Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas. Or whatever ...

OK. I'm going to be politically incorrect here and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!


For those of you who do not celebrate Christmas, Happy Holidays!

For those of you who do not recognize the holiday season, Happy Weekend!

For those of you do not recognize weekends, Happy Saturday!

For those of you who ...

Well, you get the idea. From my family to yours, Happy Whatever!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Technology in fiction

The following is a rough draft of a piece I previously submitted to a national writing magazine. While they ultimately rejected it after much hemming and hawing, I decided to post it here because I think the subject is interesting. I'd like to hear how you use (or don't use) technology in your fiction and how it's changed how you structure a story.

Ready? Here we go:

In his 1977 classic horror novel “The Shining,” Stephen King used a family’s isolation in a snowed-in Colorado hotel to create spine-tingling tension and a creeping sense of impending doom. And brother, did it work. Let’s face it, being alone is scary. That’s why it’s been a common theme in fiction for decades.

My, how times have changed. Today, it seems we’re never quite alone. Blame it on technology, which has changed our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a decade ago. Think about it. Facebook tells us our sister is having a latte at Starbucks, our mother is playing Café World, and our boss is looking for us. Want to know what everyone from the president to Lindsay Lohan is doing right this second? Check Twitter.

A recent CNN poll shows a whopping 92 percent of Americans now have access to the Internet. More than 95 percent have a cell phone and 53 percent own a smart phone. All these doodads are not only changing the way we live our lives, but the way we’re reading and writing fiction.

Technology can be an extremely useful tool for authors. But it has to be used correctly, or it can end up creating more problems than solutions. Let’s look at a few ways to use (or not use) technology in your novel.

Isolation. Like King’s snowed-in family in “The Shining,” isolation is an effective way to create suspense. But with today’s technology, it’s hard to get your characters really alone and off the grid. Short of dispatching your hero to the Sahara Desert, the best way to achieve this is to find a clever way to either disable their gadgets or put them in a place where electronics won’t function. Bestselling author Chevy Stevens pulls this off in her new thriller, “Never Knowing,” by having her main character’s fiancé travel periodically to a remote wilderness lodge to conduct tours. It works, and more importantly, it’s believable since that’s what the fiancé does for a living.

Can you hear me now? One of the best ways to add tension to your novel is creating situations where the characters don’t know where their loved one is, or what they are doing. Young adult author Kirsten Hubbard, in her debut novel, “Like Mandarin,” weaves an affecting tale of two high school girls and their burgeoning friendship. Part of the book’s tension comes when the two girls go days without seeing each other, leaving Grace, the main character, to wonder if there’s a problem with her beloved Mandarin. The novel is set in the present, and Hubbard pulls it off by leaving technology out of the book altogether. If they had cell phones, they would’ve been texting constantly and the novel would have lost much of its emotional firepower.

Out of touch. Conversely, one way of using technology to create tension is to have someone who is usually in touch suddenly go missing. There are few things more ominous than being unable to reach a loved one who is always available by cell phone. Used sparingly, this device can be highly effective.

Don’t date your work. We often feel the need to cram our work full of the coolest high-tech gadgets available. Really, who wants to appear 3G in a 4G world? But be careful. Technology moves so fast that what’s cool this week can be a dinosaur by next Friday. Imagine the poor writer who, three years ago, started her Great American Novel about a murder mystery revolving around a relationship on MySpace. Oops. Remember, a great song is a great song, no matter how old it is, but a flip phone is just plain silly in this day and age.

Avoid contrivance. No one needs to be told that readers today are savvier than ever. One too many contrived plot devices and they’ll drop your book like it’s on fire. Think twice before conveniently disabling a character’s cell phone just when he needs it most or taking down the Internet right before she can read that all-important email. Be wary of the high-tech deus ex machina. If you must remove technology in order to make your work more suspenseful, do it in a way that’s believable. Your readers will thank you for the extra effort.

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, it turns out. Avoid using too many brands, which can be off-putting to some readers. Instead of saying a character has a BlackBerry, use smart phone. Skype can become video chatting. Use e-reader rather than a specific device. General terms come across as less elitist and can be especially useful if the brand is outdated before your book is published.

Ever-evolving technology has clearly altered the fiction landscape. Used intelligently, technology can add tension and atmosphere to any manuscript. Use it poorly and your work can fall flatter than unleavened bread. Remember, the Internet isn’t just a place for writers to waste time. It’s a wonderful research tool if used wisely. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a hot game of Angry Birds waiting for me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A name change, and a new query

The query below is something I wrote this afternoon. It represents, I believe, the fourth or fifth iteration of the query for my second novel, previously titled, EMPTY SPACES, and now retitled, RUNNING ON EMPTY.

At least, it will be titled that until I change my mind again. I'm fickle. What can I say?

Anyhoo.... The query is rough and not yet polished. But I thought I would toss it up here to get some early feedback. Let me know what you think, although as always please try to be nice. And if you can't be nice, at least be specific.

And also, as always, thank you!

Here goes:

Dear agent,

Grant Bachman is an ordinary junior college teacher, the kind of guy who says “excuse me” when he sneezes alone. When an armed student opens fire on an otherwise gorgeous New England morning, Grant is forced to use a fellow teacher’s desk-drawer pistol to stop him.

Once the smoke clears, Grant assumes the worst is over. He’s wrong.

Over the next five days Grant encounters an assortment of characters, all of whom will alter his life’s trajectory. Among them are a beguiling lost girl with the morals of a feral cat, a therapist offering the sweet hope of a restored life, his own self-absorbed wife whose affair with a roguish young cop is reaching critical mass, a pack of reporters hungry for a hero to tear apart, and a straight-arrow police sergeant hell-bent on solving an unspeakable crime.

When Grant’s estranged wife finds the school shooter’s cell phone hidden in her husband’s car and turns it over to her crazy boyfriend, the finger of blame turns toward Grant Bachman. With his lost girl tagging along, Grant finds himself on the run from the police, his wife, his therapist, and his old life. Now he must find the truth before his pursuers find him.

My novel, RUNNING ON EMPTY, is a fast-paced suspense/thriller complete at 91,000 words.

As a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor, I’ve received more than a dozen national, regional, and state awards from the Associated Press and the Illinois Press Association for writing and reporting.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Query for Empty Spaces

After much internal debate, I've decided to post my newly written query for Empty Spaces. Remember, it's a first draft. I wrote it this weekend.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for, other than whether you think this is a book you'd like to read.

So. Feel free to weigh in. And thanks in advance for any help and or suggestions you might have.

Dear [agent],

There are crimes of passion. There are crimes of necessity. There are crimes of convenience.

And sometimes, they’re one and the same.

On a bright August morning, freshman Justin King pulls an assault rifle out of his backpack and opens fire at Eugene Community College, killing 54 students and teachers before he’s shot and killed by popular history professor Grant Bachman. As the citizens of Eugene, New Hampshire, struggle to comprehend the tragedy, the nation’s media descend like vultures.

Hours after the shooting, Grant finds himself drawn to fellow survivor Annie DeWitt, a beautiful 18-year-old lost girl who drowns her past in vodka, and dreams of a future singing on American Idol. Together, they cope with their trauma using drugs, alcohol, and an escalating series of suicidal thrills.

The day after the shooting, straight-arrow police Sgt. Rocco Beaupre makes a shocking discovery: Thousands of dollars worth of illegal drugs are missing from the department’s evidence room. Even worse, an assault rifle is unaccounted for.

When Grant, hailed as a hero by the media, is accused of beating his unfaithful wife, he’s briefly jailed. When he finds evidence that seems to link Annie to the shooter, he confronts her. And when Justin King’s missing cell phone is found in Grant’s car, both teacher and student run.

Over the course of five violent days, Grant and Rocco independently piece together a puzzle of passion, necessity, and convenience that grows more ominous with each passing minute. As Grant works to clear his name and determine Annie’s involvement, he discovers that in Eugene, no one is who they seem, and nothing is as it appears.

My first novel, EMPTY SPACES, is a 91,000-word suspense/thriller.

As a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor, I’ve received more than a dozen national, regional, and state awards from the Associated Press and the Illinois Press Association for writing and reporting. I’ve also managed a federal Congressional campaign, helped build a school in a tiny Mayan village in the Yucatan Peninsula, and spent two months living in the coastal jungles of South America while searching for sunken Spanish galleons. In my spare time, I sleep.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[personal information redacted]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I have a quick question, one that was brought up to me by a trusted friend and beta reader.

When you hear the title, Empty Spaces, what do you think of?

Does it remind you of the Pink Floyd song?

A chick lit book?

A book about home redecorating?

Something else?

I'm seriously considering a title change for my new novel.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Empty Spaces is done!

I finished my second novel Thursday night. It clocks in at a sleek 90k and should fall in the suspense/thriller category. At least, I think it does. Genre identification has never been my strong suit.

I have a couple of people who have already generously offered to beta read it, but if there's anyone out there who would like a good laugh, er, read, let me know and I'll ship it to you. Just shoot me an email at

It's edgy and R-rated in spots (as was the first one, despite it's Christian themes). There's no religion in this one, if that kind of stuff turns you off. But there IS lots of violence, so beware.

Anyway, let me know. For now, preseason football is calling my name.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I'm a whore

Okay, before anyone gets all up my grill for the title of this post, I'd like you to know that the word "whore" appears in the Christian bible 59 times!

Okay. I just made that up. I really have no idea how many times the word appears, but I know it does. A lot.

So anyway, about that "I'm a whore" thing.

Most of you know I wrote a novel, called The Devil You Don't Know. It's pretty good, I've been told. It took me three years to write and revise it. Three complete revisions, actually. It's been professionally edited. Not once, but twice.

It has garnered attention from some of the top literary agents in New York, two of whom told me I was among the best debut writers they had stumbled across. The managing editor of Writer's Digest Magazine critiqued the manuscript and pronounced it one the best he'd read. I've had requests from agents, but no offers.

I don't say these things to brag. These are facts.

I am almost done with my second novel, which I believe is exponentially better than the first. It's certainly more commercially viable.

And therein lies the problem with TDYDK.

It's a pseudo-Christian/mainstream thriller. It doesn't preach (much). It has very adult themes, including rape, pornography, alcoholism and promiscuity. See, what I wanted to do was rewrite the Bible the way Stephen King rewrote Stoker's Dracula.

I wondered what would happen if the Bible IS true. And what would happen if things predicted in the Bible started to happen today? In this secular world. To real people, not cardboard cutouts from poorly written Christian novels.

You know, it sounded like one hell of an idea back in college, when I thought of it after a long night of booze and dope.

And it turned out to be a damned good story. One person who read it said it reminded them of a weird cross between Stephen King and Saint Paul. I took it as a compliment.

Sadly there is no market for such a hybrid in today's fiction market, I have been told. I wish I had a dollar for every agent and/or person in the business who has told me privately that they loved it, but just knew in their heart that they couldn't sell it because of its "Christian stuff."

To which I say: Bullshit.

Has anyone ever read King's The Stand? That book has more religious imagery in it than mine does. Really. I mean, if you sub the name God for Mother Abigail and the name Satan for Randall Flagg, you have The Book of Revelations. Classic Good versus Evil.

I don't recall that causing any sales problems for Mr. King. Do you?

All of which brings me to my point (and yes, I can hear your sigh of relief out there!).

You see, I'm sitting on TDYDK. It's gathering electronic dust on my computer -- still edited, sleek and ready to be read and enjoyed.

So. Do I leave it there and call it a practice book?

Do I start another round of queries (I've sent 29 so far; most were unanswered)?

Or do I find a way to publish the damned thing myself?

For some reason self-publishing (or e-publishing, or Indie publishing. Are they all the same? Hell, I don't even know) scares me to death. For several reasons.

1. It looks like a lot of work.

2. It requires me to do all the PR work. I don't HAVE that many friends and I hate to pimp myself on Twitter and Facebook (although I will if I have to. See the title of this post).

3. I don't want to screw up any chance I have to traditionally publish the new book, or any future books.

Because as much as I love writing fiction, I also want to make money at it. There. I said it. I am a literary whore. I don't do this for the hell of it. I do it because I believe I have something to say, and because I want people to read what I write. And pay for it.

I write this with no apologies. I mean, you CAN be an artist and make money at it. Just ask JK Rowling. Or Stephen King. Or Amanda Hocking. Or (cringe) Dan Brown.

I'm not saying I'm in their league (well, except for .... oh never mind). You get my point.

So I'm writing this to get your opinions. I know they will be all over the place. I know that some have tested the self-pub waters and found them to their liking. Others, I suspect, have the same fears I have.

So if you were me, what would you do?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So why am I angry?

First off, let me assure you I haven't run off to some Pacific island. Nor have I been in prison.

No, I have been writing my second novel. Every single day. When I wrote TDYDK, I didn't have a blog. I started it once I was revising, and it was easy to find time in the day to knock off a post several times a week.

But since I'm writing hot, the very idea of stopping for the day only to come here and write even more is, well, exhausting. Not to mention that it feels like I'm wasting words that would be put to better use in my manuscript.

So, sorry about the lack of posts. I do love you guys. :)

The other thing, and it's perhaps more perplexing, is that I have been in a state of low-level anger for months. It's not something I can explain, at least not well. But it has something to do with writing. And publishing. And agents. You know, that kind of stuff. Writer stuff.

Part of it is me being a baby. I worked my butt off for three years on my first book and, with a few exceptions, it garnered no interest from agents. In fact, more than three-fourths of the queries I sent were never answered.

Now, I know that's the way things are in today's publishing world. A no answer means no. But really, how hard is it to set up an auto-reply? Just so we know that we're not shouting down a bottomless pit.

I can think of two writers who have blown up big-time on the Internet in the recent past. One guy went down on, I think, Nathan Bransford's blog. And man, it wasn't pretty. The dude went bonkers and when he exploded, he likely took his career down with him.

Another woman went batshit crazy about a review of her self-published book, and wound up calling her readers all kinds of profane names. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I've heard nothing from her since then, either.

Lesson learned. So each time I call up this blog to write something, I think about how angry I've been and I just close it. Why make things worse than they already are?

But still. I have my moments. Moments like yesterday when I not only want to never write another word, but want to BREAK MY FUCKING COMPUTER too. Really.

And I'm not sure why. I suspect I'm afraid. I'm afraid this next book will sink, too, like its predecessor. I'm afraid I'm wasting my time, chasing a dream that will constantly elude me, no matter how hard I try to catch it.

But I keep at it. I keep writing. I keep reading and studying my craft in an effort to get better. To get published. Because to quit now seems even more unthinkable than keeping going.

So why am I so angry?

How about you guys? Anyone thinking about giving up? Are you angry at the current state of publishing? Are you afraid? Talk to me, people.

And let's all have a nice day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can real writers hate writing?

I mentioned in my previous post that I sometimes hate writing, but love "having written."

I seem to have broken some kind of sacred rule.

One commenter pointed out that those who don't love every minute of writing eventually give up. A few people in real life who read the post said the same thing to me. I know that many writing books, especially those by Anne Lamott and Stephen King, extol the virtues of the process itself, while downplaying the publication part.

Look, I've been a professional writer my entire adult life. I've had hundreds of thousands of words published in newspapers and magazines. Writing is all I've ever done. Frankly, it's probably all I can do, since I've yet to discover any additional skills.

I've also been working out at the gym for most of my adult life, as well. I do it five times a week, and I'm there for two hours (although some of that time is spent relaxing in the steam room. If you haven't tried it, don't knock it!). Many people would call me obsessed with exercise. And maybe I am.

I know that I love feeling fit and looking my best. I know that it's good for my body and my soul. And it works wonders for my creativity.

But here's a dirty little secret: I hate exercising, but I love having exercised.

Most days, I literally drag my sorry butt to the gym when I would really rather be snug in my warm bed with a cup of coffee, watching Morning Joe on MSNBC. In fact, I often spend much of the morning trying to talk myself out of actually working out, when all the while my body is already going through the motions.

For me, that's what it takes to do it with any regularity. Sure, there are days when something clicks and suddenly I'm in the groove -- in that special zone where I feel the blood pumping and it's all good. But those times are few and far between. Most days, my muscles ache and my breath gets short and later, as I sit at my desk writing, my legs cramp up and my back hurts.

You see, for me, exercising sucks. It really does. I hate it most of the time.

But I cannot fathom my life without it. I would rather die than become inactive. And therein lies the dichotomy. I have a love/hate relationship with working out. I can't live without it, so I do it because I have to.

It's the same with writing.

Most days at my desk are spent grappling with words and phrases and just trying to fashion something coherent from the shit flowing from my brain. I agonize over my writing. I really do. Sure, it sometimes flows like a rain-swollen stream, but that's just not the way it is during the actual writing process. It takes work to make writing flow like that. And some days, I can pull it off.

Some days. But most days, I can't. And that's when I hate it.

Then the following day comes, when I read back over what I wrote the previous day and revise and revise and revise. And when it's just the way I want it, I sit back and smile. Because THAT'S when it feels good.

Of course, that feeling is short-lived, because then I must start the process all over again.

And I hate it. With a passion. But I cannot fathom my life without it.

How about you? Do you REALLY love the writing process? Or are you like me, and struggle to get it just so before you can finally exhale and move on?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The tipping point?

It's been a while, hasn't it?

I could tell you I'm sorry for not blogging in so long, but that would be a lie. Instead of blogging, I've been struggling just to keep writing. It's not been easy, since life has decided to turn nasty the past few weeks.

I can't go into detail, but suffice it to say that things have been somewhat intense lately. I hate when things get all life-and-death, you know? Add in the fact that I've been really struggling with this whole "I'm a writer" thing, and you've got, well, me.

Several times over the past couple of weeks, I've started to write a blog post and it was so depressing that I deleted it. I'm honestly tired of feeling sorry for myself and sharing it here for the whole world to see. It gets old.

I realize I am at a critical juncture in my "career." A tipping point. This would be the time when most sane people would pack it in and get a real job. I'm close to doing just that. But I've forced myself to sit down and write on my new manuscript anyway, even when I would rather chew off my own leg than do just that.

God, it's hard sometimes. I suspect that for some of us, sitting at our computers typing away on some piece of work that will likely die on the vine anyway is our own peculiar brand of insanity.

Goddamn it. I want to write and publish a novel.

There. I said it. I want to write and publish a novel. Or twenty. I really, really do. It's been my dream since I was a teenager. I love writing (or, having written, actually). I used to think I was good at it. I'm not so sure these days.

Life and my own self-doubts just keep popping up, day after day.

So, I haven't been ignoring you, my friends. Instead, I've been dealing with some hard times and some killer self-doubts. But I'm still writing. Maybe not well, but writing nonetheless. And when I read my new book, I sometimes get that old feeling back. I find myself sometimes thinking, This thing is pretty good. In fact, it's damn good!

And these days, that's enough to bring me back to the computer the next day. Right now, it's all I have.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Epic writing week

Well, I found my mojo.

How, you ask? I merely rolled up my sleeves and started writing. And I didn't quit until my eyes glazed over.

Each day this week. Without fail. I didn't blog. I didn't read blogs. I stayed off Facebook and Twitter. I even managed to (mostly) avoid my baseball PS3 game. Oh, and even real baseball, except for night games.

Yesterday, for instance, I sat down to write a particularly big scene in Empty Spaces, one I had been looking forward to writing for quite some time. I had no idea how long it would be, I only knew I wanted to finish it in one sitting.

I did.

And it was 3,500 words long. I know that's a piece of cake for some writers to knock off in a day, but I tend to agonize over each and ever sentence -- even going back and rewriting after only a couple of paragraphs. So, it was a pretty big deal for me.

All told, I wrote a bit less than 10k words this week, bringing the manuscript up to 26k. Still a ways to go, sure, but I'm back into the story and it's starting to well up inside of me, like The Devil You Don't Know did when I was writing it every day.

I'm still a bit down, since I've heard nothing from any agents except one since the Writer's Digest conference in late January. That means I still have two partials and a full out, not to mention more than 20 queries. Some of the queries are several months old now, so I'm assuming a no on them. But many are less than a couple months old, so there's still hope.

And no, I haven't pulled the trigger on self-publishing yet. I'm not sure I ever will, to be honest. But I think it's wise to keep it as a fall-back right now for TDYDK.

I'm really sorry I've been absent on the Internets recently. I promise to post more here and hit all of your awesome blogs. Honestly. It just seemed important to me that I somehow climb back into the writing saddle and start riding again.

And, thank God, I did.

How was your writing week?

Monday, April 4, 2011

In search of my Mojo

I've so much to say, and yet I cannot for the life of me think of the words with which to express myself.

Sounds like a conundrum, doesn't it? Indeed, it is.

Most of you, being the wily writer-types you are, have no doubt noticed my absence here in Blogland. Believe it or not, I've missed you all. Really, I have.

It's just that, well, I've been lost lately.

I'm not going to start in on another whiny, self-absorbed post about how much it sucks to sit here waiting on something, anything, to happen in my quest toward publication. No, I'm as tired of writing that depressing crap as you are reading it.

Still. Something, it seems, has died within me the past few months. My desire? My willingness to continue slicing open a vein only to see the fruits of my labor wither and die while still on the vine? Am I giving up?

I don't know. I hope not.

I have a confession to make: I have been seriously considering e-publishing The Devil You Don't Know, despite having two partials and a full out to agents. Why, you ask. Because I no longer believe I will find an agent. Whether it's because the book sucks, or whether the subject matter is too offensive to non-spiritual people, I don't know.

But I've lost hope for the most part.

And that's making it doubly difficult to work on my new book, even though it's a million miles removed from its predecessor in subject matter and tone.

I'm reminded of an episode of Scrubs, the best TV show in history, in which J.D. has lost his Mojo, which although I can't prove it, I suspect is a metaphor for erectile dysfunction. (I could be so lucky as to only have a flaccid you-know-what to deal with!). Unlike poor J.D., my lost Mojo goes to the very heart of what I do, of what I am.

I seem to have lost the will to write.

OMG. I can't believe I just typed that. But, alas, it's true. At least, temporarily.

I've penned several blog posts over the past year and a half on writers who give up, and why they shouldn't. I can be one hell of a cheerleader when I want to be. Apparently, I can also be a hypocrite as well.

'Cause this little firefly is burning out. Big-time.

I've been on a sort of spiritual quest for the past four years or so, since leaving journalism. I met God in Alcoholics Anonymous and, whether you choose to believe or not, He saved my life.

So I've been searching for meaning, asking the Big Questions. I've been reading theology and philosophy books, talking to shrinks and ministers and drunks and poor people and Mayans. If I wasn't so dense, I'd swear I was turning into an intellectual.

I've come to believe we all have a purpose in life. Don't ask me to explain how I know that, I just do. I've always thought my purpose in life was to be a writer. And who knows? Maybe it is.

But right now, things seem a bit, well, murky.

Perhaps the God of AA can save me yet again, for it was in AA that I learned a valuable lesson: We cannot change our lives by thinking and talking about it, but only by acting upon it. By having faith in ourselves, we act. And change then follows.

In other words, I've reached that critical point in my writing career when I have to do what I least want to do: I must sit down and write. I must quit analyzing and talking and thinking ... and start doing.

Now excuse me while I go figure out this thorny plot of mine.

P.S. Damned if I didn't just write another annoying self-absorbed whiny post. Sorry. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

The rumors of my death ...

... have been greatly exaggerated. No, seriously. I am alive. And well.

It's just that I was attending a spiritual retreat the past several days that included "unplugging" from all of the technology that we love, which also at times drives us completely bonkers.

But I'm back, relatively refreshed and ready to get back to writing and blogging. I'm sure you are thrilled. (ahem)

So. I will write a "real" blog post tomorrow. I received a couple of very cool blog awards during my hiatus and I shall acknowledge them properly.

That is all. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back in the saddle

Here's a picture of some of us in Tres Reyes, Mexico, during our recent mission trip. I'm the doofus in the white tee-shirt and Cubs hat.

Sorry I've been absent for so long. When I returned last week from Mexico, I was beat. Turns out, the youngster was off school all week and the wife took some time off, too. So we kind of had a family vacation week.

It was good.

I won't bore you with the details of the mission trip, other than to say it was the best yet. We had an awesome time, got some really hard work done and spent one day at the Mexican Riviera, sitting alongside the ocean puffing on a Cuban cigar and sipping a latte.

It was good.

I did suffer a weird injury this time, one that caused a few moments of alarm. I was lifting buckets of rocks over my head and pouring them into a cement mixer (don't ask) when I felt something pop in my forearm. It didn't hurt at all, so I kept working. Truth be told, the buckets were far too heavy to be lifting over my head, and my knees were starting to buckle.

At that point, one of my friends took me by the arm and asked, "What happened to your arm?"

I looked down and gasped. The inside of my right forearm, literally from my wrist to my elbow, was hugely swollen. I had a lump the size of a tennis ball right in the middle and it was growing before my eyes. Now keep in mind we were in the jungle, an hour or two from the nearest clinic.

Luckily, one of the women with us is a registered nurse, so she came over and took a look at it.

"Oh my," she said, leading me over and making me sit down.

"What is it?" I asked, feeling the slightest twinge of alarm. I don't like it when nurses say "oh my."

"You're bleeding out," she said, feeling the arm. It now hurt like hell from the pressure. It turns out that the strain of lifting the five-gallon buckets of gravel somehow caused a blood vessel or artery to burst in my arm.

"Am I going to be OK?" I asked, only half serious and already feeling guilty about sitting down in the shade. It was only a little after 9 a.m. and we had a ton of work to do yet.

She looked at me. "I don't know."

That wasn't the answer I was looking for, of course. She wrapped it tightly and made me sit there for a while. Eventually, it stopped swelling and I went back to work.

Later, before I showered, I removed the heavy bandage. My arm was purple and green and swollen to twice its usual diameter. To make a long story short, it eventually turned into the biggest, nastiest bruise I have ever had, although it never did hurt.

To this day, nearly two weeks later, I can still see a huge yellow bruise on my arm.

Other than that, the trip was great. I'm hoping I can convince my wife to go with us next year. She's considering it, probably just so she can shut me up.

Now, I'm struggling mightily to get back into the grind of my new novel. I spent today re-reading it, since I had pretty much forgotten what the damned thing was about.

I really hope the passion comes back. I've been a bit depressed lately, mainly because I still have two partials and a full out -- not to mention a dozen queries -- and have heard nothing in the past month and a half. Grrrrrr. I really hate waiting.

Anyway, I'm back and plan on blogging more often. I'll probably keep the posts a bit shorter so I can blog more and still have valuable writing time left over.

How's it with you guys?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I'm back

I've returned from Mexico, alive and well. And really, really tired.

So I'm going to pass on blogging tonight, but I promise to update you all tomorrow. Hope things went well while I was gone.

Did I miss anything? Anyone get an agent? A book deal? Married? :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Adios, amigos!

My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 6 for Atlanta and them on to Cancun, Mexico (weather permitting, of course). From there, fourteen of us will pile into two large trucks and/or vans and be driven several miles into the Yucatan to a small village called Leona Vicario.

We'll live there for the next week, in fairly primitive conditions. We travel an additional 100 miles or so inland to a tiny (and I mean tiny) Mayan village deep in the jungle called Tres Reyes (Three Kings in Spanish), where we will work with the Mayans finishing the little Sunday school we started four years ago. My middle son, Zach, went last year. But he's staying home this year because of his job. I know he wanted to go back, even though I suspect it was a hell of lot harder than he had anticipated. :)

The picture is of me (kneeling on the left) in Tres Reyes last year with my friend Jim Witmer and a young Mayan boy we called Pistol Pete (since we couldn't even begin to pronounce his real name). I can't wait to see little Pete this year.

This is my fourth consecutive trip and, as always, I'm both looking forward to it and dreading it.

I look forward to it because it is extremely rewarding work. The Mayans are very poor and live in appalling conditions. Despite a huge guilt complex (because I have it so good here), I fall in love with the villagers every year. Especially the children. They are the sweetest kids in the world.

I dread it because, well, let's face it: It's damned hot and hard work. We work hard in the hot Caribbean sun all day long. After a day or two, I always wonder just why in the hell I am there. Sometimes, we bicker. Sometimes, things get scary because of the drug cartels and the ever-present threat of violence and kidnapping (especially if you are American).

But in the end, I always end up having an awesome time, meet some incredibly special people and learn something about another culture that I didn't know before.

It's also, dare I say it, a very spiritual week. I always feel tired but mentally refreshed when I return, ready to get back to my writing and my exceptionally lucky existence.

I know I have been awful at blogging lately, and for that I apologize. I've been really sick with a nasty case of bronchitis (which is about 80 percent over finally), and I have been working hard on my novel. Now, I'm packing and spending some precious time with my family before I leave the house at 4 a.m. tomorrow for the drive to the airport.

So until me meet again sometime next weekend, please be well and write a lot. I hope you all find agents and multiple book deals when I'm gone. (Ack. I just thought of something. I won't have much Internet access, so I hope if I get any agent news, they don't give up on me. Oh well. I suppose that's a good problem to have, huh?)

Adios my writer friends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

While I wait

Hi there. It's been a while, I know. What have I been doing, you ask?

Well, I've been writing my next novel. I've also been sick, as has most of the family during the past week. I'm also gearing up for my yearly mission trip to the Yucatan. I leave a week from Saturday, and already I'm feeling harried and ill-prepared. In other words, the same old, same old.

But mostly, I've been waiting. You know the feeling, right? At the Writers Digest Conference a few weeks ago, I had four requests by agents to read The Devil You Don't Know -- three partials and a full.

I got a rejection on one of the partials fairly quickly. It was a very helpful one and she said she really liked my writing, so I didn't feel too badly about it. But I've heard nothing yet from the others, nor have I heard anything from the handful of queries I sent out in a rush of anxiety upon returning home.

So, I am writing like a fiend (when I'm not too sick to sit here at my keyboard, that is).

I'm still loving the new book, Empty Spaces. It keeps taking one dark turn after another, sometimes without my permission. I'm mostly a "pantser," meaning I write organically without benefit of a full-blown outline. I do sketch out where I'm going with the book, along with some key scenes and bits of dialogue that come to me.

But mostly, I wait. If nothing else, this whole "trying to get published" scene is teaching me patience, which I sorely lack.

So, how do you guys handle the waiting? Are you able to wade into a new manuscript, or do you agonize and keep hitting refresh on gmail? (Not that I would do that, or course.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A yowling cat

We have two cats, and they are both pretty old. Annie, the eldest, will be 16 on Valentine's Day, while Martinique (Marty) will be 15 in August. We named Annie Annimaniac after the cartoon and Marty after one of the islands Jennifer and I visited on our Caribbean honeymoon a couple of months after we got her.

A few months ago, Annie starting walking around the house yowling, a sound so piercing and unnerving that it sent chills down my spine. I'd be sitting here at my desk writing and out of the murky darkness just a few feet away would come this ethereal and terrifying sound, as loud as a jumbo jet.

Yowwwwwllllllll. Yowwwwlllllll.

And naturally, I'd freak out and yell at her to knock it off. She would ignore me and go on yowling until I would stomp my feet and then she'd jump and look at me with something like terror in her big green eyes.

I was not sympathetic.

Now don't get me wrong. I love our cats. They are the best house cats in the world. Yes, I mean that. The best. Loving and loyal and all that jazz. Marty, the small, black-and-white jumpy one, took years before she became trusting enough to sit on my lap. She's a bit neurotic, meaning if she were human she'd probably be a writer. For the past six or seven years, I cannot seem to get Marty off of me. She has become my little partner, my little buddy. She lies on my chest while I lay in bed reading or watching television like she's a part of my body. A spare limb or something.

Annie is larger (fat, actually, but don't tell her that) and all black. She's more regal, although as affectionate as Marty in her own way. Annie belongs to Jennifer, while Marty is all mine. It's like we have his and her cats. We like that.

But then Annie starting her incessant yowling and I started having not-so-nice thoughts about her. For instance, I would wonder what would happen if I pegged a book at her. Now I didn't, of course. But I admit I wondered at times, especially after she would yowl loudly at my feet, when I didn't know she was there, and I would jump two feet into the air and clutch my chest. And then it would take me an hour of surfing the Internet before I was ready to write again. Damn cat.

But about six months or so ago, I walked up to Annie while she was curled up on the couch, fast asleep, and reached down to pet her. When I touched her, she shot straight into the air and the fur on her tail puffed up comically like one of those cattails that grow along the river. And that's when I realized something.

Annie had gone deaf.

I started to research deaf cats on the Internet and I realized that it's not an uncommon condition in older cats. And I read something else interesting. It seems that older, deaf cats yowl loudly for two reasons: They fear they've been abandoned because they no longer hear us in the house, and they cannot tell how loudly they are meowing because (duh) they are deaf.

And it broke my heart.

It broke my heart because I realize that I am not unlike Annie. I sit here at my computer and pour my heart out on this book or that book, and I send my queries out to agents and I wait, brokenhearted and fearful, hoping that an agent out there will hear me and respond. I fear that I've been abandoned. And it hurts, doesn't it?

If I could yowl, I would. Seriously.

So now, when Annie yowls and scares the bejesus out of me, I don't yell at her or stomp my feet. I go to her instead and pet her and lean down and nuzzle her and tell her that I'm right here, that she doesn't have to be afraid anymore.

And then I sit down and open my email and wait for someone to do the same for me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some perspective

First, thanks to everyone who cheered me on while I was at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City last weekend. You'll never know how much your support meant to me.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post since getting home. I've been crazy busy with both writing stuff and non-writing stuff. It's funny how, once things start to pop, things start popping all over the place.

But in all honesty, there's another, even stranger reason I haven't posted.

I'm superstitious. I don't want to do or say or write anything that might screw things up. For reals.

Anyway, here's my conference story. It's going to be brutally honest and somewhat long, so hang with me if you can.

I had some really bad moments in NYC. Like when I realized my pitch was all wrong and that I was going to bomb horribly and come home embarrassed and unable to face my wife and kids (who had such faith in me).

And, frankly, I was fearing facing all of you here on this blog. Because you have all been so supportive, so confident that I would do well.

So when things went horribly awry, I was terrified. I remember sitting in my hotel room less than two hours before the pitch slam -- with more than 50 literary agents already arriving at the hotel -- and calmly telling my wife on the phone that I was going to skip the pitch and just "soak up all the good writing advice here."

She wasn't buying it, of course. Instead, she offered to help me. So between the two of us (and my 13-year-old), we went back and forth trying to come up with a pitch that would accomplish two things: Do the book justice and not put the agents to sleep.

A word about my wife. She believes in me. No, that's not accurate. She BELIEVES in me. Period. She refuses to accept that I will fail at getting my book published. In fact, I have several friends like that, people who are so absolutely certain that I will succeed wildly at this book-writing thing that to do anything less would be a complete failure on my part. There were people at the conference, important people who I have been lucky enough to become friends with, who believe in me, who spent several minutes talking me down from the ledge when I was ready to jump.

While I love and appreciate their utter support, it has sometimes weighed heavily on my shoulders. Mainly because I know that the vast majority of writers DO NOT GET PUBLISHED. Most DO NOT GET AN AGENT.

I know the odds. You know the odds. And they aren't good.

Now don't get me wrong. I, too, can be very confident of my abilities. And I understand that their support is heartfelt and genuine. And it's appreciated.

But it also, to be brutally honest with you, scares me to death sometimes.

It scares me because sometimes I start to believe it. I start to believe that I am going to succeed. That I am going to snag an agent, snag a big-time book deal and spend the rest of my life doing what I love most. Writing. And making money at it.

I understand that being confident is a good thing. I am confident. But I know from experience that being overconfident is almost always a bad thing. Because it sets us up for major disappointment. And frankly, I've pretty much had my share of those in life.

I've always preferred to remain a realist. A slightly optimistic pessimist.

I didn't realize sitting in that NYC hotel room how important having family and friends who believe in me really is.

Back to the conference: We finally came up with a pitch that worked. Or so we thought. When I sat down across from the first agent, she stopped me seconds into my pitch and said something like, "I don't like that. Why in the world would I root for a protagonist like that?"

I stopped, blinked once, and swallowed hard. Shit. This was not going to go well. We spent all of this money to send my worthless ass to New York, and I AM GOING TO BOMB.

My life flashed before my eyes in the space of about five seconds. And then something happened, something amazing.

I started to talk to the agent. I more or less tossed the prepared pitch away and just told her about my book, about me, why I'm the perfect person to write this book. I even got her to smile and, memorably, to laugh a couple of times. And this is an agent who is not known as a nice person.

My nerves disappeared. I forgot all about the pressure to succeed. Suddenly, connecting with this agent was the most important thing in my life. I made eye contact and kept it. I smiled. I cracked a joke or two. And I pitched that goddamned book live I've never done anything else in my life.

She asked for a partial. And so did the next one.

I connected beautifully with the third agent. By then, I was cooking. She seemed to get my book. Her eyes widened at the exact right moment when I was telling her what it was about and how I had come to write it.

She asked for a full manuscript on the spot.

I walked away to the next agent line with tears in my eyes. I nearly pulled a John Boehner and started bawling on the spot.

Holy crap. I was going to do this! I really was. An hour before, I was ready to quit, and now I had won over a New York agent. It's hard for me to put into words the gratitude I felt at that moment -- gratitude for all of those people who hadn't given up on me even after I had given up on myself. Gratitude that I have the best wife, kids and friends in the world. Gratitude for my friends on this blog, those of you who comment and exhort and just generally care about another writer they don't even know in real life.

Gratitude. It's the only word I can think of to describe what I was feeling.

The final agent I pitched asked for a partial and just like that, the bell rang and the two hours were over.

I could have gone on forever.

But now, after a few days have passed, I look back on it with some perspective. And I can feel the old me coming back. A slightly optimistic pessimist once again.

Because I know the odds. And so do you. They aren't good.

But I'm also convinced that as long as we have each other, and our families, we can do this. One way or another.

We can do this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Well, the pitch slam is over

And I'm still alive. Sort of.

I had a tough day, culminating in my calling my wife two hours before the agent pitch to tell her that I had decided not to do it. My pitch sucked (it really did; people told me so), and my confidence had swooned.

Naturally, she tried to talk me out of it and -- even though her roller derby team is bouting tonight and she had every reason to think of herself and no one else -- she rolled her sleeves up and wrote me a brand new pitch idea. It was good.

Then I stepped outside the hotel (all right, fine. I had a cigar. Quit looking at me that way) and bumped into the managing editor of Writer's Digest -- the guy who had critiqued my manuscript all those months ago and told me it was good. While we both agreed that being a good pitchman shouldn't be a requirement to get your manuscript in front of a top agent, it remains the reason for the weekend.

So I reluctantly agreed to go ahead with the pitch slam. I rewrote my pitch using my wife's fine idea and took a deep breath and waded into ...

... a freaking zoo! Holy crap. Hundreds of writers lined up 15 deep before each agent, many of whom looked exhausted and a little shocked. Long story short, it's damned hard to pitch a complex novel in 60 seconds to a bored NYC literary agent. It takes every damned ounce of whatever it is that gives us that extra boost when we need it most. For reasons known only to the angels, I had it today.

I only had time to pitch four agents (my top target had to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency; hope everything is okay there). Four agents who rep my genre. I watched writer after writer leave their tables looking a bit ashen. There were the occasional looks of relief, so some folks were getting bites. But it was nerve-wracking, believe me.

I will spare you the gory details of my pitches (some went well, some didn't), but I will say that when push came to shove, I lost my case of the nerves. I don't know what happened, except I guess I got it all out before the pitch slam. But I was calm and collected and actually enjoyed myself.

And the results? Not bad, actually.

Four agents pitched. Three partial requests. One full request.

Thank you to everyone who supported me on the blog, Twitter and Facebook. But most of all, thanks to my wife, Jennifer.

I could not have done this without you, babe. That's the stone-cold truth.

Friday, January 21, 2011

NOW I'm nervous

I made it to the Writer's Digest Conference in New York (midtown Manhattan to be precise) in one piece, although I'm a bit droopy from lack of sleep.

The first night was low-key but exciting nonetheless. Famed NYC literary agent Richard Curtis gave the opening talk on the future of publishing, saying in a nutshell that books are by no means going extinct and that right now is both the most terrifying and the most exciting time in publishing history.

He also thinks the future will see a split between print-on-demand books and e-books. It was a very interesting talk that, while chronicling the tough times traditional publishing is going through, ended up offering that finest of emotions -- hope. Let's hope he's correct.

Many of us then walked a few blocks to a nearby pub for a Writer's Digest "Tweetup," which I guess is today's version of the old-fashioned meet-up. It was great fun and I met lots of interesting writers and folks within the industry. But man, was it cold walking back.

Tomorrow is the big day. Seminars and workshops all morning and then the Pitch Slam for two hours in the afternoon. Fifty-five agents (three canceled) will be sitting at tables in the hotel's main ballroom and we get three minutes to pitch our novel to them.

My pitch sucks. It really does. I imagine I will be polishing it right up until I sit down across from the first agent. Unless I pass out first, in which case I won't have to worry about having a lousy pitch.

I am tired. Perhaps you can tell. But I am also totally pumped about this weekend. The hotel is incredibly beautiful and located in the midst of some of the finest real estate in the world.

Life is both frightening AND good. And it doesn't get any better than that.

More tomorrow, hopefully after a good night's sleep. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I'm not nervous

Really. I'm not.

(You buying this?)

Okay. Fine. I'm nervous. As hell, actually. My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 6 (Ack! Why do all my flights leave at the crack of dawn?) for New York City and the Writer's Digest Conference at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in midtown Manhattan.

Let's say it together, shall we? Oooohhhhhhh.

See, there's all these literary agents who are going to be there, and I plan to pitch my book to any of them who will listen. I've been busy honing my pitch (more or less) and polishing the manuscript for the eleven-thousandth time and ... I think I'm ready.

Or, as ready as I can be with a raging case of the Oh Shits. As in, oh shit I can't believe I am putting myself through this. Really.

And to make things more interesting, things are exploding in my other career and this weekend is shaping up as one the most important in the 11 years I've been with the company. It's huge and it requires my full attention. Which I can't give, because I will be in NYC pitching my novel, which is also kind of huge.


My wife designed business cards for me and gave them to me for my birthday last week. They are totally, completely awesome! Me. A writer! I am, because my shiny new business cards SAY I am. I plan on handing those babies out like condoms in a free clinic.

As time allows, I'll post some blog updates from the conference. There's also going to be real-time Twitter updates from the attendees and agents. Use the hashtag #wdc11 to find us.

Friday night will feature a workshop led by Janet Reid on pitches, and I'm going to be there, front and center, soaking it up. She had asked for volunteers to give their pitch so she could critique it, but anyone with the nickname Query Shark ain't getting her fins on me. No way, no how. Just thinking about it gives me the willies.

There's going to be nearly 500 writers there from four continents and 57 literary agents. That should make for some major league networking. While I tend toward anti-social (like many writers), I always seem to rise to the occasion when I need to be charming and all that. Let's hope I can pull it off once again, when it counts most.

Wish me luck, especially from 3-5 p.m. EST Saturday, when I will be engaged in the writer's version of speed-dating -- spending 90 seconds pitching my baby to some of the most powerful and influential agents in the heart of the literary capital of the world.

Me? Nervous? No way.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's your favorite song?

This is a tough one for me, because I've always had difficulty choosing one song. In fact, my wife claims I have about a thousand favorite songs.

It does seem that about every third song that comes on the radio, I crank it up and tell her it's a favorite.

Basically, I sort music by age. Mine, that is. So I have faves from childhood, faves from middle school, faves from high school. Well, you get the idea. Taken together, these songs form the soundtrack of my life.

Take my mp3 player, for instance. I have songs on it that date back to the 1960s (Beatles, Stones, The Who) through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and up to right now. And they are shuffled, so I can listen to the Beatles doing "Ticket to Ride," followed by Lady Gaga singing "Paparazzi," followed by The Clash, Springsteen, The Jam, Matt and Kim, and ELO. Oh, with a little Lily Allen and the Doors thrown in.

But favorite song? Sheesh. You might as well ask me which of my three sons is my favorite (hint: It changes daily).

So I'm going to sort them into three basic age groupings and then come up with my absolute favorite (which will have likely changed by the time you read this).

Younger years favorite: "Thank You" by Led Zeppelin. It's a gorgeous, lush ballad by one of the most kick-ass rock bands ever. And it reminds me of a girl I loved in eighth grade. So, shoot me.

Middle years favorite: Tie between "Streets of Fire" by Springsteen and "That's Entertainment" by the Jam. OK, and maybe "Man Out of Time" by Elvis Costello. See?

Latter years favorite: Hmmm. So many to choose from, believe it or not. I really like today's music. I'd have to say "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire, followed closely by "Rebellion (Lies)" also by Arcade Fire.

And now for my favorite song of all time (which really hasn't changed since I was a kid). It's ... "Baby Blue" by Badfinger. Best. Damned. Song. Ever.

What's yours?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's your favorite band?

Since I can't seem to find the time to blog regularly about things like, you know, my writing, I thought perhaps we could take some time and get to know one another a little better.

With that in mind, I've decided to post a few short pieces about my favorite things, like bands, songs, books, authors, films, etc. And I would love for you guys to chime in with some of yours, as well. Not only is it always interesting to get to know people better, but perhaps we'll find some overlap, something in our psyche that makes us as writers more alike than different.

Or not. Who knows?

Anyway, I decided to start with my favorite bands (or musicians, if you'd like).

Back in the day, I'd have to say Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were my favorites. Shortly after I cut my hair and went punk, I discovered Elvis Costello and the Attractions and The Clash. One consistent band throughout my life has always been Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I've seen them live five times over the years. I've also seen Zeppelin and Costello, too.

Funny story: My wife and I saw Elvis Costello and the Attractions in Chicago shortly before we were married (probably in '95 or so), and the drummer hit on my wife! Seriously. We had met the band outside the arena and got Elvis to sign his own handwritten set list my wife had managed to sweet talk away from one of the roadies. I was both jealous and proud that my wife would attract the attention of a world famous rock star. Of course, I'd have killed the bastard if he had actually, you know, put the moves on her. But he was very nice about his flirting.

Needless to say, she became a huge Costello fan and remains one to this day.

The band I'm currently in love with is Arcade Fire. They are completely, totally awesome. Right up there with the best of them, in my opinion. We haven't seen them in concert yet, but if they come around, you can bet we'll be there.

So. How about you guys. What's your faves? Any stories behind them? Do tell.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Derby, revising and tragedy

My wife's roller derby team, the Hard Knocks, have announced their second bout later this month. That's the poster at left and yes, the cute one on the far left in the red shorts is my wife.

The only problem is, the bout is scheduled for the weekend when I will be at the Writer's Digest conference in New York. Damn it. Oh well, I'm sure the team will survive without me (just kidding).

I know I've been absent around here a great deal lately, and there's a good reason for it: I have been (once again) rewriting The Devil You Don't Know. I had another book editor go through it and she made some excellent suggestions designed to tighten up the plot and quicken the pace a bit in the first 150 pages.

Well, once I got started revising I started rewriting. So now the book has gotten even smaller (I've cut another thousand words) and better (I think). Next up will be polishing my query and creating a pitch that I can take with me to the conference, where I will find myself face-to-face with 57 literary agents! Gulp.

And finally, I've been glued to the television and the Internet in the wake of the mass killing in Arizona on Saturday. How very sad. I will refrain from posting a political diatribe (although I would LOVE to) and will say only that it's time to knock off all of the hatred and name-calling and divisive rhetoric and try to become a united country again. Before it's too late.

Have a good Sunday evening. We'll talk to tomorrow (which is, wait for it ... my birthday!).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My New Year's gift to you

Please watch the following video. It's a wonderful reminder of what's really important in life.

And turn up your speakers. The music is awesome.