Monday, April 30, 2007

The Other White Meat

What makes a writer?

I once heard an agents say, "Anyone under the age of thirty-five should attempt to write fiction. " Now this was a reputable agent with a good many projects sold to big houses. But I still say the idea you have to be a certain age to right is utter nonsense.

Everyone is a writer in some sense. Don't think so? I'll wager a dozen T-Bone steaks to a head of lettuce that not there's not a single person in this world who hasn't already wrote a conflict scene or two in their head. We all do it. Get in to some type of argument and then later think oh I should have said this. And then they would have responded with blah, blah, blah. and then I could have really got them with. Come on admit it. You've did this.

The trick is to put that kind of stuff down on paper, mix in some inner emotional turmoil, or middle-eastern terrorists, or a dead body or whatever fits for your genre. All the while adding in the bits and pieces of everyday life that all of us see first hand. Which brings me to life experience. You can have it at ten in some extreme case and you can be a hundred and still not have much.

Now I personally still have about eight months until I hit that magic age of thirty-five and if I suddenly get my break the day after my birthday, well then that particular agent can look me up and say , "I told you so. But in the meanwhile I've lived a pretty varied and eclectic life that I continually go to for material. Here is the short list.

Paying Gigs- grocery sacker, wood sander, feed store worker, postal worker, football referee, Santa Clause, Easter Bunny, gigilo - Okay I'm kidding about that last one, but if the price was right you never know what I might do. All of these have had their moments but the time I spent at Rose's Feed and Garden gave me more material than ten authors could ever use in a lifetime. Now of course I twist around my experiences, enhance them and give the reader a more entertaining twist than the actual reality, but still I've seen some interesting stuff, like the time a well meaning mom of a small child groped me while I was in the Easter Bunny costume, but that is a whole other story.

Critters- Once upon a time I wanted to be a vet. I love animals, especially the tasty ones. But over the years I've raised a variety of animals for both fun and profit. Okay, only the pigs were what you could call real profitable but still it was interesting. Rabbits, at one time I had almost two hundred. Dogs- I've had good one, bad ones, and some that weren't worth shooting, Cats- Blame my wife for this. Pigs- I earned more my senior year of high school showing hogs than I did in the two years after graduation. Nothing goes together like FFA, stock shows, and smuggled Everclear consumed straight from empty shampoo bottles, again a story for another day. Lambs, Goats, Chickens, Turkeys, Hedgehogs, Tropical fish, and Guinea Pigs, which don't taste anything like actual pork.

Sports-Football, Hockey, Softball, Frisbee Golf, Miniature Golf, Real golf, Video game golf, Okay I'll stop now that I sound like Bubba Gump.

On top of these things. I read like a fiend, I talk way too much, which leads to meeting some interesting people, like to travel, enjoy a variety of music, but mostly Texas Country which is a whole lot different from the stuff Nashville cranks out for the uninitiated.

Guess what I'm trying to say is it ain't the years behind ya that puts experience in your tank, its the miles.

Of course you can even get by that if you have a heck of an imagination and a strong tendency to make up lies.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Insomnia is a terrible thing to waste

I stayed up late last night writing and I actually made a good bit of progress on the novel, but that in itself presented a problem when I finally did shuffle off to bed. I couldn't shut my brain off. Bits of dialogue, strange words, and snippets of planned scenes whirled around my brain like dirty bathwater circling the drain.

Hour after hour slipped by and before I knew I was delirious with fatigue, but still analyzing things I'd wrote or planned to write. Then I got stupid.

I wondered things like can a person be flimmed without getting flammed, or flammed and not flimmed. And my postal worker background probably is to blame for this one, but if a fellow is happy, content and eager to head off to work can he be desribed as gruntled? And can someone be combobulated?

Not to BE outdone. Have you ever been wildered or fuddled? Yeah me neither.

NO this is not my regular blog for the day, just a sleep deprived bonus brought to you by my troubled mind.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some things never change

I'm struggling a bit right now with my latest novel. Part of my trouble is research related. I haven't been able to compile some of the knowledge I need to really build one particular male character. And part of my trouble is that one of my POV characters is a 16 year old girl. I feel like the story needs her input on a personal level, but writing from this POV has me scared. I have about as much in common with a sixteen year old girl as a grizzly bear does with parakeet.

Generally, I have an easier time writing female characters than male but up until now they have always been adult females. I'm not real sure why this particular girl scares me so. maybe my trepidations stems back to my own adolescence when nothing could strike fear into me like a teenage girl. Now don't get me wrong, back then that fear was mixed in with a healthy dose of puberty driven lust and a sense of wonderment, but they scared me just the same. Well the girls as well as their fathers.

I certainly don't profess to know all the inner working of any female mind, but I still feel comfortable writing from the point of view of an adult woman. I have recruited a few different girls in the age group and with permission from their parents I am going to start asking them questions to try and get a better sense of what their world is like, but to be honest even that scenario has be a bit antsy. I guess there are some fears that you never get over. Give a turbulence filled airplane ride, a basket full of spiders and snakes, but whatever you do ... don't make me talk to a sixteen year old girl.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Boxers or Briefs

I do the vast majority of my writing late when my two boys are either asleep or at school, and I started this endeavor when the oldest was just a newborn. These two facts combined meant that neither of my boys fully comprehended the fact that I am a writer.

Every night before bed I read them something and for a good while now, The Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey have been at the top of their list. Nothing is funnier to a four and six year old boy than an underwear clad superhero that relies on wedgie power.

I told you all of that just so I could relay this story. Every Monday evening I attend a critique group. We meet read a bit of our work offer suggestions and comments on each others work. So a Monday or two back I'm getting ready to leave and my oldest asks where I'm going.

"To a meeting," I say.
"You always go to meetings," he responds.
This is almost like a script at this point so I know what is coming next.
"Can I go with you?"
"No, the meeting is for adults only."

Usually this the end of our discussion, but this time he looks up at me and asks, "But what do you do at your meeting?" I explained that we all look at each others books and help make corrections, kind of like his kindergarten teacher does his school work. He responded by picking up a book from the nearby coffee table and saying, "Are you taking this one?" I laughed and said no I'm taking my book, the one I've been writing."

His blue eyes widened with awe. "You wrote a book? Can I read it?"
"No, Daddy's books are for adults."
For half a second there I was really cool but already I could see the light in his eyes dimming so I explained that some books are for kids, Like Captain Underpants and that some are for adults."
His eyes widened again as he said, "You mean a person writes Captain Underpants?"
I nodded and said, "Yes, a man named Dav Pilkey."
That is when my son stared straight up at me and said, "I'd rather got to a meeting with him."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I think most writers can identify the meaning behind the set of numbers in the title of this blog. Yes, it is the area code of New York City. It is what all of us hope to see on the caller ID every time the phone rings.

So there I was yesterday. Sitting in a satellite training course at work, listening to a slow speaking, monotone instructor drone on about Asbestos Awareness, when my cell goes off. I reach into my pocket so I can silence the ringer when I notice it ... 212. Instantly my heart rate kicks up a notch. Okay several notches. I glance over at my boss who is frowning at me. I did what any self respecting writer would have done. I got right up out of my seat and walk out of the room to answer.

I wish I could say that it was an agent gushing praise and calling me the best thing to come along since do-it-yourself-home jerky kits. For those of you who don't know me I have an intense aversion to most all foods that do not fall into the meat category and jerky is my basic staples.

But it was an agent, and she did say she really liked what she had read and yes there is a hint of promise in the air. It is said that April showers bring May flowers so now I'll sit back and hope that this April phone call, blooms into a sweet smelling bouquet somewhere down the road.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

R.I.P & Kiss My

Write like your momma is dead.

This was one of the first pieces of advice Jodi Thomas gave me back in the very first creative writing class I took after I decided that I wanted to become an author. At the time I chuckled along with the rest of the class and didn't think to much about the statement. But over the years I've come to realize all that this statement means.

It's not just your momma you have to clear from your mind. It's your spouse, your friends, maybe an entire race, culture or group of people. Now I'm not condoning writing something just for the sake of attacking a group of people. There are manifestos of hate that are put out for the sole purpose of belittling somebody else. I'm talking about being true to your characters, even those that you do not like or agree with.

In Mark Twain's time some labeled him a racist for his prolific use of a specific racial term in Huckleberry Finn. Now there is a brand new novel out called Finn by an author named Jon Clinch, which explores the life of Pap Finn, Huck's dad. I haven't started the novel yet, but I've read some reviews and comments elsewhere that ridicules the author for using the same term as Twain. To me, the author would have done a disservice to both his story and Twain's if he softened the story, chose not to use follow Twain's lead and, make Pap a vile man. I for one can't wait to read the novel and I certainly don't think that makes me a racist. I expect going in not to like Pap, but I believe there is a lot to be learned by taking a close look at at any society's "bad seeds." Not sure who first coined the phrase If nothing else I can serve as a bad example but I do think there is a good bit of truth in those words. All parents have said something along these lines, Yes, you have to go to school. You don't want to end up like your cousin Joe do you?

And as I heard an agent say one time at a conference, If you're writing doesn't piss somebody off, you're not writing strong enough to really reach anybody.

So write it the way the character would say it or do it, not the way your mother, friend or spouse would expect from you. After all, you're telling a fictional characters story not your own. Otherwise, you are writing a memoir, but then again, there have been some who couldn't even be true to their character when writing about themselves. Of course that didn't stop them from selling a million copies, or being appearing on Oprah.

Conned by my wife, yet again

My wife and I share a lot in common, two smart, intelligent little boys, our taste in music for the most part, Shiner Bock beer. What we don't share is shopping just for the sake of looking around, a love for Johnny Depp and Harry Connick Jr, or similar tastes in books.

I've been bugging her for a while to read something by Jodi Picoult and she has been, (my wife not Jodi Picoult), pestering me to read this one particular young adult fantasy book. So I finally agreed and read Magyk by Angie Sage. I expected the book to be just another Harry potter ripoff but the two series seem to share nothing in common except for the use of magic and by only a few chapters in I was more than pleasantly surprised. Since the main character is ten I'm guessing the target audience is somewhere around that same age so don't read this expecting any of the dark scary tension that has been in the last couple of Potter books but for younger kids and those like me who may never grow completely up it is a worthy read.

And yes this is a series and my wife knows me all too well. Now I'll have to read the other books just to see how the story turns out. She read one book, I somehow get involved with an entire series. She wins yet again.

Green Money, Red Blood, and Black Ink

By and large, I work with a good group of people, I'm talking about my day job here. Most of them know I write and several have graciously volunteered to be early readers for me. They offer comments, suggestions, and tons of encouragement.

I probably have a habit of talking about writing and the publishing too much, and I'm sure at times they get sick of it, but hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't stop me and ask, "Sign a book deal yet. Hear anything from that editor in New York, or that agent that requested your stuff?" I work at the Post Office so they see me carry in large envelope after large envelope. When faced with this standard question I said nope no deal but I did get an email yesterday. Not exactly what I wanted to hear (such as, we are going to pay you an obscene amount of money for the rights to this great work) but encouraging just the same.

So this coworker responded with when are you going to say enough is enough and give up on becoming an author so you can become a professional poker player. He then pointed out that I've cashed a lot more checks from playing cards than I have from my writing. And he's right but there are still some major differences between the two.

Never have I been busy doing something when suddenly a pair of Aces popped into my mind, the way story or character ideas do. Never have I met someone and wondered straight away if they could bluff with a straight face, but I have, and do meet people all the time that I think wow that feature or that dialect would be great on a character. Never do I watch the World Poker Tour and television and stare at an empty seat between Phil Hellmuth and Chris Ferguson and dream what it would be like to sit there. But I have went to the bookstore, located the E's and said right there, that is where my book will sit.

Writing is in my blood. I can't turn my back on that. No matter how long it takes. Last year the winner of the World Series of Poker took home twelve million dollars. His name is Jamie Gold and he beat out nearly 900 other players for the title. even if I had the ten grand to enter, and even if I got extremely lucky and won you know what I'd say. All right now I can quit my day job and stay home to write.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Put that Shoe On!

Most of us struggling writers have at some point gotten a rejection and thought something along the lines of, What the hell do THEY know. I could get where I wanted to be if it wasn't for all these blind Literary agents.

That is not a healthy or productive way to see the process. It is easy for us to only see our side of the issue. We, meaning unpublished writers, hear things like, You have one paragraph, or at the most one page to catch an agents notice. That sounds harsh but what do you do when perusing the local brick and mortar. So you pick up a novel by some author unknown to you and you start reading. If that first paragraph that first page doesn't grab your attention you put it back down and reach for something else. At least I do. So why should agents read be any different?

But THEY are the only think standing in the way of my dream? That is the same mentality as My son Timmy would be a straight A student if it wasn't for that teacher that doesn't like him, or Our team would have won state if it wasn't for those sorry refs, or I didn't get promoted like so-and-so because I'm not a brownnoser like they are. To that I say grow up, take responsibility for your own failures, or of failure is too harsh of word your own setbacks. Life is full of them. Find a way to deal with it.

Agents don't want to reject you. yeah I know this is hard to believe sometimes, but rejections do nothing but cost them time and money. Yes, printing out those thousands of rejection forms does add up. Agents take queries because they are looking to find things to represent. Things that they can sell, Things that will stick around for years and become the next To Kill a Mockingbird and earn them money for years to come. Heck, most of them are even willing to represent a lot of the genre fiction which has very little potential to earn off the backlist. They want to find things to sell That is the bottom line. sure there may be a few sadistic individuals out there who get off on crushing others dreams, but Karma is a nasty thing and I don't think an agent with that mentality has a very long future in the business. At least i hope not.

I remember my very first personalized rejection. I can still quote it word for word. After months of the dreaded form letter I opened the return SASE and right away I noticed a handwritten note penned in blue ink, Your meandering storytelling and excessive verbiage do not appeal to me now or never.

Sure his words hurt but you know what he was right. It took my the better part of a year to realize that looking back I realize I had no business even querying at the time. I wasn't ready.

As of late I've been fortunate for several agents to take notice. Write bits of encouragement and offer suggestions how to improve. I've even had a few say this novel isn't quit right for me but I'd love to look at your next project. Yes even a rejection can feel pretty good when an agent makes it clear that you aren't simply wasting your time and theirs.

And yes they miss the boat. Nearly every agent I've ever met who has been in the business for a while has admitted to passing on a manuscript that went onto best seller status or to win a prestigious award or make somebody a good bit of money. But they didn't say no because they wanted to hold that author down, they did it because they realized they were not the person to rep that title.

So remember, unless you've slept with some agents wife, or ran over her poodle, or been stupid enough to get on your blog and run her or one of his or her clients down, it is highly doubtful that the person on the other end of that rejection letter had a vendetta to destroy your future, and if you have done any of the aforementioned things, you might start thinking about a good pseudonym.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I'm All In

So there I was yesterday playing in a Texas Hold 'Em Poker tournament with the slowest bunch of players I've ever encountered. And as always when I have time to just sit and think my mind turned to writing.

Now playing poker and not giving the game your fullest attention can often be an early ticket to poverty, but like I said this particular tournament's pace was excruciatingly slow and when your dealt deuce seven as you down card you have no choice, but to fold and wait for the hand to be played out.

So how does this relate to writing? Follow me on this because what made since last night amidst a thick cloud of cigar smoke and after half a dozen frozen mugs of Shiner Bock might be somewhat of a stretch this fine Sunday morning.

Poker, like writing, and the sea is a steady up and down tide that you must follow and be aware of in order to get where you want to go. One hand you draw pocket aces, and everything looks good so you raise when the bet comes to you. A good story idea fills your mind so you raise the stakes and start plotting character and jotting down plot points and sketching out chapters.

But then the flop comes nine, ten, queen all hearts and you races are a diamond and a club. Now you have to worry about a straight, a flush, or somebody with pocket queens or two pair. Things didn't work out the way you hoped. You're still holding a pretty good hand but no longer is it a sure thing. (Like there is ever a sure thing for in publishing , unless your name is Rowling, King, or Grisham.) Suddenly you've gone from happy to doubtful, but you plunge on and write the story anyway because you still believe in your hand, your manuscript.

For arguments sake lets say the turn card is a three of diamonds - no real help to any one. You go ahead and bet just to see the hand played all the way out. the equivalent to finishing your novel. Now to play devil's advocate I'll present two different scenarios for the last card, better now as the river.

Now you can drown in the river. That is to be ahead and have the best hand only to have that last card get you. For our game lets say the river comes an eight. Anybody with a king as one of their downcards just hit a king high straight which beats you pair of aces. They got you on the river. The better your hand the worse getting beat on the last card hurts. If you just mailed off a single page query and get rejected you're really not surprised. After all, it's not like they even looked at your actual writing. A partial hurts a little more, but you can still fool yourself, The first few chapters just need punched up. If only that agent would have read a bit more. And there there is the full manuscript rejection. The poker equivalent of having pocket aces and getting beat by three twos.

Or that river card could be a third ace. the possibly you could still be beat is there, I don't want to make the scenario a sure thing since that does not jive the realities of the publishing world but three aces is a solid hand, as is a well thought out out, nicely written novel with ample conflict and a sympathetic interesting characters.

You win a pot, you win a contest, an agents send you a form rejection, you lose half your chips. either way you have to deal with the cards you're dealt and get ready for the next hand. Spend too much time counting you chips or cursing yourself for being stupid and the game will pass you by.

My advice -- ride out those waves of emotion and don't be afraid to Go All In when you believe you've got a winner in hand.

For those non poker players out there hope this doesn't come across as mindless dribble. And for the curious I managed to come in first out of forty nine players, the third tournament in a row I've won which just means I'm waaaay over due to lose.

Wish I could say it was one of those million dollar tourney they show on TV or even a high stakes game at the Bellagio but alas I am merely the reigning Texas Hold'em champ of the local Moose Lodge.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Wow Factor

So, I've survived the worst part of starting a new novel. Finishing chapter one. Finished is a relative term since I'm sure the final product will not resemble the chapter as it now stands, but for now I feel good enough about it to move on to numero two.

I'm trying a different approach to this novel. From my very first days of writing (six long years ago) up to the original comments about my last novel, two things have always remained constant. One, you need to start with more of a bang, and two, you're writing is so dark.

For me the first is easier to fix. I feel like remedied the dreaded slow start during rewrites of A River Without Water and Going in to this one I've made sure to get the reader's attention right away.

I've worked hard to give this new novel a lighter more commercial tone. Time will only tell if I succeed, but I know somewhere in the future I'll return to heavier stories. That seems to be the way my brain functions. I like to think of myself as a generally happy person, ready to have a good time, but the story ideas that come to me seem to be filled with tragedy. Not sure why but my question to anybody out there is -- What's wrong with a tragic story. Do you want everything you read to have that Disney-esque feel good ending? Or do you want it to feel real?

Now I know in certain genres you have to follow guidelines, but how about just a good ol' mainstream or commercial novel? Do you have to turn that last page and smile for it to be a good book, or can you finish and reach for the Kleenex and still think, WOW?

Why the hell not?

For those of you not from Texas and not familiar with Kinky Friedman(recent gubernatorial candidate for Texas) the title of this particular blog was his actual campaign slogan. Since I just finished his novel, The Mile High Club I figured I'd name this post in his honor.

Kinky is a unique character all the way around and his novels are no exception. I think the fact he is so outlandish at times, (and funny as all get out) people overlook the fact that he is a pretty darn good writer. Don't dismiss the message behind his words either, especially in some of his song lyrics. Don't be mistaken Kinky is no fool and even though he lost out in his bid to run the state I still wonder ... Why the hell not?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Something Fishy Going On

I have had several people email and comment about the picture. The truth of the matter is this is the only recent photo I have. I believe in truth in advertising- although part of me would like to post one of me in my younger, less hairy and less ... well lets just say back when there was less of me period. Usually, I am the one taking the pictures and the few I am not behind the camera for also have my boys in them. So until I come up with something better you'll have to look at me and this fish.

By the way the photo is from last August at Lake Ray Roberts just north of Dallas. Only caught two fish that day - one four pounder and one that went almost four and a half. Not sure which this is, but I'm still in pursuit of my first ten pounder which is the measuring mark a lot of bass fisherman shoot for. I released both fish so maybe I can go back in a few years and catch them again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Paying for your raisin'

I've decided that writing a novel is a whole lot like becoming a parent. As I get serious on my, as- yet-untitled fourth novel, I am reminded just how tough the process can be.

Conception - This is the fun and exciting part. Daydreaming and coming up with story ideas is as exciting and blissful as sex. Every plot, or potential child, is full of potential. With every new idea and twist and turn I can interject I can visualize literary agents beating down my door, editors vying for the rights, book clubs and Oprah clamoring to read my words, best seller lists. Hollywood itching to convert my manuscript into film. Would be parents, visualize their unborn as the next Einstein, or Payton Manning, or Bill Gates, future president, or feel free to insert hero or heroine of your choice. No writer sees his book as just another rejection letter and no parent sees his child as a crack addict.

Birth - Reality sets in when that great idea hits the paper in the form of words sentences and paragraphs. Or when you have to slip out of a nice warm bed to comfort a crying baby at three in the morning. Then you realize that some of the stuff in your head just doesn't work in print. You star at your first couple of pages and say this is crap. The stench makes you gag like a first time dad changing a dirty diaper. Oh, but there are those moments. That one great metaphor you come up with, or that exciting new dimension to one of your characters. It's kind of like that first time your child reaches up of their own will and touches your face. You realize, Hey I created this and the cockles of your heart turn all warm and fuzzy. What is a cockle anyway?

Terrible Two's - Okay, so a manuscript can't throw itself on the floor kicking and screaming. It can't yell no and kick you in the shin. But a novel in the beginning stages of life can be unruly just the same. Characters that do not develop the way you envisioned. Secondary characters who develop too well and threaten to override their supposed stronger and more interesting rivals, YOUR PROTAGONISTS. Plots can suddenly wither and stop growing. Complications arise that make your entire plot implausible or just ridiculous. Like a young child testing the boundaries this first rough draft stage is a writers test to see if they remain focused and take a story from beginning to end.

Going to School - Potty training is over. You've laid the groundwork for you baby but now it's time to send them out in the world. Kindergarten or critique group. First grade or a contest entry. Is it any harder to have somebody say I hate your heroine and the plot doesn't make sense, than it is to hear your child bit little Timmy Smith, or I had to send him to time out because he refused to sit down and listen? But just as you child needs the attention and guidance of classroom so does your novel. That is not to say you want a teacher or to raise your child or someone else to write your novel, but sometimes it takes that objective unbiased person to take a look and say this needs to be changed.

Graduation - I haven't gotten this far with my own children as they are still young, but I can imagine how proud I'll feel when it does happen. I have experienced that surge of pride of finishing a novel. Three as a matter of fact. It is quite a n accomplishment to hoist that four hundred page stack of paper after it has gone through my critique group and half a dozen readers, and say I did this . I finished a novel. That is when it is time to send it out in the world on its own via query letters to agents.

I'm Only Guessing - Just as my children have not reached the graduation stage yet my novels have not progressed beyond the solicitation stage. But I correlate getting an agent with being accepted into a college. Sure there are the Ivy League of literary agents and then there the community junior college ranks of agents. I'd stay away from the online technical and vocational agents since they are likely to charge you fees for things such as editing and what not. Then I'd associate an editor as grad school and so forth. I think you get my idea. So you send your little charge out in the world and if you are talented, lucky, and persistent it is accepted, everyone loves the little guy and before you know you're grandparent. Yes, that truly is how a sequel is born.

The reality of fiction

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors. I have read several of her novels, My Sister's Keeper, Vanishing Acts, The Pact, The Tenth Circle, and night before last I read Nineteen Minutes.
Nineteen Minutes is about a school shooting. A high school but having just finished the novel hours before I immediately thought of the story when I heard the news about the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech. One of the things I love about the author is her ability to present opposing sides of various issues. The way she can take me as a reader inside a characters head and make me feel what it is like to be them. Even characters that on the surface have no redeeming qualities, or share views that directly oppose my own. And as always she seems to have her finger on the damaged pulse of our society.

The way I see it the world would be a much better place if this type of understanding happened in the real world as well as on paper. A little compassion, even for those we don't agree with, could work miracles. Of course that compassion has to go both ways.

If you get a chance pick up one of Jodi Picoult's novels and read. I think you'll find it money and time well spent.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I'm not alone

I just finished reading The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington. I'm always looking for published examples of the kind of stuff I write, so when I came across this book on a recent venture to my local brick and mortar I was immediately intrigued. An emotional story, characters trying to pick up the pieces of their broken dreams, a thread of romance -- written by a man. Well, needless to say, I had to buy the novel and I'm glad I did. My hats off to the author for not only creating a good story but for giving me a beacon. Every male that writes, and gets published, a story that deals with emotions, love, and life, and includes a woman's POV is my hero. Yes, it can be done and when it is done well, as it is here, the gender of the author does not come into play. A good story is a good story.

Now if I can just convince a literary agent that my novel fits into that category.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

A diversion

I'm still struggling to find my rhythm and direction when it comes to writing this blog, but for today I though I'd step away from shoes of a writer and slip into the comfortable role of a reader.

I truly believe that you have to first be a reader before you can be a writer, and although my reading habits have changed since I decided to chase the publishing rainbow I still consume books at a junky-like rate. I meant to start a list on April 1st but like most things in my life here I am a week late. Every time I finish a book I'll post a short blog talking about it.

I'll warn you now that this will not be a true review. Reviewers serve an important function and there are several I trust and usually agree with, but I will offer very little, if any, criticism of the books I discuss. Hey I know how hard it is to write a novel and besides it would be highly hypocritical of me to blast a published author when I am still working to get there myself. I'll admit that I have read books in the past and said, "Hey, mine is better than that," or "How in the world did that get published?" but to say so on a public forum such as this would come across as sour grapes. Besides, tastes are relevant. How else can you explain that nobody has seen the clear signs of genius in my novels. Hope you are smiling as you read that last sentence because I certainly was as I wrote it.

To catch up, let me take you back to last Sunday when I finished reading Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins. This was recommended to me by editor Michael Neff at the Algonkian Writer's Workshop I attended recently. I haven't seen the movie but after reading the novel I probably will just to see how they pulled the story off without Robbins clever word play and sidebars.

Over the course of two nights I read Swordbird a young adult fantasy by Nancy Yi Fan. I actually stole this one form my wife's collection. I don't read a lot of young adult fiction or fantasies but this one was written by a young girl, eleven or twelve when she started writing it if I remember right, who came to America at an early age. I was curious to see how someone so young, writing in what I believe was her second language, (I could be wrong about that since it has been awhile since I read her background) pulled off such an ambitious project.

Over the course of the rest of the week I read East of the Mountains by David Gutterson. Best known for Snow Falling On Cedars my favorite work of his is Our Lady Of The Forest. No matter which novel you prefer, his prose is always excellent.

I'll add a sidebar to the blog to list the novels I've finished since April 1st. I'm curious to see just how may I get read in a year. Chime in if you have read any of these or simply have a must read novel to recommend.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The blades of boredom

Three days into this blog and already I have come to a sad realization. IT is boring as hell.

I have ran into this same thing in my normal writing endeavors. Sometimes things just don't work as well on paper as they did in my head. If they did, writing a novel would be so much easier. Some of my greatest frustration as a writer has been when I know that the words I've just spent hours or days putting down do not convey the message I intended. The problem is even worse when I actually like the prose.

More than once I have written myself into a corner. I've had to scrap entire chapters when I realized they derailed the story or took it off in a different direction than I intended. Sometimes different is good, but an alternate path can be trouble as well, especially if you don't know where it is going to lead you and the story. So when you come to that writing fork in the road .. find a spoon, because using the term fork in the road is too cliche to be good writing . Forget the fork and the spoon, what I'm trying to say is don't be afraid to wander off your original plan, but if you suddenly get stuck and don't know what to write next, don't be afraid to pick up a knife and slice away until you get back tot he point where your story went awry.

Now I gotta figure out where this blog went awry and how to make it entertaining. Anybody got a sharp knife?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

So you wanna write a novel?

Right now I'm in the process of starting my fourth novel - character sketches, a loose plot structure, deciding on character names and so forth. Doing this has made me think of how unprepared I was when I started my first. Let me first tell how I did it then, and then I'll tell you how I would have done had I known then what I know now.

My first novel started as an assignment for a class. A class taught by RWA hall-of-famer Jodi Thomas. RWA stands for Romance Writers of America for those who didn't know. Jodi has been extremely generous with both her time and knowledge and without her encouragement I never would have pursued this dream.

Back when I started, I had no real idea what my novel would be about, who the intended audience was, or what I was doing. I had a couple of characters that I vaguely understood, but not nearly enough to start writing about them. I did not know their motivation, goals, or histories. Basically, I had a male protagonist who'd wasted years of his life loving the wrong woman, I had a female protagonist who'd wasted years of her life running from who she really was, and I had a snotty self-righteous small town queen who was married to a egotistical jackass. Because of that lack of focus and knowledge that same novel is now languishing on my hard drive still riddled with problems. Despite over two years of work and countless rewrites. Someday I might go back and redo the entire novel from scratch but for now I just look at the whole thing as a learning experience.

Now let me tell you what I think are the keys to writing a first novel that has a viable chance of being picked up by agents and editors.

1) Know your audience- Who is going to buy your book, besides your mother. More than likely the audience is someone a lot like yourself, but you can't put that in a query. If you read nothing but romances there is a good chance your going to write a romance. But what if your two favorite authors are Stephen King and Nora Roberts, or Toni Morrison and Nicholas Sparks? Okay, I know those are extreme but I have very eclectic tastes and I'm sure a lot of you do as well. So is your novel horror or romance, literary or commercial. You'll be better off if you know this before you start and constantly remind yourself as you write. Genre bending is fine for established authors, but why complicate matters when it already so tough to sell that first one?

2) Find the conflict- You're going to need conflict early and often to make the story stand out. Sure there are exceptions, but how many are first novels. Internal, external you need both. Save the history, info dumps, and backstory for later chapters.

3) Use your imagination - Don't start your novel by having two strangers meet on an airplane, bus, or any other mode of public transportion. Remember, agents read hundreds of first chapters a week. They've seen most everything. Give them something new and you stand a better chance. this goes for character as well. What makes your protagonist different? They need quirks flaws, interesting hobbies, occupations. Something to make them stand out.

4) Slow Down - Don't rush in. write mini biographies for you major characters. So what if you never find a way to fit all the info into the novel. The better you know the character the easier it will be to write them. And when you finish that first draft, smile pat yourself on the back, wait a week and then plunge in at the beginning and go through the entire thing sentence by sentence. By the third time you might be ready to start querying.

5) Write the synopsis first - I know not everyone will agree with this advice and yes things will change, but for me it is much easier to write a condensed synopsis before I know every last detail of the story. After the fact I have a hard time separating out the minor complications with those that really matter. When I only know the bare facts I can create a basic synopsis then usually only requires minor tweaking to make it jive with the actual novel.

6) Write Well - This one is obvious but don't ignore the craft. Be willing to take criticism and learn from it.

7) Never say Die- I've known quite a few good writers who simply give up instead of plugging on. To me there is no greater waste than turning your back on your dreams and your talents.

I'm sure by the time I finish the fourth novel I'll have a whole new list of things but for now these are the things that come to mind. Would like to hear from some fellow writers on anything that they agree or disagree with. There are a thousand ways to write novel but I know we've all made many of the same mistakes and I'd like to hear how you keep from repeating them.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Tantalizing Titles

I decided that maybe I'd better define the title of this blog, but before I start let me say, coming up with titles is never easy for me. After all, I am the same guy who dubbed his second novel UnLuckLess, Yeah I know. Nobody has ever liked that but me. Somewhere down the road I'll address why I chose that and discuss titles some more, but right now I'll get back to the title of this blog.

One Word- Every story has to begin with a single word and trust me sometimes coming up with that launching pad is the hardest part. The first word, the first sentence is the jumping off point. Sometimes all I need is start and I can write for hours, okay maybe more like minutes, before I get stumped again. At which point I ca stare at that blinking cursor forever and write nothing. Then the right word will launch me on my way again.

One Rung- Ascending to the ivory tower of the publishing world is no easy task. I'll be the first to admit I grabbed a hold of the ladder and started climbing way too early in the process. I had no idea where I was going and even less idea what to do once I got there. Needless to say I got humbled rather quickly. But after plummeting back to the ground, I picked myself up, began to learn things, proper formatting, better ways to structure the plot, character development. Now days I feel fairly confident in my writing, not that I don't still learn and get better, but at this point my major focus is on the business side. Query letters, learning how to market once I do sell, contracts, that sort of thing. I want to have reasonable expectations when I do finally get closer to the top. But one thing I have already learned. Selling a novel is not the top rung. Perhaps it's not even the hardest platform to reach. Selling a second or third novel is said to be even harder if the first novel did not sell well. And with today's climate most, if not all, of the marketing for a novel falls to the author. So the rungs just keep stretching upward and I'll just keep climbing.

One day- Well, this is my way of saying I'm too stubborn to quit. One day I will get published and on that day I'll star the process all over again, with the next book.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Better late than never

Have you ever shown up late for a party only to discover your friends are five or six drinks ahead of you? It is the same whether your friends are sipping glasses of wine, guzzling bottles of Shiner Bock, or downing shots of tequila. Regardless of which setting fits you best, coming in late is a drag. You can bet something you missed, -- a joke, a song, a funny story -- will be brought up over and over, and with every confused frown from you, somebody will say, "You had to be here."

That's a bit how I feel starting this blog. I have a long list of worries on top of showing up late to the party. Number one, what will I say each day. Number two, will anybody care. Number three, where will I find the time on top of starting a new novel, tweaking the one I'm currently trying to sell, composing query letters, corralling my two young sons, not neglecting my wife, and working my regular job. Okay, enough whining. I'm late but I'm here and that's what counts.

Now the late arriver has a couple of options. One, start pounding the booze until you catch up, or two, try to act as if you'd been there all along. If your not careful the first option will leaving you praying to the porcelain gods. the second requires a bit of bluffing. I could say lying, but liar is such a harsh word and since anybody that writes fiction is a liar by definition I try to shy away from that description. Back to bluffing. Sure you'll have to smile at some lame comments that only a six pack of beer can make funny, you might get stuck talking to Rick, Jeff, Jim, or (feel free to insert the name of your most boring acquaintance here) sure you might have to jump in there and dance to Baby Got Back while you 're still stone-cold sober. I know it's hard but sacrifices have to be made, and trust me bluffing makes it a lot easier to get out of the bed come morning.

So that's what I'm going to do, BLUFF. Act like I know more than I do.
In the six years since I decided, hey I too can become a published author I have learned a few things. A lot of things actually. And over the coming days weeks and months I plan to share what I've learned and as we go along I'll find out that the meager knowledge I do possess is no where close to what I still need to learn. My critique group would beat me over the head with a stick for using the word learn so many times in one paragraph but certain sacrifices have to be made in the name of speed.

Hopefully some of the things I bring up will help a few other writers out there and hopefully some of you will comment and teach me a few things about the craft as well. And of course I hope that this blog will help me to meet new people all across the country who will rush out and buy my novel the very day it hits the shelves. But before that could happen I have to first write an interesting and informative blog that people will actually want to read and convince the publishing world that I am deserving to be called an author.

For me, writers write, but authors get published,so I will only say I'm a writer. I guess I could count the few short stories of mine that have found a home but the focus of my writing goals, and the focus of this blog will be about the the pursuit of a publisher for my novels. Even though I said publisher, right now my goal is to acquire a literary agent.

So if you are a writer, an author, or, just some body who is curious about what it takes to get a first novel published welcome to the party.