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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: thoughts on writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 42
1. Communication Breakdown?

Has it been seventeen days since I last posted?

Radio silence here doesn't mean silence everywhere. In fact, I'm learning to be a better communicator than I have most of my adult life. I'm learning to say what needs to be said to those who need to hear, but doing so in ways which can deliver the message without malice or self-loathing or fear or worry or vindictiveness. I'm trying to be the best communicator I can, trying to cut away the noise and deliver the essence of the message.

It's hard.

Damn hard sometimes because words don't always do what you want them to. Words can't always translate emotions so others can feel you. Words are just words, simple tools, and sometimes fit like a broad-bladed screwdriver when a tiny one would do. Words can soothe a little but not take away the pain of losing a loved one, learning of tragedy, or facing your own mortality. Words are just words.

But I will take them.

Sometimes they are all I have.

The older boys and I have begun a daily ritual of taking "five minutes" one-on-one with Dad (me). I listen while they talk. Sometimes I share, too. Max, being six and a half, has his own super self-focused perspective on the days events. Once in a while he will surprise me, throwing in a big picture perspective that stretches well past his developmental age. Mostly, we talk about PE class or making a plaid pattern in art or what happened at recess. Owen has started really opening up to some "big talks" about life and our future. He surprises me a little, but then I realize he's my kid. I've never really done life halfway and don't want them to live that way either.

I wish we all (meaning everyone on the planet) had less fear when it came to communicating with one another. Maybe the fear stems from the insufficiency of language. Maybe the fear grows when we realize there really is no way to make someone we love know, really know what that love feels like inside of us.

I don't know. I will probably never have the answer, but I can live with it.

Communication breakdown?

No. Not at all.  

0 Comments on Communication Breakdown? as of 9/28/2012 12:06:00 PM
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2. Digging in the Dirt

If you live long enough, you'll come face to face with some genuine horrors. Death of loved ones, long illnesses, dishonesty and betrayal, heartache (and not the pleasant kind--because yes, I now believe ache can be pleasant)...

If you live long enough, you'll earn a few scars.

I was digging up Mom's peonies at her old house this past weekend when our neighbor sidled to me and said, "If you find any bones, we're not going to call the police."

What?

She laughed. Bones. Memories. Scars we've tried to bury in our own dirt. Painful experiences we've tried to shove down so deep and cover so completely we think--just maybe--no one will ever see them again. We don't have to show our weak moments. We can pretend those hurtful things never happened. We can live life free of the weight of history. No one has to see our scars if we cover them with enough hearty black soil.

But it never works, does it? You spend your life shoveling and shoveling and hoping it will be enough to hide the scars and the bones and memories, but your shoulders stiffen and your hands callous and crack and bleed... And the bones still come to the surface.

All of that energy wasted... for what?

The boys' principal said something wise this morning--kids are much better than adults at being open and honest about their thoughts and feelings if we give them a chance. Adults spend so much energy trying to suppress their feelings. Trying.

So much energy wasted... for what?

If the best of my short stories were about anything, they were about living in the face of pain and disappointment and horror. I've always felt hopeful about them, despite how hideous my progeny might look to a reader. I've always thought they were little stories of hope.

I'm living out loud the best I can. I'll save my energy for love and hope and gratitude. It is a conscious choice--a choice I can make as well as anyone. I'll dig up the peonies, but won't worry about the bones I find. They aren't mine, and I never buried them there.




5 Comments on Digging in the Dirt, last added: 9/28/2012
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3. Too Many Characters Killed My Story

I finished watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead ("Judge, Jury, and Executioner"). Then... I made the mistake of reading a review on the Huffington Post. I tend to do this sort of thing... so shoot me. And by the way--***spoiler alert***

With all the uproar about poor character development, unrealistic writing (um, zombies aren't real folks--duh), and other belly-aching, I think many detractors of the show are missing a key point.

The Walking Dead suffers from a glut of characters.

Far too many characters for any of us (viewers) to care about. And that's what fiction should do, right? Make us care about the characters. I understand AMC has made a staffing change in the writing department. That can cause issues... sure. Until a zombie eviscerates Dale in the final five minutes of "Judge, Jury, and Executioner", we (the viewers) haven't seen a good ol' fashioned zombie-killed-my-loved-one moment since Sophia disappeared in the first episode of season two. (Let's face it: we all knew she was dead, right?)  Let's knock off a few others while we're at it, okay? Cull the herd a bit.

It's only fiction.

The search for Sophia which dominated the first half of season two allowed some serious insight into great characters like Daryl (the most fully rendered of all the characters so far). The wishy-washy debate about Randall's fate has left me with the bitter taste of "I don't care about these people anymore".

And that, dear friends, is when I stop watching.

And no--this post isn't just about The Walking Dead. Every character in every story needs a purpose. If not, they're just in the way.

I keep telling myself that... Maybe I'll start listening.


1 Comments on Too Many Characters Killed My Story, last added: 3/12/2012
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4. The 3 AM Face Slap

Monday shook me awake before three this morning, slapped me hard, and asked, "What now?"

Yes, what now?

The funny thing about 3 AM wake ups... sometimes that's when the ideas happen. I haven't sought a story idea in over four months, and last night, a plot unwound in front of me as I searched for sleep. Look for one thing, receive another, I suppose.

But ideas don't just happen, do they?

I watched American Movie with a buddy of mine last week. I'd never heard of the film--a documentary about a low budget filmmaker in Wisconsin with all sorts of personal issues. But the movie isn't really about making a movie--it's about following dreams and making something happen, even if you lack the ability or resources to fully realize your dream, to fully make it come to life as it should. I've been there all too often with writing: the idea is there, but the words won't cooperate. Lately--at least until last night--the ideas weren't even cooperating.

I didn't look for inspiration in the dysfunction, economic turmoil, and alcoholism rampant in American Movie. I found inspiration in one man's (perhaps misguided) quest to make a movie, to realize a dream. As with many things in life, the final product did not do the journey justice. Is is the journey which matters, always. 

The inspiration came when I realized it's time to keep moving, keep writing, keep living. There are miles to go, and the forest is dark ahead, but I imagine mountain vistas, too, and the special dignity of blisters on my quite metaphoric road-weary feet.

Let's go.

8 Comments on The 3 AM Face Slap, last added: 7/24/2012
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5. Going There

I recently started my new job as guidance counselor at McLouth Middle/High School. No, it has nothing to do with the latest Triangulation anthology, but I'll get to that. Trust me.

Enrollment took place last Thursday night and Friday morning. I saw what felt like hundreds of parents and students in a small amount of time (it was probably only a few dozen, but the feeling was there). I changed schedules, enrolled new kiddos, and was just there for a few to vent.

I don't remember if I've ever blogged about "the well" before, but as I'm nearing 1,000 posts, I don't remember a lot I've blogged about. The well, the deep place inside a person in which they can feel emotion, has been my greatest ally in the last eight months.

When I coached forensics, I talked to my team about the emotional battery inside all of us--the well--and how they could draw from that to make their performances work. I guess I was teaching method acting; it's just the language which spoke to me. This year, one senior placed 5th at state in serious solo acting, the highest placement in years. His piece, "Griefstruck" by J.J. Jonas, involved a tragic car accident which wiped out a young man's entire family. The morning of the performance, I looked at my student and asked, "Do you need any motivation?"

We went there. He knew. I knew. State forensics came only a month after Aimee's death.

My biggest ally in healing--and not only healing from Aimee's suicide, but her illness and struggles over the past eight years--has been the well. Mine's pretty deep, and I don't mind drawing from it. It helps me hear other people in hurt. It helps me work with teenagers. In helps me be there for my own kids, even when I'm exhausted and stretched too thin. It helps me enjoy life, too. It helps me love.

Yes. The well is deep.

Triangulation: Morning After is now available. It's the fourth Triangulation book in which I've managed to land a story, and I thank Stephen Ramey and the whole crew. "Scar Tissue Wings" is as much about Max's stint in Children's Mercy last December as it is about a man who cannot die in a world which already has. The well helps me go there. Triangulation has always been about telling the truth even with a strange spin. Some of my favorite stories have been graced to find themselves in its pages: "Dancing Lessons," "The Good Daughter," "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable," and now "Scar Tissue Wings." This may be the last year for the anthology because the price of producing it has stretched limited resources too far. Please buy a copy so future writers can find a venue for their truths.

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6. Museum Pieces

Purging the basement, I found several artifacts of my life. Each one could sprout several stories:

I worked at Hastings Entertainment in Lawrence back in '98.  What an odd and eventful year...

Many of you remember the story about how Aimee aimed our little boat toward the Tetons despite warnings to "stay within a mile of shore"? This is my face moments before the big freak out. 

 My last day of work at Ray's IGA after my senior year in high school. I met some life-long friends at that job. Some of them dumped a bucket of water on me as I was leaving.

Yes, McKinley Middle School's mascot... sorry to my friends from across the pond, but in American history the Redcoats were the bad guys (at least during the Revolution). Of course the picture looks more like a minuteman. How about the Fighting Minutemen? I don't get it, either. Every school in Clay Center was named after an assasinated president, too... Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley. If the high school was build five years later, it would have been a Kennedy. 

More coming. I know--you're holding your breath.

2 Comments on Museum Pieces, last added: 9/4/2012
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7. I Will Write No More Stories

No, I'm not quitting.

Sorry.

But I'm not sure how to approach short stories anymore. Not the writing of them, but the sharing of them with readers.

I took a good, long look over my records the other day. I've had seven stories published, as per contract, for which I was never paid. Granted, the total lost pay lands just over $100...

But I signed contracts, right?

Seven stories (an unlucky number?) under contract were never published. Combined, these "stolen" stories and orphans represent about 10% of my published/accepted work. Wait--10% is a pretty big chunk, right?

Right.

Several markets have closed in the past six months to a year. I know short stories are not profitable for publishers. Are they profitable for authors? Not really--not in terms of dollars and cents. Even my biggest paydays, two "professional" sales, averaged only a few dollars per hour spent honing those tales. I can schelp lumber for customers at the local Home Depot for much more and get a workout to boot. Money isn't why I write, of course.*

It sours me on shorts a little. 10%. 10%

I'm in "novel" mode now, and that's okay. Thanks to a long weekend away from home and a Phillip K. Dick novel, I now have another novel idea and I'm itching to write.

But I cut my teeth on short stories. I love them, so I won't be saying goodbye.

At least I don't think so...

What the h#ll does "cutting one's teeth" mean, anyway?

*I do it for the free pizza.

14 Comments on I Will Write No More Stories, last added: 8/4/2011
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8. Wanted: Personal Assistant

Well, not really, because I would have to pay and/or feed and clothe him/her.

But I need some organization in my writing life.

I hit 40K on The House, my as-yet-untitled WIP and would like to finish sometime in September. I'm editing a novella about a boy and his monster (a flesh-consuming, not-quite-vampire). I have ideas in place (and a few words) for a sci-fi noir. Have I mentioned the new ending and revisions to Borrowed Saints? What about the Halloween ghost story I'd like to have done and released in October? The story seed for a mutant anthology now open for submissions?

Ack!

Not to mention my life is going to change--drastically--in December.

More soon.

Promise.

7 Comments on Wanted: Personal Assistant, last added: 8/30/2011
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9. What Kolchak The Night Stalker Taught Me About Story Telling






I had the opportunity to dust off my Kolchak: The Night Stalker DVDs this weekend. What a marvelous bit of macabre TV history.

A storyteller (e.g., writer) can learn much from Kolchak. For example:

  1. Suspense is your friend. Make the audience wait. Kolchak slowly uncovers the truth, piecing the story together with the audience. Brilliant.
  2. Don't show your hand too soon, or hide the monster's face for the first half of the story.
  3. Build a story around a character and setting which works. Kolchak (the series) is set in Chicago--a big enough place for plenty of people to be murdered, and Kolchak (the character) is a freelance news reporter (which gives him latitude to investigate those murders). 
  4. Tension between characters drives the plot.Was there any police captain in Chicago Kolchak didn't lead to a heart attack with his intrepid (if not annoying) questioning?
  5. Take a trip to the underworld: The final 5-10 minutes of each episode usually involved Kolchak going to the monster's lair and looking for him/it/her. Some of the spookiest sh*t on TV.
  6. Give your protagonist some quirks. Kolchak was never known as a snappy dresser... (What's with the hat?) 
  7. Most importantly, don't be a one trick pony. Kolchak is a great show, but only survived one season. I'm guessing it was cancelled because, quite frankly, every episode was the same. Watch them in a row and you'll get the pattern.
What have you learned about storytelling (or writing) from your favorite television programs?

14 Comments on What Kolchak The Night Stalker Taught Me About Story Telling, last added: 10/14/2011
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10. Some Thoughts on Going Solo (and Why I Did)

The decision to go "indie" or self-publish did not come easily.

I'm a gut guy most of the time, going with feeling rather than logic (even though I tend to score higher on analytic items on standardized tests--go figure). Sometimes my gut leads me in the wrong direction. Sometimes I make mistakes.

I wrestled with going solo for quite a while. I tried to play the game, querying for three novels before punting. I sold well over one hundred stories to paying markets (token to pro) and gave a number away as well. Close to one thousand rejections have come my way. I wrote Loathsome, Dark and Deep specifically with the small press in mind, and thankfully, Belfire Press published it.

I never planned to self-publish. I'm glad I started writing five years ago--self-publishing was cost prohibitive then and not a viable business model. I believed all the negative hype because most of it was true. If I would have self-published at first, I wouldn't have had any drive to be a better writer. Rejection is your friend, folks. Really.

Things change. E-books happened. My craft improved. The system failed me (i.e., disillusionment happened).

But being a gut guy, I worried. I worried about what some of my writing colleagues might think. I worried about them more than readers because, to be perfectly honest, most readers just want a good story. I hope I can supply that more often than not. I'm sure I've alienated some of my writer buddies (or at least have given them pause) by choosing this path.

But it is the right path. For now.

Here's why I ultimately decided to go "indie" (a moniker I don't wave like a battle-flag as some do--I'm a writer first):

The first two reasons could fall under the sub-heading How I've been treated by agents:

I know it's bad form to snark about agents. I don't care. Unrepresented authors need to stop being afraid and demand humane treatment. These are not our overseers, folks. Too much power corrupts. 

1. Once upon a time an agent showed interest in one of my books. Said agent suggested he/she would call and talk about some revisions. I played hooky on the prescribed day, calling in sick and hanging out around the house, waiting for the call which never happened. Later that evening, I received an email: sorry, I was having drinks with so-and-so. Clean up your book and send it in again.

Yeah. Right. I guess I was the naive one. 

2. Once upon a time I sent a query for a book. Six months passed. I sold the book to a small press. The agent I queried half a year ago asked to see a full. I told him/her the book was no longer available. The reply: "bad form, man".  No--bad form was making me wait six months without reply. At that point, I assume rejection. Time is the most precious commodity, and six months is a long time.

3. Running a small press (the now semi-defunct Strange Publications) taught me that most modern small presses were just folks doing the same thing I was: using desktop publishing technology to churn out books via on-demand printing. I learned all about layout and book design. I know I can do it better than some of the crap I've seen from so-called "small presses".  Some are top notch outfits with solid followings (Permuted Press and Belfire are both prime examples); many are hucksters and glorified vanity presses.

4. Self-publishing has moved beyond a vanity affair to a viable business solution. The up-front costs are not prohibitive (and really nothing but time and effort if you e-publish and are willing to do the work yourself). Authors are making money.  I know some want to claim making money isn't important, but I'm not going to lie. If I wasn't making any money writing, I'd have to quit and find a new part time job. That is the reality of my economic situation and the pending birth of our third child. Time is the most precious commodity--and you can't just print more.

Tha

5 Comments on Some Thoughts on Going Solo (and Why I Did), last added: 11/23/2011
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11. We have a Winner! (and More Elective Surgery)

Fred, the envelope please...

Mary Rajotte is the winner of my 50/50 split of In the Memory House profits for November, thus continuing a fine tradition of Canadians winning my contests. Congrats, Mary. I'll be in touch to share the bounty.

Which might (or might not, who knows?) have been a bigger bounty had I started with this:


Instead of In the Memory House. Sometimes I need a little more market research. I tend to be too much of a gut guy. You see, In the Memory House is also the title of Howard Mansfield's book of essays about New England culture and history.

Yeah. Not my book at all. Mine features a living house which tries to make friends by killing people. Think of it as a house with Asperger's on steroids.

So maybe Echoes of the Dead has a little more zip. The word "Dead" lands hard, at least. It does deliver the message directly, and I've found that is a key piece of marketing any book. And yes, the paperback is still coming.

And then I've nixed Smoke and replaced it with Vengeful Spirits. Again, I think the new title lands harder and sends a little more of a direct message about the book's content.  I've also tweaked the cover with new font and image:



This poor puppy has been through a number of changes, originally starting as Borrowed Saints. Like I said, I'm a gut guy. My heart and mind need to arm wrestle before the next book skitters into the wild.

Congrats again, Mary.  And good luck, my dear books.  I will try to do you better in the future.

2 Comments on We have a Winner! (and More Elective Surgery), last added: 12/5/2011
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12. Radio Silence

In the event of an apocalypse, the silence would frighten me the most. Think about all the noise in our lives from television, the internet, text messages, Twitter, Facebook, advertisements, our families and friends...

If I was fortunate to survive the cataclysmic event, the silence would be maddening.

I've been relatively silent lately. I'd love to say it was because of all the writing I'm doing. Not so. I'm struggling to stay afloat with baby Elliot, Max's health concerns, making sure Owen knows we still love him even though the other brothers are sapping 95% of our energy. My wife goes back to work tomorrow, and that's added a little stress, too.

I need to write now more than ever. It's my therapy and my drug and my salvation.

I need to write, but just when I need it, the time doesn't exist. I've scratched out maybe 20K words this year so far. Maybe. I've only edited an submitted one short story. I have novel ideas which threaten to die in their infancy if I can't find a release valve.

And the silence is killing me. (And by "killing" I mean figuratively.)



12 Comments on Radio Silence, last added: 2/11/2012
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13. On Inspiration

I've killed more muses than I care to count, but somehow, in the midst of chaos, I still find inspiration.

In fact, I can almost turn it on at will. Three sure-fire methods:

1. Read quality fiction.
2. Watch an awards show.
3. Watch the Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage.

Number 1 always makes me want to work harder. I don't do number 2 because I hope to "be there someday". It's more of a, "wow--look at all of these people chasing their dreams" (and a little bit of "Really? That won an award?"). Number 3 is the textbook example of doing it your way. Rush is awesome, but polarizing. People I know either love/hate them. I'm firmly in the "love" camp.

The problem isn't with inspiration. The problem is energy. Time is at a premium as is my ability to focus for more than five minutes at a time.

But I'm not going to quit.

Ideas, you see, can haunt a person if let to fester. They can crust over, split open, and bleed into other parts of one's life. Those ideas just won't go away--not once the seeds are planted and watered. The inspiration is there.

What I need is an energy transfusion.

_____

Speaking of good fiction, Shimmer 14 is available for Kindle at the muse-proof price of 99 cents.

8 Comments on On Inspiration, last added: 2/16/2012
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14. A Good Swift Kick

Goals.

They've been missing from my writing life. Good, targeted goals. Goals with dates, word counts, submissions deadlines...

I need some goals. I need them to be public so I can't slack.

Here goes:

  1. Finish edits on Good Deeds (a short thriller) and publish by Monday (2/20/12).
  2. Finish writing a second short thriller (Switch) and publish by the end of March.
  3. Submit one short story (or flash fiction) each month. I have several started which need finished. 
  4. Finish writing the irreverent vampire novella I started last fall. It's fun. And bloody. I will be done with the first draft by the end of the school year.
  5. Write the third and "final" installment of The Sons of Chaos. It's going to be a cold one. I'd like to finish this by the end of the school year as well.
There. Now I have to do these things. 

__________

Speaking of things one has to do, how about reading the latest Penny Dreadnought? It's only a buck for Kindle:



The Abominable Gentlemen build four worlds only to destroy them in this apocalypse-themed issue of Penny Dreadnought. Witness four unique visions of the end in:

“Precious Metal” by Aaron Polson
“Only the Lonely” by Iain Rowan
“The New Words” by Alan Ryker
“He” by James Everington

Delicious.

8 Comments on A Good Swift Kick, last added: 2/19/2012
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15. Every Story a Horror Story & Fantastic Reviews

Aaron Hughes of Fantastic Review Blog liked my short story, "A Game of Lost Boys" (from Linger Fiction) so much, it's his story recommendation of the week. That's pretty cool. Fantastic, in fact.

So I've been thinking...and maybe because of the horrific outing my Chiefs had in yesterday's playoff game...

I don't care what "genre" you read/write: you are engaged in horror fiction. Don't deny it--I know horror writers often receive a bad rap, but the truth is, quite simply, every story is a horror story.

Since today is a snow day (yay!) which means I have to wrangle my kids (er, yay?), I'll keep this quick:

For a story to work, there must be conflict. Internal or external, implied or explicit, I don't care. Conflict has to happen. A story simply isn't a story without conflict.

Conflict creates suspense (will the conflict resolve favorably for our dear protagonist). Suspense is driven by fear. Fear is the central emotion of horror.

Need I say more?

Okay, Aaron, you might say, what about the Formula Romance? Well, the story revolves around the central will they/won't they conflict. The fear might not be Horror (capital H), but it is suspenseful, at least a little, or otherwise no one would read it. Suspense drives the reader to the end of a story. The best stories have loads of it, even where the big threat (death) doesn't exist. But I'd say every good story carries elements of the big threat...at least derivatives of it. If my seven-year-old is asking questions about whether Harry Potter ever dies after book 1, well, the big threat is there. Derivatives? Think lost love, lost family member, lost job, lost respect...all those "losses" are surrogates for death.

Something to think about while I sit in my nice, warm house, hoping the heater keeps doing its job as the world slowly fades to white.

13 Comments on Every Story a Horror Story & Fantastic Reviews, last added: 1/11/2011
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16. The Price Wars

Diving into what Mr. Hyde calls "sweet tasty fruits" of ebookage, I've found numerous opinions on the price of ebooks. Some authors argue that lowering prices devalues a writer's work. Okay, point taken. While I understand the philosophy behind charging more than 99 cents for a book, I also know the market. Cheap sells, especially for unknowns.

I'm an unknown author. Glad to meet you.

When I release We are the Monsters and Borrowed Saints, I want to charge a price that is a) fair to me and b) fair to the market. My goal (remember) is to tell stories. I don't want to put up a barrier between me and a potential reader.

So, do you go with the market or go with your heart? What is a fair price? What would you pay?

(and hey, there's a survey thingy in the upper right-hand corner)

22 Comments on The Price Wars, last added: 3/6/2011
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17. Writer, Believe in Thyself: A Pep-Talk for Writers

Here's your pep-talk for the day: You are awesome.

You can tell stories no one else can. Your ideas are good, and with a little work, they'll be great. Keep working. Keep writing. Edit one more time before submitting that story. Don't quit.

Rejections? Let me show you how many rejections I've received (and I stopped counting a year ago). Your brain will hurt. Your eyes will dry up and crumble to dust. Those gates are awfully tiny, folks, and editors can only let so many stories inside. Have I squeezed a story or two through the eye of a needle? Maybe. But an awful lot of them are lying dead in the desert.

Agents won't give you the time of day? They have to eat, too. They have to sell the big books, the ones with fat advances because, chances are, most books won't earn out and make royalties. Remember that needle's eye? It just got smaller. Keep trying. Write a new book. Go it alone. Be blood, bold, and resolute. Laugh a siege to scorn...yes, MacDuff killed MacBeth, but the tyrant had a good run, didn't he?

Sour reviews? Puh-leeeze. Everyone has an opinion and the internet lets them amplify it. Water off your back, dear writer. Keep writing. Keep climbing. They win when you quit. Forgive your haters. Move on.

Sounds tough?

Of course.

But you're tough, too.

You won't give up.

You've already won.

14 Comments on Writer, Believe in Thyself: A Pep-Talk for Writers, last added: 3/12/2011
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18. How to Hold a Book Signing (If You've Never Done it Before)

Today's essential question: Should you schedule a book signing?

Here's how my first ever went down (with hints and spoilers):

After playing phone tag with a few bookstores, I finally nailed down one manager. Two days later, I consigned four copies each of Loathsome, Dark and Deep and The House Eaters. We scheduled a signing one month out (this was on February 12th).

So, flash forward one month. I was nervous. What if I didn't sell a single book? I used to work at a bookstore (long before I was a writer), and we used to make fun of the visiting authors who didn't sell any books. I was an asshat back then...

Hint #1: Show up early. I arrived a little early (to help set up as all good authors suggest you do), and surprise, surprise, a little table with my books and signage was already displayed in the entryway. So far so good.

Hint #2. Don't sit down. They gave me a chair. I only sat in the chair to sign books. You must be up and moving around. Engage with customers. Smile. Just say "hi".

Hint #3: Bring something to give away. I had bookmarks and candy. Candy is good. Everybody likes candy. I shared with the employees. They are your friends. Trust me.

I sold my first book within three minutes. Hey, I thought, this might be okay. 10 minutes later, I sold two more books. Hey, I thought, I might run out of books. I'd sold two more within another 10 minutes. Wow. The score after a half-hour: 5 books down, 3 to go.

And then I stood around for another 90 minutes, talking to a lot of folks about my books, but with no takers. *sigh*

Hint #4: Keep talking to people, even when they just want to talk about themselves. Several individuals told me how they were writers, too, and would be published...but. There was always a but. But I can't edit. But nobody "gets" me. Keep talking. Be real.

My second and third sales came to two women who didn't look like they were my target audience. Why did they buy the books?

Hint #5: Love your books. If you hate to sell, stop writing for an audience. Even if I'm giving you a story for free, it is still a sale. The reader pays with his/her time. You have to love your work or no one else will. Enthusiasm is addictive. Be excited about your stuff. I knew it was time to go home when my energy level waned.

Final score: 5 books sold; 3 books back on the shelf; $34.54 in my pocket. Understand that those books were consigned and about a $1 each actually went into my pocket (I'd got the books at a discount through my publishers). Of course I'm donating the $34.54 to Tsunami/earthquake relief efforts, and I'll give you a gift if you donate, too.

What I learned:

1. Book signings are not about making money. Five bucks di

17 Comments on How to Hold a Book Signing (If You've Never Done it Before), last added: 3/15/2011
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19. Treading Lightly

I'm still busy at work on the second installment of my Sons of Chaos series, wrapping up the big climax in the next few thousand words. Exciting? Yes.

Set in the late 1800s, both Sons of Chaos stories have involved interactions between"white" settlers and Native Americans. The real bad guys try to frame a Native group in the first installment. In the second story (shhhh...) the Sons are back to their usual tricks. The real balance, for me, is to make sure to paint the Native cultures with respect and dignity while writing what is essentially a souped-up horror tale.

I grew up in a time period of "Cowboys and Indians," bad stereotypes borne from years of Hollywood stock characters and broken-English Geronimo knock-offs. You could still buy bags of plastic cowboys and Indians at the local drug store, dollar bow and arrow sets, and other garbage. I haven't seen most of this stuff in years. Hopefully I never will again.

I'm proud of this review of Loathsome, Dark and Deep from Hellnotes which implies (albeit indirectly) I was able to avoid racial stereotypes. I'm aiming for more of the same...

11 Comments on Treading Lightly, last added: 3/23/2011
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20. Seedlings

I spent the better part of Saturday morning hauling mulch and raking compost into seed beds for a community garden at Owen's elementary:

When we came home around 1:00 p.m., Owen wanted to get started on our own garden. As some of you picked up on Twitter/Facebook, I was sore. Nine hours of hard gardening is rough on a body that spends most of it's time walking around a classroom/sitting in front of a monitor.

Then we planted seeds because they don't grow in their little paper pouches.

If you smelled the analogy coming, here it is:

Your stories will do nothing if you don't share them. I know there are some who read this blog, write, and don't submit their stories. I know you are out there.

Do it.

Just like the seeds in the garden, some stories won't sprout. Some will have to be thinned out. Some will grow (and with a little watering--er, revising) become amazing little things. Some will feed you. Some will provide beauty.

But if those seeds stay in their little paper pouch, nothing.

Our garden is better (more weed-free/greater yield) each year because I've learned how to make it better after years of trial and error. My writing has improved since I scribbled my first (rather awful) story back in the fall of '96. I didn't plant any seeds for another ten years.

But boy, am I glad I did.

I sprinkled some more story seeds this weekend. I'll mention them later after this rather heavy-handed metaphor wears off.

Have a great week.

11 Comments on Seedlings, last added: 4/5/2011
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21. The Value of Failure: by the Numbers

Duotrope's Digest tells me I have had 436 short story/poetry rejections in the past four years.

I have (at least) another 100 rejections from agents for the three books I queried the traditional way: Last Days of the Springdale Saints, The House Eaters, and Rock Gods and Scary Monsters.

536 doesn't even touch the real number. Some markets aren't listed on Duotrope. Sometimes I don't report rejections or submissions.

I received well over 50 rejections before I sold my first short story, "A Fresh Coat of Paint" to Big Pulp. That story was rejected 3 times before being accepted.

The point of these numbers? Lessons. Every one of them. I learned through each and every tiny failure.

By my records, which I think are complete, I have had 153 stories accepted for publication. A handful of these are reprints. Five markets died before an accepted story was published. Several stories are waiting for publication. I was paid, at least a token amount, for 102 of those stories, ranging anywhere from $1 to $150.

Lessons. Every one.

I'm glad I started self-publishing my work in e-book format. I think it's the right thing to do--for me, for now. If I would have started in 2007... Failure. Not the good, lesson-learning failure.

Just failure.

My writing has grown because of every stumble and fall and failed story. There's no other way to become a better writer.

How do you feel about failure?

19 Comments on The Value of Failure: by the Numbers, last added: 4/29/2011
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22. You Are Not Your Stories

So, just for the record, I'm closing the rant before it gets started.

In html, it would look like this:

rant /rant

In real life it looks like this:

Hey, writer! Yeah, you. You are not your stories. Yes, you've spent time crafting them, cuddling with them, brushing their hair, feeding them, and sending them into the world. But they are not you. They aren't even, really, a part of you, no more than the the u-bend of my toilet is part of my plumber.

I know it's a popular thing to say: each story I write is part of me.

But this is why authors tend to take too much personally. A rejection is not about you. A bad review is not a reflection on you as a person. How you respond (or don't respond) might be, but the review itself isn't.

I've written scores of stories and several short novels. This is the 728th post to my blog. I've even composed some poetry. If every word I wrote was a piece of me, I'd have gone Lord Voldemort years ago and littered the digital landscape with tiny fragments of my soul. Now that would be scary.

Yes, I care about my art--but experience has taught me this: me ≠ my writing. Thank Zeus.

If I was to rant, it might look something like this:

rant Stop pissing on other writers, reviewers, editors, and write. /rant

Have a great day, people.

6 Comments on You Are Not Your Stories, last added: 5/17/2011
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23. Hello, Goodbye

Max finished preschool last Friday. I admit there were tears in my eyes. I tried to be tough, but what the hell. We have taken our children Raintree Montessori since 2006 when Owen started as a three-year-old. Max ended our tenure there in the same classroom.

Five years. Goodbyes are hard.

Today is the last Monday of school. Seniors are gone already. My juniors will be saying goodbye for the summer (those who don't have to take final exams, at least--we have an exemption policy).

I've gotten used to the hello-goodbye process at school; this is my 12th year.

But when it is my own kids... Sometimes life seems too short.

I find myself thinking of the last story in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, "Lives of the Dead". While I'm not writing about anyone's death, I am reminded of why I like stories. Like any piece of art, they can imbue life into something gone. I can write a story about a preschool boy and paint him with my Max brush. I like that about stories. They can live forever, just as they are, while the real "us" have to move on.

Have a great day.

8 Comments on Hello, Goodbye, last added: 5/26/2011
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24. It's Always Been About the Readers

All right. I don't know where my "hackles" are, but they're raised.

I'm pissed. Vexed. Hot. Fuming.

A certain literary agent has suggested those "self-publishing" are doing it for selfish reasons and don't care about readers at all. You can read the whole ugly post here.

Sh*t.

You couldn't be more wrong, Ms. High and Mighty, AKA protector of the weak, innocent reader. My God, what would readers do without big, tough literary agents guarding their reading time (and dollars)?

Here's the best part:

"My conclusion: This trend toward self-publishing serves primarily the writer.


(Not readers and not the publishing industry as a whole.)"

Oh--that's right, because it's my f*cking job to serve the publishing industry. I forgot. *smacks head* I'm supposed to work for free for years to try and squeak through the needle's eye until the great gate-keeping elite think they can properly profit from my free labor.

Yes, do you see that little word: profit. Because publishers are in this business to make money. Not "protect" readers.

I'm sick of the hypocrisy of a system which would publish Snooki's trash and then pretend to be a protector of readers. Sick of it. Stop lying to me. Stop lying to the public. Stop lying to readers.

You know who cares more about readers than you, giant publishing machine? Writers do--all of them, whether "traditionally" published or indie or whatever. I like how we've decided the indentured servant model of publishing is "traditional". Back in Ben Franklin's day, anyone who owned a printing press was published. Don't play word games until you know a little history.

But wait--I'm not the one who has to prove I care about readers. I'm not the one readers are questioning, am I?

Every story I write is a love-letter to storytelling.

Go climb back in your stupid castle and shut the gate. We heathens will sit around our campfires and tell stories well into the night--as it should be.

Write hard!

25 Comments on It's Always Been About the Readers, last added: 5/26/2011
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25. An Apology to Stephen King

Back in junior high school, when I first saw classmates carrying black-covered mass-market copies of King's novels, I thought too scary for me. I was the kid who had nightmares just watching a Friday the 13th trailer on TV.

In high school, I took the snobbery approach. Yes, even then I thumbed my nose at "mass market trash". My buddy Ken read about a book a day during school and would relay the plot to me over a Dairy Queen cheeseburger that evening. He always hit the sensational parts of King's plots, the sex and the murder.

I didn't pick up a Stephen King novel and devour from beginning to end until I read 'salem's Lot three years ago. The man is a genius. My high school self? Not so much.

I'm now reading On Writing. There are sections which make this English teacher say "well, duh" (of course, not everyone is an English teacher), but the book is brilliant. Even better than the "how to write" portion, in my opinion, is the first section--C.V. It's a compact biography of King's life up through the mid-eighties.

To me, it reveals how an author is formed. King doesn't pull punches. He doesn't candy-coat or whitewash anything.

So Mr. King, as if you need an apology from this hack, I'm sorry for my teenage snobbery. The high school me didn't know what the hell he was doing. Most days, I still don't.

But I will keep trying.

17 Comments on An Apology to Stephen King, last added: 7/23/2011
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