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.