mail addresses, Facebook account names, dates of birth and National Health Service numbers.

When Furkup stepped into the station lounge he was greeted with warm congratulations. Officers came up to him, shook his hand, slapped him on the back. “Beautifully done,” said the Chief. “I’ve never seen anyone confess National Health Service numbers before.”

“And,” added Detective Chief Fronab, “you did it with just one candy bar. I’ve seen suspects break on the second candy bar, but never on just one bar.”

A great weight was lifted from Furkup’s back. He had proved himself. He was one of the team.

Think you could write this kind of incisive prose? Give us a try.

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