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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: thoughts on writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 45
1. So... About My Demise

So you may have noticed... I stopped writing for a while.

Stories. Books. This blog.

I completely stopped writing everything except for day-job-related minutia and a few other important bits.*

When I started my writing journey during the summer of 2007--yes, almost nine years ago now--I had big dreams. I thought I would be able to conquer the world and find some kind of fame as an author. I was trying to escape some very sour realities at the time. The first year or so after my second son, Max, was born challenged me like nothing else had in life. If you need details, they're all here in the archives of this blog.

I had started writing with big dreams, and reality intervened. I played the agent game with my first book and garnered more rejections than I care to count. It wasn't a very good book and my query letters sucked, too. I started writing short fiction and found I had a taste for it. Goals evolved. Someday, maybe, I would qualify for a writers' group. I set my sights on the HWA and became an affiliate member.

And I wrote another book or two, played the agent game again and even came just a little closer.

What if I could become an active member of the HWA? It would only take three professional sales...

I published more stories than I should have, some of them mildly embarrassing in hindsight, but they are all my progeny, ugly or not. The rejections piled up, but so did my little black ribbons--those publications I chased and chased and finally caught. Some of them are defunct now, Nossa Morte, Necrotic Tissue... I finally made the pages of Shimmer. I sold my first two professional rate stories to Shock Totem and the HWA's Blood Lite II anthology.

And then my third son was born and my wife committed suicide. My writing sputtered to a stop. It's all here if you want to dig. It's all here to read and process--right in the archives of this blog.

But what you will not find is how I lost my writing way. Chasing publication in honored magazines and anthologies made me a better writer. I cared, once. My first wife's death didn't end my writing career. I did.

You see, once upon a time, there was a gold rush. Ebooks happened in a big way. Self-publishing happened. Money sang a siren song not unlike that which led a deluded young writer during my first year. I no longer wrote for the right reasons.

Here's a hint: it's not about money. It never has been, and if organizations like the HWA expect professional pay to be a gatekeeper in the active society, it isn't because that pay means more than the commitment to achieve that pay. Members should care that much about their craft. The writing--the stories--are everything.

I've written a little since then. I've dabbled. I published a few stories a year or so back and sold my third professional rate piece. I could be an active HWA member, but I'm not. I've always needed a goal in front of me, not behind. I need that distant shore, something to chase, something to make me better again.

And I found it. The stories are there. I just need to tell them, right.

My son asked if I still blogged. Here's your answer--and I don't even know if blogging is something one does anymore.

*you can ask Kim about the asterisk

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2. Why Readers, Scientifically, are People, Too

A few weeks ago my dear sister shared an article titled "Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With." Improper title capitalization rules and superfluous prepositions aside, I take issue with the article. What would one expect, coming from Elite Daily, a site, I must admit, I hadn't stumbled across before but calls itself "the voice of Generation Y." Isn't that a perfect title for a Gen Y site? Elite. Yes, yes you are. Maybe that's my problem. As a Gen Xer, I'm an old fart, skeptical of everything.

Even myself. And I'm also not all that special. I'm just a person with an opinion and about three pounds of neurons in my skull, but I do like to think.

I learned the habit of asking questions of EVERYTHING in undergrad at Kansas State University, probably even before that. Richard Fogg, if you're out there, your lab section of Psych 350: Experimental Methods in Psychology way back in the fall of 1995 was brilliant. Thanks for teaching me true inquiry, critical thinking, and objectivity--and the cool lesson about what happens to a person when they come to the emergency room on a heroin overdose from your days in LA. That was awesome.

But I digress. A little.

I don't believe, and never will, that reading makes a person more empathic. That would be a causal relationship, one the author of the article implies with lines like "readers are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and maybe the only people worth falling in love with on this shallow hell on earth." Wow.

While readers may be smarter and nicer than the average human (14 + years in education make me question both of those claims), I do not believe for an instant, not one millisecond, reading makes a person smarter or, and here's the most important disbelief, nicer than anyone else. There's simply a correlation between reading and empathy, reading and intelligence, reading and "theory of mind"  (the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from one's own). I've known plenty of kids who could strip a 1968 Chevy Camaro and rebuild it who couldn't read all that well. How, exactly, are we defining intelligence?

Perhaps empathic, intelligent, and "mindful" people simply are drawn to reading. Perhaps.

But there's more. The author of "Why Readers...," Lauren Martin, cites another study which suggests kids who have more stories read to them have better theories of mind. I have no doubt--but using the word "prove" as in "results that prove the more stories children have read to them, the keener their [mindfulness]" really trips my critical analysis trigger. Maybe the interaction with people is the key, the common factors--good, healthy relationships with caregivers or other adults doing the reading--is the real seed of mindfulness and empathy. Show me a study suggesting a robot can read books to kids and those kids are more mindful than anyone else... well, I guess we're doing a whole lot of supposing without real results and a whole slew of ethical concerns. I haven't read the original studies, but these seem more correlative (collecting data and finding relationships) than causal (actual, controlled studies).

Are readers "the best people to fall in love with"? I don't know. But empathic people are nice. Mindful people are very nice. I'm in love with a woman who is empathic, mindful, and intelligent. She's nice. And while she reads ALL THE TIME I don't know that either of us have finished more than a book or two in the time we've known each other.

I believe reading is very important--Martin cites several other studies "proving" readers are the only worthwhile people on the planet--but it is not the only thing which creates a human. Reading is not the only factor which contributes to intelligence, empathy, and mindfulness.

And yes... this is coming from a guy who writes. And writers need readers. Did I just alienate all of you?


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3. 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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4. 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."


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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5. 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.  

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6. I Planned to Discuss Perserverance, but I Gave Up

My kids give up too easily. I'm not sure if it's their generation's epidemic or anything, but I notice it with some of the kids at school, too. The district where I work even had a school improvement plan a year or so ago focused on trying to build perseverance in our students.

We gave up. I wonder what that says...

Seriously, though, kids raised on the world at the click of a mouse quit easily. For example (I'm always armed with them): my ten-year-old and video games. I can imagine the groans. "Video games? Really? I came here for a reasonable discussion about an important topic." Work with me. Video games have been a significant part of our modern tapestry, and love them or leave them, they aren't going anywhere. Owen loves to play games. He spends a quite possibly unreasonable amount of time in front of his computer, a television, or his 3DS. Yes, he plays plenty of games. Most modern games have built in learning curves to keep kids playing at a relatively simply level until they're really good. It's one of the major advances behind the scenes--face it, graphics and sound take all the glory, but a game's artificial intelligence has taken big strides.

Where Owen stumbles, however, is when he attempts anything with a lengthy quest or story or--Zeus forbid--a retro game. He wants to love The Legend of Zelda, but it's hard. He's started several games and given in when the going is tough from "start."

Okay, I'm being a bit harsh. I remember the hours Owen spent trying to conquer various shortcuts on Mario Kart Wii... the kid will stick with something, sometimes. But you go back a little further, Zelda, Mega Man, even Earthworm Jim or Ghouls and Ghosts for Sega Genesis, and he's done. And it isn't just Owen. I do see it at school, as both a teacher and a counselor. Kids give up when any task is too hard. Instead of trying again. And again. And again.

Maybe our tools, like the AI on those new video games, are just too powerful. Why work hard when a machine will do the heavy lifting? Why think and muddle through a problem when Google can probably cough up 10,000 solutions within a fraction of a second?

What I want here is good, old-fashioned stubbornness. I crave the kind of tenacity which kept me and my buddies up all night, stumbling through Hyrule's dark dungeons without the benefit of dozens of online walk-throughs and wikis. Anyone of my generation who played the original Metal Gear on NES will remember how damn hard it was just to get Snake to the first building without dying.

As a writer, perseverance has been my greatest ally. I set out to qualify for active status in the Horror Writers Association about seven years ago. It took a few years to sell my first professional rate piece, and this summer, I've been able to finally make that third qualifying sale. Seven years. Technology has made "success" as a writer far to easy to achieve. Someone turns down your story? Simply self-publish through the miracle of ebooks or the InterwebTM. But none of these quick fixes will ever help a writer hone his or her craft. Perseverance is priceless.

I want my kids to stick with difficult tasks. I want them to ask tough questions and solve challenging problems. I want them to never, ever quit. And I'll work all the rest of my days to make sure they know the value of perseverance. 

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7. 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.


5 Comments on Some Thoughts on Going Solo (and Why I Did), last added: 11/23/2011
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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. A Good Swift Kick


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


8 Comments on A Good Swift Kick, last added: 2/19/2012
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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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.


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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22. 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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23. I Will Write No More Stories

No, I'm not quitting.


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?


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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24. 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?


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

More soon.


7 Comments on Wanted: Personal Assistant, last added: 8/30/2011
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25. 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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