Family Photo

Family photo. Me and some cousins

I love this photograph. Of all the family photos I have, this sunlight-bleached reproduction – well into the process of a blotchy chemical aging – is my favorite. The subject of this image is nothing special: a group photo of myself and some of my cousins taken at a wedding reception. I’m guessing late 80s, early 90s. I’m sure many of you have quite a number of photographs that could be placed into the same category bucket. I’m also reasonably certain at least one or two of said cousins pictured within are scanning it, assessing the clothes they wore or the way the camera caught their faces. That, plus a healthy dose of wistfulness, as I should point out that not all of those pictured are still with us.

But allow me to return to why I treasure this among so many others. It should come as no logical surprise the key elements – as is so often the case with items of personal worth – rest upon this image being a physical embodiment of general concepts I value deeply.

The first element is that of family. Specifically, the uncommonly good fortune of being a member of an extended family driven by love and joy. This is my father’s side of the family. My mother’s side, sadly, would paint a portrait vibrant with strokes of coldness, greed, abuse, and dishonesty. Fortunately, all contact was lost with them some forty years ago. But the benefit of that wide disparity is that it allowed me to understand, from a young age, the breadth of variance that can occur from one family to another. In a nutshell, when you have something good, recognize it, savor it, treasure it.

So this is my family, and let me assure you, had every cousin been present in this photograph, the primary difference would only be in the number of faces it contains. It’s by no means a perfect family – such does not exist – but it’s a family that delights in the positives rather than dwell on the negatives. They have built a place in my heart for each and every one of them, along with their children and grandchildren. And I can’t stress that enough: they have built. They expended the effort to create the bonds we have. Yes, it takes some work every-so-often.

But let’s move on to the single most valuable element of this photograph. One thing I am not fond of, nearly to the point of despising, is the posed photograph. Well, let me qualify that. If you’re a striking model posing in an indecipherable ad for a fragrance, I love it – despite the herd of llamas running through billowing curtains in the background. Capturing a specific visual image is the purpose of posing.

It’s the family/friends group posed photos that irk me. It feels like every meaningful element – joy, love, warmth – that makes the group what it is, has been stripped away by the photographer commanding, “Okay, don’t move. Now everyone say ‘cheese’.” That’s not what you see here. It’s how it started, but it’s not what you see. Chaos crashed ashore on the left side and is flowing outward to the right. So powerful is this wave, that it warranted, not one, but two horns placed upon the heads of some involved. The polished veneer of a posed photo is being stripped away by the reality underneath – the real life.
Those are always my favorite photos, the snapshots of the true moment. Sure, in those true moments we may not look our best; the lighting or angles may be poor, or perhaps the emotion on display is sheer boredom (I have one of those); but they are slices of reality on display. And that’s why I love this photograph. It is a moment of truth, a representation of what I treasure.

That and because I’m the youngest and look damn good in it.

Discovering a Personality

As you may have noticed, I’m not much of a blogger. However, I’ve begun writing a new book – mainly as a distraction from losing two WIPs and trying to reconstruct them (long story I don’t want to go into).

For a while, I’ve been toying with the concept of recasting one of the Greek myths as a comedy. One problem I’ve been having, is trying to frame the core personality of the main character. Most of the secondary characters haven’t been a problem, but the MC – stuck. Usually, my stories start with some conceptualization of a set of characters interacting in a scene. Then I continue to flesh the scene out until I feel I have a strong sense of the personalities. Next step is to find them a high-level plot and setting that suits them (I usually have a few of those knocking around in my head). That’s just how it works for me.

But in this case, I’m working from established material. Figuring out the correct set of personality attributes that will fit the MC and make the story compelling (and/or humorous) can be difficult. So, I resorted to a technique I created a long while back. I take the problematic character, or characters if needed, out of the story and plunk them down into a basic setting which is almost all dialog. Example settings are: buying something in a shop, on a date at a restaurant, in a job interview, explaining a work of art to a friend, etc. I then ‘pants’ the conversation as freely as I can, ignoring spelling, grammar, etc.

It usually takes me only a page before I’m able to stop and speculate on personality attributes. If not, I’ll continue the conversation or, if the thread peters out, start a new scenario. The idea is to listen to your character and look for personality flags.

So here’s my real-life example from what I’m working on right now. Let’s just label my MC as P. I’m trying to figure out P as a child for now. Later I may, or may not, need to do the exercise again with him as an adult. At this point, I start with a basic unfinished statement:

P, as a child, is…

Then I launch the script. In this case, I chose “buying something”. Here’s what I typed freely, warts and all (C is the store clerk):

P: How much is this action figure from Giant Robot Battle?
C: 18.99
P: That’s a lot.
C: That’s the price.
P: I mean, it’s not even the main character.
C: They’re all 18.99. Doesn’t matter which.
P: Did you see the movie?
C: Nope. You gonna buy that or not?
P: I’m thinking it over. Let me ask you. Who do you think would win in a fight? This guy, Mechoman, or Godzilla?
C: Godzilla. So, make up your mind yet?
P: I’m trying to. Why Godzilla?
C: Because he’s Godzilla and I don’t know the other guy. 18.99.
P: It’s a big investment.
C: It’s not an investment, it’s a toy.
P: Well for me it is. I mean, I can buy other things that might keep me interested longer. Do you think they’ll make a sequel?
C: To Godzilla?
P: No. To Giant Robot Battle.
C: I wouldn’t know. Here. Kid. Let me help you with this. Do any of your friends have one of these?
P: Nnnnooo.
C: What would they think if they saw you with this? Would they think you were cool?
P: I dunno. It’s a new movie. I hafta wait until they see it.
C: Then you’re ahead of the curve. You can be the trendsetter.

That’s all I needed. I’ve done this before, so I was picking stuff up in the back of my mind regarding his mindset. I then wrote:

Analysis: thoughtful, difficult, prone to over-analyzing, and self-conscious.

Put them together and you have:

P as a child is thoughtful, difficult, prone to over-analyzing, and self-conscious.

Now I have something to work with. I might change or add traits, but I have a foundation. In fact, I may opt to make self-conscious a trait which he will need to come to terms with and/or leverage it for comedy. That’s all part of the fun of writing. Will I continue this WIP? I have no idea. It’s still a fresh thought and I need to see how far it will take me.

A little gift for the holidays

Hi and Happy Holidays. Some of you may or may not know that I had polished the characters of Mephistopheles and JR over the years with little vignettes written solely for the enjoyment of my friends. I recently came across one of them. It’s just a scene with little rhyme or reason outside of illustrating the standard behaviors of these two.

There is a mention of a third, off-screen character, Oak (Oakley Tree – his parents are to blame for that one). JR’s best friend, Oak is nearly as adept as JR is for getting into trouble, albeit mostly by accident.

Anyway, this is for fans of JR and Meph, I hope you enjoy it.


With his ears still ringing, JR tore into the entrance way of the mansion then veered left towards the dining room so fast his feet nearly slipped out from under him. When he reached the dining room he pulled up short, removed his World War II US army helmet, held it to his chest, then let out a slow whistle as he surveyed the scene of devastation before him. The magnificent 16-foot long mahogany dining table that had dominated the room was shattered into a strewn pile of broken planks, table legs, and copious amounts of splintered wooden shards; with ground-zero being the twisted wreckage of an antique iron and crystal chandelier resting where the table center used to exist. The mooring of the chandelier was replaced by a significant hole in the ceiling around which a mixture of plaster dust and smoke swirled. The rest of the surface of the ceiling was chaotically tossed about the room in the form of huge chunks of plaster.

On the far end of the room, at the former head of the former table, Mephistopheles sat motionless – an icy stare transfixed onto JR. At about chest height of his body, which was liberally covered with plaster powder, a raised empty fork was held horizontally in his right hand. Amidst the rubble of the table at Mephistopheles’ feet, was a shattered dessert plate under a partially mangled wedge of pumpkin pie. The front end of the slice was preserved enough to clearly exhibit a missing triangular piece that, at one point, must have rested on the now-suspended fork. This, JR judged, is why you don’t use fine china for daily use. He would have relayed that point to Mephistopheles, but some instinct, probably the survival one, prevented him from doing so.

JR carefully entered the room, gingerly stepping over debris while moving closer to the seated figure of impending doom. If Meph wasn’t here I might have been able to come up with a plausible excuse – well maybe not so plausible – but he witnessed the whole thing, so this is gonna be tricky. He was at a loss for words, but that never stopped him before and it wasn’t going to now.

“Huh, a teensy bit more of damage than I expected. I, um, was hoping you wouldn’t notice. Maybe I should just go get the vacuum and tidy up a bit.”

Mephistopheles began to rouse from his petrified state, at first trying to find a place on the non-existent table to put down his fork. It moved left and right a few times, and for a moment it looked as if he would place it on the arm of his chair, but with a sudden flick of his hand the fork flew out lodging into the wall on his right. He then shifted in his chair into a more comfortable position. He brushed some crumbs of debris from his pants as if it would make a difference. As always, when dealing with the fallout of JR-centric destruction, he began to speak with carefully measured and disturbingly calm, words.

“As I see it, or at least saw it from my vantage point through that now-shattered window, you maneuvered a tank into the courtyard, positioning it so that the turret was aimed at the house. Next, you fired a mortar round which – and here I just have to assume for the moment – obliterated the bedroom directly above us, precipitating the demise of a significant portion of my dining room. So far, correct?”

“Yes. Will that be all?”

“Hardly. But before I commence to cross-examine you, is there any other emergency that I should be aware of? Maybe the house is on fire? Perhaps, sections are about to cave in atop my head?”

“Oh, no, it’s all done with. I think we’re good from here on. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“I should be so lucky. To continue – from personal experience, I know asking you ‘why’ is never worth the effort, but I can’t help myself. I’m curious by nature. Why, then, did you fire a tank upon my person and my otherwise pleasant mid-afternoon snack?”

“Oh that,” JR dismissed as if it was an obvious and almost irrelevant fact, “Oak and I were playing and the Frisbee got stuck on the roof; so, I needed to use something to knock it down. You know if you don’t mind me saying, it’s really quite funny when you think about how stuff doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will. You really need to have a sense of humor.”

“Oh, I have a sense of it alright,” he snapped back and then proceeded, “So you used a tank…”


“… to remove a Frisbee…”


“… from the roof.”


“Again, merely because I am keen to know, what, pray-tell, was Oakley’s opinion of your Frisbee solution?”

“Well he thought it was a bit over the top at first.”

“Really? Who’d have thought common sense could exist in such close proximity to you.”

“He thought a rifle could have done the trick and, after some discussion, we figured a bazooka could be the fallback plan…”

“And there it goes.”

“…but we know how you disapprove of firearms, so my options were limited.”

“And that’s all you have to say about it?”

“Yep. No. Wait. Umm, oh yeah, Oak told me that if you caught us I should say I’m sorry. So… I’m sorry.”

“At least I got a heart-felt apology,” Mephistopheles said dryly. “You do know what happens now, don’t you?”

“I’ve got some really good ideas, but I figure you’re not going to like any of them.”

“First, at some point soon I’m certain; the local authorities are going to arrive to investigate. You are going to provide them with a reasonable excuse – and I cannot over-emphasize the term reason-able – as to why the tank I agreed to keep on my grounds for the township while it was being refurbished for a Veteran’s day celebration, was commandeered to remove a portion of this building. And, the word Frisbee had better not enter into that discussion. In fact, I’d rather you get that devious little pal of yours to come up with something. I’d swear he was born part lawyer anyway. Next, the two of you are going to spend the better part of the holiday season and beyond, working to restore all of this,” he waved one hand upward in a circle, “back to its original state. I’m going to hire contractors immediately, but make no mistake; they will have instruction to give you and Oak the worst jobs. Then, once everything is back to normal, we will discuss your punishment. Is all of that clear? Any questions?

“Yes,” JR said as he pointed to the ruined piece of pumpkin pie on the floor, “are you going to finish that?”

A Readers Group Guide

The Devil and the Wolf

  1. Consider the title of the book. What is the nature of the relationship between the two characters as the story progresses? What are the primary characteristics of each? What are the similarities and differences between the two?

  2. The author relies upon a handful of locations in this novel. The story opens in the wilds of Montana and then proceeds to a small town in Florida. Why might the author have chosen these locations? Do they have an effect on the narrative? Evaluate and discuss the author’s descriptions of Heaven and Hell.

  3. How is the theme of good and evil presented in this book? What is Mephistopheles’ view of good and evil? Where would you place him on the scale and why?

  4. In the chapter Judgment Day (pg. 364), what concepts are touched upon by the author in Jenna’s speech?

  5. In chapter one, Mephistopheles states, “No one gets to know what I know and what I’m thinking unless I say so, and even then, don’t be so sure.” What then, do you think are Mephistopheles’ motivations in this story and why?

  6. Consider the antagonists Eremiel and Nergal. What are their motivations and what might be at the root? How justified are their points of view? Do the motivations of any of the other characters stand out? If so, who and why?

  7. Compare Mephistopheles’ character to Lilith’s. In what ways are they similar and different? While considering the relationship between the two, Lucifer remarks to himself, “She understands him. Of all the beings in creation, this is the one she totally gets.” Although never fully expressed by the author, why might this be?

  8. Choose and discuss some of the relationships between the book’s characters; such as Sachiel and Cassius; Lilith and Lucifer; Jenna, Levi, Delia, and Rob; or Dale and Connie.

  9. Which characters do you feel most positive toward and why? Which do you feel most negative towards and why? Does your perception of any of the characters change over time? If so, which character(s) and how?

Some notes from JR…

JR’s guide to characters from The Devil and the Wolf

Hey folks! JR here. Thought I’d give you a brief summary of the main characters in the book. Let’s start off with the two most important:

Me, JR Wolfe – Smart, funny, clever, good-looking and a jack of all trades. Basically, everybody’s bestie and why not.

Mephistopheles – pronounced Mef-i-stof-eh-lees. Say it like, “let me check for fleas”. But, if you ever meet him, call him Meph – he hates that. He’s some devil guy that tells, long boring stories. Your basic killjoy.

Jenna (leader), Levi (skeptic), Delia (heart), Rob (id) – Meph calls them the Scooby Gang. I call them my Flamigos (Florida Amigos). By chance, they get pulled into the story and end up representing all of humanity.

Dale and Connie Carina – Your basic low-lifes. Two scheming people who are out for themselves. (True, some might say that last sentence could describe Meph and me, but we’re lovable. Well, I am.)

Sachiel, Cassius, Raphael and Gabriel (cameo appearance) – A bunch of angels who turn out to be pretty cool.

Eremiel – Another angel who turns out to be not cool. As it happens, he was right about Meph’s schemes and somehow that made him the bad guy. But that’s okay, because I think he wanted to dissect me or something. As I said, not cool.

Lilith, Lucifer, Belial, Nick – A bunch of Meph’s friends from Hell. That Lilith is a hoot.

Nergal – A ruthless power-hungry devil. I really, really didn’t like him.

There are other humans, angels, devils and demons, and I don’t want to dismiss them. They’re kind of like spices and herbs added to a dish, but you really don’t have to invest in them for the story’s sake.

Happy reading all. Hopefully seeing you again soon,


New Book(s) in the works…

Okay, probably not the best thing to do, while working on one book a couple of weeks ago, I took a little break and then started on another one. Lately, work (yes, the day job I shouldn’t quit) has been a bit over the top, so I haven’t had as much evening/weekend time free as I usually do. However, that should lighten up soon and I’ll get back to the two.

I’m not overly worried, if trying to write both at the same time becomes too much, I’ll just take the time to jot down as many notes as I can and put one on the back burner (maybe not the best spot to place a book though).

One story line follows a team of psychic investigators, who stumble across a very real and dangerous entity. The difficulty in this one, so far, is crafting the comedy, so I have to step back from it often.

The other story line had been a vague notion floating around in my mind for a number of years. It’s my version of the story of The Garden of Eden, and yes, it takes place in the same ‘universe’ of The Devil and the Wolf.

On both I’m only working through the first chapter right now, doing some dialog exercises to get a better feel for the characters and tinkering with a subplot or two.

So that’s what’s what lately.

About that cow figurine…

Just a quick note, because I was asked a few times about it. Yes, it is real and was probably in existence during the time of Jehoel’s flashback.  Here’s a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) where I believe it is currently on display.


(How cute is that?)

A Writing Exercise for Characters

Until very recently, I wrote as a hobby distributing my stories (the ones I was happy with) to my friends. However, when I decided to take on something of novel length, I found myself challenged in a number of ways, but foremost had to do with character interaction.

I would say more than 75% of my story ideas initiate with an imagined, comic, interaction between two or three characters. Once that’s established in my mind, I begin to fill in details about them including their current situation, back story, goals, etc. A general sketch was all I needed for short stories and the situation was sufficient to develop the brief plot line needed.

As I wrote my novel, I found myself occasionally unsatisfied with some of the secondary characters rapport. Given that dialog is my favorite thing to write, I found this especially frustrating. So I decided to take the time and create an exercise to help me get to the core of the personalities and how they mixed.

So here’s what I did:
I took them out of the story and dropped them, as it were, into common settings to see how they would get on. Situations such as, cab driver and passenger(s); complaints desk/customer service call, jury deliberation room, Christmas party, anything that would pop into my mind. Off to the side, as a guide, I kept a brief list of character features under each name.

I then just started writing the loose dialog that might occur for any of those situations. Not a lot was necessary. I also didn’t have to care much about identifying who was talking, I knew that. But I did pay attention to possible body language (very important). I just kept it going for maybe a page or so, switched to another scenario and repeated. Some were easy, some weren’t – the difficult ones, I stopped so as not to waste time. The easier ones were usually revealing enough.

This helped me get a firmer footing to develop better dialog within the story. I hope it works for you, if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Welcome – and so it begins.

As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I’ve decided to buckle down and create a website/blog for any potential followers of my book.

Be forewarned, I do most of my social posts on Twitter (@RichardLPastore). However, you can expect at least some monthly updates.

Thank you,