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

"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.