Inquiring Minds III (Borneo) – Mark of the Spider

Without Borneo, there would be no Mark of the Spider.

My supernatural suspense novel, the first of the Black Orchid Chronicles, follows nature photographer Sebastian Arnett, who is cursed with the power to kill with his thoughts but has no control over this lethal ability.

That curse had to come from somewhere, and I wanted a location far from the American experience in time, distance and culture. The more remote, the better. And if it was still wild, or at least untamed, even better still.

After all, the guy is going to think of people dying — as we have all done from time to time — and THEY DIE! That’s outside the normal American experience.

The opening location in the book also needed to have orchids, lots and lots of orchids. I call the series The Black Orchid Chronicles for a reason.

Worldwide, there are about 28,000 species of orchidaceae. And Borneo alone has about 1,500 species. That ought to keep a nature photographer busy for a few months documenting all those flowers for a wealthy Middle Eastern patron.

Sounds like my kind of place.

One Island, Three Nations

So, Borneo, orchids, native tribes, headhunters and demons.

The island is the third largest in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea. (Australia swamps them all, but is considered an entire continent rather than just an island.)

Still, Borneo is big enough to house (parts of) three different nations — Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Much of the action in The Mark of the Spider takes place in the Malaysian section in the north and northeast. Rural towns with names like Kota Kinabalu and Tenom host some tense scenes, and the book opens in Taman Pertanian Sabah, the Sabah Agriculture Park, with its collection of hundreds of native Bornean orchids.

As in other resource-rich parts of the under developed world, outside forces imperil the orchids and the people who live among them. Illegal logging, fires and forest damage have reduced the natural habitat of many species, and gold mining and illegal burning has led to the extinction of hundreds of orchid species.

In his travels into the Heart of Borneo, Sebastian has a fateful encounter with Dyak tribesmen. More than 200 ethnic subgroups living along the rivers and in the mountains of Borneo, each with its own dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture, make up the Dyak (also spelled Dayak).

One ancient Dyak woman presents him with a black orchid, starting a chain of events that will have Sebastian running for his life.

Borneo. Cool place. A lot happening there. Check it out.

The Mark of the Spider, Book 1 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, is available from Amazon in digital and trade paperback (5.5 x 8.5″, 334 pp.) formats.
Enjoy it today; review it tomorrow.


Ugly Face of Proofreading NSFW


I hate proofreading.

I hate it. It’s boring. It’s tedious. It’s exacting. (Like a religion, you must choose the one, true spelling or interpretation of grammar.)
Proofreading requires absolute focus and concentration. No interruptions; no digressions. No email. No last-minute research. And above all, no rewriting.

I get it.The MS is done. I’m just making sure the language is right. I know it’s the difference between amateur and professional, but I hate it just the same.

Today, I gathered my tools:

  • The dictionary my parents bought me for high school, now bound with duct tape.
  • A dog-eared copy of Roget’s II Thesaurus.
  • Three-ring binder containing my rewrite notes and continuity file.
  • Magnifying glass (for the dictionary).
  • Pens and scratch paper for capturing quick reminders and random thoughts.
  • The Google for fact-checking.
  • One unbound printed copy of the 540-page manuscript of The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle. (Coming soon, not long after the proofing is finished.)

For five and a half hours, I toiled over trails of characters, searching for misspellings, dropped commas and all manner of English grammar traps.

For every printed page that contained multiple errors or corrections too complex for my crabbed left-handed writing, I printed a new, improved, better page. (Check for redundancy and choose the best one.)

Proof desk_IMG_5020

My proofreading prison.

And when my soul cried, “No more. I can take no more,” I had reviewed only 68 pages, leaving 472 more for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Proof day1_IMG_5021

After Day #1: Pile on the left still needs to be proofread.

Progress Update [6/20]

Proof day2_IMG_5022

After Day 2: Pile on the left still to be done.

Progress Update [6/21]

Proof day3_IMG_5023
After Day #3: Pile on the left awaits attention, but more than halfway there.

Progress Update [6/23]

Proof Day4

After Day #4, pile on the left requires attention. About 150 pages remain.

Progress update [6/24]


After Day #5, the end (last 50 pages on the left) is in sight.

Progress update [6/25]

It’s done. Off to the designer.


After Day #6, no more pages on the left to be reviewed.

Synopsis, the Value of.

The perfect synopsis, I am told, is a one-page summary that captures the struggles of the key characters, the critical actions of the plot and the overall spirit and wonder of the story.

And that’s about as easy to do as to write good, meaningful, short poetry. Take, for instance, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

And so on for a grand total of four stanzas. That’s short and sweet.

It’s also written by Robert Frost. I’m no Robert Frost.

Another synopsis, one that I have found incredibly useful, is the fuller chapter by chapter description of the key actions in the plot.


The Mark of the Spider synopsis, page 1

In wrapping up the ending of my novel, The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Mystery, I have consulted my synopsis a dozen times or more to remind myself of precise details.

  • Was it Bozeman or Billings they hid out?
  • Was their hideout on the local road to Sacagawea Peak or Sacajawea Peak?
  • Did the would-be rescuers rush up Old Canyon Road or Bridger Canyon Road?
  • Was the ambush triggered by cell phone or laptop? (Answers below.)

More than fifty chapters (and several years) into the story, I forgot, but I needed to get things right.

My writers group reviews submissions of two or three chapters from two members once a month. That means I can’t have them review every chapter. And my chances to submit material come up months apart. No one can remember the story lines of a dozen contributors.

So the chapter by chapter synopsis serves as a reminder of what came before. Last month, the group critiqued chapters 40-42; this month, they consented to review the final four chapters (57-57). The synopsis, six singled-spaced pages by then, really proved useful for everyone.

Even writing such a long synopsis — long being easier to write than short — it takes a lot of work to wring only the critical details of each chapter out of 1,200 to 2,000 words.

But, like the continuity file, it saves time over time. If the story doesn’t flow in the synopsis, it’s probably not working in the full manuscript either.

And that’s one more value of a synopsis.


  1. Bozeman
  2. Sacagawea Peak.
  3. Bridger Canyon Road
  4. Come on. Buy the book when it comes out. I’m not giving everything away, although I will post a chapter or two in the coming months.