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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Writing and Selling Confessions

Brazos Writers Workshop
March 8, 2008
Brazos Writers Workshop
Saturday, March 8, 2008 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Location: College Station Conference Center, 1300 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas
Tuition: $25 for Brazos Writers members, $30 for non-members
Check in, registration and continental breakfast at 8:30. Snacks throughout the morning.

Writing and Selling Confessions
Confession magazines publish hundreds of short stories each year and editors are hungry for new talent. Published in True Story, True Confessions, True Romance, and similar periodicals, confessions represent an ideal genre for beginning short story writers to break into publication and for experienced writers to expand their sales.

Michael Bracken, author of more than 150 confessions, will provide an overview of the genre at the Brazos Writers workshop scheduled for March 8 in College Station. He will describe what makes confessions unique and will lead workshop participants
through the steps necessary to generate appropriate story ideas, develop ideas into believable plots, draft genre-appropriate scenes, and, finally, prepare manuscripts ready for submission to confession editors. Many of the techniques described in the workshop can be applied to writing in other genres.

“Writing and Selling Confessions” is a hands-on workshop and participants should come prepared to actively participate in the process. For more information on the workshop or Brazos Writers, go to
Please print:
Name __________________________________________________________
Street __________________________________________________________
City, State, Zip____________________________________________________
Phone __________________________________________________________
Email Address ___________________________________________________
Brazos Writers Member $25 ____________________
Non-member $30____________________
Join Brazos Writers $24____________________
Please return this form to Fidel Fernandez, treasurer, with your check.
Or mail to: Brazos Writers, PO. Box 4025, Bryan, TX 77805-4025
Registration will be taken at the door as well.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Yesterday I received my 5th acceptance of the year, so I'm only one acceptance behind my goal of one acceptance a week.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Anthologies dead

Earlier this week I learned that Wildside Press has decided not to publish my anthologies City Crimes, Country Crimes; Fedora 4; and Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes.

I just finished e-mailing the contributors to those anthologies, letting them know the bad news.

It wasn't fun.