Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I made it, with almost 26 hours to spare. My 52nd acceptance of the year. That's an average of one a week (one-a-week was my goal this year as it has been for several years).

Alas, it's a short article about writing requested and accepted by a non-paying market.

Maybe tomorrow's mail will bring that year-ending 53rd sale that'll knock me out of my socks.

51 and published 2x

I received my 51st acceptance of the year today. Sort of.

I picked up a copy of the February True Story because it contains my story "Valentine's Surprise" and was surprised when I discovered that it also contains my story "Forgiving My Father."

Why was I surprised? Because I never received a contract for the story and did not know it had been accepted.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Random thought

If a Swiss cheese were to die, would it come back as a holy ghost?

In the beginning

Yesterday, James Reasoner noted in a blog post (http://jamesreasoner.blogspot.com/2008/12/32-and-counting.html) that he was celebrating the 32nd anniversary of his first sale, and it reminded me how long I've been doing this.

I've been writing since the 8th grade and seeing my work in print in various amateur publications (junior high and high school literary magazines, high school newspaper, science fiction fanzines, etc.) and semi-prozines (publications that paid a fraction of a cent per word) beginning in the 9th grade.

I made my first professional sale in September, 1977. The acceptance letter is dated September 2 and I received it on September 8. The story--a young adult fantasy titled "The Magic Stone"--wasn't published until November, 1978, when it appeared in Young World.

So 2008 marks the 31st anniversary of my first professional sale and the 30th anniversary of my first professional publication.

Not bad for a kid who just wanted to tell stories.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Crime for Christmas

Crime fiction has dominated my limited productivity this week. Last Sunday I finished revising a private eye story that had been sitting in my files ever since the anthology that originally accepted it became a dead project. Today I finished writing a new hardboiled crime story that I had started several years ago.

The private eye story went to a publication that recently purchased its first story from me and the hardboiled crime story is off to a magazine I've been selling to since the mid-90s.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

It may be too early to know for certain whether or not I've received my Christmas present from Santa, but I awoke more clear-headed than I've been in quite some time.

Tuesday I met with my cardiologist as a follow-up to my emergency room visit on the 10th. I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss my creative drought since the surgery, and my cardiologist, who had reduced my metoprolol dose from 50mg/day to 25mg/day on the 10th, eliminated it from my drug regimen. (Metoprolol is a beta-blocker prescribed to combat high blood pressure, among other things, and, according to drugs. com, "can cause side effects that may impair [...] thinking or reactions.")

I've been too busy with the holidays to attempt much writing, but I suspect a clear mind is a step toward a creative mind.

I have hopes.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another new story...and a rejection

Writing since the quadruple bypass has been problematic, but yesterday I finally finished and submitted another new short story. Unfortunately, it's already been rejected because it was too similar to something the editor had already purchased. Because the story is tied to a particular holiday, the manuscript will have to sit in my files for six to nine months before it can go out again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A day spent in the emergency room

Three months ago today I had a quadruple bypass. I spent today in the emergency room.

I'd been feeling a little out of sorts since the weekend, but last evening I felt particularly tired. I fell asleep while watching TV after dinner, woke up about two hours later, checked my e-mail, and then returned to the living room and lay down on the couch. I fell asleep around 7:15 and, except few a few restroom trips, slept until 7 this morning.

When I arrived at cardiac rehab this morning at 8:15, one of the nurses (or are they physical therapists?) said I looked like I didn't feel well. I walked on the treadmill--at a much slower pace than usual--and then sat on a chair to rest.

The next thing I knew I was flat on my back on the floor, with a dozen people hovering around me, checking my blood pressure, putting cold rags on my forehead, raising my legs, and doing a variety of other things to ensure my health and safety. As soon as they felt I could safety sit in a wheelchair, they wheeled me across the hospital to the emergency room, where I was subjected to a variety of tests and wasn't released until around 6.

The upshot? My blood pressure medication is being reduced by half and I'm to follow-up with my cardiologist within a week.

It was not a fun way to spend my three-month anniversary.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Published, again

My story "Confessions of a Fatherless Daughter" appears in the January True Confessions.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's your 'go-to' story?

Every short story writer needs a "go-to" story, a story that she can write without hesitation any time an editor says, "I need 3,000 words by Thursday." The go-to story might arise from a basic plot, a hook, or some other device that the author favors, but it must be one that can consistently provide an infinite variety of stories.

For example, a writer of short romances might go-to the basic girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back plot.

Start by imagining a job or life situation for a female character and a male character:

She's a waitress; he's a truck driver.

She's a kindergarten teacher; he's a single father.

She plays second base for the company softball team; he's a league umpire.

Then give them a "meet cute":

While serving him at the truck stop where she works, she spills hot coffee in his lap.

It's the first day of school for his child and he arrives at her kindergarten class with his crying child in tow.

When she's at-bat, he calls a strike on a pitch that's clearly high and outside.

Although I've written a fair number of short romances, this isn't my go-to story because I only get as far as the meet cute before I fumble.

My go-to story is far more versatile because I can hang an infinite number of stories from a single hook:

A woman discovers (learns, realizes, confirms, suspects) she's pregnant.

What's your go-to story?

The banking crisis is so bad...

...that bank robbers have to take their exploding, dye-filled money packets in monthly installments.

...that bank robbers are skipping the middle-man and going directly to Congress.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Today's amusing typo

From page 100 of Lethal Exposure by Lori Wilde: "She grabbed the thongs and smacked a bunch of romaine lettuce [...] onto her plate [...]"

So, did she serve herself salad using summertime footwear or using skimpy underwear?

Either way, I don't think I'd eat it...

Today's sex question

From pages 73-74 of Lethal Exposure by Lori Wilde: "He'd lost his virginity on the commune. To one of Aunt Bunnie's hippie friends. He'd been sixteen, the woman a good twenty years older. He'd gone into the barn that day a boy and walked out a man."

Does that bother you?

Would it bother you any more or any less if it read: "She'd lost her virginity on the commune. To one of Uncle Barney's hippie friends. She'd been sixteen, the man a good twenty years older. She'd gone into the barn that day a girl and walked out a woman."

Sunday, November 23, 2008


"Writing Dialog," published in yesterday's edition of Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, will be reprinted at a writing Web site. The editors of the site contacted me via a message forwarded by the editor of Gila Queen, asking permission and offering payment.

This marks my 49th acceptance of the year, and the easiest one yet! I need three more acceptances to reach my annual goal of one-per-week, and I've 5.5 weeks of year left to do it in.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reprint published

"Writing Dialog," a humorous take on writing dialog I wrote for an on-line confession writing class and later posted here, has been reprinted in today's issue (#153) of Gila Queen's Guide to Markets.

Gila Queen
is now delivered via e-mail, but I've been reading and contributing to it for so many years that I remember when it was printed on actual paper and mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. If you're not a subscriber, you should be. For subscription information: http://gilaqueen.us/

Friday, November 21, 2008


I received my 48th acceptance of the year in today's mail, this time for a Valentine's Day-themed story I submitted back in August. It seems that February's going to be a good month, with Valentine's Day stories in three different publications.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I did it. Finally.

For the first time since shortly before my bypass surgery two-plus months ago, I have written a new short story--completely new, from concept to final word.

Late yesterday afternoon an editor posted an "urgent call" for a story "4000-8000 words with a solid plot, realistic and gripping dialog, and a suspenseful conclusion," and she wanted it before 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

I saw the call around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I spent the next few hours trying to imagine a story that would meet her needs and that I could draft in one non-stop block of time that evening.

At 6:30 I booted up my new laptop, started MacSpeech Dictate, and began talking. When I finally stopped at 11:10 that evening I had a complete, reasonably clean, 3,679-word draft. That's a dictation speed in the neighborhood of 13 words-per-minute, though I certainly didn't talk the entire time. I walked the dogs twice, did a load of laundry, and made repeated trips to the kitchen to refill my lemonade glass.

At 8:00 this evening I began editing and revising the story, and by 8:45 I had a final draft of 4,060 words. After reformatting the story from the default format I get when I dictate to standard manuscript format, I e-mailed the story to the editor.

If the story sells, I'll have paid for the dictation software, but I'll need to sell four or five more stories to pay for the new laptop.

What I learned:

The dictation software worked, though I had to make a few word-choice concessions--either using alternate words when the software didn't understand what I said or spelling the words I wanted--and I had to watch the screen closely while I dictated to ensure that I was getting what I wanted.

Part of the reason for this is that I'm not a write-and-revise-through-multiple-drafts writer. I'm a get-it-right-the-first-time writer and dictation software only has value to me if I can dictate my drafts as cleanly as I can type them.

Apparently, I can.

Monday, November 17, 2008

42-46, 47

The day began with five acceptances waiting in my e-mail inbox, all reprints.

And the mail brought a contract for a Valentine's Day-themed confession.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speak like you write

One piece of advice often repeated to new writers is to "write like you speak." I don't know how valuable that advice actually is, but I'm in the process of learning to do the opposite, to "speak like I write."

Because I've been having trouble writing post-surgery, I've been exploring ways to change how I work. One idea I kicked around is the use of speech recognition software so that I could dictate rather than type. I sought opinions from other writers and found that, as a group, they had a vast array of experiences. The positive experiences and the negative experiences seemed to cancel each other out.

Ultimately, I purchased MacSpeech Dictate. I thought I had throughly checked the specs, but I hadn't; it won't run on my older Macintosh G5.

Another week of deep thought led to the purchase of a MacBook, one of the other ideas I had about changing the way I work. I thought not being tied to my office might inspire me.

The laptop was functional straight out of the box, I installed Microsoft Office and MacSpeech Dictate without any hitches, and I was soon able to dictate directly into a Word document.

Although I've only dictated a few things, I have learned the following about myself: 1) I don't enunciate my words as clearly as I'd thought, and 2) When I read back what I've dictated, it doesn't "sound" like material I've typed.

I've spent time "teaching" the program to understand me, and it does a reasonably good job of understanding what I'm saying; it's certainly no worse than my typing.

But will it ultimately make me more productive? Will not being tied to my office and not being tied to a keyboard make a difference? Will I regain my productivity by changing how I write?

Old publication on e-bay

A copy of Fantasy Macabre 8, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and published in 1986, is now available on e-bay. It contains the first publication of my story "The Passenger."

Apparently, if I wait long enough, everything I've ever had published will show up on e-bay.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

If you can't write, fill in the blanks

Coming up with a new story idea since my surgery has been like searching for an oasis in a desert. I know there's one out there; I'm just slowing dying of creative thirst while I search for it.

On the other hand, I've frequently mentioned the bazillion unfinished stories residing on my hard drive. A few weeks ago I looked through all of them and made a list of the stories that are nearest completion. Then I selected one and started filling in the blanks. That is, I completed the scenes that were mostly written and wrote the scenes that were nothing more than notes about what should happen.

I would compare the process to a paint-by-numbers kit because the creative work had mostly been completed. The pre-surgery me had created the template. All the post-surgery me had to do was put the right colors in the right places.

I started with 3,600 words and had slowly expanded it to 5,400+ words with only one critical scene still to write and an ending that had to be revised to fit the new material I'd added.

Friday, an editor--the same editor who purchased my 1,500-word story a few days ago--put out a call for February stories or stories with snowy backgrounds that could take place in February. She emphasized a Monday a.m. deadline.

I looked at my nearly complete story, realized that time-of-year was not critical to the basic plot, and revised the scenes I had written to include references to snow and cold and ice. Changing the season actually helped resolve two minor plot points and I was able to complete the 6,200-word story today.

I e-mailed the story to her a few minutes ago.

And it makes me think: Maybe there's a reason I've been stockpiling story ideas for all these years. Maybe there's a reason I had more ideas than I had time to write. It certainly helps now that I have more time to write than I have ideas...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I received my 41st acceptance today. This is the story I mentioned in my October 31 post; it's a story I pulled from my files, revised, and lengthened to meet an editor's "emergency" call for a story to fill a hole in her January issue. I wasn't the only writer to respond to her call, but...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Published, again

My story "Christmas Lesson" appears in the December True Confessions.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

If you can't write, submit

I spent a good part of yesterday morning seeking markets for unsold manuscripts. I found markets for four manuscripts that I sent out as-is, and markets for two additional manuscripts if I were to revise them.

I often hear or--these days--read posts from writers complaining about a lack of markets for short fiction. Writers that blindly parrot the party line about a lack of markets only reveal their own ignorance and laziness. Writers that want to be published won't waste time complaining and will spend the time necessary to find the markets.

Friday, November 07, 2008

39, 40

Earlier this evening I received my 39th and 40th acceptances of the year, one for an essay I adapted from a presentation I prepared for an MWA/SW luncheon, and the other for "Writing Dialog," which I posted here back in July. (I guess that makes it a reprint, eh?)

Swift kick

If ever I needed a swift kick in the ass to get my writing career back on track, it's now. I may have found it: The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists by Andrew McAleer (Adams Media, 2008). I haven't read it yet; I've only read the parts where Andrew quotes me. And if I do nothing more than follow my own advice, I should be back on track soon.

Removing distractions

Over the course of several days I have cancelled subscriptions to many on-line publications, cancelled memberships at sites that send me e-mail, removed myself from various e-mailing lists, quit a handful of Yahoo groups, and changed my memberships in most of the remaining Yahoo groups so that I no longer receive e-mail from them.

In short, I'm uncluttering my e-mail in-box.

Will this make me more productive when I'm at the computer? Possibly.

But mostly what I hope it will do is help untether me from the computer. The bulk of my income is generated by what I do when I'm sitting in front of a computer. For the past few years the bulk of my "life" has also been determined but what I do when I'm sitting in front of a computer.

Perhaps now I'll spend a little more of my "life" somewhere else doing something else. The exercise certainly won't hurt me and, who knows, maybe I'll be more productive when I am at the computer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Falling off the wall

Sometimes I feel like Humpty Dumpty. I've been cracked open and all the King's horses and all the King's men have tried to put me back together again.

Successful or not, though, every damn one of them is sending me a bill!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A tale of time

There's an "old writer's tale" that says the longer an editor takes to respond to your submission, the more likely it is that she is going to accept it. A slight variation of the same tale says that the longer an editor takes to respond to your submission, the more likely it is that she is considering accepting it.

What a crock.

I've spent enough time in enough editorial offices--as an editor and as a freelancer--to know it isn't necessarily true.

Let me describe what happens to the slush pile in the editorial offices of some publications with which I'm familiar:

Publication A: The editor waits until two designated cardboard boxes are filled with slush pile submissions. Then he has a "reading party" and a group of volunteers spends an evening reading the submissions and passing on potentially publishable work to the editor. A submission that went into the box two months ago is no different than one that went into the box two days ago.

Publication B: The editor assigns almost everything to established writers and uses very little unsolicited material. Unsolicited submissions are piled on the corner of the editor's desk until the pile is so tall the submissions start falling to the floor every time he passes. Then he spends an afternoon clearing his desk. A submission tossed onto the corner of his desk two months ago is no different than one tossed there two days ago.

Publication C: The editor has found so little publishable material in the slush pile that he mostly ignores it. Similar to the editor of Publication B, he waits until the pile of unsolicited material interferes with his work, which happens only a couple of times a year. Again, a two-month-old submission is treated no differently than a two-day old submission.

Is there even a glimmer of truth in the "old writer's tale"? Perhaps. At publications where submissions travel upward through a hierarchy of editors where any editor along the way can reject a submission but only one editor can accept it, the length of time before response may indicate potential interest.

But I wouldn't stake my career on it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

If you can't write, revise

Earlier today, on a Yahoo group for writers of a particular genre, an editor posted her need for a 1,500-1,800-word story to fill a hole in her January issue. She needed the story by Monday.

I had a very short story in my files quite similar to what she was seeking. I converted it from third-person to first-person and added a few hundred words to reach her minimum length requirement of 1,500 words.

From the time I read her post to the time I submitted the revised story via e-mail, about 1.5 hours elapsed.

Apparently I still have the ability to revise completed work; what still eludes me is the ability to create new material.

(Note: The Yahoo group has 294 members, at least a third of whom are regular writers of this particular genre. Approximately another third are occasional writers of this genre. And the rest, excluding the handful of editors on the list, are striving to become writers of this genre. With an entire weekend to write, the other members of the list might provide some stiff competition for that one opportunity.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An 'author' born every minute

During the past several years I've learned of many, many "authors" that were bamboozled, snookered, or fast-talked out of their money by any number of publishing scams, from "editors" recommended by "agents" to vanity publishers masquerading as real publishers.

Reminds me of the old saying, "There's an 'author' born every minute, and two to take him."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I received my 38th acceptance of the year via e-mail and expect a contact to follow shortly.

Two observations about this one:

1. Last year was a slow year for sales, with only 38 all year. I've already reached 38 sales and there are still two months to go. That's a good sign, but even if I manage one sale a week until year-end, I still won't hit the kind of numbers I did 2002-2006.

2. I wrote the first version of this story in 1998, and revised and expanded it from 2,000 words to 3,800 words in 1999 at the request of an editor who subsequently did not purchase the story. The revised version is the one that sold.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No agent required

The agent I queried at the tail-end of last month ultimately sent back a "thanks, but no thanks" response. Because the imprint (and the publishing company) I targeted when I wrote Novel #5 is open to unagented submissions, I put together a submission package yesterday and mailed it this morning.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

If you can't write, rearrange

After returning home from the hospital last month, I forced myself to write. It didn't go well.

Even though I wrote more than 14,000 words--approximately 11,000 of them for a novel and the rest bits and pieces of various short stories--I struggled to produce each word, each sentence, each paragraph. The harder I fought to get the words on the screen, the more frustrated and depressed I became. Writing had never been like this. For years, fiction poured out of me as if it was water from the tap; it had become more like raising water from a well one thimbleful at a time.

A friend suggested that I stop forcing myself to write and, instead, let creativity return in its own time. So I haven't written fiction in a week. I may not write fiction next week or the week after.

But I can't stay away from my office. And if I'm not sitting at the computer working on a new short story, I must have something else to keep me occupied.

A few weeks before surgery I purchased two new shelving units as part of my long-term goal of redecorating and updating my office. Friday evening I assembled one of them--a job that I would have knocked out in half an hour or so pre-surgery, but which took several hours to accomplish. Saturday I moved the new shelving unit into my office and spent the day unloading the old bookshelves, discarding unwanted books and papers, and arranging things on the new shelves. At the end of the day I was quite pleased with the result.

My office is slowly becoming the inviting, attractive, and well-organized environment I want it to be.

Am I any closer to writing because of my efforts this weekend?

Probably not.

But my office looks so much nicer.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I received my 37th acceptance of the year today, this time for a romantic little Valentine's Day story I wrote back in December 2007.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Word of the day

E-ject: a rejection that arrives via e-mail.

Bits and pieces

After the novel-in-progress took a left turn a few days ago, I started looking at my unfinished short stories. During the past few days I've been adding bits and pieces--a sentence, a scene, a few plot notes--spread across many stories. But I haven't finished anything.

In fact, I haven't finished a new short story since August 30. I have a good excuse, but still... What I don't finish I can't sell and now would be a real good time to experience an influx of sales.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The novel took a left turn

I've managed to write about 50 pages of the novel I had outlined before surgery. Unfortunately, somewhere in the late 20s the novel took a left turn. My characters, my setting, and my basic premise remain intact, but my plot no longer looks like my outline. That means the novel will no longer fit the romance line I had intended it for. I think I know what line the "new" version might fit, but how I get from where I'm at to the end--and, amazingly, the end works no matter which line I aim for--is a quandary.

Sigh. Transitioning from a short story writer to a novelist is harder than it looks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

36 and published

I received my 36th acceptance of the year today. Sort of. What I actually received was a copy of the Winter True Experience containing my story "Holiday Surprise."

Because I never received a contract for the story, I hadn't known it was accepted. (Of course, I promptly e-mailed the associate editor to let her know of the paperwork snafu.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Far from the madding crowd

I spent much of Saturday evening showing my unfinished stories to the non-writing friend I refer to as my plot monkey. I have hundreds of unfinished stories on my computer--confessions in one folder with sub-folders for Christmas, Valentine's Day, and other seasonal material; crime fiction in another folder, with sub-folders for Nathaniel Rose* and Morris Ronald Boyette*; and still other folders for other genres--and all evening I kept hearing, "Where's the rest of it?" and "I like this" and "I want to know how this ends."

I have so many unfinished stories that, by concentrating on finishing the stories I've already started, I could write for several years without needing to generate any new story ideas.

Which is a good thing because I haven't been generating new ideas. All the stories--characters, settings, concepts, opening scenes, etc.--that used to crowd my brain and leak out through my fingers are gone. I could drop a thought in my empty brain and the sound would echo for a week.

I never "heard voices" or had characters "talk to me" the way crazy people and some writers describe the process, but I constantly had ideas fighting for my attention. Because I had so many of them, I never had time to finish them all. I wrote as much as I could--sometimes an opening scene, sometimes a few key plot points, sometimes just the title when it was enough to remind me what the story was about--with the intention of returning later and finishing what I had started.

Many times I did return and finish these stories. but not often enough or I wouldn't have hundreds more waiting for me.

And now, when my brain has retreated to a linear thought-process of one-thought-at-a-time (the result of my surgery and increased blood flow to my brain? the result of the drugs I'm taking? the result of something else entirely?), it feels as if I've left the madding crowd far behind.

In fact, it's a little lonely in here.
*Private eyes who have appeared in multiple short stories.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mystery trivia, Bouchercon, and me

Jack Bludis has been kind enough to remind me that I've been around so long that I'm now part of Mystery Trivia. He writes:

"While attending Bouchercon and a segment called 'The History of the Short Story,' they flashed a photo of the cover of an old Espionage magazine.

"On the cover in bold print was the name 'Ed Hoch.'

"Others whose names were shown on the cover were Ron Goulart and some upstart by the name of Michael Bracken.

"(On the cover, also, was an automatic pistol with a nude on the grip.)"

He's referring to the February 1985 issue, which contained "The Only Good Red," the second of three stories Espionage published of mine (they accepted a fourth but ceased publication before using it). That was about seven years after my professional debut with a children's fantasy in Young World (November 1978).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Only my surgeon finds this funny...

I've been telling everyone I know that I'm thinking of covering the scar down the middle of my chest with a tattoo of a zipper. So far only my surgeon has laughed.

Because I'm not a tattoo kind of guy, I used the idea as fodder for the opening of a story. Of course, before the first paragraph ends "Zipper" kills a guy. I managed to write almost three pages beyond that point, and I think the character has potential, but I've not yet figured out the rest of the story.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


My story "In the Blink of an Eye" appears in the November True Story.

Show us your...

Everybody wants to see my scar, and I've lifted my shirt more times than a Girl-Gone-Wild. Of course, this makes me think I should buy a video camera, get a large group of heart patients together, and make my own video to pitch on late-night TV: "Heart Patients Gone Wild!"

Monday, October 06, 2008

Chapter one

This weekend I wrote the first chapter of a new novel--the one I had roughly outlined pre-surgery--and a few pages of the second chapter. The words did not flow from my fingers the way I'm accustomed to, and sometimes my fingers produced gibberish. But after rereading, rethinking, revising, and retyping, I'm reasonably happy with the first chapter. It does everything I need it to do and the writing's not bad.

Medical update

I met with my surgeon this afternoon. My recovery is on schedule and, barring a set-back, I probably won't see him again. My next appointment is with my cardiologist.

I should be able to resume full activities two months after surgery--which would be November 10--and I've been encouraged to slowly increase my activities so that I can hit that target.

Should I have told him that I wasn't waiting around for approval and was already doing a few things I shouldn't have been doing?

Friday, October 03, 2008


I'm writing fiction again. Sort of. I added a little bit--a sentence here, a paragraph there--to several stories-in-progress. I made no significant progress on any of the stories I touched, and I had no brilliant ideas for new stories (or even for new scenes for the stories-in-progress), but at least I'm creating fiction. My mind is no longer a complete bowl of pudding.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I received my 35th acceptance of the year in today's mail, for a Christmas story I submitted in August 2007.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Another novel

I was outlining and making notes for another novel in late August/early September, and had a rough-but-workable outline prior to my adventure at the hospital. During the past few days I've been looking at that outline and filling in some ancillary information--the protagonist's physical description, rough descriptions of key locations where multiple scenes will occur, and so on. I've not done much that might be considered "creative," but, at this point, any progress on any writing project feels like a major improvement in my well-being.

I think I've finally found the optimum times of day to take my medication so that it has the least impact on my ability to think clearly, and I've been exercising a little more each day, taking short walks in front of my house followed by ten or fifteen minutes spent on a bench in my front yard so I can enjoy fresh air.

I'm still frustrated by my need to rely on other people for shopping trips and the like, but now that my mind is free to imagine people, places, and events that do not exist, it's almost like I'm free to travel. After all, most of my adventures prior to surgery were the ones I took in my imagination and then put on paper for other people to share.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I received two rejections in today's mail. Two! Isn't there some karmic rule that says the sick guy gets a reprieve from rejection until his heart is strong enough to handle the disappointment? No? Damn.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I'm not sure which part of the recuperation process bothers me most, but I'm particularly frustrated by my lack of independence, my lack of stamina, and my lack of creative thought.

I live alone and am not yet supposed to drive. I must rely on others to run errands for me and, of course, nothing is ever done quite the way I want it done or when I want it done. I'm frustrated by my lack of control over my life, and by my lack of independence. Where once i could jump in the car to run errands whenever I felt the need, now I must coordinate everything with family and friends.

Yesterday, for the first time since surgery, I went to the grocery store. The trip through the store was probably the most time I've spent on my feet since returning home--despite daily walks--and I was frazzled by the time I returned to the car. I have become one of those people who clog the aisles as we toddle along, not quite sure where we're going or what we intend to purchase. I've discovered that it's just as frustrating to be one of those people as it is to be caught behind one of those people.

Although I've managed to spend some time working during the past week, most of my work has been editing and proofreading, tasks which require knowledge and attention, but which do not require any particularly creative skills. My intense desire to write, the urge to push ideas from my head through my fingers and onto the page, has abandoned me. I've had no new story ideas, have had no desire to create imaginary worlds populated by characters that spring from my mind, and have had no happy-ever-afters desperate to reach the page. I know I'll regain my independence, I know my stamina improves every day, but my lack of creative thought frustrates me most of all.

After all, I self-identify as a writer. If I'm no longer writing, what am I?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Agent first

I opted to query an agent first, one I met last summer when we were both featured speakers at a writing conference. Perhaps she'll remember me; perhaps she'll be interested in the manuscript. We'll see.


The novel is finished. I only added 1,000+ words before I was satisfied with it. The word count is iffy, though. If I use the "traditional" method of counting words--250 words/manuscript page--the novel is a few thousand words long for the intended market; if I use the word count provided by Microsoft Word, then it's almost 4,000 words short.

It's a romance novel based on a "meet-cute" provided by my second wife. (She died in 1994, less than two years after we married.) I found the first 32 pages in my files in February, 2006, and spent much of that month expanding the story. I picked it up again in February, 2008, and again spent much of that month expanding the story. I returned to in May, and by the end of that month I had much of the novel written. Unfortunately, I had a gap between the first 3/4s of the manuscript and the ending scenes. In early August, the non-writing friend I've previously referred to as my "plot monkey" read what I had written and gave me a list of suggestions that would fill in plot holes and bridge the unwritten gap. By the end of the month I had a complete draft. I spent the past couple of days proofreading, editing, and polishing, and I'm printing the final draft as I type this.

Why a romance novel? Several reasons. Although I've written short fiction in several genres, I've had my greatest success writing crime fiction and women's fiction. One of my four previous novels--and one of the two with the best critical acclaim--was a young adult romance. The "meet cute" is solid and the setting is one with which I am intimately familiar.

After I finish printing out the manuscript, I'll proofread and edit the synopsis, revise my bio to emphasize my experience writing women's fiction, and polish my cover letter.

Then I have a decision to make: Do I submit directly to the target publisher or do I seek an agent?

Maybe I'll make that decision another day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Music to recuperate to

Mott the Hoople. Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople's former lead signer). Bad Company (co-founded by former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs). Aerosmith (no connection to Mott the Hoople that I'm aware of).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A novel excuse

On August 30--four days after I woke with a crushing pain in my chest--I completed a draft of a new novel. The manuscript sits on my desk next to my computer monitor. It's a few thousand words shy of meeting the optimum length for its target market, but is otherwise complete. All I need to do is add a few new or expand a few existing scenes to get it to the appropriate length. Then it'll need one last editing/proofreading pass before it'll be ready so submit. It'll be one of the first things I do once I regain a decent attention span.

I haven't written many novels. This is my fifth. All four previous novels were published by small presses--two received great reviews, two others were also released as audio books--but none sold particularly well. The novel sitting in front of me has the potential to sell to a larger publisher, and I have reasonably high hopes for it.

During the last few weeks spent finishing the draft of this novel, I also started outlining another novel, one intended for the same publisher. Although the outline is quite rough at this point, I think I'll be able to complete it in a reasonable amount of time once I can return to the keyboard.

Does this mean I'm abandoning short stories? Not hardly. Short stories are my bread-and-butter and are likely to remain so for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Progress is slow but steady. Each day I walk a little farther, sleep a little better, think a little more clearly. I spend a little time at the computer each day but have not yet felt the desire to write.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Hidden among the several dozen e-mails awaiting my return home were two rejections, and today's mail brought another. Perhaps the next few days will reverse that trend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Where's my damn epiphany?

If I were writing a story based on the recent events in my life, this would be the point where my protagonist has an epiphany--that character-altering moment when he vows to be a better person and save the world from injustice. So where's my damn epiphany?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Published again and again and again

The mail certainly stacked up while I was in the hospital. No acceptances were awaiting my return, but contributor copies were:

My story "Night Shift Nookie" appears in the October True Romance. My stories "Love at First Fright" and "Wild Card" appear in the October True Love.

I can't keep up

I can't keep up with the volume of e-mail my recent escapades have generated, so please know that I appreciate all of the kind words you've posted here or sent directly to me. Thank you, also, to those of you who have forwarded this information to various groups and lists where I have been active and where others may be interested. I haven't the attention span nor the energy to do all that myself. For now, this will be the only source of updated information.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quadruple bypass

I entered the hospital on September 9 expecting an angioplasty and, perhaps, insertion of as many as two stents.

The best-laid plans went to hell immediately. Two of my arteries were 100% blocked and my body had, over the previous 10+ years, rerouted my blood flow to accommodate the blockage. Angioplasty was immediately halted and I was scheduled for bypass surgery on September 10. Quadruple bypass.

I was released from the hospital earlier today and am at my son's home. It may be only a few days or it may be as much as a week before I return to my own home.

The doctors and nurses all tell me how lucky I am. Apparently, what I had could have killed me at any time during the past few years and the fact that it didn't--combined with leading the life of a non-smoker--means this surgery could add 30+ years to my life.

At the moment I don't feel lucky. At the moment I feel like I've been run over by a bus.

But I am lucky in many ways. During the past week, family, friends, colleagues, and clients have provided emotional, physical, and financial support far beyond anything I ever expected.

And that lets me know how lucky I truly am.

Thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Words escape me

I've never been a touch-typist, nor a particularly fast typist, but I've always been able to get what's in my head onto the page with minimal errors. Until lately. Somehow, what I think I'm typing and what's actually appearing on my screen doesn't match up as well as it used to. In fact, I had to redo the first sentence of this paragraph three times.

I've also noticed myself losing words when I speak. I spent a bloody long time this evening trying to remember the phrase "garbage disposal" while standing at my son's sink.

I don't know if this is a physical symptom of my heart not pumping properly or if it's an emotional reaction. Or maybe I've always been like this and now I'm just extra sensitive to my own foibles.

Regardless of the cause, I hope it it clears up soon.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A sobering dose of reality

At 4 a.m., Tuesday, August 26, I woke with a painful, crushing sensation in my chest, a pain worse than anything I'd ever felt before.

Once, about a year earlier, I'd woken with a similar pain, but it went away after a couple of hours. This time it didn't go away.

At 10:30 a.m. I drove myself to the emergency room, where they took blood and urine, and attached me to a variety of monitoring devices. The conclusion, after several hours, was that I was not having a heart attack. However, that did not rule out other possible heart problems, so the doctor scheduled me for a stress test.

Tuesday morning, September 2, I took a nuclear stress test. Parts of my chest were shaved, making me look like I have mange, and I was again attached to various monitoring devices. Then I ran on a tread mill in an attempt to raise my heart rate.

I was unable to raise my heart rate enough. My chest pain, which had never fully gone away, returned. I started sweating heavily, and I felt dizzy. They removed me from the tread mill.

They induced stress chemically, injected me with a radioactive isotope, and then I spent twenty minutes lying still while my heart was videoed.

I returned on Thursday, September 4, was again injected with an isotope, and this time had my heart videoed while it was at rest and under no stress.

Then the two videoes were compared. The result? I have 17% blockage in the left ventricle of my heart.

Tomorrow, September 7, I turn 51. Tuesday, September 9, I am scheduled for angioplasty.

I may have a balloon inserted to open my artery and may have a stent inserted to keep it open. If all goes well, the procedure is over in about an hour. I might be released that day or I might be kept over night for observation.

If the procedure does not go well, or if there's more blockage than the tests reveal...well, I'm trying not to think too hard about that.

Most people seem to ease into their 50s. Sometime in their 40s they start falling apart, leading to radical changes in diet, daily ingestion of prescription medicines, operations, and whatnot.

Not me. My body waited until it was 50 and then kicked me in the ass.

In some ways I've led a charmed life. My blood pressure and cholesterol level, while slightly elevated when I had them checked for my 50th birthday, have led to a moderate change in my diet. I have no other medical problems of which I am aware and, until last week, did not take any prescription medications on a regular basis.

All sorts of thoughts go through my head at this time, but, given the nature of this blog, let's deal with this one: What about my writing?

The past few months have been both fertile and successful. I've been writing much more than I had been the previous several months, generating new ideas and finished manuscripts, and I've been selling at a high frequency again after a fallow period.

Writing is not a particularly strenuous physical activity, so I don't anticipate physical interference with writing, but what about the mental and emotional impact? I shot through a range of emotions when I learned my heart required medical intervention. Which of these emotions will prevail next week? And, if I am writing, will I be able to use any of those emotions in my writing?

We shall see, we shall see.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Plot blocks and Legos

Building a bad plot is like building a wall from children's building blocks. A slight nudge will cause the wall to collapse and the blocks to scatter. Building a good plot is like building a wall with Legos. Each plot block is linked together in multiple ways and even a swift kick might not make the Legos separate.

So, one of the things I do when building a plot is to look at each plot block and determine how many ways it connects to the plot blocks that precede it and how many ways it connects to the plot blocks that follow. The more connections, the better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

$49.95 for something hardbroiled

For only $49.95 you can purchase a signed copy of Hardbroiled, a crime fiction anthology I edited, on ebay. An unnamed contributor also signed it. Apparently "Karen," the woman for whom I signed the book, decided she didn't want to keep it in her library.

But $49.95?

Tell you what: If you can find a new copy of Hardbroiled, I'll be glad to sign it for you. The purchase price of the book and the cost of postage to send it to me and back to you will be much less than $49.95. And I'll inscribe it to anyone you want...

Faking orgasm!

Using exclamation points is like faking orgasm. It's putting a pretense of excitement at the end of an otherwise boring experience.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Sometimes patience pays off. I received my 32nd acceptance of the year, this time for a story I submitted in November of 2005.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dark Knight plot failure

Even though I enjoyed The Dark Knight when I saw it a few weeks ago, I remain haunted by a failure of the filmmakers to follow-though on an obvious and potentially significant plot twist.

Late in the film, two ferries--one filled with convicts and one filled with "good" people--are stopped while crossing a body of water. The Joker has given the passengers and crew of each ferry a detonation device that will destroy the other ferry if triggered. If neither device is triggered by midnight, both ferries will be destroyed.

There is, of course, a fair bit of drama as people on each ferry wrestle with questions of life and death. One of the convicts throws their detonation device out the window. The "good" people still have theirs, but midnight comes and goes and neither ferry is destroyed, thanks, of course, to Batman.

Throughout the movie, The Joker has played anarchist, providing misleading information--for example, telling Batman his lover was at one address when, in fact, she was at another. Because of this deception, Batman rescues Dent and his lover dies.

One of the themes of the movie is how even the best people can turn bad, and what happens when they do.

So here's what the filmmakers missed:

After the convict throws their detonation device out of the window:

We should see the second hand on the clock aboard the "good" citizen's ferry ticking down the last 60 seconds until midnight.

We should see a "good" citizen finally make a decision and a close-up of his hand as he presses the trigger.

We should see an exterior shot of a ferry exploding. The camera should stay on the ferry wreckage long enough for the viewer to react emotionally.

Then we should see an interior shot of the convicts in their ferry.

The viewer then realizes the The Joker has lied again. The people aboard each ferry had the power to destroy themselves, not each other.

It would have been a much more powerful if the "good" people had destroyed themselves.

But the filmmakers missed that opportunity, or were afraid to follow through on it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


One of my pseudonyms had a short story published this week, a bit of hardboiled crime fiction.

(There's a reason I use pseudonyms so, no, I won't reveal the title of the story or the publication it appeared in.)


I received my 31st acceptance of the year today, for a Halloween-themed confession story.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Overcoming the plot wall

Even though I am, by some accounts, a prolific short story writer, I'm not nearly as prolific as I could be if I didn't run into so many plot walls.

Plot walls vex me because of my approach to writing. I write opening scenes the same way I turn on the faucet for a glass of water, and they flow out of me with little effort. Because I rarely have a complete story in mind when I start, I often hit plot walls. What happens next? Where's this story going? What's the point? Opening scenes remain on my computer for days, weeks, months, even years before I ever write second scenes or draft rough plots.

I once wrote about my need for a "plot monkey" to get over these walls, comparing plot monkeys to the old adage that enough monkeys with enough typewriters and enough time could produce the complete works of Shakespeare. I don't need the complete works of Shakespeare; I just need basic plots.

A few years ago I learned the value of a good plot monkey. The editor of a magazine to which I regularly contributed started sending me one-paragraph story descriptions with word-counts and deadlines. Her paragraphs always included the story hook, basic plot, and ending. I wrote every story, met every deadline, and was soon receiving as many as three short story assignments a month.

Alas, that magazine ceased publication and that editor moved on.

I was on my own again until recently. Two weeks ago, over dinner with a non-writing friend, I mentioned one of my unfinished stories. Within a few minutes we had plotted the last half of the story. By the time we finished dessert we had plotted the last halves of two other unfinished stories. A little while later we plotted another story from scratch.

In the two weeks since that dinner I have completed and submitted the three unfinished stories we plotted and have written about a third of the new story.

I don't know if my friend's goal in life is to be a plot monkey, but we're having dinner again today and a few minutes from now I'm going to look through my unfinished stories so I have something to discuss over dinner.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Writer's Market 2009

Writer's Market 2009 is now available in my local bookstore, and I probably won't buy it. I've been a loyal purchaser of this annual for round-about 30 years, but the publishing world has changed and so have I. I didn't purchase the 2008 edition and didn't miss it.

I can remember the days when I covered each annual with Post-It Notes and yellow highlighter marks. Alas, the 2007 edition remains on the shelf next to my desk without a single crack in the spine, reminding me why I didn't bother purchasing the 2008 edition and why I won't purchase the 2009 edition.

There was a time when Writer's Market was my lifeline to publishing, where I learned about markets I had no other access to, and where I constantly trolled for editorial guidelines, editors' names, and editorial addresses. Many times in the past I've sold manuscripts to magazines I had never seen, based solely on information in Writer's Market.

All of that information is now available on the Internet. Between on-line market reports and frequent use of search engines, I can do everything I once did with my annual copy of Writer's Market.

Even though I no longer need my annual Writer's Market, I do remember it fondly and know that my career might not have progressed the way it has without it.

Farewell, old friend.

Monday, August 04, 2008

26, 27, 28, 29, 30

Today's mail brought five acceptances. And, just to keep my ego in check, a rejection.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


I learned of this year's 25th acceptance a few minutes ago when I looked at a publisher's Web site and realized one of my short stories is scheduled for their December 22 issue.

Christmas in August

Editors of monthly publications often work four to six months ahead of their publication's cover date, and writers have to develop an internal calendar that permits them to write Christmas stories during the oppressive heat of summer. Although my internal editorial calendar isn't perfectly turned, I do try to write and submit Christmas stories each summer.

This week I've completed and submitted two Christmas stories. I have seven more in various stages of completion and a submission window for this year that closes somewhere around the end of this month.

Then I need to turn my attention to New Year's Eve/New Year's Day stories...

Friday, August 01, 2008

23, 24

Two more acceptances today. One's a horror story; the other's a bit of crime fiction.

It's been quite a while since I had a streak of acceptances like this--five acceptances in eight days--so I'll try not to jinx things by saying too much.

But I am doing the happy dance...


I received my 22nd acceptance of the year earlier today, and with it have cracked a new market.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I received my 21st acceptance of the year today, for a confession I submitted in January.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I received my 20th acceptance of the year earlier today, for a confession I mailed off on the 6th.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The Short Mystery Fiction Society is discussing the "rules" of opening scenes. Among the "rules"--some of which are cribbed from Elmore Leonard--is "don't open with a description of the weather." There's debate on how valid these rules really are, with members pointing to this story or that as prime examples of great stories that begin with a description of the weather or that break other "rules."

I suspect the dilemma isn't the "rules." Here's what I posted:

I doubt that taking a few sentences to set up the atmosphere of a story is frowned on in today's market. I think what's frowned on is wasting multiple paragraphs describing weather that is unimportant, or a character's actions upon rising from bed, or background details that delay the start of the story.

There's a big difference between:

At 1:22 a.m., almost four hours into a thunderstorm that rumbled up the mountain and enveloped the lodge without warning, we lost power. At 1:23 a.m. someone pressed the muzzle of a .357 between the innkeeper's eyes and squeezed the trigger. None of the other guests recognized the sound, but I did. I woke immediately.


We all stood at the window and watched the storm race up the mountain. The lightning flashed across the evening sky like wayward fireworks and soon rain drops fat as marbles rattled the windows. The dark clouds made the night seem even darker and cast an ominous feeling of dread over all of the lodge's guests. I'd been in worse storms, I suppose, but this one was something more. It felt bigger, somehow, because the lodge was surrounded by pine forest and the nearest neighbor was ten miles down the mountain. The other guests slowly peeled away from the window. Some went to bed, others went to sit by the fireplace. By midnight, though, everyone else had turned in. I decided I might as well join them. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and changed into the new pajamas my wife had given me just before we'd left home. Then I slipped into bed beside her and watched the storm until I finally fell asleep sometime later.

A familiar sound woke me and it wasn't thunder. It was a gunshot, a gunshot that must have sounded just like thunder to the lodge's other guests....blah, blah, blah.

Both examples begin with weather, but the first example makes the weather a vital part of the scene. The second example makes the weather more of a space filler that delays the start of the story.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Writing Dialog

"Dialog is difficult to write," I said.

"Why?" An attractive young writer, eager to learn the secrets of my success, sat across from me. This wasn't the first time we'd met to discuss writing.

"Because it must be realistic without being real."

"I don't understand."

"Well, um, I'm not sure I can explain it, but--let's see--real people, like, they stop and start and, um, they st-stutter and talk in run-on sentences. Or incomplete sentences. And they don't always think before they, um, open their mouths and stuff. You know?"

"That was bad."

"Wasn't it, though?" I said. "I hear people talking like that every day."

She leaned forward. "So how do you make dialog realistic without being real?"

I considered for a moment before continuing. "Take out the fluff. Don't start sentences with 'well.' Eliminate the 'um's and 'er's. Eliminate throwaway bits such as 'by the way.'"

"That sounds easy enough, but that can't be it. There must be more."

I reached across the table and patted her hand. She didn't pull away. "There's much more, but perhaps we should order a drink before continuing. You game?"

After she said she was, I called the waiter over, ordered a pair of frozen margaritas, and watched him walk away. Then I continued. "That was a good example."

She appeared bewildered. "Of what?"

"Of knowing when to write dialog and when not to."

"I still don't understand."

"I could have written, 'I called the waiter over. He introduced himself, "Hi, I'm Bob. I'll be serving you today." "Hi, Bob," I said. "What will you have?" he asked. "Two frozen margaritas," I told him. "Is that all?" "Yes, Bob, that's all," I said. Then I watched him walk away before I continued.'"

"That wouldn't have advanced the plot at all, would it?"

I smiled. She was beginning to understand. I said, "Not at all."

"Anything else?"

"Avoid long blocks of 'dialog' where a single character does all the talking. Once a character has said more than three consecutive sentences, you're in danger of writing a monolog or a soliloquy. Even worse is when each of your characters speaks in long, uninterrupted blocks. That creates alternating monologues."

"That was four sentences."

"You could have interrupted me and broken it up a bit."

"No," she said. She licked salt off the rim of her glass. "I like listening to you."

I liked what her tongue was doing but I couldn't allow myself to be distracted. I had much more to teach her.

"The info dump should also be avoided," I told her, "especially in dialog."

"What's an info dump?"

"An info dump is when the author needs or wants to convey information to the reader and chooses to do it in a block of text rather than parceling it out in bits and pieces as the story progresses." I took a sip from my margarita and realized she'd already finished half of hers. "It's especially bad when one character tells the other character something they both already know."

"Give me an example."

"As you know, we're sitting in the bar of Bonita's, a place you once described as your favorite Mexican restaurant. Bonita's was opened in 1910 and is still owned and operated by the same family. It started as a hole-in the-wall and has grown significantly since then. What makes Bonita's unique is that the founding family--the Fitzpatricks--are Irish. It's the best place in town to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo."

I saw a twinkle in the young writer's eye. Maybe it was my charm. Maybe it was just the alcohol. "I did know all that. So why did you tell it to me?"

"Info dump."

"Will it be important later in the story?"

"I doubt it."

She caught the waiter's attention and ordered two more frozen margaritas. I had barely finished my first one when he arrived with the fresh margaritas.

"What else?" she asked.

"Avoid blathering."

"What's blathering?"

"When one character asks a question that can be answered simply, but the second character uses it as a jumping off point to ramble on and on."

"For example?"

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Jo," she said. "I was named after my uncle Joe, but my parents dropped the 'e' to make my name feminine. My uncle Joe was a cool guy. He taught me to hunt and fish. Well, my uncle Joe and my Dad did. They took to me to Clauson's farm every summer. The Clausons were my mother's cousins. My mother never went out there with us. She liked to stay home. She said she enjoyed having a little time to herself. She--" The young writer stopped and looked at me. She had beautiful blue eyes. "I'm blathering, aren't I?"

I smiled and repeated something she'd said earlier. "I like listening to you."

This time she reached across the table for my hand and our fingers entwined. Then she wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and looked deep into my eyes.

I cleared my throat. "Of course, most of these rules can be broken if the story warrants it. Sometimes you need a character who stutters or one who blathers. But just one."

She stroked my palm with the tip of one finger. "What else?"

"Always have a good line to exit the scene."

Jo lowered her voice. "And what do you have?"

I already knew her answer, but I asked because it was the best way to end the scene. "Would you like to go to my place and see my manuscripts?"

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's the visual image...

I stepped on a landmime yesterday. I saw him explode but I didn't hear a sound.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

To market, to market

I didn't feel particularly creative this weekend, but creativity is only part of what it takes to be a writer. Instead of writing, I spent a good part of the weekend pulling manuscripts from the drawer and matching them to potential markets. Ultimately, I found places to send 12 unpublished short stories and two previously published essays.

Alas, I ran out of weekend before I ran out of manuscripts. I still have about half a file drawer filled with manuscripts that are between submissions. (And doesn't "between submissions" sound a great deal more appealing than "unsold"?)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Five years of fiction

I have reached a milestone that I think few other writers--especially writers too young to have written for the pulps--have achieved: I have had one or more pieces of short fiction published every month for 60 consecutive months.

That's five years of fiction.

Dare I hope for six?


On the Short Mystery Fiction Society Yahoo group, Victor J. Banis posted the following link:


This is a link to a large file (which may take a long time to download if your Internet connection is dial-up), but beginning on page 54 is one of the best--if the not the best--article on Point-of-View that I've ever read.

Written by Suzanne Brockmann, who I know nothing about other than the information that's included in the file, this article will benefit writers no matter what their skill level.

Read it. You'll learn a lot.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


My essay for the textbook was accepted today, making it my 19th acceptance of the year.

I need a slew of acceptances to meet my one-acceptance-a-week goal and I don't see that happening. On the other hand, maybe it's time to stop setting my goals based on quantity.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Textbook contribution

Several months ago I was asked to contribute to a textbook on writing genre fiction. I finally--finally!--finished my contribution this evening and e-mailed it to the editors. I hope it meets their needs.

Nice melons...

Recent news reports indicate that watermelons contain the same key ingredients as Viagra and require no prescription. There's only one problem: Have you ever tried to swallow a watermelon?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I'm quoted in "In Praise of Good Editors" by Darlene Ryan (First Draft, July 2008).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Does our writing reveal our prejudices?

The current presidential race reminds me of something I heard many years ago during a lecture given by a man who examines slave narratives in an attempt to determine authenticity. Before I reveal what I learned, let me point out what fired up this train of thought:

Barack Obama is frequently referred to as "a black man with a white mother." It is equally true that he is "a white man with a black father," yet he's never referred to in this manner. What does it say about us--or, more specifically, about the media--that Obama's degree of "blackness" is worthy of comment?

What the lecturer revealed about his research is this (and I'm over-simplifying): You can often determine an author's race by how he describes people. As writers, we tend to spend more effort describing those who are not like us.

I saw it in my own work and, once I realized I was doing it, have tried to avoid it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What high gas prices force me to do

I've exhausted my supply of unread novels from Hard Case Crime and, rather than rushing out to buy more, I'm working my way through a stack of unread books that I've acquired from sources unknown.

I'm currently 90 pages into New York Times Bestselling Author Wendy Corsi Staub's Kiss Her Goodbye, a 412-page novel of "suspense." It isn't working for me because here's what each scene seems like: filler, filler, filler, ominous foreshadowing of something to come, scene break.

There should be something I can learn from reading Staub's work--after all, she's more "successful" than I am--but I'm having trouble figuring out what it is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Milk, anyone?

A short story is like an Oreo. There's cookie at one end and cookie at the other end, but if there's no cream filling in the middle it won't hold together.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Writing tip of the day: Exclamation points

Avoid exclamation points! Exclamation points are like strokes in a golf game: the higher the number of exclamation points, the worse the writing. Not! Everybody! Exclaims! Every! Time! They! Speak!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A death in the family

My inkjet printer died yesterday, just as I was preparing to print the first piece of fiction I've completed in more than a month. Today I shopped for and purchased a replacement.

Printers have become disposable commodities, made cheaply and lasting only a few years. The printer I selected--an Epson Stylus CX8400--was on sale for $79.99. (The store next door to where I purchased had the same printer on sale for $102.99. Go figure.)

The box containing the printer also contained four ink cartridges, which sell individually for $17.99. Therefore I paid $71.96 for the ink and $8.03 for the printer. So where do you think the manufacturer makes its money?

I'm tempted to purchase another $8.03 printer to keep on hand as a backup. Even if I never need it, I'll certainly use the ink that is packed in the same box.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


My story "Beyond Forever" appears in the July issue of True Love.

Writing tip of the day: Chronology

Write the events within each scene in chronological order. Think of the string of events in each scene as if they were letters in the alphabet. You wouldn’t normally recite the alphabet out of order, would you? For example, don’t write, “I went to Bob’s house, but first I changed clothes. We watched television after we fixed drinks.” Reading those four sentences is like reciting the alphabet B-A-D-C. Instead, write, “I changed clothes and went to Bob’s house. After we fixed drinks, we watched television.”

Use flashbacks sparingly and intentionally. If you write a flashback, make it clear through your transition that the scene takes place at a time before the beginning of your story. Write the events that happen during the flashback scene in chronological order (see above). Make it clear through your transition when the flashback has ended.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I can't get no satisfaction...or can I?

A month ago I described my increasing dissatisfaction with my writing and my need for time away from the keyboard. Unfortunately, a vacation was out of the question.

Instead, a series of events that may be evidence of the hand of God or may just be amazing coincidence, have me feeling better about my writing and about my career choice. Some of these are personal and beyond the boundaries of this blog, but three things stand out:

1. Some promotional material I wrote and designed for a campaign I created has proven highly effective. This reminds me that the often mundane advertising and public relations material I write has the potential to inspire to action, something my fiction rarely does (or rarely does to my knowledge).

2. I began leading an on-line workshop for confession writers. This has forced me to think about how and why I write and to attempt to convey that information to other writers. I'm unsure how the other writers feel about my approach, but I'm certainly gaining insight into writing tricks and techniques that I've been doing for so long that I had forgotten they were tricks and techniques.

3. I have not completed a single piece of fiction in more than a month. I've been writing fiction, and every piece I've touched is longer than my usual work. Longer is not necessarily better, but it allows me more space to explore characterization and setting, and it allows me to build more intricate plots or to add more or better sub-plots.

Am I now satisfied with my writing? No. But I'm much less dissatisfied.

On this I continue to harp

Always, always, always, put your name and your contact information on your manuscripts.

A manuscript scheduled for publication in one of the periodicals I edit had become separated from its cover letter, if there ever was a cover letter, between the time the manuscript was scheduled for publication and the time it actually entered production. I spent a good bit of time Wednesday attempting to track down the author. Only some creative use of Google led me to the person I think is the author, and a brief letter went into the mail because I could not find any Web site or e-mail address for her.

If I guessed wrong, or if the author doesn't respond promptly, this sale may be lost.

Why do so many writers fail to include this information on their manuscripts? Why do they set themselves up for failure? Why do I continue to beat my head against this brick wall when other writers' failures only make my submissions appear even more professional by comparison?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Will it go 'round in circles?

I received my Economic Stimulus check yesterday. It neither stimulated me, nor significantly changed my economic situation. I immediately paid my second quarter estimated taxes, which are due Monday. So what the government gave, the government received in return.

I guess I should be grateful that the ES check added enough to my checking account that I didn't have to raid my savings account to pay my estimated taxes.

But really, $600? Is that likely to have a significant impact on many people?

Friday, June 06, 2008


The price of gas: Up.

The price of food: Up.

What publishers pay for short stories: Still the same.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Today's mail brought word of my 18th acceptance of the year...and a rejection.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Career reboot?

During the past several months I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with my writing. I'm not sure why. I'm not "blocked," the finished manuscripts are as good as, and occasionally better than, they've always been, and I continue to sell most of what I write. I'm not good at introspection and self-analysis, so, despite repeated attempts to define my dissatisfaction and the possible causes for it, I come up blank.

Even so, I have pondered the idea of a career reboot. (It seems to have worked for the Batman movie franchise.) I've considered turning the computer off for a couple of months and spending my time doing something--anything--other than writing.

Would I return to the keyboard refreshed? Or would I have done nothing more than lose two months of productive writing time?

Alas, a careful examination of my bank balance suggests that a lengthy break from the keyboard might be counter-productive. I've grown accustomed to three hots and a cot and have no desire to become a starving artist.

Maybe all I really need is a vacation. That's something you don't often get when you're self-employed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Inside joke

The cover of John Lange's Zero Cool (Hard Case Crime) features a picture of a woman on a beach towel who has placed the book she was reading on the sand beside her. The book? John Lange's Grave Descend (also from Hard Case Crime).

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Two thoughts unrelated to writing

Yesterday I filled my gas tank and instantly doubled the value of my car.

Hillary Clinton has compared herself to Rocky Balboa, the white boxer who didn't know the meaning of the word "quit." Apparently she didn't see the first movie. Rocky lost to a smooth-talking black man.

Deals with the Devil

For five years and one month I've been a full-time freelance writer/editor. Today I'm a...what?

After much discussion, I've leased my soul to the devil. Effective today I'm a part-time employee of one of my key clients. There were numerous reasons for this change in our relationship, but the upshot, for me, is a modest increase in gross income and a significant decrease in self-employment tax.

I'll still be freelancing 30-40 hours each week, so I'm still a full-time freelancer. But now I have a part-time job.

So it goes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Published...sort of

My story "The Great Little Train Robbery," a bit of crime fiction suitable for the entire family, is now available in audio format for $.88 from Sniplits at http://www.sniplits.com/storiesforauthor.jsp?a=70.

14, 15, 16, 17

My 14th acceptance of the year came as a surprise when I received an e-mail from an editor asking if it was OK to make minor alterations to three of my stories so that they became interrelated and could be published as a trio next week. Two of the stories had been accepted and paid for a while back, but the third is one I submitted earlier this month and for which I had not yet received an acceptance.

Of course, I agreed to the changes.

And by return e-mail learned that the editor was accepting three more of my stories.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Published, 13

Today's mail brought welcome news, news that felt even more welcome because of last Friday's manuscript massacre: I received a contributor copy of the May True Love containing my story "Up Close & Personal" and I received a contract from True Love (my 13th acceptance of the year) for a story tentatively scheduled for the July issue.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Perhaps I was starting to get cocky and whatever deity controls the karmic balance of the universe decided to bitch-slap me back to reality, but today's mail brought an unexpected mountain of bad news. I received four rejections.

It's been a long, long time since I received four rejections in a single day. In fact, I haven't even received four rejections in the same month since May of last year when I received five.

If ever there was a day made for crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head, this is the day.

But hiding from the rejections piled on my desk doesn't make me a better writer, nor will it make me more successful. What will make me a better, more successful writer is a close examination of the stories. Why were they rejected? Is there a problem with the stories, or did I submit them to inappropriate markets?

Maybe I'll seek the answers to those questions tomorrow, after I crawl out from under the covers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

And the significance is...

Several years ago the local Barnes & Noble had a selection of how-to-write titles that pretty much filled three shelving units (a shelving unit being approximately six shelves tall by approximately four feet wide). Over the years the shelf space devoted to how-to-write titles has slowly diminished. Today, for the first time, only a single unit contained how-to-write titles. The other two units that once held how-to-write titles was filled with dictionaries.

I'm certain this is significant in some way. I just can't figure out what the significance is.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Success is in the volume

The promotional blurb for Confessions: How To Write & Sell True Stories (Toad Hall Press, 2001), claims "Lorraine Henderson now earns a five-figure income from writing--all from writing short stories needed by the many confessions magazines that are published every month."

At an average of 3-cents/word it would take 333,333+ words/year to earn a minimal five figure ($10,000) income from writing confessions. That sounds like a lot of words, but is only 947 words each day, 365 days a year.

I type about 50-words/minute, so I should be able to produce 947 words with 19 minutes of effort.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Now imagine generating story ideas and plots for one to two stories each week. How long does that take? If I devote 30 minutes a day to generating story ideas and plots, 19 minutes to writing, and 11 minutes to revision and proofreading, I'm only working one hour a day writing confessions and am left with seven hours a day for other writing.

If it were this easy, we'd all be doing it. And if we all did it, we'd inundate the editors with more submissions than they could possibly publish and, thus, increase our rejection rates.

Still, 947 words a day doesn't sound that difficult does it?

Ready, set, go...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I received my 12th acceptance of this year this afternoon, this time for a bit of crime fiction.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hell week

If I didn't enjoy what I do, this would have qualified as Hell week. I had--and met--editing/production deadlines for a weekly newsletter, a monthly newsletter, a monthly newspaper, and a bi-monthly magazine. Additionally, I wrote a new 3,700-word short story and finished work on a 5,700-word short story that I started several weeks ago. I did manage to squeeze in a little personal time, but I am worn out.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fifth anniversary

Today is my fifth anniversary as a full-time freelance writer/editor.

Here's what I've learned:

There's no overtime pay. And there's plenty of overtime.

Health insurance and self-employment tax take a huge bite out of my bottom line.

Budgeting is a challenge when income is erratic.

Developing good relationships with key clients is instrumental in achieving success.

Success is self-defined. But ability to pay the bills is a key component of it.

Happiness like this makes all the challenges seem inconsequential.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The crabby editor is back

Much of my time the past few weeks has been occupied with copyediting, and I've kept a list of recurring errors and things that bugged me in the copy I've been editing. In no particular order:

The improper use of "insure" in place of "ensure."

The improper use of "draught" in place of "drought."

The improper use of "like" in place of "such as" or "for example." "Like" doesn't mean what many writers seem to think it means.

The improper use of "since" in place of "because." "Since" refers to a passage of time while "because" refers to a cause-and-effect relationship.

The use of phrases such as "be sure and" and "try and" when "be sure to" and "try to" would be more accurate.

The abuse of "etc." to end lists. This is a clear sign that the author hasn't completed his thought.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Now available on e-bay

Now available on e-bay is a copy of the second issue of Expanse, a science fiction magazine containing one of my short stories. The story--"In the Still of the Night"--is actually a cross-genre piece, about a murder that takes place in the far future.

I've seen other magazines containing my work on e-bay. One of these days I might even see something I don't have and will bid on it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

57 in a row

I have now had one or more pieces of short fiction published each month* for 57 consecutive months, but I thought the streak was about to be broken. Many of the publications that regularly publish my fiction work two or more months in advance, so I can look at my contracts and know what will be published during the next few months.

I had nothing scheduled for March.

So I was surprised this morning. In my e-mail was a note from the editor of a weekly publication, letting me know that my story** was in this week's issue.

I made it. By a squeaker.

I submitted the story at the tail-end of February, it was accepted three days later, and was, apparently, immediately scheduled for publication. I can only guess that the publication had an editorial hole to fill. Regardless of why I squeaked into print in March, I'll take it.

It keeps my streak alive.
*I count publications by cover date (magazines) or release date (anthologies).

**Before you ask: This one's published under one of my pseudonyms. And, no, I won't tell you what the title is or what my pseudonym is.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Many genres of fiction have ardent fans who hold conventions celebrating their favorite genre. It may be possible to attend a different science fiction convention every weekend of the year, and the number of mystery conventions isn't far behind. There are also conventions for fantasy, horror, and romance.

Maybe it's time to celebrate confessions.

I propose CONfession, where confession readers can learn all about the genre from the writers and editors who sin, suffer, and repent for the enjoyment of their readers.

Of course, none of the writers will be allowed to wear name badges because we are, and must remain, anonymous.

Imagine the panel discussions we could have:

"Sleeping with the Neighbor's Spouse: Honest, Honey, It was Just Research!"


"Contracting a Fatal Disease: Tragedy or Tax-Deductible Expense?"

Of course, during the annual banquet, we would present the Connies--awards for the best confessions of the year.

Ah, well, maybe I should stop day-dreaming and get back to writing...


Mystery writer Ernest Brown gave me a heads up about this earlier in the month, but I waited to post anything until I'd seen it for myself.

"Snowbird," a private eye story Tom Sweeney and I co-authored, captured fourth place in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's 2007 Readers Award competition.

I'm not sure how close we came to actually winning, but first place was a tie, second place was only one point shy of first and third place was only one point shy of second. So, lacking any evidence to the contrary, I'd like to believe our story was a close fourth.

The forgotten vowel

I have discovered that people who are approximately five years or more younger than I am weren't taught all of the vowels, and that even people my age and older don't always remember the missing vowel.

The vowels are: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y and w.


W is to vowels what Roebuck used to be to Sears & Roebuck or what Western used to be to Country & Western. It's a forgotten member of the team, important once, but kicked to the curb over time.

My uncle (my stepfather's brother) used to win bar bets because he knew what may be the only word in the English language that uses w as a vowel: crwth. (A crwth is a musical instrument.)

On behalf of vowel lovers everywhere I say: Teach W!

But maybe we should tell children that the vowels are: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y and on extremely rare occasion w.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My legacy

Mystery writer Rob Lopresti discusses the words and whatnot that he overuses and how he makes a final check of his manuscript before sending off to an editor in his blog post at http://criminalbrief.com/?p=462.

"Next come the weak words that usually add nothing to a sentence, such as very and just. After having been edited by Michael Bracken I added got to the suspect list. Michael hates got with a passion and while I don’t feel that strongly about it, I agree it needs to be considered carefully."

Apparently, my intense hatred of "got" is going to be my lasting legacy as an editor.


This morning's e-mail brought word from an anthology editor in England that I have another acceptance--my 11th of the year. If I'm counting weeks correcting, this is the end of the 11th week, which means I'm still on track for my goal of one sale per week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cats and desks

Cats do not respect a messy desk and I, unfortunately, have two cats and a desk that, despite my best efforts, is never neat. Today my desk became "the place where cats vomit," and I've been picking through the, um, residue trying to determine the value of the affected paper. A few things were obviously trash, and a few things are no longer recognizable, and a few, well, let's just say they're drying out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The IRS is not my friend

I received my completed tax forms back from my accountant today and am reminded, once again, that the IRS is not my friend. Self-employment tax, combined with the health insurance costs, make it difficult to freelance successfully.

On the other hand, the most significant way to reduce my self-employment taxes is to invest in my business. Legitimate expenses--purchasing office equipment, for example, or attending seminars and workshops--reduces my taxable profit.

But what do I need that I don't currently have? Or, what should I do that I'm not currently doing?

Overused phrases

I'm certain most writers have favorite phrases and word combinations that they use without thinking. I had one of mine slap me in the face last night when I was editing a story that I had written for a market to which I've never submitted.

In a five-sentence block of text I used the phrase "and then" three times. Then I searched the entire 5,100-word story and found it several more times. I revised every occurrence but two and now find myself wondering if I overuse "and then" in everything I write, or just this one story?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

But is it a "novel"?

I just read the obituary of a writer, and it mentions his first "fiction novel." I've seen this redundant construction multiple times lately, implying that a novel can be something other than fiction. The American Heritage Dictionary, as good a source as any, defines "novel" as "a fictional prose narrative of considerable length" and that's the definition I've always understood to be the prevailing one.

On the other hand, a number of memoirs have recently been revealed as fiction, thus splitting that genre into "non-fiction memoir" and "fiction memoir."

Except that there's already a word for a "fiction memoir."

It's called a novel.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Safe sex

I'm reading a romance novel and, while I applaud the author's and the publisher's efforts to encourage safe sex, suspect someone wasn't thinking clearly.

The protagonist and her new lover are taking a road trip and three times he's pulled a condom from his wallet. There's no indication whatsoever that he replaces the used condom with a fresh one each time. Carrying three--or more, I haven't finished reading the book yet--condoms in a wallet leads to problems neither considered nor explained away:

1) A wallet containing three or more condoms--presuming it also contains the usual wallet items, such as credit cards, cash, and etc.--would be quite bulky and uncomfortable for a man to carry in his pocket.

2) A condom carried in a wallet will become ineffective. The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia recommends: "Do not carry condoms in your wallet for long periods of time. Replace them every once in a while. Friction from opening and closing your wallet, and from walking (if you carry your wallet in your pocket) can lead to tiny holes in the condom."

Sometimes, it's the little things that trip up writers.

Workshop successful

"Writing and Selling Confessions," a workshop I led this weekend, appears to have been a success. Fifteen participants spent three hours learning the fundamentals of writing and selling confessions. I spoke for about half an hour, made the participants work for about two hours, and spent the last half an hour answering questions about material I had covered and some material I hadn't covered.

I don't know how many of the participants will actually attempt to write confessions, but a fair number of the participants demonstrated strong potential to become successful confession writers.

Most of the participants were members of the host organization--Brazos Writers--and I strongly encourage writers who live in or near Bryan/College Station, Texas, to attend Brazos Writer meetings and seriously consider joining the organization.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Published x4

My stories "Paying It Forward" and "In Love With The Easter Bunny" appear in the April True Story and my stories "Easter Romance" and "Love Or Money" appear in the April True Romance.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Waiting for the repairman

Tuesday proved to be one of those days when good and bad sit on each end of a karmic teeter-totter and it's impossible to predict which one weighs more.

I spent the entire day at home waiting for a refrigerator repairman who was scheduled to arrive "between eight and five." So, I rose at 6:30 (an hour early for me) to ensure that I didn't get caught in the shower when he arrived, and I then spent much of the day writing. (Of course, the repairman didn't arrive until nearly 5 p.m.)

By the time I finally went to bed Tuesday evening, I had written two short stories--a 3,700-word story that I wrote from scratch and a 3,200-word story that I completed from 400 pre-existing words (a sentence describing the story and most of a key scene that takes place late in the story).

If both stories sell to the magazine I sent them to, I will earn almost enough to pay for the refrigerator repair and the day will have been a financial wash but a creative high.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The best laid plans

A few weeks ago I set aside an entire weekend to write, and it went well. I tried to do the same again this weekend. I had no personal, social, or professional obligations and thought I could lock myself in as I had done before.

Unfortunately, Saturday turned out to be a clusterf*ck (there's one of those asterisks!). So many things blew up in my face--none of them writing-related--that the entire day reminded me that reality always trumps imagination. I wrote so little on Saturday that I might as well have written nothing at all, and many of the things that blew up in my face that day are lingering into the early part of the week.

On the other hand, Friday evening I added about 1,000 words to a new short story and today I wrote a 4,800-word draft of a story for a new market that requires a 5,000-word minimum. I'm going to let the story sit for a few days before revising it. Adding a few hundred words to meet the minimum word requirement shouldn't be a problem, but revising the story to match the "style" of other work the publisher has released might be more difficult. If I can do it, it'll take my writing career to another level. If I can't, well, I might be able to revise the story for one of my regular markets.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The asterisk is my friend

When I'm writing and I can't think of the right word or correct phrase, I insert three asterisks and keep going:

She turned the corner and came face-to-face with the ***. Startled, she dropped her coffee cup. It shattered on the hardwood floor, splattering hot coffee and shards of fine china against her ankles.

Or, if I'm uncertain how to write a scene, I'll enclose notes about the scene within three asterisks:

Betty stood at the front window and watched her fiance approach the house. She had news for him, news too important to tell him over the phone, and she'd been waiting nearly an hour for his arrival.

***Betty tells Bob she totaled his car.***

After she told him about the accident, Betty collapsed into Bob's arms. Bob absentmindedly patted the back of his ex-fiancee's head, thinking about his car. His car? A completely restored 1957 Chevrolet Nomad is not a car. It's a treasure. Betty could be replaced, but his car? Never.

After I've completed a draft, I use the search function to find each occurrence of three consecutive asterisks. Then I insert the correct word or write the missing scene.

Friday, February 29, 2008

I should have said

There are times in our lives when we experience events for which we're not quite prepared. An hour, a day, or a week later we have that smack-the-head moment when we think, "What I should have said was--"

That's the nice thing about being a writer. Even though we can't go back in time and rewrite reality, we certainly can recreate that moment in our fiction and make ourselves--um, er--make our protagonist say the things we should have said. We can cut our antagonist to the bone, prevent our lover from walking out the door, or get that promotion.

Monday, February 25, 2008

From first submission to sale

Among the many things new writers want to know is how long it takes/how many submissions it takes to sell a short story. While there is no clear answer to that question, here's some info on my first 10 sales of the year.

In no particular order:

Story 1--first and only submission 12/23/7

Story 2--first and only submission 11/28/7

Story 3--first and only submission 1/10/8

Story 4--first and only submission 1/20/08

Story 5--first submission 4/17/4, two submissions

Story 6--first submission 4/2/3, four submissions

Story 7--first submission 11/2/3, two submissions

Story 8--first submission 2/27/00, seven submissions

Story 9--first submission 1/31/91, 23 submissions

Story 10--first submission 6/6/5, three submissions

Six stories sold to the first or second editor to see them. That's good.

Two sold to the third or fourth editor to see them. That's not bad.

One sold to the seventh editor to see it. That's dedicated marketing.

One story sold to the twenty-third editor to see it, 17 years after the first editor rejected it. That's just masochistic. How much rejection can one poor writer take before he gives up on a story?

6, 7, 8, 9, 10

I woke this morning to find e-mailed acceptances for five short stories,

Friday, February 22, 2008

Novel filler

During the past few days I've pushed the current novel up to 185 manuscript pages, but I stopped work on it last night to work on a short story, and I may stick with short stories and other projects for the next few days.


I felt like I was writing filler and not substantially adding to the work-in-progress. This was brought home to me by a page or so of dialog in a novel I'm reading that is little more than:

"You did it."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

It's written a little better than that, of course, and there's some description mixed in with the dialog, but it truly is filler material. The author is spinning her wheels and going nowhere. In a good short story, that same page-plus of bad dialog might be reduced to and summarized in a sentence or two:

After he accused her of stealing the money, she denied it. They argued for fifteen minutes, but came to no resolution.

(Note: I'm not advocating replacing dialog with summary, but I am advocating replacing bad dialog with good summary.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Creativity breeds

I woke up this morning long before the alarm clock rang and wrote the opening page and some notes for a new novel. I basically know what needs to happen in the first several scenes, and I basically know how the story needs to end.

While being flush with ideas is beneficial in the long run, it's sometimes frustrating as well. I seem to generate the most ideas when I'm least able to use them. Because creativity breeds, the more creative I am, the more ideas I generate. Then I get frustrated because I don't have time to use all the ideas and write all the stories I want to write.

I guess it's better than having no ideas at all.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

To novel or not to novel, that is the question

I am not a novelist. I am a short story writer. I feel lucky that the four short novels I've written have been published (two to good reviews), and, after placing more than 800 short stories since the beginning of my writing career, I feel confident that any short story I write has a strong likelihood of seeing publication.

But I also realize that short story writers, no matter how prolific, are often viewed as the red-headed step-children among creative writers. Novelists are the anointed ones.

I often wrestle with the realization that truly advancing my writing career will require me to write another novel. Or two. Or more.

But taking the time to write a novel means not writing short stories. So I must give up immediate income to work on a project that may or may not ever see publication and may or may not ever generate income. Despite occasional attempts to write another novel, I inevitably set aside whatever I'm working on and go for immediate gratification. After all, if I don't pay the bills I soon won't be writing anything.

Earlier this week, after e-mail discussions with a couple of fellow writers about projects we never finished or never sold, I decided to reassess one of my novels-in-progress.

In early 2006 I wrote 113 pages of a novel. I stopped work on it because a sudden influx of assignments kept me busy for the following several months.

Thursday and Friday I reread the manuscript and found that the first 100 or so pages held up well and that the last dozen pages were partial scenes, snippets of dialog, and notes on what was still to be written.

Because I am caught up on all of my assigned work, and because I had no social or family engagements scheduled for this weekend, I gave myself a challenge: Could I lock myself in and add at least 30 pages to the manuscript?

Apparently I could. I now have 169 pages--an increase of 56 pages in two days of non-stop writing. I haven't gone back to reread the new material, but my initial impression is that I've written a few great sentences, a line or two of snappy dialog, a couple of compelling scenes, and a whole lot of other stuff.

The first 148 pages are pretty much written straight through. The rest of the pages, as before, are partial scenes, snippets of dialog, and notes on what is still to be written. I now know how the novel ends and have notes on how to wrap up the primary plot and most of the sub-plots.

But I also have to face tomorrow, when I will once again find myself dealing with clients and assigned work that will fill much of my time for the coming weeks. I also have social and family obligations in the next few weeks that will further interfere with progress on this novel. I don't know when I will be able to devote more attention to this project.

What have I learned or what can I infer from this weekend?

1. If I devote three more weekends to this novel, and if I have the same level of productivity during each of those weekends, I will have a complete draft of a new novel.

2. If I do this again I will ensure that my kitchen is appropriately stocked with healthy food. I found myself drinking too much Mountain Dew and eating too much junk food (much of it left over from Super Bowl Sunday).

3. Music selection is important. For whatever reason, I found myself writing more while Matchbox 20 was blasting through the CD player than when Alanis Morissette was playing. The Moody Blues, Marilyn Manson, Deep Blue Something, and a compilation album containing rock'n'roll hits that feature cowbells all proved to be good background music, but not quite as effective as Matchbox 20.

4. When I wasn't writing, eating, or walking the dogs, I read. I alternated between a variety of magazines and a novel from the same genre as the one I'm writing. Reading in the same genre helped me maintain the voice I was striving for while reading the other publications kept me from becoming too insular.

5. I didn't answer the phone and I only responded to a couple of e-mails. I used the Internet to research things I needed for the novel and restrained myself as much as possible from surfing. Limiting distractions was clearly beneficial.

That's it. That's what I learned.

Now I need to find out what happened in the world while I was locked in.