Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Write by the numbers

I'm reading 4th of July by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, a novel I received free in a stack of books and probably would not have opened if I hadn't already read every novel published by Hard Case Crime that I had in the house.

4th of July reads like the written equivalent of a paint-by-numbers painting. It has 146 chapters, each about two pages long. If I was guessing, I'd say Patterson wrote 146 sentences and Paetro expanded each sentence into a 500-word chapter.

Because plotting is my biggest weakness, I wondered if I could apply this process to short fiction. I sat with a note pad and a pencil and tried to plot a short story in five to seven sentences, thinking I could then return to the keyboard, expand each sentence into a 500-word scene, and have a complete story.

I began with the following premise: one man, one woman, one crime.

After a considerable amount of time I had four sentences describing only the first two scenes and an itch to start writing.

So I wrote the first two scenes.

And stopped.

What I wrote is great.

What it isn't is a complete story.

I'm facing the same thing I face with nearly every story I write: an idea for a strong opening scene and no idea where to go next. So this one goes into the pile of unfinished stories, waiting until some spark of inspiration or some dogged determination pushes me through the next few scenes and on to the end of the story.

So, as an attempt to change how I write, this experiment proved to be a failure. I fell back into my old habit: get the first scene on paper; worry about the rest later.

Perhaps I just can't write by the numbers...

Today's other good news

I learned that two short stories are being held for probable publication in the near future, one by a monthly magazine, one by a quarterly. (I won't count either as a sale until I have a contract in hand.)


I received my 33rd acceptance of the year earlier today, this time for an article I wrote on assignment for a gardening magazine.

Although the finished piece turned out pretty good, it was a struggle to get to a final draft. An abundance of other work caused me to get a late start, the woman I was to interview backed out, and I lost a couple of days reaching her suggested replacement. Then I used a new recorder and learned too late that the tape is almost unusable. I struggled out a rough draft using my handwritten notes, the few things I could hear on the tape, and other information I had gathered beore the interview. When I contacted the interviewee with follow-up questions, she was out of town for a week. Sigh.

I finally finished the article and e-mailed it to the editor last night, 20 days after my original deadline.

I think this is the first deadline I've missed in a bazillion years. I'm lucky it was a soft deadline, not a hard deadline, and that I've worked with the editor enough to know I had flexibility.

What have I learned? Take better notes in case the recorder fails. Test new recorders before using them for important interviews. And always keep your editor informed of delays.


Monday, August 20, 2007


And today's mail also brought a rejection, this from an editor who has been publishing my work since 1991: "I just didn't think it was as good as your other recent submissions (which have been pretty darn good)."

So, even though I am dismayed by the rejection, I feel "pretty darn good" about the editor's comments.


I received my 32nd acceptance of the year in the mail today, a contract for a Thanksgiving-themed confession that I wrote and submitted last weekend.


Mystery writer James Winter recently posted a video of himself performing stand-up comedy.

Stand-up is a tough gig. I know. I tried stand-up many years ago, performing at open mike nights in a variety of clubs around the St. Louis area. I won second place in a competition, later saw some of the guys I'd performed with on TV shows like Evening at the Improv, and was even present when Louie Anderson won the Midwest Comedy Competition in 1981. It's a good thing I had a fall-back career--writing--because stand-up didn't work out for me.

One important lesson I learned: Performing stand-up in front of drunk hecklers makes anything that happens at a book signing seem like a cake walk.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Writing under the influence...

...of too much cold medicine.

I woke up sick Saturday morning and had to cancel plans for the weekend. Tied to the house because I did not dare stray too far from the, um, library, I spent a great deal of time at the keyboard.

Amazingly, I finished two Christmas stories that I had previously started. They look pretty good through medicine-fogged eyes, so they're both going in the mail tomorrow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I was doing some reasearch earlier this evening and stumbled across Of course, once I found the site, one of the first searches I did was for my own name. Very interesting. Y'all should try it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

31 and published

My short humorous essay "Water Foul" appears in today's issue of Seeds and, because I hadn't counted it yet, marks my 31st acceptance of the year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The 50% Solution

I just spent the evening reading the first half of a really good hardboiled private eye novel. Unfortunately, there's no second half because I haven't written it yet. It's one of the novels I keep telling myself is "in progress," but I haven't added a word to it in more than a year.

Perhaps I should.


Today's mail brought contributor copies of another magazine with one of my short stories in it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Productive weekend

This is the first weekend in several months that I've devoted exclusively to writing--no family obligations, no social obligations, no housecleaning, no yardwork, and no editing projects. Just writing.

The result:

I finished a new short story and will mail it to an editor tomorrow.

I found the key plot device for another short story and did some preliminary research.

I found markets for two unsold manuscripts.

And I made significant progress on an article that is on the verge of being overdue. I put together a solid draft with a few gaps and a few rough spots. It looks like I'll have to return to my source with a couple of follow-up questions, but the piece--which I've been wrestling with for a while now because my tape recorder didn't pick up the interview as well as I had expected--looks like it's going to turn out OK.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quoted on Visual Thesaurus

My opinon about writer's block--that there's no such thing--has been quoted on Visual Thesaurus (right hand column, about halfway down the page) with a link back to my January 2, 2007 post on the subject.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another two-fer

My stories "Office Dare" and "One Hunk of a Tutor!" were published in the September True Romance, which just hit the local newsstands.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Found money

Having a long career and an extensive file of published work helps generate "found money"--additional money for no additional work. It can even turn non-profitable projects into profitable ones.

Way back in the mid-'80s I had a short story published in a popular mystery magazine of the day. The acceptance indicated that I would be paid, but I never received a cent and the magazine went out of business. In the early '00s, the story was reprinted in a small press mystery magazine, but no payment was offered or expected.

The story was recently accepted by another publisher and the contract indicates that I'll be receiving payment in due course. It'll be a nice chunk of change--enough for dinner and a movie for two if I don't go overboard--and that's not bad.

Twenty-plus years to turn a non-profitable project into a profitable one seems like a long time, but any income beats no income and "found money" is always welcome money.

Friday, August 03, 2007


My 30th acceptance of the year arrived yesterday via e-mail. One of my previously published mystery short stories will be released on audio.