Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The company you keep

I spend far too much time reading other writers' blogs. I don't know what I'm looking for, but I do know what I've found.

I've found that some successful writers--successful meaning regularly published--aren't particularly good writers. Their blogs are filled with typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, and misused words. One writer at a group blog I follow is so bad that I actually pity her copyeditors. She must be one hell of a storyteller to compensate for her poor writing skills.

Am I being too harsh? Is she just bashing out her blog posts first draft with nary a moment taken to proofread what she's typed but actually turns in clean copy for her paying gigs?

Maybe so.

But I think writers are known by the company they keep, and the company writers keep are words. If your blog posts are consistently sloppy, you might be better off not posting at all rather than demonstrating to the world that you lack basic writing skills.

Words are the company you keep. Use them well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Story twenty-four

I just finished and submitted my 24th short story of the year. This is a 3,700-word story I started writing on April 10 in response to an anthology call for submissions sent directly to me. Is there a genre known as romantica? Because, if so, than that's what this story is--part romance, part erotica.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wholesale slaughter

This may be a record, but today I received word of 21 non-acceptances. Not rejections, though the net effect is the same.

The editor of two publications I've been selling to for many years announced that the magazines had gotten far behind in responding to submissions--something her contributors already knew--and announced that she was going to discard all submissions received prior to a specific date. Any stories that had not already been contracted for and any stories not currently under consideration (meaning the authors of those stories had been told the stories were under consideration) could be submitted elsewhere or, should the authors wish, be resubmitted.


That means I have 21 manuscripts to deal with.

Sometimes being prolific can bite you in the butt.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Haunted by my past

Thanks to the Internet, I am frequently reminded just how long I've been writing for publication. Today on Amazon I discovered Shadows Of... (vol. 4), which includes the original publication my short story "Madmen and Mothers-In-Law," Shadows Of... (vol. 5), which includes the first publication of my story "Assembly Line Luck," and Shadows Of... (vol. 6), which includes the original publication of my stories "Heirloom" and "The Critic."

Vol. 4 was published in 1980. Vol. 5 was published in 1981. Vol. 6 was published in 1982.

Buy a piece of history. You can purchase any of these for only $49.99.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I received my 25th acceptance of the year earlier today, for an 1,100-word mystery I wrote in 2002.

Hanging out with Umberto Eco

In a blog post at The Big Idea, Jason F. McDaniel manages to reference both Umberto Eco and me:
In the first lecture, “How I Write”, [Umberto] Eco reveals much of his writing process, how his ideas are formed and how he works out his novels. He also talks about how he came to be a writer. I like to hear authors give autobiographical accounts of how they started writing and how they sustain themselves. The other day I listened to an interview with Michael Bracken on Reading and Writing podcast. Bracken says he became a writer when he was 14, seriously. He decided he wanted to be a writer and he set about to make it happen. Now he’s in his 50’s had has over 800 short stories published!

Now that's some pretty good company.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Story twenty-three

I finished my 23rd short story of the year this evening. It's printing now and will go in the mail tomorrow.

This one is a 1,900-word mystery that I began August 11, 2009. I had written about half of the story before setting it aside. Late yesterday evening I rediscovered the story while looking for something to fit an anthology call for submissions. This story clearly didn't fit, but, as I reread what I had written, I realized that I knew what pieces were missing from the story. I stayed up well past my usual bedtime to finish writing the full draft. This evening I tweaked a number of sentences and rethought a few of my word choices, but left it essentially as i wrote it last night.

And I still need to find something that fits that call for submissions...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Story twenty-two

I just finished and submitted my 22nd short story of the year. This time it's a 2,100-word confession with a literacy theme. I started writing this one on November 26, 2009, had about half of it written, and finished writing it today.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Story twenty-one

A few minutes ago I finished and submitted by 21st short story of the year. This time it's a 2,100-word erotic baseball story I started writing May 6, several weeks after receiving a call for submissions from an editor who has previously published my work.

Monday, May 10, 2010


My erotic vampire story "Blood Lust" appears in the July issue of Hustler Fantasies.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Story twenty

I finished my 20th short story of the year a few minutes ago. The final draft is printing now and the manuscript will go into the mail tomorrow. This time it's a 5,700-word confession I started writing April 30.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Be a prop master

Every story contains props, from everyday items like wallets and keys to specialized weapons and enchanted amulets. Without props, stories are little more than talking heads in empty rooms.

Because your stories contain props, you must become a prop master. You must know where your props are at all times. If you lose track of your props, you lose track of your story. Lose track of your story and you lose your reader.

Here's an example:

On page 114 of the ROC paperback edition of Jim Butcher's Storm Front, the narrator "tossed the pentacle on the table," where it remains for the rest of the scene, even after the narrator leaves the building.

On page 280, the narrator notes that he still had his "mother's pentacle talisman" at his throat.

No, he doesn't. The pentacle remains on the table on page 114. The narrator never picked it up. He never returned to the building to get it. He didn't send someone to get it for him, and no one voluntarily brought it to him.

In this case, the prop master failed.

This mistake could have been corrected with a simple sentence along the lines of: "I grabbed the pentacle on my way out."

So how to avoid losing track of important props?

Start at your story's climax and identify every important prop--the pentacle, the revolver, the poodle, the red slippers, and everything else. Then, one prop at a time, go backward through your story and find each reference to that prop.

Make certain that your characters haven't left important props behind. If, for example, your character has a derringer in the climactic scene, and he stuck the derringer in his pants pocket in the first scene, make certain he didn't change pants in the fifth scene--and, if he did, make certain that he transferred the derringer to the pocket of the pants he's wearing at the climax.

So, to avoid missing and misplaced props, become a prop master.

Your readers will appreciate it.

Think your writing sucks?

Scott D. Parker's post at Do Some Damage, "When the Well Runs Dry," questions what to do when you start thing your writing sucks. Here's what I suggested:

When you start thinking everything you write sucks, stop reading quality literature. Find and read the worst piece of shit in your TBR pile--or go to the bookstore and find something terrible.

At some point you'll realize, "Hey, I've had diarrhea that didn't smell this bad."

Put that book or story in your writing space where you can easily see it. Every time doubt creeps in, look at it and tell yourself, "My writing is better than THIS, and THIS got published."

Then everything you write will act as literary air freshener to drive the stench of someone else's bad writing from your workspace.

Friday, May 07, 2010


I am in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.

In the past 24 hours I've found typographical errors in the headlines of Arts & Sciences Magazine (one of my alma mater's publications), factual errors in the current issue of The Writer (the second issue in a row with factual errors), and a serious but easily correctable plot flaw in Jim Butcher's Storm Front (an otherwise quite enjoyable novel about a private eye wizard).

Whatever happened to copyeditors, fact checkers, and proofreaders?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Story nineteen

I finished and submitted my 19th story of the year this evening. This time it's a 2,400-word fantasy involving a couple of dragons and a woman who operates an alehouse.

I'd been staring at an anthology's open call for submissions for several weeks without having any story ideas. Sunday, while walking around the mall with Plot Monkey, the opening scene came to me.

The rest of the story took a little more effort.

Monday, May 03, 2010


The cover for The Baddest of the Bad, a new anthology forthcoming from Gutter Books, was recently posted. Squint and you'll see my name.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Podcast interview

A few months ago I was interviewed by Jeff Rutherford for his Reading and Writing Podcast. Listen to the interview at:

How easy we forget

One of the drawbacks to being a prolific short story writer is that, in the drive to create and submit new work, it's easy to forget about previously submitted material.

This morning, for example, after looking through my file of submitted work in search of a particular story, I realized a few of my manuscripts had been away from home far too long.

So, I sent follow-ups to editors questioning the status of stories submitted in 2007 and 2008.

But I don't ever just ask, "Have you made a decision yet?" Should an editor fail to respond, where am I? I'm stuck sending yet another follow-up letter.

To avoid this, my follow-up letters include something similar to the following: "If I have not heard from you by [insert date], I will presume the story was unsuitable and will feel free to submit it elsewhere."

That way, if an editor fails to respond to my first follow-up letter, it also serves as my withdrawal letter.