Thursday, December 30, 2010

My 2011 resolution? 1999 all over again

At the risk of being cliched, I'm writing a New Year's post about my resolution for the upcoming year.

I decided to do this mainly because this past year sucked sooooo badly that it's just a pleasure to see it fade in the rear-view mirror. Seriously. Good riddance, 2010.

This past year saw my confidence reach new lows, while my stress levels hit record highs. This was the year of my hitting the wall, writing-wise. Of finally concluding that only an act of Providence will result in my getting published.

I worked harder on my writing this past year than I ever have, and that's saying something since I was an award-winning journalist (writer and editor) for twenty-five years. I actually read more how-to-write-fiction books this past year than novels for the first time in my life. I study them like I'm aiming for a doctorate.

And yet, even as I worked so hard, I kept reading accounts of how the publishing industry is tanking. Two particularly frightening articles I've read in the past week (I'm not even going to link to them, to spare you the horror) came to the conclusion that the days of a debut author getting a first novel published are over.

I don't know if I buy that argument completely, but I do recognize that things are far different now than only a couple of years ago. And they are getting worse all the time.

I've spent a lot of money lately preparing to take my manuscript to NYC for the Writers Digest conference next month. And yet I sit here wondering if it's money wasted, money we could have used for things far more important than pitching my work to literary agents who likely aren't looking for new clients anyway. Things like food, for instance.

But it's done. I'm going. Too late to back out now.

So after considerable thought, I've decided on my 2011 New Year's resolution:

I'm going to pretend it's not really 2011.

That's right, I'm going to write like it's 1999!

I'm going to operate under the assumption that quality work can still get published the traditional way, despite the growing cacophony of naysayers.

I'm going to pitch that freaking novel like it's yesterday's bath water. I'm going to hand out business cards and network and all that stuff that used to work. Back in the day. Back in 1999.

I'm going to continue to read accounts of how Stephen King and J.K. Rowling got published despite all of their rejections. I'm going to pretend it can happen to me, too.

Call me a dreamer if you will. Call me naive.

And hopefully, before the year is out, you can also call me published!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, all!

I know I've been absent lately. It's been a bit crazy with all the holiday doings and the last-minute push to get the novel rewritten and to my new book editor.

We're in the midst of a major Christmas Eve snowstorm here in central Illinois and I just crashed my car into the boulder at the end of my driveway. Yay. Luckily it didn't do too much damage, although it took me and the three boys more than an hour to get the car up the drive and into the garage.

Now all I need to do is get the wife home from work safely in an hour or so and we can sit down to a big Christmas Eve dinner. It will be the first time the entire family has been together in weeks. It's what I love most about the holidays -- getting all of my kids together under one roof. Even their constant bickering and giggling makes me smile.

Anyway, I thought I would sneak online and wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope that you and yours are safe and happy this holiday weekend. I promise to be around a bit more often as the holidays fade into the rear view mirror.

Feliz Navidad!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Devil is done

I just finished my latest (and final) revision of The Devil You Don't Know and shipped it off to my new book editor.

I rewrote the beginning completely, rewrote most of the middle, and tinkered with the ending until I was mostly satisfied. I'm now convinced I will never be completely satisfied with any book I write. I can accept that.

I added two brand new plot lines. I also found my theme and polished it until it emerged. I cut another five thousand words from the manuscript in the process. It was the latest of several cuts over the past few months.

Five thousand words. Think about that. More than two chapters, gone in five days.

So the book that stood at a whopping 145,000 words when I finished the first draft over a year ago now stands at a relatively svelte 107,000 words.

Now all I have to do is rewrite the query and write a new synopsis. Oh, and wait for the new editor to rip it to shreds.

Once those are done, I think I'm ready to take this baby to New York City.

Then I can get back to my new book, and do it all over again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A quick thought

As we sit here, awaiting the Monster Blizzard that is right this moment heading our way, I thought I would toss out a quick post on what I like most about following my favorite authors on Twitter.

They make typos just like me. Isn't that cool? And sometimes, their spelling is atrocious (wait a minute, did I spell that right?).

So. Anyway, I thought that was cool.

WRITING UPDATE: Well. I've officially gone nuts revising The Devil You Don't Know. My new editor is waiting patiently for the manuscript, while I'm sitting here rewriting the whole damned novel. Again. See, I had a shiny new plot idea, which in turn led to a shiny new plot twist, which in turn led to a shiny new theme that needs to be polished like fine silver.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A little holiday cheer

Oh. My. God.

I love, love, love this video. It manages to combine my favorite Christmas show from my childhood with some decent New Wave from my adolescence, resulting in one hell of a Christmas blast from the past.

Crank this baby and enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A new beginning

Literally. A new beginning.

Today, I rolled up my sleeves and completely rewrote the opening chapter to The Devil You Don't Know, which from now on shall be known as The Novel That Will Not Die.

A few months ago, I rewrote the entire ending. It got better. Much better. I've rewritten the middle so many times that I sometimes read it and don't recognize it as my work. (And I suppose that's not a bad thing.)

But the beginning has remained pretty much the same for three years, with only some minor tinkering here and there.

But that changed after my meeting last week with my second book editor. She, along with a couple of other readers, had commented that I was introducing too many characters all at once. I was, of course, but on purpose. The beginning was a series of short vignettes written as (gasp) a prologue. They set up the novel's premise and provided the inciting incident.

I opened up a new Word file and rewrote a new Chapter One from scratch after sketching it out in a notebook last night. No more prologue. No more character vignettes.

My wife, who has long been a champion of the old beginning, read the new one this evening and admitted she likes it much more than the original. That's a start.

I'm trying to get the book in shape for the Writer's Digest Conference in late January in New York City. I have reserved a spot and purchased my hotel room. All I'm missing is airline tickets. I have until Dec. 15 to change my mind and get nearly all of my money back -- if I chicken out.

I want to go. I want to take my manuscript and wave it under the noses of fifty of the top literary agents and editors in the world. I want to meet Janet Reid and Donald Maass. I really do. I want to hand them a business card, wink casually, and tell them to "call me."

Well, maybe not. But I want a chance to take this baby of mine to Gotham and go balls to the wall. One last shot, perhaps.

And so, I'm back at work on TDYDK. It was tough getting back inside the character's heads after all this time, especially since my new book is so different in tone, setting and voice. But once I did, it was like I'd never left it.

I was writing dialogue for Michael Reed like it was 2008 all over again. Whoo hoo. Who says you can't go back home?

I think I'm challenging myself with this because I've fallen victim myself to the writer's malaise that seems to be sweeping the Internet. From Natalie Whipple to Nathan Bransford, people are in flux. Formerly confident bloggers are opening up and letting the world see their insecurities and fears. Natalie, especially.

As a result, I love her as a writer even more now. She's just like I am!

But all of this soul-searching and insecurity -- for me, at least -- can be debilitating. I am a better writer, hell a better person, when I am moving forward. Like a shark. Because I'm always afraid that if I stop, I'll die.

So onward. Perhaps to New York. Anyone with me?

Friday, December 3, 2010

A clarification

In my previous post, I wrote about my meeting with an independent book editor. I met with her to discuss whether she could help me with The Devil You Don't Know.

During that discussion, we talked about whether the subject matter of my book might make it more difficult to publish. She said that it might, and we talked about ways to get around that potential problem.

A couple of people I've corresponded with seemed to feel the editor was out of bounds by giving me her opinion. She was not. I was the one who brought it up, since I've been worrying about it for some time. She only answered me honestly. And, in fact, we had a fruitful conversation about how to deal with the issue. For that, I'm grateful.

I just wanted to set the record straight. Hey, it's the journalist in me. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An award and an epiphany

A new blog friend of mine, T.C. McKee , gave me an award a couple of days ago. Thank you!

First off, please check out her blog. It's awesome. I'm glad I've found it. And I'm glad I have a new Internet writer friend. One can never have too many, right?

According to T.C., here are the rules for this particular award.

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award.
2. Answer the 10 survey questions.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers( I'm going to pass it on to fewer because, well, I'm lazy).
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked to let them know about the award.

So, here's the questions:

1. If you blog anonymously are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now? I like having my name out there. It's the main reason I started the blog -- to start building a public platform for my fledgling writing career. Ditto for my Facebook and Twitter usage.

2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side: I'm still writing, after all the rejections and slights, etc.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?
A man who is getting a bit tired and worn out, but one who cannot stand the thought of giving up. Oh, and a slight thinning of hair in the front. I really hate that last one.

4. What is your favourite summer cold drink? Lipton's Diet Green Iced Tea. Love it. Could drink it 24-7. Iced coffee would be a close second.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do? Um. I suppose I should keep this one clean. So. I love to read, exercise, listen to music and spend time with my family and friends.

6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it? Of course. I want to be a published author. I want to make a living from my fiction writing. I want to see my name on a book.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching? Class clown, definitely. Still am.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment of your life what would you see? The births of all three of my sons. Incredibly awesome moments that likely will never be repeated. Also, marrying my lovely wife. Best move I ever made.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events? Ha ha. If you read this blog with any regularity, you already know the answer to this one. My life is pretty much an open book, both here on this blog and in real life. We are only as sick as the secrets we have.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?
Read. I hate talking on the phone. I always have. I'm not sure why, since I really like talking to people and interacting. But there's something about a phone ....

Okay, so here are 3 bloggers who totally deserve this award:

Anne Gallagher



And now for my epiphany, if that's what one can call it.

I met with the woman I may or may not hire to edit The Devil You Don't Know on Sunday. She is fairly young and seems to know her stuff very, very well. She scanned my manuscript and told me she doesn't think I need a full blown developmental edit. (She actually told me my writing was very good. Yay!)

But she did say something that worries me, although it's something I've long suspected. She said that the fact my book is about God, good and evil might make it next to impossible to sell. Apparently, people are able to read novels about werewolves and vampires and fairies and stuff, but refuse to read anything that postulates that God might be real, too.

I mean, come one folks. It's fiction. A story.

So. One of her suggestions is that I rewrite the book as more of a "dark comedy," along the lines of Dogma. Apparently, if I make fun of religion, the book is more likely to be published.

The problem is two-fold: The book is probably too mainstream to be Christian and possibly too Christian to be mainstream.


I set out to write a book about what might happen if the Christian Bible turns out to be true, and how that would play out in the secular, profane world we live in today. It's kind of like how Stephen King took Dracula and dropped him into Maine for Salem's Lot.

It's a what-if book. Nothing more, nothing less. It reads more like a modern-day horror story than anything religious. I mean, think about it. If all that stuff is true, we're in for some scary times.

So, I'm not sure how to proceed. She did say that if I don't want to rework it to be more "irreverent," then I should at least figure out a way to sell it so as to not turn off the mostly atheist publishing world.

So, I could be back to square one. In fact, the new book, which has no religion in it but lots of sex and violence, is looking better by the minute.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to post a very brief but very heartfelt "Happy Thanksgiving" to all of my American followers and any visitors out there who might be popping in.

Thank you to all of you, who have patiently listened to my whining and crying on this blog for the past year. I really do love each and every one of you, and I am so very thankful that you are out there.

All of you.

Despite my bouts of doubt (hey, that almost rhymes!), I don't plan on giving up on my fiction career. And I hope you don't, either.

But let's not talk about that on this day. Let's instead watch football and gorge ourselves and enjoy our families and friends. Because that's what Thanksgiving is all about.

So. Go, enjoy. Diet tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One year later

My blog turns one year old today, and I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you a couple of things I've learned about blogging and my writing during the past year.

Warning: I wish this could be more optimistic. But it's not. I've been in a rather foul mood of late, and it's going to show in this blog. (Too much real life, I guess.)

Read no further if you are looking for warm and cuddly.

Oh. Still with me? Okay. Your call. But consider yourself warned. Here we go. I have learned that:

1. I am not a very good blogger. For whatever reason, I can't seem to generate many page hits or comments. And try as I may, I cannot top 100 followers. Now I don't equate blog followers and commenters with my own personal worth as a human being or a fiction writer. No. Nor did I aspire to become a top-notch blogger. I wanted to become a published author. That was the whole point. But the blog was fun, until it wasn't. You know? So. I've been running out of steam this last couple of months. When I started the blog, I wasn't actively writing, but was instead messing with my query while waiting for an editor to finish with my first ms, The Devil You Don't Know.

I had more time to write blog posts, read other blogs and leave comments. It was fun, and I had the time to kill. But when I started writing my second book in earnest, I started to slack off when it came to writing posts. That's when my hits dropped, many of my early followers drifted away, and I started to lose interest.

I'm not quitting blogging. Not yet, anyway. But I no longer expect to be the Nathan Bransford of aspiring writers. If I can connect with you, great. If not, sorry. I am going to devote more of my time to my writing, which leads me to my second item.

2. I am no longer confident that I will ever become published. That kind of sucks, doesn't it? It just doesn't seem like it's in the cards, as hard as that is for me to swallow. I'm thrilled for those of you getting agent attention. Really, truly and honestly. But I'm not getting any agent attention. Period. And as thrilled as I am for you, I am equally as worried about my own future.

I don't really know where to go from here. I am meeting with yet another professional book editor right after Thanksgiving, in the hopes that she can do or say something, anything, that can help me generate some interest in my book. But I'm not holding out much hope, frankly.

And that sucks.

I'm still hammering away on my next book, but I'm not sure my heart is in it. I hope it is. I think it is. I'm just not sure.

It's been an eye-opening experience. I honestly thought I had the talent to pull this off. I may yet, but I'm no longer holding my breath.

In the meantime, I AM continuing to write. I will try to get to as many of your blogs as I can, and will comment as often as possible. I promise. I have made some awesome friends here, and I would hate to see that end after only a year.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer here. I'm just not feeling too great about my writing future these days, and it's become damn near impossible to keep it out of my posts. I promised you guys honesty when I started this blog, and I have kept my promise.

For better or worse, this is how I feel today. Tomorrow? Well, that's another day, now isn't it?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A tale of two scenes

My 20-year-old son, Zach, is not a person who reads a lot for pleasure. He's very intelligent, but in a spacial way. He wants to be a film editor. Or an engineer. Something spacial. Visual.

But he asked to read the opening of my novel-in-progress, Empty Spaces, the other night. The book, you might remember, opens with a harrowing school shooting -- the inciting incident that fuels the entire novel.

I was rather proud of my opening scene, which I have posted here on this blog previously.

So he read it and when he was done, he turned to me and said: "Hmmm. I think you could do it better."

Say what?

My initial reaction was the usual. What do you know? You're just a kid, and you don't even read much. Give me a break. But I didn't say it. Instead, I was curious. I mean, I've learned over the years that sometimes, something really good comes from some rather surprising places.

So I listened. And listened. He talked about how I was "telling it, not showing it." Remember, this is a kid who knows next to nothing about writing fiction. He asked me my favorite scene ever in a movie.

I thought for a while and said, "The scene in the Godfather where Michael gets the gun from behind the old-fashioned toilet stall and goes out and shoots the gangster and a police captain."

"Right," he said. "That's my favorite, too. Think about how the filmmaker did that, how he used the tension and sounds and camera angles to jack up the tension without saying a word."

So I thought about it. And we talked about it. For more than an hour. And when I went to bed that night, I promised him I would re-work the opening scene the next morning, using his suggestions.

I didn't have much hope that it would be better. After all, I'm the writer here, the expert.

But I got up, poured me a cup of Starbucks (it was an off day from the gym) and went to work. I opened up a new Word file and, without reading the original, re-imagined the scene from scratch. I wanted to show it as though we were looking at it, feeling it, hearing it, smelling it. I wanted the tension to come organically, and not just through my words.

What follows is the original opening scene, followed by the re-imagined one. You be the judge. And remember that the scene shows an anonymous kid preparing to shoot up his junior college. The scene really sets up the entire novel.

Original scene:

The boy dropped his backpack onto the floor just outside the stall closest to the window and plucked the Heckler-Koch G36 mini assault rifle from its hiding place between his American history book and a pair of balled-up sweatpants. The gun was wrapped in a pair of socks—the good black ones his mother had bought him last Christmas.

He’d done his homework. The weapon was assembled in less than ten seconds, since the G36 simply snaps together using its handy little cross-pins—typically effective German engineering, his father would’ve said. The boy had bought it three days earlier from some jive-talking dope dealer whose hands shook so much he could barely pocket the cash. It had been no problem coming up with the money. He’d simply withdrawn it from his savings account at the First Bank of Exeter—money he’d earned over the summer working in his father’s law office. He’d been little more than a glorified delivery boy, of course, but it had made the Old Man happy to have his kid hanging around. And he paid well.

Once the weapon was together, he rummaged in the backpack until he found the three ammo clips, pulled them out and slammed one home. He no longer felt the need to hurry. If someone came in now, he’d just start here. He stood, shouldered the backpack, tucked the remaining clips into the waistband of his jeans and wiped his sweaty hair from his eyes. He could feel his heart pounding in his temples. He felt more alive than he had ever felt in his life.

He looked at himself briefly in the big mirror. A wild-eyed stranger stared back at him. Averting his eyes, he walked out of the bathroom and into the crowded, noisy hallway.

Here's the new scene:

He shrugged out of the black canvas backpack and let it drop. It smacked the floor, sending up a fine spray of gritty dust. He bent down and grimaced. An unmistakable odor seeped in under the closed stall door—sweet urinal cakes, stale piss, icy disinfectant. The candy scent of cheap liquid hand soap.

Jesus. Was there a place on earth more fucking disgusting than a school bathroom?

He tore at the backpack’s zipper, which hesitated only a second before giving way. Zzzzip. Hands plunged inside, rummaged about. His brain took note of what he felt. A notebook. A flannel shirt, rolled into a ball. An iPod. Cell phone. Earbuds. A sneaker. His father’s ice pick. Just in case. Dad wouldn’t need it.

His hand grasped something cold—solid. He grunted, pulled it out.

An American History textbook. He pegged it at the door. Blam.

Growing frantic, he dug deeper, tossing the contents aside.

Yes. He grasped cold metal with trembling hands. The receiver housing of the Heckler-Koch G36 mini assault rifle, as black as midnight. It paid to know the right people. He knew the right people.

He placed the housing on the toilet’s porcelain tank top and went back to work. Three more pieces remained hidden within the bag: The return mechanism, the bolt carrier group, and the trigger group. He’d disassembled the still-warm weapon before leaving home. The last thing he needed was a fucking rifle barrel poking out of his pack. That would draw some looks, some questions.

Not good. Not yet.

His fingers closed on the trigger group when the bathroom door burst open. Laughter echoed off the cold tile walls. He froze—greasy hair in his eyes, slender hands still in the bag—and peered out through a sliver of daylight between the stall door and the cubicle wall. Two kids stood side-by-side at the row of urinals on the facing wall, pissing and chattering.


He reached down in slow motion, his fingers tightening on the ice pick’s handle. He’d kill them if necessary. Silently, so as to not raise an early alarm.

They finished, zipped, and even washed their hands. The door closed with a bang. The bathroom fell silent. He went back to work, quicker now. Class would be starting any second. He found the pieces, snapped them together using the handy cross-pins. Typically effective German engineering, his father would have said.

He plucked three ammo clips from the bag and slammed one home. He jammed the other two into the waistband of his jeans. Finished, he hefted the rifle, opened the stall door and stepped out. He relaxed. If anyone came in now, he’d just start here. No problems.

He turned, dragged the backpack out of the stall with the toe of his sneaker and kicked it as hard as he could. It slid across the tile floor until it slammed into the far wall, next to the clanking steam radiator under the big frosted windows. It would sit there unnoticed for twenty-nine minutes, until a handsome young police officer found it with a victorious cry.

On his way out, he glanced into the grimy mirror above the sinks. A scrawny, dark-haired kid carrying a nasty black assault rifle looked back. He grinned, gave himself the thumbs up. He felt more alive at that moment than at any time in his eighteen years.

It was straight-up 8 o’clock on a Monday morning.

Well? I don't know about you, but I think the kid was right.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Yes, I've been absent. Again.

Yes, I have a dear friend waiting patiently for me to read her book (I am. It's good. I WILL finish it soon. Promise.)

But. I have been sick. Like a damned dog. And the wife, too. She had bronchitis and did a five-day run of antibiotics -- the kick-butt kind. Luckily, the roller derby league is on a mini-hiatus for the holidays, so she's not missing much.

Me? I don't do doctors, unless I'm dying. So I'm waiting it out. And waiting.

Oddly enough, I have been working on the new book. I knocked out a couple thousand words this past week -- not much, sure, but not bad considering. I know it's a rough draft and I know that I seem to have difficulty painting characters in depth (according to response to TDYDK), so I'm focusing on that. I will likely have to go back and fill in some depth once the actual rough draft is finished.

Sigh. I'm done for tonight. I hope to blog more very soon. Surely this can't last forever. Right?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yeah, but is it love?

Work is progressing nicely on my second novel, Empty Spaces. (The photo at left is how I imagine my character, Annie DeWitt, as looking.)

While the book is going well, it occurred to me today that I don't obsess over this one like I did The Devil You Don't Know. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

When I was writing TDYDK, it was ALL I ever thought about. At the gym, while working out or sitting in the steam room, I was constantly working out knotty plot issues and just generally worrying about the book. While I had several outlines for the first one, it was always changing because I spent so much time rolling the plot around in my brain.

It about drove me insane, to be honest with you.

Conversely, Empty Spaces is moving along at a nice pace -- without all the obsessing. To be honest, I kind of miss all that internal drama. I wonder if it's partly due to the fact that I know far more about fiction writing now? I mean, when I wrote the first one, I was struggling to just tell the damned story. I was always reaching deep to capture a particular scene or theme. After just a few hours at the keyboard, I was exhausted both mentally and emotionally.

Not so on this one. I write my scenes for the day, read it over and shut it down. Sometimes, I even whistle while I work.

This is not normal for me.

I LOVED my first story. It was personal. It was a story I had wanted to write for more than 25 years. It explores some very deep and deeply personal aspects of my life. It hurt to write.

This one is just plain a great story. Nothing more, nothing less. I like my characters, but I don't daydream about them like I did the first one. I honestly think this book has more intricate characters than the first one. It's certainly better written and better plotted (mainly since I know what I'm doing these days).

So why don't I love it? Is our first book like our first love, in that nothing after it ever feels quite the same? Or maybe I'm actually becoming a fiction writer and not just someone who is wrenching out his heart at the keyboard.

No matter the answer, this one feels good to write. Not painful. Not exhausting. Pleasurable.

Is that a problem?

I'm curious to hear from people working on second or third books. How did the experience differ from that first one? Can my book be great even if I don't daydream about it all the time?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Like a swarm of fireflies, we are

In my last post, I wrote about how to keep on keepin' on after the thrill is gone. You know, once the romance of actually writing that first novel wears thin and the reality of trying to get it published begins crushing your already fragile ego -- bit by bit, day by day.

It appears that at some point, this point perhaps, many of us seriously consider giving up.

This malady seems to be making the rounds on the Internet like the flu these days. Based on the comments here, the e-mails I've received and reading other writer's blogs, it appears many writers I know online are suffering from it. Perhaps even most of them. It's a head scratcher, that's for sure.

Then it came to me. I remembered sitting outside in early June of this year smoking a cigar (bad habit, sure, but delightfully satisfying all the same. So, shoot me ...) and commenting to my wife about the swarms of sparkling fireflies. We watched them for an hour or so, awed by their ethereal beauty. You know, until the cigar smoke chased them all away. Hey, it works on mosquitoes, too!

A few weeks later, as we again sat on our back deck, I noticed one lone firefly flitting about the back yard. It seemed lost, confused. I swear it was swerving a bit, flying erratically. In it's death throes, I remember thinking. Poor thing.

"They don't last long, do they?" I said to the wife.

"Unfortunately, they don't," she said. "But there will be more next year to take their place."

And that, I believe, is what is happening to so many of us wanna-be writers online these days.

When I started this blog a year ago this month, many of my early blog friends were writers situated about where I was in my journey toward publication -- either they were still writing their first novel or had already finished it but had only just begun querying.

It was a heady time, full of optimism and glee. Well, okay, maybe not. But you get the picture.

We posted our raw queries and let our friends gently help us polish them. We posted snippets of our work and enjoyed the "oohs" and "awwws" of our blog mates. We steadfastly wrote of our dreams and our desires. We talked of our dream agents. We listed the music we listen to when we write. When things got tough, like they always do, we held each other up. Sometimes, we sent each other lengthy e-mails, pouring out our hearts to our kindred writing spirits.

And then, slowly, they started to disappear. One by one, like those late spring fireflies, they've gone away. What was once a swarm of eager new writers was soon a handful of grouchy, slightly depressed burnouts who blog every so often and even then, mostly just snarl at the world. Sort of like rattling the cage just to let everyone know they are still alive.

Like me, for instance.

Oh sure, new friends have come along. Friends in different spots in their writing careers, some of them still full of optimism and joy. Others seem immune to the pain and just keep on going, despite the rejections and the questions from family and friends: "How's your book? Still writing it?"

Even those questions start to wither and die out, don't they? After a while, it seems, everyone just loses faith.

And it's here, dear friends, that I believe published writers are made. Right here. Right now.

I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a blog like this is just a little under a year. I would wager that's about the lifespan of a writer's career once he or she has started querying with little or no success.

It's just too damned hard to keep writing and getting rejected, isn't it?

Yes. It is. But I believe in my heart that it's the few who continue on, past this point, who finally taste success.

When I was younger, I remember going out to my tool shed in the darkest days of winter and finding, of all things, a living firefly crawling along my desktop. The shed was slightly heated and the bug had somehow hung on and lived through the coldest months of the year. It didn't seem possible, and yet there it was.

I remember being stunned, and so moved by its unexpected presence that I nearly burst into tears.

If that little bug was a writer, he would have had a three-book deal with Random House.

Friday, October 29, 2010

When the thrill is gone

I haven't been in a good place lately.

No, I don't mean that I've been lurking in back alleyways or sinister bars. I'm talking more metaphorically. As we used to say back in the day, my head is in a bad place.

How so, you ask? Well. My personal life has been a bit, um, precarious the past couple of weeks. Kids and leaking roofs and bitter disappointments. Rinse and repeat. If there truly is a God, then He's been piling on of late.

But perhaps the biggest concern, for me anyway, is my recent reluctance to write. Be it this blog or my new book, I have been avoiding the keyboard like the plague. It's not even a reluctance, actually. More of an intense YAWN. Like, who the frick even cares?

Being an inquisitive little bugger, I've spent several days researching my dilemma and I believe I've stumbled upon the answer.

I am, in a word, paralyzed. (See? I'm a genius, aren't I?)

There's a reason for my nascent malaise, I believe. I suspect (or at least, I hope) some of you can relate. See, I spent so much time earnestly working on The Devil You Don't Know, naively believing that I would write my masterpiece and then, somehow, just get it published!

I mean, duh. Why would I not want to publish it? So, having no clue as to what I was doing, I rolled up my sleeves (as best I could, since I tend to write in tee-shirts) and wrote my book. Only after the two years it took me to write it did I learn enough of my craft to realize that it's JUST NOT THAT EASY.

While I'm not ready to say just yet that TDYDK will never be published, I admit I'm not as confident as I once was.

And now, I've sat down and started writing book two, Empty Spaces. It's a really awesome book, if I may say so myself. Really, really good. I've done my homework. It has pacing, snappy relevant dialogue, a smart plot and enough tension to string it between two electrical poles.

So what, you ask, is my problem?

To be honest, I sit and allow myself to look forward to another year or two of incredibly hard work, only to find myself right here again.

Look, I am a writer. I must write. Or die. It's that simple. But like most of us, I secretly want to succeed at it, to have others read it. To have an agent and ultimately a publisher love it as much as I do.

I want to -- let's be honest here -- make money at this thing called fiction writing.

I would give anything to go back in time, to that point when all I did was sit down and write, without worrying about all the crap that was to come.

So tell me, how do you soldier on when the thrill is gone?

ROLLER DERBY UPDATE: For those who care, my beloved Hard Knocks lost 134-109 Saturday night. It was a great bout and a tremendous success. The place was sold out, alternative rock and roll blared and the media was all over it. Very cool. And the wife took a teeth-jarring hit and bounced right up, although one girl on the other team was knocked unconscious for a few seconds.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's bout time!

So, this week has been crazy busy with extreme family things (sigh) and roller derby mania. Consequently, I wasn't able to get nearly enough writing done.

I shall do better next week. I hope.

But. Peoria's debut roller derby exhibition bout is tomorrow and things are getting crazy for the ladies and those of us helping behind the scenes. In fact, I'm leaving in a few minutes to help move the floor to the East Peoria Convention Center, where we will then assemble and lay it. Yikes. By floor, I mean several hundred tiles of rubber-like material that will need to be laid and positioned just so. Then, we can stripe the floor and start setting up seats and everything tomorrow.

I'm also getting a bit nervous, mainly for my wife, the lovely Genghis Mom (seen at left in her new publicity shot for our team, the Hard Knocks). We've had several injuries in scrimmages the past few weeks and I worry about her. That said, I have to confess that I am utterly in awe of these women. Never have I seen athletes work as hard as they do (and I played a lot of sports in my younger days). We had several in Tuesday's scrimmage hit so hard they vomited.

A bit gross, but damned impressive. These ladies rock.

Oh, and the bout has sold out! That means countless folks will be on hand to watch tomorrow and we all feel the pressure. This bout will determine the sport's future in our city. So, we need to put a quality product out there to entertain the crowd.

I'm confident they will do it. As bench coach, I'm also a little worried about my performance. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the sport. It was relatively easy at practice. I suspect it will be far more difficult in front of hundreds of people (and possibly more).

I'll post the results of the bout between the Hard Knocks and the hated Polka Bots on Sunday. Then I promise to get back to more writerly posts for the foreseeable future.

Wish us luck. Until Sunday ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday -- TDYDK

Last week, I used a selection from my work in progress, Empty Spaces, for Teaser Tuesday. Today, I'd like to reach into the vault and use a vignette from the first third of The Devil You Don't Know.

There's a lot going on in this scene, much of which the reader won't yet understand. But the young soldier and whether he is what he claims to be plays a large role in the developing plot.

Perry Dorian is a famous televangelist with more than a passing resemblance to the late Jerry Falwell. Dorian's assistant, Jim Shapiro, lurks in the background of this and all of the scenes in which he appears. Hey, you think maybe there's a reason for that? ;)


* * * *

On Friday mornings, as it did each week, Freedom University’s sleepy campus awoke with a start. Three large network trucks, each its own little control facility, lined the shady street outside the Stephen A. Dorian Auditorium as the studio audience began arriving for the Hour of Freedom’s weekly filming.

Backstage, Perry Dorian scanned his script while a pretty young attendant blow dried his hair and another applied pancake makeup. Jim Shapiro, his personal assistant and the show’s director, knocked briskly on the dressing room door and entered.

“The young man we discussed earlier will be sitting in the front row,” Shapiro said, consulting his clipboard. “The storyline is that he was wounded recently in Iran and he’s in a wheelchair. The doctors at Walter Reed have told him he will probably never walk again.”

“That’s too bad,” Perry said, shutting his eyes as the attendant sprayed his hair.

“Yeah, well, his parents slipped me a note. They want you to bless him on the show.”

This wasn’t an unusual request. Each week, members of the audience came forward and allowed Perry to place his hands on them as he prayed. It was a moving and integral part of the broadcast.

“Be sure he’s in the front and out of the way of the cameras and cables,” Perry said, winking at the attendant as he admired himself in the mirror. “The last thing we need is some war hero toppling over in his wheelchair in front of the cameras. Okay?”

Shapiro nodded and hurried off. Perry again went over his script, mouthing the words and practicing the gestures he would use at the appropriate times during his monologue—eyes rolling upward, head tilting toward Heaven, arms raised. It was pure theater, and Perry was among its finest practitioners.

Today’s show focused on the miracles Christ performed along the road to Jerusalem on what would become known as Palm Sunday. Perry wanted to illustrate how Jesus, aware he was heading to his own death, unselfishly stopped to heal the sick and maimed lining the road into the Holy City.

The show went as scripted. As it wound down, Perry found himself standing at the lip of the stage, exultant in prayer as organ music swelled in the background. A dozen or so people rose from the audience and came forward, some limping or handicapped in one way or another. Among them was a very young man in uniform, being pushed in a wheelchair by his parents.

Perry had done this every Friday for years and while he always felt a degree of sympathy for those who sought his blessings during prayer time, he never looked them in the eye. Human hearts can only hold so much sorrow, he reasoned. Therefore, he thought it best to just do his job and avoid eye contact.

As Perry moved to his left down the stage, he came to the boy in the wheelchair. For reasons he would never fully understand, he looked down and straight into the eyes of the young man. Perry’s heart immediately ached for the boy, who in his infinite sadness reminded Perry of Stephen, his own son. Stephen had died tragically some years before, died before Perry could help him. Died before anyone could help him. Died alone, young and confused.

Only one other time in his life had Perry felt the power deep within his very soul. Now, he could feel the power pour from his aching heart and shoot to his fingertips. Leaning down, Perry gripped the blond head of the young soldier with his powerful hands and prayed mightily, eyes squeezed shut.

“Gawd-uh, heal this boy! Heal him at this moment!” he bellowed. Offstage, Jim Shapiro dropped his clipboard and made a violent slashing motion across his throat.

“Cut!” he yelled into his mouthpiece to the main control truck. “Right now, goddamn it!”

“Give me a second!” a voice in his headphones screamed back as technicians scrambled to cut off the taping process. The guys in the truck knew what Shapiro was doing. The last thing they needed was an unfulfilled miracle onstage. That would, of course, be bad for ratings and book sales. Very bad.

Onstage, Perry remained frozen above the wheelchair-bound soldier, his eyes closed and his face purple, contorted. The crowd was silent except for a few whispered prayers floating toward the rafters.

And then, slowly at first, the boy began to rise from his wheelchair.

“Gawd-uh, I beseech you! Heal this boy!” Perry shouted.

“Hold on a second,” Shapiro whispered into his mouthpiece. “Keep rolling.”

A murmur began in the crowd and grew to a roar. The boy stood up, swaying slightly, a look of shock and pure joy on his young face. His mother screamed and began to cry as she stroked her son’s hair. His father clutched his Bible and prayed aloud.

“Thank you, Heavenly Father,” Perry whispered, dramatically removing his hands from the boy’s head and stepping back with the grace of a bullfighter. The crowd, now standing and praying, broke into riotous applause. Perry blinked in the bright studio lights, smiled wanly and abruptly bolted offstage.

Shapiro caught up with him in the bathroom adjacent to the main dressing room. Perry was seated fully clothed on the toilet seat, his handsome face pale and sweating.

“You all right?” Shapiro asked, peering in at his boss. “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

“I’m not really sure, Jim,” Perry said, shaking his head. “I guess the spirit just moved me.”

“Well, whatever in the hell it was,” Shapiro said, grinning. “Be sure you do it again next week.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Derby, writing and a new nickname

I know I've been AWOL lately, but it's been for a couple of good reasons.

See, our roller derby league's first exhibition bout is this coming Saturday. As bench coach of the Hard Knocks, we're busy getting ready to kick some Polka Bot ass. And that, my friends, has been fairly time consuming.

[The photo at left is my lovely wife, Jennifer, aka Genghis Mom of the fabulous Hard Knocks, doing what she does best.]

We had practice and team photos tonight and have a full-blown scrimmage with more photos tomorrow night. Then we start getting ready for the bout. Surprisingly (or not), we've nearly sold out the East Peoria Convention Center! Wow. It's going to be so very cool.

And, I'm pleased to announce, I have my new derby name! Yes, even us men have to come up with a weird name. Mine is (drum roll ...) Rusty Razor! It's appropriate, since I only shave a couple of times a months when I'm writing. (It's a weird superstition thing. Don't ask.)

On top of all that, I'm back hard at work on the new WIP, Empty Spaces. I did some major rewriting today and I'm ready to start moving the story forward again after a few weeks of spotty work. It feels good to be working again.

I'm also still hard at work querying for The Devil You Don't Know. I've heard nothing from any agents since my partial rejection last week, but I'm holding out hope. Of course, I still have about 200 agents yet to query, so this baby ain't over yet.

I just wanted to check in with everyone. How's your lives and writing coming along these days?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hope conquers all

Well, it happened. It was bound to, of course. I received a thumbs down on my partial. My smart phone buzzed at 11:40 last night and, figuring it was junk mail, I impulsively checked it while watching Craig Ferguson's monologue.

Hi Terry,

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to look at this.

I don't think I'm the right agent for this project -- you're a fine writer, but my interest wasn't maintained for the length of the partial, and as a result, I didn't find myself invested enough in the lives of your characters to continue reading.

Considering the subjective nature of the business, I encourage you to query widely and I hope that you will find someone who thinks differently. Best of luck in your search for representation.



Ouch. This was no rejection of my query or even the first few pages. This was a rejection of the very foundation of my story. The idea. The plot. The characters. The work itself.

I'll be honest about my reaction, lying there in bed with my wife snoozing next to me: I was relieved. Numb but relieved. I don't know why, except maybe that knowing the answer -- to me, anyway -- is far better than waiting.

This morning, after sleeping surprisingly well, I experienced the more typical reactions: Anger, sadness, pity.

But not once did I consider giving up. For some reason, this has made me even more committed to getting TDYDK published. The agent was right, of course. This is a very subjective business. Hell, I needn't look beyond my wife to know that. We are very much alike, in many ways. And our reading tastes do overlap. But there are authors and books she loves that I loathe, and vice-versa. I couldn't tell you why. It's just so.

Sometimes, a story touches us because of something that happened in our lives. We can relate in a very subjective kind of way. Sometimes, the writing just clicks with us, and we're willing to follow the author anywhere. Who knows?

I'm convinced the perfect agent is out there somewhere right now, sipping coffee and reading queries and just waiting for my book. I really do believe this.

I think part of the reason I'm taking this so well (other than I know that rejections are the norm in this business, unfortunately) is that I was under no illusions. While some accuse me of negativity, I prefer to see myself as realistic. I expect rejection, and when it comes, I soldier on. No big deal.

Part of this comes from my recovery. I was taught long ago to "play the tape all the way through." That means that when I'm holding something shiny in my hands, whether it's a drink or a sent-out partial, I need to think things through. All the way through. If I allow my brain to caress it and want it bad enough, it's Katy bar the door.

So on the rare occasions when I think of a drink, I make myself see the entire process through -- until I see myself waking up the next morning hung over and wishing I was dead. It's a surprisingly effective way to avoid doing something stupid, I've found.

Same with querying. If I see myself at some point down the road, published and rich, I am setting myself up for misery. When the inevitable "no" comes, it can be devastating. But if I see myself getting rejected and then working even harder to succeed, well, it takes away the sting.

So, I am rolling up my sleeves and querying more. And I'm going to work on my new book, which I'm convinced will be better than the first (as they often are). If I don't get this one published, perhaps I'll get the next one there.

Hope, it turns out, is frighteningly persistent. And so am I.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaser Tuesday -- Empty Spaces

Since I've been unable to write much on Empty Spaces lately, due mainly to my anxiety at having my first partial out, I figured I would start a new weekly series, Teaser Tuesday.

It's my hope that once I get either a thumbs up or a thumbs down on the partial, I can relax and get back to my WIP. I decided to go with this particular weekly feature because it's commonplace among writer blogs, and it's relatively easy.

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that my blog, A Writer of Wrongs, was a featured blog on The Written Connection, a new directory of writer blogs assembled by A.M. Kuska. It can be found here

My blog was rated 7 out of 10, and I received relatively poor marks for my lack of responding to comments and dearth of writing tips. I hereby pledge to do better on responding to comments, but I'm holding the line at offering advice, since I honestly don't feel I'm far enough on my journey to publication to be posting any writing tips.

I was interviewed for the feature, although I'm afraid I came off sounding like a doofus. (Interesting sidenote: I was just talking to a friend on the phone and asked him how to spell doofus. "Are you blogging?" he asked. Sigh. He knows me all to well.)

Now, on to my teaser for this week. It's a selection from Chapter 3, right after 17-year-old Annie DeWitt's suicide attempt. College teacher Grant Bachman, who survived a horrific school shooting along with Annie, arrives at the hospital and, upon learning the girl has no parents, takes her home. It sets up pretty much everything, plotwise. Enjoy:

* * * *

By 9:30 that Tuesday morning, the concentration of vodka and valium in her blood had decreased enough so that she could be released. The emergency room doctor, a young man with a fresh haircut who wore sandals with his khakis, spoke to Grant in the hallway as a nurse helped Annie get dressed.

“She hasn’t been very helpful in terms of how this happened,” he said. “She’s unwilling to tell us where her parents are. They don’t answer their house phone.”

Grant shrugged. “I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. I really don’t know her well. She’s a student of mine, but classes just started a couple of weeks ago.”

The doctor nodded. “I realize that, Mr. Bachman. You seem like a nice guy, so I’m willing to release her into your custody. Take her home and make sure someone keeps a close eye on her. She’s been through a lot and, while I can’t prove it, I suspect her accident last night might not have been so accidental.”

The doctor placed his hand on Grant’s shoulder. “I would strongly encourage you both to get counseling. No one goes through what you two did and comes out of it unscathed. I can recommend someone if you’d like.”

“Thank you,” Grant said, smiling. “That would be nice.”

“And you’ll speak to her parents?” the doctor asked as he scribbled a name on a sheet of paper and handed it to Grant.

“Yes,” Grant said, sliding the paper into his jeans pocket. “I will.”

* * * *

An hour later, they pulled up in front of a ramshackle Cape Cod on West Avenue F. The front yard looked like it hadn’t been mowed in weeks and ivy creepers covered one of the two front windows. He killed the engine and looked at Annie, who slumped in the passenger seat looking pale and ill.

“You’re home,” he said, aiming for cheerful and missing badly. “Let’s find your parents and get you to bed.”

“Parents,” she repeated, gazing at her home. “That might be a problem.”


She turned to him and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “I don’t have any fucking parents. Not anymore.”

“You don’t?”

“The sperm donor left when I was a baby and my mom took off with some skanky meth addict a few weeks ago.” The girl blinked back tears, and Grant again fought the urge to take her into his arms. She sniffed and continued, “Mom likes to get wasted, and sometimes she just leaves. You know? Usually, she comes back in a few days. But not this time.”

“Crap,” Grant muttered, running his hand through his hair. He’d texted Lindsay to tell her he was taking the girl home, but by now she was at her part-time library job and the girls were at daycare. He’d been looking forward to a nice, long nap and then maybe a Red Sox game on television—anything to take his mind off of the past twenty-four hours.

“Look, Mr. Bachman—”

“Grant,” he said. “Call me Grant. Please.”

“Whatever. Grant. Just let me go in. I’ll be fine. I’m used to it.”

He shook his head. “I can’t just leave you here. You’ll have to come back to my house, until we find your mom.”

“I’m not a fucking kid,” Annie said, opening the car door. “I can take care of myself.”

Grant jumped out of the car and caught her just as she was sticking her key into the front door lock. He spun her around, harder than he had meant to, and held her by the shoulders.

“Look, Annie, you just tried to kill yourself. There’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here alone.”

“It was an accident,” she said, her lower lip quivering. “And you’re hurting me.”

“Sorry.” He let her go.

She smiled up at him. “Why don’t you come in and watch TV while I take a nap, if that makes you feel better? We don’t have air conditioning, but I think the cable is still working, unless the fuckers shut it off again.”

He hesitated. This was not a good idea. But leaving the girl alone was an even worse idea. And really, what else did he have to do today?

“Okay,” he said, “as long as you promise to talk to me about your situation when you feel better.”

She beamed. “It’s a deal, Grant.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The art of pinging

It's kind of funny when I think about it. I mean, I've spent the last few months agonizing over whether any agent would be interested in my work. When I started querying, I watched with envy as other writer friends got requests for partials and fulls.

And me? Nothing. Zip. Form rejections. I felt like a complete failure, as though I would never even get to the starting blocks, let alone into the race.

We have a saying in my family for folks who start obsessing about something that hasn't happened yet. We say they are "pinging." It's somehow related to sonar pings in submarines -- where you blast your sonar outward and then listen for the incoming pings to see what's out there. Well, I was pinging big-time about my querying. Twenty-one queries and 15 form rejections and six no answers by last week.

Ping. Ping. Ping.

Now I know, that's not a lot of queries. And frankly, the reason I sent out so few was because a.) I was using the rejections to keep polishing my query letter, since I didn't want to blanket every agent out there with my query and then find out it sucks. And b.) I'm a coward.

Then, last week, I was blindsided by an agent who actually wrote me a personal e-mail and said he/she was intrigued by my query and first ten pages and asked for the first fifty.

Whoa. This was new.

Of course, I was thrilled. Elated. My ping had come back and, yes, there was something out there. Yay.

So what, you ask, is my problem now?

Well, now I'm pinging over whether the agent will ask for a full. I mean, it's been like five whole days and I've heard nothing.


Ping. Ping. Ping.

Now please realize that I'm aiming for humor here, and I'm not really as neurotic as I come off in this blog (as far as you know). But it's funny how, once I take a step forward in my writing career, I find I have yet another horrifying thing to worry about.

And if that request for a full comes, I'll worry myself sick wondering if he/she will offer representation. And then, of course, I'll worry about whether he/she can sell the damned thing. And then, I'll worry about whether readers will buy it.

And then ....


So. What do YOU ping about?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I've learned

In 2007, when I decided to pursue fiction writing full time, I was crazy confident that I would succeed. It's been my life's dream forever. Publishing novels has always been something I knew I would do, and do well.

All of my life, I've been a confident person -- and yes, I can hear all of you out there laughing right now, given the content of most of my blog posts during the nearly one year of this blog's existence. But it's true. In real life, I come across as so confident that some (okay, many) have perceived me as arrogant.

I'm not arrogant. Really. But I usually feel pretty good about my abilities and, I believe, my track record backs me up on that. It's funny, but I've always managed to succeed at whatever I've tried in life, with only a few exceptions. Now success is a relative thing, of course, and my idea of success might be different than yours. But nonetheless, if I set my heart on something and really try at it, I usually assume I will succeed at some point.

Ah, but this writing thing has proven to be the mother of all exceptions. So far, I would hasten to add. So far.

My nearly three years in the fiction trenches -- first brainstorming, then writing, then editing, then revising umpteen times and then, finally, querying my first novel -- has been an eye-opening experience for me.

During all of this, I've learned two very important things about myself that I only tangentially knew before.

1. I am impatient as hell.

2. I have a very nasty little voice inside my head that hates everything about me.

Let's look at impatient first. To be really honest, I guess I've always been impatient, it's just that spending all those years in a newspaper newsroom -- where everything happens RIGHT NOW -- apparently allowed this particular character flaw to remain hidden for years.

But this ... this writing thing has brought it out for the world to see. I mean, big time crazy as hell impatient.

I'm working on it.

Example: I have one of those electric toothbrushes that vibrates after two minutes. I mean, that's a good thing, right? It keeps me brushing for the entire two-minute span. No problems. Dental hygiene is a good thing.

Ha. I swear to God, by the time the damned thing vibrates, at least a fricking month has elapsed! The more neurotic I get (and it's getting worse as the writing career goes on), the more I want to throw the toothbrush through the bathroom wall. I mean, the damned thing must be BROKEN. It has to be set to ten minutes. Sheesh.


Oh. Did you know that if you push the REFRESH button on Gmail enough times, the whole damned Internet freezes? No? Well, it does. Trust me.

Television commercials. I mean, when did they expand to ten minutes? And my coffee pot now takes approximately a week to make twelve cups.


And that hideous little voice? Where in the hell did THAT come from?

You know the one, don't you? No? Then consider yourself lucky.

For me, it whispers deadly, hateful little things in my ears all day and all night:

You can't write.

You're not good enough.

What were you thinking?

Everyone else is laughing at you for even trying this.

You have let your family down when they need you most.

You are a loser.

You will never get published.

You suck.

Write a whiny blog post about how much you suck so EVERYONE will know.


It gets old, listening to this hideous little voice drone on and on and on ...

So I get out of bed some nights -- when the voice gets too insistent -- and root around in my humidor for a cigar. Then I quietly go downstairs and put on my Ipod and listen to music. Sometimes, I feel like crying. Honestly, I do. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. Usually, I just listen to the lyrics and search for the answer to whatever question is nagging me.

And you know what? I've learned a third thing about myself during this time.

I am a survivor. I do not quit. I do whatever I can to find that inner strength to overcome my lack of patience and my insecurities.

I keep on writing, because I've found that deep inside my heart, I still believe I can make it.

What have you learned about yourself from this writing thing?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A new ending for DEVIL

I've spent much of this week crafting a new (and, I think, better) ending for The Devil You Don't Know.

A couple of beta readers had mentioned that the ending wasn't as satisfying as they would have liked, that it maybe left too much to the imagination. That wasn't my intention, of course, but it did end rather abruptly. (Seriously, I think I just ran out of gas. Hey, it happens.)

One reader in particular talked to me about how I might fix this and, after giving it considerable thought, I agreed. So, I rolled up my sleeves and went back to work on the manuscript I thought was finished months ago.

Yes, I ended up adding about 450 words, but I think the net effect is awesome (if I do say so myself).

In fact, the last chapter is pretty much a roller coaster of action. When I ended it yesterday, I was literally out of breath. I suspect that's a good thing, although time will tell. I went back today and polished the new stuff and tightened it quite a bit.

I'm very happy with it. I always kind of liked the ending, but I love the new one. It even gave me the opportunity to circle back and tie up a couple of loose ends in a very cool way that hadn't been possible before.

A couple of days ago, I sent out two more queries after re-working the query letter yet again. Less than 12 hours later, I got my first partial request. While I remain realistic about my chances, at least it shows the query is getting there. The agent in question wrote me a very lovely note saying how intrigued she was with the query and the pages I had submitted.

I realize the odds are still stacked against me, as it is all of us. There's a lot of slush in the pile these days, and agents are really under the gun just wading through it. But getting that first request from a real live agent is satisfying. I feel like I finally took another step forward in my career.

And that's a good feeling, regardless of the outcome. Now if I could just stop checking my email every ten seconds ...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A conversation at the gym

There's this guy at my gym who is literally my opposite in every way. I am a Cubs fan; he's a Cardinals fan. I am a Bears fan'; he is a Packers fan. I'm a Democrat; he's a Tea Party follower.

I have hair; well, you know ....

This guy also thinks people who write novels are namby-pambies who ought to go out and work like real people. He's told me this before. In fact, our long-running "discussion" has always centered around his view that "any schmuck" can write a novel. He claims he got an A on an essay in high school English class and the teacher wrote on it that he should "seriously consider writing."

Instead, he became a plumber because, he says, he wanted "a real job."

Now being a plumber is not only lucrative and qualifies as a "real job," it's one of those things I cannot do -- like mechanics and algebra and golf.

But his views on writing, especially on fiction writing, always rub me the wrong way. Big time.

And this morning, he was waiting for me. What follows is a somewhat comical, exaggerated version of our real conversation. (I exaggerated it to make a point and, well, because this is MY blog. I mean no disrespect to viewers of Fox News, although I can't say the same about Packers and Cardinal fans.)

"Hey, it's the wimpy little writer guy," he said, snapping me with his wet towel.

"In the flesh," I said, peeling off my sweaty tee-shirt. "How about them Bears?"

"They got lucky," he snarled. "So guess what I heard on Fox News this morning?"

"Gee. I dunno. That Obama and Pelosi were the brains behind the 9-11 terror attacks?"

"Well, other than that."

I sighed. "Okay. I'll bite. What?"

He grinned. "That little fireplug chick from The Jersey Shore is writing a novel."


"You know, what's her name. The stubby one with the fake red tan and that hairy pillbox on her head."

"Ah. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzzi from MTV?"

"Yeah. That mouthy chick who's always getting carried out of nightclubs. You know, the one not named Lindsay or Paris."

"Yeah. I know who she is. A book huh? Must be a memoir. I mean, if Justin Beiber can write one, anyone can."

"No. No. A novel. I think it's gonna be called A Shore Thing or something like that."

I laughed. "Yeah, well good luck getting it published."

He smiled. "She's already got a book deal."

I froze. "Really?"

"Yep. I wonder who her agent is? I wonder how her whatchamacallit, query, got to the top of the shit pile?"

"Slush pile," I corrected. "And to be honest, I'm ... not really sure."

He grinned smugly. "I bet that really pisses you off, doesn't it? After all the work you and your little Internet writer buddies do. Goes to show I was right all along. Ha."

"I suppose she could be an idiot-savant or something like that," I said, stammering.

"I don't know what a savant is, but you got the idiot part right."

I managed to get out of there and rushed home. I Googled Snooki and there it was, right above an article headlined, "Snooki fined $500 for being a drunken nuisance."

Here is the nutgraph:

"Nicole “SnookiPolizzi of Jersey Shore will write a novel. Yep, you read right—a novel. By Snooki. The same Snooki who told New York Times writer Cathy Horyn that she’s only read two books in her life: Twilight and Dear John. (Not that I have anything against Stephenie Meyer and Nicholas Sparks. But two books in her life?) Snooki’s novel will be titled A Shore Thing, and according to Publishers Marketplace it’s about “a girl looking for love on the boardwalk (one full of big hair, dark tans, and fights galore).” Simon & Schuster’s Gallery will publish the novel in January 2011."

I spent the next several minutes trying to find out which agent plucked her from the shit pile, er, slush pile. No luck.

I wonder if it's the same one who rejected my query and first 50 pages in less than four minutes?

Sigh. I think I'm going to spend the next few days looking into plumbing school.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today is a special day

Fourteen years ago today, Sept. 28, 1996, I married my lovely wife, Jennifer. It was, and remains to this day, the best thing I have ever done in my life. (That's her at left, sans roller derby garb.)

This will be a very short post, since we are doing what everyone does on their anniversary -- eating a quick dinner at Panera's so we can make roller derby practice. Eh. Life goes on.

No writing updates today, since once again real life took center stage. At this point, I'm just hoping to get back into the swing of things by next week. I still have more than a dozen queries out, and I'm still contemplating adding to/changing the end of The Devil You Don't Know, based on feedback from a trusted writer friend.

Also, no word yet from Writer's Digest on whether I will be doing some pieces for them. I sent in a couple of story pitches (sort of like mini query letters) per the managing editor and was told I would likely hear something this week. We shall see.

I'm glad more people are able to read and comment on the newly redesigned blog. I suppose I'll get used to the brown, although I do miss the old coffee cup/cafe design. Still, I'm happy to switch it out if it means hearing from old friends again.

Hope you all have a good and productive night. It's time for derby practice!

Monday, September 27, 2010

My blog is fixed!

As you can tell, I changed the way this blog looks.

I also changed the way it behaves. I hope. The old design was causing problems for some readers. It was too slow. It locked up. It prevented folks from commenting. It was a mess.

So. Even though I loved it, I decided to sacrifice beauty for functionality. So now it's brown. Really brown.

And now I need you input. Is the blog running smoother than before? Can you read it and comment without problems? Please let me know if it's better.


Also, kid problems are continuing. In fact, they are worsening. No writing today. Sigh.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Inspiration when I need it most

I won't lie to you. It's not been a great week for yours truly.

Nothing really awful happened. It's just that a handful of crappy little things happened on the heels of last weekend's good things, which had moved me to self confidence. It never fails. Whenever I get too cocky, the writing gods tend to whack me over the head.

Consider me whacked.

I've felt bad all week that I allowed myself to brag in my last post. I hate that. I really do. And I apologize for it. No wonder I lost followers after that post. I would have left too, except it's my blog.

Anyway. No worries. I'm back to my usual almost-suicidal, neurotic self.

I've been e-corresponding with a fellow writer who is also having a bad week. And when I sent this writer an email a few minutes ago, telling said writer to buck up and offering up all kinds of encouragement, it occurred to me that I should take my own advice.

This is a tough business, this fiction writing. It's hard to do, and even harder to sell once it's done. We all know that. We probably knew it going in, although I suspect it's human nature to tell ourselves that we're different, that we're not going to fail like most everyone else.

And yet. It's hard. And frustrating. And it's so damned easy to get so frustrated that we think about throwing in the towel. I mean, there has to be a better way to make a living, right?

Well, no. There's not. We are creating. We are living a dream. We are trying to do something only a handful of people have ever accomplished. It makes no real difference whether we actually get published. We are trying. And that counts for something. Don't ever tell yourself it doesn't.

And that leads me to my all-time favorite inspirational quote. It's from Teddy Roosevelt and it NEVER fails to bring tears to my eyes and new found determination to my heart.

Here it is. Please take it to heart, because every single word is true.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing, rocking and roller derby!

Before I get into the weekend's writing conference, I have some exciting news to share with you.

No. Not that.

This: Last week, I was asked to be the bench coach for my wife's roller derby team, the Hard Knocks. She was drafted by the team a few weeks ago. It's one of three new teams in the local league.

Tonight will be my first practice with the team (yes, they call themselves The Knockers, but I'm just not there yet). I'm a bit nervous, since I know next to nothing about roller derby. But that's okay. We're all learning. And the season doesn't actually start until spring, so we should have plenty of time to get things rolling, so to speak.

The bench coach decides who skates when, since getting your skaters onto the floor within the allotted time is crucial to avoiding penalties. I will have a hand in strategy insofar as picking the jammer, blockers and pivot for each jam. My goal will be to have the skaters out there who will best be able to score points, based on which group of skaters the other teams deploys.

It sounds kind of complicated, and I fear it will be. But I love sports, I'm competitive as hell and I'm a fast learner. It ought to be a blast.

We have a smattering of exhibition bouts over the winter, starting with this Saturday in the Quad Cities. It's a newbie-only bout, so the wife won't be skating, and I won't be coaching. But the whole league is going to cheer on the local girls.

For those of you who haven't seen today's roller derby, do yourself a favor and find out if there's a league near you. And then go to the bouts. Or better yet, if you are female and between the ages of 18 and 50, try out. It's incredibly fun, damned addicting and not at all like the cheesy roller derby of the 1970s. These women take it seriously. There's plenty of action, blood and excitement.

Rock on, girls!

Now, on to more literary pursuits, namely this past weekend's Writer's Digest Editor's Intensive conference at WD's cool new digs in suburban Cincinnati.

Fifty writers of all genres and skill levels converged on the conference for a long day Saturday of lectures and speeches from the likes of Chuck Sambuchino and Jane Friedman. They discussed everything from how to snag an agent to using social media (Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc.) to further your career and boost your writing platform.

It was very informative. But the best thing was socializing with other writers. Now that was cool. We had an even mix of men and women ranging in age from early twenties to about seventy. Some were from the Cincy area, but many of us came from all over the U.S., including Hawaii. We had a lovely meet-and-greet Saturday night.

But the main event was Sunday, when we had our one-on-one critique session with an WD editor. I believe there were six or seven editors who did the actual critiquing. We all sent the first 50 pages of our manuscripts in several weeks ago and the editors decided the match-ups.

I got Zach Petit, the managing editor of WD! Turns out he has a journalism background very similar to mine, and writes fiction that's similar in theme to mine.

But man, was I nervous.

[Caution: Some bragging ahead. Proceed at your own peril]

It went very well. VERY well. In fact, he said he had very little to critique. Instead, he asked me tons of questions about my background, how long it took to write TDYDK, whether I'm writing anything new, what it's about, etc. He gave me some advice on agents who might be interested in my work. We also talked (and laughed) about our journalism careers. Zachary Petit is a very cool, very helpful man. I was lucky to get him for the critique.

He even said he was dying to know how the book ends. When I told him, he asked several more questions and then said it sounded like "one hell of a ride." He also said he might email me for a copy of the entire thing, although he would prefer "reading it when it comes out."

Wow. I was thrilled that the managing editor of WD would like my work. Really, truly humbled. He even asked me if I was interested in pitching some story ideas to the magazine. I was damn near in tears when I left the session. I mean, me? Writing for Writer's Digest?

So I came home rejuvenated and ready to rock and roll. I rewrote the query for TDYDK with the help of a dear writer friend (Thanks Christi!) and fired it out to seven more agents, including some fairly big names. I mean, there's nothing like a shot of confidence to overcome my deep-seated insecurities.

And this morning I got .... another form rejection.


Oh well. It's kind of nice to get back to normal again. But this time, I have some much-needed confidence to keep at it. Finally.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Finally home

We just got back from Cincinnati, where I attended the Writer's Digest Editor's Intensive conference.

It was a wonderful weekend, full of great advice, savvy guidance and good fellowship with other writers.

In a word: Awesome.

But I am exhausted. Suffice it to say my one-on-one manuscript critique session with the managing editor of Writer's Digest was interesting and very satisfying.

I don't mean to be vague. I'm just not up to writing a long blog tonight (I think I'm getting a cold or something on top of the exhaustion. Yay.). But it was so worth it. I would certainly advise anyone out there who has even considered attending some kind of writing conference to do it. It's money well spent.

I hope everyone had a great weekend. More later.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So, how good ARE you?

A dear friend of mine told me yesterday that we writers are terrible judges of our own work.

In other words, many who think they are God's gift to literature in reality suck, while some who truly doubt their abilities are in fact quite talented.

Basically, I think she's right. To a certain degree, anyway.

I struggle each and every day with self doubt. It's always there in my mind, lurking, waiting to grip my heart with its icy hands until I voluntarily stop querying because I just know I suck.

I honestly don't know why. I was a professional journalist for more than two decades. I have won several (more than 20) national, regional and state writing awards. I know I can write. I do. That's not ego. It's a fact.

But writing fiction is not journalism. I've learned that the hard way. I would put my newspaper and magazine articles up against anyone's (and have, many times), but this fiction thing is new to me.

And so I struggle with doubt.

But I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I'm more confident than I let on. I know. Who would have guessed? It's not an act. Seriously. But sometimes I feel more honest and less of an egotistical bastard when I let my self doubts out on this blog and with other writer friends.

Why? Because it bothers me to listen to people brag about how good they are. Trust me, people. If we were all as good as we secretly think we are, we'd all be published and resting atop the NYT Bestsellers List.

Still, there's nothing wrong with self confidence. It's healthy and normal. It's what keeps us going every time another form rejection pops into our e-mail box.

But how do we, being both confident and neurotic, judge our work objectively? How do we know if we really and truly are any good? I mean, I can read two paragraphs of someone else's work and know whether they are good or not. But I read my stuff and sometimes, it seems pretty good. And other times, well, it sucks.

So, how good do you think you are? I mean seriously, truly, honestly. Are you good enough to be published? Be honest. We won't hold it against you.

Are you good enough to be published?

(I think I am. There. I said it.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pre-conference planning

On Friday, we're driving five hours to Cincinnati for my very first writer's conference! Whoo-hoo.

It's the Writer's Digest Editor's Intensive conference, being held at their headquarters. A handful of names I actually recognize will be there. On Saturday, we'll sit through several workshops on query do's and don't's, whether you should self-publish, e-publish or wade through the slush. There's a lot of stuff on novel writing techniques, common mistakes, pacing, style, structure, etc.

I cannot wait. How cool will it be to actually hang out with other writers for a weekend and talk nothing but writing? Awesome.

But the biggie is on Sunday. We had to submit the first 50 pages of our manuscript a few weeks ago and were then assigned a 30-minute one-on-one critique session with a real live book editor! Gulp. Mine is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Central Time, so if you're religious, say a prayer for me. If you're not, well, wish me luck anyway. Pretty please?

Okay. So. I'm a bit nervous.
I've decided that I will let this weekend guide me when it comes to what I'm going to do with TDYDK. Although I like the new one better (since I know what I'm doing now, kind of), I had to submit the first 50 pages of the old one since I was only at page 44 of the new one at the submission deadline.

But like a couple of people here said, submit the old one and take any criticism and apply it to the new one, too. It's a win-win situation.

Unless, of course, I get crushed.

But hey, I'm told the local Starbucks is hiring. For reals.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Narration versus dialogue

In The Devil You Don't Know, I am convinced I relied too heavily on dialogue as opposed to narration, since actually narrating a third-person POV novel terrified me. Don't ask me why, it just did.

Not one beta reader mentioned this, nor did my book editor, but it literally jumped out at me when revising it for the umpteenth time. Unfortunately, my irrational fear of actually narrating my book led to a lot of expository dialogue (which I struggled with and managed to tamp down eventually, but still ....).

For the record, I hate expository dialogue. Really, seriously hate it.

For you non-writers out there who wonder what expository dialogue is, here's an admittedly poorly written example:

"Hey John, I'm so glad you're my brother in law, although this divorce you are going through right now is sure hard on the whole family," Sam said.

"Thanks Sam. As you know, the divorce will be final in a few weeks, and Josie, your sister and my soon-to-be-ex-wife, is still crazy as a fucking loon ...."

Well, you get the idea.

So I've been trying really hard to avoid that in the new book, Empty Spaces.

I've been told I write dialogue fairly well, and I suspect that played into my overuse of it in TDYDK. Whatever. I'm trying to reach a happy medium in ES, using dialogue when necessary and narrating when that's called for.

I think it's been working. So I decided to throw out the first scene from the book, which chronicles the aftermath of a horrific school shooting and its impact on a 34-year-old history teacher (Grant) and a pretty 17-year-old student (Annie). Here's a hint -- one of them is crazy as hell. :)

This scene is from Chapter 4. Please weigh in with any thoughts, comments, etc. Remember, this is an unedited first draft, so please be nice. Okay? [Rated R for language and content]

* * * *
“Wow,” Annie said from the kitchen doorway. She’d showered and dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt after her three-hour nap. Her towel-dried hair stood up on top. She looked like a sexy little punk rocker. “Something smells good.”

“It’s not much,” Grant said, pleased at her reaction. “But it’s the best I could do, given the circumstances.” He’d found a pound of ground beef in the freezer and had thawed it in the microwave. After browning two patties in a skillet, he’d thrown together two salads using the veggies he’d snagged from the little garden. Now, he wiped his hands on his jeans and looked at her. “Do you have any bread?”

“Fuck if I know,” she said, yawning. “I don’t eat here much.”

Finding none, they dined on hamburger patties, stale Doritos and salad topped with generic French dressing. Annie found an unopened two liter of Diet Coke in the refrigerator and some ice cubes in the freezer. Grant was hungrier than he had thought possible and ate heartily, while Annie only picked at her meal.

When he finished, he pushed his plate back and looked at her. Without makeup, she looked like the kind of girl Lindsay might hire to watch the kids on their rare Friday date nights.

“Want to talk about it?”

She put her fork down and sighed. “I’ve already told you everything there is to tell. My mom is a drunk and a fucking meth addict and she left me. It’s kind of cliché, when you think about it.” She looked away. “Your generation really sucks at raising kids.”

He shrugged. “We were raised by a bunch of narcissistic Baby Boomers. What did you expect?”

“More, I guess,” she said. “I don’t know.”

He drummed his fingers on the table. “Do you want to talk about the shooting?”

“No,” she said, averting her eyes. “Not yet.”

“Okay. Now what?” Leaving the girl alone still sounded like a bad idea. And if he left her and something happened, something tragic, he wasn’t sure he could live with the additional guilt.

“I need music.” She jumped up and ran into the living room. Before he could respond, she was back with an old school boom box. She sat it on the table and punched the on button. A haunting bass line filled the kitchen.

She sat down and closed her eyes. “God, I love Pink Floyd,” she said, her head swaying to the music. “Boomers suck, but their music is the best.”

Grant nodded, still trying to place the album. “Dark Side of the Moon?”

She shook her head. “Wish You Were Here.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding.

She got up and danced slowly around the kitchen. Her hair hung into her eyes and her hips swiveled enticingly. She was barefoot and his gaze kept returning to those sexy green toenails.
He swallowed and looked away. He knew he should be leaving. Lindsay and the girls would be home in a few hours. His wife was already worried about him. There was no need to make things worse.

“Hold on,” she said, dancing out of the kitchen. She returned a few seconds later with a fat translucent red bong. She filled it at the sink and sat down, giggling at the look on his face. She reached into the pocket of her shorts and pulled out a lighter. Grant watched, transfixed, as she expertly lit the bowl and sucked until her eyes watered.

The cloying smell of marijuana filled the kitchen, immediately transporting Grant back to his college days. Annie smiled, her eyes partially closed against the smoke, and handed the bong to him.

“No,” he said. “I can’t. And neither should you, after what happened last night.”

“Oh, don’t be such a fucking chicken,” she said, pouting. “What’s the big deal about copping a little buzz? I mean, after what we’ve been through, what could it hurt?”

He hesitated. The girl had a point. What harm could there be? While getting stoned with a student violated all of Grant’s self-imposed rules of conduct, he had to admit that it sounded pretty good at the moment.

“Well, we have been under a lot of stress,” he agreed, taking the bong and the lighter.

“There’s no better stress reliever than dope,” she said, smiling coyly. “Except maybe masturbation.”

He was still laughing when he took the first hit.

* * * *