Today it is my great pleasure to share with you a guest blog from my dear friend and mentor John M. Daniel who has a resume as long as my Main Coon cat’s tail. I first met John at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference many years ago, where he led a delightful late night Pirates’ session that went on until three AM. Let me assure you none of us were bored. John’s an inspiring Pirate Captain, but he’s also a small-press publisher, a poet, a writer of novels, especially mysteries richly threaded with humor, a freelance editor, a teacher of creative writing and a lover of cats. Here he is to introduce his latest novel, Hooperman, a delightful read for all lovers of books, cosy mystery, and characters you’d like to take home to dinner.
Choice, Change, and Consequence
To paraphrase Rust Hills, the former fiction editor at Esquire and the author of the book Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, a story can be defined this way: “Something happens to somebody.” That’s it, and that’s enough. This definition works for any kind of fiction: short stories, movies, plays, and novels, including mystery novels. They all tell of something happening to somebody.
Hills has pinpointed the two necessary ingredient of any story, of any length, in any medium: plot (something happens) and character (to somebody). For extra credit you can add “somewhere,” so that the terse description of a story would be “something happens to somebody, somewhere.” But scene is optional. Plot and character are musts for a story.
And what it is that happens? What gives any story a plot? The character has to change. Our somebody is, at the end of the story, a different person, subtly or dramatically, from the one she or he was at the beginning.
How does that change come about? It could be because of chance (a trolley runs over somebody’s foot, so somebody is never able to tap dance again); but more often, and more interestingly, it’s because the character has made a choice. The choice was probably a response to some sort of conflict. The story will be about how the character changed because of an important choice he or she made to deal with a conflict, and the change has consequence of its own.
Of course this little lesson deals with only one aspect of story, and much, much more could be said about what makes fiction work (and play). I don’t pretend that the writing process is a simple formula. But it’s good to keep in mind these three basic C’s of storytelling: Choice, Change, and Consequence.
In my new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, my shy, stammering hero makes a risky choice that opens the plot: he chooses to give up a steady minimum-wage job as a pizza cook and take a job across the street working as a bookstore cop (a spy in street clothes who catches shoplifters in the act) for far less than minimum wage. It’s an unwise choice, perhaps, but it sets off a domino chain of consequences that over the course of the plot change Hoop for the much, much better. I won’t give away any more than that, but here’s an excerpt from late in the book that recalls Hoop’s rash decision.
HOW HOOPERMAN BECAME A BOOKSTORE COP
Almost every afternoon during the spring and early summer of 1972, Hooperman Johnson, the late-shift pizza chef at ’At’s Amore, spent a couple of hours before work browsing the shelves of Maxwell’s Books across the street. By the arrival of summer, he was noddingly acquainted with the stock of the store, and he knew the poetry shelves by heart. More and more, as that spring went on, he spent the hour between three and four up in the front of the store, where he could glimpse the smile of the evening clerk who came on at three, and where he could hear her sassy talk and raucous laugh until he had to cross the street to his own job, which started at four.
By the arrival of summer, Hoop knew enough about himself to recognize that the reason he showed up at the store almost every day was no longer to read the titles of the spines on the shelves, no longer to pet the store cat, no longer to laugh with the members of the Maxwell’s staff, but to be in the same building with Lucinda Baylor. She was the reason that whenever the Maxwell’s evening shift ordered a pizza, he not only cooked it with extra ingredients, he delivered the pizza himself. He also knew enough about himself to keep his distance and limit his conversations. A crush is one thing, but one broken heart was enough for one lifetime.
But when the sign appeared in the Maxwell’s front window in early July, Hoop was tempted. He saw it, more than literally, as a sign. He would have snapped at the chance to work in Maxwell’s Books, even if there were no Lucinda Baylor. And there was.
So on Monday, July 10, two days after the sign went up, he sauntered across University Avenue and walked into the store grinning.
“Hey, it’s Hooperman!” she said from behind the front counter. “Haven’t seen you here since yesterday.”
“The deh,deh,day’s young yet,” Hoop said. “How you dud, how you dud, how you duh,duh,dud…ooing, Luce?”
“Day’s young yet. So far so good. You?”
“That ssssss…hign in the window. You guh,guh,guh,guys got a juh,dge…ob for sss hale?”
Lucinda shook her head. “Yes, but you wouldn’t want it.”
“Are you ki,ki,ki,kidding?”
Hoop thought: you have no idea how much I want this job.
“Elmer doesn’t want to hire a clerk,” she explained. “He wants a policeman. A pig.”
And Hoop thought: Whatever. It’s a cloven hoof in the door.
Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery celebrates the joy of books and bookselling and also explores the many ways people get into trouble—deadly serious trouble—when they fail to communicate.
Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.
Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.
“Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Buy or order Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery from your local bookstore, from Amazon, or direct from the publisher:
Oak Tree Press
1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220
Hanford, CA 93230
For more info about Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery:
photo credit Clark Lohr
John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).