Thursday, December 31, 2009

Six Sentences – Volume 3

I just saw on the Six Sentence website ( that there is going to be a third volume published. Some of you know that I had the privilege of having a submission published in Volume 2.

The short version is you have until January 31, 2010 to submit your six sentences. I will be working on mine and I hope you will too! Go to for full submission details.

Happy New Year everyone!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kindle for Everyone

Before I begin, I want to make it very plain that I’m a big fan of books. I like feeling the weight of it in my hand. I like the smell of the paper and ink, I love to see my bookshelves full of them (to my wife’s chagrin). But lately I’ve been forced to wonder about the Kindle and Sony readers that are becoming so popular. My sisters both have Kindles and love them. Me? I have an iPod Touch and a friend of mine told me about the Kindle Application that’s available for it (and iPhones).
I downloaded the Kindle Application and about the same time I was informed by Amazon that a book I’d ordered was out of stock. So I used my iPod Touch to navigate out to the Amazon store and downloaded the book.
I have to say that now that I’ve used it, I loved it. The text was large enough to read and the touch screen made maneuvering through the book easy and convenient. Setting bookmarks caused me a little problem for about 45 seconds, but once I had it figured out, it was easy. The iPod is lightweight and easy to hold, even in bed, and is backlit so you don’t need a light on to read (a plus for me since I usually read after my wife’s asleep). The screen flips automatically from portrait to landscape, depending on the orientation of the iPod, which is sometimes annoying when you change it accidently, but overall, I saw it as an advantage.
The only downside I can think of is that it was hard for me to judge where I was in the story. Glancing at the placement of a bookmark in a book, you can easily gauge whether you’re halfway done, or near the end, or whatever. I wasn’t able to do that as easily with the Kindle app. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I would give the Kindle App for my iPod Touch 5 stars.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

One Word

If you don’t know me by now, I’m big into writing exercises. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. It doesn’t have to be fantastic or even good, but by writing, you’ll discover what works and what doesn’t.
So the latest writing exercise is a website called The website is set up to be a writing exercise in and of itself.
When you go to the website (, you click “go” and it will give you a word. You have sixty seconds to write whatever you want, using the word as a prompt.
When you’re done, you can put your name on it and submit it. Or you can put an alias on it if you aren’t proud, or you can choose not to submit it.
But whether you decide to submit it or not, you should go out to the website to give it a try. You just might like it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing the Breakout Hit

So after so many close but not quite comments, I got to thinking if you have everything but the right story, how do you figure out which one is the right story?

Donald Maass put out a book called "Writing the Breakout Novel." I thumbed through it and got the sense that there is a different character or ambiance to a debut novel then other works down the line in a published writer's career. Even Mort Castle, a horror icon, noted how the first book he wrote ended up actually being the seventh one published because the agents/editors decided he had the chops, but not the right story for a breakout novel.

With that in mind, I am still editing/tweaking a novel that is heavy on exploring themes, but focusing my efforts on completing a sci-fi adventure for the (hopefully) debut piece. It's just one more thing to show you how many additional factors beyond talent and tenacity affect a writer's career.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


This author is approaching overload! How do people continue writing during the holiday season?

I know agents continue working, because they are sending me their rejections. Frequently, in the last week or so. The car is in the shop, waiting for me to post bail. And the Christmas cards are unmailed, no baking is done, very few presents have been bought, and the kids are sending me lists! That negative karma piles up.

Yesterday, I did something that made me feel a little better. After two rejections, one by email, one carried snail-wise, I abandoned ship (the USS WIP from NaNoWriMo) and trotted out some short stories that have not found homes yet. I worked on them for a few hours, then sent them out to two different markets. Actually, I felt a LOT better after doing that. I accomplished something! The Christmas preparations are still waiting. They're not going anywhere, right?

I'm drinking kava tea today, before I go get the car. Another rejection came today.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


You may recall that I offered to help an 80-something-year-old woman with the account of her brother's death at the hands of the Mafia, or so she has always suspected. I called her Hildegarde, but that's not her real name.

Well, Hildegarde gave me her handwritten notes a couple of weeks ago. They are on three sheets of yellow legal paper, front and back. The pages are numbered, with additions in the margins, some written sideways, some on a slant, crammed in where she could fit them. Stars and arrows point to added material.

It was…interesting…sorting it all out. I typed it into the computer and it came to almost four pages double spaced, 1344 words. That's a lot of words in her small writing on those few yellow pages.

I'm not sure if there's a story here or not. She relates incidents she recalls from her childhood. They are mostly mysterious happenings that hint of nefarious doings having to do with money and property changing hands. As it stands, it is a list of events, but there are no conclusions, just some opinions.

I didn't have time to make it back to her place, which isn't very near. And, after she made her trip to my place to hand me her pages, I didn't want her to drive here again. She had offered to come here and I didn't think anything of it. My husband wondered if she should be driving.

She has to travel with an oxygen tank, for one thing. For another, she phoned on her cell phone from someplace about a mile away, thinking she was at our house. Her cell phone reception was poor and neither of us could tell what the other was saying very well. She never did get the street name or house number from me correctly and she said she would just drive around and probably find us! I finally got through that she should wait right there. My husband was able to lead her here.

So, after I typed the pages, I called her and got her email address, which she was obviously reading from a piece of paper. She said she had the software to read what I had typed, MS Word, but the email bounced back. When I called her about that, she said, Oh the kids had been fooling with her computer. About a week later she gave me another email address and this time my email and attachment didn't come back. But I haven't heard from her.

I have no idea what else she'll want me to do. I gave her the nicest comments I could on what she had, which were that it's an interesting story. I'll let you know what happens next.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get back to my WIP after being away from it for two weeks. That's hard!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Emerging From the Fog

Okay, so we are all finally emerging from the Nanowrimo fog. For those of you who participated, I hope you met your word count. If you're like me, you met your word count, but have a long road of editing and reworking ahead of you. With that in mind, I wanted to share a fabulous new book I discovered on my last book buying run.

Thanks, But This Isn't For Us by Jessica Morrell is a guide to why your work is being rejected (a.k.a what's missing or what isn't working). I have read tons of books, articles, and agent blogs about editing, but this one by far is the easiest to read and incorporate into your writing practice. Where most books either focus on one aspect of development or technical items, this one covers the whole package. Plus, the Quick and Dirty tips at the end of each chapter let you walk straight over to the computer, notebook, or stone tablet and immediately make improvements to your writing. I've been able to make drastic improvements to several works and know that this will be a key tool in my writer's arsenal.

Good luck to y-all with your editing and Nano masterpieces. There are several manuscript contests coming up in 2010. Who knows?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writing the Successful Synopsis and Query Letter (or Selling Your Book Without Selling Out) Part 1

I recently attended John Pipkin’s two part workshop, Writing the Successful Synopsis and Query Letter (or Selling Your Book Without Selling Out). The first session was on writing a solid query letter, something that takes a little practice. While I have read numerous books on the subject and there is an overwhelming number of resources about it on the internet, I found the session to be helpful and was reminded of the basic rules of query writing.

The set up for a query letter should be something like this:

1st paragraph: The hook/one sentence summary/title and genre
2nd paragraph: Summary of characters and plot
Optional paragraph: Historical background/relevance/potential audience
3rd paragraph: Writer’s bio
4th paragraph: Formal closing, thank you, give length of manuscript

Mr. Pipkin sold his current novel, Woodsburner, after sending out only five query letters, but he is quick to point out that his first attempt at publishing ended with 75 rejections. One of the things he did the second time around was to keep the idea of the query and synopsis in mind as he was writing. Doing that helped guide his book and made it easier when it came time to getting down to writing the dreaded query letter. He also reminded us that agents are trained to look for certain things in the queries they receive (manuscript name, word count, genre, summary). When they don’t find those items, they lose interest.

One of the more interesting things discussed was what happens once your book is accepted by an agent. Most people tend to think it’s a streamlined process with the agent taking the book to the publisher and the publisher getting it to the bookstore. In reality there are lots of steps in between, and it can take up to two years to get the book on shelves once it’s been accepted. Knowing that, an agent has to look carefully at the manuscript to make sure it’s right for them and that they know someone to pitch it too. Often a query may be rejected not because it’s poorly written or uninteresting, but because the agent doesn’t have the contacts and can’t help you. Always research what the agent represents before you query.

I’m attending the second session of the workshop this Saturday, which is on creating the one page synopsis. I’ll be updating the site next week with more information on that subject.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Backup, Backup, BACKUP!

I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened. Every November, every NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month),  someone I know tells me they lost ALL OF THEIR WORK. Yes, that’s right. Their computer crashed, or they  didn’t have a backup, or something, but they lost their entire novel!

Do you want this to happen to you?

Of course you don’t. But it could, and you should be aware of the possibility.

Yeah, I know. We’ve all been told the horror stories of losing your work. But it doesn’t hit you until it hits you.

For me, that was a few days ago. I was working late into the night, trying to make my word count. I did, I posted it, and I went to bed. It wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered that all of my work from the previous night was gone.

Now, it wasn’t my whole novel that was missing. It was just one night’s work. But that didn’t matter because I proceeded to freak OUT!

One of the things going for me is that I make backups two or three times a night. Especially if it’s a heavy writing night. And this particular night, I was in luck. A previous version had everything I was missing. But the lesson is just as pertinent. Make backups of your novel! Heck, make backups of everything!

Being a computer guy, the rule of thumb is this. You don’t make backups of the things you can afford to recreate. So the question is, can you afford to recreate your novel?

I’m betting no.

So what’s that mean to you? I’ll tell you. Put those flash drives into action and save your novel off once in a while; probably every day, maybe more frequent than that. I have 3 or 4 flash drives and I rotate them, just so I don’t inadvertently over-write a good copy with a bad copy.

But whatever you do, do something! Anything is better than nothing, and if you have a snafu, like I did, any backup is better than no backup!


~ Doug McIntire

You can find out more about this author and his writing at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Word Counter

As promised, another trick up my sleeve for clean editing. This one takes care of pesky repeated words. These are SO hard to recognize in your own writing, so easy in your critique partners'. But, for the ones they miss--or if you aren't fortunate enough to have a crit group--there's Word Counter. It tallies occurrences of all the words in the text you paste into it. It will process 19-20,000 words, but I think it's more useful, and faster, to give it a chapter or two at a time. Over 20,000, and internal errors occur.

There is a promise (enticement?) of being able to load a document in the future. The present options are to exclude or include small words, such as "the" and "it"; to list 25, 50, 100, or 200 overused words; and there's a beta version and an original version. The beta version will look for base words that you've added "ed" or "ing" to, as an example.

For fun, you can submit prose to see if it contains political leanings. Or you can look at the Smugopedia blog and post something opinionated.

Try it out and see what it Have fun!

PS. You can even do this on another screen while you're furiously typing NaNo words. Maybe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jumping the NaNoWriMo Shark

I loved Happy Days. Fonzie was my favorite character, and I still use his catchphrase "Sit on it." When I saw the now legendary "Jump the Shark" episode, I thought it was awesome. True, I was eight at the time, and maybe I didn't understand that the writers were struggling with where to go with the series, but I saw nothing wrong with a guy wearing a black leather jacket jumping his motorcycle over a shark.

Okay, now I kind of see what people made such a fuss about. It's trite, contrived, and just plain silly. But being a NaNoWriMo participant, I get it. That's because NaNo allows you to jump the shark without worry of ridicule. If you're stuck in the story, unsure where to go, it's fine to "jump the shark" by killing off your main character or having them doing something totally outrageous things to get to the next chapter. Unlike the writers of Happy Days , you can always fix it later.

In my current NaNo novel, I've managed to switch protagonist completely because I got bored with mine. The story began in 1596 England and is now currently taking place in present day Louisiana. I started out with magic mirrors and ended up with voodoo priestesses who like to fool around with Greek gods.

How will the story end? Does it matter? Nah. Not to me anyway. NaNo is one long writing exercise with multiple opportunities to try things you might not normally do in telling a story. The only thing that really matters is reaching the finishing line with your 50,000 words.

So I say, "Jump that shark, baby."

Have fun doing it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have a few tools in my kit that I'd like to share. I love these things! The one for today is ReadPlease. It reads my manuscript to me! There's no better way, other than this one eagle-eyed woman I know, to catch all your little typos and mistakes. I let ReadPlease read my stuff while I have the document open on the computer. When I hear it saying something like "He gave her all of his the potatoes," I alt-tab over to ReadPlease, pause it, fix my boo-boo in Word, then go back and let it start again.

I downloaded it free and now's a cute little icon on my desktop. Looks like a green-shaded desk lamp. When I click on it, a little box pops up. On the right are places to adjust the speed, font, and choose which voice you want. The free version comes with four voices, two men and two women. (They don't seem to like it, but it's fun to click on their faces.) At the top, the Tools tab will let you set all sorts of things I've never bothered with, such as pauses between paragraphs, and custom pronunciations. There's even a setting for Low Vision colors under Vision Impaired.

All you do to get started, once you've downloaded it (I'll give you the site at the end of this), is paste your text into the window. You can paste any type of text, from anywhere. At least I haven't encountered any limitations on this. There are instructions in the window, but after you read them you can delete them. They'll be there next time you open it. You can paste about 3000 words at a time. Don't worry if you've tried to do too many; it'll just cut off when it's full.

After you paste your text, click Play and open up your document, either on paper or on your screen, whichever works better for you.

The free download is available at A digital version is available for $49.95, but I'm not sure what I'd do with that. Tweak it, maybe? There are other interesting things on the site if you want to poke around.

The free version, 2003, works fine for me. Let me know if you try this and like it.

PS. I'll share another one next week.

PPS. Better not try this if you're in the middle of doing NaNoWriMo.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Week One in Review

The first week of the National Novel Writing Month is now behind us. For many of us, that meant frantic writing to try to meet our word count. This is the fourth year that I've participated in NaNoWriMo. I've succeeded each of the prior years. But this year, I fell into the age-old NaNoWriMo trap. On about the third day, I realized that what I was writing was crap. It didn't inspire me. It didn't encourage me. I didn't write. And I fell behind.

It wasn't until yesterday that I figured out the trap I’d fallen into. I forgot the essence of NaNoWriMo, which is to write; nothing but write; and to write like the wind. I wasn’t writing. I was complaining about how much my story sucked. Of course it sucked. I was putting it down on paper for the first time. Anyone’s first draft sucks. Some of ours more than others, but it’s called a first draft for a reason. And that reason is it sucks!

Boy, I want to re-emphasize that; it sucks. It Sucks. IT SUCKS.

Don’t get me wrong. You might have a great story there. And you might even have a lot of gems within your writing that you're really proud of. That's wonderful, and I do too. You might also have a lot that needs to be fixed. There's nothing wrong with that. I do too. This is NaNoWriMo, the time when the goal is not to write a perfect novel, but just to write a novel. Period. If you thought you would write a perfect novel, then you were wrong.

And that was the trap I fell into. I wanted it to be perfect. Okay, maybe I just wanted it to be good. It wasn't. Or at least I didn't think it was. But looking back on it, maybe it is. It’s at least adequate. And the goal is not perfection. So by day seven, I remembered that it wasn't about writing a perfect novel, it was about writing a novel. And that's what I'm trying to do. If I want a perfect novel, I'll have to edit.

And so will you. Don't try to write the perfect novel. Try to write a novel. That's what this month is about. Write it now; worry about editing it later.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How's NaNo Going?

For anyone doing NaNoWriMo, how's it going? I kept up beautifully for three whole days. But now I'm behind by about 700 words. That means I have to write 2367 to get even today. Probably not gonna happen!

But, if you're having trouble meeting your goal, here are some tips, thanks to our CenTex group's brainstorming session Monday (when we were supposed to be writing).

Have a character who repeats everything said to him or her.

Use him or her instead of him. Or her. Use that a lot.

Do not use incomplete sentences. Insert the whole subject, verb thing, always, at all times.

Never use contractions, spell everything out.

Use several small words wherever you can instead of one big one.

Describe everything fully. I know, this is bad writing, but you can take it out later. After you've fulfilled your goal. Oops. I mean: You can do this after you have fulfilled your writing goal and after you have met your word count. (See how much better that is?)

Any other ideas on padding--I mean reaching the word count?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Can Write A Novel -Review

With Nanowrimo fast approaching we've all been focusing on sketching out the core elements of our proposed novels, developing our plot, and generally just trying to figure out what to write. Everyone has their own system, from free-balling to notes on index cards. For those of you without a system, you may want to check out the You Can Write A Novel Kit from James V. Smith. This handy little box comes with a book detailing how to develop a book from conceptualization to ending and handy little sheets to help you develop major and minor characters, outline chapters, and develop scenes. The tear-sheets kind of remind me of Yatzee score cards but instead of keeping track of dice, you can hash out things like character background, relevance of a scene to the overall plot, and review chapters to make sure key revelations have been met.

The book itself is quite handy. The elements are logically delineated and information is presented so that it is both visually appealing and easy to understand and incorporate. I especially like the little chart that shows the Master Story Model. This model is good for those of you wanting to insure the right amount of action/peaks at the right places. The also make great guideposts that give your story some direction with room to evolve as characters start to muck around on their own (which mine always do).

The book closes with invaluable tips on revising to help you tighten up your novel and avoid dreadful mistakes. Each tip is itemized with easy to follow exercises so you can quickly read through and start utilizing them right away.

All-in-all, the kit is a great planning and revising tool for those looking to get a better handle on the cumbersome aspects of writing a novel. Once you get a feel for it, you can muddle with the forms and outlines to suit your personal tastes. It's not a sure fire way to develop a winning novel, but its the most compact, inclusive, and easy to use resource I have found as a new novelist. I hope it helps you out, too. Good luck with Nanowrimo!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Almost time for NaNo!

I'm putting together a framework for what I want to write, not that I'll stick to it, but I find I can't begin without an idea, a glimmer, of what's going on. I know one mystery writer (and I'm sure there are others), Valerie Wolzien, who writes the whole thing, knowing her killer will reveal him/herself by the end. He/she always does, and Valerie then goes back through the manuscript making sure clues are planted. More often than not, they're already, mysteriously, there, she says. (I think that's what she says. I'm paraphrasing what I heard in a panel at Malice Domestic a few years ago. Anyway, it's close.)

Not me, though. I have to know who my killer is. Although I had a second one crop up once. A nice complication!

No matter what you're writing, if not mysteries, you're still either a person who plots beforehand, or a seat-of-the-pants writer. None of us can figure out how the other half does it! I have written into the mist and come out okay, but it's too scary for me!

And, no matter if you're a plotter or a pantser, your story still has to have the structure a reader expects. Many resources can define it for you: SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, a book about screen writing that has much in it for the novelist; THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler, a book that delves into classical forms, adapted for writers from THE HERO'S JOURNEY by Joseph Campbell; HOW TO PLOT YOUR NOVEL by Allison & Busby Writer's Guides (which I've had recommended to me but don't have--Christmas hint here!); and, lastly, a terrific book I'm about half way through, WRITING TO SELL by Scott Meredith.

Alexandra Sokoloff has been blogging on plot, especially geared for NaNoWriMo, too! Check out her excellent posts at She uses the Three Act structure used by many.

Or you can use the tried and true plotting method. Put your heroine up a tree; throw things at her; get her out of the tree. You are, of course, free to use a hero instead. Happy writing, all who are doing NaNo!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Self Editing for Fiction Writers

I'm sure by now that you have several writing reference books on your bookshelf. Some of my favorite are The Elements of Style and On Writing by Stephen King. From time to time I revisit these two books and find some tidbit or editing technique that I'd forgotten about.

Recently, a writer at a workshop I attended recommended Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I got a copy of the book and found it very helpful. Believe it or not, not all writers were English majors, and some people may have been snoozing in class the day the professor taught about the mechanics of writing good dialogue. If you happen to fall into this category of writing, you may want to check this book out, too.

It covers basic info like showing versus telling or creating character points of view, but I felt like the best parts were on creating proportion in your scenes. The sections on writing dialogue were interesting, too and gave me a few things to think about. The book does contain writing prompts at the end of each chapter and examples for you to read in order to test your critiquing chops, as well.

Even though your bookshelf may be weighted down with reference material already, I would recommend that you consider adding one more. Self Editing for Fiction Writers can't be any heavier than those Writer's Market books I know you have sitting there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm excited about this weekend! Excited and scared. I'm participating in something very new. A web conference. I think e-conferences may have been done on a small scale, but this is the first of its kind that I know of. Poisoned Pen Press, an independent publisher of mysteries, is holding the event on Saturday the 24th. (see for lots of details)

They're doing at least some of it right, right out of the gate. The cost is $25 and you receive a voucher for $20 worth of books, so you're out a whopping net $5. Pretty nice!

What this con has that a regular one doesn't: ability to participate from anywhere you have computer access; affordability; recorded presentations that will be available for awhile after the con (not sure how long). I'm not sure if the panels will be recorded and available.

What this con doesn't have that a regular one does: a goodie bag with bookmarks and a mug or sippy cup; an afterhours bar for chatting with authors, agents, editors, and fans; opportunities for meeting random people in the hallways of the hotel.

What they both have: panels, presentations, interviews, pitch sessions, lots of authors, a green room (called coffee shop here) for chatting between events, goodies in the form of books.

Some of we participants are wading through the technology challenges, like Skype, Livestream, Blogtalk, Podbean. Okay, I still don't know what some of these are, but I don't need all of them for what I'm doing. I think I understand the ones I need. We'll see.

Anyone interested? I'm on a panel that meets at 4 PM Central Time (Hour 8 the way they're doing it), led by Kelli Stanley. Our topic is "Why We Love the Gumshoe" and the rest of the panel is dynamite: prolific short story writer, Stephen D. Rogers and novelist Ken Kuhlken.

Sign up and be part of history in the making!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What a character!

Sure, you may have a great plot idea, and you may even be a good writer, but if you have boring characters you will find your story falling flatter than my pancakes on Sunday morning. Yes, they're that bad.

Moving on..

The thing about well developed characters is that even when you run out of ideas, they'll start writing the story for you. They will create situations you never thought of, bring their own interesting dialogue, and add that all important dimension that creates a personal connection with the reader. How do you develop strong characters? Start with a character sketch. Not a physical description, but more of a personality sketch (though physical details are included). This can be a list of items, a short description, an index card of notes, but something that describes in as much detail as possible your character. When doing this ask yourself the following questions:

What is my character's greatest fear?
What is their favorite food, memory, band, color, song, activity?
Where did they grow up? What extracurricular activities did they participate in?
Who was their best friend? Why was that person their best friend?
What is their little quirk, favorite phrase, or nervous habit?

The more questions like this you can answer, the more depth your character will have. Even if you don't use all of this information in the story, it all helps develop an internal sense of who the character is and what motivates them.

The final thing to consider is what is the one thing your character would never say or do. Have it? Good. Now put them in a situation where they have to say or do that very thing. That's how your character evolves. That's what raises the stakes and makes it interesting. That's what people want in a story.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me its worth it. I used to skip this step then wonder why my story would hit a brick wall half way through. Now I start with a character sketch every time and I do it for as many of the characters as I can. It's brought my stories to life, and its fun to create your own people then manipulate their lives to your liking. Ahhhh, power trip. If only it worked in other areas too.

Moving on...

So go out there and build your little brainchildren, develop interesting characters, analyze and dissect them and then put them back together. You'll see your writing become better for it. And yes, you can also enjoy the omnipotent thrill it brings.

BHAG--No, I'm not calling you names!

What is your BHAG?

What? You don’t know what that is? Geez. It’s only the most important thing you carry around with you as a writer. No, it’s not your laptop or the full manuscript tucked under your arm ready to be whipped out at a moment’s notice. A BHAG is what keeps a person motivated.

BHAG (pronounced BeeHag for those who don’t live in acronym world) stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. It’s that one big thing you are striving to achieve as a writer. It’s the “Climb every mountain and try not to fall off” goal that you’ve set for yourself in the not so distant future.

What? You don’t have a BHAG? And you call yourself a writer…

Seriously. Goal setting is important. As an educator, I’ve spent a great deal of my professional life setting goals for students, as well as, myself. Long term and short term goals give you something to work towards. One of the biggest problems fledgling writers struggle with is staying motivated and focused. Goal setting can help with that.

Now when I say goals, I’m not necessarily talking about landing an interview with Oprah. Sure, that would be great, but maybe setting a BHAG that is achievable in the next few weeks or months might be a little more satisfying. I like to set short term goals like finishing a short story by a certain deadline, writing a blog once a week (stop laughing at me, Doug McIntire), or having my second draft edited by Thanksgiving. This kind of BHAG keeps me on track.

I do set long term BHAGs, too. I admit that I harbor hopes of an interview with Oprah someday. And it would be nice to finally get that agent people are always saying we writers need. The quest for the perfect query letter still looms large in my life, too. And then there’s the long term goal of figuring out how the heck to write that damn one page synopsis…

So…what are you waiting for? Get off this blog right now and go set some BHAGs. But feel free to leave a comment first!

Good luck and happy goal setting!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Manuscript Contest

I just came across the manuscript contest from the DFW Writer's group. The prize is a 10 minute sit down with an agent. Details here:

Markets for short stories

This may be cheating, but I found this absolute wonderful post by Alan Rinzler, thanks to a tweet from Wordhustler. Basically, it espouses on the many opportunities out there for short story writers. Check it out:


Since I'm starting to plot a new novel, I thought I'd use this space to go over how I do it. (Partly so I'll get it all straight in my head--I seem to forget completely, every time, how to start a new project!)

First, I take advantage of a couple of excellent courses I've taken. Margie Lawson created a class especially for a group I belong to called Guppies (the Great UnPublished online chapter of Sisters in Crime) and I start my plotting with her excellent guidelines. She has inexpensive lecture packets of most of her courses available on her webpage, I can recommend them highly! I also use a course I took from Mary Buckham on synopsis writing. Her method of doing synopses finds all the plot holes! You can find Mary at, BTW.

But here's the part that's original to me, my timeline spreadsheet. (If it's not original, then I don't remember where I got it. Sheesh. If you want to take credit, go ahead.) When you're writing a mystery, it's important to know where everyone is all the time. The characters have a tendency to skulk about in the shadows, but I have to hunt them out--the writer has to know what they're up to!

It's a simple spreadsheet. Across the top, I label the columns with the names of the important characters, and sometimes a few unimportant ones I want to keep track of. Except for the first several columns. The very first column is a list of the events of the story, the scenes, the clues, the happenings. These define the rows. The second column, for my benefit, is the date and time of the event. I use the third column to put what thread this event is concerned with, a clue, a red herring, a suspect, and I sometimes color code them. Sometimes I put the chapter number in the fourth column, then the character columns start. The protagonist owns the fifth column, since she's in the majority of the scenes.

As the scenes unfold, I note, beside the scene and under the character, what their role is in the scene--what happens to them, or what they're thinking or feeling or planning. If one of them gets dead, I color the rest of that column a dark color, usually gray. Since the first murder is an important defining point in a mystery, I can tell at a glance if I'm before or after the killing. I can also tell at a glance when some minor character is getting too many scenes, or when a major player has been out of the picture too long.

I use another worksheet to keep track of how I've described the characters, making sure their eyes don't change color, or a short person doesn't suddenly become a six footer, but that can just as easily be done in a word processing program. It's just handy for me to have it all together.

That's it! My nifty spreadsheet. I have it open most of the time I'm writing so I can insert the action as it unfolds. If you've ever written fiction, I don't have to tell you that, no matter how carefully a plot is structured, it changes. One of my characters in the last novel jumped from minor to major character, changed his name three times, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that HE was the romantic interest. What could I do? I adjusted the chart.

If someone can use this to keep things straight, let me know!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writing Exercise Prompts for the Week of October 11, 2009

I wrote recently that to be a writer, you have to write; everyday. Sometimes it’s easier to do a 20-minute writing exercise if you have something to write about. So I’ve added a series of writing prompts for this week. Now, this being the month of Halloween, and me being an author of speculative fiction, these have a bit of a horror theme to them.

Sunday, October 11th Write about a time you were scared. This shouldn’t be a life-threatening or traumatic event, but a time when you were fun-scared, like someone coming up behind you and popping a plastic bag to make you jump.

Monday, October 12th – Use this as a catalyst for your writing; “What are you chicken? I dare you to go inside.”

Tuesday, October 13th – What’s your favorite scary ride at the theme park? Maybe it’s your least favorite because it’s too scary, or it scared you too much when your rode it. Write about it.

Wednesday, October 14th – Remember a time when you were a kid watching a horror movie and couldn’t go to sleep that night.

Thursday, October 15th – Did you have a monster in your closet? Maybe it was under your bed, or in the basement. Or maybe it was a recurring nightmare. Write about it.

Friday, October 16th – What are you afraid of? Spiders? Snakes? Heights? Perhaps you’re claustrophobic. Can you write about it?

Saturday, October 17th – Write a ghost story. We’ve all heard them. It doesn’t matter if you’re retelling an old tell. Retell it in your own way with your own voice.

Here’s another idea for a bonus writing exercise this week. Take your laptop with you into a cemetery at dusk and write as it starts getting dark. See what your imagine dredges up. Or perhaps a long-forgotten memory.

One thing to remember about these writing exercises is that they are only practice. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Maybe you start going in one direction and find your story moving in an entirely different direction. Just go with it. Remember, the goal here is to write.

I hope you enjoy these. Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know. And you never know, maybe one of these prompts will be a catalyst for a story you can submit to The Dunesteef October Scary Story Event or the Microhorror Halloween Story Contest. Good luck if it does.

I will post more of these next week. You can find The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine at: You can find Microhorror at: And you can find me at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Art of Revision Workshop by Carol Dawson part 2

Wow, what a great investment. I just returned from the second installment of the self-editing workshop taught by Carol Dawson. Our homework was to read the first few pages of 5 or more of our favorite books looking for the hook and to find what drew us as readers to keep reading the book in those first few passages. Then Ms. Dawson required us to rewrite our first 6 pages according to what we learned in the first workshop. We sent those to her and she edited them as a free-lance editor would to show us what to expect and to help us improve as writers.

This week she covered a lot about suspense giving us some great specific examples from our works. She also used her own writings and those of other famous authors. Mrs. Dawson also spoke a lot about structure. Below are a list of points from the notes I took during the class. Some of these are familiar to those who have been in the writing field for some length of time and others will seem like common sense. For those who are new to the whole scene (like me), they are essential to hear and understand.

1. Show don't tell.

2. Always provide name for every person you send to.

3. Always provide page numbers for every person you send to.

4. Make sure your metaphors are grounded in some form of objective reality, even if a fantasy reality.

5. Never introduce anything you aren't going to use.

6. Don't begin a story with too much abstract. It bogs the reader down. Don't begin with too much back-story, get into the story! Don't begin with too much philosophical musing. Do not use too much description anywhere!

7. “A single phrase does more for the reader than an entire paragraph.”

8. When in doubt, use dialog. We want to know about the effect of an object, not its description.

9. Don't use terms like “expensive” in a fantasy setting when we have no frame of reference for what that might mean to the people of that world.

10. Character is plot. The more subtle and deep your characters, the better your plot.

11. Suspense in all things therefore less is always more.

12. Never say anything twice. (I've heard this one several times in the past few months.)

13. Watch your modifiers (ly's especially – adverbs). Descriptions we think may make the impact stronger on the reader, actually has the opposite effect.

14. Put in what must be put in and leave out what does not need to be there.

15. Make sure one scene leads to another, even if totally different characters in totally different settings and circumstances.

16. Length of a chapter is not determined by page numbers, but content.

17. Learn the rhythm/cadence of your story. If you can't find it or don't know what it is, read your book aloud. If it still doesn't show, then you may need to rewrite some to give it one.

18. Keep in mind order of the story. Be consistent with point of view. Don't talk about things that a character can't know.

19. Form an overall structure whether linear, patchwork, media res/flashback, or whatever, but be consistent with whatever structure that you chose to use.

20. Organize your structure, don't just slap something down without a purpose or place.

21. If you have a character that says anything, make sure they say it in character.

22. If you have boring dialog, make sure the character doesn't say it.

Ms. Dawson ended by reading Elmore Leonard's “10 Rules of Writing” A MUST READ for any aspiring writer.

I'll be happy to expand on any of these.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The MicroHorror Halloween Story Contest

Speaking of October story contests, MicroHorror is also sponsoring one; The 2009 MicroHorror Halloween Story Contest. And there’s a twist. Your story must resonate in the past. It doesn’t have to necessarily “take place in the past,” but history must play a theme.

And MicroHorror is a flash market. In fact, story lengths are appropriately limited to 666 words or less. That’s right; write tight. But the good fellow over at MicroHorror is also offering prizes; undisclosed, covetous, tangible prizes. It is worthy of note that there is no limit to the number of submissions you can make before the October 31st (11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time) deadline, but you are only eligible to win one prize or prize package.

MicroHorror is an online magazine. You can find them at

You can find out more about the author of this article at

12 Step Program for Writers

Being a writer is a tough life to pursue. Inevitably you find yourself battling the “amicrazies” and questioning everything you are doing. We’ve all been there. Living in those moments when running away to Mexico and joining the circus seems like a more viable career choice, if you could just figure out how to shoot yourself out of a cannon without inflicting mortal injury.

Have no fear. I introduce to you a twelve step program to recovery for the aspiring writer. Follow all twelve steps and you will successfully overcome the “amicrazies” and find solace in the fact that you are not alone.

Step #1: Acceptance

First and foremost you must accept the fact that indeed you are crazy. You have to be to pursue a career as a writer. It’s how you get your ideas and what drives you to keep plugging along for that $5 token payment for ten hours worth of work.

Step #2: Say it out loud

Visit your local writer’s group and repeat after me “My name is (insert the name of your commonly accepted identity, real or implied, but otherwise held accountable for acts committed to paper). I am Crazy. I love to write and write I must.” Relish in the gratuitous round of applause that undoubtedly will follow.

Step #3: Say hi to caffeine

You’ve found a group who accepts you for the whacko you are. Now it’s time to ingest large amounts of caffeine and affix yourself to your typewriter/computer/stone tablet. There’s no other way.

Step #4: Buddy up

No one can go it alone. I know the stereotype is the loner writer versed in catspeak hidden behind vicariously overflowing bookshelves and discarded bottles of (insert drink of choice here). In reality, the writing community is honest, open, large, and supporting of all aspiring writers. Get in there and start mingling. Whoa, slow down. You’re invading my bubble.

Step #5: Know that it’s a journey, not a destination.

Writing is an ongoing activity. The path to recovery can’t be found overnight. It’s a long road filled with heartache, deleted scenes, occasional bouts of useless sobbing, and maybe even a three city action scene if you are truly feeling industrious.

Step #6: Rough drafts are supposed to be rough; otherwise they’d be called smooth drafts

Genius doesn’t happen the first go round (unless, of course, you’re me—just kidding). It takes several passes to get it down right. It even takes multiple sets of eyes reviewing it multiple times to get it right. One suggestion, use people with eyes inside their head to review your work. Just passing eyes over you paper isn’t very productive, can sometimes be messy, and is illegal in at least three states.

Step #7: Get connected

All the cool kids are doing it. Not enough? Getting connected through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Linkedin lets you stay on top of the latest trends and news in the publishing world. Agents, publicists, magazines, editors, and other authors are actively tweeting, facebooking, and otherwise overwhelming the electronic airwaves with useful information and tips. Plus, if you’re addicted to videos of babies dancing and useless trivia you may find yourself in terminal dependency.

Step #8: Become like Grasshopper

I don’t mean aimlessly jumping in random patterns that repeatedly bring you back underneath the shoe you are trying to avoid. I mean become a student. Read about writing. Read about the business of writing. Attend workshops, get subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, and look for opportunities to advance your knowledge of the industry. If you insist on jumping around, you can do it so long as you’re making your way to the nearest learning opportunity.

Step #9: You must submit!

I don’t mean total domination (although that is my endgame). No, I mean you’re never going to be a published author if you never submit anything! Go ahead, take the plunge. Send that great story to the magazine or agent you’ve been eyeing from across the internet. Just remember to follow their guidelines, be courteous and gracious, and did I mention to follow their guidelines?

Step #10: There are other fish in the sea.

Okay, so you took the plunge and got your heart ripped out, stepped on, thrown in a blender set on mutilate, and doused with lemon juice (graphic, but true). Frame that rejection. Put it up on your wall and scream with fists waving “I’ll show you!” Accept the fact that, just like the blue eyed honey in tenth grade, it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe you both weren’t in the right place. Maybe, deep down, that agent or magazine just didn’t have the right “je ne sais quoi.” Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get back in that saddle (sorry, I AM a Texan).

Step #11: Shake that money maker

Whohoo! After several nights of fist waving and a hundred more submissions you finally found an agent/publisher who sees you for the ass-kicking, wordsmith you are. Shake what your mama gave you and rejoice in the fact that you stuck it out, pursued your dream, and are reaping the rewards of your hard work. Ignore the Bravo inspired outbursts and tantrums that occurred along the way.

Step #12: Share the Love

Now that you have made it through the eleven rings of hell, it’s time to pay it forward. The student must become the master (and the student). Share the heartache, trials, and mistakes you have made with others. Let them know they’re not alone and that if they truly want to pursue a career in writing they must understand that to do so is crazy (see step #1) but damn well worth it!

The Magic Number Theory of Querying

One more post about queries and then, I promise, I'll move on. I stole this from someone and can no longer remember who, but if someone wants to take credit, I'll gladly give it. Any if someone else can state it better, that would be good, too. This is a little long winded.

First, I'm assuming your project is as good as you can make it. It's as good or better than what's on the market and it's ready to be published. I'm also assuming you want to be published by a major house and, to do that, you need an agent. And you're sending out queries and collecting rejections and wondering if you'll EVER reach your goal.

As a querying writer you have your own, individual magic number. You don't know what it is, but it is written in stone somewhere. It's the number of queries you must send out before you land that elusive agent, the one who "falls in love" with your work and then manages to get it sold for you. An agent who can't sell your work, necessitating getting another agent, is a pre-agent, and doesn't count. Only your "real" agent, the one who sells for you. When you send out the query with the magic number on it, you're set, done, reached your goal. (Until you go on to the rest of the stuff, which is just as hard, only different.)

The beauty of this theory is that you can regard each rejection as a step closer to your magic number. Another rejection? Okay, the magic number wasn't 17. A few more? Okay, it wasn't 28, or 52, or 77, or maybe not even 110. Each rejection is PROGRESS. You're getting closer to your magic number.

You may lose patience and try other routes. It may even help to get the big agent and the big publishing house if you publish something with a good small press. (Publishing with a vanity press won't help unless that's your final goal.)

Another writer, Lina Zeldovich, has a similar theory she calls Stairway to Heaven. Every rejection letter builds her stairway and gets her closer.

Either way, don't view rejection letters as marks of failure, but rather as marks of success.

I just hope my magic number isn't ten thousand.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The October Scary Story Event

The October Scary Story Event (OSSE) is a writing contest – of sorts – that the good folks over at The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine put on. This is the second year they have done it.

The OSSE works like this. You write a scary story during the month of October and submit it. The story should be between about 2,000 – 6,000 words and scary. It can be a story you’ve been thinking of writing or it can be a brand new idea, but the most important thing is that you write it this month. No cheating.

Writing with a deadline can be a great motivator, so this is an awesome opportunity to get off your duff and put those fingers to work. You’ve got almost four weeks left, so there’s plenty of time to get it done. And you never know; your story might just be selected.

The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine is a podcast magazine. They pay 1/4 cent a word, up to a maximum of $5. You can find them at

You can find out more about the author of this article at

Proof Social Media Kicks Ass

Here's a brief follow up on the previous social media post.

Publisher's Weekly
recently posted an article by an agent discussing how she uses it to find new talent. The quality of posts and response among the community stimulates interest across the spectrum. Personally, the list of agents, publicists, and published authors on my buddy lists on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Goodreads continue to grow exponentially. It's a tight and active community. Still don't believe me? Read the article for yourself:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Secret of Writing

Every successful author who writes about the art and craft of writing will tell you the secret. If you want to be a writer, you only have to do one thing. You have to write.

I know. It sounds easy. It’s even easier to respond; “I know how to write. What’s next?”

But that’s just it…there is no “What’s next?” That’s all there is. When you start writing, I mean putting your fingers to the keyboard everyday and pumping out 1,000-2,000 words, the rest just comes naturally. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

Maybe you don’t know what to write about. I would make a suggestion. Start with 20-minute writing exercises. Again, I’m not kidding. Start a timer for 20 minutes and turn it on when you start writing.

There are several good books and websites that will give you ideas to write about. A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves and The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron are just two examples. If you can’t afford those (yet), then here are a few ideas to get you started:

- Write about a time at the carnival

- Write about a pet

- Write using “Why does it always have to be about the money?” as the first line of your story.

- Write about your first dental experience (or any dental experience).

- Or just step outside and write about something you see. Or get on a bus. Or eat in a restaurant. Or go to a sports game. Or visit a hospital. Or a church. Or a Nursing Home. You get the idea.

The point is, you don’t need the theme for the next great American novel to start writing. You just need to write. And if you want to get down to it, it’s not a great idea that makes a great story. It’s all the details that an author interweaves to make a good story. The “great idea” is only a catalyst, a backdrop for a story driven by characters and the reader’s love for those characters.

So, what’s the secret to writing. The secret is nothing more than to start putting words down on paper (or typing them into a computer). Being a writer is nothing more than writing. If you’re not actually writing, then you're actually not a writer.

You can find out more about the author of this article at