Series Yes, Series No: Part II

There are at least two kinds of books in series. One kind continues the series hero and supporting characters, but not necessarily in chronological, event-driven order. Examples of such series are the Sherlock Holmes stories, Christie’s Poirot series and her Miss Marple series. The Nancy Drew books and the Hardy Boys books also fall into this category.

The other type of series, more modern than the first, develops the life of the hero in a chronological, cause-and-effect, event-driven order. This is the type of series that some fans will read only in the order the books were written, because they want to experience the hero’s life in the order the events occur. Interestingly, my favorite mystery series when growing up was the Trixie Belden series, and those books were definitely chronological order and event-in-hero’s life driven. And my two Proof novels, Dirty Proof and Sound Proof, are written in sequential-events order. The third Proof novel will continue in that vein.

Unknown-2I’m a fan of Steven Saylor’s Gordianus books. Gordianus is a Roman finder, or detective, who lives before, during, and after the rise of Julius Caesar. The novels in the series are “interrupted” with collections of short stories sandwiched between — short stories featuring Gordianus, but at the same time short stories that aren’t in chronological order. Saylor isn’t the only writer to have done this. As a reader, I find this interruption of the novel form disappointing. I feel that the hero’s life is not progressing, especially because the short stories are often from different periods in the hero’s life. And, because the novels are in chronological order, I have to struggle to fit the short stories into a time framework. Going back and forth in a hero’s life pleases some readers and displeases others.

When writers decide to write a story out of sequence — for example, in their fifth book in a series, they might write about events that occurred before the first book in the series — publishers may decide to put numbers on the outside of the books, and these numbers refer to the chronological “place” the book holds in the series. If a series is complete, these numbers help. If a series is still in progress, the numbers may become invalid!

Many authors who write series grow tired of writing them. They need a mental and emotional break from the characters. They need time to let new plots develop So they take a break from the series as a way of replenishing the well. But so often, what they do is start a second series of books. Sometimes the characters in this second series know the characters in the first, sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a writer is writing one series or two. Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee series was like this — maybe it was two series, maybe it was one series which wandered around a bit.

Unknown-3Some writers write series not about a single set of characters, but about people who live in the same town. Each character gets his or her own story. Romance writer Robyn Carr did this with her popular Virgin River series, though she stopped the series at twenty books and started a different series. When I read reviews of romance novels in Publishers Weekly, I notice that many of them are about, say, four sisters, each of whom gets her own book. Or five brothers. Or ten cousins. One good thing about this is that each author is committed to a short series, not an endless series.

The longest series I’m currently reading — that is, I haven’t stopped reading the series for one reason or another — is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. I’ve read the first twenty-three and am waiting for number twenty-four. The next longest series I’m still reading is the No. One Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I’m about to read the most recent book (seventeenth in the series).


Barbara Gregorich has one more Proof novel to publish before she has a series.

Series Yes, Series No: Part I

I started first grade when I was five years old, and it was in first grade that I learned to read and that I was first introduced to the concept of a series of books. Up until that time, the only books I was familiar with were picture books that my mother or grandfather read to me, and none of these were series books.

The series I was introduced to were the Dick and Jane readers, published by Scott Foresman, and I must say, I was underwhelmed. Dick bored me. Jane bored me. Sally bored me. Spot was fun. The series was not. I honestly think that, if I thought about series at all (probably not), it was with the intention of avoiding them, on the assumption that they would all be like Dick and Jane.

But then came third grade and the bookmobile! Wow! I could stand in line with other kids and we could enter the bookmobile three at a time and we could choose three books each if we wanted to. And I chose a book titled The Black Stallion, by Waltur Farley. And that changed my entire attitude toward books in series.

Because now I wanted to know what happened next to Alec and the Black. I needed to know. I needed to know faster than the bookmobile could supply me with books, and so my mother took me to a bookstore and I bought the next book in the Black Stallion series. Three days later, I bought the next. (My mother was very generous when it came to keeping me supplied with books.) And so on . . . until I caught up with Walter Farley’s writing and had to wait for the next book in the series to come out.


I was a fan and I wanted another book. I needed another book. I needed the story to go on and on and on and never end, always another adventure on the horizon. I wrote Walter Farley a fan letter. It’s possible that I urged him to hurry with the next book in the series. Only now, as an adult and a writer, do I realize how very difficult it is to produce a book a year. What’s good for fans is not necessarily good for writers.

unknownWalter Farley may have known before, during, or immediately after writing The Black Stallion that he would write a sequel. That book was The Black Stallion Returns. Two books do not make a series. That takes three books.

A sequel continues the story or expands on the theme of an earlier work. The Black Stallion Returns was clearly a sequel to the first book — the story continued from where it had left off. One of the reasons people love series is that they love to participate in the lives of other characters, be they heroes or villains — and they love to participate in these lives in a chronological, cause-and-effect order.

What’s good for fans (more books in the series they love) may not be good for the writer. I suspect that Walter Farley felt the need of a break from Alec Ramsey and his Arab stallion, because after writing a third book (a series!) titled Son of the Black Stallion, he wrote a fourth book about a boy and a horse, titled The Island Stallion. This was not part of the Black Stallion series. It was totally separate . . . although it eventually became its own series and it eventually linked up with the Black Stallion series when the two boy heroes met. The point is, I believe the writer needed a break from writing about the same people or the same horses all the time.

Today we’re inundated with series in fiction and even in nonfiction. Publishers like series because they sell more books. Readers like series because they get to spend more time with the characters they love.
But there was a time when writers didn’t automatically jump at the thought of writing a series of books. Earl Derr Biggers, creator of Charlie Chan, was thrilled that his first Chan novel, The House Without a Key, became a big hit. He was thrilled that the public clamored for more, More, MORE adventures of Charlie Chan. But Biggers wasn’t sure whether or not he should write a second book about Chan. He did feel that to write such a book would be financially wise. Up until the Chan novels, he had never written a sequel to any of his novels, and he felt he could probably make more money writing a series.

Unknown-1What worried Biggers was this: he believed that as soon as he wrote a sequel, he would have taken a step down a road from which there was no going back, because both his publisher and his public would demand nothing but Chan novels from him. This turned out to be absolutely correct: Biggers’ publisher wanted nothing but Chan novels, as did his public. Biggers did write a sequel (The Chinese Parrot) to the first Chan book, but as he lamented to his editor, “He who mounts a tiger cannot dismount.”

The public went crazy about Chan novels during the 1920s and early 1930s. Biggers received sackloads of fan mail, and his fans did not stop at praising him and telling him they wanted another Chan novel — they told him what the plot should be. Basically, they wanted Chan to take a trip from Hawaii to London to meet up with Inspector Duff, who had appeared in the third Chan book, Behind That Curtain.

These suggestions as to the plot of his fourth novel irritated Biggers. He wrote several letters to his editor complaining about the suggestions. In his fourth Chan novel, The Black Camel, Chan was in Hawaii and Inspector Duff was not present. I think Biggers was saying Phooey to the plot suggestions coming in from his millions of fans around the world. (The books were translated into 23 different languages.)


What his fans suggested must have made an impression on Biggers, and he ended up using their suggestions — though not in the way they suggested them. In the fifth Chan book, Charlie Chan Carries On, Chan does not go to London. (Too bad, fans!) But a murderer does go to London. That murderer is on an around-the-world cruise. He murders somebody on the ship while it’s in London. And so Inspector Duff, who cannot solve the crime before the ship leaves, joins the passengers on their cruise. The murderer strikes again in Italy, but, again, Duff can’t determine who the murderer is.

Finally, halfway through the book, the cruise reaches Hawaii. So instead of Chan going to London to meet Duff, it’s Duff who comes to Hawaii to meet Chan. What the fans really wanted was a reunion of Chan and Duff, and Biggers gave them that, but in his own way. And I’m glad he did, because the fifth novel is delightful. Biggers managed to keep his hero out of the book for half its length, bring him in at a critical moment, and continue the exciting story of the around-the-world cruise.

As one who loves reading mystery series, but also as one who understands that authors need breathing space and creative room, I totally admire the way Biggers carried on his Chan series.


Barbara Gregorich keeps wanting to make her two Proof novels into a series, but keeps getting waylaid by other books that demand to be written.

Baseball’s Longest Game

The longest game ever played in professional baseball started on April 18, 1981. I’ve long been fascinated by this game and several years ago I wrote a 33-stanza poem about it: one stanza for each inning.

This poem is the one I receive the most comments on and the most requests for. It was first published in Bardball.



No Ties, No Ticking Clocks
April 18, 1981

There are no ties in baseball,
there is no ticking clock.
The game could continue forever.

One night in Rhode Island
the Rochester Red Wings
face the Pawtucket Red Sox.

A fierce wind invades the stadium,
numbing fans and players alike.
Make this one quick, everyone hopes.

Lights generate no warmth.
Fans applaud, the game begins.
Six scoreless innings, then Rochester drives in

a single run. Bottom of the ninth,
the PawSox also score a single run.
There are no ties in baseball,

there is no ticking clock. There are only
more chances. The extra innings creep
like icicles: tenth, eleventh, twelfth arrive

and depart with nothing but snowballs
to show: big, round, cold zeros.
At the end of eighteen innings

the score remains one-one.
The temperature drops to bathyspheric depths.
Players light bonfires in trash barrels,

burning broken bats as fuel. Fans go home
to furnaces that blast hot air.
Players long to go home, too, but first

one of them must cross home.
The stadium sells out of food. Clubhouse men
deploy into the frigid night and return

with chow the players bolt down. The game
goes on — four hours . . . five . . . six.
There are no ties in baseball,

there is no ticking clock.
And then, top of the twenty-first inning —
Rochester scores a second run.

The game will, at long last, be over.

No. Not meant to be.
Pawtucket also scores a second run
in the bottom of the twenty-first. Game tied,

two-two. The contest will continue. Players
know it, the remaining fans know it. This is baseball,
not some nickel-and-dime tick-tock diversion.

The managers think otherwise:
they want the game called and resumed
later, preferably on a warm

summer day. They appeal to the umpire,
who pages through his book coldly
and finds . . . no applicable rule.

“Play ball!” he huffs, his breath a speech
bubble in the frosty air. And so players stumble
through the motions they’ve been making since

they were six years old. Half-asleep, half-frozen,
they are all good enough to play at the Triple-A level,
and definitely good enough to keep one another from scoring.

By the end of the twenty-seventh inning,
Rochester and Pawtucket have played
three full baseball games. Again the managers

appeal to the umpire, but the blue man stands
by his earlier decision. There are no ties
in baseball, there is no ticking clock.

The fans: a score of them remain. (A score!
If only somebody would score!) Nobody goes out
to scrounge up food for the fans, who dare not

burn stadium seats to stay warm.
Why do they stay? Do they know
they are witnessing baseball history?

History, schmistory, the managers don’t care —
they understand about ticking clocks
and no ties, they just think somebody

has to show some common sense.
And so, calling it common sense,
somebody calls the league president

at three o’clock in the morning.
After he is awake enough to understand
the situation, the league president grants

permission to call the game. And so,
at the end of the thirty-second inning,
the game is called, to be resumed another day.

Before the fans can unstiffen enough to leave,
the Pawtucket organization awards a free season pass
to each of these true blue-from-the-cold lovers of the game,

The players stand in hot showers to thaw,
then dress to go home, stepping out
into the early morning sunrise.

Two months later, the Red Wings return
and the game resumes, the score still two-two.
Rochester fails to score,

but Pawtucket does not, driving a run
across the plate in the bottom of the thirty-third inning.
The longest game in baseball history

is finally completed.
There are no ties in baseball.
There is no ticking clock.


Barbara Gregorich is fascinated by long games and long odds, such as those faced by the Cleveland Naps/Indians during their first two decades of existence. She wrote about this in Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog.

Biggers’ The Black Camel: Clues True and False

I have been reading the Charlie Chan mysteries of Earl Derr Biggers’ for the fourth time (having read them the first time when I was sixteen), and I’ve been blogging about them, concentrating on my reactions during the fourth reading. (See Behind That Curtain: Richness and Texture.)

unknown-1The Black Camel, Biggers’ fourth Chan novel, is one of the three that I’ve remembered the solution of since I first read the books (the other two being The House Without a Key and The Keeper of the Keys). Up until now, I always considered this the least intriguing of his mysteries, though I’m not sure why. I suspect my original lack of enthusiasm for the book had something to do with Tarneverro the Great, self-styled fortune teller to Hollywood stars. If you look at drawings of Tarneverro on book covers and depictions of him in movie posters, you can see that he’s made to look like an evil villain.

In my first three readings I thought of Tarneverro as cunning, manipulative, and unlikeable. On the fourth reading, though, I felt admiration for his quest for justice as well as for his quick thinking and his skills at deflection and misdirection. Moreover, on the fourth reading I greatly enjoyed watching the way Tarneverro thinks he can outwit Chan when, in fact, he can’t

Tarneverro is a great name for the fortune teller. The first half reminds me of tarnish, whose root means dark or dull; the second half reminds me of any of the roots meaning true or speaking truly as, for example, veracity. Part of Tarneverro speaks the truth. The other part darkens, dulls, or stains that truth.

As intriguing as Tarneverro is, it’s not the fortune teller I want to concentrate on, but the outline of The Black Camel, which I offered in my previous blog, Outline: The Black Camel. In that blog I boldfaced some information and italicized other information — and challenged the reader to figure out what the boldface and italics indicated.

If you read the outline, you’ll see that Biggers did a masterful job of plotting the story of Shelah Fane’s murder and tying it to the murder of Denny Mayo three years earlier. Sometimes mystery writers make the villain the main adversary of the detective. This is a risky ploy because at some point in the novel readers will begin to suspect that the person who seems to be obstructing the investigation is the perpetrator of the deed. Biggers, instead of developing Shelah Fane’s murderer as Chan’s adversary, developed Chan’s “helper” (Tarneverro) as his adversary. This helper is almost as observant as Chan himself, with excellent powers of deduction and the will and skill to act quickly. It is this helper, Tarneverro, who lays down the false clues which hamper the investigation. It is Tarneverro’s aim that Chan never solve the crime of who murdered Shelah Fane. The false clues are in italics in the outline.

unknown-6However, it isn’t the fact that somebody (even a “helper”) is laying down false clues that make The Black Camel such a satisfyingly plotted book. What makes the plotting so satisfying is that the very first thing Tarneverro tells Chan about the murder of Denny Mayo is absolutely true — he, Tarneverro, hopes to reveal the name of the murderer that very evening. Neither Chan nor the reader have any reason to doubt this statement. Chan and the reader accept it as true. Which it is.

But after the murder occurs, everything that Tarneverro tells Chan is false: that Shelah Fane hid in Mayo’s apartment the night of the murder; that she promised to write the name of the murderer in a letter; that the murderer of Denny Mayo also murdered Shelah Fane. Lies, lies, lies . . . but oh so believable lies. Lies that, once you accept the truth of Tarneverro’s first statement, seem to follow so logically that nobody questions them. The lies  rest on the very solid, unshakable truth of what the fortune teller first tells Chan: that he hopes to reveal the name of the person who murdered Denny Mayo.

The construction of the plot is brilliant.

Although Tarneverro is the person shielding the murderer of Shelah Fane, and the character who is most misdirecting the investigation, Biggers further complicates the plot by adding other characters who are also telling lies or withholding the truth. The person telling lies is Julie O’Neill. Those withholding crucial evidence are Smith and Robert Fyfe.

The pace of The Black Camel is brisk: the whole novel takes place in less than 48 hours. The wit is delicious, especially the exchanges between Chan and Tarneverro. The scenes of Chan with his three eldest children are delightful: they speak in slang, which he abhors. The scenes between Chan and the Chief of Police show how respected Charlie is, and show what a good working relationship he has with his boss. And the Chief’s repeated desires to “break Tarneverro’s alibi” (with Charlie always replying that the alibi is unbreakable) add a great deal of reader anticipation: each time I read the book, I keep expecting Chan to break the unbreakable alibi! The reader keeps thinking not that the alibi is solid, but that it will be broken.

If you haven’t already read The Black Camel, now is the time to enjoy it. And if you have, perhaps now is the time to reread it.


Barbara Gregorich has more to say about not making the villain the main adversary in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

Outline: The Black Camel

I’ve been teaching a lot of writing classes lately, and when I teach fiction I recommend to students that they choose a novel they like and outline it, in order to determine its bare-bones construction. Then I confess to them that I have never done so.

Today I’m remedying that situation by posting my outline of Earl Derr Biggers’ fourth Charlie Chan novel, The Black Camel. The outline below lists only the pertinent plot points — the statements and incidents which lead Charlie and the reader forward, toward the solution of the mystery. Such an outline reveals the novel’s skeleton only — it in no way shows the wit, the humor, the character differences, the setting, the dialogue, the subplots, or any other of the muscle, sinew, and tone which help create a delightful reading experience.

In my next blog I’ll analyze the novel. Until then, you can use your own judgement to figure out why certain things are bold-faced or italicized.

Spoiler Alert: If you read the outline, you will know who committed the crime and how and why.

Shelah Fane — Hollywood actress
Alan Jaynes — man who has recently proposed to Shelah
Jimmy Bradshaw — young reporter working for the Hawaii Tourist Bureau
Julie O’Neill — secretary to Shelah Fane
Diana Dixon — Hollywood actress
Huntley Van Horn — Hollywood actor, Shelah’s leading man
Anna Rodderick — Shelah’s maid/dresser
Tarneverro the Great — fortune-teller to Hollywood stars
Val Martino — director of the Shelah’s current film
Charlie Chan — Inspector in the Honolulu Police Department
Jessop — Shelah Fane’s butler
Robert Fyfe — actor, ex-husband of Shelah Fane
Rita Ballou — former actress
Wilkie Ballou — wealthy Hawaiin who married Rita
Wu Kno-ching — cook at Shelah Fane’s house
Kashimo — a member of the police force who reports to Chan
Smith — a beach bum, former artist in landscapes
Chief of Police — Chan’s superior
Mr. and Mrs. MacMaster — retired Australians on vacation in Hawaii

Chapter 1  
• Shelah Fane, Alan Jaynes, Huntley Van Horn, Val Martino, Diana Dixon, and Anna Roderick arrive in Honolulu, coming from Tahiti.
• Waiting for them are Jimmy Bradshaw, Tarneverro the Great, and Julie O’Neill.
• Tarneverro meets Charlie Chan, who tells him he should use his psychic powers to aid the Los Angeles police with unsolved murders such as that of Denny Mayo, which occurred three years earlier.
• Shelah meets with Tarneverro to have her fortune read: she wants to know if she should accept Jaynes’ proposal of marriage.

unknownChapter 2
• Back in the house she has rented, Shelah Fane is distressed at the results of her session with Tarneverro.
• A box of orchids arrives from Robert Fyfe, her ex-husband. He’s performing on stage in Honolulu.
• Guests start arriving for a dinner party — Jimmy Bradshaw, Rita and Wilkie Ballou and her husband, Alan Jaynes.
• Shelah tells Alan that she cannot marry him. This infuriates Jaynes, who believes she is refusing his offer of marriage because Tarneverro advised her to do so.
• Jaynes leaves the house and walks back to the Grand Hotel, where he confronts Tarneverro
• Val Martino, also staying at the hotel, restrains Jaynes. With Martino is Huntley Van Horn.
• As the four men are in the lobby, Charlie Chan arrives
• Van Horn announces that he’s leaving in order to walk to Shelah’s for dinner. Martino and Jaynes also leave.
• Tarneverro tells Chan that he, too, is dining at Shelah’s later that evening, and that when the dinner is over, he may have a very important message for Chan. A message that requires Chan to arrest a murderer.

Chapter 3
• Arriving at Shelah’s house Van Horn strolls out onto the lawn toward the pavilion.
• Wu Kno-ching enters the room, demanding to know when dinner should be served.
• Jessop goes down to the beach to round up the guests. They all wonder where Shelah is.
• Julie and Jimmy volunteer to fetch Shelah, who must be in the pavilion. Together they enter — and find Shelah dead, her body on the floor.

Chapter 4
• Chan is called to investigate.
• On his way out of the hotel, he encounters Tarneverro and tells him that Shelah Fane has been murdered.
• The fortune teller is stunned. Chan invites him to ride with him to the investigation. Tarneverro laments that Shelah’s blood is on his head.
• Chan asks him to explain, and Tarneverro tells him that at Shelah’s fortune-telling yesterday, she confessed to him that she was hiding in another room when, three years ago, Denny Mayo was murdered.
Shelah told him that the murderer was at this moment in Honolulu. But she did not tell him the name of the murderer.
Tarneverro says he encouraged Shelah to write the name of the guilty person on a piece of paper and give it to him that evening, so that he could give it to Chan and so that justice could be done.
• Chan theorizes that the person who killed Shelah was the same person who murdered Mayo — but Chan can’t figure out how this person would have known that Shelah was about to reveal his name.
• Chan examines the body. He finds that there was a struggle, and that Shelah’s wristwatch was smashed, its crystal broken, and the hands stopped at 8:02.
• Tarneverro firmly reminds Charlie that at 8:02 he, Jaynes, Martino, and Van Horn were all standing together, with Chan, in the lounge of the Grand Hotel.
• A bouquet of flowers that had been pinned to Shelah’s dress was torn off and trampled under foot. But the pin with which the flowers were fastened is missing. “Strangely missing,” Chan observes.
• Chan also finds a fresh nick on the corner of a glass table inside the pavilion.
• Tarneverro looks in Shelah’s gold mesh bag, saying that maybe the note she promised to write to him was there. But it isn’t.
• When Chan and Tarneverro enter the house, Jessop hands Tarneverro an envelope from Shelah.
• Chan intercepts the envelope, stating that the police are now in charge.
• The others are called into the room. Charlie holds up the envelope — and then the lights go out.
• The thud of a body hitting the floor is heard. When the lights are turned back on, Charlie is lifting himself from the floor, rubbing his right cheek, which is bloody. All but a small fragment of the letter is gone.

Chapter 5
• Chan looks at the men standing around to see if any are wearing rings: he figures it was a ring that cut his cheek. None are wearing rings.
• Chan does not search anybody: he figures the person who swiped the letter immediately tucked it into a drawer, chair, or recess of some kind.
• During questioning, Chan ascertains that Wilkie and Rita have been married for three years, and that both lived in Hollywood three years ago.
• Julie O’Neill informs Chan that the orchids Shelah was wearing came from Robert Fyfe.
• Huntley Van Horn says that he arrived at Shelah’s around 8:15.
• Val Martino says he did not live in Hollywood three years ago, only two years ago.
• Alan Jaynes asks if Chan has fixed the time of death, and the detective acknowledges that it was 8:02. Jaynes says that he has never been to Hollywood.
• Diana Dixon says she left the house at 8:00 and walked down to the beach. She noticed a man leaving the pavilion. He wore a long overcoat, dress clothes, and his white shirt was stained with something red.

the-black-camel-movie-poster-1931-1010267452Chapter 6
• Jessop says he lived in Hollywood three years earlier.
Jessop states that at 8:02 he was in the kitchen with Wu and with Anna.
• He informs Chan that earlier in the day he saw Shelah in the library, weeping over a photograph of a man. The photo was mounted on a green mat.
Chan questions Wu in Cantonese as Jimmy, Julie, and Tarneverro look on.
• When the interview is finished, Jimmy asks Chan what was said, but Chan refuses to reveal it.
• Anna Rodderick has been Shelah’s maid for 18 months, from the day Anna first arrived in Hollywood.
• Anna describes the gold and diamond pin that Shelah used to fasten her orchids.
• Chan takes Anna into the pavilion and asks her to check to make certain that all of Shelah’s jewelry is still there.
• While Anna is searching, Kashimo discovers a set of footprints outside the pavilion window.
Anna tells Chan that the pin that fastened the orchids is missing — as is a large emerald ring that Shelah wore on her right hand.

Chapter 7
• Chan lists all those who were in Hollywood three years earlier, when Denny Mayo was murdered: Wilkie Ballou, Rita Ballou, Huntley Van Horn, and Jessop.
• Tarneverro informs Chan that Diana Dixon was also there at the time.
• So was Julie O’Neill.
• With Chan’s permission, Tarneverro examines the wristwatch, turning its stem: the minute hand instantly moves.
Tarneverro argues that this means the murderer adjusted the watch time to a certain setting — 8:02 — then forgot to re-adjust the stem.
Chan then points out that everyone’s alibi is gone — including Tarneverro’s. The fortune teller hints that he might have another alibi.
• Charlie finds the letter that was snatched from his hand: it was hidden under a rug. The letter does not name the murderer. Instead, in it Shelah begs Tarneverro to forget that their conversation ever took place.
• Kashimo returns from his search of the upstairs and produces a handful of torn bits of paper and heavy green cardboard: he found them buried in a potted plant.
• Chan spreads the pieces out on a table and sits down to put them together. In the room are Chan, Tarneverro, Van Horn, Martino, Jaynes, and Wilkie and Rita Ballou.
Chan informs them that everyone’s alibi for the 8:02 time has vanished.
• Kashimo thrusts open a French window and the bits of photograph blow everywhere.
• The guests start picking up the scattered pieces, as does Chan. When the collection is completed, Chan realizes he has less than half the amount he started with and thus won’t be able to reconstruct the photo. 
• The doorbell rings. The new guest introduces himself as Robert Fyfe, Shelah’s ex-husband. He is wearing an overcoat, and across his chest is a bright red splash: it is part of his costume.

Chapter 8
• Fyfe says he was not in Hollywood three years ago.
• When Chan asks whether Fyfe saw Shelah this evening, Fyfe replies that he did not.
• The guests leave for the dining room, where coffee is served. Fyfe and Chan remain and
Fyfe admits that he did see Shelah that evening. She met him in front of the pavilion and the two of them went inside and talked.
Fyfe left at 8:04 and arrived at the theater at 8:20. The stage manager was waiting for him at the door.
• A Honolulu police officer arrives: in his grip is a beach bum who claims his name is Smith. Chan takes Smith into the living room, where Fyfe waits.
The footprints under the window match Smith’s exactly. Chan demands an explanation. Smith insists that he never entered the pavilion, simply listened underneath the window.
• Smith identifies Fyfe as the man he saw inside the pavilion.
• Just as Smith is about to tell Chan what he heard Shelah tell Fyfe, Fyfe himself leaps up and confesses that he killed Shelah.
• Chan asks why. Fyfe replies that he wanted Shelah to return to him, but she wouldn’t.
• Chan refuses to accept the confession. Fyfe has an unshakeable alibi, having left the pavilion at 8:04 and arrived at the theater at 8:20.
Then Chan announces that Shelah Fane was alive and well at 8:12.

Chapter 9 
• Tarneverro wants to know how Chan knew that Shelah was alive at 8:12. Chan says that Wu told him this, when the two were speaking in Cantonese.
Wu stated that at 8:12 he went to the pavilion to speak to Shelah Fane: she was there, alive and well.
• Chan returns to interrogating Smith, who now claims that all he heard between Shelah and Fyfe was Fyfe’s pleas for her to return. Smith says Fyfe left and Shelah remained in the room, alive.
Chan knows that Fyfe is hiding something: something that came out in the conversation with Shelah, that Smith overheard, and that Fyfe wants repressed.
• Chan tells the guests that because Shelah was alive at 8:12 and dead by 8:30, he wants to know what each guest was doing during those crucial eighteen minutes.
• Four people in particular, who had alibis before, now need to explain where they were: Tarneverro, Val Martino, Alan Jaynes, and Huntley Van Horn.
• Tarneverro says that he spent the time talking with an old couple who are friends of his from Australia.
• Jaynes says that he has no alibi, he was wandering the beach.
• Van Horn says that after he arrived at the house, he went down to the beach, where he spoke to Rita Ballou.
• Val Martino says he was sitting outside the hotel, thinking.
• Tarneverro calls Chan’s attention to a bleeding cut on the director’s brow and tells Charlie that Martino just placed a bloody handkerchief in his pocket.
• Chan examines the handkerchief with a magnifying glass and finds a few splinters of glass in it: splinters which may have come from the glass top in the pavilion.
• Martino denies that it’s his handkerchief. He has no idea how it ended up in his pocket.
• Martino points out to Chan that there’s a laundry mark on the silk handkerchief: the letter B.

Chapter 10
• Martino says that as the guests were leaving the dining room, he felt a little tug at his pocket. But he has no idea who was around him at the time . . . except, he says, Tarneverro was nearby.
• The director and the fortune teller get into a heated argument.
• Chan stops the argument by announcing to all the guests that they are free to go home.
• Chan searches the bedrooms, then questions Anna again.
• Producing an emerald ring from his pocket, he asks her if it’s the one that was missing from Shelah Fane’s hand. She affirms that it is.
• Chan then turns to Julie and asks her what the ring was doing in the drawer of her dressing-table.
• Julie says that Shelah was always hard up for money and that the actress asked Julie to sell the ring for her.
• According to Julie, Shelah gave her the ring at 8:00 a.m.
• Chan looks at the ring through his magnifying glass. It’s inscribed: “Shelah from Denny.”
• Julie bursts into tears.
• When Chan gives Jimmy a ride back to the newspaper office, Jimmy asks if he can have his handkerchief back: it was his silk handkerchief, with B for Bradshaw, that somebody lifted and palmed off onto Martino.
• Chan refuses to return the handkerchief.

Chapter 11
• At the police station Charlie reports to the Chief all that has transpired.
• The Chief tells Chan that they fingerprinted Smith and let him go.
• They discuss Tarneverro and how he might seem a bit too eager to assist Charlie.
• Outside the police station, Chan sees Smith.
• Chan follows him. Smith goes to the Waioli Hotel, looks into the lobby, hesitates, then leaves. Chan knows that the Waioli Hotel is where Robert Fyfe resides.

Chapter 12
• The next morning Smith awakens on the beach. He visits Robert Fyfe, who says he has been waiting for Smith to arrive and blackmail him.
• Fyfe gives the beach bum a $50 advance on $250.
• Smith then goes to the seedy Nippon Hotel and rents the room he always rents when he has a bit of money.

Chapter 13
• After Chan arises he drives to the Waioli Hotel, where he is informed that Mr. Fyfe left earlier, with a man. By the description, Charlie ascertains that the man was Smith.
• At the theater Chan finds Fyfe rehearsing. He questions the stage manager, who verifies Fyfe’s time alibi for the previous evening.
• Chan speaks to Fyfe privately, imploring him to speak the truth about what Shelah said to him. Fyfe claims he forgot what she said to him.
Chan argues that Fyfe is hampering the police investigation, but Fyfe won’t budge.
• At the Honolulu library, Charlie asks for the Los Angeles newspapers of three years ago. The librarian tells him that the particular volume he wants is in use at the moment.
Chan looks to see who is reading the volume. It is Huntley Van Horn.

unknown-5Chapter 14
• At the Grand Hotel Charlie speaks to Mr. and Mrs. MacMaster of Australia: the old couple who provide Tarneverro’s alibi for the now-established time of murder.
• As Chan begins to speak to the couple, Tarneverro himself approaches.
• Chan asks specifically about the time Tarneverro departed, and MacMaster says it was 8:32 when the fortune teller left them.
• Ten years ago, Tarneverro was a sheepman on the MacMaster ranch.
• As Mrs. MacMaster starts to say something, Tarneverro interrupts her to continue his story.
Tarneverro suggests that Chan consider Wilkie Ballou as a suspect.
• “There is also Martino,” Chan replies. Tarneverro agrees.
• As Chan and Tarneverro walk through the hotel, the head bellman speaks to Tarneverro in Cantonese. Tarneverro asks what the bellman said, and Chan replies that the bellman made a respectful inquiry about Tarneverro’s health.
• At Shelah’s house Chan strolls to the pavilion and, outside the window, where Smith had been standing, he finds a small cigar — of the type that Alan Jaynes smokes.

Chapter 15
• On the inside of the pavilion windowsill are the prints of a man’s fingers and thumb.
• Chan asks the police department’s fingerprint expert to photograph the prints.
• Chan goes to the Grand Hotel to talk to Alan Jaynes about the cigar. While waiting for Jaynes, Chan improvises a way to capture his fingerprints without Jaynes’ knowledge.
• Jaynes denies that he was near the pavilion.
• According to the fingerprint expert, Jaynes’ fingerprints do not match those on the windowsill.
The prints on the sill match those of Smith, the beach bum.

Chapter 16
• Chan asks the Chief to have Smith found and brought into the station.
Jessop swears that Shelah was wearing the emerald ring at 7 p.m. the previous evening.
• Chan asks Julie why she lied to him about the ring. She denies that she lied.
She informs Chan that there’s an old grudge between her and Jessop and that he lied.
• Chan asks why Van Horn was in the library reading the Los Angeles papers from three years ago, and the actor hands Charlie an unsigned typewritten note.
The note tells Van Horn to go to the library and remove from the bound volumes any references that damage him (Van Horn).
• Van Horn says that whoever did this, did so to throw suspicion on him. Chan suggests that Van Horn could have written the letter himself.
• Back at the library Chan finds the volume of Los Angeles newspapers on the very table where he had seen Van Horn examining it. When Chan opens the volume, he is astonished to see that every picture of Denny Mayo has been cut from the newspaper.

Chapter 17
• The photos are gone, but the articles remain, so Chan reads them. He learns that Mayo came to Hollywood directly from the English stage.
• His servant had the night off and went out: when he returned at midnight, Mayo was dead, shot at close range with his own revolver.
• Little was known of Mayo’s past, though it was rumored he had a wife back in England. Yet no family member came forward.
• Mayo had been working in a picture with actress Rita Montaine — now Rita Ballou.
• A witness testified that he had heard a quarrel between Wilkie Ballou and Denny.
• But on the night of the murder Wilkie had an alibi: he was with Rita from 6:00 until midnight.
Van Horn swears that he left the volume on the table around 9:30 in the morning, and it was in perfect condition at the time.
• The Chief says he wants to interview the MacMasters himself, to determine if they are lying.
• Kashimo returns to the station, dejected: he hasn’t found Smith.
Rita Ballou says that Shelah Fane was wearing the emerald ring the previous evening. Rita remembers Shelah wearing the same ring in Hollywood.

Chapter 18
• Chan once again confronts Julie. He drags out of her the following information:
• (1) Shelah Fane did give her the ring in the morning and asked her to sell it.
• (2) After she returned from her late-morning interview with Tarneverro, Shelah took the ring back.
• (3) When Jimmy and Julie found Shelah dead, Julie knelt down and removed the ring from Shelah’s hand.
• Chan says he knows that Shelah was in Denny’s house the night he was murdered and, consequently, she knew the name of the killer.
• Julie says that the night of Denny’s murder, Shelah came home in a state of hysteria and wasn’t herself for weeks.
• After she returned from seeing Tarneverro, Shelah asked for the ring back because it had Denny’s name in it and she didn’t want any mention of that name now. “He’ll come back to disgrace me yet,” Shelah said of Denny Mayo.
• Julie says she took the ring in order to keep Denny’s name from disgracing Shelah, and Julie ripped the photo of Denny to shreds and buried the pieces in a potted plant for the same reason.
• When Chan asks her if she gathered up many of the photo pieces that were scattered all over the living room and kept them to herself, Julie says that was not her. She reminds Charlie that she wasn’t in the room when that happened.
• Chan puzzles over who doesn’t want him to see a photo of Denny Mayo — and why.
The bellman who had spoken to Tarneverro in Cantonese tells Chan that Tarneverro understands Cantonese.
• Chan thinks about this and concludes that Tarneverro understood what Wu said about seeing Shelah alive at 8:12, and so Tarneverro made a point of “discovering” that the murderer had deliberately set the broken wristwatch to 8:02.
• Chan concludes that Tarneverro is not as true a “helper” as he pretends to be.

unknown-1Chapter 19

• Martino urges Chan to solve the case soon. Charlie confesses that he is “opposed in this matter by some person of extreme cleverness.”
• Martino states that Tarneverro is very clever. Chan counters that Martino himself is clever.
• Martino thanks Charlie for the observation, then says he is convinced that the way Tarneverro gets Hollywood stars in his clutches is that he has spies working for him.
• Chan reminds Martino that Tarneverro has an unshakable alibi for the time of the murder.
• Chan asks Alan Jaynes how the cigar stub ended up outside the pavilion window if, in fact, Jaynes had never been there.
• Jaynes says that he saw Tarneverro take a couple of cigars from his (Jaynes’) cigar box and put them in his pocket.
• Jaynes concludes that Tarneverro used the cigar to plant a false clue.
• The Chief wants to break Tarneverro’s alibi: he informs Charlie that he has asked the old Australian couple, the MacMasters, to come into his office later.
• The Chief, Chan, and a house detective search Tarneverro’s room, where they find a locked trunk.
• They open the trunk: it contains a portable typewriter and a ring.
• Chan types a few words and compares them to the anonymous letter Van Horn received: both were written on the same machine, the one in Tarneverro’s trunk.
• Charlie thinks the ring is the very one that cut his face when somebody snatched the envelope from his hand in Shelah’s house the night of the murder.

Chapter 20
• The librarian describes a second man who was in the library that morning. From the description Chan is convinced it’s Tarneverro.
• Chan sits in on the Chief’s interview of the MacMasters. Reluctantly, the Chief agrees that they are speaking the truth: Tarneverro has an unshakeable alibi for the eighteen minutes in question.
• Chan asks the couple if Tarneverro is the man’s real name. The couple says that Tarneverro has asked them to not reveal his real name.
• Chan explains that if they give his real name, they will not harm Tarneverro, who has an alibi, but they will help solve the murder of Shelah Fane.
Mrs. MacMaster tells Charlie that Tarneverro’s real name is Arthur Mayo. He is Denny Mayo’s brother.

Chapter 21
• Chan requests that the fortune teller come to the police station immediately.
• Chan proposes to the Chief that they say nothing of Tarneverro’s obstacles (hitting Charlie, snatching the letter, stealing Jaynes’ cigar, planting it as a false clue, and so on), but rather tell him they know he is Denny’s brother, and see what he says.
• When confronted with their knowledge that he is Denny Mayo’s brother, Tarneverro says he will explain. He says that because the police didn’t solve the case, he went to Hollywood in disguise as Tarneverro and began prying into the secrets of those who knew Denny — to determine who murdered him.
Tarneverro believes that the same person who killed Denny also killed Shelah, to keep her from revealing his name.
• After Tarneverro leaves, the Chief and Chan agree that Tarneverro’s story was not true: that it in no way explains why he created false clues at every turn.
• Chan finds Smith and brings him to the station house.
• The Chief unleashes on Smith, asking him why his fingerprints are on the windowsill of the room in which Shelah Fane was murdered.
• Realizing he is in a tight spot and may be accused of murder, Smith confesses that he did climb the windowsill and looked inside and spotted a diamond pin. Stooping from the sill, he picked up the pin — and then he noticed the murdered woman on the floor.
• Smith reaches into his pocket and hands the broken pin to Chan.
• The Chief says that unless Smith reveals what Shelah said to Fyfe, he will be sent to prison for theft of the diamond pin.
• Smith says he will tell them. Chan says that he wants Fyfe to be present.

Chapter 22
• Fyfe arrives at the police station.
Smith announces that what he heard Shelah Fane tell Fyfe was that three years ago in Hollywood, she murdered Denny Mayo.
• Fyfe then explains that Shelah told him that she had fallen in love with Denny, but on that night three years ago, he told her his wife in London had had an accident and was no longer able to work: he was going to ask her to join him in Hollywood.
• Shelah went crazy, pulled a revolver out of Denny’s desk, and pointed it at him. He struggled with her and the gun went off, killing him.
• Against her will, Shelah somehow found herself confessing this crime to Tarneverro.
• Immediately afterward, she regretted having confessed.  In fact, she was afraid, which is why she called her ex-husband and asked him to see her.
• After her murder, Fyfe found he couldn’t tell the police the truth because it would forever tarnish Shelah’s name.
• Chan asks if Fyfe is sure that Shelah did indeed confess to Tarneverro that she killed Denny Mayo. Fyfe says he is certain she did.
• The Chief wants to arrest Tarneverro for the murder of Shelah Fane. Chan disagrees, stating that the fortune teller’s alibi is unshakeable.
Chan produces the broken diamond pin and says it will help him solve the case. When they find the missing half, they will know who the murderer is. The murderer, he believes, tore off the orchids and trampled them underfoot, breaking the pin and imbedding part of it in his/her shoe.

Chapter 23
• In the dining room of Shelah’s house Chan asks Jessop to place the chairs in the same position they were the previous evening, when the guests were served coffee.
• With a magnifying glass Chan examines the floor, then asks Jessop which guest sat where. Chan stands behind a particular chair and asks who sat there. Jessop can’t remember.
• Chan makes numerous calls, asking people to return to the house.
• He tells the Chief that there are scratches in front of one (and only one) chair in the dining room, and that Shelah Fane’s murderer sat in that chair.
• Everyone files into the dining room and recreates where they sat the previous evening. It is Tarneverro who sits in the murderer’s seat.
• Again the Chief wants to arrest Tarneverro. Again Chan protests that the man’s alibi is unbreakable.
• Chan asks Jessop if, after the guests left, anybody else sat at the table. Jessop admits that he and Anna sat there. He indicates that Anna sat in the chair Chan is most interested in.
• Chan calls for Anna. He asks her to remove her right shoe. She is wearing a brace on her right ankle, which she injured three years ago. She removes the shoe.
• In the presence of all, Chan slits the rubber heel with his penknife — embedded in the heel is the other half of the gold pin.
• Chan accuses Anna of murdering Shelah Fane. He realizes that she is the wife of Denny Mayo — the one he intended to return to before Shelah murdered him.

Chapter 24  
• Chan accuses Tarneverro of having used Anna as his spy in Hollywood: the person who relayed to him various things about the stars, so that he could pretend to “see” these things in his crystal ball.
Chan states that as soon as Tarneverro heard of Shelah’s murder, he instinctively knew who did it and sought to protect her, inventing lies along the way, planting false clues.
Anna confesses that she killed Shelah. She remembered a watch alibi from a play she was in, and she used it to set the time of the wristwatch to 8:02, when she was in the kitchen having tea with Jessop.


Barbara Gregorich provides clues and suggestions to mystery writing in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, available through brick-and-mortar booksellers and online booksellers.

“I Say: She’s Writing About Dialogue!”

Writing teachers often tell the story of an 8-year-old who walked into the library and asked the librarian for “more books with those funny marks inside.” Upon questioning the child, the librarian determined that he was talking about quotation marks, and that he wanted books with lots of dialogue.

Indeed, dialogue (defined as conversation between two or more people in a book or a play) interests most readers. Some very strongly prefer books heavy with dialogue. But even those readers who might prefer narrative summary or description still don’t crave books without dialogue. In short, although they might be crazy about narrative, they will also, subconsciously, want relief from unending narrative.

Dialogue is fascinating to readers because, if done well, it reveals character, it reveals conflict, it shows the reader what is happening — and it seems more “real life” and faster than narrative.


Readers aren’t the only people who love dialogue. Some writers so enjoy writing dialogue (usually witty) that they initially write pages and pages of the stuff. But the main purpose of scene (almost all scenes contain dialogue) is to reveal conflict, reveal character, and move the plot forward. Its primary purpose is not to feature dialogue. Instead of a scene being an excuse to write dialogue, it should be dialogue which serves the purpose of the scene.

Although dialogue may seem “real life,” it is not so. As Sol Stein points out in Stein on Writing, realistic dialogue is contained in court transcriptions. And nobody craves reading court transcriptions. Here’s how Stein put it:

“Dialogue, contrary to popular view, is not a recording of actual speech; it is a semblance of speech, an invented language of exchanges that build in tempo or content toward climaxes.”

Good dialogue gives the impression of natural speech, but is not a verbatim rendition of natural speech. Usually the uh’s the you know’s, the see’s and other such verbal crutches are left out: or are put in, but are only representative. It would be painful to read dialogue that actually reproduces speech. So dialogue gives the impression of naturalness, but the writer usually works very hard to make the dialogue seem natural when, in fact, it is more pertinent, more efficient, and more meaningful than most natural dialogue.

When writing dialogue, writers must consider how the lines will look on a page. A full page of nothing but one-liners is difficult for readers to assimilate: they loose track of who’s speaking. But a full page in which one character’s dialogue occupies the entire page, or even half of the page, is also difficult for readers to relate to.  Long paragraphs of dialogue cease feeling like dialogue to the reader: they start to feel like narrative.

Of course, just as uninterrupted dialogue is difficult to read, so is uninterrupted narrative: the reader wants something to happen live — on the page, in real time. With people! People speaking words!

When well-written, those words surrounded by “funny marks” carry a lot of weight in creating character, revealing plot, and moving the action forward.


Barbara Gregorich has more to say about dialogue in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies.

How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days

After She’s on First was published in 1987, I spent more than a year avoiding writing a nonfiction book on women who played baseball. Finally, toward the end of 1988, I decided I would write such a book. It would, I figured, take me a year to do all the research.


It took four years of daily research, travel, and interviews before I felt I had enough material to tell the story of 100 years of women playing baseball. In 1992 my agent sold my book proposal to Harcourt — and Harcourt gave me 92 days in which to write the manuscript.

After I wrote the manuscript, I wrote an article about the 92-day experience. “How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days” was published in the 1994 Writer’s Yearbook. I’m reprinting the article below.

Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it certainly is faster. I needed two full years to write my first book, a novel about a female baseball player. Writing the novel led to what eventually became my fourth book, the real story of women who played baseball. After I developed a proposal for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, my agent submitted it.

On Sunday, July 12, 1992, my agent, Jane Jordan Browne, called from her office to say that a 19-page sample contract had arrived from Harcourt Brace Company via fax, and that while she was negotiating and modifying the contract, I should know that I had only until October 15, 1992, to write the manuscript. According to editor John Radziewicz, this was a “drop-dead” deadline.

Elated at the contract, but stunned by the deadline, I counted the squares on my wall calendar. Exactly ninety-five of them from Monday, July 13 through Thursday, October 15. But three of them were filled with day-long events, leaving me ninety-two days to write a 50,000-word book and collect at least fifty photographs of female baseball players.

No time to panic or complain. That very Sunday I sat down and figured it out, day by day. The 27 chapters listed in my proposal (each chapter containing two, three, or four sidebars) were organized into four sections, each with an introduction. Counting each introduction as a chapter, I had 31 chapters. This gave me a smidgen less than three days to write each chapter and its accompanying sidebars. That night I went to sleep knowing the next morning was critical: I would start off right and keep on schedule.

Monday, July 13 , Day 1 — My schedule calls for me to write from 7:30 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., exercise from 2:00 until 3:30, answer correspondence, return phone calls, and run errands from 3:30 until 6:00, and then write again from 6:00 until … whenever.

At 7:42 A.M. I face the computer and begin Chapter 2. (Chapter 1, the sample chapter of my book proposal, is written, so I’m three days ahead of schedule already!) Chapter 2 is the shortest in the book and I finish it by 7:30 P.M. of Day 1. Hot damn!

Later, I type a long list of possible photos and their probable sources for Sharon Johnson, a friend who works as my research assistant five hours a week.

Monday, July 20 , Day 7— Chapter 4 completed, I place it in a green file folder that I nestle into a bright yellow pocket folder. Four of the yellow pockets sit on a shelf, each representing one section of Women at Play. On the two shelves above the yellow pockets sit eight linear feet of folders stuffed with photocopies of old newspaper articles, letters, diaries, and notes from baseball books — the history of women in baseball, 1872 to the present, and the product of my research so far.

Tuesday, July 28 , Day 15 — After reading comments on Section One from Jane and from my husband, Phil Passen, I rewrite the six chapters and introduction. By 9:15 P.M., I’m printing out the last of the rewritten chapters and am an amazing six days ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 12 , Day 30— Late in the evening I finish Chapter 10. The sidebars are fun: I write them first because they serve as a warmup to the chapter.

But Section Two is turning out longer than I thought. Worried about keeping the manuscript to a reasonable size, I consider deleting a chapter from Section Three and another from Section Four. I make no decision.

imagesTuesday, August 18 , Day 36 — At 7:00 A.M. I launch into the introduction for Section Two. Around 11:30, I break for lunch. As I’m eating a slice of pizza, I hear a loud Crack and feel something dreadfully wrong in my mouth.

I have broken my upper left bicuspid (tooth number twelve, I later learn). Some pain, but not much. Returning to the computer, I finish writing the introduction. I work until 2:00, as scheduled. At 2:01 I call the dentist, who tells me to come in at 4:30.

Thursday, August 20 , Day 38 — By the time I rewrite chapters 7-12, write the cover letter, make copies, and mail Section Two, I’m three days ahead of schedule.

Saturday, August 22 — Today doesn’t count: it’s the third of the Chicago White Sox 1992 seminars on women in baseball and I’m one of the speakers. Phil’s birthday is August 24, but we go out to celebrate tonight. It feels wonderful to have a whole day off.

Monday, August 24 , Day 41 — At approximately 9:30 P.M., as we’re lying in bed, we hear a strange sound — thousands of gallons of water rushing down the heating-cooling duct that runs behind my desk and in front of my fax machine.

Water flows down the walls: in the office, the bedroom, the baths, and the foyer. Working frantically, we move machines and boxes off the floor and out of my office. We sling old towels on the sodden carpeting and stomp on them: they turn yellowish-green from the coolant-filled water. A condo maintenance person with a wet vac arrives around 11:30 and begins extracting water. He informs us that a coupling in the air conditioning pipes broke in the unit above us.

At 12:15 we fall into bed, utterly exhausted. Phil moans, “Why did this have to happen on my birthday?” I moan, “Why did this have to happen during my book?”

large-paper-stack1Wednesday, August 26 — This is not a writing day. Sharon and I meet for breakfast and she shows me photos of female ballplayers. We then drive to Rockford, Illinois, where we read 1943-54 microfilmed newspaper articles on the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Exhausted, we drive home.

The carpet cleaners have come and gone, leaving disinfected carpet and three huge blower fans in their wake. Unfortunately, they have also stacked bookcases, chairs, and boxes of computer paper in the kitchen. Phil is out of town. I spend 45 minutes hauling boxes and bookcases out of the kitchen.

It will be a miracle if I finish writing Section Three on time.

Monday, August 31, Day 47 — I now see that two of the final six chapters won’t work. Rewriting my outline, I end up with 25 chapters instead of 27, the two former chapters becoming sidebars. I feel confident that the final outline works. In addition, it makes up for some of my lost time. In the evening I begin to write Chapter 13.

Tuesday, September 8, Day 55— Tackling Chapter 16, I recognize that in order to finish the manuscript on time, I must spend more hours of the day writing. Reluctantly I jettison exercising and cooking dinner.

Civility is the next to go. When telephone solicitors call and ask how I am, I growl, “Call me after October 15” into the phone and hang up.

Wednesday, September 16, Day 63— Chapter 18 is looking good, but lack of exercise is making me tired. I’m sick of home-delivery food. Sharon started medical-technician school full-time yesterday and tells me that she can’t even make phone calls while at school. It appears that I’ll have to finish the remaining photo research by myself.

Despite everything, I wake up eager to write. The good feeling usually vanishes by 4:30 P.M. — then resolve alone keeps me going.

Tuesday, September 29, Day 76— Another long, late day. I begin at 7:45 A.M. and finish at 9:15 P.M. But I complete the rewrite of the third and longest section. I’m now two days behind schedule.

Wednesday, September 30, Day 77— The home stretch. I confront Chapter 22. Every day I spend two hours making calls to procure photos. Instead of filing each piece of paper as it crosses my desk, I toss everything into a huge cardboard box. Come October 16, I’ll regret the mess I’ve created, but right now I’m probably gaining 20 or 30 minutes of writing time a day.

Sunday, October 11, Day 88— The knowledge that this is the last weekend of my ordeal enables me to start writing at 9:00 A.M. and continue all day until 10:30 P.M., wrapping up Chapter 24. Victory is in sight.

Wednesday, October 14, Day 91— Adrenalin kicks in. I write the introduction to Section Four and then rewrite it. In the evening I curl up on the couch with Chapters 22-25 and go through them with a red pen, making changes.

Thursday, October 15, Day 92— I start work at 6:30 A.M. Five hours later, the last rewritten chapter curls out from the printer. I’m euphoric. I call Jane to tell her I finished. I’m on a roll. I call John to tell him I finished and the final section is on its way via Federal Express.

It would be comforting to think that my 92-day writing marathon, replete with minor and major catastrophes, is an abnormality, something that won’t happen again. And frankly, if I stick to writing fiction, it may not. The truth is, however, that the writing of truth is changing.

Thanks to new computer technology allowing for use of the author’s “captured keystrokes” and for design of the book and production of page proofs in a matter of days, and thanks to the competitiveness of the market place on hot topics, more and more nonfiction books will be produced in a shorter time. Under such circumstances, publishers want the author to write the book in less than a year — in three months, even.

I was able to meet my “drop-dead” deadline and live to tell about it, but only because I developed a schedule that put me on track to complete specific chapters by specific dates. Writing to schedule made me write faster and produce more. When really pressed, I was able to write a chapter in two days and, on two occasions, one day. As a result, I was able to complete a book I had spent years researching. Sort of like a utility player who, when called in to play shortstop during a crucial game, comes through because she knows the fundamentals — and applies them.


In August 2016 Barbara Gregorich donated her thousands of pages of research materials to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But many of the notes are available in book form, in Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball — Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.