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.