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.