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.